Worcester’s premier college-preparatory co-ed day school serving students from Central MA and MetroWest, Pre-K–Grade 12

MS Head's Blog

Mr. O in his 2nd floor office on a dress-down day

In the Middle of It All

Middle School Musings by Trevor O’Driscoll, Bancroft's Head of Middle School

Most weeks, MS Head Trevor O’Driscoll writes a short note to parents and faculty about middle school, education, parenting, and other topics relevant to our community. We share these Middle School Musings here for the benefit and enjoyment of all who are interested. Read recent entries, browse the archives, and delight in Mr. O’Driscoll’s take on our Middle School and the amazing people who inhabit it.


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What's Bubbling in Our Learning Lab

I was struck by how many interesting things are going on in the halls of the Middle School these days, and I thought I’d share some snapshots of the happenings. This by-no-means-exhaustive list demonstrates engaging, student-centered work that is reflective of our mission and the Learning Lab Method (LLM) approach.

  • Students in Grade 6, after learning about Eastern and Western artists including Hokusai and Durer and their varied methods of printing, as well as learning about Gutenberg's movable type printing press, are creating/carving their own woodblock prints.
  • Seventh grade English students are writing professional letters to Cecilia Galante, author of The Patron Saint of Butterflies, a novel the class recently read. They will soon Skype with the author. Additionally, students are crafting 15-second Vocabulary Videos for the New York Times vocabulary contest.
  • Our Good Reads book club recently Skyped with National Book Award winner Eliot Schrefer after reading his book Endangered about the bonobos of Nigeria.
  • After recent and impressive competition results, our Middle School MathCounts Team is in the running for a wild card slot at the state competition at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston on Saturday, March 5. Three of our seven competitors are going on to the individual competition at states.
  • Eighth graders are deep into their arts electives, which include the following course options: Ukulele, Drumming, Drawing/Painting, Bookmaking, Handbells, Tech Theatre, and Improvisation.
  • In a mash-up of their English and history studies, the Grade 7 HGP class is investigating the concept of an "ideal" society by contrasting The Giver, a dystopian novel about a controlled society, with the Framers' experiences at the Constitutional Convention. Using the ideas and principles that they learn, they will design their own ideal societies, presenting in teams to a panel of teachers and peers who will vote on the society in which they would most like to live.  
  • An eighth grade advisory recently practiced guided meditation. It’s not unheard of for students to ask for permission to go meditate.
  • French students recently participated in a proficiency-based assessment where they took on the roles of waiter and diner, communicating in the target language, sans notes.
  • After collaborating on scripts via iPads, sixth graders produced NPR-style radio broadcasts and reported "live from the battlefield" in connection with their 19th century American studies. Students also wrote reviews of classmates’ broadcasts.
  • Seventh grade science students have begun their science fair projects, but their excitement and work is not contained to their science classroom alone. A number of students are using their time in Project-Builder's Club to work on projects including: a baseball batting device, a gas collection and measuring apparatus, and a wind tunnel/airfoil testing machine.
  • In the discussion stage is a Middle/Upper cross-division plan to create an Electric Car Project.
  • Eighth graders were busy wrapping up their big mid-year assessment in English by creating portfolios of their work. You can see all the requirements here, but of particular interest may be the creative writing component for which students had five options:
    1. Choose one of the zodiac signs (Taurus, Pisces, Aquarius, etc.) and research what that sign means. Then, choose a character that could fit this zodiac sign and explain how/why.
    2. Write a eulogy (a speech given at a funeral) in honor of a character who has died. Make sure it is clear which character is giving the eulogy!
    3. Create a scene using narration and dialogue in which characters from two or more texts meet and interact with each other in some interesting way.
    4. Create a 15-20 line ‘found poem’ using lines from two or more texts. You must cite each of the lines so your readers know which texts they are from!
    5. Pretend you are the author of one of our texts, but the Bancroft administration is threatening to ban your work at school because of “inappropriate content” or “adult themes.” Write a formal, one-page letter to Mr. Cassidy explaining why your text should not be banned at Bancroft. Sample letter starter: “Dear Mr. Cassidy, It has come to my attention that…”
Posted by Trevor O'Driscoll in Learning Lab Method (LLM) on Thursday February 11, 2016 at 10:14AM
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Student-Led Conferences

On Friday, January 29, we will hold our annual Middle School Student-Led Conferences (SLCs). In contrast to our October parent/teacher conferences, when parents met with each child’s academic teacher, these 30-minute conferences are led by the student with the advisor and parent(s) present. Students will reflect about their strengths as learners across subject areas, as well as areas ripe for continued growth.

In the weeks leading up to the SLC, each child has been collecting a portfolio of work from across academic subjects that best represents their learning journey thus far. With help from their advisors, students will share what they’ve learned about their own learning style, what they are most proud of, and what they find challenging, as well as their goals for the remainder of the year.

We believe SLCs are a valuable component of our Middle School experience because they:

  • Allow students to take pride in, ownership of, and accountability for their own learning.
  • Address the student’s whole journey of learning, not just a final product, allowing us to take note of how much they have grown.
  • Give students insight about their individual learning styles by reflecting on their academic successes and areas for further growth.
  • Encourage students to honestly self-assess (and having examples of work to share facilitates that process).
  • Provide valuable practice with leading a meeting and public speaking.
  • Present a wonderful opportunity to set goals for the remainder of the school year and beyond.

While a Student-Led Conference serves many purposes, we realize that sometimes there are occasions when parents and teachers must have conversations without the student present. As always, advisors are available to talk with you about your children when you need us. 

Posted by Trevor O'Driscoll on Monday January 25, 2016 at 09:37AM
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Power Play

Over winter break I became fascinated by, and sometimes immersed in, play. I did quite a bit of playing with my seven- and four-year-old, and observed even more. It got me wondering about the power of play. This led me to ask to what extent play has a role in a Bancroft education? What’s so special about play? 

You may not be familiar with the pretend game “Zebee,” especially since only two very small people seem to know the rules, or the game “Substitute Teacher” (I’m sure whatever you are imagining now is close enough), but those were my kids’ favorite go-to games over break. Throw in various art and construction projects — from making clothes out of recycled paper to building a two-seat convertible out of a big cardboard box replete with vanity plates — and you have a small sample of the ways in which their imaginations ran wild during the two weeks off at home.

As I watched them live in imaginary worlds and scenarios, I saw improved problem-solving skills, high degrees of cooperation, examples of self-sacrifice for the greater good, and improved empathetic abilities.

But what about play at school? Is it right to think about it only in terms of traditional notions of recess? I don’t see it that way. In Bancroft’s Middle School, play is an important part of our everyday experience.

  • It’s in our language classes where the learning is often gamified.
  • It’s in our gyms and on our fields.
  • It’s the eighth grade arts electives where students are improvising through song or acting.
  • It’s in the Fort Building Club where kids built structures and held elaborate competitions in the woods on campus.
  • It’s in the geography class where groups made 3-D maps of Asia.
  • It’s in classroom performances in history and English.
  • It’s at our math competitions and Diversity Day.
  • It’s in building robots and drones.

When adults think about play, many might conjure up frivolous pursuits or recess. I know from experience, both at home and at school, that play can be so much more. But even when kids say they want more recess (and most do), I see it as a great learning opportunity.

For more food for thought about play, check out these readings/videos/links that came across my radar as I was having fun watching my kids:

Article: Seriously Think About Spending for Play

Article: More Playtime!

Video: Dr. Stuart Brown on Play

Website: National Institute for Play

Posted by Trevor O'Driscoll on Thursday January 7, 2016 at 03:43PM
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The Dance of Life in Middle School

Last Friday night, while the sixth graders and parent volunteers were playing games at their alternative gym night event, and about 25 parents were squirming in their seats as they learned strategies about how to have “The Talk” with their adolescent kids, the seventh and eighth graders were up in the Boone Room for their winter dance.

Close your eyes and imagine a middle school dance. What do your senses register? Do you see a cavernous gym with a tiny disco ball hanging limply from the ceiling? Do you feel the sticky humidity in the air? Is your hearing being assaulted by the thumping drum and bass lines of the pop song of the week, spun by a cheesy middle-aged DJ with a bit too much enthusiasm? Don’t even tell us what it smells like. 

Now imagine last Friday’s Bancroft Middle School Dance. You can take most of that sensory overload and throw it out the window. This Middle School dance had the unique markings of a Bancroft event.

There were the students who excitedly showed up early to decorate the room in a winter motif. The tunes were spun by eighth grader Violet, whose DJ setup (courtesy of her audio-genius dad) and skills put your average wedding DJ to shame. And while there was the typical dancing, non-dancing, and goofing around, there were other scenes one wouldn’t see at many other MS dances — like the group of students who clustered around Dima to watch him put some finishing touches on his robot for the next day’s competition (his team was a top 15 finisher, by the way), or the kids who curled up with books for a respite from the excitement.

Sure – the songs were loud, the air was hot and thick by the end of the night, and there was a certain hard-to-miss fug in the air. But how many dances do you remember ending like this one, pictured below, with an army of Middle Schoolers cleaning up the event that they planned, decorated, DJ’d, and executed by themselves?*

MS Dance Cleaner-Uppers

Another reason to love Bancroft and the kids who make us special.

*HUGE thanks to student council advisors Jody Stephenson and Angela Sigismondi who played more than a small role herding the cats. Also thanks to the eighth grade team for chaperoning the dance, all the sixth grade parents who helped make gym night a success, Pam Sheldon who organized the parent sex-ed workshop, and Kevin Briggs and Lance Stewart who spent Saturday with our robotics teams. 

Posted by Trevor O'Driscoll in Goodness, Only in Middle School on Monday December 21, 2015 at 10:28AM
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The Gift of Thanks

You are probably thinking about holiday shopping now and are wondering if Middle Schoolers buy holiday gifts for teachers or staff. The answer is “no.”  If you want to thank a faculty member, Mrs. Hanssen, or any other member of the Bancroft community, encourage your child to write a thank you letter or card. I’ve received many touching notes over my career, and most of them were written around this time of year. I keep a file in my desk labeled “Good Stuff” and often sift through its contents when I need a boost.

Or you may think about honoring a faculty or staff member with a contribution to the Bancroft Fund or your favorite charity or non-profit. And in case your child is thinking about buying gifts for friends, we don’t allow gift exchanges at school. Gift exchanges at school often lead to subtle and unhealthy competition and social stress. 

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy exchanging gifts with loved ones.  What I don’t enjoy, and what can be unhealthy for kids, is the pressure, materialism, and competition that can come during the holidays if we as adults don’t set limits. 

Here’s to a peaceful and joyful holiday season.

Posted by Trevor O'Driscoll on Friday December 18, 2015 at 02:41PM
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