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The Aviator

March 10, 2018

AVS parents gathered this March to explore techniques for transforming the most challenging parenting moments into opportunities to teach and practice our core values. Bill Jackson, founder of GreatSchools and former middle school science student of our very own Ed Walters, led the interactive workshop on what he calls "values-based parenting."

The small but enthusiastic group discussed the values they hope to instill in their children, such as empathy, justice, curiosity, and kindness. They then shared some of the most emotionally challenging situations they routinely face as parents. Bill guided a collaboration in which parents worked together to craft reactions to those challenges that can help children understand and absorb the values families care about most. For example, times when kids are constantly complaining about "unfairness" can become opportunities to show empathy, to explore the concepts of equity and justice, or to do some collaborative problem-solving. In this approach,...

March 18, 2017

What is this “Orff” stuff anyways? You may have heard about the “Orff instruments” or heard the term at school. It’s very much a part of your child’s music education, and I’d like this chance to explain. Orff is sometimes mistakenly thought of as an acronym, but it is actually the name of German composer and educator Carl Orff, who is perhaps best known for his massive work Carmina Burana f(1937). (If you think you don’t know this piece, you probably do. It’s in spades of movies and commercials!)

Lesser-known is Orff’s approach to music education. Developed later in his career, along with his poorly credited female colleague Gunild Keetman, it is a child-centered approach to music education that draws on a young person’s natural inclinations to play, move, and explore. The Orff motto is “Sing, say, dance, play!”

What does this look like at AVS? Let’s begin with exploration. In the younger grades, each music class begins with individual students answering a simple question in their s...

March 18, 2017

Drama permeates every part of our lives, from making new friends, to giving a work presentation, and yes, especially to parenting! Acting skills are all essential life skills – teaching things like group work, practicing, improving and performing. Sometimes this is all disguised as silly games with weird noises and nonsensical movements, but assuming a role outside oneself develops empathy – and it is fun!

By asking students at a young age to continuously practice (and yes, it takes lots of practice) looking someone in the eyes and speaking in a clear, understandable voice (performance voice) we teach them that:

  • They have a voice, and they are encouraged to use it.

  • Having that voice is a powerful tool and a privilege. It needs to be treated with respect.

  • Their ideas are valuable, and the best way to share those ideas is through clear communication.

Students will need the skill of speaking clearly in public for the rest of their lives. This is often not addressed...

March 18, 2017

In the span of ten days, three 5th graders — Mia, Cia and Evelyn — were tasked with the job of collecting the stories of three elderly residents: Claire, Jim and Jean. They live at the Buena Vista Manor House, which is located in a quiet, serene neighborhood in San Francisco. This project consisted of conducting several interviews, hours of writing, and some seriously devoted afternoons tinkering with sound bytes and voice recordings.

As a group, the storytellers collected youthful narratives, stories of change, stories of success and failure, and accounts of endless experiences, some of pain and joy. Telling the story of what used to be was an opportunity to better understand the past, to integrate with an older generation, and learn how to connect with profoundly wise people who have lost some part of their memory.

What do these senior citizens have to tell AVS middle schoolers? — To read, to explore, to never stop learning, and to develop a love of history. After a...

March 18, 2017

Math in Elizabeth Keleshian’s Middle School classes is all about real world application. She double-majored in philosophy and math/economics at university and focused her graduate thesis in education on financial literacy. “The biggest lesson that my professor wanted us to remember until we die was the beauty of compound interest and how money can grow so fast. If you just save it, compound interest does the work for you,” Keleshian says.

“Financial literacy is very undervalued in secondary education. And, that’s where I felt inspired. I feel like I need to integrate financial literacy in my classes, because students could really get engaged in this and it’s something that they can use forever,” she says, noting that she wasn’t taught anything like this herself when she was in grade school.

So, what does this look like in her classes at Alta Vista? Here’s a fun example: Keleshian isn’t trying to turn students into little stock brokers, but she uses Investopedia’s stock simulator as a too...

December 4, 2016

What better way to teach students about sustainable power than to build a power source, store the energy and then power something the students use? That’s exactly what a handful of AVS parents from the STEM Committee have done, using seed money from one of the past AVS Galas: they’ve built a wind turbine and solar panels over the “hangars.” The system is full of teachable moments and questions for both teachers and students.

First, the group purchased a Blue Pacific Solar wind turbine kit. It’s a 520-watt, DIY system, available online. It’s the kind of thing people use to power cabins in the mountains for weekend visits.

The first teachable point: sometimes it’s windy, sometimes it’s not. The parents wanted a system that generated reliable power and also stored it. So, they diversified the project, combining the wind turbine with two 260-Watt Trina photovoltaic panels. This way, if there’s sun or wind, AVS gets electricity. Storing it involves two sealed lead acid batteries (two 12-Volt...

December 4, 2016

In November, Alta Vista students came together to dedicate a brand new Community Seed Library at the Portola Library! Alta Vista’s second graders (now in third grade) originally built this seed library, last year with our former garden educator Miss Marissa. (She is currently studying natural building and permaculture landscape design in Costa Rica). AVS students wrote letters to local seed companies for donations and helped design, build, and decorate the seed library. The seed library is split into different plant types, such as legumes, greens, and fruiting vegetables. There is an informational booklet designed by students and even empty seed packets to return the plant seeds that are grown and harvested.

A seed library is a collection of seeds, sorted and catalogued that you can take from and plant in your own garden. The idea is to encourage growing and saving a genetically diverse stock of flower and vegetable seed, some heirloom and some adapted to your neighborhood micro-climate...

December 4, 2016

Kate Parker, History Teacher at AVS middle school,  grew up in New Jersey, just outside of New York City.   She went to boarding school in Connecticut and then college in New York, where she studied Art History and Women’s Studies. Kate has always been a student-athlete. She was tri-varsity captain, played field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse and, like a lot of kids we know, PE was her favorite subject in school. We caught up with Ms. Parker recently and posed a few questions.

 If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you pursue?

Teaching is actually my second professional pursuit. I used to work within the corporate world of financial services. That said, I’ve always be fascinated by bugs! I’d love to be an entomologist.

What event or activity in the next 4 months are you looking forward to more than anything else?   

Well, I have to say the move to the Mission is pretty exciting. I feel lucky to be one of the first to step foot into this new AVS adventure. I trus...

June 13, 2016

The Second grade classes have collaborated with the Portola Branch Library to design and build a community seed library for the neighborhood. A Seed Library follows the model of a book library. People can borrow seeds from a seed library, plant them, enjoy the food, and let some of the plants go to maturity. Seed borrowers harvest seed from mature plants to replenish the seed library so other people can borrow seeds.

The first seed library, BASIL, was birthed in Berkeley in 1999 and a few years later in 2003, the second seed library was created in New York at a public library. The seed library movement began as a response to promote seed diversity and food security in a time when these things are disappearing. Only 4% of the commercial vegetable varieties being grown in 1903 are still in cultivation today.  Due to

multinational agribusiness corporations like Monsanto and DuPont, the vast majority of fields are growing genetically modified corn, canola, cotton and soy....

June 12, 2016

There’s an outdoor tinker zone at AVS! Inspired by the Berkeley Adventure Playground, the new tinker area is in the AVS parking lot by the garden. Piles of wood and old parts sit beside several large, wooden tables made by…the kids and teachers, of course. The idea is that students from JK- on up to middle school can use their free time to come to the Tinker Zone and unleash their creativity. Having the zone in the parking lot allows the whole school to walk over and play, in addition to going inside to the tinker room on the third floor.

A locked cupboard contains items like: saws, nails, hammers, screws, tools, gloves and eye protection. The kids try things, like nailing bits of wood together. They fail. Oops, the nail bent. Why was that? Try again. Oops, the wood split. Try a different part of the grain. The nail wasn’t long enough to go through both pieces of wood? Try nailing from the other side. Under teacher supervision, the kids hammer, saw and assemble whatever their minds imag...

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