Friday, October 18, 2013

Notes from Birchwood Blue Hills Charter School

Birchwood Blue Hills Charter School Grades 7-12
October 16th, 2013
One Sentence Take Away: Vested interest equals engagement, engagement equals motivation.

Birchwood Blue Hills Charter School (BBHCS) is a rural Wisconsin charter school that serves nearly 30 students in grades 7-12. Founding teachers Jenny Landes and Todd Brunclik, along with Susan Leeper guide students through self-directed education, uniquely tailored to each student. Frequently students combine their independent work with a few traditional classes from the nearby traditional high school for math or foreign language. BBHCS is a member of the Wisconsin Innovative Schools Network (WISN).

My first half hour was spent sitting in on advisory time with the students. I was impressed with their kindness and welcoming nature. They asked relevant questions and then each shared a story of a time when they showed perseverance in their own lives. After our introductions students went to work! I was a bit awestruck to see each student jump to work on their own projects with genuine energy and focus. The cross-section of grades and types of students became a very comfortable work setting in which students paced themselves, sought out resources, reviewed their progress, stopped for breaks as needed (going to kitchen to make microwave popcorn!) and produced excellent work. I was impressed by the amount trust between students and teachers. One 10th grade student was working on a project about how the sailboats in the American Cup could find the fastest route. She was considering wind changes, the technology of the sailboats, the tide pools and more. Thanks Taisia for explaining your project to me! Here is a photo of what she was working out on the whiteboard:

For some other examples of student work, click: Samples of BBHCS student work.

Students work towards a 32 credit graduation requirement despite the traditional area high school only requiring 28. Students' transcripts reflect credits earned within the given standard the work falls within. Credits are determined by the number of hours logged and the quality of the work. Rubrics and conferences between the student and teachers determine the amount of assigned credit. When a student proposes a project they must seek out the corresponding state and/or common-core standards that the project will meet. Founding teacher Todd Brunclik explained that any credit earned on a transcript was really reflective of mastery level work, or work that would normally be considered A or B quality. The students and teachers utilize an online platform called Project Foundry to help support this flexible pathway, proficiency based grading, and project based learning model. 

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of helping students to understand the "big picture" of our state's education system by having the them connect the task with the correct outcome. Talk about having a vested interest, eh?