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School Blog and News

Posts Tagged "brain_research"

A Summer Challenge from the Head of School: Go out and play!

June 07, 2018
By Barrie Hillman

Dear WSA,

The last three weeks have been full of joy and exploration through our June Term classes. The campus has been hopping with creativity and creation. We also are happy to welcome home our June TREC travelers from their trip to France and Spain!

The Maker Playground class with 'The Bunker' that they made for WSA's new adventure playgroundHaving worked so hard all year long on academics, this experiential learning opportunity allows for deeper collaboration, innovation and problem-solving with students of all ages in each group. While the faculty can recognize the achievements of the students, the students often think of it as play. In fact, I am such a huge fan of play that I created the Maker Playground June Term class specifically for the purpose of encouraging more free play that is not sanitized with lots of direction and adult intervention.

Play can stimulate brain activity, relieve stress and build valuable skills and we, adults and kids, simply do not do enough of it. Teens and tweens desperately need more play and we often forget about this as kids grow more autonomous. So my challenge for you all this summer ( need to play too) is to mindfully embrace play. Look for opportunities to create play in unexpected places. Stuck in a ferry line? Create a game out of items you can find in the car. Going on a hike? Find a cool stick to carve. Hanging out with friends? Put down your phones and play cards. Play with electronics is not the same as unstructured play and doesn't reap the same benefits.

At "The Gully," as our maker playground was named, we play with "loose materials" and tools. We hope to have some open sessions this summer and will invite you to come play with us! It was a great school year and to everyone: students, parents, staff, faculty and dogs...job well done and happy summer!


What's in a Block?

September 30, 2015
By Barrie Hilllman, Head of School

Blocks have many uses at school but what everyone is talking about at West Sound Academy this week is the new modified block schedule. For the past several years, students have had each class four days per week with one extended block period. After much research and analysis, it was decided that this year classes would be taught three days per week with two extended block periods.

The pedagogy behind this move was primarily to reduce transitions that students and faculty make each day as well as each night when addressing homework. Brain research conducted by Carol Dweck from Stanford University reveals that the time it takes for the brain to fully transition from one area of thinking to another (or in this case subject to subject) is roughly 15 minutes.

maddy s-t leanne-g bunson burner 2015

 It also requires a great deal of executive function to be able to make those same transitions from homework assignment to homework assignment.  Thus with fewer transitions, the brain is working more efficiently.

mark gsellman 03052015 julieta and stuart

Prior to the school year the faculty participated in professional development which included collaboratively reading several books on block teaching as well as meeting with colleagues from Annie Wright Schools who also utilize a block schedule. The developmental differences between middle and upper school students within the block schedule were also discussed.

After the first week, it seems reviews of the modified block schedule are favorable. Students are realizing they have more flexibility on how to arrange their homework time.  Teachers are finding their rhythms with the new pacing requirements of the classes and emphasizing organized plans. Building in more physical movement into the classroom without losing time for engaged learning is being done with subtle and creative methods.  However, everyone anticipates a shakedown period while both students and faculty get their bearings!

Ellie, Sparky, and Leanne working on an outdoor physics lessons

On Mondays students meet with their classes in Periods 1-6 and so this will naturally be a heavier homework due date. Parents can support students by helping them to utilize their time wisely over the course of the week rather than doing assignments the night before they are due. Tackling all or parts of homework on the night it is assigned can help alleviate late Sunday nights.

I am excited to hear more from students, parents and faculty over the course of the year about the effects of the modified block schedule!

Posted in Academics


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