American History Bracket Project

Mr. McDermott’s American History class is currently working on a “‘60s History Bracket.” The concept is simple: create a bracket containing the most influential events and people from the 1960s, study the topics in great depth, and be able to argue why their selected elements are the most influential in debate format with their classmates.

Execution, however, is less simple. The bracket elements were not merely written on paper – students also hand-built a bracket made of wood, which stands 8 feet tall! They designed it, painted it, decorated it, and even made their own “contender blocks.”

With the board and blocks nearly complete, students will finish the bracket on Friday and hold their debate on Monday to see which historical people and/or events will advance up in the bracket.  Some contenders include Lyndon B. Johnson, Walter Cronkite, “Yippies,” Martin Luther King, Jr., and plenty more. It will be an experiment in knowledge of history, debating skills, and the ability to articulate the two into a persuasive argument.

After a well-researched debate, the students will place their highest honor blocks into their Winners’ Bracket. Our next blog post will follow their debate arguments to see what ultimately leads them to decide the winners of their 1960s History Bracket.

OEC Clean-up and Other Outdoor Adventures

OEC CLEAN-UP (and other outdoor adventures!)
We were amazed by the excitement that came with the need to help clean up the Outdoor Education Center after Hurricane Matthew. We had parents, teachers, students, and friends pitch in and take care of the trails, element areas, and fallen trees. Mr. Haynie’s Upper School OEC class and the 7th grade are taking the storm as a blessing in disguise. They are using the fallen trees to build a second outdoor classroom to be used by anyone who visits our magical woods. They used team work and communication to safely and effectively cut the tree in half. They transported the tree over to the OEC entrance where they then sawed it apart. Mr. Haynie plans to use some of this wood for a new OEC shelter that his high school classes will help him build. The rest of the wood will be used for various things in the OEC.

Ms. Bowers took the 2nd grade classes out to see the downed tree. They talked about how we can “recycle” the tree to help us build something we can use in the future. It was a “farm to table” moment, so to speak, looking at the tree and branches and visualizing all of the new ways they can use them in the OEC. The 2nd graders in particular had a friendship with the cedar tree and had named it Sappy because of its sap.

This morning, the 1st grade finished creating their “Leaf Men” based on the book Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. The students found leaves, acorns, twigs, and other items around school. Each student then created his or her own “Leaf Man.” Students thought out of the box and made animals such as squirrels and turtles, patterns, rocket ships, and even the different phases of the moon! The next step will be to complete a questionnaire about their leaf creations to incorporate Language Arts into the activity. Way to go 1st grade!

Monday-Activity schedule-1:25-2:15. Nature walk through OEC. Oaks and acorns. Middle school groups are 5th with 7th and 6th with 8th.

Tuesday-Green Out Day (dress in all green)-Robert Hopkins is our guest speaker for middle school. Coastal Ecology.

Wednesday-Matt Olson is the guest speaker. Amphibians and reptiles.

Thursday-Dress Like Your Favorite Animal Day. Clean City Clara is the guest speaker.

Friday-Activity Schedule-1:25-2:15. Oaks and Acorns activity.

Mr. Dan the Middle School Student

“Am I Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”

-Dan Miller, Dean of CCS Middle School

If you know me, you know I am very proud of designing programs that the CCS Middle School students love. Throughout my years as a Dean, I have always been able to design and implement successful programs because of my ability to empathize with a middle schooler – or so I thought. I have conducted focus groups, surveys, school visits and trainings to ensure Charleston Collegiate’s Middle School has phenomenal programs that fit our mission, vision, and values – not to mention I was a middle schooler myself some time ago! From my viewpoint as the Dean, I believe our students are happy and learning a great deal of content and skills. However, the only way I could truly find out how our students experience a typical CCS day would be to walk in the shoes of a middle schooler – so I did.

On October 4, 2016, I enrolled in CCS as a new fifth grade student. The night prior to my experiment, I was so excited to be a student – but at the same time, I was a bit nervous to discover if the Middle School program is as amazing as I’ve been preaching. After a late night of nerves, I eagerly awoke to put on my CCS uniform – fully equipped with a blue polo shirt with our oak tree logo. Unlike most fifth graders, I drove myself to school and didn’t worry too much about being late because I knew I wasn’t going to give myself a detention. I arrived at school at 7:30am and double-checked with the teachers that I had all of the materials to be successful for my day: binder, paper, pens, pencils, and a fully loaded iPad- oh, and my morning coffee.

I started my day in Humanities with Mrs. Speights. I have observed Mrs. Speights’ classes several times so I already knew she was amazing and fun, but I had no idea just how challenging her class was for a student. It is a good thing I was early for class, because the work started before the bell even rang with a “bell ringer drill” to get us thinking outside of the box. The remainder of class flew by with personifying vocabulary, mapping coordinates, brain breaks, creating maps, and sharing stories. If you had the chance to know me as fifth grader, you would know I was a chubby, shy kid that did not like to read. So when I first went into Mrs. Speights’ class, I was quickly reminded of my childhood anxieties. However, after just a few minutes, Mrs. Speights’ relaxed and loving attitude quickly transformed my childhood anxiety into a passion to perform; so much so that I spent my 10-minute break that morning finishing my vocabulary story about Mr. Considerate.

After my break, I was eager to go to S.T.E.M. class. Math and science have always been my strongest subjects, so I thought it would be a cake walk! With instrumental classic rock playing, Mr. Fischer started the class with a warm-up drill of four word problems. “Fifth grade math, I’ve got this handled,” I thought. I tackled those four problems with confidence until Mr. Fischer kindly suggested I review my last problem for accuracy. I was slightly embarrassed. I took two calculus classes in college, how could I get a fifth grade math problem wrong? Then I remembered the importance of taking my time, showing all of my work, and not worrying about being the first one finished. Throughout the class, Mr. Fischer did an excellent job coaching students on their individual Judo Math goals, conducting brain breaks, and introducing our “Think like an Engineer” project. This intense project requires students to identify a real life problem, research said problem, brainstorm possible solutions, plan for an original solution, and build a working prototype.

Mentally exhausted from a morning of fast-paced and challenging academics, I was overly excited for lunch and recess. Our chefs had prepared a delicious lunch, something of which I was already well aware. But what surprised me was how eager my new friends were to eat with me: their new classmate, Daniel. They bombarded me with questions like, “Daniel, what did you write about in class?”, “Daniel, who was your favorite teacher today?” (I am not telling), and “Daniel, will you play tag with us at recess?” Enthralled in conversation, time flew by and I found myself shoveling my food in during the last few minutes of lunch. I didn’t mind because I was delighted to have a break from my normal lunch duties as Dean, and I was also excited to fully immerse myself in middle school recess. I did play tag for a bit, but was thrilled at my chance to be the King of Four Square. Although I wasn’t as quick and agile as I once was, I like to think that I held my own during the game.

When the recess whistle blew, I was a little disheartened that it was time to go back to class. At the same time, I was enthusiastic to get to my next class, Animation with Ms. Howell. My classmates were kind enough to fill me in on the current class project – stop motion animation. I may be dating myself, but growing up I was huge fan of Gumby – but I had no idea how to create my own “Claymation” movie. Ms. Howell did a fantastic job showing me how to use the iPad app, and provided me with written and visual directions on how to get started. By the end of the class, I was able to create three short Claymation films. Now, my films may not be “A Gumby Adventure,” but I was so proud of my films that I shared them with my classmates – and my wife when I got home!

Finally, I ended my day back with Mrs. Speights and Mr. Fischer for Flex period. It was a special day because each fifth grader was paired with a preschooler to practice reading aloud. Charlie, my classmate, and I were paired with an adorable preschooler named Sam. Sam was so excited to read with the “big kids” that when we walked into the room he started reading the book he chose to a different group of kids. Charlie and I took turns reading Sam’s book to him, and after reading we all walked away with a sense of pride.

At the conclusion of my exhausting day, I took some time to digest and reflect on my amazing experience. Was the middle school program as wonderful as I had thought? No, it was better! I originally hoped to walk away with a list of critiques to improve our program; instead, I walked away with a huge sense of CCS pride and appreciation for our amazing teachers. Although I have a list of goals and enhancements to keep CCS at the top its game, I am going to take this time to savor the outstanding program we have created. It was a day well spent, and I thank all of the teachers and students that made it so delightful.

Charleston Collegiate Celebrates Peace Day

September 21st was International Peace Day, which Charleston Collegiate celebrated by gathering students and faculty together to help remind ourselves and our community what Peace truly means. Peace day is celebrated by a moment of silence at noon in each time zone; Charleston Collegiate followed their moment of silence with a unifying activity: the formation of a human peace sign.

The United Nations selected this year’s peace day theme to be “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace.” In utilizing the concept of building blocks, CCS took each student as an element of the peace sign, ultimately creating a moment of collaboration and unity.

Director of Fine Arts, Valerie Shears, stated, “We have been marking International Peace Day at CCS for many years. Students have created Pinwheels for Peace for display at our entrance, staff have learned to fold and made over 1,000 origami peace cranes, and this year the entire student body created a living peace sign! We do things like this at CCS because we believe it is important to bring our students up in a community that values peace and wants to work toward a culture of peace. I think Pericles said it best for us, ‘What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone mountains, but what is woven into the lives of others.’ The students and staff at Charleston Collegiate want to wish everyone a happy Peace Day.”

Briar’s Creek in the OEC

This summer, Charleston Collegiate hosted nine employees of the Golf Club at Briar’s Creek in our Outdoor Education Classroom.  Eve and Greg VanderWeele, parents of Avery and Zoe at CCS, brought their Briar’s Creek family out for a team-building day to learn some of the same skills our students learn such as communication, cohesion, brainstorming strategies, and teamwork.  They also learned some other skills applicable to their business, such as good customer service practices.  They had a great time participating in the outdoor activities which included egg roulette, community drawing, raging rapids, climbing the wall, and the 3D Mine Field.

IMG_6244The team participated in a four-hour team-building session where, after each activity, they would discuss what they did, how they learned from it, and how it relates to their position(s) at Briar’s Creek.

Eve VanderWeele said of the experience, “I could feel and see the growth within our group. Today, I was touched on such a deep, emotional level… Greg and I left with such gratitude knowing our own children are learning from you at CCS… I love that our children are growing up in such an amazing environment!”

Mr. Haynie and Mr. Dan, who hosted the event, said they can’t wait to host more corporate groups in the future!

Chess in Education: The Final Product

CCS’s Chess in History project has come to a close, and I must say, it’s bittersweet. I have thoroughly enjoyed following this project and interacting with the students as they put in their best work to complete it. When the class presented their project on May 13th, they were glowing with both relief and excitement.

Prior to the presentation, I spoke to Mr. McDermott about the project. He looked me in the eye and said, “They’re ready.” He explained to me that today, the day of the presentation, their posture was taller and prouder than it had been all semester.

20160520_133024 (1)Their presentation consisted of speeches from the students on which elements they contributed to the project. I must say that I was extremely impressed by the public speaking skills of all of the students who spoke. Each student had something different to contribute, both in terms of what they spoke about and which elements they contributed to the project’s completion.

The audience was then able to view their documentary, in which the class documented all of their triumphs and struggles throughout the semester. While the documentary presented small clips from the semester, I know that their achievements cannot be appropriately represented in a 15-minute documentary.

At the reveal of their chess pieces, I was taken aback by the intricate work of the paint and the sculpting. Each piece is painstakingly elaborate and specific. The board, consisting of green and white squares, holds several unique signatures under each tile as well as under the board itself.  As the students allowed the audience to analyze the board and its pieces, I could tell they were extremely proud of all the thought and work that went into making this chess set so unique.

This project was an entirely new experience for both the students and Mr. McDermott, and it took a great deal of trial and error. However, while they struggled, they ultimately produced excellent results and are truly paving the way for CCS to grow into an even stronger project-based learning environment. This unique project has made me so excited to see what new educational endeavors CCS’s students will take on next year!

Chess in Project-based Learning: Collaboration and Design

As the 11th grade American History students near the conclusion of their history project, I’m learning more each time I chat with them about how far they’ve traveled into the history of World War II.

The chess board they’ve designed consists of dark and light green shades in an effort to make the board appear as a battlefield. The students had to design their own chess pieces to fit their theme, and many of their pieces contain incredibly specific elements. Their light colored pieces represent the Allied powers, with Franklin D. Roosevelt as King and Lyudmila Pavlichenko as Queen. I’m ashamed to say that I had to Google Lyudmila Pavlichenko. I was amazed to learn that she was a female sniper during WWII. I didn’t think they allowed women to do much in the war but work in factories. Pavlichenko certainly set precedence for female participation within combat. The Axis powers are represented through dark shades; with Adolph Hitler as King and Maria Mandel as Queen.  I won’t give away any other figures selected; however, I found their individual piece selections quite fascinating and am looking forward to hearing their explanations for their choices at their presentation.

The creativity behind these choices and physical representations of them are astounding. The students have developed a manual for their presentation which explains the choices behind the color schemes and character selection. They’ve also produced invitations for their upcoming exhibition, devised a rule book for the actual chess play, and are currently finalizing all elements of their project for their exhibition.

I spoke to Larry Allen, a student in the class, about his experience throughout the project. I asked him both his favorite and least favorite things about this course and its change from textbook to project-based. He told me that he loved being able to mentally create and physically design the board and pieces. He found that working with his hands and applying what they researched to a physical result was highly beneficial to his learning style. In terms of his least favorite element, he struggled to present a response. Larry stated that, while he found it sometimes difficult to approach and resolve conflict, he thought their collaboration to be ultimately beneficial.

The class will be presenting their project on May 20th at 1:30 p.m.  For my final blog post on this project, I will include pictures of their final products and a link to their documentary. As I continue to follow this project, I become more and more excited for the students to present their work. They are so proud of what they’ve done, and I can’t wait for them to be able to share it with the Charleston Collegiate family!

Outdoor Education in Action

As I re-enter the CCS family, I realize how much has changed, and how envious I am of all the new opportunities given to students today. Currently, I am speaking of Outdoor Education. As I was graduating in 2010, Outdoor Education was just beginning to take shape. I spoke with Mr. Haynie about how much the program has grown, and I’m amazed at everything the students are learning.

Often I’ll watch Discovery’s Naked and Afraid, a wilderness survival reality show, and think “Wow, I wish I had these skills.” Well, students graduating from CCS will have those survival skills and more. They learn fire-building, shelter design and building, hunting, fishing and raft-making, just to name a few of the physical challenges. On top of this, though, they learn important soft skills such as teamwork, communication, support, leadership, etc.

Raft buildingThe other day, I witnessed a class of 8th – 11th graders working on raft-building. They are in small groups, about 5 or 6 students each, and I was amazed at their thoughtful work. They were working well together, and quickly, and I thought to myself, “No way could we have done this when I was a student…” And I truly believe that is because we didn’t have the soft skills. We didn’t understand how to work well together, or efficiently for that matter. However, these students have already had years of learning and practicing these skills.

One student in this class, Gregg Scott, was particularly impressive, as I learned that he was so enamored with his Outdoor Education that he chose to live in a tent for his Spring Break! He lived off the land, hunting his own food, completely cut off from all technology. When I asked him about his experience, he told me, “I had a wonderful time in my tent. I became the ‘ultimate woodsman’ so to speak. I built a bonfire, cooked some food and slept in my tent and basically lived off the land the entire time. It was an amazing experience and I would really like to thank Mr. Brooke Haynie for giving me the knowledge to do so.”

I’ve been invited to witness the raft relay race the students will participate in once they are finished building their rafts. I’m excited to watch their teamwork unfold in a more competitive environment. Given what I have seen, I have a feeling it is going to be an enriching experience for them and for me.

Chess in Project-Based Learning

Chess is a game of strategy.  It’s a game of wit vs. wit, mind vs. mind. It teaches and utilizes intelligence in more ways than one. Its strategic element is both challenging and rewarding. Yet when do we ever see chess taught in school?

Well, some of Charleston Collegiate’s 11th graders have taken chess to a whole new level:  They’re using it to learn history. The chess board has become a World War II battlefield, fully equipped with all the major players you know, and some you may not.

I attended Mr. McDermott’s history class and was lucky enough to be present for one of his many impromptu, yet utterly moving, discussions linking education to practical knowledge and application. He discussed the importance of the Queen, the most important player on the chess board.

I asked Mr. McDermott why they were doing this project, and the answer he gave me was rather enlightening. “These kids,” he said, “they just weren’t engaged. I couldn’t teach out of a book. It wasn’t working.” He explained to me that when the spring semester began, he sat down and taught his students a full history of chess, and then set them on their own to develop this project. They chose everything, from the historical theme of the project to the characters on the board to the colors of the tiles.

The project is made up of several elements which the students must accomplish by certain dates. I was present to view one of the milestones the students’ accomplished, a preview of their documentary. Their task was to complete a true-to-form trailer for the documentary they will present at the end of the school year. The documentary is a full account of their project.

Reflecting on this endeavor, I consider the fact that I was never given a project like this. Well, I should say I was never given THE OPPORTUNITY to complete a project like this. The first time I sat in on this class, I was astonished when Mr. McDermott sat down outside the circle the students had formed and said nothing. The students immediately began planning their goals for the day. When one student walked out of the room without first asking for permission, my jaw dropped.

“Are they allowed to do that?” I asked. Mr. McDermott smiled at me. “They know,” he responded. “They know what they’re supposed to be doing, and they do it.” The student returned promptly with a camera, and the class rose and left together to work on their project elsewhere. I was in awe. When I was in school, we often were denied requests to leave the room. We were not trusted to complete tasks without strict instruction and monitoring.

I was amazed at their ability to work independently, and cohesively, with little instruction. The level of independent drive to learn and produce was astonishing. They knew what they needed to get done, and they did it, just as Mr. McDermott said. They all seemed genuinely committed to this project. They are proud of it. They are learning. I can’t wait to see the finished product.

Welcome to the NEW Sun Devil Blast!

We appreciate your patience during our transition, and we’re so excited to get back to sharing our school news with you via the blog!

You may have noticed a new welcome e-mail subscribing you to The Collegiate Blast.  This is because, as a convenience, we transferred all subscribers to our old blog, The CCS Daily Blast, over to this new one.  We don’t want you to miss a thing!  If you feel this was done in error, or don’t want to be a part of sharing in our news and what is happening around the campus and in our community, please feel free to follow the easy unsubscribe links provided in the bottom of that e-mail.

Because we have missed out on telling you so much already this year, be prepared to see plenty of “flashback” blog posts about things we have accomplished and learned the first few months of the 2015-2016 school year.  We’ve had many visitors to the school, several educational and fun field trips, community events and fundraisers, and we look forward to letting you take a peek at all of the pictures and information we have saved up to put the word out.

We value  your comments, shares, and likes, and also welcome your input as a member of our CCS community of friends and family.  If you would be interested in writing a blog post about anything you feel would benefit our students, please do not hesitate to submit it.

We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving break, and we look forward to a joyful and invigorating holiday season!