What Schools Say

Why the best schools use Science Bits

Alexander Ontiveros
Alexander Ontiveros

Academy for Global Citizenship, Chicago, USA

The Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) is an innovative IB and Dual Language Public School, located on the underserved Southwest side of Chicago. Alexander Ontiveros is the MYP coordinator and much more. He talked with us and shared some insights about AGC’s work, their brand new campus, and their inspiring mission to develop mindful leaders who take action both now and in the future to positively impact their communities and the world beyond.

Can you tell us a little bit about you and your school?

My name is Alexander Ontiveros, and I work at the Academy for Global Citizenship. I’ve worked in education for close to 15 years and have been with AGC now for over a year. My role is mainly to support Middle School teachers and ensure success with students and families.

As a charter school, AGC has more autonomy than many public schools. We can adopt innovative curriculums when they are a good fit and don’t have to wait for approvals and sign-offs. When we saw Science Bits, we were able to almost immediately use it. It’s a great fit with what we do.

AGC is not a typical school, is it? Can you explain more about your approach?

As the name ‘Academy for Global Citizenship’ suggests, our objective is to prepare students for the future as responsible, informed, and educated citizens. We are an IB school, we teach a lot through inquiry and shift students from what can sometimes be a two-block mindset.

AGC is located in Chicago near Midway, and a lot of students come here with no awareness of anything outside of their neighborhood. We have students reflect on what they do, why they’re doing it, and their impact—not just on the community, but their state, country, and world in general.

We incorporate a lot of sustainability practices: we have bins for landfill, recycling, and compost. From kindergarten, students know that garbage is placed in the appropriate bin. We encourage them to question when they need something, if a purchase is necessary, or if they can reuse something.

When things reach their end of life, we reuse them for crafts or art or things like that. We recently just moved into a brand new campus. Even the building itself is a nice learning tool. It’s net positive—we produce more energy than we consume. And all of that plays really nicely with Science Bits.

That’s really interesting, in what way?

When we go into the curriculum, into Science Bits, and explore the 5E Model, besides showing the interactive examples from the curriculum itself, students are encouraged to connect the concepts in real time with what’s going on in our building. There’s a lot of stuff happening!

We reuse rainwater to save thousands of gallons of drinking water. We have radiant heating from the floor which uses water to heat and cool the building. We’re installing solar panels to produce our own electricity. Nearly all of the materials in the building are sustainable.

We have separate Villages, some of them have wooden benches from the wood from the trees that were on the site. So, even just in the manufacturing process, sustainability is a thread that we’re really trying to pursue. All that we do on campus connects with what they are learning with Science Bits.

Science isn’t abstract: it’s not a weird, faraway concept but something they can walk down to, and see happen! We know students retain information if we help them make real world connections. Science Bits does that beautifully, and we take it one step further: that’s what’s happening here.

So you make the students find their own examples of the phenomena and scientific concepts they learn in Science Bits. That’s a great thing to do! How many students do you have?

In total, we’re a little over 500 students now. We’ve just added Pre-K so we’ve passed the milestone of 500 students. In terms of Middle School students, if I remember correctly, we’re a little south of 150. Right now, we have 142 or 143 students in middle school.

And what kind of students do you have in AGC?

Our student makeup is predominantly Hispanic from a background where Spanish is spoken at home. We also have African American students. They’ve actually just started a student-run black student union to help educate students on important figures in black history.

We’re very open: if a student wants to start an organization or club, they meet with the Principal to see how it adds value to students, and then we try to make it happen. We support students doing and getting involved: as long as it’s safe, kind, always respects others, and adds value, why not?

Another aspect of our students is that almost all are on free reduced lunch. In Chicago, the neighborhoods are very segregated. Unfortunately, for students, education can look vastly different if I’m a student on the West Side, on the South Side, or on the North Side.

Resources aren’t always distributed equally. The nice thing about AGC is it’s a charter school, and it is Lottery based. So people can apply and we have students from many different neighborhoods. No matter where you live, you can still come to AGC and really get a good overall education.

You’ve also changed campus since you started using Science Bits, haven’t you?

Yes, we’re blessed to have a new building and campus: the students have adjusted phenomenally. It’s now more of an open concept. At our new campus we operate by Villages. So there’s intergrade, mixing students in what we call Learning Zones.

Each zone can meld into another and learning is very socialized. Each Village has a teaching kitchen with sinks and stoves except for the K1 Village. We mix it up, generally not just in science and with Science Bits but with everything: we try to take learning to the next level and make it transfer.

One use is lab experiments, of course, but the math class can also go in and work on recipes, to double this, or reduce by half and create a nice product. Each Village has a teaching kitchen as well as what we call a Plaza—a mass seating area so when needed, teachers can frame and anchor learning.

For that, they use a more Socratic Method in a five- to fifteen-minute session: each Village has a Plaza, except K1, a learning kitchen and the other areas are learning zones. Students adjusted fast, the shift with teachers I would say took a little more time, but we’ve got into a nice rhythm now.

Making connections means more cross disciplinary activity. For example, our English teacher works with our Social Studies teacher on units. Students don’t get siloed in science, separated in math: we try to make sure they learn about concepts in different ways and through more than one content area.

We prepare students for the future and Science Bits fits really well with what we do. It helps our students understand science, connect the dots, and ask the questions to start to make sense of the world. It connects perfectly with our mission to teach students not what to learn but how to learn.

Do all of your middle school students have devices?

Yes, we are one-to-one: each student has an iPad. We simplify; there are no books to lose. Everything is online. We’re trying to reduce waste, use of paper, printing, and electricity in all that we do. And, as well as being 1:1, we’re very hands-on. Everything is connected.

You’re working very hard to make it seamless and simple for your students, it seems.

Absolutely. They’re not coming to school: they’re coming to discover the world and make it a better place. We’re focused on value. We want students to feel supported, that they’re part of a community and that we work, learn, and succeed together. We all matter.

A lot of kids have been here since kindergarten. They’re like family: the teachers and students have been around each other for years. That translates into a good relationship: the triangle of Family, School, and Community; the saying it takes a village to raise a child. That’s exactly our model here.

And, as a Charter School, we can change things in real time. Our families really trust us. There’s a lot of communication. When we try new things like Science Bits, there’s a lot of interest and support. As well as elevating education, it’s like an incubator: we work to find ways to increase students’ learning.

Families see how we change practices—pull levers to benefit the students. We share data with the families so they’re aware. They trust the school, they trust the teachers, they trust the Principal. She was a teacher, then had my role, and now she’s the School Principal. That experience is important.

As School Principal, she’s involved in everything and in constant contact with families. She has four kids—three of them in the school—and so also has that lens of a mom, too. All that we do is focused on adding value to family, school, community: AGC is a global village that prepares kids for the future.

Thank you for your time and for sharing your experiences!

You’re very welcome.