Sparking Thought through Habits of Mind

Alzar School | 13.05.20

Alzar School educators guide students to become critical and creative thinkers, who aren’t afraid to take risks in their learning journey.  We often reference the Habits of Mind by Costa and Kallick as a way to embrace the multi-faceted nature of teaching and learning.  Throughout assignments and projects this semester, Spring 2020 students have stretched their thinking and flexed their brain muscles time and again.  Here are a few highlights, organized by the Habit of Mind they best represent.

Striving for Accuracy and Precision: Mandalas and Math

While deep learning often requires finding conclusions within subjective subject matter, some math goals require the opposite: detailed accuracy with calculations to result in a desired outcome.  In Jonathan Absher’s Precalculus Trigonometry class, students demonstrated proficiency by creating mandalas through intentionally applied polar equations.  If you aren’t familiar, a mandala is a geometric design which serves as a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism.  For this assignment, students were required to incorporate various equations to result in shapes including cardioid, rose (3, 4, or 8 petals), limaçon, lemniscate, and circle.  Below are two student examples.

Sofia’s mandala.


Emma’s mandala.


Questioning and Posing Problems: Environmental Science “Artists’ Statements”

In a unit on Pollution, teaching fellow Becky Fitzpatrick and lead teacher Rachel Ackerman offered students a way to apply learning in a creative authentic assessment.  Using trash or recycled materials, students designed an art piece, accompanied by an Artist’s Statement.  In the statement, artists (students) first introduced themselves and described materials used in their art piece (including their ‘waste stream journey’ prior to and after the artist’s possession).  Next, students described the negative effects the items have on the environment and on human health, in addition to describing how they as a consumer contribute to the demand of such products.  Lastly, students offered two solution-oriented actions they could individually do to reduce the amount of pollution they produce.  Through this task, students had to pose the question: “how do I know?” and develop a questioning attitude, often surrounding common everyday objects.

Luke’s flower vase is made out of a chocolate milk carton and was inspired by the glass vase that originally held the flowers!


Ultimately, we trust the experiences students had during their Alzar School semester have indelibly shaped them.  Post-Alzar, our students emerge as independent, thoughtful, and impactful individuals.  They have tools and hands-on experience being leaders.  They’ve reflected deeply on the 10 Elements of Leadership, and their own leadership styles, strengths, and areas for growth.  Whether in classrooms, on trails or rivers, and in Idaho or Chile, students have expanded their thinking, critical inquiry, and ability to form, and defend, their opinions.  Our teachers are to be applauded for the creative ways they nurture this growth.  As William Butler Yeats wrote: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  We are proud of the 36 Semester XVI students, whose fires are burning bright across the globe.


For more engaging and exciting assignments stay tuned for the Spring issue of the Catalyst.”