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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Insights from the Research, Writing and Presentation Camp

First Focus conducted a Writing and Presentation Camp during the last week of December.  The objective in this camp was to train students how to:

  • Research a selected topic
  • Write up the results of the research
  • Collaborate and Consolidate with team members
  • Translate the findings into a slide deck
  • Make a presentation to the class
Insights from this Camp:  

Click on the image above to see a final presentation

Structure works:
Assigning two or three students to be part of a group provides an opportunity to experience teamwork, personal accountability and participation in the final results. Students are given a range of topics,  each group can select from the list of topics.

The teacher demonstrate how to conduct research on the internet, how to reference information with an active link, how to link to images, and how to use an online database for specific information in an organized manner. The teacher provided a framework to help each team classify information, write about their findings and arrange the information according to priority.

We found students were generally very good team players, some students immediately paired with their friends in the camp, while others created new team relationships.  Once assignments were defined, the work was completed with collaboration and the teams consolidated their separate findings into the working draft. 

Creating a written outline based on the research can be challenging, we shared the strategies and techniques used writing an informational article.  Each team selected a State, wrote an informational article about the State and then read the article to the class.

The class and the teachers provided feedback on the article, the organization, the main points, details and  summary.  The teacher assisted in defining the feedback into actionable improvements.

Presentation Skills:
Based on student and teacher feedback, each team then revised their article and created a presentation using Google Docs - Slides.  Students had one practice session and then gave their presentation to the class.

Results we observed:
As the process continued throughout the week, students demonstrated a higher level of quality in the content of the written article and in their presentations.

Students began to understand why a picture is worth a thousand words.

Most Important:
We observed a sense of confidence and pride in their work.

For more information on the upcoming camps:
The next Research, Writing and Presentation Camp will be held on Winter Break, February 20-23, 2018 and Spring Break, April 9-13, 2018

For more information on the camp, click on

And to register for one of these camps, call us at 650-938-3100, email at First Focus or click on 

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Summer Camp Approach to Teaching Reading to Non-English Speaking Students

At First Focus Learning Systems, we are committed to serving students of all levels of English reading, writing, and comprehension. A particular challenge we face is teaching English to students who have no prior experience of the language. These students are typically from a foreign country, or are otherwise immersed in a different language within their home community. Often, a parent will ask: ‘how will you teach my non-English speaking student to read and understand English?’

Over the past eight years, First Focus has evolved and successfully tested the “Imaginary Picture Story” to create a phonics-based foundation in English for non-English-speaking students.

First, we assign a corresponding picture to each letter in the alphabet. For example, we tell the students to imagine that the letter "b" is a "bear"" and that "t" is a "tent". 

The "Imaginary Picture" story becomes the foundation for students to gain a solid understanding of the sounds of the letters. Visual imagery in our course books helps reinforce the sounds of consonants.

The next two focal points are penmanship and vowel sounds. We emphasize neat penmanship by ensuring that students: 

Make a direct connection to the "Imaginary Picture" by writing the the letter representing the sound.
Identify and articulate if uppercase or lowercase letters are "Tall" or "Short" respectively to emphasize pencil placement

Vowel sounds for A, E, I , O and U are taught by making use of the “long vowel sound rule.” For each of these five letters, the “long vowel sound” is exactly the same as the letter’s name. For example, the letter A in cake is pronounced the same as the letter name “A.” After students are thoroughly comfortable with long vowel sounds, we move on to short vowel sounds and more complex words.

An Israeli grandmother brought her granddaughter to the First Focus summer camp for two consecutive summers.  The student did not speak english at the beginning of the camp season.

By developing and following this distinct process, we have seen remarkable results when teaching non-English speakers. We’ve had the privilege of observing students—many of whom recently moved to the U.S. from countries like China or Israel—quickly ascend to a level of English knowledge that is consistent with their grade level. For more information and testimonials, check out our website: or call 650-938-3100.

We welcome your questions and comments!

Authors: Vivian Mendoza and Coby Simler

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Why a Summer Academic Experience Matters

 The three month summer vacation is great time for kids and a disaster for academic achievement.

Educational research has not discovered any benefits to the embedded practice of interrupting their educational learning progress for three months during each summer.

The opposite has been well documented, the three month summer disengagement with the learning process has been shown to contribute to an accumulated learning deficit among all students. 

Academic school standards and expectations have become more challenging and students can easily fall behind in foundational skills such as reading, writing and math.

Reading: Taking a JumpStart Approach

Reading is the most essential skill for a successful educational career and is the gateway for intellectual development.

The one-week JumpStart Reading Camps are operate from June 26 through August 11, 2017.  Many students find a deeper level of engagement by attending for two or more weeks and are able to demonstrate significant progress during the summer.  Each camp course book is designed to provide two weeks of instructional content and have different topic material for each week. Students who complete a reading camp are better prepared for the incoming grade level expectations.  The exposure to an academic program during the summer provides an opportunity to advance their skills from the end of the school year.

The JumpStart Reading Camps are designed for students entering PreK, Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades.  More information on the reading camps is available at First Focus Reading Camps

The Power of the Pencil

A growing number of students are becoming excellent writers and in our opinion, have the potential to becoming influential bloggers.  Given the career and business opportunities for describing events and craving persuasive article, we have noticed a resurgence of interest in written communications and creative writing in particular.  While all students can feel a sense of pride when they see their articles published, our writing teachers have cultivated an emerging sense of pride among our students who are connecting to the power of written communications.

Posting articles on internet forums can lead to blogging which can be the beginning of a digital identity, even at a young age, and this experience can help develop skills essential to the 21st century economy.   Our writing teachers have embraced this effort to promote the development of written communication skills within our academic camps and after school classes.  The writing camps, designed for students entering the 2nd through the 8th grade, are defined as Beginning Writing, Intermediate Writing and Advanced Writing.  

 Why First Focus?

The camps are an accelerated learning experience over one week, Monday-Friday.  This nature and design of our camps promote a framework for critical thinking and comprehension skills that contribute to academic success.

Students who receive a learning experience during the summer show a significantly higher level of skill retention, leading to a higher level of early engagement with the curriculum for the upcoming school year.  For more information, please visit , email us at or call 650-938-3100 from 1:00- 6:00 pm Monday - Friday.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Attend a Summer Camp for Continuing to Develop Literacy Skills

Silicon Valley is an international community with broad cultural diversity. The team at First Focus provides a series of unique reading weekly camps during the Summer, June 26-August 12. The purpose of these camps is to provide a fun and social educational experience designed specifically to begin or advance a child’s English literacy skills.

The First Focus JumpStart Reading Camps provide students with a visual literacy experience which empowers them to become independent learners.

We use the visual literacy strategy to develop a foundation in reading, writing, and comprehension using the following approach: 
  • decoding words with appropriate reading strategies 
  • reading words correctly aloud 
  • creating a visual image of words by looking at pictures to further develop understanding 
  • using words in spoken and written sentences 
  • read passages and stories to enhance comprehension 

One of the very popular camps is the Advanced Reading Camp, designed to provide students entering 2nd and 3rd grade with reading skill development during the summer and also provide a strong start for the new school year.  Many students attend the Advanced Reading Camp for 2 weeks to cover the full range of material in the Advanced Reading Camp course book.

Why First Focus?

The Full Day camps are an accelerated learning experience over one week where students will have a visual literacy experience, which is embedded in all camps. This visual literacy experience provides a framework for critical thinking and comprehension skills that contribute to academic success.

The camps feature three-hour classes in the morning that introduce new academic skills to students, and project-based activities in the afternoon which provide an opportunity to interact with native speakers and use those skills in context.

 Detailed information and a video outlining each camp is available at:

Students who receive a learning experience during the summer show a significantly higher level of skill retention, leading to a higher level of early engagement with the curriculum for the upcoming school year.

First Focus Learning Systems
1059 El Monte Avenue, Ste A
Mountain View, CA 94040

Tel 650-938-3100


Friday, April 1, 2016

7 Key Components in STEM/STEAM Project Based Learning

STEM has been a popular acronym conveying an emphasis on the key components for successful 21st-century careers featuring project based learning that integrates Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

A movement in educational curriculum development has resulted in a modified approach to project based learning. This approach is referred to as STEAM which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Engineering, and Math. You might ask how does adding Art to the formula transform education?

The “A” for the arts is a recognition that success in technical careers involves much more that the pure technical skills, it also involves the ability to find a creative solution, to “think outside the box”, to consider design, layout, presentation.  

STEAM advocates believe that the best way to encourage “outside the box” creative thinking and problem solving is to look at the problem from different perspectives, from different angles,  – recognizing that many projects warrant an effort in design, aesthetics, presentation and communications.  These additional skills are best developed by including and educational exposure to the arts.   

STEAM advocates place an emphasis on team collaboration including the development of social skills among all team members.  Social skills in a team are essential in the real world and have been undervalued in many traditional scientific curriculums.  

This definition has separated proponents of the two approaches, something along the lines of a respective discussion to a heated debate.

The core issue comes down to how you define Art and its role in the learning process.  STEM advocates believe team collaboration, communications and respect for different approaches are already included  STEM programs.  STEAM advocates believe there is room to include the Arts in a broader educational context, including a focus on the user experience, considering the aesthetics of the design verses pure functionality and the verbal and written presentation both written and verbal, about the benefits of the project. 

Both approaches include what we believe is important, that project based leaning provide an inquiry-based approach which encourages and rewards children and youth through hands-on exploration, originality of the approach, the use of innovation in the project, team work, evaluation and reflection. 

The afternoon sessions of our First Focus camps are a project based STEM / STEAM experience, where students work in small teams on specific projects, collaborate with their team members in a project based learning experience and present the results to the group.  

Our experience in conducting project based summer camps has allowed us to define the following seven key elements in a STEM/STEAM learning experience:

  • The project complexity is appropriate to the age and attention level of the students and it can be completed within the defined time limits.
  • The project has several acceptable approaches and a range of different outcomes. 
  • Students are provided with background material on the project, why it matters, who will benefit, how those benefits can be observed or measured.
  • Students can work in teams to share knowledge, solve problems they encounter individually or they can work independently.
  • Students write a short description of the project, track their progress, outline what worked, what did not work and any insights they gained in the project.
  • Students use the written description to make a presentation to the class.
  • Students take home their project, explain it to their family and friends
For more information on the summer camp series conduction as one week camps over 7 weeks with STEM/STEAM programs in the afternoon, please visit  

Sunday, June 7, 2015

5 Ways to address the Summertime Loss in Literacy Skills

Activities to Minimize the Summer Time Learning Loss:

Growing up I remember the sheer joy I experienced as the regular school year came to a close in June and the 3 month summer break was about to start. As an elementary student, I had no concern about my loss of academic achievement during the summer. 

I also was not concerned that the beginning of my next school year would require 6 to 8 weeks to bring me and my classmates back to the same skill level we possessed at the end of the previous school year.

This three month disengagement with the learning process has been shown to contribute to an accumulated learning deficit measured among high school students.

The required skills for meaningful careers have changed dramatically. Academic school standards and expectations have become more challenging and students can easily fall behind in one or more foundational skills.

For students in the grades Kindergarten through 6th grade, here are some ways parents can minimize the loss in literacy skills during the summer.

Listen to an overview of the Summer Camp Program

1. Incorporate reading and comprehension skills into everyday conversation. This may sound simple, but the literacy expectations for students entering the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade are considerable. Students entering 1st grade are expected to be able to read words, typically single syllable words. Students entering 2nd grade are expected to be able to read multi-syllable words as well as compound words, phrases and complete sentences. 

After watching a movie or reading a book, following are some suggestions for you to strengthen your child’s comprehension: 
  • Characters: Who are the main characters in the story?
  • Main idea: Tell me what the story was about?
  • Retell the Sequence: What happened first, second, next …?
  • Setting:  Where and when did the story take place?
  • Was this a true story or fiction?
  • Opinion: Do you agree with the outcome of the story and why could have been different?
2. Building a student’s vocabulary is always a positive skill. One of the best ways to easily increase vocabulary is to understand the power of compound words. 
Students will gain the insight that many larger words are simply the combination of two smaller words. Examples of compound words are: 
-backpack, baseball, birthday, cupcake, chopstick, sunshine, waterfall. 

3. Explore the world of prefixes and suffixes. The role of prefixes and suffixes in the English language is remarkable. Once students understand part of the word, they can easily learn new words that contain a prefix or a suffix. Examples are: 
pre-heat, im-possible, dis-engage, by-pass, up-load, color-ful, kind-ness, enjoy-ment. 

4. Learning to spell correctly is an essential literacy skill. Spelling is critical in creating 
the mental association of reading of the word to writing the word and using it
in a sentence. As your child learns to read words, efforts to incorporate the spelling of the word will pay dividends when the time comes to learn writing.

5. Build confidence in the literacy foundation skills. There are many logical and intuitive approaches to learning to read. One approach to building a logical skills set is the following:
• learn to decode speak the phonetic sounds and read the word
• learn the meaning of the word both as a stand-alone word and in the context of a phrase or a sentence
• learn how to spell the word, practice printing the word
• practice writing a phrase or sentence using the word correctly

As a parent concerned about the loss of acquired skills from the end of the school year, you can incorporate some of the above activities as a road map to maintain or improve academic skills. We have seen the effectiveness of these activities which serve to improve literacy skills, build confidence and increase enjoyment in reading, as well as contribute to success in the classroom.

For more information on the First Focus summer camps in reading, writing and math.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

First Focus Open House

First Focus Learning Systems will host an Open House on Tuesday, May 26 and Wednesday, May 27, 2015 from 4:30-6:30 pm for all parents enrolled in the current year and parents interested in reviewing the summer camp programs.

The Summer Academic Camp program will start on June 29, 2015, all camps are for five days, Monday through Friday, 9:00 am- 4:00 pm, students bring their lunch for the noon time (12:00 pm) lunch break.

The location is: 
First Focus Learning Systems
1059 El Monte Avenue, Ste A
Mountain View, CA 94040
Tel 650-938-3100

The Summer Academic Camps have the same teachers as the regular school year, teaching JumpStart camps for students entering PreK through 5th grade.

First Focus Academic Camp Program

There is a "Learn to Code" early programming and Research - Presentation skills series of camps, including HTML, Python, Java, Blogging, storytelling with images, video and podcasting.

Information on "Learn to Code" Camps

All teachers will be available to review the progress of students as well as to respond to questions about the academic camps starting on June 29, 2015.

We look forward to your visit, refreshments will be available.