My former boss, Brett Jacobsen always said that we don’t connect the dots until afterwards. When we are planning for the future we can’t know exactly what the final product will look like. We can’t predict the future. It is hard to believe that just over two years ago I stepped into the role of the Head of Upper School at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. As a school of “inquiry, innovation and impact” it was a match made in heaven. For years I had been chasing the dream of transforming education for our students and Mount Vernon was just what I was searching for. Each and every day I had the opportunity to work with a talented team of educators to push boundaries to constructively answer these three questions. How might we …
- make school more reflective of real life.
- empower all learners to be seekers and explorers.
- inspire one another — and the larger world — through the work we undertake.
I had the pleasure of continuing work where students could explore their passions with iProjects, developing interdisciplinary courses, watching students partner with outside organizations to develop ideas and create was inspiring, creating meaningful project based learning was fun, using design thinking to develop creative solutions made sense, and where studying assessment for the future was beyond the trees.
The work was challenging and rewarding.
So, no one would have predicted that by July 2017 I would be on safari for new teacher orientation in Mikumi National Park. I never would have predicted that path back in 2015.
I never would have guessed that my family and I would move to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where I would be the Secondary Principal at the International School of Tanganyika. IST is another amazing school but very different than MVPS. We strive to “challenge, inspire and support all students to fulfill their potential and improve the world.” At IST our curriculum is based on the International Baccalaureate Primary, Middle Years and Diploma Programs. There are 60 different nationalities represented in the student body and the faculty hails from 20 different countries. Like MVPS, I anticipate that the work will be challenging and rewarding.
After spending 14 years working at three different international schools outside the United States it feels like we’ve found our niche. While our time in Atlanta was an adventure, our life here in Dar will be an uber-adventure. Now that the transition is over I’m ready to share my learning again.
On a note related to this article and what the Chicago Cubs did with their clubhouse.
On 4 July, along with thousands of others, we enjoyed the beach in Dennis, MA. One of the first things that I noticed was that the groups of people were setup in circles. It didn’t matter that some of the members of the group had their backs to the water. Now I have been to beaches all over the world and this is the first time that I remember this type of culture. Typically groups set up facing the water. Now I’m not talking about a few groups – I’m talking about nearly every group setting up that way. I could definitely tell that the circle was much more conducive to conversations among all members of the group. Why is it that me and my friends did not realize this before? Maybe the same reason why most clubhouses are rectangular.
In the Upper School at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School we are on a mission to open up interdisciplinary learning experiences to our students. In January, we introduced 10 new interdisciplinary courses that will be team taught. If all goes as planned we will have approximately 21 faculty members working in a co-teaching situation.
We believe so strongly in the benefits of breaking down the disciplinary silos.
“The historical model was based on separation and specialization; the new model will be about creating connections and interactions among a wide variety of separate domains.”
Duke University President Richard Brodhead
An interdisciplinary approach offers so many benefits to today’s students.
“Interdisciplinary teaching helps students…
- Uncover Preconceptions or Recognize Bias…
- Advance Critical Thinking and Cognitive Development…
- Tolerate or Embrace Ambiguity…
- Appreciate Ethical Dimensions of Concerns.”
Study compiled by Arthur H. Goldsmith, Washington and Lee University
These 9 courses, along with Humanities 10 make up our new interdisciplinary courses for the 2017-18 school year. You can see that we have the common social studies and English connections, as well as science and English and statistics and English. These are one period classes where students can determine which core content area they can earn the credit for. Yes, we’re still working under a Carnegie unit paradigm.
Here are a couple of course descriptions. The course below is one that every student should take during his/her academic career. These particular courses allow students who are interested in math and sciences to take those courses and then use this course for their English credit. Oh, and students can earn honors credit for any of these courses. The sections are heterogenous and those who want to excel must complete work at a higher level.
Data and Rhetoric: How Statistics Shapes Arguments How do we know what data to trust? How do we use data responsibly? Because of practices like data dredging, p-hacking, and the use of logical fallacies, not all arguments are created equally, and the mere presence of data does not validate an argument. In this course, students will master introductory skills in statistical methods and data interpretation in conjunction with argument analysis and construction. Students will become critical readers as they learn to evaluate sources and evidence, including the statistics methods and analyses used to collect and interpret the data, trace an author’s line of reasoning, and evaluate the logic and efficacy of the claims, ultimately preparing students to become thoughtful researchers and writers. As students work to answer the essential questions for this course, they will also examine how culture and context shape data and its presentation as they work to answer the essential questions for the course. Learning outcomes and spiraling skills for this course allow learners to take this course for 1.0 English credit or 1.0 Mathematics credit.
Ecological Rhetoric: Science and Literature of the Environment In this course study discussions of environmental issues through a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction texts, exploring both the rhetoric and the scientific basis for claims made. The course emphasizes a strong foundation of the chemical, biological, and physical processes in ecosystem, as well the literary themes and linguistic devices deployed in environmental argumentation. Students will also craft arguments about the environment and attempted to mobilize communities around environmental issues in this project-based class.
We also are striving to provide our students with more options and to allow our older students to build their own path. These changes create many more options for out MVPS students. Prior to making a decision our Upper School Leadership team tested out possible schedules for student. What we found that each one had his/her own story based on their new choices.
Notice the differences between Javier and Ignacio.
- *Data and Civic Engagement (SS) Year
- *Environmental Advocacy: An exploration of the science and rhetoric surrounding the environment (Science) Year
- Atlanta’s Place in America/Southern Studies: What is Southern Culture? (English/Social Studies) Sem
- Propaganda and Protest: Studying 20th century American warfare through the lens of film (Social Studies/English/Arts) Sem
- Race, Class, and Gender in America (English/Social Studies) Sem
- Anatomy & Physiology
- Data & Civic Engagement (Eng)
- AP World
- AP Latin
Our teachers will be in course development the rest of this semester and into the summer vacation. Afterwards each individual decided to honestly find a way for the child. The next step that is on our agenda is to find someone who can teach programming and also be able to craft. Leads on these position.
Since rolling out Humanities 9 this year we have learned that our teachers need support with becoming high performing teams in the classroom. At one of our recent meetings someone said, “We’re all alphas in our own classrooms.” Navigating class with a teaching partner can be a stressful situation.
Disclaimer: This post has been in my draft box since August. It’s still worthy of sharing even though the timing is off.
This week we welcomed new faculty members to the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School Family. In the past we have spent a small amount of time on mission and culture before diving into the nuts and bolts of work life. This year we tried something different and we focused on our Norms and Principles and Practice:
- Relationships are foundational to learning
Curiosity and passion drive learning
- Empathy influences learning
- Learners apply knowledge to make an impact
While the maker and design thinking activities were excellent, the highlight for me was our field trip to Ponce City Market. In my recent post, #ILOVEMYSCHOOL I mentioned that one of our strategic questions is, “How might we empower all learners to be seekers and explorers?”.
Before embarking on our adventure, Bo Adams shared his lifelong quest searching for project based learning (PBL) and his experience with Father-Son Based Learning (#FSBL). He also touted the benefits of building muscles around “Innovator’s DNA traits – observe, question, experiment, network, and associate. – through the methodology of observation journaling and curiosity-curated curriculum.”
Once we arrived at the market we split up into two groups but people were free to go wherever the wanted. The time together helped us build relationships and we had FUN. Not exactly what most people are used to during an orientations session.
Let’s see what comes of trips like this. Who knows how it may transfer to our students.