You never connect the dots in advance

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.

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Taking a Drink
Hippo Heart
Sunset at the Hippo Pool
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Sailing in Msasani Bay

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.

Karibu Nyumbani!

 

 

 

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Breaking Down the Silos

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.

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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.

Javier

  • *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

Ignacio

  • PreCalculus
  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Data & Civic Engagement (Eng)
  • AP World
  • AP Latin
  • Yearbook

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.

 

Empowering Seekers and Explorers

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
  • #FailUp

  • #HaveFun

  • #StartWithQuestions

ponce-city-marketWhile 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?”. 

 

 

fsbl-boBefore 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.

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Learning from ATL City Planners
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So much to consider when redesigning a city
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You just don’t know what you’ll find…

Let’s see what comes of trips like this. Who knows how it may transfer to our students.

 

 

 

Just ask the students…

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For the past several months we have been working on hacking our curriculum for 2017. Our Upper School faculty has been collaborating on new courses for next year. The discussions have been driven by three questions from our Manifesto.

  • How might we make school more reflective of real life?
  • How might we empower all learners to be seekers and explorers?
  • How might we inspire one another — and the larger world — through the work we undertake together?

We initially posted displays in the Hive for teachers and students to comment on during a 2 week period. There were several informal meetups organized during our lunch/enrichment period. We provided examples of courses and schedules from other schools, documents from our current academic program, prototypes from our faculty members and external constraints that we have to consider. The process led to lively discussions between faculty members but we knew that there was something missing. So, we decided to include students in the process.

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After the two week Pop-up Lab faculty members formally proposed new courses for the 2017-18 school year. During the course review process we brought in students to find out what they …

likewishwonder

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This gave our Upper School Leadership team additional information to consider during the approval process. As you can imagine, we learned a ton from our students that informed our decision making process. The end result is that we’ll be rolling out new interdisciplinary courses that are inquiry based and incorporate real world connections. All were vetted by the students prior to approval. Let’s see how the students respond in January.

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I would love to hear how other schools include students in academic program discussions. Please share what you are doing.

Why we Start with Questions at #MVPS

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Our first norm at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School is “Start with Questions”. Why?

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things that you have long taken for granted.”

Bertrand Russell

“No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”

Thomas Berger

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

Voltaire

“What makes us human, I think, is an ability to ask questions, a consequence of our sophisticated spoken language.”

Jane Goodall

“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.”

Claude Levi-Strauss

“He who asks the questions cannot avoid the answers.”

African Proverb

 

What Meaningful Reflection On Student Work Can Do for Learning | MindShift | KQED News

This is an excellent article that shows the importance of reflection in learning. There are so many ideas for educators to use in their practices. While not all of these were named, these are my thoughts after reading the article.
  • providing meaningful feedback to their students;
  • discussing the big picture with students;
  • providing time for students to reflect regularly and building these habits;
  • creating a culture of sharing reflections with community members; and
  • how student led conferences can be valuable. 
  • tags: metacognition learning reflection Student Led Conferences

    • For student reflection to be meaningful, it must be metacognitive, applicable, and shared with others.

    • If students are metacognitive about inquiry, then they’re thinking about exactly how they are going to phrase that question;

    • if they’re metacognitive about collaboration, then they’re considering how their introvert or extrovert personality will affect the group.

    • Metacognition is essentially reflection on the micro level, an awareness of our own thought processes as we complete them.

    • Metacognitive reflection, however, takes this process to the next level because it is concerned not with assessment, but with self-improvement:

    • metacognitive reflection can be used to develop resilience in the face of a challenge.

    • Many young children (and some adults) will throw down their work when they become frustrated with it, unable to transcend the struggle. By contrast, a student who has learned the value of metacognitive reflection will recognize frustration as a signal to pause and think through the situation instead of plowing ahead with the same approach or giving up entirely.

    • How is this reflection going to help me in the future? I

    • Keeping a log of tasks and habits, for example, gives students a rich source of data to mine when reflecting on their progress, and there are many apps that will collect and aggregate this information in accessible and attractive ways.

    • Even using a simple timer can help students chunk out their work so they take a reflective break, and some programs have breaks built into the timer cycle, so that a pause from the work is guaranteed.

    • This kind of isolated, after-the-fact reflection dominates our understanding of the process. When asked to imagine a person reflecting, you probably conjure up an image of an individual alone, in a comfortable place, staring off into the distance, plaintively contemplating some earlier life event. This scene is likely set at the end of a calendar year, or at the end of a lifetime—or, if you imagined a professional setting, at a retirement party.

    • Unfortunately, this sentimental notion of reflection for reflection’s sake keeps the practice from being used for active improvement in the here and now.

    • By being transparent about future tasks and assignments, teachers remind students that they’re going to have to use at least some of these skills again, so there’s no sense in making the same mistakes.

    • Reflection suddenly has a real and immediate purpose: You know where this course is going, so how are you going to improve the quality of your own journey?

    • Proximity here is key; reviewing a previous reflection can be most instructive when students are working on the next task, so their reflection should be stored wherever that work is happening.

    • Digital tools also provide different mediums for students to capture their thoughts—they can type or tag, or talk into the microphone or camera.

    • Electronic tools of analysis can also play a big role here. Just as athletes track their physical performance using a specific set of metrics, students may benefit from reviewing their academic achievements in different areas, like the categories of a rubric or a list of discrete skills.

    • In the interest of keeping up appearances, we don’t really like to share our weaknesses and past failures (although we do love gawking at the problems and misfortunes of others).

    • But if we are really seeking to take action based on our reflections, then we will likely need some help, and that means we have to own up about what needs work. To make students comfortable with this practice, the classroom has to become a place where each student is recognized as being on an individual path of improvement—and, an important point, no student has reached the end of the path, because there is no end.

    • By sharing their reflections on their academic work, students can both advise and seek help from their peers.

    • Just as electronic tools make reflections easy to access for an individual, so, too, do they make it easy to share. Sharing becomes instantaneous when material is available online; the collection of commentary from an entire class can also be indexed, searched, and organized by theme—a feature that may be of great use for the teacher, who will want to look at both individual goals and the class’s experience as a whole.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

A Funny Example of Old School Grading Practices

The Huffington Post article, Student Sinks Impossible Shot To Secure Entire Class 100s On Organic Chemistry Quiz recently caught my attention. It’s a fun story about a student in a organic chemistry class at The Ohio State University that threw a wadded up piece of paper into the garbage can from the balcony. The story is so popular that there are over 1,000 comments. So, being someone who has an interest in grades and grade reporting I decided to comment.

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I really wondered how many people would respond to my comment and I’m shocked that there were 30 comments. Here are just a few to give you an idea of what people were thinking.

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It’s just interesting to me that so many people are programmed to think that giving out grades for “extra credit” or tricks unrelated to academic performance is the norm. I’m all for having fun in class and I think that it’s great that the professor encouraged this type of behavior. I’m also smart enough to know that the quiz grade doesn’t do much for their overall grades in the end. I’m just a proponent of Grades that Mean Something.
The purpose of grading is to describe how well students have achieved the learning objectives or goals established for a class or course of study. Grades should reflect students’ performance on specific learning criteria.