Searching for Flexible Learning Spaces to Study

In my last post New Learning Spaces = New Flow of Learning, I shared the plans for a new Upper School building at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.  I have been fascinated by what this new campus will mean for learning at our school and am fixated on finding comparable spaces. Earlier in the year, I had the opportunities to visit the James B. Hunt, Jr. Library and North Carolina State University and the G. Wayne Clough Learning Commons at Georgia Tech. Both places provide learners with flexible and open spaces.

While these amazing facilities help me to study how learners use the space, I keep asking myself, “Is the type of use in these libraries different than how are teachers and students will use our new building?” (What I’m about to write actually makes me chuckle.) In general, it appears that students determine how the space will be used. They can work individually or in groups. They can play video games when they want. They can get assistance from librarians or writing tutors on demand or they can use the technology when needed. These spaces don’t seem to be teacher driven or collaboratively driven by teachers and students.

So, if we took over Georgia Tech’s Learning Commons for a week, how would we organize the space? Where would the teachers and students go and how would the space be used? What would the flow of learning by like? These are the questions that I am wrestling with now.

We are planning to convert current classroom space to make it more flexible next year and we are searching for schools who are already experiencing teaching and learning in these flexible spaces. If you’re one of these schools, let’s talk.

New Learning Spaces = New Flow of Learning

For over a year now Mount Vernon Presbyterian School has been working with Trung Le, Christian Long, and Sam Chaltain of   Wonder by Design to develop a state of the art Upper School building. It’s been fascinating to watch them in action capture the spirit of our school and how they have translated that spirit into a design for our new building. While the design is still undergoing iterations, there is no doubt that this new facility will require us to reconsider our approach to curriculum and teaching and learning. The Wonder Team introduced us to the design drivers and our community settled on these three.

  • 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 that we undertake?

The building includes:

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 10.18.19 PM

Below are several photos of the model that was presented to community members in the fall.

Exterior 1

Front of Building

Exterior 2

Side of Building

Inquiry Zone

Inquiry Zone Layout

Inquiry Accelerator

Inquiry Accelerator

Cafe

Cafe

During the curiosity conversations with community members people kept asking, how will our current academic program fit into this building? They also asked, how are you going to prepare faculty for this shift? Along the same lines we keep trying to image what the schedule will be like for teachers and students. What will Mr. Jimenez’s class be doing at 10:00 am on Monday? Will Mr. Jimenez have a class like we know it today? Will Mr. Jimenez and his students be assigned a specific space?

These are all fascinating questions that we are exploring now. Robert Rhodes from Horace Greeley High School, said of their renovation project, “It’s a space, but it’s really a curriculum project.”

 

 

The Maker Movement has Something for Everyone

I learned a valuable lesson Thursday during the MVIFI Dine and Design event. I hate to publicly admit it but I was not looking forward to the event. As a participant in maker sessions in the past I just haven’t enjoyed them that much. It’s not that I haven’t tried to get hooked on the movement. Several years ago I read Silvia Martinez and Gary Stager’s book Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom and I attended their session at the American School of Bombay’s Unplugged ConferenceIn 2013, as the High

Scibblebot

First Attempt at a ScribbleBot

School Principal at Graded I helped get our Makerspace up and running. I’ve built scribble bots and used conductive paint to create light-up cards and seen kids tinker with circuits, magnets, 3D printing and programming. I’m also fascinated how drones can be used in learning.

At Mount Vernon our Hive is about to open and TJ Edwards has been working with Parker Thomas to develop a Maker curriculum that all of our students will take advantage of in the near future. TJ has also written about making a maker community.

Sadly I have enjoyed watching others tinker and make more that actually doing it myself. I have also been questioning how the Maker Movement fits in with subjects other than math and science. Well, on Thursday night I was actually hooked, engaged and fired up about creating a personal brand. Wait, how does a personal brand fit with the maker movement? The design exercise incorporated a tool that allows you to make vinyl stickers. Now I had seen kids creating stickers around campus but I had no idea how COOL it actually would be.

Here’s how the two hour session, including dinner, was organized.

  1. We answered the following questions on sticky notes and these answers would later be used to help us develop our personal brand.
    • How would a friend describe you?
    • How would you most want to be remembered?
    • Who is a person you most admire?
  2. We then watched a short clip of the TED Talk from John Maeda: How art, technology and design inform creative leaders
  3. To create these stickers we needed to develop a basic understanding of how to use Inkscape.
  4. Trey Boden then provided us a mini lessons on three types of logos, with examples.
  5. We then learned about the Noun Project as a tool for searching for images that represent nouns.
  6. It then came time to design and create our personal logo. With assistance we were all able to come up with our first prototype.

My personal brand came from a nickname that some of my friends have given me over the years and I’m proudly displaying it on my laptop.

Mr. Fiasco

My learning:

  1. There are such a wide variety of maker activities that can allow students to find a niche.
  2. Thinking about design was the most important task in this activity. Learning the technology was simple for our initial task.
  3. I can see more possibilities for makers in humanities and art classes.

 

 

Post Semester One: What the students told us

My quest to tell my story of our transformation of grading and reporting practices at Graded School in Sao Paulo, Brazil has been delayed during the past two months. As a refresher, here are my past posts.

At the end of the first semester of the 2014 – 15 school year I wrote several articles for the Graded community that appeared in the Gazette. This one is one that I’ve adapted for this series of posts on our journey to improve grading and reporting practices.

The members of our Math department surveyed students and below are a few of the comments, related to re-assessments.

These comments show students are understanding how the process of re-assessments impacts their learning. Notice that the focus is not on grades but on learning. These types of comments are representative of a growth mindset, where the focus is on the progress instead of the product. We hope over time this mentality will spread and become part of the Graded culture.

  • “My biggest success was to be able to find my area of weakness in the summatives and be able to improve on them.”
  • “I was able to learn from my mistakes and re-assess myself to know if I really understood the content.”
  • “I am able to learn the material. With the retake, maybe I thought I understood the content but actually didn’t.”
  • “The re-taking system has helped me. Not only has it decreased the pressure of tests but I felt that I always understood the content more in the re-take.”
  • “To review the knowledge more than once helps me truly learn the material rather than learn it for one test.”

Change can be difficult, and deep and lasting change does not happen in the short term. Here are some challenges:

  • “Trying to fit in time for studying for retakes, while also doing the work for other classes.”
  • “If you do bad on a summative, there is no way to bring [your grade] up unless you do well on the retake. You can’t bring up your grade with homework.”
  • “Since I don’t have to do homework, I don’t learn the content as much, and therefore I don’t do as well in the summatives.”
  • “My biggest struggle is being able to show all of my knowledge on tests, because when I get nervous I tend to forget some information.”
  • “That homework doesn’t count. This is a struggle because I do homework almost all the time and it would help boost my grades up.”
  • “If I want to increase my grade, there is a much lower chance if I didn’t do as well in the re-take. I don’t have homework grades that count on my grade.”

The results below show students’ views on homework, satisfaction with grades and understanding of content, and effort and preparation.

  • What do you see?

  • What do you think about that?

  • What does it make you wonder?

Homework Satisfaction Grades Effort and Preparation

Throughout the entire semester we wondered if there would be dramatic changes in students’ grades. In the next post we’ll look at 1st semester grades.

#IMAMUSTANG – Highlights from My New School

So excited to be a Mustang at MVPS

So excited to be a Mustang at MVPS

As many of you know I joined the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School community this year serving as the Head of the Upper School. Mount Vernon is a school of “inquiry, innovation and impact” and we are redesigning the school experience for our students. So far, the experiences and challenges seem to be just what I was seeking.

Take a look at what I’ve been experiencing these past few weeks. This laundry list will provide you with a taste of what life is like at Mount Vernon.

On September 22 and October 6 Trung Le, Christian Long and the rest of their team from Wonder by Design held Curiosity Conversations around the current prototype of the proposed Upper School building with members of our community.

The current model is nothing like your traditional school building. “Flexibility” was the number one word used by those who participated in the conversation. There are “Inquiry Zones”, “Inquiry Accelerators”, “The Plex”, “The Mobile Action Lab”, and STEM areas. This building represents the school that we want to be and our efforts to create a program that fits the space are continuous.

Our students are working on their iProjects and those students who are seeking to find the topic that hooks them have had access to mini-field trips around town (The Beltline, CNN, College Football Hall of Fame, Historical Sweet Auburn Market), entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs like Corbin Klett (you have to see his 3 min speech at the Georgia Tech Commencement Ceremony), Ted Wright, from Fizz, Chantel Adams from Forever We and designer Jenn Graham of Atlanta Streets Alive.

I, along with colleagues and students attended the Creative Mornings – Atlanta meeting where Aarron Walter spoke about Empathy and designing for emotion at MailChimp. Our students then visited the Museum of Design Atlanta and had lunch at Atlanta Tech Village.

While the MVAllstars provided our community with a powerful drama around Armenian immigrants to the US, our World History students were conducting interviews of local Armenians to learn more about the their knowledge of the genocide that occurred 100 years ago. Our photography students prepared an exhibit that set the tone as viewers entered the theater and one of our teachers shared his family’s immigration story. This was an excellent example of teams working together to craft the entire experience for theater goers.

Oh, and it’s been so long ago that I almost forgot about having the honor to attend Plywood Presents where we heard from many inspirational problem solvers.

To provide our students with opportunities to travel abroad and within the US we kicked off sign up for our interim trips. Students can chose from trips to Australia, London, Greece, Costa Rica, Seattle, New Orleans, Crystal River, FL, local internships and other local experiences. Plus, our Innovation Diploma students will be visiting the Stanford d.School to work with graduate students on a Future of Food challenge.

More later on our work on improving assessment practices and designing a MVPS Upper School Humanities program.

The Dreaded Reassessments

Reassessments in 1st Semester

In late May 2014, I returned from a trip and our Middle School Principal, Jeff Lippman let me know that the middle school had decided to move to a 1 – 7, IB like grading scale and they were not going to average grades. All of this would begin at the start of the 2015 school year. This move was one year earlier than we had planned in the high school. I quickly surveyed our faculty to see if it was at all possible for us to do the same and it obvious that we weren’t ready to take the leap. Little did we know that this decision would lead to over 1056 student reassessments during semester one of the 2015 school year.

More on this later…

As the school year started we had to make a difficult decision about our reassessment policy. Were we going to allow all students to reassess on summative assessments or only those students who scored below a set grade? We agonized over this decision before making the decision. The final position that we took was controversial and faculty members were on both sides of the fence. Take a look at the two policies below and let me know what your thoughts are. What is your position on who should/should not be able to reassess, and why?

Version #1

Re-assessment will be available to students in the following circumstances:

  1. Students who have not mastered the standards (grades 69 and below) and have demonstrated completion of relevant formative tasks must sit the re-assessment.
  2. Students who have demonstrated or exceeded mastery (>69) are encouraged to apply feedback to the next learning opportunity.  Students who still want to re-assess, and have demonstrated completion of relevant formative tasks, will be eligible.

The following conditions apply to all re-assessment:

    1. Teachers will have the discretion to determine when and how the re-assessments are administered and may use Supervised Academic Support structure for re-assessment. Ideally the re-assessments will be given within one week of when the assessment was returned.
    2. Re-assessments are given on summative assessments and teachers may require students to re-write formative assessments.
    3. Students may not re-assess more than once on the same assessment.
    4. Re-assessments can be done on sections of major assessments or in relation to specific standards at the discretion of the teacher.
    5. There are no re-assessments in the last week of the grading period.
    6. The student’s highest earned grade will be recorded and used in the final grade calculation.
    7. IB Internal and External Assessments are not eligible for a re-assessment per IB regulations; assessments must be completed by the posted internal due dates.

Version #2

Re-Assessment

The purpose of re-assessment is to give the opportunity to students to apply feedback to the learning process and improve their achievement.  

Re-assessment will be available to students in the following circumstances:

  1. Students who have not mastered the standards (grades of 1-2) and have demonstrated full completion of formative tasks or practice as determined by the teacher.
  2. Students who have met the criteria at a 3-4  are encouraged to apply feedback to the next learning opportunity.  Students who still want to re-assess, and have demonstrated full completion of formative tasks or practice as determined by the teacher, will be eligible.

Students who have scored in  the 5-7 range have already clearly mastered or exceeded the standard according to our achievement descriptors and therefore will not re-assess.

The following conditions apply to all re-assessment:

    1. Students may not re-assess more than once on the same assessment.
    2. Re-assessments can be done on sections of major assessments or in relation to specific standards at the discretion of the teacher. Therefore re-assessments may look different for different students.  
    3. Re-assessment must take place within two weeks of when the assessment was returned to the student.
    4. Re-assessment time is determined by the teacher.  A student who is absent from re-assessment will not have the opportunity to make-up, unless there is a documented and justified reason for the absence. Optional travel is not a justified reason.
    5. There is no re-assessment in the last week of the grading period.
    6. Departments may supplement this policy with more specific guidelines which will be shared with students and parents.
    7. If the student does not meet the standard after re-assessment, he/she may need to complete recuperação during the holiday periods.

1056 represents the number of reassessments that students took in our Supervised Academic Support sessions after school during semester one. This does not include the reassessments that students completed outside of school or individually with teachers. The number seems almost inconceivable with a  student body of 380 students.

“Standardized Test” from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standardized_test

As we anticipated, the a large percent (67%) of these SAS reassessments were given in math and science. The majority of the re-assessments in the languages and social studies classes were completed outside of class. The total number of opportunities that students had to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding has been phenomenal. This has led to a dramatic change in practices for our teachers and they rose to the challenge. All of this, in the spirit of learning and seeking to find out what students know and are able to do. 

Guess what our position was on who was able to reassess?

Back to the middle school’s decision to move to a 1 – 7 system and to base grades on professional judgment.

The middle school found their students were reassessing far less. The combination of

  1. a policy that does not allow students who scored a 5 or above to reassess cut down on the total number of students who could reassess.
  2. students realizing that they would have opportunities to assess later and that their grade was not being averaged opted to focus on future summative assessments.
  3. the grades not being averaged and students figuring out that it was difficult to move from a 4 to a 5 based on the grade descriptors. (Students in the high school whose grades were averaged felt that improving from a 84  to an 89, for example, would improve their overall grade.)

If we had been able to follow the middle school’s lead at the start of the year we would have drastically cut down on the number of reassessments. In looking back I still feel that it would have been impossible for us to make that leap.

Schools take a variety of stances on reassessments but we decided that philosophically, every student should have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning on a reassessment. At the end of the year this is the same rationale that the school decided to allow all students, in grades 6 – 12 to reassess for the 2015 – 16 school year.

The Response from Parents in October

This photo shows where this group of Graded parents stands on university for their children. As you can see, the standards are high.

This photo shows where this group of Graded parents stands on university for their children. As you can see, the standards are high.

School started at the end of July and by October students and parents were questioning our implementation of the new changes. A group of parents presented us with the following list of questions.

Questions from Parents

  • Why the implementation did not consider a pilot to test and debug the system before implementing it to the whole high-school?
  • Which are the reasons to change a grade system in the middle of the high school (changing rules in the middle of the game)?
  • One of the consequences of the new system is a considerable increase in workload for teachers. What is the approach used in the new system to overcome this challenge? How was the training process for the teachers with regard to the new system? How long were they trained?
  • Is the system fully implemented according to the original plan? Has anything gone wrong with the implementation? What are the difficulties encountered in the implementation process?
  • Does the school have any plans to approach colleges aiming to explain the system so the students have the same opportunities in the application when compared with other students with a different grading system?
  • Does the school have any plans to approach colleges aiming to explain the system so the students have the same opportunities in the application when compared with other students with a different grading system?
  • The general perception is that the new system will result in lower grades for students. While this issue can be adjusted over time it is not clear how long this will take and more than one class may be severely impacted by its adoption in the way it was implemented.

Our team quickly moved to meet with parents and I still remember facing a somewhat hostile audience of parents. While we humbly defended our work, we knew that there was a sense of urgency to improve.

HS Parent Meeting Grading.100614

Out of this experience I learned the following:

  • This was the first time that we had standardized grading and reporting practices throughout the high school and this was not an easy task. In the past each department has a certain level of autonomy which meant that we were frequently on different pages. Making this change was easier said then done. We had to constantly define our policy language and unpack the details. We encouraged everyone to ask questions so that we could find out what was not understood. We were revisiting policy at every faculty meeting.
  • Making these changes put all of us under the microscope. I realized that poor practices that went unnoticed in the past were now being commented on by students and parents. For example, if the formative assessments did not align with the summative assessments, students noticed. If the classroom activities did not align, the students noticed.
  • While we had piloted certain aspects, it may have helped to do more prior to the full rollout.
  • The parents were right, these changes did mean much more work for teachers. Our teachers were having to work much harder and the pressure was on for them to improve their assessment practices.

Stay tuned for what we learned at the end of the first semester.