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.


Last year we adopted a Manifesto which describes our purpose and will soon guide our strategic plan. As an educator who strives to transform education, I find it to be inspirational. The Mount Vernon Presbyterian School Manifesto states:

Education is changing.

We live amidst a fundamental reordering of how we think about school: from the centuries-old belief that content knowledge is its central currency, to the nascent understanding that what you know matters less than who you are, and what you are uniquely capable of impacting.

Across the country, communities and schools are beginning to test this shift in myriad ways. But overall, educators, parents and community leaders are still in search of a well-lighted path that can illuminate what the future of education will actually need to look like — and require.

A way forward has already been envisioned: the Mount Vernon Continuum. More than perhaps any other school, Mount Vernon understands what the chemistry of a great school requires:

  • A clear and compelling organizational mission.
  • Cultural norms that invite people to step outside of their comfort zone.
  • People-centered design principles that guide teaching and learning.
  • And six timeless, significant habits of mind.


To continue to set the conditions for learners to excel in college, career, and citizenship, there is still much work to be done. As a school of inquiry, innovation, and impact, we see three key essential questions guiding our future work:

How might we make school more reflective of real life?

We choose to engage and explore all scales of community. We welcome the chance to live at the edges where disciplines mingle in search of maximum impact. We want our school to be a destination for anyone who wishes to design a better world. We want our school to create intermingling rivers of connection between people, ideas, and sectors. We want our school to embody a new notion of what “school” is and does.

How might we empower all learners to be seekers and explorers?

We choose to wander and to wonder. We seek to create a learning environment that invites all people to follow the sparks of motivation, interest and curiosity as far as they can take them. We seek to provide paths of faith and curiosity. We seek to nurture experiences of deep purpose and joyful play. We seek to model living, learning mindsets that constantly adapt and expand.

How might we inspire one another — and the larger world — through the work we undertake together?

We choose to make our thinking visible and actionable. We envision learning in which children are seen and heard. We envision transparency in the learning journey — process, product, and progress. We welcome the chance to wrestle with voices and perspectives that challenge our assumptions. We envision learning in which our trust for each other strengthens our sense of individual freedom, autonomy, and interdependence.

We choose to graduate learners and leaders who are “impact-ready.”

We choose to experiment with extraordinary ideas that might one day become the norm. We will not just build a roadmap for future generations of MVPS students and families; Mount Vernon will continue to carve a path for the future of learning itself.

#ATL’s Urban City Studio: An concept for engaging with your community

The City of Atlanta has big plans for the future especially since they are projecting 2.5 million new residents over the next 25 years. The city has created a comprehensive development plan and one of the ways that they are increasing awareness and gathering information from Atlanta residents is through their new Atlanta City Studio. The lab has a variety of displays, many of which are interactive. This pop-up lab will be at Ponce City Market for 6 months and then move to another area of the city. During my visit I was greeted by a staff member who took me on a tour and explained all that the projects on display and the process they are using to engage with the Atlanta community.

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The goals for the urban design studio space are to:

  •  through a shared vision for vibrant urbanism, raise awareness about urban design and plan for a better Atlanta…one that will continue to advance Atlanta’s people and places;
  •  create urban design policies and enhance design sustainability and livability for the city;
  •  direct urban design services on projects throughout the city;
  • spark urban interaction amongst people who visit our city and those who live here;
  • engage residents and stakeholders in identifying goals for the City of Atlanta and create a new narrative;
  • enhance the socioeconomic, ecological and sustainable urban design form for the city.

My visit there this weekend got me thinking about how we could use a space like this at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. My first thought was that we can use it to gather information from our community that will guide us in our strategic planning process and to share information on our academic program. The space can also be used with prospective families who are thinking of attending your school. Visitors can maneuver on their own or be shepherded through by faculty members, students, parent volunteers or administrators. Take a look at what #ATL City Studio has and how your school can benefit from a pop-up lab.

Bike Network

Bike Network Plans



Character Areas Maps

Explaining Ideas and Asking Questions

Character Areas Questions


Imagine a student showing these panels to parents and having a conversation on the topic. Any community member who serves in a host role will have to truly understand these ideas and what they mean for the school.

Good Urbanism 1

Good Urbanism 2


Clipboards 2

Visitors can provide feedback by answering strategic questions

Let's Play

This interactive model allows visitors to redesign city blocks.

Kids Area

Younger children can also participate

Meeting Space

A meeting space for small groups

Work Plan

And a work plan with markers on glass. (These are really trendy now)

Amazing Summer of Learning

This summer I have had three amazing learning experiences that were each very different, yet they connect to our mission at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. Here is my first pass at a brief overview of the takeaways.

Traverse Conference at the Watershed School in Boulder, CO

MVPS Team at Traverse16

The MVPS Team (minus Bo Adams) at Traverse 16

Storify from Traverse

Using the local environment for learning – Right from the start we were working with John Weiss from Human Design to consult on their Social Action Machine Project. Starting out on a non-educational project was the perfect way to get the creative juices flowing. This was also a reminder that we need to search for projects for our students that are outside the realm of our walls.

Baking human into everything you do. John Weiss

Project-based learningNicole Martin and I joined the Integrating Disciplines Through Real-World Learning session. We were immediately put on a bus and traveled to visit the site of a 6th grade project that involved ecology, economics, government, sociology and many other disciplines. After the group listed their community problems Nicole and I latched on to transportation and traffic in our area. More to come later on our ideas for a schoolwide project on this problem.

Disciplines legitimize each other.

Entrepreneurship – We learned about Startup Weekend, a program for teenagers that is held in cities around the country. Our task was to study the organic food market and pitch a start up. The highlight was our visit to a Whole Foods. We observed and interviewed shoppers in the store. We got a taste of immersing ourselves in the research and empathy process.

Consultivations – Our students are so much more capable than what we typically give them credit for and Meghan Cureton presented how our Innovation Diploma students consulted with an organization on the design of a pocket park. Here’s an article from a local newspaper explaining what the students accomplished.

fuse 16 at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

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fuse16 work with Refuge Coffee

The goals for participants were:

  • Make an impact in an issue alongside several Atlanta nonprofits
  • Learn design thinking as a practitioner, rather than in a “classroom” setting
  • Model the possibilities and opportunities for doing school differently


The best part of the entire experience was learning the DEEPDT process while working with Refuge Coffee. Refuge is an amazing social business that strives to create community for Clarkston residents. In doing so the company also allows for newly immigrated refugees to earn a living wage and develop skills, including English language. Clarkston has the reputation for being the most diverse square mile in the world. The learning was fantastic and the relationships that we built with the Refuge team were moving.

Pioneer Lab with Education Reimagined in Washington D.C.

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Pioneer Lab in Washington D.C.

Imagine a network of educators and organizations that is focused on transforming education by creating a new paradigm. This is what Education Reimagined is trying to do by organizing educators from around the country to participate in their Pioneer Labs. I was invited to attend the second session of training to prepare for a September gathering. The learning was two fold:

Education Reimagined has created a vision, a new paradigm, for the for the future of education that is Learner Centered and the five elements are listed below.

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The second piece of learning was around the change process. It’s fascinating to understand how extremely difficult it is for people to move from one paradigm to another. The most telling example was how medical professionals believed, for 2000 years, that bloodletting was the only way to cure diseases. It took new scientific knowledge and extensive research for medical professionals to shift this paradigm.

Your paradigm is so intrinsic to your mental
process that you are hardly aware of its
existence, until you try to communicate with
someone with a different paradigm.
What does this new paradigm mean?
The learner-centered paradigm changes our very view of learners themselves.
Learners are seen and known as wondrous, curious individuals with vast capabilities and limitless potential. This paradigm recognizes that learning is a lifelong
pursuit and that our natural excitement and eagerness to discover and learn
should be fostered throughout our lives, particularly in our earliest years. Thus,
in this paradigm, learners are active participants in their learning as they gradu-
ally become owners of it, and learning itself is seen as an engaging and exciting
process. Each child’s interests, passions, dreams, skills, and needs shape his or
her learning experience and drive the commitments and actions of the adults and
communities supporting him or her. (“A Transformational Vision for Education in
the US.” Education Reimagined, 2015. Page 5.)
Learner-centered education isn’t the newest way to “do” education. Nor is it a new
“to do” list or set of activities to add onto your work. Because it is a paradigm shift, it
actually offers a new worldview and demands a mindset shift. It becomes a new way
to…well, be. And, that changes everything.
I look forward to participating in this important work.
WOW! These were all inspiring experiences and they have helped me grow as an educator.

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:

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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



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.”



#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.