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?”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 learning – Nicole 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Below are several photos of the model that was presented to community members in the fall.
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.”