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.

interdisciplinary-courses-2017

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.

 

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Just ask the students…

popup-lab-students-1

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.

hacking-curriculum

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 …

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student-pop-up-lab21

student-pop-up-lab2

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.

st-pop-up-lab-course

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

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 Future of Math Education

Photo from Piccsy http://weheartit.com/entry/31003422?group=A&imgres=

Lately I have been asking the question, “What is  math education going to look like in the future?” As of right now, I don’t have a clear picture and I’m fairly optimistic that significant changes will not take place in the near future. While I frequently hear from teachers (not all) that math requires students to practice learning the steps to solving problems that will lead them to being able to apply their learning afterwards. It seems to me that they are saying that the traditional lecture, in class practice, and homework practice is the way that it has to be.

“If we taught dancing like we teach math we’d never let people dance until they drew out all steps on paper.” Seymour Papert (From Gary Stager’s TEDxASB talk)

On the other hand I’m hearing from others that math education has to change. Forget the flipped classroom and Khan Academy, they’re talking about substantial changes. What are they?

Dan Meyer’s 2010 TED Talk, “Math class needs a makeover”, certainly got people thinking about this topic back in 2010.

Since then I’ve been on a quest to search for the future of mathematics. I had a small epiphany at the recent ASB Unplugged Conference when I attended Gary Stager’s workshop, Electrifying Children’s Mathematics. Now I’ve seen Gary speak many times but this was the first time that I participated in one of his hands on workshops. By actually being able to work through the exercises in a constructivist way I was able to make just a little bit of sense out of the possibilities in the math classroom.

Gary started the presentation by showing us that,

“The NCTM Standards state that fifty percent of all mathematics has been invented since World War II. (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989) Few if any of these branches of mathematical inquiry have found their way into the K-12 curriculum. This is most unfortunate since topics such as number theory, chaos, topology, cellular automata and fractal geometry may appeal to students unsuccessful in traditional math classes. These new mathematical topics tend to be more contextual, visual, playful and fascinating than adding columns of numbers or factoring quadratic equations. ” (Stager and Cannings, 1998)

We then watched a video of math instruction in an elementary class where the teacher uses Piaget’s theory to help students construct knowledge on concepts. The videos are the work of Constance Kami, Professor of Early Childhood at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. My take-aways from this video are that…

  • students don’t need to know all of the ways to solve a problem. Whatever works for them is sufficient.
  • the refrains from telling the student whether or not their answer is right or wrong. teacher should let the students talk through their methods and to let them work through the problems together. The less teacher involvement, the better.
  • doing endless numbers of problems that you already understand does not do you any good.

We then moved into the hands on portion of the workshop and in a very short amount of time I realized the value of playing with tools and ideas to learn mathematical concepts.

We played with Turtle Art. We were given a simple exercise to get started and then were left to play on our own. The connections to mathematical thinking were easy to make and the results were definitely visual.

We used MicroWorlds to try to figure out a problem that we later learned was unsolvable. Something that is referred to as the 3N + 1 Conjecture, Collatz Conjecture, Ulam Conjecture, and many others. It was amazing how much math we were having to use to struggle through this problem. It was a good learning experience and it’s probably better that we didn’t know that it was unsolvable.

But, my favorite activity had to do with determining values for iTunes radio users’ actions. The work had us tackle computational thinking. Gary was very clear about his views on teaching computational thinking skills.

Computational thinking is useful when modeling a system or complex problem is possible, but the programming is too difficult.

The activity involved assigning values to the following actions.

Photo from About.com from Sam Costello
We also considered when the person just let the song play.

This was a room full of math teachers and I’m pretty sure that none of them had the programming skills to code the algorithms behind these choices. We did struggle with equating a value while thinking about the users’ thinking and how the numbers would be used behind the scenes. Many of our students have no idea of what is taking place behind the scenes when users click on a button. While very few actually have to know how to do the programming, there is definite value to understanding the computational thinking.

So, after the workshop I asked a couple of math teachers if they felt that they learned skills and/or knowledge that they could take back to their classrooms and, the general consensus was, “most definitely”. These were primarily teachers in international schools.

So, what are your thoughts on the future of mathematics?

OK, LET’S GET PRACTICAL – CHANGE YOUR ASSESSMENT

In the book Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World by Heidi Hayes-Jacobs she suggests that the first step that educators should take in integrating technology in teaching and learning is to change the assessment so that it includes the use of technology. Not only that it incorporates technology, but that it’s relevant for today’s world.

Start with changing the assessments – Her suggestion is to consider what “21st century social scientists, scientists, mathematicians, artists, writers, language specialists, musicians, and business men and women might produce…”  To put this in place she suggests the following steps.

Step 1 – “Develop a pool of assessment”

Step 2 – “Teachers working with IT members, identify the existing types of software, hardware, and Internet-based capabilities in their school…” Suggestion for teachers to become comfortable with at least one new tool per semester.

Step 3 – “Replace a dated assessment with a modern one.”

Set aside a book report and replace it with a podcast, virtual literary tour, video or magazine book review.

Step 4 – “Share the assessment upgrades formally with colleagues and students.”

Step 5 – “Insert ongoing sessions for skill and assessment upgrades into the school calendar.”

There are some exciting options for assessment with the use of Infographics. This type of assessment can be used in any and all subject matters and the skills and knowledge that students learn are certainly 21st century. The possibilities are endless, but here are a few examples.

To find more examples you can check out this Cool Cool Infograhics blogInformation is Beautiful or the 50 MOST STUNNING EXAMPLES OF DATA VISUALIZATION AND INFOGRAPHICS.

What do you think? Can you find places in your curriculum where this would be effective? What type of professional development will be needed to make this shift?

Great Ideas from Curriculum 21: Part 1

Crossed Posted on 1to1 Schools

This is part 1 of 2.

I slowly worked my way through Heidi Hayes-Jacobs book Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World for the past couple of months. It’s been slow only because I haven’t had much time for serious reading lately. Once I got my new iPad I was able to breeze through it.  While I was skeptical about the content at first, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with what I learned from the book. Hayes-Jacobs with help from Stephen Wilmarth, Vivien Stewart, Tim Tyson, Frank W. Baker, David Niguidula, Jamie P. Cloud, Alan November, Bill Sheskey, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick present an argument, along with practical steps for “upgrading the curriculum”. This first post will focus on two key points from the first four chapters by Heidi Hayes Jacobs.

What year are you preparing your students for? 1973? 1995? Can you honestly say that your school’s curriculum and the program that you use are preparing your students for 2015 or 2020? Are you even preparing them for today?

Start with changing the assessments – As I visit classrooms I’m constantly asking myself how will the lesson change when everyone has ubiquitous access to the right technological tools (we’re preparing to go 1:1 in 2012). As we talk about this transformation I agree with her in saying that the first practical step to take is to change the assessments to. Her suggestion is to consider what “21st century social scientists, scientists, mathematicians, artists, writers, language specialists, musicians, and business men and women might produce…”  To put this in place she suggests the following steps.

Step 1 – “Develop a pool of assessment”

Step 2 – “Teachers working with IT members, identify the existing types of software, hardware, and Internet-based capabilities in their school…” Suggestion for teachers to become comfortable with at least one new tool per semester.

Step 3 – “Replace a dated assessment with a modern one.”

Set aside a book report and replace it with a podcast, virtual literary tour, video or magazine book review.

Step 4 – “Share the assessment upgrades formally with colleagues and students.”

Step 5 – “Insert ongoing sessions for skill and assessment upgrades into the school calendar.”

Upgrade the Content -While changing the assessment is a good first step, upgrading the content through changes to the curriculum get to the heart of the matter. We, in international schools have the luxury of being able to develop our own curriculum. The suggestions that Heidi Hayes-Jacobs offers are refreshing and exciting. How would students feel about the following units?

  • How does cultural anthropology shedding light on the economy of resource-rich Brazil?
  • Science units focused on ideas that changed the world. Also thinking ahead to future ideas that have the potential to change the world.
  • Physical education students organizing a 5k run for the community to promote healthy lifestyles.
  • A unit on book to film where students study the process and results of making a movie from a book.
  • Using an integrated approach to teaching math/economics where students look at the economics of real life problems. The students create their own Freakonomics scenarios.
  • Students organizing a virtual orchestra concert with musicians from around the world.

I believe that these steps can help us make a transition into a school that is preparing students for 2011. Has anyone tested the ideas out?

If you’re interested in joining the Curriculum 21 Learning Commons you can join the Ning.

Part  2 will be devoted to key learnings from the other authors.

1895 – 2010, Very little seems to have changed

My uncle recently sent me the 1895 8th grade final exam e-mail that has been floating around the internet. While most people try to answer the questions and comment on how dumb they are, I interpreted the test in a different way. I sadly thought about how little the U.S. education system has changed in 115 years. In 1895, the students were taking content based tests to prove their knowledge of the curriculum. Many of the questions look similar to tests today. The focus is on factual knowledge and math skills.  Here in 2010, students are doing the same.

Do we really think that today’s children still need to know all of this stuff? Just doesn’t seem like progress to me.

EXAMINATION GRADUATION QUESTIONS
OF SALINE COUNTY, KANSAS
April 13, 1895
J.W. Armstrong, County Superintendent.

Examinations at Salina, New Cambria, Gypsum City, Assaria, Falun, Bavaria, and District No. 74 (in Glendale Twp.)

Reading and Penmanship. – The Examination will be oral, and the Penmanship of Applicants will be graded from the manuscripts.

************************
GRAMMAR
(Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of do, lie, lay and run.
5. Define Case. Illustrate each case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7-10 Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

************************
ARITHMETIC
(Time, 1 ¼ hour)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weights 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts. Per bu., deducting 1050 lbs for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 per cent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per m?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 per cent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

*************************************
U.S. HISTORY
(Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whtney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865.

*******************************************
ORTHOGRAPHY
(Time, one hour)

1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic orthogaphy, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret “u”.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final “e”. Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: Bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, super.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: Cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

*****************************************
GEOGRAPHY
(Time, one hour)

1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of N.A.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall, and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give inclination of the earth.

1. Where are the saliva, gastric juice, and bile secreted? What is the use of each in digestion?
2. How does nutrition reach the circulation?
3. What is the function of the liver? Of the kidneys?
4. How would you stop the flow of blood from an artery in the case of laceration?
5. Give some general directions that you think would be beneficial to preserve the human body in a state of health.