#ILoveMySchool

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.

Continuum

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.

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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.”

 

 

Do parents really want schools with innovative learning environments?

Defining what it means to create a culture of innovation and especially a culture that cultivates innovators has been on my mind for some time now. I wrote, Jumping on the Innovation BandwagonInspired by Passionate Students and The Minerva Project as a Disruptive Innovation Case Study which all included views of innovation. I know that innovation is a hot buzzword these days and I’m hearing it more and more from parents. Questions like, “How can we make the school more innovative?”, “What innovative ideas do you have for our children?”, and “What will innovation look like in our school the future?”. I’ve also noticed that when pressed to describe what they mean by innovation the answers are shallow. There seems to be little understanding of what innovation in education looks like. Lately, I’ve been wondering if parents do really want their children studying in an innovative environment. Why? Because for this to happen the current system will have to change.

I’m a big fan of Tony Wagner’s work on this subject and he lists the 5 contradictions between current school culture and a culture that cultivate innovators.

Wagner points out that innovative cultures of learning have the following characteristics.

1. A high level of team work  where accountability is built into every single project. Most school systems promotes individual performance where students may work collaboratively at very low levels. The level of cooperation is typically superficial. This requires less time spent on content and more time on developing collaboration skills. It will also lead to highly sophisticated projects that require high functioning teams.

2. Interdisciplinary study of complex problems and solutions. Much of our curriculum today is designed by subject matter and there is little room for diverting from this course. Standardized state mandated tests are created by subject matter, AP and IB exams are also for subject matter courses.  Wagner states, “innovation happens at the margins of academic disciplines…” Will parents support schools who create trans-disciplinary courses that will look very different than what they had in school?

3. Active and engaging classroom cultures where there is no one expert that the students rely on for gaining knowledge. Traditionally the teacher has been the only expert in the classroom and the students are lulled into passivity. Students can be the consumers instead of creators. Often when teachers do take on a role as a facilitator or coach students and parents question why the student has to make sense of the learning on their own. There is an expectation that the teacher will spoon feed the students.

4. Promoting failure that leads to learning. A focus on grades and earning high grade point averages to get into colleges can easily lead to risk aversion. This is a fixed mindset where the grade is the end of the learning process and the results better be good. Innovators understand that there will be trial and error in the learning process and that without failures, the learning will not be as deep and the challenges not as great.

5. Intrinsic motivation that leads to passion and purpose. Again, many of our students are driven to success that is measured by grades and grade point averages. As educators, we constantly talk about how many of our students spend way too much time checking their grades online. Innovative learning cultures are filled with learners who are passionate about learning because they can see the current and future applications. They see how the learning can help them make a difference. This means finding ways to take the emphasis off grades and to put it on the deeper feedback that teachers can provide students with.

Are parents really willing to have their children’s schools make these types of changes? First of all I believe that very few understand what innovation in education really looks like. My hope is that by educating students and parents we can help them to better understand what changes will need to occur and what the benefits will be for students.

There are already educators, students and parents who are latching on to these ideas and taking steps to create innovative learning cultures. My hope is that, in time, we will see a new type of fish bowl with teachers and students engaged in practices that cultivate innovators.

fishbowl jump

“Fishbowl Jump” by Kay Kim is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

The Minerva Project as a Disruptive Innovation Case Study

Ben Nelson with Graded’s Innovators

We were fortunate to have Ben Nelson and his team present at Graded this month and we got a first hand look at The Minerva Project. It was also a pleasure to be able to meet Ben at Transformar 2014 the day before.

Michael Horn speaking at Transformar

Michael Horn was also at Transformar and it didn’t dawn on my until yesterday that Minerva is an excellent example of what Horn and Christensen refer to as disruptive innovation.

The theory explains the phenomenon by which an innovation transforms an existing market or sector by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complication and high cost are the status quo. Initially, a disruptive innovation is formed in a niche market that may appear unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents, but eventually the new product or idea completely redefines the industry.

– See more at: http://www.christenseninstitute.org/key-concepts/disruptive-innovation-2/#sthash.bUb4ndYu.dpuf

While reading the NYT Innovation Report 2014 I came across the following.

Hallmarks of Disruptive Innovation

  • Introduced by an “outsider”
  • Less expensive than existing products
  • Targeting underserved or new markets
  • Initially inferior to existing products
  • Advanced by enabling technology

This seems to be a textbook case study for innovators to follow. Here’s what their press release states.

Minerva provides a reinvented university experience for the brightest, most motivated students in the world. Combining a redefined student body, a reinvented curriculum, rigorous academic standards, cutting-edge technology, and an immersive global experience, Minerva is committed to providing an exceptional and accessible liberal arts and sciences education for future leaders and innovators across all disciplines.

The Outsider

Nelson is definitely an outsider to the higher education scene. He talks about the initial ideas for Minerva came while he was an undergraduate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. It was then that he realized that the learning experiences could be dramatically improved. After leaving Penn he went on to several business ventures but most notably Snapfish. Hardly the path that university founders typically take.

Less Expensive

Tuition for Minerva is USD$10,000/year. The total estimated costs for housing, student services, food, books supplies and health insurance is $28,850. This is far below the $50,000+ that it costs to attend the Ivy League universities that Minerva is trying to compete with. Nelson is adamant that Minerva is going after students from throughout the world who are Ivy league talent. Minerva will not have athletics programs, student services facilities, teacher tenure and many of the other amenities that universities provide. Instead they are strategically locating their housing in exciting cities around the world.

Target Markets

Minerva is targeting students from around the world and the low tuition and their quest to provide students with financial aid will attract students from around the world. Nelson reported that 80% of the inaugural class is from outside of the United States.

We believe drive, talent and hard work should be the only factors that determine access to an extraordinary education. Minerva is committed to ensuring that all accepted students are able to attend.

Initially Inferior

While Minerva has put together an impressive lineup of professors and they are recruiting the best at the brightest, it’s hard to imagine that the initial product will rival the Ivy League schools. The curriculum is also new which means that there will certainly be wrinkles to be ironed out. The initial cohort will be small which means that the thought partner pool will be small. I’m guessing that the university will attract risk-takers which will make for an interesting mix of students.

Technology

With students and professors at various places in the world Minerva has developed the Active Learning Forum to facilitate learning in the virtual classroom.

  • Rapid Break-Out Groups
  • Individualized Instruction
  • Collaborative Documents
  • Dynamic Polling
  • Real-Time Simulation
  • Enhanced Debates

You can check out the video which shows what the experience is like.

I’m rooting for Minerva to succeed in the long run and to cultivate innovative leaders for our future.

Jumping on the Innovation in Education Bandwagon

“Innovation” by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Our school’s leadership team is reading Tony Wagner’s book “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” as we grapple with what innovation looks like in schools. (You can follow our discussion on Twitter – #gradedllt) I highly recommend Wagner’s book along with Suzie Boss’s book “Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World”. It’s extremely easy to find definitions on innovation that we can all agree on. The really difficult step is to change practices to become innovative. I recently attended a conference where the word, “Innovation” was overused and mis-used. I went to one presentation where the presenter was convinced that his school had been innovative by adopting a program that has been around for 40 years. The new program changed their culture but it certainly wasn’t something that was innovative to the world of education.

“Innovation may then be defined as the process of having original ideas and insights that have value, and then implementing them so that they are accepted and used by significant numbers of people. By this definition, a major innovation is one that is so successful that soon after its introduction few people can even remember what life was like before the innovation was introduced.” Rick Miller, President Olin College

“creative problem solving.” She said, “Problem solving without the creative element is not truly innovative.” And creativity that is not applied to real world problems cannot be considered innovation either. Innovation is our lifeblood at P&G—but not just innovation for its own sake. It’s about taking real needs and creating a bridge to a solution.” Ellen Bowman

Our question is, “What is innovation at Graded?”  My thinking has gone in two different directions lately.

  1. What are we doing at Graded that is innovative?
  2. How are we cultivating innovators?

Since our Core Values state, “Learners at Graded strive to be Innovative: They engage in creative and imaginative thinking that enables them to extend their learning in original and insightful ways.”  I’ve been focusing on #2.

Montessori schools have been cultivating innovators for over 100 years.

“Maria Montessori has a posse yes she does” by cho girl is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When you ask someone to list the schools that they consider innovative, how often do Montessori schools make the list?

What do you suppose the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Julia Child; and rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs all have in common? Gregersen’s research, cited earlier, uncovered an extraordinary commonality among some of the most innovative individuals: they all went to Montessori schools, where they learned through play. (Wagner, pp27-28)

If you consider Wagner’s characteristics of a learning culture that cultivates innovators, you can see why Montessori schools most definitely should be on your list.

  • collaboration
  • multidisciplinary learning
  • thoughtful risk-taking, trial and error
  • creating
  • intrinsic motivation: play, passion, and purpose (Wagner p. 200)

I’m currently a participant in the Deeper Learning MOOC (#DLMOOC) which is organized by High Tech High and supported by a number of organizations. One of which is Expeditionary Learning Schools. I don’t know much about EL Schools other than I have worked with several educators who once were involved in the organization. I’ve frequently heard from them that, “The EL schools organization, and their schools, aren’t what I would call innovative.” If you look at their website you find no mention of innovation in the “Our Approach”section,  yet, it’s easy to argue that EL schools provide students with the type of environment that Wagner has defined.

Maybe a truly innovative school focuses on answering both questions.

“What are we doing that is innovative and how are we cultivating innovators?

Learning from my first MOOC Experience: I’m taking a course from Stanford!

A colleague of mine and I are taking “Designing a New Learning Environment” course taught by Paul Kim, Chief Technology Officer and Assistant Dean, School of Education, Stanford University. I have no idea how many thousands of students there are but I’m looking forward to the experience. The course is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) which theoretically sounds really cool.

I signed up before I read the MOOC Guide.

“The effect of a MOOC is not to be taken lightly! Many of the participants who went through a MOOC experience have had a powerful learning experience which in some cases resulted in strong personal or professional projects with impact. On the other hand the drop-out rate in a non-credited MOOC is high and some participants simply do not like the approach of a MOOC for it has specific dynamics. The diversity in appreciations and feelings is not new: the playground felt like a mental warzone to some and a great adventure to others.”

The topic is of interest to me and if it works I will be able to:

After the completion of this course, students will be able to:

  •  Identify advantages, disadvantages, limitations, and potentials of at least 10 interactive learning models and solutions.
  • Describe how online communication, collaboration, and visualization technology play a role in the behavioral, cognitive, constructivist, and social dimensions of learning.
  • Describe the major components and processes involved in development of interactive education systems.
  • Communicate rationales of learning technology design approaches through team-oriented collaborations.
  • Evaluate the value of ideas, principles, and techniques used in educational media or systems.

While we have lectures to watch, assignments to complete and discussion forums to contribute to, our major assessment is a team project that is due at the end of the semester.

Let’s see how this learning experience goes.

 

What did we do before…?

I know that it seems silly to rave about how technology has changed our lives, but I think that it’s important for those of us who may be “digital immigrants” to reflect on the changes. It’s very easy to forget how quickly technology changes our lives.

I am currently in Bonito, Brazil hanging out at the pool writing this blog post. Bonito is a very small town near the Paraguayan border and it’s not exactly considered high tech. Bonito is known for its natural beauty and outdoor adventure activities (I probably shouldn’t even have brought my laptop). How long has it even been possible for people to access a wireless network here in Bonito?

What did we do before…

  • Skype allowed us to interview teacher candidates? This year I have interviewed teachers who have been in China, Korea, the United States, Turkey, Malaysia, Myanmar, Taiwan and the majority of our hires have come via Skype interviews and online reference checks. Who needs the job fairs anymore?
  • digital book readers were invented? I recently entered the digital print world by reading my first book on my new iPad. I don’t see myself going back to paper books any time in the near future. What a great option for those of us who are overseas and find it hard to get current books (in English).
  • GPS navigators allow us to go anywhere without knowing how to get there? I panicked when I couldn’t find our GPS navigator because it is a necessity in Sao Paulo. Before having the navigator I used to get directions in Google Maps and download them to my smart phone. Before that I used to print out the maps and directions.
  • video rentals were available for download? My children downloaded rental movies through iTunes so that they could watch movies on our iPad during the car trip to Rio de Janeiro. No need for the in car DVD player.
  • tools like Skype and Google Docs were available for us to use with outside consultants?  At school, we believe that we can work with a consultant via Skype, Google Docs and other tools rather than have him/her visit our campus. Think of the benefits that this model provides us with. Instead of bringing someone in for a few days, we can work with the person over several week or months.
  • Facebook connected us with friends that we have not seen in years. I love the fact that I am communicating with friends from high school via Facebook. Who needs a reunion?
  • before cloud technology allowed us to save files online? I recently had a third hard drive crash on my laptop and I never once worried about losing files. All of my files are saved in Live Mesh. I finally learned my lesson after losing a hard drive the day before an important presentation.

What examples do you have in your personal/professional life?