#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)

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.”



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.

The best time… Design Thinking part 2

The design thinking work on our annual trips for next year continues as we work to “Redesign the experiences to make them indispensable and unforgettable so that the mission and core values come to to life.” There are three things that I  think that I’ve learned in the past couple of weeks. I’m not exactly sure if I’m on the right track but, as the facilitator, I’m moving forward.

We started our last meeting by watching this trailer for the documentary, Design & Thinking.

Get to work prototyping and plan to fail often

It’s short and clip and one of the take-aways for me was that the teams should work quickly to create a prototype. I’ve found that in education we typically spend too much time on planning. We’re probably cautious and conservative when it comes to making changes. Grant Lichtman is his post Your School and Google’s Nine Principles of Innovation states, “Adults want proof that something new will work; we want a 20-year longitudinal study to show that something different is better than what we have done in the past.” We want to cover all our bases and think through every angle so that we plan it right the first time. In this process the idea is to create something quickly, based on the information that you have and then you test it out. So, we decided to break into teams and start prototyping our trips for next year. At the same time we are talking to teachers and students to learn more about what it would take to make the trips “indispensable and unforgettable” I think that all of us have been also thinking that it’s November (almost December) and we don’t have our plan for the trips set in stone yet. Well, maybe we’re behind schedule but…

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Chinese Proverb

The second learning from the trailer is that we should plan to fail. When I initially considered this I thought, “No way! This can’t happen because we are the high school leadership team and we’re supposed to come up with the perfect solutions. What will people think if we fail?” Then I realized that it actually may be a good thing for us to fail. Maybe we need to learn how to learn from failure and to model this for our community. Hey, one of our core values is Risk-taking.

The process changes from defining and removing barriers to developing solutions

As I mentioned in my last post, my past experience has been with the quality process and the focus is on defining the problem and barriers and then taking steps to remove the barriers. My last piece of learning deals with a shift from removing barriers to developing solutions. As we speak to students and teachers I find that I’m energized by thinking about possibilities and solutions. We also looked at what other schools and organizations are doing with trips and that was inspirational. It forced us to think differently about what we currently do. While we have defined parameters, we seem to not be spending time coming up with reasons why we can’t make changes. Instead we envisioning what can be and how we can create that amazing experience for students and teachers.

We have another prototyping session next week and each team is responsible for coming up with a plan. We’ve invited two travel companies that we work with to provide us with ideas and options. I’ve also got one more focus group session with 11th grade students. Oh, did I mention that the two groups have are just a bit competitive? It just adds to the fun.

As I learn while doing I need to think about how we can test out the prototypes. Maybe we can present these to students and teachers for comments or for a vote. Based on our expectation of failure it makes sense to not immediately decide to use one of the models for the real thing. Probably better to test it out with our audiences before spending an enormous amount of money on the trips. Anyone have advice for our next step? I welcome any and all suggestions.

Plagiarism and Academic Integrity in Today’s World

I feel strongly that, in today’s world, students need to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviors that will help them to be model digital citizens. While I like to think that it’s black and white, I’m learning that it’s much more complicated than that. Our school librarians have been working on organizing the American Association of School Librarians Standards for the 21st Century Learner so that we can use them throughout the high school. Below are several of the benchmarks that are related to academic integrity.

  • Understand what constitutes plagiarism and refrain from representing others’ work as their own.
  • Demonstrate understanding of intellectual property rights by giving credit for all quotes, and by citing them properly in notes and bibliography.
  • Abide by copyright guidelines for use of materials not in public domain.
  • Legally obtain, store, and disseminate text, data, images, or sounds.
  • Abide by the Acceptable Use Policy in all respects and use Internet responsibly and safely.
  • Explain First Amendment rights and the process available to defend them.
  • Demonstrate understanding of intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights.
  • Demonstrate understanding for the process of copyrighting their own work.
  • Analyze the consequences and costs of unethical use of information and communication technology (for example, hacking, spamming, consumer fraud, virus setting, intrusion); identify ways of addressing those risks.

OK, these seem to make sense and, after all, they are designed with the 21st century student in mind. Wait,  before you decide, take a look at this documentary, entitled RIP! A Remix Manifesto. (it’s 85 minutes long, but it is worth the time).

What do you think now? Funny that the 21st century standards don’t even mention Creative Commons. If you want to explore the topic more, check out the Everything is a Remix site.

In a 1:1 Environment, We Need a New Name for Homework

I find myself constantly looking at practices in school and asking, “How will that change in a 1 to 1 setting?” A recent article by Bambi Betts entitled Do Your Homework got me thinking about how homework will change. Now, I understand that it won’t change overnight, but I’m optimistic that it will be transformed. Let’s start by getting rid of the term “homework”. The name just doesn’t seem appropriate for many reasons.

1. Let’s replace “work” with something related to learning. While the tasks may not be easy, work just doesn’t seem to be the right term. Students may be Skyping with peers or experts half way around the world, selecting online resources that help with their learning, recording instrumental rehearsals to playback and use to improve performance, creating producing screen plays, and other interesting activities.

2. Since the learning will take place anywhere, let’s forget about “home”. With portability the learning takes place anywhere. In the coffee shop, on the bus, in the mall, at the pool, at the vacation resort and various other places. Anyone have a interesting story on where students were learning?

3. The new term will somehow need to communicate that the activities will be less teacher driven, and more student driven. We talk a lot about student centered classrooms and how students will tailor design the learning experiences to fit their needs. If they think that they can reach the target by watching and responding to a podcast or Skyping with native Spanish speakers, then so be it. The learning principles that Betts mentions, “independent and unguided learning; that learners learn differently and at different paces…”, support a student centered approach.

Betts goes on to say,

It would be student-driven as much as possible, increasingly so as students acquire the skill. Consider a 10-year old learning to play football. Does she limit herself to what the coach told her to practice? Over time, with increasingly less guidance, she learns what she needs to practice.

Anyone have ideas on new terminology?

Photo Credit: Is this your homework, Larry?

1:1 Supporters: How do we respond to this?

Photo by blogefl

Cross posted on 1 to 1 Schools

As a principal who promotes new models of teaching and learning with technology I frequently get asked, “How do you know that the use of technology helps students learn? Can you show me research?” I have a variety of answers and I can provide them with several research studies showing positive results. But, recently, someone shared this research report with me and I am trying to figure out how to react and respond. How would you respond to these findings?

The article entitled

Evaluation of Alternative Delivery Systems on Academic Performance in College Algebra by Wynegar, Robert G.; Fenster, Mark J. shows, ” that the traditional lecture delivery system had the highest grade point average and one of the lowest failing rates of all teaching strategies.”

The study took 3 groups of community college students who were taking College Algebra and put them into three different classes.

“Both online and televised variations of College Algebra were created and offered. Web support pages for on-campus sections were created and filled with thirty hours of streaming real-media and mimeo lectures, practice tests for each chapter, and quizzes for each section of the text. A course guide containing more than one hundred pages of worked examples, study tips, and additional support was written, and has been sold as a supplement to the course. Supplemental instruction and peer tutoring programs have been implemented to support College Algebra. Additionally, the math department established experimental sections of College Algebra that would abandon the text and internally developed support materials for the course in favor of a computer-aided instruction (CAI) model.”

The students in the traditional lecture class outperformed their peers in both the computer aided instruction (CAI) model and the online and television model. This is even after they controlling for differences in teacher grading. The articles finishes with the following statement.

“These results have implications for the way institutions schedule and deliver curriculum. CAI courses are held in computer labs which cap the number of students in a class. Traditional lecture courses are able to serve more students. Not only do students perform better in a traditional lecture course, as measured by final grade, but institutions of higher education can deliver instruction more efficiently on a per student cost using traditional lecture.”

Help! I need to better understand how to respond to these types of studies.

Image Credit: The Lecture Bored me to Death