Innovation

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.

 

#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.

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:

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.”

 

 

#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.

Searching for Unicorns

By Maya P.

By Maya P.

It’s no secret that the words “Innovate” and “Innovation” are overused and misunderstood. This is true in all industries, including education. I’ve written on it before:

My favorite quote from Innovate 2015 was from @ewanmcintosh

“If you only deal with innovations. You become Scotland’s national animal, the unicorn. You know a unicorn but you never see them.” 

 In trying to dig deeper into this concept I found Mark Payne’s book How to Kill a Unicorn. The book trailer explains unicorns as “visions that are beautiful to think about, but doable and profitable only in some remote, imaginary world.”

My takeaway is that we can still try to find unicorns but you have to think about the practical aspect of development and creation. The ideas can’t just remain pie in the sky dreams that have no chance of coming true.

My daughter, Maya, loves unicorns and, to my knowledge, she hasn’t seen one yet. Actually, she and I are still trying to find one.