Just ask the students…

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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.

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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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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.

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

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Why we Start with Questions at #MVPS

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Our first norm at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School is “Start with Questions”. Why?

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things that you have long taken for granted.”

Bertrand Russell

“No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”

Thomas Berger

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

Voltaire

“What makes us human, I think, is an ability to ask questions, a consequence of our sophisticated spoken language.”

Jane Goodall

“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.”

Claude Levi-Strauss

“He who asks the questions cannot avoid the answers.”

African Proverb

 

#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.

Habit and Mindsets are Difficult to Change

In March, after attending a workshop by Gary Stager at ASB Unplugged I posted The Future of Math Education and two recent articles on math education have me thinking about this topic again. The New York Time article, Why do Americans Stink at Math, by Elizabeth Green and Jessica Lahey’s article, Teaching Math to People Who Think They Hate it from The Atlantic should be the sources for a professional learning community (PLC) study. The purpose of this post is not to fully analyze these two articles. The purpose is to share a few of the main ideas in hopes that they will stimulate thinking and a dialogue.

The main idea behind Green’s article is that:

“The new math of the ’60s, the new, new math of the ’80s and today’s Common Core math all stem from the idea that the traditional way of teaching math simply does not work.”

And even though these curricular initiatives were designed to transform math education, little has actually changed. Green presents one major reason for this inertia.

“Consequently, the most powerful influence on teachers is the one most beyond our control. The sociologist Dan Lortie calls the phenomenon the apprenticeship of observation. Teachers learn to teach primarily by recalling their memories of having been taught, an average of 13,000 hours of instruction over a typical childhood. The apprenticeship of observation exacerbates what the education scholar Suzanne Wilson calls education reform’s double bind. The very people who embody the problem — teachers — are also the ones charged with solving it.”

The “apprenticeship of observation phenomenon” is something that all educators face when it comes to changing practices in their subject matter. We’ve seen over the years that educators have a difficult time changing their mindsets. To add to the problem, parents have a view of how education should be based on their experiences. When educators actually do change practices, parents can be critical because the changes don’t match their vision (frustrated parent’s rant on Common Core math practices).

Lahey profiles the work of Steve Strogatz from Cornell University. Strogatz is teaching an introductory math course for non-math majors. “The curriculum he teaches is called Discovering the Art of Mathematics: Mathematical Inquiry in the Liberal Arts (DAoM); it was developed at Westfield State University byJulian Fleron and three colleagues and funded by a grant by the National Science Foundation.” The learning focuses on using “student-led investigations into problems, experiments, and prompts.” The curriculum looks promising and they are already sharing the results through student quotes, videos, other data.

I’d love to dive deeper into these ideas even though I’m one of those individuals who thinks he hates math.