April 2011


The following essay was written by our new incoming Librarian and Director of Information Literacy, Laura Lee Calverley.   She prepared this piece as part of her application for our position.   Next week I intend to post excerpts from other essays we received in the course of our search.

The 21st Century School Library: Literacy in a New Era

Traditionally, the school library has been a house of books, supporting the development of student literacy and learning. Though radical changes have swept us into the Information Age, the overall goal of the school library remains the same: To teach and promote literacy and to continue to provide students access to learning materials and information. Focused no longer on the idea of literacy being cemented to books and other printed materials, the modern school library appropriately embraces a modern idea of literacy—an information literacy. To truly teach information literacy, the 21st century library and the 21st century librarian must create a safe and welcoming learning environment that promotes a modern day literacy; teaching a comfort and understanding of the intellectual concepts behind information technology, whilst maintaining the library as a thriving center of research, reading and learning. (more…)

I downloaded the TED app recently to my iPhone– I regret I waited so long.   The first tab within the app is devoted to TED themes, and I am struck that one of the most popular theme is “The Rise of Collaboration (54 talks)” and it says that this also understood as “the wealth of networks.”

Struck, delighted, but as I reflect, unsurprised.  We are living in an era of extraordinary intellectual networking, and so many of us are finding ourselves connecting, communicating, collaborating, networking, and growing by the virtue of our online networks.

This is a major theme of my recent writing here on the blog and of my recent keynote address, Innovative Schools, Innovative Students.   It is prominent in the new book by Steven B. Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation and in the new book by John Seely Brown, A New Culture of Learning.   Many are writing about it online: one terrific post about the power of being a networked educators is by Lyn Hilt: Becoming the Lead Learner. 

In the TED talk above, Will Richardson provides a brilliant and compelling articulation of the significance of a newly networked era and its significance for learning.    Even more compelling than the TED talk is Will’s slideshow, Learning in a Networked World: For our students and for ourselves: Check it out.  It is exquisite both in form and content: I am intending a blog post about it soon.

Some favorite quotes from the TED talk:

I think this is the coolest moment to be a learner.

It is very different from when we were growing up… Our kids can learn whatever they want whenever they want… (more…)

At a conference recently, I was approached and asked for advice about resources for using skype in the classroom to connect with schools in other countries.   I started to answer the question with a specific suggestion (the Cool Cat Teacher’s Flat Classroom) when I stopped myself and took another tack in my advice-giving.

Instead, I suggested, I encouraged him to join the online community of educators, to join the network, and to be empowered to learn continuously rather than in discrete lumps.

Teach a man to fish and feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and feed him as long as the fish supply holds out.  But create a collective, and every man will learn how to feed himself for a lifetime.

I am quoting from a brilliant new book, A New Culture of Learning, by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas.

Learning in an age of constant change simply never stops. In the new culture of learning, the bad news is that we rarely reach any final answers, but the good news is that we to play again, and we may find even more satisfaction in continuing the search. (more…)

I shared this with our upper school student body last week, in a continuing series of TED talks for student assemblies, ( which I think is the greatest thing since email).

Simon Sinek tells us of an extremely simple and extremely powerful strategy for leadership and commercial success: to tell Why first? All people need to follow you, and follow you passionately, is to know why you do what you do, and to believe in it.  The what doesn’t matter nearly so much once people believe in the why.

Martin Luther King was so successful because he shared his dream: his followers knew why he was calling and working for change, and the followed him.    Apple, the computer company, shares its vision for why they are a company: to disrupt the status quo, Sinek explains, and that is its secret sauce, not its quality products; this is in contrast to TiVo, he says, which has a similarly quality product but hasn’t explained why consumers would want it.

Myself, I am conflicted about the success of the talk.   I think his historical examples are less than convincing: both Apple and TiVo have had, over their histories, plenty of ups and downs on the roller coaster of the stock market and consumer adoption. (more…)

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We are pleased at St. Gregory to announce and share our new opportunity for our high school students, diplomas in Leadership and Innovation .  As described in the slides above, the program allows those students who wish to go further in their leadership or innovation education can do so by pursuing one of these two diplomas in a program which functions in a way somewhat akin to a college major.

St. Gregory’s motto is to “Create Leaders and Innovators,” and I’m certainly confident that the school has long done exactly this, and that in recent years the school has taken very excellent steps forward in doing so even better.   Our school will continue to do so for all our students, and we will work to ensure that this new opportunity for some students to go further or deeper doesn’t in any way result in any diminished such education for all other students.

This program has a few parallels at other schools around our continent.  A particular inspiration for our initiative has been the Global Studies diploma offered by Providence Day School, which I first learned about at an NAIS conference in Chicago, two years ago. (more…)

After my talks last week on the topic Innovative Schools, Innovative Students, Karl Fisch suggested to me to Dan Meyer’s talk, and I thank Karl for that.   Dan’s terrific talk has a great resonance with my argument that if we are to teach our students to become innovators, we must move them away from simplicity and formulas and most of all from absolute answers,  against actually.   We must become more comfortable with discomfort, with lack of clarity, with a lack of simple or certain solutions.

Dan says early in his talk that this is an amazing time to be a math teacher, and this is certainly one of my larger arguments in parallel: this is an amazing time to be an educator.

Dan fears that our educational system is inculcating in our students exactly the wrong traits for their future success, and I would extend, exactly the wrong ones to prepare them to be innovators.

  • Lack of initiative
  • Lack of perseverance (more…)

[cross-posted from Connected Principals]

According to a College Board webinar I participated in last week via EdLeader21,  as part of its promised “revamp” of the AP toward depth over breadth and better integration of the skills and content, the College Board/ Advanced Placement program is developing a new online platform called “the AP Lifeline.”  It is intended to be a rich resource and repository of the “learning objectives” in each subject area, with mini-lectures on each and sample questions and answers.

(Click here for the College Board’s overview of their changes).

I am a bit put-off by the name: AP Lifeline? Doesn’t that almost sound as if the AP drives kids to an almost suicidal level of stress, so much so that they require being thrown a lifeline?  Now, many are concerned that this is the case (see the new film Race to Nowhere), and we all are aware that a small number of students do struggle with academic stress to the point of suicidal impulses, but it seems an odd choice by the College Board/AP to acknowledge and underscore this problem by naming their resource the “Lifeline.”  Give them points, I guess, for self-awareness rather than denial.

But how about:

  • the AP Hub?
  • AP Deeper?
  • AP Inquiry? (more…)

On Monday I enjoyed an hour-long webinar with two executives of the College Board who presented on the coming changes to the AP.  “Advanced Placement Course and Exam Redesign,” it was called, and our presenters were:

  • Auditi Chakravarty, Executive Director, Advanced Placement Curriculum & Assessment
  • Trevor Packer,Vice President, Advanced Placement Program

The webinar was an exclusive opportunity for members of the new network, EdLeader21, which I am pleased to have just joined.  Led by the founder and former President of the Partnership for 21st century skills, Ken Kay, EdLeader21 is, in the words of its website: The nation’s first professional learning community for 21st century education leaders.

The AP is of course a controversial and polarizing program in the eyes of  “21st century education” leaders and thinkers.  21st century learning heavily prioritizes thinking skills, such as critical thinking, effective communication,  and creativity far above content knowledge and memorization.   That is not to say the one is entirely at the expense of the other: great teaching and learning happens when these two are synthesized and synergized.  But the AP exam and the course of study to prep for it, particularly in History and Science, simply does not effectively blend content and thinking skills. (more…)

[cross-posted from Connected Principals]

“Shouldn’t we test it now? Shouldn’t we?  I want to try; let me put it on top now.”

The boy circled the table, holding the marshmallow, being a bit of a pest.  Perhaps a tad hyper, even, he kept asking, testing the patience of his team-mates who very responsibly maintained their focus on the structure they were building, ever and ever higher.

“No,” one girl replied.  “It’s not ready yet. Wait until we are done!  We still have seven more minutes.”

Many of us are chattering with increasing enthusiasm about the importance of learning from failures, mistakes and errors.   Doing so it is not only a valuable part of learning,  it may well be an essential element of effective learning.

As educators we are always looking for concrete examples and active experiences to better advance understanding.   Last Saturday I spent four hours with groups of 15-20 seventh graders, about an hour at a time, undertaking an activity which has (at least)  two powerful take-away lessons, one of them being the critical importance of error in achieving success.

The activity is called the Marshmallow Challenge, and it is incredibly easy and amazingly powerful.  It has its own website with thorough directions, including a fascinating Ted-talk by Tom Wujec who articulates astutely some of its lessons. (more…)

This is a tiny bit outside my normal range of topics, but two of my intellectual influences, blogger Andrew Sullivan and Slate writer Emily Bazelon, have both written about it in recent weeks, and I am impressed by their argument.   Many, too many, anti-bullying videos dramatize bullying and its effects in ways which make bullies look powerful and victims look weak and defenseless.

Bazelon, in her piece “How Not to Prevent Bullying”   points to other current videos in circulation which really go the wrong direction. In them the bullies often look attractive in their social power, in a way almost akin to the way some anti-cigarette advertising can actually romanticize the practice that it seeks to condemn.   Even more problematic, videos which show bullied students resorting to suicide only reinforces their sense of powerlessness.  As Bazelon says about one of them,

But the video has nothing in it about how Jenna could have gotten help, no models of kids or adults reaching out to her, nothing to help kids remember that however awful bullying feels in the moment, high school doesn’t last forever. It’s like the dark opposite of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project, offering hopelessness instead of hope.

The video provided above, on the other hand, shows the power bystanders have, and the way students can stand up, be strong, and make bullying behavior look anything but cool– instead, her it looks kind of pathetic.  The denouement here, reminiscent of that wonderful climactic scene in the Kevin Kline film In and Out, is heartwarming and inspiring: we all have in our power opportunities to stand up and make clear we don’t stand for homophobia.    It is a great bit, and worthy of showing in our schools.

Above are the 49 slides from my keynote presentation to the NCAIS Innovate (North Carolina Association of Independent Schools) and the VAIS Tech (Virginia Association of Independent Schools) conferences.

After an introduction on the topic of why innovate, and an argument that independent schools are not innovative enough, the presentation shares seven conceptual approaches by which schools can better facilitate innovative mindsets among educators and students both.  Although the presentation draws on many sources, Steven B. Johnson’s recent book, Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation is especially influential.

Time limitations made it impossible to spend as much time as I would have liked to discuss specific, concrete as it were, applications of each of the seven concepts, but the slides below offer suggestions for each.   I’d be delighted, of course, if readers were to offer their own suggested specific applications of these concepts to school cultures.

Click more to view the three videos shared  in the presentation.  (more…)

A few days ago I wrote a lengthy post about our curriculum changes in the upper school;  a day after, our student newspaper was published, which included two articles about those changes it is my pleasure to share here.

Jafe Arnold wrote this piece:

Historic Changes Set for History Department

The 2010-2011 school year is nearing its last breaths of existence, and rumors fill the air of new curriculum changes that could drastically alter the way education here at St. Gregory works.  Mr. Martin, when referring to these changes, said that the idea is to “make freshman and sophomore years more of a foundational education for junior and senior years, in which students will and pursue narrower topics in greater depth.  Depth over breath is what we want.”  But, what exactly are these changes that are directed toward the history department, the department facing extensive reorganization?

After talking with Ms. Heintz and Mr. Martin, it’s been made clear that most of the specifics about the history department altercations are decided, and have been concluded off of a basis for improving students’ history education based upon what a teacher’s expertise is, and what the students want to learn about. (more…)

Following up on the previous post, in which I shared the tweets of Bo Adams to our school, it is my great pleasure to share now a link to his full post about his visit, and the video he prepared.

As an aside, I share Bo’s embrace of video communications as essential and powerful; it is my aspiration strongly to work to build up my own skills and practice so that, before too long, I am sharing my own videos in this mode.

Bo’s post at his blog, It’s About Learning,” is entitled “Demos and Tinkerers.” I urge readers to click over and read in its entirety, but here  let me quote a few passages.

There is a concerted effort – with much evidence of success – for the student learners to decrease their time in “sit-n-get” and increase their time “doing science.” From my brief exposure to science at St. Gregory, I would say that they are building a tinkering paradise.

two boys were burning leaves with a magnifying glass.  In this case, however, the StG students were fogging the space between the leaf pile and the lens. With an iPhone, the boys were recording the light cone whose finest tip was causing the burn of the foliation. As far as I could tell, they had designed this experiment. They ran into all kinds of interesting issues, and I heard them prototype their next attempt with the rest of their classmates.

from years of observation, I sensed that these students were in a routine…developing habits of mind…about hypothesizing, designing tests, and experimenting. They were practicing the scientific method, not just repeating or parroting it. They were being scientists.

Apologies for the boastfulness of this post– it is a bit awkward.   But what I am so happy about is that Bo’s observations and appreciations are about some of the very same things which also inspire me about the amazing learning which St. Gregory teachers are everyday facilitating, learning that is about doing, experimenting, prototyping, failing and correcting.

This is a topic I have written about regularly here; two posts particularly pertinent are

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