March 2010

It’s not about the computer; it’s about the learning.  Our students today both want and need to be active, engaged, collaborative, on-line, vigorous, empowered, creative,  solvers of real-world problems.   They need to be skilled and informed
to do so, but they need to be challenged, motivated, and engaged in doing so.
The best learning has always been, since we were chimps, about practicing, experimenting, mistake-making, and overcoming obstacles as we have used the finest tools available in doing so.  Aristotle wrote that we learn best by doing, and it has always been true.

Yes, it is wonderful sometimes for students to listen to a compelling lecture told with passion and perceptive insight and compelling interpretation and anecdote and a story.    Yes it is dynamite for kids to participate in intellectual discourse and debate, sharing and discusing ideas and appreciating fine dialogue.   And yes, there are fine pieces of writing that can still happen on paper. We don’t need to end, abolish, or abandon any of these things.

But as our “digital generation” comes to school, entirely familiarized with the use of digital tools on a daily basis to communicate, research, collaborate, plan, organize, investigate, create and publish, how dare we say to them they cannot use these same tools in school as they use outside of it?  Just as importantly, knowing that in their college and adult careers they will be expected to do so in nearly every work-place, how can we deprive them of developing mastery in their skilled use of these tools? (more…)

This is now the fourth in a series of posts featuring St. Gregory classes which exemplify (imho) the type of teaching and learning Tony Wagner calls for in his book, The Global Achievement Gap.  In that book, he asks for schools to   uses academic core subjects to teach students to reason, communicate, and solve problems; here we present a Chemistry class that does exactly that.   Dr. Wagner will be here at St. Gregory in just a few days, and on the day he arrives we will present him and publish our new booklet: Bridging the Gap: Teaching Students to Communicate, Reason, and Solve Problems.

This is from Dr. Scott Morris, our Science Department chair.

Students know they will be doing a lab today. Their homework assignment was to download the procedure from the teacher’s website, read it, and prepare any data table(s) that they think will be useful.

The teacher begins by asking whether everyone has a copy of the procedure and then queries them along two lines: What are we doing and are there any hazards we should be aware of? They will have to write a lab report after the activity, so he asks them: “What is the purpose of this lab?” The students volunteer opinions and the class develops both a “scientific” purpose as well as a “technique” purpose. Often, the “hazard” discussion is blended into the pedagogical goals:

1) Are we using fire? Why? (more…)

Howard Levin is a friend (my blogging “career” began in his “classroom” at Urban School CIT), and I greatly admire his vision and  leadership regarding laptop integration.  I first saw him present his outstanding program, making the laptop disappear, back at a conference in June 2006, or thereabouts, and more perhaps than any other single session, it transformed my view of education.

A friend asked me about whether I knew of independent schools which were succeeding greatly in 1:1 laptop integration, and of course I thought of Urban School.  In doing so, it brought me again to Levin’s fine body of work on the topic.   I want to draw upon his wisdom in two excellent articles, one entitled Laptop Program Update in this post, and the other Here and Now in the School of the Future in a subsequent post.

Levin’s update article is already five years old, but it remains valuable.   Two years into his program’s implementation, he reports, “teachers are now having students use their laptops to do more of what was previously impractical or impossible… Few question the wisdom; nearly all are finding effective and innovative ways for laptops to support learning.” (more…)

The WaPo’s Jay Matthews is the single most influential educational journalist in America, and over the years I find myself often tacking back and forth in my appreciation for his writing.   I share with him his great enthusiasm for the IB (International Baccalaureate); on the other hand, I believe his ranking schools by AP scores is problematic, and I was quite put off in 2008 and 2009 by some of his cranky (his own word-choice) criticsm of the 21st century skills movement.

But in recent months he has been terrific; in December he brought good attention to and praised an important report from Craig Jerald, Defining 21st century education,  then praised (late, but better late than never) Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap,  and participated in a fascinating on-line debate with Wagner.

This month Matthews has a fun piece endorsing one of my favorites, the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA), a piece which I am going to quote at some length.

“Why not take the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a new essay exam that measures analysis and critical thinking, and apply it to high schools? Some colleges give it to all of their freshmen, and then again to that class when they are seniors, and see how much value their professors at that college have added. We could do the same for high schools, with maybe a somewhat less strenuous version.”

But after I posted that idea, a young man named Chris Jackson e-mailed me that his organization had thought of it four years ago and had it up and running. Very cheeky, I thought, but also intriguing. I never thought anyone would try such a daring concept. (more…)

Often I write here about my appreciation and enthusiasm for New Tech High Schools and the way they effectively educate students via a problem-based learning methodology and with an excellent use of technology integration.   In my continuing effort to feature more videos on my blog, here is a nice video overview of New Tech.  I am also excited to report here that we have received confirmation that a St. Gregory team of teachers will be visiting a New Tech campus in Dallas in May for a full day exploration of their learning program.

I may be straying a tad from my regular range of topics, but an important aspect of 21st century education is drawing upon contemporary research to enhance our students’ learning, and I believe the research is clear that sleep matters.

Po Bronson’s NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children isn’t revolutionary, and much of it is not that new, but it is informative and entertaining, and it does call upon us to vigorously continue reforming learning.   The best essay in the book may be the chapter entitled The Lost Hour, also available as an on-line article in New York magazine entitled Can a lack of Sleep Set Back Your Child’s Cognitive Abilities?

Some compelling quotes:

Every study done shows a similar connection between sleep and school grades—from a study of second- and third-graders in Chappaqua to a study of eighth-graders in Chicago. The correlations really spike in high school, because that’s when there’s a steep drop-off in kids’ sleep. (more…)

This is another in a series, (the 3rd) of sharing on the blog narratives from our teachers of exemplary classes in the mode of Tony Wagner, who calls, in his book The Global Achievement Gap, for teachers to “use academic content as a means to teach students to communicate, reason, and solve problems.”

I’ll use this posting too to announce publicly the forthcoming publication of a St. Gregory educational booklet, tentatively entitled Bridging the Gap: Teaching Students to Communicate, Collaborate, and Think Critically and Creatively. The 16 page booklet, coming out March 31st, will feature nine 200-400 vignettes of exemplary St. Gregory lessons where students are learning the key skills they need for success in our fast-changing world.   It will be available for sale through the St. Gregory office for $4.00.

This English lessons comes from two of our fine teachers, Dr. Kate Oubre and Mr. Robert Mossman.

AP English, Spring 2010

At the beginning of the period, the teacher divides the class into small groups (3 or 4) and hands out packets.  Each group is assigned a different poem, which we have not yet studied, along with a set of AP-style multiple-choice questions and a free response essay question.  Each group is assigned to read the poem carefully, determine its meanings, and then reach consensus on answers to the multiple-choice questions. (more…)

I have long been passionate about problems in learning (and Problem Based Learning), and even more so since my visit to New Technology High School in October 2008, and since working (in a very small way) with the Buck Institute’s Jason Ravitz on an article on this topic.  As Ted McCain writes, brilliantly, in Teaching for Tomorrow, we need to invert the conventional classroom dynamic: instead of teaching information and content first, and then asking students to answer questions about it second, we should put the question/problem first, and then facilitate students with information and guidance as they seek the answer and hold them highly accountable for the excellence of their solutions and of their presentation of their results.

I am working now to think through and discern what particular  and compelling term best captures this approach: is “problem based learning” the answer?   (Share with me your thoughts about terminology by using the “leave a comment button.”)

The College and Work Readiness Assessment, which we use at St. Gregory to assess our students’ learning of critical thinking, communication, and problem solving, uses the term “Performance Task” to capture and convey the learning approach I am trying to describe here.  (more…)

Hard for me to imagine anyone would want to listen to me for thirty minutes, but last December I had the great pleasure to be interviewed on live radio here in Tucson by Dr. Zara Larsen, who hosts a Saturday morning radio show entitled Circles of Change.

She and I spoke about my work at St. Gregory, my blog, my research in 2008 shadowing students at 21 21st century high schools, and my ideas about educational reform.

The podcast is available here.  Enjoy, and please let me know if you have any reactions to the interview by using the Leave a Comment Button.

As explained in a previous post, we are using Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap in many ways, including taking his inspiration to recast our own classrooms as places where we using academic content as a means to teach students how to communicate and collaborate, reason and analyze critically, and solve problems using creativity and innovation.  The narrative below comes from our outstanding 12th grade Leadership class, taught and written by Fred Roberts, and edited by Stefanie Teller.

Applied and Theoretical Leadership

This lesson occurs near the end of the first academic quarter.  At this point the students have studied several theoretical aspects of leadership and five distinct leadership styles. They have seen these styles in action as the course instructors have role modeled each style on more than one occasion.  The class has also discussed different local and national leaders who rely on one or more leadership styles.

For this particular class the teachers have set up five different team-building challenges.  (more…)

This is nice, a response to the very powerful A Vision of Students Today video about which I have blogged in the past.  (And hat-tip to the awesome Angela Maiers).

Favorite lines from the video:

Adapting and evolving, teachers digitally empower diverse learners to connect, communicate,  collaborate, and create in an interactive, technology rich environment. (more…)

Global Achievemnent GapMy most frequently “re-tweeted” Blog post has to have been a post I did a few months ago entitled How We at St. Gregory are using Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap.  In the last three months, it has had 174 visits.  In that post, I wrote that one of the things we were doing as a faculty to engage and respond to the book was to write in each department an narrative (or several) of exemplary St. Gregory class sessions which demonstrate effectively the kind of teaching and learning (we think) Wagner is calling for.

On p. 65 of his book, after a long series of brief vignettes where Tony describes high school classrooms which are not working to promote the learning of the skills kids need, he then offers a three paragraph passage of an Algebra II class that is effective: it is one where “the teachers use academic content as a means of teaching students how to communicate, reason, and solve problems.” We are using this phrase as our touchstone, though we are adding to it as follows: using academic content as a means to teach students how to communicate and collaborate, reason and analyze critically, and solve problems using creativity and innovation.

I have collected now about a dozen, and I will periodically be publishing them here; we are also preparing for publication later this month a little booklet of these exemplary “Wagnerian” classroom narratives.  This one is written by Dr. Michelle Berry, and (as all of them have been, for consistency of format and style) edited by Stefanie Teller.   Please let me know what you think by posting a response;  many more to come!

AP Government – Unit on Constitutional Law

The teacher begins the unit on Constitutional Law by announcing that, over the course of the month-long unit, each student will have an important role to play every day in order to make sense of complex Constitutional questions and critique the wisdom of the United States Supreme Court.  (more…)

Jim Tracy, who heads Cushing Academy, seems to this observer to have become a very important thought leader, change agent, and provocateur for our industry of independent K-12 schooling.   Tracy is probably best known this year for the press he got over his decision to ban books from his school’s library, replacing them with e-readers, a decision that jarred many bibliophiles.  I believe, however,  it is important that he be recognized for his many other innovations and thought-contributions, both to within NAIS and more broadly to the 21st century educational movement.

One was an article he wrote last summer, a fine piece in Independent School, arguing for a form of strategic planning that was narrowly focussed on finding  (from Collins) your inner hedgehog, that thing which you can be most passionate about,  be best in the world at, and can offer you a great advantage.  He described a process for doing so at Cushing that we borrowed from last fall, to determine our new message and mantra at St. Gregory: Creating Leaders and Innovators for the 21st century.

Tracy presented at NAIS on the topic: 21st century education: Preparing the Transition Generation for Leadership (more…)

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