June 2011

Our new St. Gregory Design Build Technological Innovation class continues to inspire me; it is so great to see students identifying their passions and designing projects around them, tackling difficult problems, and persevering through difficulties to design and build new technologies.

The video above showcases another example of the learning of this class, in this case the design and construction of a “Giant Trike.”  My appreciation goes to the excellent teacher, Dennis Connor, who runs this class and also produced the video, and of course to our fine student Alex who designed and built the bicycle.

Related Posts:

Related videos: (more…)

[cross=posted, slightly modified, from Connected Principals]

While interviewing a teaching candidate a few weeks ago, I asked her about her own digital citizenship and the ways she uses Web 2.0 tools to create, collaborate, and communicate online; her answer was swift and firm:

“Oh no, I would never do that; I know that it is dangerous and deeply problematic to ever put information about yourself on line because it will come back to haunt you.  In our family we know we must guard our privacy and protect ourselves from anything that could hurt our reputation. ”  We didn’t hire this candidate.

Let’s view digital footprints not as  frightening dangers to avoid, but as fruitful opportunities to cultivate for ourselves and especially for our students; let’s seek to support them in creating digital portfolios and wonderfully positive images of themselves online.

TEDx youth programs are a magnificent vehicle for this endeavor, and are readily available for schools and associations to participate in.

I am extremely proud of my regional association of schools (Independent school Association of the Southwest) for the work of  our technology directors in launching a TEDxYouth day for our member-schools, in which dozens of our students prepared and presented their own TED style talks.  The video above is a promotional video for our association’s program: it is blended with the promotional video for student TEDx programs broadly, and you can find and share the universal TEDxYouth video here.

I am really delighted with the program: can you think of  a better way to support students in the development of their oral and digital video communication skills, to provide them opportunities to share and advocate their visions and passions, to connect them with a vibrant global network, and to enhance their digital footprints?

Last week I enjoyed seeing Jason Kern, Technology Director at Oakridge School (TX), do an excellent presentation on the ISAS TEDx program, and Jason welcomed me to embed his slides (after the jump).    (more…)


Among the most exciting initiatives of the past two years at our school has been our new annual Youth Leadership and Innovation Summit, presented with support from Providence Corporation.  For this event we invite principals and youth leaders from across Tucson to nominate outstanding 7th graders to come to our campus for an 8 hour Saturday workshop.

On April 2 fifty nine seventh graders from 20 Tucson middle schools came to St. Gregory College Preparatory School for the second annual Leadership and Innovation Summit. During the day the students participated in a variety of sessions demonstrating the how leadership and innovation are woven into our lives.  The hands-on activities taught the student how they too are able to unlock their own potential in these areas with a greater awareness of their abilities and a bit of creativity.

I hope you enjoy the video about the day, produced by St. Gregory student Derek Jobst’13.

As readers here may have observed, in the past 12 months I have become especially interested in, and an advocate for, “reverse instruction” or the “flipped classroom.”     It is also known as “teacher vodcasting” and has other descriptions also.

In this format, teachers who lecture record those lectures on video, perhaps with a webcam, or sometimes with a narrated powerpoint and assign video lecture-watching and note-taking for homework.    Alternatively, sometimes teachers assign for homework lectures by others, perhaps from Khan Academy or MIT Open courseware or some other other source.    In class, then, what was previously the traditional homework– students applying their learning to challenging problems– becomes the classtime activity.  Homework and class-time are thus flipped, or reversed.

The topic has been much discussed and hotly debated in certain corners of the educational blogosphere of late.

This week, Wednesday at 12noon Pacific time, 2pm Chicago time, Scott McLeod from Iowa State will host and facilitate a webinar conversation about the flipped classroom, and I am pleased to have been  invited to participate and contribute.

Information about this event is available here.

Or, check in directly to the webinar at this link:  https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/flippedclassroom

If you are interested in learning more and observe the range of opinions about “flipping,” you can check out the following links to thoughts from the following who are all panelists in Wednesday’s webinar:

And if you wish a reminder of what I have written, let me share some of my posts in the past year on this topic:
Hope to “see” you virtually in the webinar Wednesday.

An annual tradition in our household, like in many of yours I am sure, is summer reading.  So enticing is summer reading that some years it seems I spend more minutes planning what books I will read than I spend actually reading them.

I love reading summer reading suggestion lists; two I have encountered and admired in recent days are NAIS President Pat Bassett’s and Cool-Cat Teacher Vicki Davis’.    Check them out.

Here is a stab at offering my suggestions, the favorites of what I have read in the past twelve months. I hope you find it helpful to planning your summer reading.


Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson.  This is the best, hands down, among the books I have read in the past year, in helping me think more clearly about what environmental/cultural features support the emergence of good ideas and informing us on how we can better advance this.  It is is also a classic “general nonfiction” read, completely accessible and a genuine pleasure to read.


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba.  Innovation again, but from entirely the opposite perspective of Steve Johnson, from the ground up this time.   A great story and a great inspiration.

Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching can Transform Education by David Perkins. I write often about Project based learning, but this book pulls back the focus and articulates a holistic philosophy of schooling where pbl units are not isolated but embedded into an entire classroom and school-house culture where everything connects and all our learning is related and relevant to students and teachers.   Using an extended metaphor of baseball, Perkins writes brilliantly about both concepts and practices that will engage, enrich and inspire our students.


A New Culture of Learning by John Seely Brown and Doug Brown.  I have written already about this book; it is a lovely and lively exploration of the ways we all, child and adult, are learning and can learn in rich and meaningful ways never before available.    Succinct and chock-full of anecdotes and examples, this is the rare non-fiction treasure that can be genuinely enjoyed on the beach, airplane, cafe and library equally.

The World is Open by Curtis Bonk.  I didn’t love this book at all– there are many aspects of the narrative and the writing style that just plain irked me, and I didn’t even finish it altogether: so how can I recommend it?   Because it is a valiant effort to contain within its covers a vast breadth of information and ideas about the way the world of learning is changing, and it does so with an admirable ideological agenda: open information and open source will serve us all, and serve our learning and our individuation phenomenally in the coming years if we let it.

presentation zen by Garr Reynolds is less current than others on this list, but I only discovered zen this past year, and I am eagerly trying to internalize its lessons about how better to communicate orally and with images.  Such a lovely design, this book and its sequel display, that you want to just hold them and turn the pages slowly to absorb the beauty with the hope that some of the aesthetic will then rub off onto you and into your bloodstream, vision, and worldview.

 Communicating and Connecting with Social Media by Jason Ramsden, Bill Ferriter and Eric Sheninger.   Perhaps it is unfair to recommend this book, because it is written by three now-friends, face to face friends, but in fairness, all three only became my friends via social media, the subject of the book, and so my friendship with them is testimony itself to the importance of the book’s subject and the power of social media.   There are many of us who lead schools who wish to advance further in our effective use of SM, both internally and externally, to strengthen our schools’ community, communications, and regional recognition, and this is a great guide.

Brain Rules by John Medina.   Better than most others, this book combines strong and deep brain research and knowledge with a very high accessibility for the general reader, and offers great suggestions and insights that you can really apply in your daily life, and in your classroom.  For more on applications of the book, see this post: Medina’s Brain Rules: Informing Teachers as Researchers.


Blessings of a B-Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers by Wendy Mogel.  Like her previous, and also terrific book, the Blessings of a Skinned Knee, this book is very valuable in reassuring and advising us as parents and educators that we need have both high expectations and high forgiveness for our kids as they journey through childhood and adolescence.  We want them to learn and grow, and so we have to want them to make mistakes, as incredibly frustrating as that may be for us.   We want them to have experiences and to immerse themselves in their world, and we need to strive to let them do so even as we appropriately protect them– no easy balancing act.   One quibble: I think student experiences of international community service, such as in Kenya, can be and usually are incredible growth experiences, and are not to be dismissed in the way she chooses to do.

Poke the Box by Seth Godin.  I read everything Godin writes– and this is again succinct, informed, and insightful into our fast-changing world and the way it is demanding differently from us today than in the past if we seek to be successful.   It also inspires us to act, to move, to do something, and to poke the darn box already.

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky.  Shirky is a rock star: upbeat, energetic, optimistic, and evangelistic.   Think  Bono, without sunglasses and with an iphone.   Since reading this book last August, I have found myself often, perhaps too often, retelling the anecdote from the book’s conclusion, about the four year old girl who gets up from her grandparents couch to examine the large-screen TV.  Grandma, observing her scanning the back of the TV, begins to try to explain to the child that no, the characters she has been watching are not real people back behind a window, but the prekindergarten hero of the story cuts her off– No, no grandma, that is not what I am thinking, I am looking for the mouse.   None of us, and kids especially, are content any longer just watching: we demand interactivity with our media.


Literary, or Semi-Literary Fiction

Solar by Ian McEwan.  I will always be devoted to McEwan: he is undeniably Nobel-worthy and enormously readable.  I enjoyed Solar, laughed, saw compelling insights into our world and satire of our times, and yet, this is not among his finest.   Solar is a bit of an artifice, a bit too much of a parable, and never brings us as deeply into the souls of the characters as Saturday and Atonement did.  That said, it is still an important and interesting work about our ambitions, our hubris, and our limitations.

The Heights by Peter Hedges.  This is a very engaging slice of contemporary life novel set in Brooklyn, and featuring as the central character a history teacher at a prominent independent-private school, a connection to my own world and experience I especially enjoyed.  The novel is very much an insiders view of marriage, with a Tom Perotta-like sensibility, one that any married person will enjoy having the perspective of for comparison.   It is funny, sad, and ultimately reconciling in its view of relationships and love.

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross.  This is a postmodern, mobius strip style novel that will keep you scratching your head as you manage the twisty narrative and keep you laughing out loud, sympathizing intensely,  and perhaps crying in angst as you experience the emotional roller coaster its characters ride.


 .    Jim Honan is a highly regarded expert at Harvard  in nonprofit finance and governance, and we at ISAS were fortunate to have him present last week on the topic of the value proposition.  He gave a fast-moving talk, squeezing two or three days of information into an hour, to bring us up to speed on this important topic.   His slides are below, after the jump.   Below are my notes of Jim’s talk, with some links added.

What is the value proposition ? How do you know you are providing it?

Jim points out that it is great to be discussing this topic with CEOs/Heads, because some say that CEOs/Heads  are the living logo of the school’s value proposition– and we should understand in our bones these issues and how to articulate them.

Why now?  Growing interest in accountability among various internal and external constituents.  Heightened focus on cost, quality, efficiency, productivity, and outcomes assessment.  Our “New normal” economy demands of us we consider more carefully issues of financial sustainability.   Independent schools, and schools generally, should not feel picked upon or singled out on this issue– the trends here mirror developments in other sectors—higher ed, public k-12, libraries, international NGO’s, arts and culture, all of which are grappling with a fast-rising demand for value proposition accountability.

How might you assess measure your school’s mission and impact? The traditional ways all come quickly to mind:

  • Accreditation processes and self study
  • Post graduation experiences of your students  Can your students do what you proclaim to teach and how would you know?
  • Internal surveys studies program review, alumni surveys
  • Reports to trustees
  • Publications/website

These above are the “usual suspects.”

But these may not be enough in this day and age, and we may need at each of our institutions take the next step in evaluating and demonstrating our value proposition.   (more…)

Earlier this week, at the Annual Heads Conference of the Independent School Association of the Southwest (ISAS), I had the pleasure of introducing our main speaker, Jim Tracy, Headmaster of Cushing Academy.   As Program and Professional Development Chair of the Association, bringing Jim has been among my highest priorities: I take great inspiration and illumination from his leadership of Cushing and his writings for NAIS, including his work as editor and contributor to the NAIS guide to change management.

Regular readers here may remember a post I wrote about Jim’s presentation at the NAIS Conference in March, 2010, which was a highly informative, interesting, and provocative session.

Below, I have shared some of Jim’s key points in his talk.  My thanks go to him for joining us at ISAS.

On Change in our World:

We are living in a time that is as or more important than any other in the history of our species.  A survey across many disciplines finds a extreme probabilistic curve, where the probability of extreme outcomes both positive and negative are rising rapidly. [Talk about Black Swans!]

Technology is accelerating, and everything is changing more and more rapidly.  There is nothing more crucial than to educate our youth to improve the probability of positive outcomes. We are seeing the power of the individual to influence the collective greatly increasing, and the potential for terrible harm is rising, but also for utopian improvement.   Most our our kids will live to see 2100 and to see the end of disease.

We may have made too complex a society for our limited intellectual capacity as humans to manage.  None of us is safe if we are surrounded by an uninformed and undereducated electorate.

We have changed in just a few swift years from a world of information scarcity to information surplus, and learning must change with it.  (more…)