February 2012

The “Neon LS Clock”

From its inventor, Alex McNerney:

This is a preview of a theme that I made for the iPhone’s lockscreen. It is both a digital and an analog clock; the outer ring is hours, middle ring is minutes, and inner ring is seconds.

– Not available on the default AppStore, only on Cydia (for jailbroken iPhones)
– Digital/Analog: outer ring is hours, middle ring is minutes, and inner ring is seconds
– It is a theme for the lockscreen (the “slide to unlock” is replaced by the white slider on the preview)
– Currently has 124 paid ($1) downloads since February 7

Often before I’ve shared examples of our school’s new Design Build Innovation Technology class student projects, including the solar energy laptop recharging station ramada, solar oven,  hexapodtrebuchet and the giant trike.

This is one of the latest products of the class, an iPhone “lockscreen” digital clock, with what I think is a very snazzy, modern visual face.   It was designed in class by student Alex McNerney, and it is fair to say it is the first “commercial product” to emerge from our FabLab studio.     It’s not available in the Apple app store, but rather on the “jailbreak” iPhone Cydia store.

Take also a moment to click over to its always live (current time) home page.

Great job Alex!

Dear Fellow NAIS Educator:
I am writing you because I believe you share with me a passion to lead learning forward and I think you may be, like I am, eager to learn more about, practice, pilot, experiment with, collaborate around, and share advances in the arena often referred to as 21st century learning or “schools of the future.”At the NAIS meeting and around our regional meetings we have some of these opportunities with independent school associates, but speaking for myself and my colleague Chris Thinnes from Curtis School (CA), we want more: we are eager to broaden our network of forward-thinking educators to include the boldest and brightest public school district leaders in the nation, and we are finding this opportunity under the auspices of a new organization called EdLeader21.

Please consider joining Chris Thinnes and me for a 45 minute coffee reception next Thursday (March 1) morning at 7:00am in Seattle (Convention Center room #305) to learn more.

Ken Kay, EdLeader21 CEO and founder/former President of the national Partnership for 21st century Skills, (P-21) will
speak with us via skype about this exciting new professional learning community for educational leaders of all sectors who want to work together to improve learning for all students.

Click here for the flyer: http://edleader21.com/Downloads/NAISFlyer.pdf

This is a free and entirely open event; please forward this post to others whom you think might be interested, and feel free to bring or send a friend or colleague.

No RSVP required, but you are welcome to reply and let me know if you will be coming or to contact me for more information.


[cross-posted from Connected Principals]

Cheating is a plague upon schools across our nation, and it appears to be on the rise.   During my time visiting schools, 21 in all, private and public, during my 2008 good high school blogging project, I often observed cheating– sometimes blatant, “public,” shameless cheating in front of me.     But as severe as this problem is, it is not impossible for us as educators to respond, redirect, and resolve the crisis of cheating.

Two recent articles have recently surfaced the issue.   First, in Edweek’s section “Focus on Student Behavior,” Sarah Sparks has a piece entitled Studies Shed Light on How Cheating Impedes Learning.   Second, the APA (American Psychological Association) published a piece by Amy Novotney last spring with the appealingly succinct title, “Beat the Cheat.”

The two pieces overlap in the research they cite, the findings they report, and the recommendations they make.  Both are constructed with strong research  foundations; see their original pieces for the evidentiary basis of the claims quoted below.

Both are compelling, emphatic, and appalling in their articulation of the epidemic that is cheating.

From Edweek:

Of a nationally representative sample of more than 40,000 public and private high school students responding to the survey, 59.4 percent admitted to having cheated on a test—including 55 percent of honors students.

It continues, even worsens, in college.

From the APA:

 researchers found that nearly 82 percent of a sample of college alumni admitted to engaging in some form of cheating as undergraduates.

Cheating is not only, obviously, indicative of a deeply disturbing lack of integrity; it can negatively impact the quality of learning for all, students who don’t and students who do cheat.    Edweek:

Emerging evidence suggests students who cheat on a test are more likely to deceive themselves into thinking they earned a high grade on their own merits, setting themselves up for future academic failure. “We see that the effect of cheating is, the more we engage in dishonest acts, the more we develop these cognitive distortions—ways in which we neutralize the act and almost forget how much we are doing it.”

What’s worse still, cheating doesn’t stop on graduation day.  APA:

People who cheat on exams in high school are three times more likely to lie to a customer or inflate an insurance claim compared with those who never cheated. High school cheaters are also twice as likely to lie to or deceive their boss and one-and-a-half times more likely to lie to a significant other or cheat on their taxes.


Moreover, such self-deception can lead to a “death of a thousand cuts” for a student’s honesty, Mr. Stephens said.  “Kids start to disengage [from] responsibility habitually; cheating in high school does lead to dishonesty in the workplace as an adult,” he said.

For all of us who see ourselves as educating the future leaders, the future stewards, and the future innovators of our society and planet, the stakes are rising for the successful outcome of our efforts to end the cheating epidemic.

How do we do so?  Let me share with you five suggestions. (more…)

At the Family Association meeting presentation Tuesday about our English curriculum, we enjoyed a spirited discussion about the vital importance of writing instruction.  We all agreed on the importance of developing strong skills in formal written expression: a mastery of technical competency in grammar, spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, and the common forms of expository and persuasive writing.

At St. Gregory we regularly check in with our graduates, and we are always gratified that they report with frequency that they are finding themselves very successful as writers in college and beyond, and that they find themselves far better prepared than most of their peers from other schools.   One current example: Adam Gonzales, who is currently a freshman in university, is already writing for the University’s athletics website.    We feel very confident that our students who are the product of our seven year (6-12), or four year (9-12) program, emerge with terrific confidence in their written expression, comfortable in their expressive fluency, and highly proficient in their technical command of the written form.

At the end of the Family Association discussion, I offered a peroration to the discussion, summing up what I as Head of School believe to be our school’s educational values, goals and philosophy about the development of fine writers.    Afterwards, I was asked by many if I would write up my comments and share them more widely.  What follows is a slightly expanded, modified version of my spoken remarks. 

It is important to remember that there are two, twin goals for any educational program of writing preparation, and they live in a dynamic tension which can, sometimes, in the short run, function as a zero-sum tension, such that overly emphasizing one, particularly in ways developmentally inappropriate, can result in the diminution of the other.

Our twin goals are both mastery of technical formalism in the written form and  fluency, a confident written expressiveness that conveys one’s unique, individual voice.  I could add to the latter not just confidence but a genuine enjoyment, even passion, for written expression.

Just as we rightly worry, even fear, that far too many secondary school graduates lack formal written proficiency, let’s not forget what should be a second source of great anxiety: many students emerge from middle and secondary school greatly lacking confidence and originality of voice, and indeed, many emerge simply hating to write. (more…)

A few months ago I shared here an update on the terrific happenings in our advisory program, now in its second year, at St. Gregory.   As I wrote then, this new initiative incorporates into advisory a service learning program, and we motivated advisory groups to plan and commit to a larger service project by offering “mini-grants,” available through a formal, grant-writing, process.

Now here are the results!   From a recent school newsletter:

As part of the One School, One City initiative, we’ve awarded 6 wonderful advisory project ideas with mini-grant funding raised from St. Gregory’s Family Association participation in the Shop & Give program. If you have not yet signed up with this program, please be sure to register at participating stores. The Family Association Shop & Give generated $1800 last year to support the following advisory projects:

Ms. Bancroft’s advisory will continue their work in the 6th grade courtyard building a community garden. They plan on purchasing seeds for produce and an orange tree! Their goal is to be able to cook a meal at Primavera using the produce they’ve grown.

Ms. Berry’s advisory will host presentations about desert biodiversity by The Sonoran Desert Museum. The presentations will take place on Challenge Day on April 20, 2012 and add a new component to St Gregory’s celebration of diversity.

Mr. Clashman’s advisory will establish a water harvesting system on Middle School campus by the administration building. They are partnering with a former alum and current U of A student who is helping with the logistics and design of the system. Their goal is to reduce our campus waste of water and aide in the beautification processes happening in the Middle School courtyards. (more…)

From time to time I post and share here pieces I have written as part of my role and responsibility as Head of St. Gregory.  The following letter, which I prepared and which is co-signed by our Board Chair, was sent last week to all St. Gregory families, inviting them to re-enroll for next school year, a year I sadly will not be able to be a part of, but a year in which I know great things will continue to occur and great advances will continue to be made. 

February 1, 2012

Dear St. Gregory Families:

We write you to invite and encourage you to continue on next year as part of our St. Gregory community.

Adding value to a St. Gregory education is a very high priority of the school’s leadership, and we have made great strides forward we have made together.  You may or may not know that in the past two years:

  • We became one of the first  1:1 laptop schools in Tucson,  and provided resources for WIFI expansion,  for netbooks for students not bringing their own, and for professional development for our faculty.
  • Our new advisory program is strengthening the relationships of teachers and students, and providing stronger teacher-mentors, improved service learning programs,  and an enhanced sense of community; a student reporter for our school newspaper recently wrote:  “Student response to advisories has been overwhelmingly positive in nature. “
  • We’ve added robotics programs in the Middle and Upper School, a new Science Olympiad competitive squad in the Upper School (which is a two time state-wide winner of the “rookie of the year” prize), a new Technology Design course, a TEDx speaker program, and several new innovation workshops for our students.
  • We’ve implemented new technologically enhanced educational assessments in both the Upper School (CWRA & PLAN) and middle school  (MAP), which better enable us to determine how well our students are doing and how we can better improve and personalize their learning.
  • We’ve revamped our PE curriculum in grades 6-9 to include a much stronger health education and life-long athletics curriculum, including featuring outside-guest teachers for Judo, Yoga, Ballroom Dancing, Bicycling, Healthy Skincare, Diet/Nutrition, and more.

But we are not slowing down: in just the past 8 months,

  • We’ve installed a new fiber optics internet cable to ten-tuple our campus bandwidth. (more…)

“This was the best TED Talk ever.”

“My favorite yet!”

“I loved this!  It totally spoke to me.”

After a lapse of a few months, I found this morning a slot to share at all-school meeting a TED talk– and when I announced this, the room broke out into genuine applause.   This is a very charming and sweet connection I am sharing with my St. Gregory students, one I will miss greatly:  our shared “fandom” for TED talks.

After viewing, we had a great ten minute all-school conversation.   First we focused upon the content– what is the relationship of happiness and productivity, how do we “filter” our experience, what are the five techniques for developing a positive outlook and happiness attitude, and do we agree with these five?

The five techniques to shift your attitude, enhance your happiness, lift up your filter, and strengthen your productivity:

  1. Express gratitude daily; deliberately choose to write or say thank you and express appreciation for what you have.
  2. Journal.
  3. Meditate.
  4. Exercise.
  5. Practice random acts of kindness.


Then we shifted to form: what made this talk so effective.  Humor of course was the most important element, but we also discussed the way the presenter himself modeled a positive affect, and the way he used a personal story at the outset to build a sense of connection with his audience.

Take the twelve minutes for viewing this one: It is a very funny talk with a very meaningful message.

As part of a continuing exploration here, I am happy to share this next example of and reflection upon “Open Computer” or “Open Internet” Testing at St. Gregory.  As I’ve written before, I think this assessment approach is a highly valuable one for promoting deeper learning, information literacy, and analytic and organizational skill development over memorization and regurgitation.  I think that many tests in most subjects can be, with the right intentional design, “open internet” and that they will be the better for it. 

Some argue against tests altogether, but I still love a good test, and taking the time to think through as a teacher what kind of questions can we ask which will continue to be meaningful assessments when Google and Wolfram Alpha are available is, I think, a highly productive exercise, and, of course, will generate a more authentic assessment experience far more well aligned with the real world of professionals for which we are preparing our students. 

Below is a report about another experiment with this approach from our Theater teacher and director, Lisa Bodden.

Comparing my approach to teaching this course with the last time I taught a similar version I realized that the major thing that has changed is the student’s access to technology. Did I still need the students to buy a heavy, although comprehensive, textbook? No, the information is available at their fingertips.

Did I need to order lengthy videos describing very limited topics and spend time plucking out the important details? No, YouTube is almost too easy and has a plethora of informative  videos, performances, and interviews with scholars and professionals.

Therefore, did I really need the students to regurgitate information or could I ask them to utilize  Internet resources and their class notes to compose essays based on questions that they helped craft?

The “answers” the students created in response to the essay prompts not only proved to me how well they understood the information, but also allowed them to maintain their individuality, voice, and opinion. I asked for historically specific information, but they could choose who and what on which to focus. The test went very well, in my view, and I will happily turn to this method again and again. Although this will not be my only method of assessment, I consider it a success. (more…)

The above is Jane’ s Ted-talk, highly recommended if you didn’t have the chance to see her speak today.  This talk topped the event, in my opinion: McGonigal really brings us close the emotional power of gaming, and connects better than anyone gaming to the real world and our goals for our students: motivation, meaning, relevance, social fabric, connectivity, collaboration.

There is no excuse for not taking her lead in examining the opportunities for this kind of blending: games which are integrated into our academic experiences, and gaming which inspire us to think again: what is so compelling about gaming, how does it provide flow and generate growth from stress, and how can learning and our own social experiences be enhanced by the lessons of gaming.

I want to add too: I am not a gamer per se, but I know I would grow, learn, and benefit from more gaming in my life.  But I will say that blogging and social media is an analogue for me: blogging is a positive stress, leads me to a social connection with others sharing my passion, gives me a sense of an epic win by the impact I am having on the world, gives me feedback on how I am doing and a sense of progression and productivity.   Blogging is my gaming, in a significant way (I intend to write more about this soon).

Key Ideas

We have achieved complete game play in the US among under 20 year olds: 95% plus.  Even two year olds.

10,000 hours of gaming are spent by the age of 21, as much time playing games as kids are in the classroom.

Can Games Teach us to save the real world? 

We don’t think of games as a way to get real things done.

“The opposite of play isn’t work– it’s depression.”

10 positive emotions derived from playing games:

Most game play today is social and cooperative.

We get to try something new– a sense of creative agency, as we play games in the virtual world around us.

Kids playing video games regularly tested higher on Torrance test of creativity.

Where do these positive emotions and creative agency associated with gaming come from?  EUSTRESS.    Nothing going on more in gaming positive stress: fierce determination, grit and perseverence, flow state, total immersion in something right at the edge of our ability. (more…)

Although it was disappointing we couldn’t view his slides, Eagleman’s presentation was a big lift for those of entirely enthusiastic about the new age of information we live in, and what it means for empowering our students to be digitally savvy, connected critical thinkers.   Eagleman calls himself a “cyber-optimist,” just as I am, and he offers valuable, neurologically founded, evidence and perspective on where learning needs to be going.

As an optimist, he is anything but gloomy about the way students brains are changing, but rather embracing this moment to change up what we are doing: to take learning online, to take it toward active, engaged, decisionmaking, critical thinking, mistake making and retooling, rich environments for our student.

Let’s not be daunted, let’s be inspired.   This is genuinely the most exciting moment to be an educator, and most exciting moment to be a learner, since Socrates was in taking inquiry more deeply with his fellow Athenians, and each and every day let’s ask ourselves: what can we do to realign what we are doing to take advantage of this moment?

Key Ideas

The conscious I is the smallest part of the mind: the conscious aware I is like a broom closet of the mansion that is the brain.

“In each of us, there is another who we do not know.” Jung.

We have to understand the conscious mind to help understand how to better steer kids toward the learning that matters.

Think though problems, synthesis, come up with solutions, creatively: what we need most for teaching and learning.

What does the unconscious mind have to do with creativity? 

The key to neural networks is that they make associations: everything is tied to something else.   The problem of the path of least resistance.  The unconscious mind is incredibly efficient: It seeks the swiftest, straightest, path to the answer, the path of least resistance, the simplest and plainest result that it can.

How do we get people off the path of least resistance?

The brain is constantly rewriting its own software.   The brain is so plastic and malleable. (more…)

This wasn’t a talk that worked so well for me, but it is not that there was nothing of worth here.   Our speaker was entirely and enormously correct to say that we should make a high priority of managing our-selves, of ensuring we practice good habits of sleep, diet, and exercise; that we renew and refresh and take the breaks we need to be more productive in our working times.

The importance of regularly taking breaks in our absorption of content for processing and synthesis is great, and certainly all educators should advocate this for their students and practice it for themselves.

Focus is important, of course it is; but to be reductionist or simplistic about multi-tasking isn’t helpful.   There is an incredibly wide array of activities associated with what is labeled multi-tasking, and to generalize loses all this.

Writing while we listen, sharing and connecting ideas we are receiving to other ideas, considering the implications of what we are learning, managing multiple points of view or considering other ways of understanding ideas: these can be called multi-tasking or they can be called sophisticated thinking.   Athletes and performing artists multi-task brilliantly; it is an enormously valuable human quality of genius to be able to coordinate oneself  doing multiple things in a productive way, just as it is a sadness to not be able to recognize when we are diminishing our ability to enjoy or be successful when we are doing too much at once.

I am no extremist on this: Tony’s point of view bothers me, just as Cathy Davidson’s argument, to my mind, goes far too far the other direction.    Read my thoughts about Davidson’s defense of and advocacy for multi-tasking here:   What about when the goal is counting the basketball passes? Responding to Davidson’s Now You See It.

For a fuller treatment of this Tony Schwartz talk, please click over to read Jennifer Lockett’s post.

You could feel the room was less animated as this, the third of three challenging and provocative presentations, proceeded; saturation was setting in, and this was no fault of presenter Michael Horn’s.   This session did offer powerful analysis of the power of trends and the significance of the ongoing technological wave surfing over education, though Michael was more subdued as a speaker than his two predecessors.   His talk was also less directly centered on applicable take-aways to today’s classrooms than that of Jacobs and Bassett, but nonetheless offered very important prophecy and analysis.

I should add: motivation matters enormously, and I appreciate very much his attention to this;  it shows a deep caring for kids and their experience of our schools, and urges us to use always this as a foundation for our planning.

Horn’s both predicting and evangelizing for a digital revolution in our schools, but that is not to say his values are somehow technocratic.   It is because he recognizes all learners crave and benefit from feedback, that all learners desire to be more interactive with other learners, that all learners do best when they can track their progress and derive real satisfaction from their learning, that he believes the digital revolution will and should occur: because technology serves these humane and humanistic goals for learning brilliantly when blended with the best of classroom learning.

Resources, Links, Key Ideas

My previous posts on Michael Horn:

“We really have to understand what turns students on and fires them up.   This question of motivation is a problematic one.  Noone has cracked it at scale.”


A bracing, challenging, informative talk from Heidi Hayes Jacob enlivened our afternoon.   What year are we preparing our students for?   I embedded below (after “more”) her Ted Talk; I hope you find these resources, suggested action items, and conversation starters and you reflect on her talk.

Resources, Links, & Key Points

Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World

Jennifer Lockett’s blog post about Jacobs’ talk.

Everyone agrees today that we are going to learn something.

A new pedagogy is emerging: more student self-navigation.

At the end of every proficiency you have as a goal for your student, there should be an adverb: “Independently.”

New Tools, New Literacies: Digital, Media, and Global

The tool we use impact learning:  Paper is over.

Every student should read and write a screenplay.


Curriculum 21 Learning Commons

Classroom 2.0

A New Kind of Learner Needs a New Kind of Teacher

Research means Search Again.

The Curriculum 21 Clearinghouse.

Gapminder World visualization tool.

Google Art Project

Museum Box

Digital Literacy is the thoughtful and deliberate development of web 2.0 applications.  (more…)

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