March 2012

Sharing here the Head of School letter from our St. Gregory Annual Report (2010-11), which recently, (belatedly), printed. This is addressed to the entire St. Gregory extended community, and especially its many fine supporters. 

We are living in a golden age of writing about innovation: authors as diverse as Steven Johnson, Kevin Kelly, John Seely Brown, Chris Anderson, and Clayton Christensen all published fascinating works in the 2010-11 school year about the dynamic environments which support both innovation and excellence in fast-changing times.

The singular takeaway from all these works is the power of the network: the importance of sharing, collaboration, and connection. We are all made stronger, smarter, and more creative by our connections to each other.

St. Gregory’s excellent and exciting 2010-2011 school year was an extraordinary example of the value of strengthened networks. It was a year of growth, as we added more new students for the coming year that in any year in the past dozen; a year of commitment, with an extremely strong re-enrollment rate for our families; and a year of support, as philanthropic contributions improved in several key areas.

Let me share a few of the ways we strengthened our networks and connectivity. We implemented a 1:1 laptop program for our students, with a primary goal that they become more connected to the ocean of information. One of my favorite elements of the past school year was our increasing connection in all-school meetings to the wealth of storytelling and wisdom that are the “TED talks”: our students have listened to and learned from some of the most brilliant minds in the world this way.

Using the power of the network, students wrote their own AP Government textbooks, produced their own digital videos explaining genetics and bio-engineering to other students, and constructed a trebuchet catapult which launched a pumpkin more than 100 yards.

Our school’s enhanced connectivity and networking has played out in many other ways beyond our student learning. We have expanded our Board of Trustees to include more current parents and alumni. We are hosting more and more community events and organizations on our campus, such as the Perimeter 10K charity run and the volunteer group Flying Samaritans. We traveled to Mexico to develop new “sister school” type relationships with schools in Hermosillo and San Carlos, and I traveled to China to visit with an alumnus in Shanghai and to recruit students from Beijing and Shenzhen. We reinvigorated our athletic boosterism with new parental initiatives, and we revived our favorite fundraising tradition, the Sip for St. Gregory, enjoying the opportunity to reconnect with many friends and supporters at that lovely event.

The Annual Report you are receiving is the product of our Development department, a department which has its first principle to enhance the connectivity of our community and the strength of the St. Gregory network. Its readers are our community members and supporters, past, present, and future, and I hope you know that we know that our school’s future depends on the strength of our connection with you and the power of our network. When you read this report, or visit our campus, or volunteer for our school, or make a contribution, our network grows and improves.

Thank you, readers, for all you do to support our students’ learning and advance our school into our collective future. You are a critical part of the St. Gregory network.




2010-11 was the first full year implementation of our school’s program we call the EGG, the Essential Goals for Gregorians. (more…)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

It was exciting yesterday to see 60 minutes  share the phenomenon that so many of us have been so excited about over the past few years (see the related links at the bottom of the post).

Reporter Sanjay Gupta and 60 minutes offers a helpful introduction to the value Khan Academy can offer in a “blended” learning environment (“it’s called flipping the classroom” he explains), and of course I agree wholeheartedly with Khan that use of his videos doesn’t render teachers irrelevant, but rather allows them to better provide the added value of inspiring, mentoring, coaching students toward better problem solving and analysis.    I appreciate his point that we can use his resources and those of teachers everywhere posting online video lessons to more greatly humanize and strengthen the interpersonal elements of classrooms.  And I will say again, as I have said before: what a wonderful, awesome thing this is that the enormous repository of instruction is being offered to the children (and the analytics to the teachers) of the world, everywhere, free of charge.

I am disappointed, however, that the classroom scenes we were shown only displayed students on their laptops, working their way through online problem sets that are, in some ways– not every way, but in some ways– glorified worksheets.   The teacher interviewed, whose classroom we are observing, offers the comment that these resources allows her to reduce the amount of time she is using in class to do direct instruction, and allow more time for one-on-one student interaction and, she says, project-based learning.    But we don’t see any project based learning in her classroom– that is left out and remains only an abstract, somewhat remote promise.

What I would argue we want from Khan is to create greater efficiencies for developing student mastery of basic skills, and to do so to provide greater opportunities for situated real-world, problem solving.   But even this can be misunderstood.  It is not first one, then the other; it is not that we want students to first use these Khan resources to develop mastery of skills and then apply them; it is that we want to genuinely blend in ways where students begin with challenging word problems, or better yet, problems they seek and discover in environments which fascinate them.   (more…)

I’ve written before about the extraordinary value and significance of digital video for enhanced teaching and learning; as Chris Anderson writes in Wired Magazine:

 I believe that the arrival of free online video may turn out to be just as significant a media development as the arrival of print. It is creating new global communities, granting their members both the means and the motivation to step up their skills and broaden their imaginations. It is unleashing an unprecedented wave of innovation in thousands of different disciplines: some trivial, some niche in the extreme, some central to solving humanity’s problems.

In short, free online video is boosting the net sum of global talent. It is helping the world get smarter…. Video is the killer app.  Don’t write me.  Tell me. Show me.

When I was a teacher in the nineties, videos were much harder to access, often expensive, and somehow it seemed the mentality was that if you were going to show a video, you ought to show an entire hour– a full episode for instance of “Eyes on the Prize” or “The Civil War.”  The youtube revolution, however, has unleashed not only an enormous array of video opportunities, for free, but also shifted the mindset to the power of short video- five minutes is too long, 2-3 minutes perfect.  It is for illumination, not full-length exposition.

And as we recognize the power of digital video-watching for student understanding, we also come to see the critical importance of the digital video-making for student skill development.  It is the third leg of a communication skill set, joining written and oral communication.    As the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote last year

Film students aren’t the only ones producing videos for homework these days. Professors teaching courses in writing, geology, forensics, sociology, anthropology, foreign languages, and many other disciplines now assign video projects, pushing students to make arguments formatted for the YouTube age.

video is only one aspect of multimedia literacy, which can also include other forms of digital communication, including audio and interactive presentations. “It’s really being able to communicate effectively in a networked culture.”

I’m lifting the following from our weekly St. Gregory Hawks e-view newsletter; it is a monthly column prepared by our Technology Director Andrei Henriksen, a series he calls Trending site of the month:   This month’s subject is YouTube use, and he has helpfully collected reports from a number of our teachers about the way they are using youtube, as an element of our 1:1 laptop program, in class. My thanks to both Andrei and these teachers

 English, Dr. Kate Oubre

First semester, students in English 1 produce a creative project including a written memoir/story, original art, and an original promotional video uploaded onto YouTube and inserted into their own Google site page.  Students this year focused on food and culture and produced such works asThe Perfect Gift” with animation, and “St. Patrick’s Day Supper,” with a slide show and written narration.

 History, Dr. Michelle Berry

We use YouTube in both my Seminar in US History and my AP U.S. Government courses.  Most recently, students uploaded their own videos from the APGOV Campaign Project to YouTube.  For an example: 


Certainly among the greatest highlights of the NAIS Annual Conference this year was the presentation and speech by John Hunter, 4th grade teacher and founder of the World Peace Game. John is a member of what I think is among the very most exciting school districts in the country, the Albemarle County School district headed by the terrific Pam Moran, about whom I recently wrote as a model of leading learning forward.   What is exciting for the members of NAIS is that he is becoming in a sense an adjunct member of our association, thanks to his recent appointment as a Fellow of the Martin Institute, which is a program in Memphis of Presbyterian Day School, an NAIS member school headed by Lee Burns.

When asked what he was to do as a teacher first starting out, he was answered “what do you want to do?”   Let’s invite teachers to teach to their passions; let’s ensure they have the opportunity to do what they want to do even as we ensure they are carrying out our school’s mission.

Quotes from his very inspiring talk, which you really should take the time to see.

The game has these 50 interlocking problems and I throw them into this complex matrix and they trust me because we have a rich deep relationship together.

They learn to overlook short sighted reactions and think in a long term, more consequential way.

Student: You are learning to take care of the world.

I can’t tell them anything because I don’t know the answer.  I admit the truth- I don’t know.   Because I don’t know, they have to dig up the answer.

Maybe this game will help you to learn how to fix the world for us.

Who’s in charge of this classroom?  It is a serious question. Who is really in charge I have learned to cede control of the classroom to the students over time.  There is a trust and an understanding and a dedication to an ideal that  simply don’t have to do what I thought I had to as a beginning to teacher to control every conversation they have in the classroom:  their collective wisdom is much greater than mine.

That’s the kind of engagement you want to have happen. I can’t design that, I can’t plan that, I can’t even test that.   But it is self-evident assessment; we know that’s an authentic assessment of learning.  We have a lot of data but sometimes we go beyond data with the real truth of what is going on.

For more about John Hunter and his World Peace Game, a new movie is available.   The trailer is below; I have a copy and hope to see and share thoughts about it soon.

My op-ed originally published, March 3, 2012, Arizona Daily Star.

As our planet’s information revolution continues to sweep over us, we are coming to understand that what is most critical for success is not what you know, but what problems you can solve with the information you can gather, evaluate and apply.

In previous times, information was limited in volume and hard to access, but times have changed dramatically. Content memorization must no longer be a primary goal of our learning programs, especially in secondary and post-secondary education. Instead, our goal must be that students can effectively access and evaluate the voluminous quantity of information which will forever be at their fingertips, and use it well.

Our students are preparing to work in professional environments where they must tackle and resolve complex problems. They will have laptops or other mobile, Web-connected, digital tools to address those problems. Let’s assess their understanding in situations parallel to those for which we are preparing them.

If this is the case, why shouldn’t tests evaluate our students’ ability to do exactly this? Why not structure tests appropriately, and invite and welcome – and require – students to use their computers on their tests? Won’t this be real-world, and real-life, preparation? (more…)

Thank you to everyone who attended this morning; it was so exciting and meaningful for me to have the opportunity to share my passion with a packed house.

Above are the presentation slides, in which you should be able to find most or all of the books I referred to,  and below some of the videos I used in the presentation.

Leave a comment– let me know your reaction to my talk, or, better, what you are doing at your school to advance innovation for educators and students. Please do not hesitate to contact me at if you wish for any more information, or if you wish to share with me your own advances.   (Or, and forgive the self-promotion, if you might wish for me to speak to your faculty, parents, students, or professional educator conference).


A student’s eye view, narrated, of the open computer test experience, talking one’s way through a sample problem with the resources of the internet.

A teacher’s eye view of an open computer testing experience:

For much more about Open Computer Testing, including links to several sample tests, perceptions of students, and links to other resources, click here.