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…)


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.

Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are the most heroic teens of contemporary literature: I know you all know Harry, but if you don’t yet know Katniss you will soon, because her adventures in The Hunger Games will soon be feature films.

The lives of these heroes are at first glance and to many ways of looking at them, simply, miserable and horrific.   Harry, we all know, spends his seven years of school fighting to save his life and reputation from the death-eaters and from he who shall not be named.

Katniss must fight for her life in her society’s fatal, fight to the death version of teenage Survivor: a wall of fire overwhelms her as she is trapped in a tree;  she is stung all over by killer tracker jacker bees; she has hallucinations of ants boring into her eyes; and she is attacked by horrifying mutant mutt-wolves.

Why do these heroes generate so much fascination?  Surely there are many reasons, but among the most important is that we envy and are admiring of their struggle.  How can that be? How can that be? How can we envy their struggle?

Remember that feeling hiking and rock climbing at Mt. Lemmon, looking up, and thinking how am I possibly going to do this?  Remember feeling the pressure of your major English paper on MacBeth and Flannery O’Connor, or preparing for the great debates of your Civics class.   How did you feel as you faced these challenges, and how did you feel when you completed them?

The New York Times last week published an article which posed the following questions:

“Why did couples go on having children even though the data clearly showed that parents are less happy than childless couples? Why did billionaires desperately seek more money even when there was nothing they wanted to do with it?”

The article explains that the University of Pennsylvania professor of Psychology, Marty Seligman, who is the guru of “positive psychology,” has revised his analysis of what is most important to pursue in life:

[It is] the feeling of accomplishment which contributes [especially] to what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, which roughly translates to “well-being” or “flourishing.(more…)

It is my great pleasure to share this piece from Fred Roberts, St. Gregory’s long-time Dean of Students.   St. Gregory has a lovely, longstanding tradition of Senior Dinner, an event for faculty members and graduating seniors two nights prior to graduation, and at which a veteran faculty member delivers his or her own “last lecture,” something it has been designated since even long before the legendary Randy Pausch “last lecture.”

I was deeply impressed with this piece, which argues for the importance of self-understanding via struggle, and includes, if you read on, wonderfully engrossing anecdotes about genuine struggles.

The take away quote:

This is about meeting the expectations of the person that matters most, your expectations. It’s about living a fulfilling life, and where does the fire live?

It comes from your struggle.  This is an individual exploration into one’s rock bottom core and finding out what is there.  It is about peeling away the layers of protection, lifting each one to see what is below.  In doing so the lessons are self taught, the experiences profound, and you discover an inner strength that is your core; your ‘it’.  First, however, you must find your struggle.

Finding your struggle.

Today we are doing more with less, going higher with out jumping harder, moving faster with less effort, and finding more success with just enough preparation.  We are told our financial problems are the fault of others, and with a toll free phone call you can be debt free, make thousands from the comfort of your own home, and take a vacation at the end of the week. It is now easier to upgrade, supersize, maximize, multi task, leverage, and over achieve than ever before.  We are fulfilled, our map is before us, and all we have to do is get on board. All of us in this room, as Mr. Creeden often said, won the genetic lottery.  We are in the top 5% of humankind in terms of wealth, health, security, and potential. (more…)

Good afternoon Graduates, Students, Trustees, Parents, and Friends: welcome.We are very happy you are all here to share in this celebration of the accomplishments and unique qualities of the 35 fine members of our graduating class of 2011.Let me begin by quoting one of our graduates sitting in front of me today, from a KGUN Channel 9 interview last September at the Tucson Ethnic Extravaganza
we are here to advocate for all students being able to learn about an ethnicity and its history: this is about a privilege that I enjoy at my school, St. Gregory,  and which I feel every student should share: the freedom of knowledge.
For this purpose and ideal, Aubri Romero and Jacob Valdez, advised by Dr. Berry,  took the initiative to make a difference for our community by organizing a community-wide rally downtown. They had to overcome significant challenges,  but they persevered and did it the way they believed they could make the most difference, and it was a great success.What is especially meaningful to me about this particular action is what they were fighting for:  better education for all.   They sought to empower fellow students, and to improve our society, by influencing what and how their fellow students learn.They know that Education empowers; learning matters.Yes, this always been true, but it has never been more true. (more…)

In a recent post I shared a guest post by a visitor writing about  the excellent use of the block schedule format by teachers at St. Gregory.   In that same vein I want to share my observations of a terrific 75 minute period I enjoyed last week in the classroom of Corinne Bancroft as she taught 6th grade English.

Sadly, this is all too rare an event, my spending an entire period in a single classroom, but I give credit to Ms. Bancroft for her persistence and warm enthusiasm in encouraging me to visit her classroom.

The 75 minute period was divided into three parts:

  • students worked in groups on a project for 35 minutes;
  • Ms. Bancroft facilitated a group book discussion for about 20 minutes;
  • and students worked individually on their laptops on an essay they were writing for the class while Ms. Bancroft individually conferenced with them for 20 minutes.

Class began with the direction to work in groups on their major end-of-year project, the Gathering Blue project based on the book of the same name.  Ms. Bancroft developed this herself, derived from her classroom discussion of reading this YA novel (for more information you can follow the link or see at bottom, where I have pasted it into the post.) (more…)

St. Gregory has proudly had a block schedule (4 blocks a day, 75 minute blocks) for seven years, and it is my belief that block scheduling is nearly a necessity for 21st century learning.   I have written about this before here on the blog, and it is something I believe passionately: for students to have the time to experiment, pursue their passions, collaborate, and study topics in depth, a block schedule makes a huge difference.

One of our fine “sister schools” here in Arizona is Phoenix Country Day School, which is taking the plunge for next year to convert to a block schedule, and we at St. Gregory are having the good fortune of welcoming a series of visiting teams of faculty members from PCDS, who are observing our classes in session to take note of how we effectively use the longer blocks.   The following is a guest post from a PCDS teacher, Kelly Butler,  who visited last week, offering her observations of our school in action.  My thanks go to Ms. Butler for writing this fine observation.

Overall, my experience at St. Gregory was enjoyable and a definitely worthwhile.  I left feeling confident about our transition into the block schedule next year and also walked away with some valuable insights.  It was apparent that your teachers are able to challenge their students, diversify instruction, and most importantly develop critical thinkers within the block.  Also, it made it abundantly clear to me that the block enables good teachers to truly shine and supports placing student needs first.  


Suzie Boss, co-author with Jane Krause of Reinventing Project Based Learning with Technology, visited St. Gregory for the past two days, and it was a great pleasure to share our school with her and discuss together project based learning with technology at St. Gregory.  Her presentation to our faculty (to reiterate, it is  Suzie’s presentation, not my own), is above, and it stimulated conversation for several days.

I have listed links to  the resources she shared in her presentation below at bottom (click more).

After her presentation to the full faculty, she then was kind enough to spend the next day and a half visiting with small groups of teachers for a block at a time; in each block teachers shared with Suzie for her feedback projects either already implemented or already in development.  I am intending in a near-future post to share some of our teachers’ “take-aways” from these conversations.

Project Based Learning with Technology has been identified by the National Association of Independent Schools Guide to Becoming a School of the Future as a core “Unifying Theme” of Schools of the Future.   Many in 21st century learning, including the Partnership for 21st century skills, High Tech High, and New Tech Network Schools emphasize PBL-T as an essential vehicle for students to better actively learn and master skills such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communications– the skills we highlight as essential goals for our St. Gregory students.

I didn’t participate in most of the faculty sessions, but I enjoyed a sequence of dinners and lunches with Suzie and various others, and over the course of two days’ conversation several key themes about PBL emerged for me.

1. We need to be cautious about the idea that PBL can be effectively deployed as a primarily at-home/homework event. (more…)

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…)


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…)

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

This morning we were visited for four hours by Bo Adams.  Mr. Adams is the Head of the Middle School at Atlanta’s Westminster School, and is conducting a sabbatical research project upon best practices in “Schools of the Future.”

It was our great pleasure to host him; over the course of the morning he took several pictures and shot several short videos, and tweeted out many observations.  (You can follow Mr. Adams at @BoAdams1)

Below I have pasted in his tweets, some of his photos, and links to his short videos.  Enjoy.

Backdrop to St. Gregory School (photo, left)

What a beautiful school, tucked at the foot of a mountain range. Just met @jonathanemartin 1st time…thx to twitter months ago.

Reading student newspaper, the Gregorian Chant – hot off the press

Sample of new course at St. Gregory… Historical Innovations in Art, Music, Theatre. Newspaper mentions inter-departmentalization

Inch wide and mile deep #gregviz

In World 9 talking atomic bomb: active discuss, images on SmartBoard