A Blog About What's Going On In and Out of the Classroom
by Crystal Land, Assistant Head/Academic Dean
Global Tech Guru Ewan McIntosh to Lead HRS Summer Institute
May 3, 2013
“Teaching needs learning, not the other way around,” states Ewan McIntosh, founder and CEO of No Tosh, a consulting firm that helps schools discover how, why and what students learn through digital and design thinking. In “Five Things I’ve Learned” Ewan argues that “Learning needs teachers who learn more than learners need teachers who turn up to teach. Too many teachers still don’t read a book about learning, or take place in an online discussion with any regularity. That has to change if we are to improve teaching and learning.”
Ewan McIntosh presents globally on topics such as developing truly creative thinkers, training students to ask “ungoogleable questions” and creating classrooms with student-centered and student-led learning. In a recent TedTalk, Ewan suggests we should encourage students to become authentic “problem-finders” and “remove (teachers) from the learning” because students should be leading the learning.
This June, Ewan will launch the Head-Royce Summer Institute for 21st Century Educators. Leading our own teachers and other Bay Area educators, Ewan will help us engage in best practices to enable teachers and students to document the learning journey through the use of creative assessments and innovative technology. For four days in June, 30 teachers will study pedagogy and relevant technologies such as iPads, laptops, and other devices to enhance and improve the learning process. In addition to Ewan’s keynote presentation, Head-Royce faculty will be leading on-going research groups throughout the week.
Andy Spear, Institute Director, has worked with Ewan before and commented that “Ewan's a dynamo; he visited Head Royce two years ago for our opening meetings, and was not only the best-loved speaker we've had here in some time (he's got charisma to burn), but sparked meaningful work across the school. Teachers ran with his ideas personally, and inside their classrooms, and grew in small but significant ways thanks to his stimulus.”
Why train teachers on these topics? As part of our on-going commitment to innovation and to researching the very best practices in teaching and learning, Head-Royce seeks to be a leader in this area. As Ewan has clearly stated, teachers need to be learners first in order to serve our children more effectively. Through encouraging the very best professional development in our teachers, we will ensure our students partake in the development of their own academic and creative engagement.
Digital Learning Pilot Next Fall: iPads for the Sixth Grade Students April 24, 2013
Digital learning is a vital K-12 tool used to promote Head-Royce's core values for 21st century learning. Our use of technology supports critical thinking, problem solving, interpersonal and media literacy skills, creativity, global competencies, and a sense of purpose. I’m excited to announce the next stage in digital learning: a pilot project in which each sixth-grade student will use an iPad each day to enhance his or her learning. It’s an extension of the work we’re already doing across HRS. Take a walk around campus during the school day, and you will see how fully we utilize technology at every grade level:
Kindergartners are using iPads for reading and math;
5th graders are learning how to use Google apps via Chromebooks;
Middle School students are using Macbooks to research history assignments; and
Upper School students access “flipped” lessons posted online by teachers.
Given our dedication to best practices in digital learning, we're now exploring the possibility of moving to a 1:1 program, where each student at the school would have his or her own device (tablet or laptop) to use in the classroom and at home. The groundwork has been laid for such a program, with student access to laptops in the classroom over the past six years, a teacher laptop program throughout the last decade, a 100% wireless campus, and a high number of student-owned laptops in the high school.
Our first step in this exploration is to pilot a 1:1 iPad program for the sixthgrade in the 2013-14 school year. Led by a team of talented and enthusiastic sixth grade teachers, all faculty and administration are excited about the potential benefits for enhanced curriculum through blended learning projects, innovative curricular applications, improved tools for student organization, and utilization of e-texts. We will provide new iPads to all 6th graders to fully test our ideas in the first year. Each student will have an iPad for use in the classroom and at home, and the iPads will be owned and supported by Head-Royce. During the 2013-14 school year, we will be carefully documenting the process to assess the program and its effectiveness for enhancing teaching and learning, as well as the device choice for this particular grade level.
The sixth-grade team is excited and getting prepared. According to Sixth Grade Dean, Andrew von Mayrhauser, “As part of our intensive preparation, we have visited area schools that currently have 1:1 programs to observe progress and learn what has and has not been effective and what components are critical to the success of such a program. We're immersed in regular iPad planning meetings, will attend extended professional development trainings this summer, and are considering a variety of systems and details for the program. Primary areas of focus include an exploration of the best apps for learning and organization, effective digital workflow, cyber safety and literacy, and curricular integration. The team is carefully planning the roll-out of devices and communication with parents around issues of appropriate use.”
This pilot program is a great example of how our faculty is keeping abreast of trends and seeking out new ways to enhance our children’s learning. We're teaching new skills like digital literacy while studying, piloting and assessing the program. For now, our focus is on the sixth grade, but we’re looking across the school, at all types of technologies, to determine when and how to integrate devices at every grade level.
Fifth Grade Civil War Debates: Understanding Perspectives March 28, 2013
Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton, Ulysses S Grant, Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and other famous historical figures were fully engaged in spirited debates about Southern secession this week in Fifth Grade. Each year the entire fifth grade studies the Civil War and the issues related to secession. Then the class splits into two sides (North and South) and conducts a full debate with arguments for and against secession with a panel of adult judges examining the effectiveness of the argument, the power of persuasion, and the impact of presentation including accents and costumes.
According to 5th grade social studies teacher Lindsay Zika, “Students prepare by conducting research on his or her character in order to determine what that person would have felt about secession and why. They then assume their character's physical appearance and mannerisms in order to represent their character's views on April 11, 1861. As a class, we explore various events and themes related to the Civil War, including the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and “Bleeding Kansas.” The purpose of the Civil War debates is for students to understand the complexities of historical events and to learn that the Civil War was not a war over whether or not slavery should exist, but rather whether or not the South should secede from the Union.”
Not only is this project fun and engaging for students, but it also fosters 21st Century skills of critical thinking, detailed research, public speaking and teamwork. According to Ms. Zika, “A large part of what makes the debates so successful is the students' ability to collaborate with their teammates. They quickly learned that in order to be successful as a team, they would have to decide among themselves what information needed to be covered in the arguments and determine which of the ten characters would cover each topic.”
Our fifth grade curriculum includes an emphasis on helping students learn to hear and understand each other’s perspective, an important life skill that they were able to practice during this debate!
Teachers Gather at HRS for a Day of Professional Growth March 14, 2013
Over 2,000 teachers and administrators from Northern California independent schools came together on Monday, March 11 to participate in an intensive day of professional development and growth. CAIS, the California Association of Independent Schools, offers a northern California regional meeting every other year, and with Head-Royce’s spacious campus and facilities, we are one of the few schools able to host this meeting.
While this was a day off for students, it was an incredibly busy and invigorating day for teachers. Our faculty attended workshops and presentations, presented to their peers, and shared valuable learning resources with their colleagues from other schools. One of the highlights of the day was the popular and well-attended keynote presentation by Yong Zhao, Presidential Scholar and Dean for Global and Online Education at the University of Oregon, and an expert on 21st Century Skills and education.
Zhao believes that schools such as ours need a paradigm shift: away from traditional education models and towards student autonomy, a global campus, and product-oriented learning. He also believes that independent school students should learn to think of themselves as job creators, rather than job seekers, and that schools can support and incubate this creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.
To help develop entrepreneurs, Zhao believes the following skills are essential:
In addition to learning from others, our own faculty delivered presentations on topics from Learning Disabilities panel (Learning Specialists Kristi Farnham Thompson, Peytra Redfield and Sabina Aurilio), Ukulele Strum and Sing (Lower School Music, Sarah Noll); History as Inclusion (History Chair, Peter Reinke) and the Changing Face of Research (Library Director, Mary Goglio).
Stephanie Gee, Middle School French teacher, described the day: “It was a really inspiring day and I plan to include some of the new tech tips that I learned about like the text to speech technology that would be helpful in my World Language classroom.”
Vylinh Nguyen, Middle and Upper School English teacher, summed up the benefit of this opportunity perfectly: “I really enjoyed the day, reconnecting and meeting colleagues from around the Bay. It gave me greater perspective and appreciation for what others, experts in their field, have accomplished and what we are doing at Head-Royce.”
A core tenet of Head-Royce’s program is to ensure that our faculty has abundant professional development opportunities so that they can continue to grow and learn as educators and as people. CAIS day was one such opportunity, and all of our community members will greatly benefit from the work that was done.
Great Teachers Shaping Great Stories March 7, 2013
I recently visited writer and reporter, Padmananda Rama, HRS ’97, at her office at National Public Radio (NPR) in Washington, D.C. Padma recounted her days at Head-Royce and how her English teachers helped shape her as a writer and storyteller.
Padma enjoyed the stories she encountered in Barry Barankin’s 11th grade English class and David Enelow’s 12th grade Shakespeare elective: “Mr. Barankin would always tell us these stories and there were different voices and it wasn’t like we were reading the Bible but rather that we were learning about a big story, and that stayed with me.” It was these challenging texts and writing assignments that drew Padma into the world of words: “These texts were not always easy to read, but teachers broke them down in ways that made them easy to remember and it made me really want to learn more about them. I learned how to find a theme and see how it carried through a story. That training is very helpful to me now no matter if I am talking about finance or political fundraising. I still need a story line, a theme and something to make it interesting.”
Padma recently published a fashion story- “New York’s Grimy Garment District Hatches Designers’ Dreams” -and found a key moment in the story, when the aspiring designer was laboriously counting dozens of zippers, where, for her, the narrative ultimately came together. Padma said, “In any story I am writing, I am looking for that specific moment that is going to resonate with the listener and then can build the story around that.” Padma continues to thrive on finding and developing that perfect story: “One of the most satisfying parts of the job is coming up with a story that I am really proud of. You just know when you have the story in your head and exactly what it is supposed to sound like.”
Padma describes Head-Royce English classes as some of the most challenging classes she has had: “My English teachers never let anything go. I was in the class with pretty much the best writers in my grade. My teachers really challenged me to do my best. Part of my desire to become a better writer was that I wanted to prove that I could write well.”
Outgoing President of NAIS, Pat Bassett, has written persuasively about “Greatness: 25 Factors Great Teachers Have in Common”. One of these traits Bassett calls out connects directly to Padma’s experience. He believes that truly great teachers: “Create a positive, intentional, achievement-oriented culture in their classroom rooted in an ethos of fairness and nurtured by the belief that every student can succeed.” We are lucky to have so many teachers at Head-Royce who do just this.
As Padma concluded: “They wouldn’t let me not be a good student.”
Innovation at Work (and Play) in the Lower School January 17, 2013
Educator Howard Gardener believes that truly creative individuals are “fully engaged and passionate about their work; they exhibit a need to do something new and have a strong sense of their purpose.” Recently, five Lower School faculty members presented on innovation and creativity, modeling what it means to be truly creative. They represent a sampling of the dynamic work happening in and outside of classrooms in our school over the past few years as we have focused our pedagogy and professional development on technology, innovation, creativity and design.
Rethinking the traditional classroom layout
April Avila Ford, 1st grade, and Lea VanNess, 4th grade, have thoughtfully reexamined the physical space in their classrooms by creating both large group communal spaces and cozy small spaces for students to read, learn and explore. April wants the space to welcome children, support active and engaged learning and foster creativity. Students work together in table groups, on floors, at desks or even standing. Lea VanNess also utilizes design thinking using a variety of furniture such as café tables so students can find an appropriate place to work for the right moment. One student said: “I like the different angles from different places in the room.” Another stated, “I like not having desks because you sit with different people all the time.”
Creative curriculum encourages collaboration and social skills development
Zach Bernard, 2nd grade, is exploring grade appropriate iPad apps not only for individual learning, but to strengthen social and collaborative skills. Students use an app called “Jungle Coins” to practice working with money and calculate the amount of change needed in a transaction. In a math word problems app, students work in pairs to develop strategies to solve the problems. Instead of interacting with the device individually, students work together, investigating the many ways to solve the problem.
Chris Dunlap, 2nd grade, uses more traditional tools, such as the beloved wood Kapla Blocks, to encourage critical thinking. Students build structures such as the Nile River and use the blocks and a white board to creatively solve mathematical equations about the river. Students also create adobe houses in small teams as they design their dream houses and use materials to see it in 3D.
Ben LaDue, 5th grade, believes that students often learn best as they physically practice concepts. A recent project required students to walk around the campus and film examples of real-life fractions. One such example was to capture students hanging from monkey bars (2/3 of the group was hanging upside down). Students were engaged in documenting their learning beyond pencil and paper which made the concepts more memorable.
Music teacher Sarah Noll loves the focus on process, creativity and student expression as this has been part of her Orff Schulwerk inspired teaching for many years. This year, students used the concept of roshambo to physically interact with each other through full body reenactments of the traditional hand game. Students continued to take their exploration even further through choreography and art projects with scissors, paper and stones. Sarah noted, “The collaborative process naturally happens in all my classes no matter what we are learning.”
Lea VanNess summed it all up when she stated: “It’s our job to cultivate the ability of creativity and keep imagination at the forefront.”
"Becoming the Parents We Want to Be..." January 7, 2013
See Crystal's interview with Dr. Madeline Levine here.
The final chapter of Madeline Levine’s book, Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success is sub-titled: “Becoming the Parents We Want to Be”—and that title alone is enough to make me want to read this book and attend her upcoming lecture on January 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the MEW. Even as a seasoned parent of a 16 and 21 year old, I know that I need regular reminders to not “hyper-parent” by jumping in to solve my children’s problems and rescuing them from every challenge and disappointment. After reading Levine’s latest book, I believe she has combined solid research, sage advice and helpful “how tos” on some of the essentials of raising healthy children.
In “Teach Your Children Well,” Levine presents a compelling argument to redefine success. Levine suggests that our culture too narrowly defines what success means for all ages. She states, “to begin with, we must embrace a healthier and radically different way of thinking about success…and understand that the extraordinary focus on metrics that has come to define success today—high grades, trophies, and selective school acceptances from preschools to graduate schools—is partially and frequently deceptive definition” (xv). She states: “In the real world, success has all kinds of different faces in all kinds of different fields of endeavor.”
Levine not only defines what she believes are the problems and challenges in our society, but also offers concrete skills we should teach our children: resourcefulness, enthusiasm, creativity, a good work ethic, self-control, self-esteem and self-efficacy. Sounds pretty good, right? But we all know that these skills are easier to talk about than to instill, particularly with brains and bodies in the various stages of mental and physical development. Her suggestions, for example, include ideas about how to build resourcefulness in your child—and define it as the “ability to both independently and optimally solve daily problems and to seek help from others when we can’t problem-solve independently” (190). She suggests sharing your own problem-solving strategies for day-to-day problems so your children can see how to manage small frustrations and find various ways to approach their own issues.
In addition to suggestions for our children, she also tells parents: “You need to make sense of your own life in order to help your children make sense of theirs” (287). This advice along with her desire for a greater sense of health and well being for all families is the core of this sensitive and compelling approach to parenting.
Dr. Madeline Levine will speak to the HRS community on Thursday, January 7th at 6:30 PM in the MEW.
Women's Lit students Lilly and Rory musing over the latest class blog entries with Crystal Land. Photo by Sam Deaner.
For the past three years I have used a class blog as a way to extend classroom learning in my senior English seminar, Women’s Literature. I originally launched it as a way to extend a discussion about the class reading and, by posting a discussion question on the blog, inviting students to respond not only to me, but also to each other. With this format, the blog allowed students to plan out their answers and build on each other’s comments.
One student, Surya T. noted:
In class, you don't have as much time to carefully plan out what you are going to say. That’s good in many ways, and one of the best parts of a discussion-based class. The blog, however, allows for more deeply thought out ideas and lets students think for a while about what they are saying. I know that several times I've changed my opinion in the course of writing a blog response because I'd reflected on the subject for a little while.
Interestingly, the blog has also encouraged me to change how I use this digital tool. I now use it to extend new material beyond the formal class curriculum. My students use it to post articles, pictures and video clips on topics of interest and then respond to one another’s posting.
Lilly T. stated:
The blog is interesting as it lends itself to the unique personalities of each blogger. They are able to choose an article that sounds interesting to them; it’s sort of like a Facebook group among friends where bloggers are posting cool things to share with their peers.
I occasionally moderate the conversation but mostly allow students to explore what they want to bring to a discussion about gender and politics. Some posts are required and many are optional, but all lead to a fascinating analysis on important personal and political issues.
Women's Lit is the first time I've used a blog as part of my classes before, and I've really enjoyed it. It lets everyone have a voice in the discussion, and brings up whole new topics that we just don't have time to talk about in class. I just watched a video on the blog about a school called “Skateistan,” that teaches skateboarding to kids in Afghanistan as well as normal classes. I find that so cool, but I never would have found out about it if it weren't for the blog. I also find the blog interesting because it lets me see how my opinions compare to those of my classmates over the course of the semester.
I asked students why they like the blog. Lilly said:
For starters, the blog offers the ability to use video and pictures when sharing an article, which is much more difficult in a traditional classroom setting. In addition, the blog allows students to have more time to both research their desired topic before finding the perfect article and also to comment on the blog post.
As a teacher, I continually examine the blog as a learning tool. I can see that it offers another way to think, discuss, probe and research. It’s entertaining and intellectually rich. I never know what my students will bring the to the blog or which posts will solicit the most interest. Recent topics included a video essay on women in James Bond films, an article on gender neutral preschools in Sweden and a philosophical essay on what the world might be like if all professions were truly gender equal. It’s the perfect forum to explore new ideas and see the breadth of thinking happening in cyber space.
And, as Lilly summed up: I feel as if the Women's Lit blog is a small community within the Head-Royce community itself.
Advancing Creativity with Technology and Interactive Learning October 31, 2012
Yong Zhao, a respected educator and researcher on education trends (and author of World Class Learners), believes schools need to cultivate creativity, entrepreneurship and product-oriented learning to effectively educate students for our global economy. He emphatically states that we should change our traditional educational paradigm and focus on product-oriented learning which, “through multiple drafts and peer reviews, helps the learner to develop resilience and perseverance before failure, and learn about the importance of commitment” (Zong 240).
One way to reach this goal is for teachers to develop “authentic assessments”--or projects and experiences that allow students to demonstrate their comprehensive understanding of a concept. A school play, a jazz band performance and the production of the school newspaper are forms of effective authentic assessments in which students have traditionally participated.
Another approach is through new technology tools such as the iPad and laptops. More than just fun tools, these new applications and programs allow students to engage in material beyond basic acquisition of the information. Student learning is enhanced by the opportunity to first understand material and then apply, synthesize and ultimately create new performances of understanding. In fact, the classic “Bloom’s Taxonomy” which classifies domains of learning was revised in the late 1990’s and placed “creating” at the top of a pyramid of desired higher order thinking skills.
In the Middle School, science teachers Brian Barish and Ryan Garrity are passionate about the role of iPads as a tool to promote thinking, demonstrate learning and advance creativity. The duo recently asked students to create a comic strip on the design of a cell with an iPad app called “Strip Design.”
According to Barish, “7th grade science students will master cell structure and function by creating a dynamic comic strip that takes the reader through the fast-paced and rich environment of a plant or animal cell. Choosing characters to represent various cell organelles, students will showcase the dynamic inner workings and complex mechanisms of cellular respiration, protein synthesis and energy production through a digital storyboard. This project will inspire creativity and humor, while at the same time help students truly understand and appreciate the foundation of microbiology and how all living things operate.” Garrity believes, “This kind of interaction allows students to visualize learning, to be more creative and to interact with apps that get right to the heart of the topic about which we are learning.”
Through learning experiences such as these, enhanced by technology, our students learn the required information and extend their understanding by “doing” and “creating,” the ultimate authentic assessment.
Microscopes and iPads used in tandem as 7th grade science students create digital storyboards
What in the world is a "Flipped Classroom"? October 2, 2012
Should you be concerned when your child comes home from school and tells you that her teacher has flipped the classroom? As part of our on-going work this year on Technology and Innovation, many K-12 teachers are changing the age-old paradigm of presenting key concepts face to face via lecture or discussion and using homework as a time for students to practice and apply the information. The flipped classroom, modeled by two high school teachers in Colorado, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, and embraced by professors at MIT and other universities, requires that students watch a short instructional video or learn key concepts at home and then—in class—spend the majority of time practicing problems, discussing questions with the teacher and applying learning.
At Head-Royce several teachers are dedicating this year to perfecting the flipped lesson. Chris Davies, an experienced Upper School math teacher, is passionate about the concept. After years of teaching via traditional methods, he believes that the flipped model in his AP Statistics class leads to “a more satisfying experience for students—they are more stimulated and end up learning more.” Each night students watch between one and three five-minute instructional videos created by Davies and then, in class, work in groups, practice problems and get individualized help. Those students who need extra help can work with the teacher and small groups to better understand the material; those students who are ready to progress, can soar ahead with challenge problems.
Jen Brakeman, science department chair and Shahana Sarkar, math department chair, worked closely with Davies this summer to learn about best practices in creating and evaluating this new approach. Sarkar believes that adding in quick at home surveys along the way allows her to assess if students understand the material before they enter the classroom to practice. Brakeman, in AP Bio, has used the flipped classroom to guide students through complex summer reading.
Flipping isn’t limited to Upper School or the fields of science and math. Sita Davis and Sarah Sharp, Lower School Spanish and French teachers, have each created a flipped lesson for 5th graders. Sharp explained that students watched a video at home about the two language teachers: “Students watched the video to learn more about our birthdays, likes, dislikes and other details. As they watched, they filled in blanks on a piece of paper that had the script. We went over the answers in class. Then, after a series of other activities, students wrote their own self-descriptions, using our scripts as samples. Students and parents were both very enthusiastic about their first homework assignment.”
Finally, Shahana Sarkar summarized one of the reasons for spending all of this time and attention on flipping: “My classroom is not just about delivering content, it is figuring out, as one of the pioneers of the Flipped Classroom said, ‘what is the best use of my face.’ This has forced me to examine good pedagogy. I am excited to think about each lesson individually, to make sure that what I do during the class period is the best use of my face, and of my moments with the kids.”
Math teacher, Chris Davies, with Upper School students engaged in flipped classroom learning
This summer, 20 Head-Royce faculty and administrators enthusiastically took the lead on teaching their colleagues about topics related to our school year theme of Technology, Innovation and Creativity. Over the summer, each group researched one of the following topics: iPad use in the classroom, blended learning, flipped classrooms, digital portfolios and applying design thinking as an approach to problem solving. Fellow faculty members became classroom students as the teams shared their research and taught the technical skills and applications during our opening week meetings.
Each group was asked not only to research details about classroom application for their own courses, but also to think critically about how to best apply these new ideas to all classes K-12.
Groups presented ideas in the following areas:
Development of digital portfolios for students to save, enjoy and reflect on their work over many years. This year’s proposal includes a pilot project in the history department where students in grades 7-10 will keep one major assignment each year to chart their progress in history.
Use of iPads in the Kindergarten classroom as a tool for guided reading.
Research of iPad apps that allow students to quickly and creatively draft presentations on an academic topic with words, photos and images, annotate texts and practice vocabulary in world language classes.
Development of the “flipped classroom” model that allows teachers to share videos and pod casts with students at home and then practice problems together in class.
Use of applications like Quizlet as both enrichment and remediation for students along the academic spectrum.
Application of the Design Thinking process to creatively approach important topics such as gender, identity and the creation of safe and supportive spaces for all.
We plan to dedicate several meetings to this new and exciting work. Stay tuned!
Using Design Thinking as a strategy for facilitating a variety of classroom topics
Learning how to create digital portfolios for student work throughout the years
“In recent years, psychologists have studied the relationship between persistence and creative achievement. They’ve discovered the ability to stick with it—the technical name for this trait is grit—is one of the most important predictors of success.”
This summer, the HRS faculty is engaged in focused professional development in the areas of Innovation, Technology and Creativity, a continuation of the school’s recent focus on design thinking and innovation. Currently, faculty are reading one of three books on the topic (see sidebar), and approximately 30 teachers are spending time researching about the connection between best practices in teaching and learning and the role that technology can play to enhance the learning process and develop creative thinkers.
In Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, the author writes that creativity is not innate but can be cultivated and taught. We all need the time and space to be creative—time to let our minds wander and daydream, space to think and rethink challenges and problems, and teams of people who can effectively work together to challenge each other to do their best work possible. He believes that social interaction and the sharing of ideas, “tend to become more productive and innovative than those that don’t. Because when ideas are shared the possibilities do not add up. They multiply” (Lehrer quoting Paul Romer 222). But these groups need to encourage a candid discussion of mistakes in order to maximize group creativity. Finally, we also need grit—or the ability to stick with a project or idea when the going gets tough.
As Lehrer reminds us, schools often say they want to encourage creativity but are often not designed to do so. He believes “…when children are allowed to create, they’re able to develop the sophisticated talents for success in the real world.” Similarly, when faculty are encouraged to research and innovate, they will discover the best ways to integrate 21st century skills into our academic program.
This summer, faculty are taking the lead in moving Head-Royce in four research areas: digital portfolios to best document student work; blended learning and flipped classrooms (combining the best of technology and face to face learning); iPad use for the classroom; and design thinking for problem solving. Through teacher-led professional development and developing “grit” of their own—researching, testing, collaborating and refining—HRS faculty will lead the way in modeling persistence and creative achievement. Stay tuned for updates on these Summer Research Innovation groups—it is exhilarating to watch the work unfold.
Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer, explores where creativity comes from.
"Avatars" travel through the 20th Century in U.S. History May 24, 2012
Karen Bradley, Upper School history teacher, has developed an alternative to the traditional research paper called the Avatar Project.The project requires that each student create an avatar who starts his or her journey at the beginning of the 20th century and then proceeds to travel through the great historical moments over the next 60 or so years. Students must encounter historical figures, experience defining events, fight in wars, survive the Depression, interact with other avatars and eventually find their way to the 1960’s. Written in journal form, students explore various times and locations, encounter other avatars, pursue formal research and gain a sense of the expanse of the 20th century.
Sophomore Mitchell Y. stated: My avatar is a Norwegian immigrant, based on my grandfather, and he lives in Wisconsin in the beginning of the century and then joins the Marines in WW I. The Avatar Project does two really good things for me. First, it gives me a lot of broad context about history in the 20th century and also helped me learn some cool little facts too. I think it’s interesting to learn that the marines developed aviation in 1915 and used planes as a tool that totally changed warfare.
Frankie P. also loves the project because it allowed her to engage in many aspects of American history: My avatar is a Vanderbilt who grows up in an estate in North Carolina and then moves to New York to become a bartender. She becomes a bank robber during the Depression and when her husband dies on the Hindenburg, she finally becomes a doctor. The Avatar Project is valuable because I really was able to explore lots of avenues of US history that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. This allows us to dive in and look at fascinating topics such as women in World War II. I learned that a quarter of a million women served in WWII!
Karen has many goals for the project: “I hope that students love the stories they create. I also hope that they learn unexpected things about American history, in part because the power of the story itself unfolding leads them to unique stories, and in part because in their interactions with other students, who pursue different story lines, they find out unexpectedly interesting things. An example of this can be seen in the stories that Morgan and James, students in different sections of US History, developed. Morgan's avatar was a Native American who, later in life, decided to explore his Native American background, and in doing so became involved in the American Indian Movement in the 1960s and 70s, and in the 1973 Pine Ridge Reservation standoff in South Dakota. James' avatar worked for the OSS during World War II and was trained in covert operations in Washington state. After the war, he worked for the CIA and the FBI. It turned out that a number of FBI agents were involved in the Pine Ridge Reservation, and this was how Morgan's avatar and James' avatar (tragically) met. To me, the most powerful part of all was that James and Morgan uncovered primary and secondary source information that went far beyond the teacher's (my) body of knowledge.”
Our history teachers are skilled at guiding students in the research process. This involves extending the formal research done through reading, databases, and books in ways they can apply the concepts to their lives in 2012. Our students learn, early on, the complexity and value of primary sources. They are also encouraged to think critically about the research, ask probing questions and engage as creative thinkers. As Karen concludes, “All research projects should teach students to mine the infinite information, and go beyond Google and Wikipedia to primary sources, archival photographs and databases. This type of research project does these things in spades. Uniquely perhaps, this projecthelps students see the essential interrelation of research skills and imagination, and how each feeds the other.”
Mitchell and Frankie swap avatar stories with Karen Bradley
I recently walked a formal labyrinth modeled on ancient ones dating back thousands of years. While I have seen images of labyrinths, I had never walked one before and was not sure what my reaction would be. The labyrinth is more than a maze; it’s a circular pattern a walker follows twisting and turning on the way to the circle’s center. It’s a one-way path in and then back out. There is no prescribed way to walk a labyrinth and no protocol for what to “do” with the experience. The circle is about 20 feet across and the path is a narrow 12 inches. It looks like a geometric shape that includes stretches of short twists and turns and then longer straightaways winding to the center.
I began my labyrinth walk on a spring morning in Santa Fe with a group of educators. It seemed easy—just follow the path. But, as I navigated the narrow path, the tight twists and the quiet shuffle of other walkers, I started to notice my reaction to the experience. The shorter segments were less peaceful and took more concentration. Why turn now? Seems too brief. Passing others took careful consideration—who walks at which rate and why? The longer straightaways were a relief as the congestion cleared and I could walk confidently for many paces before the narrows returned. And when I reached the center, I was jubilant—it was open and round, less restrictive as I finally met my goal. But, what should I do now that I had reached the center? Return the way I came or take a shortcut back to the start? I discovered the simple act of walking this small labyrinth to powerfully connect me to the moment and to allow me to contemplate the use and symbolism of such an ancient tool.
Labyrinths are supposed to be meditative and symbolize the path of our lives. I thought about how this metaphor is relevant to the lives of our students. How can we help them gain perspective as they are focused on one small leg of the school journey? Homework, projects, sports’ teams, the arts and family fill their days. Grades can often take the place of the joy of learning. The expectation to achieve and succeed is paramount—and the pressures and anticipation associated with college admissions can often overshadow the day-to-day learning and the joy of a moment of insight or pleasure.
So, perhaps we–and our students–should walk a formal labyrinth along the way. The experience and metaphor both work to show that small moments of insight about the length of the journey and the perspective needed to successfully navigate from one twisted segment to the open stretch is not that difficult. Even in the most challenging moments, the center is almost in sight. And, when we reach the supposed center, the next destination changes—for there are many more journeys ahead. It’s all about maintaining perspective along the way.
A 21st Century Philosophy and Practice April 4, 2012
A few years ago, a group of teachers and administrators developed a document called the “Head-Royce Principles of Good Practice for 21st Century Teaching and Learning.” While we are more than a decade into the 21st century, we wanted to clearly state our expectations for student learning and educator pedagogy. In short we believe: “As Head-Royce School educators, we are dedicated to cultivating the above skills in our students and partnering with them to educate them for "their future not our past" (Daniel Pink). We will work together to stay abreast of the latest research on learning and the brain, understand nuances of student emotional development, learn and use digital technology, and continue to explore best practices for teaching and learning. Ultimately, we will create classrooms that encourage students to participate in experiential learning, take risks, view the world through multiple lenses, utilize innovative tools, and demonstrate proficiencies through a range of assessments that include real world problems and performances.” You can read the entire document here: Head-Royce Principles of Good Practice for 21st Century Teaching and Learning
This may seem like a tall order for faculty, but our teachers are engaged on every level from their creative IDEO projects to continually revisiting their pedagogy and curriculum. Adrian Correa’s Spanish IV Skype project embraces this approach. Adrian has reached out to a colleague in Columbia, South America whose students need to practice their English. Several times a quarter, Adrian’s students call their Columbian counterparts on Skype and engage in a 21st century version of a pen pal relationship. The Head-Royce students ask a series of questions in Spanish. Following a Spanish-only dialogue, the Columbian students switch to an English Q and A session. The students are enthusiastic about the project and Adrian believes this serves our goal to incorporate digital technology and experiential learning. Adrian enthusiastically confirms: “The students have benefited very much. They have been able to practice their Spanish without barriers and by getting away from structure and grammar. All has been very natural too. Also, the fact that they have learned from each other's culture using their target language has been a real plus!”
Spanish IV students connecting with their Columbian counterparts
Returning from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Conference in Seattle this past week, I was reminded yet again that the most powerful demonstration of learning comes from making, doing, solving and performing. John Hunter, a 4th grade teacher in Virginia, spoke to a crowd of 4,000 plus teachers and administrators about the World Peace game he created over 30 years ago. Still going strong, the game (and his class) are the subject of an upcoming PBS documentary called “World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements” (World Peace Game). In this game, 4th graders grapple in teams with real world economic, social, and geographical problems, and over the course of several weeks, must come to a peaceful resolution. The class only finishes when peace is accomplished. The students in the film are deeply engaged, passionately involved and ready to work together to creatively solve complex problems.
Our own 4th grade recently performed their annual class play. The class play has been a tradition at Head-Royce for many years. Teachers inventively adapt classic stories for performance. This year’s 4th grade play was a student-centered, creative collaboration at its best, crafted by faculty members Lea Van Ness, Leslie Powell and Sarah Noll. Both 4th grade classes joined together to write and perform poetry on what it means to be a 4th grader. As 4th grade parent Susan Aaron said, “It is exciting as a parent to experience a fresh and collaborative moment such as the one designed by the teachers and embodied so appealingly by our fourth graders. The play let each child shine in his or her particular way and demonstrated so beautifully the simple power of the collective voice. The template you have created will deepen and support the work of the entire lower school faculty and can serve as a shining example of the elegance in the design process.”
The connection between these two projects? Both allow students to be leaders in their learning through hands-on, real world, experiential activities. The assessments have deep meaning to students and highlight their critical thinking, creativity and ownership of the learning process. What a joy to watch these students learning in such vibrant ways!
4th grade students performing in their annual class play
Debra Harper, Lower School science specialist, launched the first annual Lower School Boat Regatta on Thursday, October 20. Over 100 students have spent the past six weeks building boats, testing them for floatablity, rebuilding to better specifications and then, today, launching them on the open water (the pool).
As Debra so thoughtfully said, “The process of building these boats has been amazing to watch. So many kids have come in and out of the lab the past six weeks. Many have worked for days, building, testing in the water, altering, testing some more -- lots of "failures" that haven't slowed the majority of kids at all! It was humbling seeing how many just went back to the drawing board and tried something different all the while keeping a positive attitude. It makes me feel really good about our Lower School program and community!”
Congrats to the dozens of future ship builders who have successfully learned what it takes to make something happen.
Students participate in the first annual Lower School Boat Regatta, featuring a full range of individually-crafted boats. _________________________________________________________________
HRS Faculty IDEO Project Update October 11, 2011
As part of our year-long theme to use design thinking across the campus, we asked all teachers to join a team, identify a interdisciplinary, collaborative challenge and spend the year working on this project. We currently have 25 faculty groups actively engaged in identifying challenges and using the process to best “solve” the problem or develop a new and better way to approach it.
What makes the design process worthwhile? According to Lower School Learning Specialist, Kristi Farnham Thompson, it forces groups to go beyond the conventional solution: “Instead of getting stuck first in the limitations or the practicalities, we brainstorm and imagine first before we focus on constraints. It keeps us in a place of thinking of more and more ideas rather than jumping too quickly to limited solutions.”
Faculty have enthusiastically embraced their many projects with creativity and out-of-the box thinking. After two formal meetings, groups are in various stages of interviewing users, brainstorming ideas and developing protoypes.
•In the Lower School, one group is enthusiastically exploring how to create better teaching and learning spaces outside the classroom. The team toured and photographed current spaces where small groups of students often congregate. They are now brainstorming ways to redesign these spaces to make them more comfortable and useful for student learning and creativity. Some ideas in round one include simple changes in furnishings, innovative use of wall space, more effective use of sound, development of reading nooks, etc. The next stage in the process, according to Farnham Thompson, is to interview the users (in this case 2nd graders) and engage them in the design. “The teachers have developed our own brainstorming list; now it will be fun and helpful to have the students create as well.”
•In Middle School, two history and two science teachers are currently creating an interdisciplinary project that integrates science and social studies. They are posing the challenge: How will the cell phone of the future (2020) adequately address the cultural, social, health/safety, environmental, and economic problems created by today's cell phones? They plan for students to begin in research teams (social, economic, environmental, health and safety) to best understand the current issues. These research groups will then “jigsaw” into design teams with one member from each research group in order to come up with prototypes for future cell phones. Middle School history teacher Eric Taylor believes this type of project allows students to engage in the material through hands-on, connected learning, all while using a real world problem that they may face in their future professions.
•In the high school, a group of English, history, music and art teachers are focusing on strengthening 9th graders’ understanding of the rich cultural and historical aspects of their study of India. The teachers involved in this project started by interviewing students on their feedback on our teaching of Indian history and literature, a central unit in the spring of 9th grade. According to English 9 teacher, Margaret Yee, “We're excited to design three practicum sessions, one covering Indian music and dance, one featuring a panel of South Asian teachers sharing their experiences growing up, and one focusing on India's role in the global economy. We hope that these efforts will make the students' understanding of A Fine Balance much richer, and that they will alleviate the "darkness" that the students often associate with that text.”
More exciting updates to follow as these project unfold!
Head-Royce educators continue their work on team projects as part of the IDEO design process, October 2011
"Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted." —George Kneller, Columbia University
During our opening faculty meetings in late August, the entire Head-Royce faculty spent a morning clustered in groups, enthusiastically covering walls with post-its, calling out ideas, and engaging in IDEO’s human-centered design process. In order to better understand the steps in the process, we tackled the challenge: How can we redesign our space to inspire curiosity? The process—in an abbreviated form—included “discovery”—which means empathizing with the user (what’s it like from a child’s point of view?); interpretation of all the data (what does it all mean?); ideation (what are the many, many possibilities we an approach the problem including out-of-the-box, off-the-wall ideas); prototyping/experimentation (various models for innovation and change); and evolution (what worked and what didn’t work). See the photo slideshow below.
Our goal as a faculty: to utilize this process during our year of developing interdisciplinary, collaborative projects. We have many ideas that will serve our students well. And, if we follow the design thinking process, we will undoubtedly create new, innovative and engaging opportunities for our children--perhaps even ones that no one else has thought about.
Here are some of the highlights of what we hope to accomplish together this year:
• How will the cell phone of the future (2020) address the cultural, social, health/safety, environmental, and economic problems created by today's cell phones? • How would we design real-world interdisciplinary, post-AP projects? • How might we create an archive (i.e. photo, video, narrative) integrated into our website for the past (alums), present (students/parents), and future (prospective families) for the Head-Royce community? • What project can we design for the 9th and 12th graders to build together? • How do we create a classroom environment where grades are secondary to understanding? • How do we establish a connection with a school in another country in order to practice authentic communication in the target language? • How might we make the study of Oakland the theme/thread of our 1st grade curriculum?
Each group is currently in the “discovery” or “ideation” stage. Stay tuned for how these projects unfold to better enrich our students’ lives!
Photos from our IDEO design process exercise with Head-Royce faculty, Fall 2011