A current dilemma via #nysaisahdh conference

Thoughts from:

NYSAIS Division Heads Conference

When to Learn: Time
Leaders: Grant Lichtman & Bo Adams

Can we actually create more usable time during the day? Participants will consider the systemic daily and annual use of time at their schools and how it does, or does not, align with essential learning objectives. Participants will use examples from their own schools to ideate alternatives and opportunities for school schedule.

My dilemma …

How do we balance a collective agreed on desire to move to a transdiciplianry curriculum centered around a topic/issue where the disciplines are lenses for inquiry with the tension that certain grade level focused subject specific skills and content will not fold into the inquiry? In creating a more open-ended less time bound structure where do the other pieces of the curriculum live.

So imagine a structure focused on inquiry where students come together in flexible groupings for certain agreed upon amounts of time with the teacher who us most relevant to the direction of their inquiry at that moment. The teacher may also convene a group to explore an idea, concept or skill relevant to the inquiry. Where and how do the other parts fit?

Structuring Inquiry

Last weekend, I was fortunate to be able to attend EduCon2.5. Educon is a conference and a conversation hosted by Science Leadership Academy (SLA) a progressive public high school in Philadelphia. The guiding principles behind EduCon, which resonate with many of our core LREI values, include the following:

  1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.
  2. Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen.
  3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
  4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate, and collaborate.
  5. Learning can — and must — be networked.

On Sunday, I attended a conversation hosted by SLA’s principal Chris Lehmann that aimed to dig deeply into the value of inquiry as an organizing principle for our work in schools and beyond. The conversation mined a rich vein of thought some of which is captured here in the #educoninquiry twitter hashtag. In reflecting on the various conversations that I had with a number of participants, the following are a few ideas that continue to resonate with me and that I hope will continue to inform the evolution of our program and learning community.

  • Inquiry as a recursive questioning process

As I wander through classrooms and engage in conversations with students and teachers, I am always struck by the depth of engagement in our learning spaces when dialog is being driven by an assortment of “why,” “what if,” “could we” and “how about” questions. These questions move us past single nodes of understanding towards a web of interconnected ideas and possibilities. They are generative and force us to challenge assumptions; they move us into areas where we are not always so comfortable. At the same time, they also allow us a freedom to move towards learning that has personal and collective relevance  As Grant Lichtman notes in the Falconer:

Questions are waypoints on the path of wisdom. each question leads to one or more new questions or answers. Sometimes answers are dead ends; they don’t lead anywhere. Questions are never dead ends. Every question has the inherent potential to lead to a new level of discovery, understanding, or creation, levels that can range from the trivial to the sublime.

One of our tasks then is helping students and ourselves to not only recognize the trivial from the sublime, but to use inquiry as a pathway towards the sublime and the significant.

  • Inquiry as a tool to unpack meaning and open us to the wonder inspired by the world around us

Inquiry calls on us to be engaged with and in the world. It is not simply a pathway to knowledge acquisition; it is rather a pathway to experience from which real and lasting knowledge can be derived. Absent the authentic experience, what often gets called inquiry is really no more than the following of a set of pre-determined routines. These are routines that often leave little room for exploration and for bumping into the unexpected. As a faculty, we spend considerable time thinking about how to move beyond engagement that is grounded simply in activity. The goal is to develop engagement that is grounded first in a meaningful question or problem for which there may be multiple avenues for exploration and a variety of ways in which understanding can be demonstrated. A additional goal for us is to continue to find ways for this work and the related demonstrations of understanding to be shared beyond the walls of the classroom with a wider and more authentic audience so that the work of school becomes something more than just schoolwork.  

  • Inquiry as an incubator for our innate ability to be curious and to seek connections

As Ken Robinson observes:

What these things have in common is that kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way.We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems wheremistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this — he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.

Through inquiry, students are regularly challenged to be curious and to see beyond the artificial distinctions that separate subject matter. They work to identify connections within and between subjects, between individuals and their varied experiences and across time. Inquiry also makes the same demands on teachers as they work individually and collaboratively to structure the optimal conditions for learning.

  • Inquiry as structure to help us to live in the uncomfortable space where we don’t know the answer

An orientation to inquiry demands and develops an ethic of hard work and values the disposition of resilience. It does this through the teacher’s purposeful structuring and scaffolding of the learning experience. The inquiry classroom is an intentional place; it is one where the student encounters a level of challenge that is just comfortably out of reach. It is as the psychologist Lev Vygotsky defined it in the zone of proximal development, which is:

the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.

The inquiry classroom’s essential character is iterative. Students move forward by navigating through, over and around obstacles that are both concrete and abstract. They fall down along the way, pick themselves up and/or are helped up by others, examine the causes of their stumble, chart new paths and try again. Sometimes the going forward is slow and in other moments the learner takes larger leaps forward, but always they are reflecting on how they got to where they are and where they need/want to be. All of this takes place alongside other learners so that insights, observations and understanding can be shared and woven together to create a richer and more detailed map of the learning journey. 

  • Inquiry as vehicle for transforming culture

When we open ourselves to inquiry in our schools, it’s impact is not limited just to the classroom. It works it’s way into the very culture of the place. It changes how we relate to each other and what we value as a community. A community that moves forward on the basis of asking questions is one that seeks to understand the diverse set of perspectives that its members represent. Itis no surprise then that is a key goal of our advisory program, which seeks to foster caring and advocacy through inquiry. Last week, we held our annual MLK Assembly and were joined by teacher and diversity trainer Rosetta Lee. Rosetta led us through a series of interactive experiences that challenged us to claim our various identities, learn about others, and commit to the inclusion of everyone, no matter who they are. She also invited us to explore how the middle school world mirrors the larger world and what students can do now to train ourselves to be the adults they want to become. For the adults in the room, it was also a chance for us to explore the same questions related to our only slightly longer journeys towards an understanding of ourselves and others.

I left Educon feeling energized about much of what we do at LREI, but also excited to explore how we can push this work ahead even further and with a clearer sense of purpose connected to our school’s longstanding vision for learning. What kinds of inquiry are you engaged in and how is it moving you forward as a learner?

See. Believe. Think. Act

As we ask students to do all the time, the members of the middle school faculty regularly engage in reflection and inquiry related to their practice. We also meet together as learners to explore how best to realize our progressive mission and best meet the needs of our middle school students. These conversations touch on many topics including curriculum, assessment, advisory, diversity, program design and implementation and our own individual and collective professional growth. As we move through this innovation cycle, we regularly examine how our ideas evolve into specific actions and we then make little or large adjustments based on the feedback we gather as we are implementing them. 

It is exciting and demanding work, but also helps us to understand what the learning experience is like for our students. As we enter into a new innovation cycle and explore a variety of ideas and possibility, I wanted to share with you a framework for thinking that guided our most recent conversation. The image below, which captures a process developed by the folks at SYP Partners who do interesting work connected to teamwork, business transformation and leadership development, is a compelling one. I also think that it is resonant with many of our core values. 


As part of our initial brainstorming activities at this week’s divisional faculty meeting, we also used an iPad tool that SYP Partners have developed called Unstuck. While primarily intended for individual problem solving, we used it to frame some small group work. We think that it may also have some interesting uses with our seventh and eighth graders to support goal setting activities in advisory. If you’re an iPad user, check it out and let me know what you think. Below are some quotes from the app that we used to frame our initial work about engaging in change efforts. What change efforts are you currently undertaking? Maybe these quotes will provide some inspiration.


On other fronts, the return from Winter Break signals the return of the National Geographic Society Geography Bee. Our Geography Bee, which began before the break with preliminary competitions in each homeroom, culminated with the School Championship that took place last week in Middle School Meeting.  Representing their respective homerooms were fifth graders Aditya and Maisy, sixth graders Beckett and Monica, seventh graders Lauren and Lola and eighth graders Davis and Halle. After several rounds of competition, the group of eight was reduced to three. Beckett emerged as our third place winner and Maisy and Monica moved on to the championship round, which was ultimately settled after several tiebreaker rounds with Maisy answering the fifth tiebreaker question correctly. Maisy will now move on to take the state-level qualifying exam. Well done and congratulations to all of our participants!

In addition to the good fun that the National Geography Bee provides, it also points to the critical importance that a basic understanding of geography plays in being an informed citizen of the world. As technology makes the world smaller and increases our interconnectedness, we should not let ourselves be fooled into thinking that the boundaries, borders, and geographic features of our planet don’t matter any more. The geography of our planet provides a key to understanding important aspects of history and culture and provides a lens for focusing on issues that are “of the moment.”

Knowing where something is by necessity establishes a relationship to it. With an understanding of place, we can gain a deeper insight into the people who inhabit that place while we simultaneously gain new insights about our own place in the world. It is these moments of insight that help to define us and our relationship to the larger world.

Finally, second quarter progress reports will be available on LREI Connect tomorrow in the late afternoon.  I will send out an email to let you know when they are available for review.

Demand Voice

It has been an exciting week in the middle school with the Winter Concert, the Young Composers and Improvisers Workshop concerts for 5th and 6th graders where close to 80 new pieces were premiered by the Metropolis Ensemble and our Seventh Grade Colonial Museum. All of these events and the associated work that led up to them provide clear evidence of the rich and intellectually demanding life of our middle school students. No where has this commitment to purpose been more clear than in the efforts of one of our eighth grade social justice groups that has chosen to focus on gun control issues. 

Today, the members of this group participated in and spoke at a press conference held on the steps of City Hall. The event was attended by 20 state legislators who announced a package of gun bills in light of the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook and the 82 people who die every day from guns that they’ll be working on when the Legislature reconvenes in early January. Legislator Michelle Schimel recognized our students who then had an opportunity to talk about the work that they are doing to bring about change. It turns out that the elements in the proposed legislative package are almost identical to the ones for which our students have been advocating. If you have not already signed their petition, here is another message from the group encouraging you to do so:

Dear LREI Parents,
In the eighth grade, we do a social justice project and our group chose to focus on reducing gun violence. We have written a petition that we would like to bring to the White House when we go to Washington, D.C. at the end of January for the inauguration. We would like you to sign this petition banning assault rifles and invoking micro-stamping. Micro stamping is a process by which tiny codes are imprinted on the shell casings of bullets that enables the police to track down illegal guns more easily. The link for this petition is:
Please also follow us on facebook (Youth Demand: End Gun Violence), and Twitter (@DemandVoice).
Please continue to pass the word on to colleagues and friends.
Gun Violence Social Justice Group: Jack, Lachlan, Sam, Tyrrell

Please support this effort and let others know about it as well. Tomorrow, we will convene as a preK-twelfth grade community for our annual Winter Assembly and buddy group will eat lunch together. I hope that you have a restful winter break and I look forward to the exciting work that lies ahead in the new year.

Empathy Formula

Ideo Fellow Bob Sutton recently blogged about the Kurt Vonnegut poem “Joe Heller” whose theme was resonant with the just passed Thanksgiving holiday. In the poem, Vonnegut writes:

And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.” 
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?” 
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

At our recent Thanksgiving assembly I talked about the meaning of Thanksgiving in the context of privilege and the need for us to develop a more empathic connection to others and to the world around us. We talked about wants and needs and how for those struggling to meet their basic needs, finding thanks on Thanksgiving can be complicated. We talked about the famous line from To Kill A Mocking Bird that our eighth graders read, ”You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” So how do we move towards this state of empathy in our lives and in our school? 

As writer and education activist Sam Chaltain observes in commenting on the work of Emotional Intelligence author Dan Goleman and behavioral scientist Paul Ekman

As it turns out, there’s a formula we can use to explain how people master empathy, even if no one’s ever described it that way before. And best of all, it’s got a familiar ring to it:

E = EC².
What Goleman and Ekman mapped out — in a little-read blog post from 2007 — was three different ways a person can convey empathy. The first is “cognitive empathy,” or the act of knowing how another person feels. This is the first stage of becoming empathetic, and while it may be helpful in motivating people or running for elective office, it also has a dark side if it exists in isolation: narcissism and sociopathic behavior, to name a few.
The second is “emotional empathy,” or the capacity to physically feel the emotions of another. As with cognitive empathy, however, emotional empathy can have troublesome consequences if applied in isolation. As Goleman writes, “One downside of emotional empathy occurs when people lack the ability to manage their own distressing emotions can be seen in the psychological exhaustion that leads to burnout. The purposeful detachment cultivated by those in medicine offers one way to inoculate against burnout. But the danger arises when detachment leads to indifference, rather than to well-calibrated caring.” 
That leads to the third and final part of the formula — “compassionate empathy”, which is what occurs when we combine the previous two in the name of acting upon what we think and feel.

In our assembly, we refined this formula to the more accessible statement that 

Empathy = (Thought)(Feeling)(Action)

This is a powerful idea and one that is closely aligned with the core elements of the LREI experience. However, we can be more intentional in the various ways that we cultivate this habit is our students and in ourselves. In thinking about empathy, gratitude and the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m compelled to offer thanks to the members of the middle school faculty for their dedicated, passionate and purposeful commitment to our program, your children and to each other as colleagues.

At our opening faculty meeting in September, I asked faculty members to consider the following questions posed in a blog post by Erin Paynter

What assumptions are you holding re: students, parents, teaching, admin, etc. that is either inspiring or motivating you to move forward, grow, develop, change?

Their responses, which follow below, are grounded in profound sense of empathy and affirm Vonnegut’s notion that true meaning can be found in “the knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

  • That my students are the most important people in the world to their parents inspires compassion in me
  • Every year is a new beginning
  • That everyone wants to do well and has the best intentions
  • People (colleagues, parents, kids) are happy to be part of this community
  • That people are interested in and able to change
  • That learning is regarded as important
  • That the kids love this school and this makes me want the curriculum and my teaching to be the best it can be
  • Students’ eagerness, willingness, flexibility, creativity and curiosity inspires me
  • Parents wanting the best for their children motivates me to want to do the best job that I can
  • Students have an innate desire to succeed. When they are not demonstrating this innate desire, we need to work to identify the obstacle.
  • By being members of this community by choice, we are all supporting progressive ideas, open-minded attitudes and a desire to improve and achieve goals with a mindfulness that resembles the goodness of the human heart.
  • That we all bring joy to our work.
  • Our community (students, parents and faculty) all value a project-oriented, experiential curriculum.
  • That kids want to learn and that they want to create new and exciting things
  • The secret to learning is in creating
  • Education is vital to the advancement of the human condition. I am involved in world shaping.
  • The more I teach the more I learn
  • The community I work in is together for the greater goof of all of us.
  • The diversity of students and their different needs inspires me to grow and change
  • Those around me believe in me so I feel empowered to take risks and am motivated to learn more and contribute to the community.
  • I work in a place that actively looks for ways to encourage and celebrate growth.
  • The school asks for and listens to feedback.
  • A belief that what I know and who I am is important enough to be shared with children.
  • We are all ready to learn and grow.
  • Parents trust me.
  • Students are open-minded and want to have fun.
  • Trust in each other to work creatively.
  • That my students will have an excellent year.
  • That the kids love this school and that makes being here each day such a positive experience.
  • The students make me want to make the curriculum the best it can be.
  • That our students’ are eager, willing, flexible, creative and curious.
  • That parents want the best for their children and want to work as partners with us makes me want to do the best I can.
  • That schools make a huge impact on kids lives and that teaching is a career that positively impacts society.
  • Open-mindedness and a willingness to experiment in teaching and learning
  • A sense of community and voice
  • Celebration/understanding of difference
  • My colleagues are always willing to collaborate and actively seek it out
  • That students believe they can succeed and try to do their best
  • That the learning environment is interesting and challenging
  • I am encouraged to take risks to try new things
  • We all, ultimately, seek and find satisfaction and joy from our work together.
  • We are working to be a dynamic, revolutionary, 21st century school,
  • I will be encouraged and supported by my community as I move forward professionally
  • This is a reciprocal community: I am valued by others as I value others
  • That all community members have high expectations
  • That parents expect me to know their child as an individual
  • That students need and deserve this individual attention and effort on my part to “get” them

Sharing the Work

I’m fortunate to be able to spend Wednesday through Friday of this week at the annual New York Association of Indepenedent Schools (NYSAIS) Division Heads Conference. It is a chance to connect, reflect and learn with colleagues representing a wide cross-section of independent schools. The theme of this year’s confeence is “Global Engagement.” This morning, I presented a workshop about our eighth grade Social Justice Project:

From the Classroom to the World: Inspiring Social Justice Activism in the Middle School
Social justice work and activism have always been core values of the LREI experience. This work also serves as a meaningful forum for teaching 21st Century learning skills and global citizenship skills. These skills help our students to be change makers in the school and beyond. Our Eighth Grade Social Justice Project asks students to work collaboratively on civil and human rights issues as a part of their humanities class. Students choose issues that are important to them and learn skills that help them to secure fieldwork opportunities with local/national/global civil and human rights organizations and to engage in projects to support the work of these groups. We’ll share how students learn to communicate with professionals, conduct interviews, write opinion editorials, blog and teach others about their topic. We’ll also focus on student work that has had a global/international focus. Student work and our school-hosted social media sites used to chronicle the project will be shared. Student participants and faculty will join us via skype for Q&A.  We’ll also engage in a critical conversation about how to inspire activism in our schools.

Click on the image below to view slides from the presentation:


The keynote speaker for the conference was educator John Hunter who developed the fascinating “World Peace Game.” The following, which was used to introduce John, gets at the key theme’s John addressed:

In an era of unprecedented volatility, ambiguity, impassioned conflict, and intractable problems that affect the basic living conditions and prosperity of many, education has never been more important or more in need of purpose, meaning, and applicability. The solutions to the dilemmas that define our world will be created and implemented in the future by students in schools around the world today. And so it goes, the future of the world is in their hands. Their education is their preparation for that responsibility. What skills, habits, mindsets, experiences, and knowledge do students need to lead the world, solving its crises and creating the possibility of peace and prosperity for all? How can students best master the types of problem-solving, leadership, understanding, and cooperation that they will need to succeed? Are we preparing our students to do the work of peace, be it the development of sustainable communities or the work of building their own internal resources of happiness and fulfillment?

The world is small, flat and fast. It is full of unknowns and those who can learn, adapt, lead self and others will be best prepared. Our charge is to create the schools our students need, with teachers who can engage them for a global future. What can we do? What must we do? How do we begin? What is our next step on Monday morning?

I’ll have more to say about John’s inspiring words and their relevance to the LREI expereince in a future post after I’ve had more time to process and reflect on what I learned. For now, please enjoy John’s deeply engaging TEDtalk:


Project-Based-Learning to Build Critical Thinking Skills

It was good to be back in school and surrounded by the purposeful buzz of students and teachers engaged in meaningful inquiry. If you have not already done so, please do read some of the reflections about students’ Hurricane Sandy thoughts and pathways for action posted on community.lrei.org. The week was also filled with lots of conversation leading up to Tuesday night’s election and an equal measure of post-election analysis. Click here to see the results related to the various issues that were on our National Student Mock Election ballot and here to view the thoughts of our eighth graders that they recorded as they watched things unfold on Tuesday night.

All of these endeavors, seek to engage middle school students with real issues for real purposes. In doing so, a primary goal is the development of sophisticated critical thinking skills. For the remainder of this week’s post, I turn things over to middle school music teacher Matt McLean with some thoughts on the role that critical thinking plays in the music classroom:
Fifth and sixth grade music classes will take an important step with their Fall Music Composition project (click here to listen to prior year compositions) when they get to work with our artists-in-residence, the Metropolis Ensemble, on Tuesday, Nov. 13th. The interaction and reflection that will occur when they get to hear an initial run-through of their compositions will foster ever important critical thinking skills. What are these critical thinking skills and how can taking on the task of bringing an original piece of music to life help build them?
Becoming a young composer is project-based learning (PBL) where students engage in a pedagogy that builds critical thinking skills. Researchers and educators at the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) make the case for PBL as one of the most powerful kinds of pedagogy that help students learn how to be critical thinkers. For this to occur, projects have to be “planned around topics that lend themselves to thoughtful consideration, and students have to be provided with tasks and supports needed to develop critical thinking skills.” Much of BIE’s evidence of critical thinking comes from the work of Roland Case and the Critical Thinking Consortium. Case points out that critical thinking is not a special kind of thinking but rather, “ordinary thinking done well, that is, reflective with attention to criteria, and the goal making a defensible, reasoned judgement.” Towards this end, our young composers have created works based on a set of criteria. Working with professional musicians on Tuesday will be followed by the opportunity to reflect on how the students’ work may or may not have satisfied their creative goals for their intended expression.
BIE provides some thoughts on what makes a project likely to promote critical thinking. First, it would be structured around a “non-Googleable Driving Question.” Googleable Questions, of course, would be those seeking information or specific facts and events. Drivable Questions -“Why does the earth rotate on an axis”, “How can we design an energy efficient building”, etc. require that students do more than just look something up. Depending on the subject, they will need to “define terms, consider whether information and concepts vary according to context, weigh multiple explanations, evaluate evidence, compare alternative actions.” This is critical thinking—careful thinking done reflectively, with attention to criteria. Our fifth and sixth grade composers are largely working on the Driving Question: “How do we compose memorable music that tells a story?” Tangentially, a number of other important questions have arisen: “How do dissonance and consonance create movement in music?”, “What kinds of textures help support musical characters?”, “How do we communicate to musicians to play our music the way we’d like?”

Projects that support critical thinking are not only about requiring students to think carefully and deliberately, but they also “provide models and scaffolding to show how such cognitive tasks are carried out.” In music class we have executed a number of small tasks that seek to define the competencies for successfully composing music that tells a story. Students have had practice with certain concepts and receive feedback by comparing their work to that of their peers as well as a number of musical examples from throughout Western music history. In addition, composer mentors, their teacher and their peers have been providing them continual feedback on their work.

The final and crucial piece for PBL to foster critical thinking skills is to have “formative assessment and feedback.” Students need to know how they are doing and if their thinking is yielding the desired results. When a composer hears her music being performed they not only receive the ultimate feedback but they will also be asked to evaluate their thinking. Through written reflections and discussions with composer mentors, professional musicians and their peers they can learn to evaluate and think about their own thinking (as well as the thinking of others). It is this kind of reflection that gives our Project the ability to promote critical thinking skills. It is not merely the “Project” part of the learning that makes this work important but the ever important meta-cognition that goes along with it. The philosopher, educator and LREI supporter John Dewey summed it up best when he said:

The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative.

Our young composers are engaged in a project that makes their experience “educative.” Their beautiful music just happens to make for a nice story.

Well said, Matt! I look forward to sharing in the unfolding of these musical stories.

On Civic Duty

One of the fall traditions in the Middle School is the election of student representatives. In Adolescent Issues classes, we discuss the characteristics that might make one a good representative and we explore the many responsibilities that representatives are expected to meet. After these discussions, students who are interested in being a rep write an essay to their classmates in support of their candidacy. At the same time, students who are not running for class rep consider what they are looking for in a class rep. In fifth through seventh grades, these essays are then read by their teacher to the class without attribution. This calls on students to really listen to the substance of each essay and makes the election of a class rep more than just a popularity contest.

The essays are always thoughtful and, while some candidates make bold promises (e.g., a three-day school week, extended recess, nap time), all address issues of real concern to middle school students (e.g., more recess equipment, additional clubs, more independent work time). In the eighth grade, students discuss the pros and cons of reading their own speeches and consider the additional obligations that come when a candidate reads her/his own speech. These are always intense conversations and the students’ commitment to the integrity of the democratic process really rises to the fore.

Students in all grades take the voting process seriously, applaud the efforts of all of the candidates, are supportive of those candidates that are not selected, and have high expectations for their elected representative. As the terms of these newly elected representatives begin, they will be asked to seek out the full range of opinions on issues discussed by their classmates, help their classmates to work towards consensus on these issues, on occasion represent ideas with which they may not agree, help to resolve conflicts, problem solve with their classmates, welcome and speak with families visiting the school as part of the admission process, make presentations at middle school meeting, and work with the dean and the principal to clarify old roles and develop new roles for class representatives. These are weighty challenges and this year’s reps in collaboration with their classmates are ready to meet them.

One a related note, our eighth graders participated in a live online chat while they watched the third Presidential debate this past Monday. Teachers also joined the conversation offering insights, asking questions and posting online resources to add additional context to the conversation. Students were deeply engaged, thoughtful and informed about the issues. Below is a sample of some of their comments (click here to view the full discussion):
  • Romney’s tie is red and blue, to say that he’s republican, but represents the whole country… . Interesting symbolic idea.
  • I want to learn some more details about their opinions.
  • “Attacking me is not going to solve the problems” (Romney)… I think that was a very good point… . Agreed - attacking (which they seem to be doing now) is not helping us understand them.
  • I’m starting to understand how big a job being the president is. You have to know practically everything that is going on everywhere.
  • I feel like they are both attacking each other, while answering the question… . Yes, its interesting how they can weave attacks into their conversation.
  • But they are 4 seconds apart in terms of how much each has spoken, which is good. I’m sort of proud of them. They are also staying on topic and listening.
  • I think that both Obama and Romney are doing much better than the other debates. They are both well prepared and speaking well.
  • Yes, but why are they even talking about that now? Wrong debate! They lost their chance… . I know, I feel like they are making a mistake by talking about this, because it is sort of showing they don’t really want to talk about foreign policy… . Yes, and that’s also bad. Commentator wants to get back to Foreign Policy… . The commentator really needs to bring them back to the topic.
  • Mitt Romney is saying he will be president too soon! … Obama just subtly said that he is still president, sort of showing he is still in charge.
  • Malarkey!
  • I noticed that on the subject of Foreign Policy both candidates agree on many if the same things.
  • Obama tying in women to his responses. He needs to get the women vote, and he is adding in Tunisia, Somalia, Yemen, and other Arab countries.
  • These debates have all been very different. The moderators have controlled them differently, and each candidate has gotten better each time. They could control themselves more, and they we just better.
  • I always wonder what they are saying when they are shaking hands. And the CNN commentator says: “Well, this was a much more civilized debate…” and I agree.
Finally, next week our students will participate in a mock election. They will vote for national and state level candidates and on a number of referendum issues. They will also vote on a number of issues related to school life and how we can better creates opportunities for learning.

Good Reads 10/8/12

Creativity is nurtured by freedom and stifled by the continuous monitoring, evaluation, adult-direction, and pressure to conform that restrict children’s lives today. In the real world few questions have one right answer, few problems have one right solution; that’s why creativity is crucial to success in the real world. But more and more we are subjecting children to an educational system that assumes one right answer to every question and one correct solution to every problem, a system that punishes children (and their teachers too) for daring to try different routes. We are also, as I documented in a previous essay, increasingly depriving children of free time outside of school to play, explore, be bored, overcome boredom, fail, overcome failure—that is, to do all that they must do in order to develop their full creative potential.

 As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity – Peter Gray

My classroom is ‘ungraded.’  Want to know one of the biggest mis-perceptions out there?  That grades equal learning.   I didn’t realize it until someone blatantly insinuated that my students were just “doing stuff” and not really learning, because I don’t “give grades.”  That conversation has caused me to evaluate and re-evaluate every single thing I do in my classroom.  I’ve taught in a traditional classroom, I’ve given hundreds, probably thousands, of grades.  I cringe at the thought of what I used to assign points for.  Crossword puzzles. Vocabulary definitions. Doing stuff.  The way I assess students now?  It’s far more accurate than any grade I ever assigned.  When we focus on filling our grade books with points and assigning letters to define what our students know, we miss out on something.  When we discuss, give powerful feedback, listen carefully, observe, interview, give them room to create, reflect, and revise, we know more.   When we have a record of where they began and where they ended up in our classroom, we know more.  Far more.  We know them.  We know their learning.  Real learning?  It’s a messy, non-linear process.  It cannot simplified into a letter or even points.

Know Their Learning, Know Them – Krissy Venosdale

My view is that we are teaching EVERY child way too much stuff, that EVERY child does not need nearly as much math or science or literature or history as we seem to think, and I believe that EVERY child loses a fair amount of creativity and curiosity in our zeal to deliver and test the all encompassing curriculum. And we do this because we think school is the only place to easily learn all that stuff, or because that’s what “college readiness” is. And in our subject-based world, everyone will fight to the death against eliminating any of it.But at what cost?

 What is the “Sound Foundation”? - Will Richardson

“Don’t” messages are utilized quite often in the work environment. Workplace “don’t” messages include statements such as “Don’t be late” (for meetings or deadlines), “Don’t be a jerk” (don’t yell or be rude), “Don’t promise what you can’t deliver” and the like. By stating these messages in positive terms and describing desired behavior, better alignment to that behavior occurs. By stating, “Be on time,” “Be kind” or “Be of service,” these messages become much more actionable.

Build your desired culture with “do” messages – Chris Edmonds