Monday, November 26, 2012

testing for the future?

It's great to see that there are people putting serious energy into making a viable alternative to the SAT test that pays attention to critical and creative thinking. Click here for an interesting article.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

autonomy, mastery, and purpose

Dan Pink's book Drive first led to the language we share with our community to describe our goals for children as they learn: that we provide an environment in which autonomy, mastery, and purpose are present so the students are motivated to learn joyfully, and teachers are motivated to give their best to their teaching. Click here to link to a video where Dan Pink describes this same idea. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

more about testing

As we continue to probe the best way to assess the kind of learning our children should be doing in school - learning that supports creative thinking, problem-solving, community connections, and other complex forms of thinking and acting - Alfie Kohn continues to remind us of our priorities. Click here to read his recent article: Schooling Beyond Measure.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

working with the faculty

On Friday the children stayed home from school, and the teachers and I dug into some intense and really important work.

We spent the morning thinking about the current position of the school and our hopes and plans for the direction in which it is going. We thought back on some of our history, and teachers who have been with us for a decade shared their perspective of the journey we have taken, while teachers new this year explained some of what they were experiencing as newly-minted members of the team.

We talked about the challenges the new building has brought us, as well as the benefits. We flagged the dangers of disconnection amongst the team, given that the geography of our space no longer forces us to see each other constantly. We discussed areas within the school building that have not really found their purpose yet, or their spirit of place. We recognized the intense effort that has gone and continues to go into the transition from one building to another, and everything that implies for our identity as a school and our way of being with the children and with each other. We were grateful for the fact that, in the midst of changes, we have reaffirmed our commitment to nature and outdoor exploration for the children.

Looking to the future, we talked about maintaining the vision of a school where the freedom, exploration, and joy of childhood are honored and supported. We discussed the need for systems that are organic enough to maintain flexibility, structures that have windows for unique opportunities and situations, and road maps from which we can usefully deviate. We invoked meaningful, purposeful work, an environment integrated with nature, and the deep connection of our children with teachers and community. We discussed our founder's initial vision of the school as a place where children would be technologically adept in a way that supported social and emotional development and remained in tune with nature and real world experience. A metaphorical image that resonated strongly was one of children running barefoot in the woods with computers.

In small groups, we discussed strategies to support our current need for greater connection with each other, so that we can work together more strongly on a common vision for the future. We made commitments to deeper and more intentional collaborative work, and dedicated time to that purpose. We brainstormed options for creating more time that would be flexible enough to support this need. We discussed our developing understanding of how the space in (and outside of) our new building works and how we can use it more effectively.

The afternoon was dedicated to an ongoing discussion of student assessments; what can be assessed, what can't, how we can assess work and development in a way that truly supports education, is manageable, and is most meaningful to the student, the teacher, and parents. This is an extremely complex subject, and one that we will be dedicating time and thought to in an ongoing fashion indefinitely. Assessment strategies will be refined and revised as the world changes around us and we understand ever better how to produce a really useful result.

It was a fruitful and exhausting day, as professional development days should be. I am looking forward to continuing these discussions and plans with faculty and parents into the future.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Why Kids Need Schools to Change

As the new year gets underway, I want to share this article with you. Click here to read about "Challenge Success", a Stanford program working to help schools change to incorporate more progressive approaches. Progressive schools are still seen as experimental over a century after John Dewey published his theory of progressive education; it does seem, however, that the world is starting to catch on. All good stuff.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Today was Graduation Day, and may have been my favorite graduation of any that have happened so far. A good part of that can be attributed to the fact that I didn't have to say goodbye to any of the children - they were all graduating into our middle school program, so they will all remain part of this community in the coming year. Part of it was also due to the fact that we "graduated" the whole school from the old building to the new one on Platt Road - and by an unlooked for blessing of fate, we were able to all swarm into the building and explore it informally. It did good things for my heart to see that lovely space with kids in it, as it is meant to be.

As usual, I wrote poems for the graduating students. This time I changed the format. Rather than writing a poem each for them (which will now happen when they graduate from middle school to high school at the end of their 8th grade) I wrote a collective poem for each group - the 4th graders moving into 5th (the start of middle school at Summers-Knoll) and the 5th graders who were new to us this year and had therefore not had a graduation ceremony yet. Here are the poems for the children. For the 4th grade:

The 4th Grade Solar System

Yesterday Venus crossed the sun.
A small black circle moving with purpose
A determined little thing
Sailing a sea of fire.
Once every hundred and sixty years this happens.
All across the world people stopped
And watched in awe.
We also have planets, right here with us, crossing the
Enormous span of the sun:
Planet Matthew is a portal to a new dimension,
Where dragons and strange beasts of legend
Are real and red with life.
Planet Noah moves around the sun
Three times faster than any other celestial body
And from time to time his orbit
Takes a loop out to visit other stars.
If you visit Planet Anna you will find
A world as rich in life as our earth is,
Where numbers fly like birds across the wind,
And words with wide eyes scurry in the woods.
On Planet Laurea the rocks themselves
Are deep with thought and bright with
Diamonds of imagination. Sometimes the stones get together and
Put on a little play.
There are two Planet Henrys in this solar system,
Scientifically known as A and K.
Planet A pushes his orbit out. Every trip around the sun
Takes him further outward into space, pushing, pushing out,
Conquering the black vastness, filling it with light.
Planet K loops up and down, round and round
Rollercoastering along its path
Leaving a comet-trail of sparks that,
When you look at it carefully, through a telescope, you will see
It is made of words longer than any other words
The universe has ever heard.
Planet Melissa is composed, not of rock, but
Of volatile elements, dancing and
Occasionally erupting with a sound of laughter. Colors mix and swirl
Astronauts who have landed on Planet Lee report
The ground has voice, and each step you take
It speaks to you and tells you strange
And revelatory facts about the universe.
They have come back to earth and written books
Full of the knowledge that they gained,
Walking on Planet Lee.
The last one in this solar system, Planet Alexandra,
Glows with radiance from its inner core
Of sun. It compresses and expands like breath,
Focusing in, radiating out, focusing in, radiating out,
Steady on its orbit like a bird flying home.
Together in this solar system they all dance and shine,
Each planet circling, moving on its course,
Making a pattern full of wondrous
Worlds that weave together.
This will never happen quite this way again,
These planets, ever-evolving, ever-unique,
Crossing the sun, moving on their way
Are once in an eternity.
Venus has nothing on it.

And for the 5th grade:

Brains Going Places

All year long,
In a very small room,
In an odd little place
With a basement gloom,
A few young brains
With warmth and light
Melted the walls,
Took off in flight.

Cory’s brain did this in a very literal way. It devised an aircraft, with special brain-transporting capabilities. The aircraft had everything a brain could want: a bank of knowledge-capsules for nourishment, communication portals for those moments when it wanted to check in with other brains, an intensely streamlined shape for faster-than-light travel, and plenty of hard-core weaponry in case of an alien attack. Cory’s brain went far in this aircraft. No one but Cory is quite sure how far.

When Cory’s brain
Burst through the wall
It left a hole
Five feet tall.
Other brains
Peered through the hole
And found their own way
To their goal.

Isobel’s brain took a basket of knowledge and set off through the woods to the Kindergarten house. It had made the knowledge into especially tasty treats: bookberry preserves, historical honey, scientific syrup and better-thinking butter. It entered the Kindergarten house where all the little brains were clamoring for food, and it fed them delicious spoonfuls of knowledge from the basket. When everything had been gobbled up, Isobel’s brain took all the kindergarten brains into the sun-filled woods to play.

Isobel’s brain
Shared and taught
And doing that
Found what it sought.
Other brains
Tried other roads,
Made their way
In their own modes.

Mikey’s brain set about turning the earth into a Medieval castle built entirely out of sugar cubes. Once the whole planet had been re-formed in this way, Mike’s brain invested it with a system of peace and justice so that the castle became a bastion of respect and social equity. Everyone in the world came and lived in Mike’s brain’s castle, practiced friendship, and licked sugar off the walls.

Mike’s brain is set
To change the earth,
Ensure world peace,
Increase our worth.
Another brain
Slipped through the wall
Spread its wings,
Reached up tall.

Aristea’s brain layered the world with multiple dimensions like sheets of shimmering, iridescent silk, each layer glowing softly with different opportunities. One dimension was populated exclusively by spaghetti. Others were portals to lands filled with strange beings, colors never seen before, angels with many wings, words that took shape and became alive. Aristea’s brain moved from dimension to dimension, and as it moved, the silken worlds grew to infinite possibilities.

Has a brain
Full of sunshine,
Full of rain.

All the brains
Within that room
(The small room filled
With basement gloom)
Know how to fly,
Know how to soar;
They learn the world
And make it more.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Open House April 22nd

In our new building, paint is going onto the walls. The reading nooks looking out onto the courtyard are warm with color. The sun comes in through the huge windows and skylights, and every way you look there are views to the trees outside. The flexible learning spaces - the common areas, breakout spaces, front porches for the classrooms, the open library space - are everything I hoped they would be. The music and drama studio, the science lab, the art room, the classrooms; they are all spacious, bright, gorgeous places. Soon they will be alive with children and the hum of projects and great ideas.

Our middle school classroom for the fall is currently full to bursting at sixteen students. We've decided to open a second classroom at this age, so that we can simultaneously broaden the social opportunities for the kids and reduce the number of students in each room; maximize both the social and the academic possibilities. Project-based learning is powerful for students at this age, and I'm excited about the idea of offering our programs more widely.

We're holding an Open House for prospective parents at the new building on April 22nd from 1-3pm. Unfortunately we can't have students in there until the building is completely finished, but kids can be dropped off at our current building on Manchester while the Open House is happening. Students are very welcome to make an appointment to discuss our middle school programs with me, and there will be opportunities to look around the building from June on.

Please spread the word about the Open House! We'd love families with middle school students to know more about the options our programs offer, and we still have a few spots left in our elementary grades. So tell all your friends - it's not too late to find out more. Details are on our website.