Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Outdoor Chapel for Middle School

Today we had our first Middle School Chapel and it was outside. Last year, the outdoor chapel was undergoing renovations, so this is the first time I've experienced chapel outdoors. It was a great day for it as well - sunny and breezy and perfect.

For people like me who have just arrived at the school, it can be an easy thing to forget that this school is in its 19th year because the facilities we have here are so amazing. However, I found myself reflecting on what an incredible space the outdoor chapel must have been when it stood alone on the far side of the commons. An oasis, I think. Today it is still an incredible space, serving the same role, but it seems to have grown into itself along with the school.

The huge trees harken back beyond the school's beginnings and help to set a reflective tone for the participants. The rock boundaries delineate a space meant for something pure - a call back to nature in some ways. The addition of the cross and altar (a gift from the Class of 2011), provide a sign post for us all and reminder of the underlying mission of the school to develop the whole child by developing the mind and nourishing the spirit in a diverse community guided by Judeo-Christian values.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fitness and the Brain

Flickr/Sculptures by Jurriaan van Hall, photo by Bart van Damme
At the end of last school year, our Head of School, Burns Jones, gave us the book Spark by Dr. John Ratey with Eric Hagerman, to read over the summer. One of its many points is that exercise keeps the brain healthy and working at maximum efficiency. I do recommend reading it.

In a related study out of Australia, researchers found that obesity can affect cognitive ability and while obesity may have been the cause of reduced cognitive function, reduced cognitive function can lead to obesity. A vicious downward cycle. Something to be aware of certainly.

For me, it reinforces the need for children to be out and running around. At Canterbury it means breaks and recess, PE and athletics. I am proud to say that last year, over 90% of middle school students participated in one sport over the three seasons.

Here is the article: Study Links Obesity with Poor Cognitive Performance

Friday, August 26, 2011

Math Hats

Who said 8th graders are overly concerned with their self image? In Mrs. Allen's Math class, her 8th graders were more than happy to don their "Math Hats."


Our new-to-Canterbury students spell out the school name. 
This time of year means people think about new beginnings. For educators, especially, it is a time of renewal - a time of expectation and excitement. For our students it is the same thing and for a particular set of our students it will be a brand new beginning.

This year we welcomed twelve new students to the middle school, nine of which are in the 6th grade. With so many new faces to Canterbury, we thought it important to provide a familiar context for them prior to arriving on the first day of classes. What came out of this was a program called Sowing Seeds for Success. We invited all new to Canterbury students to come to Armfield over the course of four mornings at the beginning of August. While they were with us we discussed topics ranging from Canterbury 101, organization, homework, technology, schedules, advisory, math, and composition. We even had Chapel twice that week.

By the end of our time together, the new students had formed relationships with their peers and felt comfortable with many of the adults who they would see in the building on a regular basis. They had learned a little bit about what makes Canterbury distinct from their elementary schools or prior middle schools. Finally, their anxiety level was brought into a manageable place. When we asked for feedback during our final reflective period, here is what we received:

  • A.W.E.S.O.M.E!!
  • Exciting!
  • Ubertastical
  • uber-super-duber-cool
  • F.U.N.
  • Amazing
  • Exuberant

We also welcomed our new 6th grade class to Armfield. Each year we welcome the 6th grade early and provide a day of activities meant to orient them to their new building, new teachers, new advisors, and all the cool things they will experience in the middle school. 

This year, Janet Mintz, Kim Markham, Karen Niegelsky spearheaded the effort and walked the 6th graders through their schedules, finding their lockers, an advisory period, and the middle school buildings to name a few. The returning Canterbury students had an opportunity to reconnect and connect for the first time with the new-to-Canterbury students. The highlights for the students (despite our best efforts....) had to be the pizza lunch and ice cream social!

Our orientation does end with the August meeting. In fact, it is a year long process to make sure we are helping these students integrate into the middle school community in a way where they feel respected, accepted, and empowered to engage in all aspects of it. 

On Wednesday, the school year began and the rhythm of the middle school was finally back to normal. I know I have taken for granted how integral a sound can be to one's sense of belonging and comfort. For some it is the sounds of the waves crashing on the beach, for others it may be the sound of the engine from a 1969 Ford GTO, still others may be taken back by an old song on the radio. 

For me, the sounds of a hallway full of students - the clamoring to interject their thoughts into a running conversation, the pure laughter of a child who has, for a moment, forgotten to act cool, the screechy scuffing of the newly waxed floor, lockers slamming shut, conversations muted as I walk by (this happens a lot for some reason...) - all of these combine to create a middle school symphony that is unlike any natural musical score in the world. Let's put it this way, it is definitely not the rainforest soundtrack.

But it is alive. And it is that energy that breathes life into Armfield Hall and Canterbury's campus. It is what makes this place pulse and gives us our rhythm. It's good to be back.  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Google + Redux: Another Insight into the New Social Network

A few weeks ago I posted about social networking and its influence at school and home. I was prompted to do so by some reading I've been doing about Google +, the new social network from Google. As the article below discusses, one goal of Google + is to provide more privacy through the creation of social circles and therefore the ability to control content distribution.

The last post explored the (perhaps) unintended ramifications of the social circles as a digital means of exclusion. This article explores how the jury is still out on the privacy claims of Google as it relates to Google +. As always, if your child is on a social network, it should be something you are attuned to and watching on a regular basis. Make sure the computer is in a common area, and if your child has a smartphone, make sure you are managing their access via this tool as well.

Here is the article: Google + and Privacy: Better for Educators?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What Can the Battle of Gettysburg Tell Us About the Battle over Video Games?
Sometimes getting children off the TV or computer while they're playing video games feels like a pitched battle. I'm not talking about the surgical strikes of modern warfare. I'm talking about a full frontal assault, the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Battle of Gettysburg.

Our 8th grade is reading The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara this summer for their social studies class, and the book may lend a nice guide to how the "Battle of Videoburg" often plays out.

Gettysburg, Day 1: The Union Cavalry sets up by the Seminary and dismounts, hoping to delay the Confederate advance so reinforcements can arrive. The Confederates rout the Federals, pushing them back through the town. However, the Union is able to dig in on the high ground, ultimately setting up the defeat of Lee after Pickett's Charge.

Videoburg, Minute 1: The Parents set up chores outside, hoping to get their child outdoors and in the fresh air. The Children entrench themselves on the couch, ignoring and steamrolling all parental attempts to dislodge them through the cunning and aggravating tactic of increasing the volume or putting earphones on.

Gettysburg, Day 2: In seemingly senseless carnage from Devil's Den to the Peach Orchard to Little Round Top, both sides exhaust themselves in bloody warfare. Lee is convinced his strategy of going hard at the flanks means the center will be weak on Day 3. He's wrong.

Videoburg, Minute 2: The Parents toss volley after volley of privileges to be revoked and extra chores to be added with only minor reaction from the Children. When screen time is revoked there is a grimace, which Parents perceive as a chink in the armour. In fact, it's a grin.

Gettysburg, Day 3: Lee has decided a full frontal assault at the Union center will break the Federals once and for all. If he is able to break the Union line, he will have defeated the North in its own backyard and demoralized its citizens. What he finds is a reinforced Union center, which cuts down Lee's troops with merciless efficiency. It is the High Water Mark of the Confederacy and the beginning of the end.

Videoburg, Minute 3: The Parents, perceiving weakness in the grimace, decide to come at the Children with all they've got. They make a move for the power button, knowing this means they are all in - inviting an onslaught of screams and tantrums rivaled only by the Tasmanian devil. What the Parents find is a stubborn and recalcitrant child who slams the console down and storms off to their room, leaving the outside and chores unexplored.

Why do we seem so far apart on the role of video games in the lives of our children? Are they so bad, that we are willing to have these intense 3-minute battles which get us nowhere? If video games are such an integral part of our child's life (and frankly, they are integral to many of us who grew up on Nintendo and the greatest game ever created - Super Tecmo Bowl), can we find a way to use their positive aspects to teach our children?

In a compelling article for SharpBrains, Marshall Weinstein, a senior at Johns Hopkins, has outlined the reasoning for a balanced approach to video games in education. (On a side note, what a great example of 21st Century learning: a senior majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Entrepreneurship is able to have an article published on an industry website and earn a virtual internship in the process. Check it out here.)

While I am not endorsing the use of video games for educational purposes just yet, I do see some of the positive characteristics these games can develop in students such as collaboration, leadership, and feelings of accomplishment. I encourage you to check out Marshall's article on SharpBrains at the link below:

Learning with Video Games: A Revolution in Education and Training?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Social Networking and Words of Caution
In a timely and thoughtful post on Edutopia, Ira Socol outlines the pitfalls of social networking in general and specifically the pitfalls it can hold for schools. While we have no plans to incorporate social networks like Facebook or Twitter into our classes, it would be naive for us not to realize the huge role they play in our students' lives. Additionally, it would be ridiculous for us not to realize how blurred the line between home and school becomes as a result of these new social networks.

It is scary to think how the pervasive connectedness of this age exacerbates the trials and tribulations of social navigation in adolescence. For us, the bad day ended when we got home. Few bullies were bold enough to call the house to continue the bullying. However, as Ira Socol points out, with the advent of social networks (not to mention texting, IM, etc.) there simply is no escape.

The parent-school partnership thus must be strong to be able to outline and enforce certain boundaries and standards of operation as it relates to how our students interact with each other digitally. As I've mentioned before, the number one thing we can still instill in our students and that cross personal and digital boundaries are our values.

Social networking will not go away. In fact, the work life our students are preparing for will probably be based largely on digital networking. We should not shun it. We should use it and prepare students for it, but with a healthy dose of caution. As with any advance in life, the role of the adults in providing structure is pivotal in creating responsible, ethical, and respectful citizens whether it be face-to-face or screen-to-screen.

Check out the post here:

Google +: The Dark Side of the Circle