Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Overheard at MDGs...

I was just out at our 7th grade Experiential Learning project on the Millennium Development Goals and heard the following:

"Laura! Come here! We need your help! We need your creative thinking. What can we add to this hospital to make it better?"

Jack to Laura in their village.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The BIG Question: Failure

As I have said before, this year we are using some of our morning time to incorporate community building through a BIG Question. This BIG Question is often related to some theme we see in the middle school and allows us to have a conversation around it in a safe and comfortable environment.

Typically, the Student Support Team will identify the theme or topic, I will present some data, a video, a podcast, a narrative, etc. that illustrates some aspect of that theme and then leave the group with a question to discuss in their advisories. The goal of the program is threefold:
  1. Create a forum for the whole division to meet,
  2. Introduce BIG ideas, current events, and/or school issues that warrant a common context for discussion, and
  3. Provide an opportunity for common reflection during our Middle School Chapel one week later. 
As you may have seen from my post titled The BIG Question, our first topic was Honor, as we found ourselves discussing the Honor Code and its implications on how we live our lives at Canterbury and beyond.

Last week's topic was failure. We have been witnessing an increased fear of failure in schools which can lead to students becoming highly stressed. Last year we watched the Race to Nowhere (and see below), which chronicles the extremes of what can be our children's over-scheduled and highly pressurized lives. More and more students have very little idea how to deal with failure. They often refuse to try because they risk failure.

Our BIG Question addresses this issue head-on by asking:

How does failure define you?

We watched a clip of Steve Jobs commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 in which he describes being fired from the company he created and coming back to become CEO. We then broke off into our advisories and discussed the BIG Question together in the context of our own lives. Finally, Fr. Finnin will wrap up the conversation during his sermon at the Middle School Chapel tomorrow morning.

I think it is worth noting that we at Canterbury have taken a position on how believe students should view failure. It is clearly stated in the final skill for our Portfolio Program:

  1. Respond to an experience of failure in a way that acknowledges that innovation involves small successes and frequent mistakes.
We want our students to acknowledge that they will fail many times in their lives, and that the key to growth is learning from those mistakes and moving forward. We want our students to engage in life.

A New Understanding of the Digital Divide

I ran across this article at Edutopia and thought it a timely piece as many independent schools ponder 1to1 computer to student ratios and how that looks in their schools.

Essential in all of these conversations should be a discussion about access. I visited three independent schools yesterday in the Triangle area, and all were grappling with the ways our students access and utilize technology (as all good schools should). Paramount was the baseline expectation that nothing should be offered if it won't be able to supported equitably at home as it is at school.

The author discusses the new nature of the Digital Divide (formerly who has access to the Internet and who does not). Through her research, the author, Mary Beth Hertz, redefines the term Digital Divide and thus points those of us looking to bridge the divide in a new direction.

A New Understanding of the Digital Divide

See also Forrest Cloud's post about Digital Divide v. Digital Inequality for a balanced description of the difference between the two.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Portfolio Skill 10: How Steve Jobs Lived It Out

The Canterbury Portfolio Program asks our 8th graders to develop a portfolio of work which demonstrates ten skills we believe a Canterbury graduate should have. Today I want to focus on Skill 10.

Portfolio Skill 10: Respond to an experience of failure in a way that acknowledges that innovation involves small successes and frequent mistakes.

As we all know, Steve Jobs passed away last week and since then writers from every perspective have been writing eulogies of some sort. As I waded through these testaments, I heard very little from Jobs himself until I stumbled upon a reference to his commencement address at Stanford University in 2005. In it he discusses how failure provided the foundation for his success. Most spectacularly, Jobs was fired from the company he created. This may be bigger than the mistakes implied by Skill 10 but nevertheless provides an example of the spirit it takes to innovate. 

I found the address both incredibly fitting as it relates to our last skill and haunting in the way he speaks of his future. I'll leave it to you to read the speech, but will say that he is true to himself in that he uses story to resonate with his audience. We all know how compelling Jobs was and as a result how impactful his ideas have been on how we live our lives.

If there was ever an example of Skill 10, Steve Jobs would be it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Failure for Growth Can Be Found in the Brainwaves

I came across this fantastic article from a blog on Wired explaining an experiment out of Michigan State University which tested Carol Dweck's theory of Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset.

If you have never heard of Carol Dweck, she is a renowned psychologist whose theories on motivation and effort inspired authors like Malcom Gladwell and Daniel Pink to write their books. Her most famous supposition is that of the Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset. In a Fixed Mindset, a student feels they have  a certain capacity for intelligence and once used is full. The Growth Mindset individual feels that if one applies themselves to a task and learns from mistakes in pursuit of that task, then they can grow to be as successful as they want to be.

In his article, Why Do Some People Learn Faster?, Jonah Lerner, introduces us to the parts of the brain which recognize and process mistakes. In a fascinating narrative we discover that those who were improving and learning actually used a greater portion of the mistake-processing sector of the brain. Essentially, these findings provide biological support for Carol Dweck's psychological theories.

I highly recommend reading it.

Why Do Some People Learn Faster? 

21st Century Learning: Say Goodbye to the Book Report

Growing up one of the first types of writing we learned was the book report. This was about as straightforward an assignment as there is:
  • What is the title? Who is the author? When was it written? Who published it?
  • Who are the main characters? What is an outline of the plot?
  • Did you like it? Why or why not? 
These were papers written for an audience of one: the teacher. Typically, the teacher would be looking to make sure you actually read the book and used proper grammar and sentence structure. Once handed back, the paper would go in the back of the binder, never to be seen again. 

Well, the book report is no longer relevant in our world. In a period that is so enmeshed in social media and search terms, the more applicable piece of writing would be the book review. The more relevant venue would be a blog and a more interesting audience is your grade at school. 

Tony Carrick, Karen Niegelsky, and John Schoultz have devised a unit to do just that. Karen and Tony teach literature to our middle school students and were searching for a way to spice up the classic book report assignment which always used to accompany summer reading. They decided that a more relevant type of writing was the book review, but they still struggled with how they might broaden the audience. 

This is where John Schoultz, our Technology Coordinator stepped in. Through our internal server, we have the ability to build wikis and blogs. Blogs allow students to create, as John calls it, a "virtual locker" which can be shared with their teachers and students alike. So, Tony and Karen worked with John to develop a unit that focused on the writing skills of a book review and the technological skills of managing and presenting a blog product. The book reviews appear in blog form and will be preserved in a review library for upcoming middle school students to view when they are choosing their independent reading books.

Students learned what distinguishes a good book review from a bad, how to determine a reviewers' bias, and the breakdown of a book review in terms of engaging the reader from the title through the plot summary to the analysis. On the technology side they learned to set up a blog, manage multiple subjects and labels, create and edit content, and incorporate multimedia into an otherwise wordy post (I'm sure your wishing I would audit this course and learn how to be more concise....) 

By the end of this Book Review Unit, our students have begun to develop the following 21st Century Skills (based on a list from NAIS Trendbook 2010-2011):
  • Analytical and Creative Thinking and Problem Solving
    • Detect bias, and distinguish between reliable and unsound information.
    • Control information overload
  • Complex Communication - Oral and Written
    • Write clearly and concisely - for a variety of audiences
    • Explain information and compellingly persuade others of its implications
  • Digital and Quantitative Literacy
    • Understand, use, and apply digital technologies
    • Create digital knowledge and media
    • Use multimedia resources to communicate ideas effectively in a variety of formats
Throughout this post you have seen screen shots of those book reviews. We are excited for the type of learning we are creating in the middle school and what it means for our students in the future.