Today’s post was written by Elizabeth Helfant who is the Upper School Coordinator of Instructional Technology at Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS). She has played an integral role in the planning and executing of MICDS’s one-to-one program. Read more from Elizabeth on her blog. Her post today provides some great insight and ideas for educators at one-to-one schools. As a former social studies teacher, I was extremely excited to read about the “Global Action Project”. Happy reading!
As another school year opens and the mood around campus is full of excitement, energy, and enthusiasm. I love the way that feels so I am taking a minute to pause and be thankful for another year of possibilities and for an incredible faculty that have embraced change and worked hard to design learning opportunities for all members of the community. I am excited to see their work and those possibilities, a few of which I’ll share, unfold. I’m excited to know that we are a community of learners, that teachers recognize we have much to learn ourselves to be worthy of the young minds that have been entrusted to us.
This year we will launch a course entitled the Global Action Project. The course will ask students to explore their world and to find something they care about that needs their attention to find a solution. They will explore concepts of social activism and entrepreneurship. They will examine the role of documentaries to communicate a message to an audience and will tackle the bias and political undercurrents that can come with that process. They will be asked to examine global challenges through the eyes of others and to think empathetically and with broader perspective. They will look at enterprises like Kiva and will read from Fast Company magazine. Ultimately they will be asked to deliver a message and to create a business plan to bring about change for their cause. Their message and their plan will be delivered to the school community and to an external panel that might be able to help them bring a well-crafted plan to fruition.
The science department with some help from the art department is offering a digital fabrication course for tenth through twelfth graders. The course will be modeled in part off of a course given by MIT professor, Neil Gershenfeld called How to Make Almost Anything. We’ll play with 3D printing and milling, laser engraving and arduino circuit boards. We’ll explore panako.com and look at global fab labs and their purpose. Students will be asked to work in teams to design something that is just plain cool and something that helps make the world a better place. The culminating projects are broad but the goal is to allow them to dream, design, and do. There are no tests and quizzes in this course.
Ninth graders will enter classrooms with exercise balls for chairs (our work on brain research taught us that using those stimulates many muscle groups and is good for learning) and will find that they are going to develop a Brain Owner’s Operating Manual as they progress through the year. They will take surveys on learning styles, mindset, and executive function and will look at their results as they begin a learning portfolio. The librarians will lead them through a research project on the anatomy and physiology of their brains and the art teachers will have them use Photoshop to craft a creative representation of their learning brain. English teachers have tied the work of Judy Willis to the summer reading book, Lord of the Flies. They have also connected the work of Carol Dweck and Things Fall Apart and The Odyssey and executive function skills.
There are also many institutional changes that will be exciting to watch. Faculty worked on Project Based Learning this summer and in a one day session upon their return to campus. We don’t give exams first and third trimester opting for projects, research and portfolio assessments instead and it will be fun to see if we can up the rigor and relevance in our projects given our learning. We just moved to a new LMS from Instructure, Canvas. We selected Canvas because of its ability to easily create electronic assignments with supporting documents and because of its rich assessment package that allows teachers to provide copious feedback, attach rubrics, assign peer editors, drop or curve grades, and collect, return, and grade submitted work. We are really trying to deemphasize grades and move the conversation to improvement and growth and Canvas has the potential to help with that. We are committed to learning more about differentiation and about what emerging brain research means for the classroom.
We have ten new teachers and a new student teacher from Canada who will be blogging about his experience. The new teachers enter a world with a rather large technology and pedagogical toolkit. I love adding new people because it adds an entirely new set of ideas. I’m looking forward to watching them help shape our learning community.
We recognize that learning for us must be intentional and ongoing and as such, we will offer several learning groups for faculty to join. The learning topics for now are Caring About Learning And the Brain (the CABAL), Project based learning, Portfolio Assessment, and Differentiated Instruction. We’ll read and share and learn together to better help our students learn.
I’m optimistic about continuing to do some parent education. You can’t be a community of learners and not involve parents. We will offer some sessions on social media. The current plan is to do a parent read, and maybe a school wide read of Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It:How the Brain Science of Attention will Change the Way We Live Work and Learn.
On the administrative front, I’ve suggested that we read and explore Lehmann and McLeod’s What School Leaders Need to Know about Digital Technologies and Social Media. Given the Missouri Senate Bill 54, I think it might be a good choice for us.
Some of the technology leaders and I are exploring and following Kim Cofino’s lead and creating a Connected Learning Community Handbook. Kim has done a terrific job and its definitely worth checking her handbook out.
Because I am the instructional technologist for an Upper School, I feel that I should throw in the obligatory technology excitement. We do have new tablets for all faculty and for 300 of the 900 tablet-toting students. It’s a new Lenovo with multitouch capabilities. We also have a shiny new wireless network. All that really means is we have the tools and the access. Fortunately for us, we have the human element and the learning community to leverage it as well — and for that I am most thankful.
In short, lots of new things are unfolding and there is still much work to be done. I find that energizing. I do know the “start of school” feel will dissipate somewhat. We will have out ups and downs, our successes and frustrations. But I’m committing to doing what I can to keep it around for as long as possible. So tomorrow as students return, and on whatever day you welcome your students back, take a minute to be thankful for the possibilities ahead– and take a minute to commit to making them happen.
Note: While I share some info about things are my institution, these views and thoughts are my own. I do not speak for my institution.