Monday, October 28, 2013

Balancing act

Here is a great article by Nicholas Carr in the Atlantic: All Can Be Lost: The Risk of Putting Our Knowledge in the Hands of Machines.  Carr talks about the tightrope we walk between letting technology do things for us and retaining the ability to become expert at doing things ourselves.

When you engage actively in a task, you set off intricate mental processes that allow you to retain more knowledge. You learn more and remember more. When you repeat the same task over a long period, your brain constructs specialized neural circuits dedicated to the activity. It assembles a rich store of information and organizes that knowledge in a way that allows you to tap into it instantaneously. Whether it’s Serena Williams on a tennis court or Magnus Carlsen at a chessboard, an expert can spot patterns, evaluate signals, and react to changing circumstances with speed and precision that can seem uncanny. What looks like instinct is hard-won skill, skill that requires exactly the kind of struggle that modern software seeks to alleviate.

As we struggle to find a balance for our kids and ourselves between the incredible positive effects of technology v.s. the myriad ways it isolates us from hands-on experience, this article provides an interesting viewpoint.  We can continue to explore together!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

They're back!

Last night our 2013 alums came to school to share their stories of transition - to help current 8th grade students decide where they would like to go next year.  This is a cherished annual tradition - the recent alumni sit in the window seat in the library as we all gather around.

The conversation is always enlightening and makes us proud.  Parker kids just seem to blossom with confidence as they find that their skills transfer so well to new settings.  This year we had representatives from Emma Willard, Doane Stuart, Albany High, Guilderland High and Darrow.  Here are a few of their comments.

What did you find most surprising about your new school?
  • All the stairs!
  • There's not as much homework as I expected.
  • There is so much homework!
  • There are 2 tests a day!
  • 2 hours of sports a day
What did you learn at Parker that has helped you?
  • The knowledge that you are someone - don't let anyone take that away.
  • The method of thinking - I know about how to apply and connect knowledge.  The kids in my classes were taught what to think, not how to think. 
  • I understand about good research and how to cite sources.
  • Making friends.  Parker was like a close family and it was the perfect balance of support and independence.
  • I learned how to ask teachers for help.
  • I am always raising my hand because James taught us literally everything!  I am interested in learning and the kids in my classes just sit there.
  • I am definitely not fazed by being assigned an 8 page paper!
What advice can you give to the 8th graders?
  • Smile every day at someone - it makes you feel better.
  • Enjoy this year - it's the best! 
  • Try hard in all your classes.
  • Kiss Shelli's feet!  You are going to be SO well prepared for math next year.
  • Never lose sight of yourself.
  • Learn to do something that quickly relaxes you so you can relieve stress.
  • When you get to 9th grade, show that you are willing to try hard and that you are interested - then teachers will respect you.
There were other gems about making friends like "Don't be Bob Smith from Normal High  - cultivate one identifying, unique characteristic"  and "Make friends with seniors - if they like you, everyone will like you"  and "Join a Club." 

The energy and openness of our recent grads was great to see!  In big schools and small schools, public and independent - they are all doing us proud.

Alumni Update!  From 1998 to 2010 - These people are amazing!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Learn to code, code to learn

Teresa Ferrer-Mico, our former science and math teacher is teaching Parker kids programming with Scratch in Computer Club on Fridays.  It's part of the research for her doctoral dissertation - and kids are loving it.  As MIT's Mitch Resnick says in his latest TED talk, "When you learn to code, it opens up for you to learn many other things."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Citizen science at work

This was our fifth year collecting data on the Hudson River for Snapshot Day.  All the information goes to Lamont Dougherty Earth Observatory at Columbia for analysis in this DEC project involving over 70 schools from the Troy Dam to Manhattan.  The 2-3's and 6-7's take their responsibilities seriously as they measure turbidity, pH, salinity, water and tide flow, and collect sediment samples, micro-invertebrates, and other measurements of river health. 

They get the thrill of being in the field and tracking this majestic river's health over time, monitoring the effects of human and weather activity.  Citizen scientist experiences like this lend purpose and passion to the learning for Parker kids - highly motivating!