Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Peace Assembly performance

As promised, the finished product - a lovely performance!

6-7's perform from Meg Taylor on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A little music brightens the day!

The 6-7's Practice for the Peace Assembly from Meg Taylor on Vimeo.

The music room is on the other side of my office wall.  The intriguing sounds often compel me to walk over to see what they are up to.  Here is a recent 6-7 class practice session for the Peace Assembly (believe it or not!)  Music teacher Sara says it's Riding on the Wind, Gamelan music from Southeast Asia.  I can't wait to hear the complete version at the performance on December 21.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The joy of play

As an administrator, my time with kids seems to be most concentrated during recess.  I do get out and about around the school and I read to the 2-3's during lunch on Thursdays.  But recess is where I really get to see the social dynamic.

I love it.  Watching what kids choose to do with their time and how they interact is fascinating.  For the K through 5th graders, we are now playing exclusively in the woods and on the soccer field because of the Discovery Center construction.  I take to the woods with them - my favorite place.

Some kids have become expert at finding salamanders - they turn over every rock and know just where to look.  Some have become expert shelter builders - and dam builders as the recent rain has filled the creek.  There are chase games, climbing games, and some children who wander  - sometimes speaking to themselves - quite engaged inside their own imaginations.  Five first grade girls practiced on Monday to put on a show - choreographed by the pavilion hill.  They ran down to stand on a picnic table bench and dance and sing Bad Blood.

The other day it snowed, and that brought a whole different way to play.  It mainly seemed to be all about eating the snow.

Children desperately need the time to create imaginative play scenarios, to run and to build things, and to negotiate conflict and rules - learning the fine points of the give and take of their social lives. Sometimes there are tears. Mostly it's pure joy!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Peaceful forts is the rule

We've had a beautiful fall.  The colors, the warm days, the light filtering through the red and orange leaves...

This morning I wished a sunny day to one of our parents and he said that since his job is in a basement, he can't see the sun.  I feel so sad for him!  It is so wonderful to work in a light-filled space with the sun streaming in my windows.

Being outside in the light is a freedom and privilege that we try to maximize at school - especially since we are the beneficiaries of a 77 acre outdoor classroom.  We recognize that kids' day is ruled by adults so much of the time, so committing to get them outdoors for an hour or two a day is a priority.

We are doing a construction project right now that has put the play structure for grades K - 8 off limits and we have moved recess to the field and woods.  It is definitely fun - but as in many ventures with children, needs regular adjustments.

Here is part of an email that one teacher sent around over the weekend asking others to join in a meeting with the K - 5 children. (When you read this, you will see why I truly love my job!)

With forts, there are lots of concerns about exclusion (kids telling others they aren't allowed in their fort, cloaked in "there's no room"), kids "stealing" things or "destroying" the forts of others when unoccupied, which has led to guards, and plots to attack. My guys also complained that there were secret passwords and security guards who kept people out. I wouldn't say my kids are up in arms, but there's a lot of uncertainty and hard feelings in the works. As for sticks, I heard they are still being used as weapons and a bunch of my kids said that sword fighting is happening when the adults aren't looking. I did feel the other day that the consent given to use sticks for digging has become a definite loop hole. 

So, there was a meeting this morning at 9:00 and the kids and teachers came up with some new guidelines:
Peaceful forts is the rule...sticks can only be used to build forts, not to dig or for weapons...forts can only be destroyed with the consent of all builders...

It was definitely more peaceful today.  At recess, I was reminded that kids' natural proclivity is to be very industrious.  They were working very hard on forts, a new bridge, a see-saw - and I heard a lot of negotiation and talk to remind each other and themselves about the rules.  Sitting down together this morning to work it all out was a crucial process for the peaceful day we had.

I am tempted to take this lesson and apply it to our country's political process, and my optimistic view is that elections, debating among ourselves and voting are the ways we set and reset our rules in pursuit of industriousness and fairness.  I think "peaceful forts" is a pretty good rule.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Where the outdoors is both classroom and teacher

Kids are wired from birth to be scientists - to explore and discover things and use their senses.

Fourth and fifth graders today were begging to stay in the woods to continue their New York forest study.  They have each adopted a tree for a year-long project.  Tasks include describing the tree, drawing the tree from different perspectives like lying down or from above, writing a poem about the tree, and scientific investigation.

K-1's are studying salamanders and 2-3's are starting the year with their annual water study and participation in the DEC's Day in the Life of the Hudson River.  Middle schoolers have started something new - The Nature Patchwork Project, observing an area of the school's property for a year, and creating detailed nature observation journals that they will publish to Pinterest as a way to share their findings publicly.

Thomas Friedman in a September Op-ed We Are All Noah Now urges our generation  - and our children's  - to be the "Noah generation" - charged with saving the earth and its species from extinction.  To care about nature, children need to be immersed in nature and be environmentally literate.  In today's tech-focused world, that's not so easy.

How lucky are we that Parker is at the cutting edge of pedagogy in a unique learning environment, where the outdoors is a classroom and a teacher both?!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Community, passion, involvement: Preparing kids for Yale

  • What is a community to which you belong? Reflect on the footprint that you have left.
  • Reflect on a time in the last few years when you felt genuine excitement learning about something.
  • Write about something that you love to do.

These are essay questions on Yale University's freshman admission application.  According to author Amy Wang in Quartz, more than anything else, colleges are looking for passion and civic engagement.  

When developing these traits, it pays to start early - and Pre K isn't too early!  The habits of engagement and community that lead to passion can't really be authentic if they don't start until a student's junior year in high school. 

Exploring the world in ways that lead to purposeful action is something that teachers intentionally build into the curriculum at Parker.  When our kids are filling out their Yale applications, they won't have to stretch to answer these questions or come up with a canned response.  They will have plenty of material to draw upon because they will have been living it and feeling it for years.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What a K - 8 school does for a sixth grader

Here is a terrific article from NPR Ed, Sixth Grade is Tough; It Helps to be Top Dog, about the unique benefits of K - 8 schools. The article tells of a study of 90,000 students over time.  It examined how sixth graders did in  Grade 6 - 8 schools, vs  6 - 12 or K - 8 schools.  It turns out K - 8 schools were the difference makers and here is why.

Sixth graders are particularly vulnerable as social beings and being at the "bottom" of the pack as a 6th grader is really tough for them.  Bullying, social media meanness, and lagging academic performance is the rule when they are the "bottom dog".  But in a K - 8 environment, even if they are new in sixth grade, these students are right in the middle.  They feel connected and safer.  They can be leaders and role models for younger children and will take on intellectual challenges.

Our middle school kids (and alumni) tell it best: "I can be myself."  "I have confidence."  "I have a lot of say about what happens."  These are such important factors in the lives of our 12, 13 and 14 year-olds.  Coming out of middle school as a confident, passionate learner and a nice person seems like an impossible goal to reach if you look at the way many schools are organized today.  In a Pre K - 8 like Parker, it is not only possible, it's the norm.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Learning is a risky business

We all have a particular level of willingness to be pushed beyond our comfort zone.  I know that for me, after a lifetime of being pushed by others, I have developed a tolerance  - even relish - for diving into (some) unfamiliar things, despite knowing that I will feel uncomfortable.  The job of Head of School encompasses many of those every day!

We have just concluded two days together as a faculty, hiking in the woods and talking about the curriculum for the coming year and all the connections we will be making.  It is clear that students will be challenged every day to think in new ways and take intellectual, social and physical risks.  The idea is that when students try something they are perhaps uncertain about, they find they can do it, and they build increased confidence to try the next new thing.

One of our faculty activities was to answer two questions and share answers with several partners in quick succession: Why do you care enough to work at Parker?  and What moves you about Parker and its work?  The answers touched on common themes and we all felt inspired.

  • We believe passionately in the school's mission.  
  • We love the commitment to a fun, meaningful education that creates empathy and a close community.  
  • The school values the child and the process of learning  - and that is marvelous and uncommon. 
  • We embrace the natural world every day.  
What moves us?
  • We have seen how the school changes kids' lives
  • The school builds students' confidence and inspires them.
  • Students like themselves and know that they are valued for who they are.
  • Students and adults together have autonomy and are happy.
  • By being intentional about it, the school builds children's belief and understanding that they can make a difference for others and the world.
Everyone at Parker tries the low ropes elements at some point.  This year, teachers tried negotiating the tires.  For me, it looked like fun, and I jumped right up.  For a few others, it looked scary, and they jumped in anyway.  A few decided to sit it out - maybe next time.  

I was reminded that each year, students have the same varied levels of tolerance that we did for trying out the tires.  The confidence that we witness as it develops in students, and that we see in every graduate, comes from the daily practice of trying new things in an atmosphere of support.  It is one of the ways that Parker moves all of us.

(I'm in the skirt...)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Asking the right questions

Three great dinner table questions for kids of any age come from writer Meg Conley in Huff Post -

How were you brave today?
How were you kind today?
How did you fail today?

The fall back parent question, "What did you do in school today?" often elicits the fallback kid response, "Nothing." or "Stuff."  I can only imagine what kind of discussions and conversation could come from these far more revealing questions, and also the opportunity to talk about failure as a positive consequence of trying something new or taking a risk.

I'm going to give it a try when school starts, and see what responses I get from Parker kids.  I think I'll also try answering these for myself!

Friday, August 26, 2016

The glow of learning

Have we forgotten how children learn?  Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post thinks so.  Her article, What the modern world has forgotten about children and learning  has much terrific food for thought and discussion.

She says, Watch your child's eyes, what makes them go dull and dead, what makes them brighten, quicken, glow with light.  That is where learning lies.  That can be our guide for every day at school - the glow in children's eyes tells us how we are doing as educators.  

Talk to gifted scientists, writers, artists, entrepreneurs. You will find they learned through keen observation, experimentation, immersion, freedom, participation, through real play and real work, through the kind of free activity where the distinction between work and play disappears.

When I watch children at Parker, I see the brightness of excitement and I hear and feel the energy and passion.  It is the secret of an effective school - one where people say "your graduates are the best, brightest and most interesting people!"


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Social pain/social gain

What's harder?  A math problem or a social problem?  This blog post in The Genius in Children answers that social learning is actually the reason for school.  Learning to solve social dilemmas is so important for kids, because in every child's life, friends can be enemies and enemies can be friends, right?

The social waters that children navigate are tricky and the modelling and practice that happen in the immersed social world of school (and camp!) is crucial.  Social pain makes us stronger and fuller people when social skills are part of the curriculum.

I love what author Rick Ackerly suggests: instead of parents asking "How was school today?" they can ask "Solve any social problems today?"  Try this with any age group and you are sure to get into some interesting discussions!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Finding voices of compassion

These fine young people graduated from Robert C. Parker School in June.  We sent them into the world beyond middle school carrying with them, among other wonderful traits, compassion, perspective, a quest for social justice, caring and respect for others and themselves.

As a school leader, I feel anguished by local and global acts of terror, violence and murder, and ugly public expressions characterizing "the other", in a way that goes beyond my personal outrage and sadness.  I wonder if the voices of sanity, of inclusion and compassion, of justice and understanding can become louder?  I wonder if what seems like an escalation of violence can fuel an equally strong rejection of violence?

Our school is a privileged place where every student is loved and has the opportunity to grow.  So many children do not have these advantages - and because the world is such a complex place, we feel helpless to make it different.  How can we help to create a world where there is kindness, justice and peace?  What else can we do but  give our best in our quiet corner?

As we engage in conversations around the dinner table, in the car, at our places of work, on social media, we can express the complexities of our emotions, our fears and our hopes.  We can together try to unravel the motives, the problems and the injustices and imagine solace and solutions.  We can help each other find a voice and help our children find theirs.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Building character starts with heart

In a recent NY Times Op-Ed, The Building Blocks of Learning, David Brooks says, "Education is one of those spheres where the heart is inseparable from the head."

Good educators know this and it is an unspoken rule in a successful classroom - the teacher pours time, love and attention into the child and the child deeply desires to be worthy of that caring and attention.  This bond is what develops character in a child.

As independent school educators, we secretly scoff at the public discussion about character in schools.  You've seen the programs - the "Character Trait of the Week".  Does that actually build character?

What does build character are qualities that are inherent in the culture of the school - the very essence of the daily experience.  It should be intentional - as much as we can make it so.  At our school it comes in the form of a commitment to intrinsic goals and to a balanced set of values.  It is stated in our motto, our mission, our values and our statement of diversity.  It is practiced through many interactions between teachers and students, discussions among faculty and administrators, and much self-evaluation.

One of our administrative goals this year is to examine our culture of compassion. What does it mean?  Are we modelling it?

Checking in with students is one way to assess whether they are absorbing the character traits we strive to build in them.  In a recent conversation about how kids prepare to succeed in high school, a seventh grader told me, "Here, learning is fun.  When we get to high school we don't have to learn how to be motivated and work hard, because we already know that.  We have some freedom here and so we know how to handle ourselves."

I think she nailed it pretty well.  Intrinsic motivation, taking responsibility, confidence, loving to learn - these are  many of the most important things we can teach.  They don't come from the character trait of the week - they are addressed through the heart, and are woven throughout the life of the school.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Promoting adventure

We have worked in the past with an amazing educator, Ron Berger, and his ideas permeate our school.  He was a teacher for many years in Massachusetts and is now chief education director at Expeditionary Learning (EL Education).  He taught us about the process of critique, of beautiful display of children's work, and of linking classroom learning to real problems and solutions outside of school - the purposeful action we talk about in our mission statement.

The roots of EL Education come from Outward Bound and one of the tenets is "Promoting Adventure" -  the kind that encompasses physical activities in the outdoors, and also the intellectual kind that can involve risk, challenge, and discovery.

EL promotes the kind of adventures that create opportunities for leadership and collaboration as groups of students and teachers face challenges together.  Together, students and adults discover they can do more that they thought was possible, and find aspects of themselves that they didn't know were there.       ~ EL Education Core Practice 30

I love the idea that Adventure is a school goal.  Here is a  Parker example: our STEM Week, where students must work as teams of engineers in a Space Tourism company, to research, design, and build rockets, while making promotional videos for their companies.  Students function like scientists and engineers do, and also entrepreneurs.  They have group goals and individual goals.  They tackle something that is relevant to their lives and is actually happening in the world outside of school.  They reflect on their work afterwards.

Their learning is an adventure.  It elicits students' enthusiasm, excitement, and motivation.  All the goals we have for learning: cooperation, research, critical thinking, creative thinking, and so many others are embodied in activities like this.

Adventure is what keeps kids craving more and is probably why Parker children love to come to school.  Here is a photo of some kind of summer adventure - a kind that can be categorized simply as "fun"!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Time to catch a frog

It's a whirlwind at the end of the school year.  Now as the perfect blue of the June sky beckons, it's time to go out and catch a frog.

There is something about the rhythm and pattern of our school lives that leads to a winding up at the end of the year - and then an inevitable winding down.  Could it be that Shows of Work, field trips, launching a student-made boat on the pond, graduation speeches, our 25th Anniversary Celebration, a ground-breaking ceremony, the Board of Trustees annual al...leave us craving the relative simplicity of summer?  Would we feel such a sense of accomplishment and the sweet pleasure of an iced tea on the patio if the ending of the year were not so frenetic?!

On the radio the other day, I heard a song I fondly remember from childhood and our family's seemingly endless seven-hour drive to the beach every summer.  Now I'm dating myself -  it was Nat King Cole's Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer.  That song just sounds like summer to me.

I think that "lazy" is the key word.  It is great to be lazy in the summer - and it can be the impetus for flights of crazy imagination.  Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Broadway's Hamilton expresses it beautifully in this interview in GQ about how the key to parenting might be less parenting.   He recalls a car ride as a kid where a friend entertained himself with a stick - just a stick - for three hours.

At Planet Parker camp, kids are often down at the pond catching frogs - and they develop a whole fantasy about even that.  "This frog can't afford us," I heard one girl say.  What funny story about frogs lead to that idea?!

So, it's officially summer - grab a soda, some pretzels and a beer - or a frog - and enjoy some lazy days.  You've earned it!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Our school property is full of wonder.  This spring, the K-1 class was studying birds and an alumni parent, Curt Morgan, took the children out birding.  Curt's son, also Curt, a Parker grad of the class of 1996, is an Emmy Award winning action nature and sports film-maker in Jackson, Wyoming.  I guess a love of nature runs in the family!

Here is what they saw on the bird walk and some of Curt's commentary.

There are more Starlings on your property than any other species mainly due to the presence of the adjoining farm house where they are feeding domestic chickens and geese. 

More of a proof shot, but this is a male Scarlet Tanager seen together with his mate this morning.

 These warblers sure do grace your property.

When I saw this American Kestrel yesterday on your property, the Blue Jays were not too happy.

Beside the possible Black-billed Cuckoo and Veery, this Chestnut-sided Warbler was the most unusual bird for us to see today.

Glad to see Mr. Mallard taking advantage of your beautiful pond.
This is the Parker School Red-tailed Hawk (RTH).  I think that this one and its mate are nesting along the power lines.  If you see an RTH on or near your property then it is this pair, who own the air space for one square mile around your property.

 The two pairs of Canada Geese enjoy the wet area on the southeast corner of your property; the domestic geese (I think that the neighbors have Chinese Geese) make them feel more comfortable in being there.

Thank you, Curt!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Head for the Day!

My name is Christopher and I was Head for the Day, today!  I got to pull the fire alarm!  I was surprised that I had to go make sure that no one was in the bathrooms during the fire drill.  I got to go out for lunch with my friend Max and we got milkshakes and ice cream sundaes!  Because I called an extra recess for the whole school, we went to get popscicles and I gave them out to every body.  I hope I get to do this again!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Teaching for Character

How do we teach character traits?  This is an interesting question. I see it play out so well in our independent schools and not necessarily so well in public schools - and why is that?

This article in Atlantic, How Kids Learn Resilience,  really tries to get at why it's so hard to teach character in public schools.  Part of the problem, the author says, lies in the things that children have learned from a young age at home - that set them up for success or failure early on, and part lies in the way our public schools typically reward and punish children and how ineffective that method is.

It is true that we are a self-selecting group in many ways in independent schools, with children who are already skewed to success - with the right kind of support at home to give them the tools for their future success.  But I believe that at Parker, it is how we teach - and how we create a school culture - that is the difference maker when our results are compared with public schools - and even with other, less effective independent schools.

Last night was Project Night at Parker.  In Pre K, children's sculpture, painting, narrated books and treasured art, were on display along with a slide show of their year of exploration and discovery.  Jump down the hall to the gym, where our 8th grade students were giving their thesis presentations.  This is a clear illustration of the "bookends" of a Parker education.

The autonomy, the fun and the exploratory nature of the Pre K leads directly to the ability of 13-year-olds to stand in front of an audience and succinctly and with passion, defend their reasoning about complex social justice issues that they chose to delve into - Gun Control, Racial Profiling, the Death Penalty, to name a few.  The poise and confidence, the underlying resilience and perseverance to research and write a 15 - 20 page paper, and the intellectual and public-speaking chops that it took to accomplish the presentations is a testament to effective school culture.  It is not an accident that Parker students can do this.

It is the result of giving students autonomy, support, and space to explore (and "fail").  It is the product of critique, self-evaluation and real responsibility.  Students will be more likely to display positive academic habits when they are in an environment where they feel a sense of belonging, independence and growth is how Paul Tough puts it in the Atlantic article.  It is the antithesis of traditional reward and punishment systems.  It is beautiful to see.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What are kids learning?

What are kids learning in school?  Do we really know?  In his recent article, Most Parents Have No Idea What Their Kids Are Learning In School, Will Richardson, technology and education writer and thinker contemplates what a grade tells him (or not) about what his own children are learning in high school.  He wonders what is sticking with them from their school day that they will use in their lives to become more successful or fulfilled?

I asked this question today in our faculty meeting: How is the culture of the middle school right now? The math teacher piped up immediately, "We had a middle school meeting yesterday - and they are all good!  There are no social issues!"  We all laughed (because middle school life centers around social issues.)  The Health teacher chimed in, "I am talking with the kids about stress in their lives and they said the same thing.  Their friends are not stressors - their parents are! You know - bugging them to see their phones and getting too involved in their lives." Another chuckle from the faculty.

We tend to measure the subject-content of kids' learning - can they add detail to an essay or can they describe the water cycle?  At Parker, we actually do try to measure some of the traits of a successful learner - like the ability to take intellectual risks or work independently, or cooperatively.

But I'm not sure we let parents know the most crucial things, like does their child have a passion to achieve or are they purposeful?  Are they becoming better at negotiating social conflict?  Do they stand up for their beliefs?  Do we let parents know if their kids are measuring up to the school's motto?

Or  - are all of these the wrong things to report to parents because, really, as the kids say, parents are getting just too involved in their lives anyway!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Playing in preschool

Here is a great article about why "playing" is so important in preschool  - and really all through the elementary years: The Cruel and Pointless Push to Get Preschoolers "College and Career Ready".   As the author says,

It may look like they are "just playing," but it is the critical work of childhood. Numbers, letters, and seat-work come later, but without these foundations for how to ask questions, how to integrate ideas, how to be part of a community, and how to regulate emotions in a social context, learning will only be superficial.”

Play consolidates growth in social, cognitive and emotional realms and develops language, wonder and understanding of the world. It is an essential ingredient for future success and happiness.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

I went to school today

Here are some photos and a video of some of the great experiences Parker kids have had in the past two weeks.  STEM week for 6-7's; Philadelphia for 8's; a cooperative STEM activity for mixed age teams; and an exchange home-stay trip to our sister school, St. Peter's in Barcelona.  

Kids faced many challenges: getting along with others far from home; speaking Spanish with families in Spain; researching space travel and launching rockets; creating videos to promote space name just a few.

This is what "school" is like for Parker kids.  It's not what most would envision when a child says "I went to school today."  The learning is multi-dimensional, enlivening, challenging, and most of all engaging and fun.  Self-sufficiency is required (and nurtured).  Confidence in one's own ability to solve problems is the ultimate result.  Is there a better preparation for whatever comes next in life?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The gift of learning in nature

Boy, are we fortunate!  I just read an article from the US Department of Education talking about the benefits of a nature-based curriculum.  Here is the photo with their article:
At least these kids are outside and have a tree to study.  I recently visited a very fine school in Rye, NY. Their facilities were impressive.  But I felt so confined in large buildings without the sun streaming into the windows and a view of the woods from every perspective.

How amazing for our kids at Parker to be able to head into the woods and meadows, the streams and pond in a moment.  The living world around us amazes every day.  The wonder and solitude and the possibilities for learning that come from time with nature are part of our everyday school lives.

We have all the benefits of a rich curriculum, smart and caring teachers, and a culture of caring.  And on top of that we have the gift of the best facility of all:  a 77 acre outdoor classroom.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Forming a deep connection with teachers and the school is crucial for students' success.

On Saturday, I drove with 4 of our teachers to a workshop by Ned Hallowell.  Dr. Hallowell is a psychiatrist, author and expert on ADHD.  He is a wonderful speaker, and with great compassion, talks about how to best help kids who have, as he says, "a Ferrari brain and bicycle breaks".  

Dr. Hallowell believes that every child should feel a deep connection with school and says that that factor alone is the best predictor of future success.  We all felt affirmed in our beliefs as educators, that it is the connection between child and teacher, and child and school that are keys for good learning to take place.  In fact, it is very hard for kids to learn if they don't feel a personal connection.  At Parker, people say that they can feel it when they walk in the front door - that happy, welcoming, and excited feeling!

It was a great day - a beautiful drive together to Rye, NY.  It's nice to learn new things and to spend time connecting with colleagues.

Check out Ned Hallowell's book, The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness

Monday, April 18, 2016

This is a test

How do we know our water wheel works?  Test it.
I've been thinking a lot about testing.  The standardized test controversy is a big thing in the news so I have been thinking about the tests that come in life and what form they take.

For standard-type tests, there are the drivers license test and the SAT's when we are in high school, and depending on the profession people go into, there could be licensing tests, like medical or architects' boards.  Most of life's tests are not the fill-in-the-bubble kind though.  As an adult, the tests most of us encounter are way different.

There is the test when your 2-year-old is melting down in the supermarket, or your 15-year-old is sneaking beers in the basement with friends. There is the one when you are giving a party and you need to figure out how to feed 20 people and make sure they have fun, and it's raining and the grill just ran out of gas.  There is the test at work, when your team needs to give a presentation to persuade the client that your company will do the best job.  Or your company isn't doing as well as the competition, and you need to analyze why...that's a pretty big test.  Your lab is trying to figure out a cure for Parkinson's...Or it's April 12 and your taxes are due...or you want to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about the presidential race.

Educators (and regular people) can pretty much agree that there are certain things we want our kids to know cold: multiplication facts, when to use apostrophes, when to say "him and me" or "he and I" (tricky, right?) (and I'm kidding, because there is actually no consensus about these things).  But, it is probably good to test some things in some way, because sometimes studying for a test can actually be helpful in learning.

For the cooperative, judgement-based, creative-solution kind of problems, are standard-type tests the best way to measure achievement?  Is the time taken for standard-type tests worth it?  What are the learners (the kids) getting out of it?

So, these are the things I've been thinking about.  Here are some of the type of "tests" that seem useful to me and once kids take them, they actually have learned from them - they have learned some of the things that will help them when they encounter those other type of tests that I wrote about in the third paragraph.  Remember those?  I hope so, because there will be a test!
This team of 4-5's used the size of blades for the variable in their wind turbine tests, and analyzed the results.  They needed to understand good testing procedure, cooperate on every aspect, analyze results, and demonstrate their findings through a clear poster and an oral presentation.
Middle school kids are building a prototype boat and need to see if it will float with a bunch of pennies in it.  When they get a design that works, they will scale it and try it on the pond.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Math is a creative endeavor

Fifth graders design and sew quilt squares to demonstrate tessellation.

Can all kids love math?  I think so.

For students in the past, math was considered something you were naturally good or bad at. But, thank goodness, it's different now.  Along with a base of mathematical concepts and facts built through games, objects, and some good old memorization, math learning  can move into a realm that is highly interesting to children.  Kids can "make math"  - and they love it.

In Teaching Math to People Who Think They Hate It the author talks about a Cornell professor who wants to teach math so that students "get the pleasure of thinking, the pleasure of wrestling with a problem that fascinates."

That's what I see on students' faces when I walk into math classes at Parker - math that is both an intellectual discipline and a creative endeavor.

Building  and programming a robotic trebuchet or catapult to throw a ball the farthest builds skills in measurement, geometry, calculating distance, speed and acceleration, predicting proportional relationships and measuring angles,  Boolean logic...need I go on?!
Calculating proportional relationships and ratios with liquids: "Which juice is the juiciest?"