So many great stories from the end of school year. Here is just one of them: The commencement address of Dr. John T. Whelan - member of the PDS graduating class of 1987. Good thoughts and advice from an astrophysicist for the class of 2013:
The middle school students leading and teaching from their interests and expertise in the third annual "Imagination Day". Photo album here.
The high school 9th and 10th graders taking on an Apollo 13 meets The Hunger Games challenge. (The 11th grade were immersed in their college readiness and prep program and the seniors are out in the world on their interships.)
Not to mention Harry's parents were visiting from China, the bulldozers were making real progress out on the new athletics fields, the baked potato at lunch was delicious and the faculty strategic planning group were deep in a most exciting after school discussion about the future.
So I was thinking about engineering and imagination - the way one does on a damp afternoon in May.
Specifically I was thinking about the great need we earthlings have for problem finders and solution seekers for the ills that beset us.
And so I was reminded of the Robots of the Future feature at our recent middle school Science Symposium.
Imagining future machines to solve current problems engages children - in this case PDS sixth graders. And the result was some wild (but reality-based) future thinking.
Good engineering begins with empathy - with identifying a need to be met and so good engineers are problem seekers first whether it's for pumping water in a village with no electricity or nuisance reduction.
The Hudson Valley is a beautiful place to live but it does mean dealing with ticks.
Here's an idea:
The Tick Bot
It's "main purpose is to destroy ticks, though it occasionally picks up a mosquitio sometimes".
Does it work?
Mouth, pincers, movement sensor, touch sensor, camo dome, wings, feet, dead tick carrier.
The Filter Bot
This invention is for an airborne pollution filter that runs on solar power.
This is T.E.D The Enormous Drill
"We earthlings use many materials, some are scarce.... My robot will be going to other planets to collect materials."
And it is enormous!... "maybe even half the size of the school."
Here is a Search Robot.
It's called N.E.D. for Natural Emergency Disaster.
It is programmed to search for and rescue those buried in rubble.
It would have been useful in the London Blitz and for searching for survivors of the factory collapse in Bangladesh.
And thinking of the Blitz - as one also does on a Sunday in May - below is the quite wonderful set for the high school production of "Front" designed and created by the stage crew led by high school teacher Li Pipman-Denaut.
It conflates two iconic photos of the Blitz - the survival of St. Paul's Cathedral and the bus that drove into the high street crater made by the bomb that dropped on the Balham Underground station (and shelter) - to evoke a London of 1940-1941. Remarkable.
Of course developing these machines would take a whole truck-load of skills and technical expertise curremty beyond the reach of sixth graders.
But this project involved develping those skills.
Creative work involves a growing mastery of skills and concepts. But it is not true that they must all be mastered before the creative work begins
And with the imagination let lose and the creativity flowing these children are further along the route to establishing the very technical and conceptual basics that might enable them to invent such robots for real.
And - of course - they also built Lego robots to do their programmed bidding.
And it all starts with empathy.
Thank you middle school science teachers Laura Graceffa and especially 6th grade teacher Emma Sears for supporting these creative 6th grade problem seeking/ solution finding scientists and engineers.
This is great news for all of us who love libraries and value their key place in our communites. It's also great news for us as a school to have this cultural and intellectual community resource as a neighbor on Boardman Road.
Here's an architectural rendering via the Poughkeepsie Journal:
The Library FAQ answers many basic questions about what, where, and why citing as one of the advantages of this location:
The site is part of an “educational corridor” that includes other educational and cultural institutions.
And this Q and A sounds promising:
Q: What about the people who can currently walk to the Arlington Branch Library? A: The Library District recognizes the need for public transportation to Boardman Road and will continue to work with both the City of Poughkeepsie and Dutchess County to ensure such transportation is provided.
And for those who wonder whether people still use libraries it turns out that library services are more popular than ever. Check the link for some fascinating stats on local library use.
So - while the Town of Poughkeepsie is making its grand plans for library extension and expansion, we at Poughkeepsie Day School have our own ideas for library advancement with the creation of a Library Commons right in the heart of Gilkeson in the Chapman Room.
Libraries are more than repositories for books. In addition to being a collections of print and multi media materials they are places where students and teachers:
find answers to their questions,
explore new territory
seek information on things that matter to them
find the resources they need to do the things they want to do and
find information, seek connections and exercise the imagination.
There's also something serendipitous about libraries - the accidental discovery, the odd connection, the curiosity that leads a learner into byways, country lanes and mountain tracks. A library is the spiritual and practical home for those who seek the company of ideas and books (digital and print) and the people who love to read, love to learn and who travel "in the realms of gold." (Keats).
"There is no frigate like a book..." (Dickinson)
Libraries are community centers for the curious.
Books and print materials need to be side-by-side with digital materials and databases of sophisticated resources and the capacity to connect with resources worldwide (including the Poughkeepsie and New York State library system, and local college collections.)
The librarian is the skilled guide - able to help students and teachers find the resources they need and know what is available, then how to access it, evaluate and use it appropriately.
A library is the intellectual hub of the school and the librarian is the resource navigator-in-chief. The librarian manages the collection, supports teachers as they develop curriculum and assists and guides student and teacher learning.
Rather than a set of monastic cells, the library commons is a place where learners come to work together and access and use the information and the help they need.
The modern school library is an evolving place that welcomes people on their learning journeys and where multi media resources - including books - are the tools for learning, engagement and exploration.
Our plan for the library commons at PDS is that it should be a place where everyone visits every day - a welcoming place to read, research and learn. It is a place for study, to work alone or in small groups, to seek research guidance and a place to read the newspaper or relax with a good book.
It took a while to get here but spring has finally arrived on campus and it has been spranging all week.
We may still be getting overnight frosts but during the day everyone is taking advantage of the season to get outside and enjoy the warmer air. This means lunch on the porch, handsprings on the grass, gardening in the courtyard and watch out for those flying frisbees.
Here are a few scenes from this week:
Lynn's class of second and third graders collected these seeds from last year's morning glories in the courtyard.
And then they created wonderful seed packets as family gifts. And - as a great surprise they sent me a personal packet in the inter-office mail!
I love the packet design. And on the back there are helpful growing tips: Soak overnight. Full sun.
I will be planting them as soon as my garden soil warms up a bit.
Meanwhile Judy brought the pre-k over to see the magnolias in bloom.
They took great delight in examining what was inside some of the fallen buds.
High school head Liz Vinogradov was there to help
The old raised beds in the courtyard needed to be torn out and replaced.
The new raised beds needed filling with topsoil and prepared for planting.
Gardening is a middle school D-Day elective.
Spring sports are in full swing: Baseball, Softball and Ultimate Frisbee
And just look at the magnificent magnolias in front of Kenyon
on Thursday April 25 at 01:27PM
First we asked people to sort the values from a personal perspective. We then asked them to do the same thing only responding ffrom an organizational point of view: What should Poughkeepsie Day School value most and least from this great list of competing goods?
Try it yourself. Is there a difference? Does that suggest a conflict of values? Does the difference matter? Or not?
They then entered the four most important and the four least important on a google form.
Take a look at the choice list. How on earth do you pick?
We know that empathy - that ability to walk around in another's shoes - matters. We know that developing empathy is important.
But how do you do that?
The 4th and 5th grade put on a show last week. Not just any show for this was a play they had written themselves based on their Global Read-Aloud text The One and Only Ivan.
Ivan is an easygoing, mighty, silverback gorilla. He lives at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade and his role in life is to be stared at and amuse the humans who pay to see him. He thinks about TV shows and he spends time with his friends Stella the elderly elephant and Bob the stray dog. And he thinks about art.
Then Ruby the baby elephant arrives and because of her Ivan begins to recall his life in the wild, the circumstances of his capture and his early years. .
“I was born in a place humans call central Africa, in a dense rain forest so beautiful, no crayons could ever do it justice.”
Ivan befriends the mistreated Ruby. And through that friendship, and his empathy for her plight, everything begins to change for Ivan. And so begins their journey from the mall to another and better life
Katherine Applegate, who won the Newbery Medal for Ivan, says she was inspired by a newspaper article about a real-life gorilla who had been cruelly exhibited in a shopping mall until a public outcry led to his removal to better quarters in a zoo.
Last week's play provided a glimpse into the work of the classroom. The players and writers on stage were deeply connected to the text.
It was clearly personal to them and their engagement on stage was complete (and extended to the down time before and after the show.)
Their seriousness of purpose was palpable, as was the empathy with which they treated the giant animal puppets they had made. That ownership - and their process and product - are a testament to the work of the class.
At the end of Friday's performance, the director of the play - and one of the class teachers, Dorothy Luongo - was handed a bouquet and a note. It was from Katherine Applegate who had watched this world premier via live streaming from the James Earl Jones Theater.
The card read:
"And the Oscar goes to you!
xo Katherine Applegate"
She followed this up with message of congratulation to the class and the teachers.
This recreation of the story of Ivan and Ruby, of human indifference, cruelty and hope was effective because of deep empathetic engagement of the students. Because of their work, their world has enlarged, their knowledge widened, their creative capacity expanded and their humanity deepened.
They will never be quite the same again. That's what education does to people. It changes them. And children are people too.
And, in memory of the baby elephant in the theater last week, a poem of deep empathy by D.H.Lawrence:
Elephants in the Circus
Elephants in the circus Have aeons of weariness around their eyes. Yet they sit up and show vast bellies to the children.
The strategic planning process to date has primarily been one of listening and paying attention. When we look at the comments from the parent and faculty surveys and the listening sessions we are struck by the thematic congruity.
One thread - woven throughout - can best be summed up as Learning by Doing - a desire for school to be about designing, making, building and creating.
It connects directly with the leagcy of PDS as a place where learning has always been active. It connects also with the growing idea that learning must be active: Hence all the current fervor for project-based learning, STEM to STEAM, makerspaces and design thinking. We seem to be entering a shiny new edworld of making to learn and learning to make.
A second one that emerges loud and clear is a renewed commitment to the arts, creative expression and creative contribution.
In a digital driven era this may be a natural hunger for the practical, hands-on, 3-D world and the joy that comes from creating something new, pleasing and useful.
But it may also arise from the growing realization that creativity is at the heart of education; and making things and new and anew is central to intellectual growth and the capacity to manage and shape the future.
It’s also increasingly central to the world of work in an entrepreneurial era where the brand-of-one and free-lancing appears to be the fast-growing and predicted trend.
Predicting the future is a perilous business. And we’ve all taken on the habit of saying we can’t do it with any accuracy. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Educators are in the future business whether we like it or not because it is where our children will live And one way to predict and shape the future is to start building it now.
And I think we can say some things for sure. Technology will continue to march forward and the pace of change will continue to pick-up. We will confront continued social and political upheaval, environmental change and competition for key resources.
The Tofflers have some credibility in future thinking. 40 for the next 40– 40 ideas for the next 40 years - gives us their take and it makes an interesting read. It's a sampling of the drivers of change that, in their view, will shape our world between now and 2050.
I don’t think it’s going out on any limb to say that the future will benefit from, and likely reward, those capable of being self-sustaining learners and flexible thinkers, problem solvers who can work across boundaries to connect, create and communicate.
It suggests that these are attitudes, aptitudes, habits and modes of thinking we should focus on in school. After all – the change is not just in the future, it’s here and now already. We have access to ubiquitous knowledge, speed of communication, global collaboration and we have a growing need for creative and compassionate contributions to pressing problems.
As Dewey told us back in 1897– school is a process for living, not a preparation for future living. Furthermore, education is a process of becoming, not a training ground for the workforce.
That said, look at what futurists are now saying about that new world of work and what it will take to thrive in it. Not so much particular skill sets but ways of thinking, creativity and a boundless spirit of, and capacity for, connection and collaboration. This is a far cry the factory era and we are not contemplating a narrow set of skills for an assembly-line set of work experiences.
There are aspects in this emerging new world of work that sound like elements of the best classrooms environments for learning.
What do you make of this for example?:
PSFK Future of Work Report 2013
This report uncovers major themes, key trends and opportunities to help you grow your business and progress your career into the future.
You can see the whole slide show at the end of the post but i was very struck by these.
"Learning by Doing" has been a school slogan for so long and especially at a school like ours. It's fun to see it now touted as the way of the work world of the future.
It suggests to me that we are onto something with our emphasis on activity, engagement and the creative arts.
A collaborative start-up mentality plus multidisciplinary teams of people with diverse experiences and talents with a cross-over between teaching and learning.
Sounds promising to me.
Here's a slide with the key takeaways from the report:
Those takeaways have to do with workplace and corporate organizational structure and culture but some have direct bearing on what can, and should, be created and valued in schools as students and teachers go about their learning lives.
Constant learning and empowered education as one example. Structures that bring people together - collision collusion - is another. At PDS we have always valued the interage connections and transdisciplinary approaches. Something else to build on going forward.
Here's another slide that caught my eye and connects with our thinking at PDS that all future furniture and design should be as flexible as possible to meet the changing needs of children and learners.
Here, it's called the pop-up workplace. There are some interesting examples on other slides.
I love the idea of being able to "pop-up" what works best for now.
So here is the full slide deck. Have they got some things right?
At my invitation, he graciously included Poughkeepsie Day School on his tour and spent an afternoon with us.
One of the questions he asked was whether there was anything we and other forward-looking schools were doing that was not presaged by John Dewey. And of course the answer to that had to be: "No".
I was delighted to hear him say in his presentation at the NAIS Annual Conference in Philadelphia (Twitter hashtag #naisac13 ) that he could distil the key findings of his school visits to one word: Dewey.
That very short clip above is from a video that provides a glimpse of America's twentieth century education journey from the perspective of the 1940's. See the whole video at the end of the post.
Seems to me that we - or some of us at least - are now entering a new progressive era of Tinker, Tailor, Solder, Sew and LBD (Learning by Doing).
In some respects, and for some children, we are now in another golden age for learning with a growing movement toward tinkering, maker-spaces, fab labs, problem/ project-based learning, STEM to STEAM and design thinking.
There's a renewed recognition of the importance of student engagement, creative contribution, authenticity, relevance and diverse intellectual activity. Maybe there will even be a new Eight Year Study to provide the evidence of efficacy. (One can dream!)
These practices allow learners to construct and build their knowledge and their future by honoring their creativity, curiosity, capacity, intentions and dreams. Dewey would be very happy at this counter to the current deadening but all too prevalent pre-progressive era practices of NCLB-driven standards, testing and competitive races to nowhere.
In Philadelphia, Grant presented a summary of his key findings from his EdJourney and his conclusions about what holds us back from the courage to follow ideas and dreams and to do what is right for students and our schools. We've constructed, he says, anchors, dams and silos that have allowed us to forget what Dewey taught us about children, education, school communities and democracy.
We have tied ourselves to the sea bed with subjects, schedule and space; we have blocked the avenues to change and flat-lined progress especially with, for example, high school testing and AP's; and walled ourselves off into isolated departments and divisions. And I would add, schools.
Among the key findings that I heard: Innovative schools do the following:
Reward courage. They do what is right and not what is easy.
Align resources with vision
Align time with learning outcomes
Hire people with a growth mind-set (Dweck)
Give people the tools/ skills to do the job
Build systems and structures that fan change and incubate innovation
Focus on value
Find and build bridges of common interest among all constituents
Are organizationally comfortable with constant change and self evolution
And my favorite line: "Innovation means doing what John Dewey told us to do."
Back in Poughkeepsie I dug up my dog-eared Deweys and started to re-read. In the end I found a free Kindle version and used the highlight feature to make notes. From an earlier reading I had made the following summary:
Key ideas: from Democracy and Education - John Dewey 1916
Need to be be problem finders and solvers
Learn by being active and actively engaged in their education as agents and participants not spectators
Need to be engaged and interested in order to learn
The mission and purpose of schools is to enrich, enlarge and enhance students’ lives
School is the real world and should be like the real world and not merely a preparation for the real world
The curriculum should be relevant and have meaning in students lives not just as a preparation for vocation, work and career but also leisure and a full life
Subjects should be connected and seamless (interdisciplinary) as they are in life not taught in isolation
Need to acknowledge individual differences and that children are individual learners on a unique learning journey
Need to pay attention to the individual differences in prior knowledge that each child brings to the task
Need to respect and go with students natural energy and curiosity and not try to fight or control it
Occurs best through doing, not by drills but through activity - active participation and engagement
Passive learning is not authentic learning until the learner has made the inert knowledge personal through activity and doing/ making/ creating
Knowledge is obtained by reflecting on the consequences of activity
Should build upon prior knowledge and connect with it via active thinking and doing
New material should relate to - and build upon - prior knowledge
It all sounds very foundational and basic to me. Any objections to any of that? Perhaps my re-reading will lead to an update.
Grant had some rather amusing and acerbic remarks about the excuses we make for not doing the work. We claim that it's hard when it is actually just uncomfortable. Removing the Nazis from Europe was hard, crossing the Delaware in winter was hard. Doing what is right for our students is not so much!
There was more to his presentation but I'll save that for another time. This presentation was a preview of the book Grant is writing about his journey and his findings. I can't wait! Here is a short section from the introduction to his earlier book, The Falconer:
We are not teaching our children, our students, and our co-workers what they really need to know. The lessons aren’t out there on some shelf or Web site. They won’t be found with more money and more programs to push more stuff in more different ways at our kids and our employees. It’s not about computer-to-student ratios, distance learning, high-speed links to the Library of Congress, or lecture podcasts. It’s not a pricey selfhelp guru claiming that his “new thing” is new, seven cookbook steps to success, or ten simple mileposts to make a million for your company.
Those tools help, but they are the dressing, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. We need to pay attention to the tree itself. Look at the people who invented computers, who designed the Internet, who overcame the Depression, who envisioned the best sellers, who challenged racism, who explored the ocean depths, who built the Panama Canal, who created the management-consulting firms that you hire to tell you how to run your business more efficiently. I want my children and my employees and my co-workers and my friends to exhibit qualities like invention, courage, creativity, insight, design, and vision a lot more than I want them to know the capitals of South America or the sequence of presidents and kings, fractions, computer science, art history, running a cash register, or throwing a football.
In short, I want us to spend more time teaching how to generate and recognize elegant solutions to the many problems facing our world.Why in our great system of child rearing and primary, secondary, college, graduate, and postgraduate education is there no course of study titled something like Strategies for Becoming Who I Want to Be?