April 7th, 2012


Middle School Learning Community

As most people around PDS now know we are about to take a strip of rather gloomy but good-sized classrooms, capture  a sun-filled corridor and extend the space into the outdoors as part of a redesigned learning community for grades 6 through 8.

Prakash Nair is a founder of Fielding Nair International, an award winning school design company.  Last year FNI consultants worked with trustees„ faculty and administration to help design this new space. You can see some of the preliminary drawings and ideas here.

Whenever I begin describing this people usually get both excited and concerned. Excited because the project sounds wonderfully freeing, shiny and new. Worried because invariably someone has a personal memory of a failed open classroom experiment from an earlier decade.

While this project is about breaking down walls it is primarily about  creating spaces that enable and enhance rather than control and inhibit options for learning.

I’ve started a collection of photographs on Pinterest about how and where and with whom and what children at PDS learn. Yes they learn sitting at a desk in a classroom listening to a teacher but that “information delivery system” is just a small part of the picture.

This design expands the amount of available learning space by incorporating the “dead” space of the sunny corridor through creating rooms that can be opened up and from where children can spill as the learning needs dictate. (Rather in the way the Chapman Room is often used now by classes and groups.)

Our design for learning has always been a constructivist. Children start from what they know and through action, interaction and engagement  with ideas and objects they build new understandings and skills.

We need  space that allows for the kinds of work our teachers and learners already do. In the middle school children learn in large groups,

Algebra Study Group

small groups and by themselves. They learn in places that are full of buzz and humming with activity and they learn where quiet allows for contemplation and reflection. They learn at desks, on the floor, curled up, stretched out, on the move and sitting down. They learn from books, at screens,  from teachers and with each other. They use text books, modelling clay, laptops, pencils, interactive white boards, paper, paint and potting soil. They learn by listening, talking, trying, playing, moving,  tinkering, debating, struggling, performing, failing, memorizing, watching, writing, creating, rehearsing and becoming themselves

They learn science, history, language, poetry, geography, art, music, robotics, design, self expression, appreciation, ethics, empathy and all the infinite variety that goes into what it means to be human and to learn, to laugh, to live and to care. They learn to belong and to be part of a community at school and the world.

If that is what middle schoolers do, then we need the best possible spaces where it can happen. We need form to follow function and to do so in ways that stimulate the imagination, stir curiosity and allow for children to do the work they need to do.

Prakash Nair thinks effective learning environments should support an education that is:

(1) personalized;

(2) safe and secure;

(3) inquiry-based;

(4) student-directed;

(5) collaborative;

(6) interdisciplinary;

(7) rigorous and hands-on;

(8) embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations;

(9) environmentally conscious;

(10) offering strong connections to the local community and business;

(11) globally networked;

and (12) setting the stage for lifelong learning.

What do you think?

From the very start back in 1934 PDS has defined the purpose of education as more than standardized test scores. It saw then, and we see now, the need to provide a quality of learning life that will enable children to grow as educated citizens with the aptitudes, attitudes and skills to navigate a fast-changing world. Such an education is possible inside traditional classrooms. But how wonderful to imagine spaces where what we do and want to accomplish are supported rather than confined by design.

(via Blog | The Compass Point)

Reblogged from The Learning Life
February 19th, 2012

What if…? (Part Two)

This is second half of the #Educon inspired What if? conversations recording the jotted notes of faculty and staff sharing and learning from last Friday. The first question and our responses are here. The second question was:

2). What if students were able to choose what demonstrations of learning they shared with the public and/or their parents? And the responses:

  • Own choice leads to confidence
  • Greater ownership
  • Different perspectives
  • Better ability to reflect on their own work and what they value
  • Ability to articulate about themselves as learners
  • Teaching design, digital creativity
  • Building an understanding of balance
  • Building a skill for giving feedback —>need feedback from teachers, parents, peers…
  • Inspiration to create/share based on peers’ sharing
  • Parents would understand our program in more detail
  • They would be practicing metacognitive discernment
  • Create more reflective students
  • Become famous as a school
  • Students would be able to revisit & continue to work from from year to year
  • Teachers would be familiar with their students before meeting them
  • Students would make evolving cognitive connections
  • “Whole-child”
  • Teachers can see student progress throughout the year
  • Video/Talk/CD
  • Show progress
    • Visual
    • Monitoring
    • Reporting
  • Own their own learning
  • Might be more self-reflective
  • Might be more “accountable” to others - (is this a good thing?)
  • Not all learning can be captured as a tangible thing and “demonstrated as a product
  • Might help to show a process/progress

That’s a pretty exciting, extensive and very thought-provoking list. It’s thrilling to be in the company of educators so willing and able to take on the task of speculation and forward imagining.

Amazing how even such a short exercise can provoke such sharing and depth. Great stuff and an exercise that - speaking for myself - I would have been happy to continue for the rest of the day and beyond.

I’m intrigued by the comment “Become famous as a school”. Fact is that while all this sounds easy to do and very much the right thing it is not so easy in practice. Being famous is not much of an end in itself but schools that hew to a mission grounded in doing the now and next right things deserve to be known and celebrated.

It would mean some radical changes in how we collectively think about assessment and what matters. It would mean trusting the learner in a time of heightened anxiety about accountability, core curriculum, testing and standards.

It would mean embarking on a deliberate pathway and process to arrive at that destination involving not just faculty and parents but colleges and colleagues. It would mean staring down a pride of naysayers.

And most of all it would take conversation and effort and research and experimentation and exploration.

It would, in fact, mean being bold.

Will Richardson has been on a search for “bold schools” and exploring the idea of what bold schools should be and could be.

But that is fodder for another post. Anon.    

February 19th, 2012

What if…?

We had seven Poughkeepsie Day School attendees at #Educon 2012 and they brought back a wealth of ideas.

On Friday they shared some of their learning and conversation with the entire faculty and staff. Thank you David, David, Dorothy, Jake, Joe, Kaitlin and Trace.

One focus was eportfolios – what they are and how might they help transform school.

David Jordan led us in a What If conversation. It helped us focus on the why rather than the how and what and that’s always helpful.

Here’s one of the questions and the responses (slightly consolidated) he collected from the room:

1). What if students had a way to carry their learning stories with them from year to year?

  • Submission of docs to colleges will soon be digital
  • Central location for examples of work
  • Report writing can become easier
  • Medium becomes a means to how we teach tech skills
  • Self-reflection
    • Value judgments of their own work (not, ‘it’s my best because I got a good grade)
  • Recognize/ watch / celebrate/ analyze and interpret change and growth over time with a sense of continuity
  • Greater ownership of their learning stories and ability to tell own story
  • Transition from teacher to teacher would be smoother
  • Differentiation becomes individualization
  • Enable personal student branding. Each student in charge of own “destiny”
  • Threatens teaching
  • Challenges “authority,” control, command hierarchy. (Bad & Dangerous)
  • Understand responsibility for own learning
  • Accelerate customization, personalized learning
  • Develop independence & autonomy
  • Accelerate movement away from limiting, timid constraints on assessing learning. Away from standard measures (i.e. - SATs)
  • Help us help colleges to move away from the traditional ways of selecting candidates.
  • Sense of ownership writing their own stories and having more full participation in their own assessment
  • Wouldn’t have to backtrack
  • Use as memories: graduation, family gatherings, programs they participate in
  • Mark growth; strengths & weaknesses
  • Inspire and grow from previous work
  • Tell your own story
  • Become curators of own story & growth
  • Idea: initially teachers have control of story and gradually students take over

The idea plays into a powerful notion of learners as metacognitive captains of their own ships. It allows a sense of personal voyages with the understanding that our lives and our learnings are a series of interconnected and interwoven narratives that we can craft for ourselves and over which we have some agency. Exciting stuff. But wait a minute – what about these two ideas?

  • Threatens teaching
  • Challenges “authority,” control, command hierarchy. (Bad & Dangerous)

What’s that about? If learners had a way to carry their learning journey for themselves, and if all those other things on the list were made possible, then the role of the teacher is also transformed. As a co-learner the teacher helps with all the other roles aboard that personal ship – navigator, stoker, engineer, pilot etc. (These extended metaphors have their limitations.) But that’s not the traditional model of teaching and authority.

And we all know how we all like change….

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An independent pre-k - 12th school serving students in the mid-Hudson Valley