2017 Curiosity Challenge

Are you curious? That is the first prompt for the Curiosity Challenge sponsored by the Cambridge (MA) Science Festival, which wraps up this Sunday, April 23rd. Park’s Upper and Middle Division students got curious and then submitted their questions to this year’s challenge. Our students wrote such good questions – all of the entries were wonderful. Six Park students were even chosen as winners.

In the Upper Division, one of the Habits for Scholarship and Citizenship is curiosity. We have defined curiosity as the following: Curiosity is the desire to personally connect with learning. This begins with a sense of wonder, requires an open mind and a comfort with not yet knowing, and leads to learning for its own sake. This definition is so powerful! Connecting with learning, a comfort with not yet knowing, and learning for its own sake are three extraordinarily important things. Add a sense of wonder, and you have the magic that is curiosity.

Take a look at this video created by Science teacher, Karen Manning, if you are curious to see what your children are curious about. And then be sure to get curious yourself and ask your children what else they are wondering.

 

Grade VIII begins work on the Outdoor Learning Garden

In February, Head of School, Cynthia Harmon, announced exciting plans for an Outdoor Learning Garden (OLG) at Park. Just before our March vacation, students in Grade VIII began work on the OLG. Breaking into four groups, the students researched topics, met with experts in the field, created models and/or plans, and made proposals for what is going to be planted and grown in the garden – starting this spring.

One group of students worked with herb spirals – spiral shaped vertical growing spaces with microclimates and 30 feet of planting space in each spiral. In addition to researching which herbs would grow best in each section of the spiral, the students met with members of the Park dining staff to learn about the herbs that are most often used in our lunches. Another group studied high-yield vegetables for the planting beds and container garden in order to identify the best crops based on climate, growing season and use in the Park kitchen. A third group made recommendations for the berry patches and fruit trees – again looking at the growing season and use in the Park kitchen, as well as researching cross vs self pollinating plants and companion plants. The fourth group studied composing and researched various types of composters and composting plans as well as analyzing data from the Park dining room in order to make their recommendation.

The metaphor here is quite powerful. Our oldest students – a few short months away from their graduation – are the ones who are making the recommendations, planting the seeds, if you will, for a next generation of students at Park in the Outdoor Learning Garden.

See the photos below to get a sense of the day. A special thank you to Green City Growers, Allandale Farm, the Park dining staff, the VIII advisory team, Elaine Hamilton and Pamela Penna, and all Grade VIII students for making this day work so beautifully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did teachers do last week when students had a day off from school?

Last week, while students were beginning their extra long weekend, their teachers came to school, ready to work and learn. The focus of the day was applied learning, which in its simplest terms has to do with how students apply what they have learned in order to demonstrate their understanding. In other words, what students do with what they know.

In the morning, we watched a movie together and had discussion groups. In the afternoon, nine faculty members presented things that they had been working on in their classrooms so that we could be inspired by and learn from our colleagues.

At the heart of our work was exciting thinking, conversation, and questions about the purpose of school and the most important skills needed in our changing world. I wanted to explain some of these ideas to the Upper Division Students, and so I showed them this short video in Morning Meeting.

In our moment of silence, I asked the students to reflect on how their work and our Habits for Scholarship and Citizenship connect to the qualities and skills described in the video. I hope that in that quiet moment, they began to think about the many connections that I see in classrooms each and every day.

Green and White Winter Spirit Day

In mid-January, we held our first all-school Winter Spirit Day. Park students and adults came to school wearing school colors. At the end of the day, Grades I – VIII gathered in the west gym for an energetic (and fun!) pep rally for the Varsity basketball teams. Later that evening, the teams ate diner at school and then traveled to Meadowbrook School – with 200 green frosted cupcakes – to play back-to-back games. The teams were evenly matched, and the games were well-played and very exciting to watch, and, in the end, Park won both games. We hope that this is the beginning of a wonderful new tradition!

Open Invitation to Morning Meeting

Upper Division students and their teachers begin the school day with Morning Meeting (8:15- 8:30) every day except for Tuesday. Morning Meeting provides a time for the logistics of attendance taking and announcement making, it gives us all the chance to start the day together, and it allows for the opportunity to have four short presentations a week – presentations by teachers, parents, outside speakers, individual students, or whole classes or grade levels, Morning Meeting provides an important window into the life of the Upper Division. It is always a highlight of my day.

Parents are welcome to come to Morning Meeting, provided that they sit in the top rows on the side sections of seats – and that they turn off their cell phones.

To whet your appetite, I am providing below a partial list of topics of recent and upcoming Upper Division Morning Meetings. Please check Friday Notes each week for a complete listing of Morning Meeting presentations.

  • VII Modern and Classical Languages Trip to the MFA
  • How to Spot Fake News?
  • VIII English “This I Believe” essays
  • #powerofwords – the importance of saying thank you and telling people they are important to you before the end of the year
  • Mock Caldecott Award
  • Grade VI Book Character Day
  • Don’t Be An Armadillo – tips for public speaking

We look forward to seeing you in Morning Meeting sometime!

 

My Favorite Words

My Favorite Words

I recently heard that right before vacation, students were wondering about my favorite word and debating whether it was “grit” or “yet”. I laughed when I heard this because I think that these things are both important and that, in fact, they are intertwined.

I think that yet is the foundation for not just grit for but for the other character strength words too – and for so many of the other things we learn and practice in school. I think that believing in yet (in other words, growth mindset) may be one of the most important foundations for learning and for teaching.

The thing I love about yet is that it is all about possibility. Instead of, “I can’t do that.” think “I can’t do that, yet.” Yet means that each one of us can get better, yet means that each one of us can learn the hard “stuff” of school – from English to math to art to science to demonstrating the Habits of Scholarship and Citizenship. Yet means that a belief in the ability to learn and grow and get better.

So, how do we get to the yet? Well, it is not always easy – the truth is that we get there with lots of hard work and practice, and that is where the grit comes in.

At Park, we think that practice and making mistakes and hard work and more practice really does get students to the yet. I have included two short videos which help explain some of the science and some of the thinking that’s out there that makes us teachers believe in the power of yet.

Brain as a muscle video

Carol Dweck video

It is really interesting to think about the brain as a muscle, and it is exciting to think about the fact that your brain does indeed grows stronger with practice and hard work, that intelligence is not fixed, that your brain gets strongest (which means you learn the most) when you make a mistake or when you are working through something that feels hard. How incredibly powerful that the science of brain research shows us that this is true. Thinking about the brain as a muscle that can get stronger with hard work and practice is key to believing in the power of word yet.

One more short video in this one, listen for the word yet.

You can do anything

In 2017, as we learn, as we work our way through the hard things, we need to remember the optimism that is embedded in the word yet and the gritty hard work that helps us to get there.

 

What Is Academic Excellence?

The first line of Park’s mission statement reads, “The Park School is dedicated to excellence in education.” We, parents, teachers, and students, would all agree, I think, that academic excellence is important, vital even. But what does that really mean? And, more importantly, what does academic excellence look like?

A few years again, the Upper Division faculty took on this question. What follows is a list generated by Park teachers. It is by no means exhaustive, and yet it gives a sense of what we look for when we look for examples of academic excellence in the classroom.

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE can be seen in the following student behaviors …

  • problem solving, asking questions, critical, creative thinking, taking intellectual risks are the cornerstones
  • meeting challenge and difficulty with strategies
  • looking for deeper sense of understanding, rather than simply the “right” answer
  • tenacity, responsibility for learning, asking questions or asking for help
  • willingness to dig in and work hard
  • ability to self assess/ self awareness as a learner
  • ability to make connections, synthesize information, look at something from a new or different perspective
  • intellectual energy/engagement in the subject and the process of learning

How can we as parents help our children to develop these skills? I have a few suggestions

  • focus on process rather than the end product
  • ask “What do you think about X?” when children are talking about schoolwork
  • see mistake-making and asking for help as an important part of learning
  • adopt a growth mindset  – help children to see that effort is more important than simply being smart

I see academic excellence in action in classrooms at Park every day. I invite you to take a look at your child’s work or the way he or she that approaches work or what is on the bulletin boards at Park or presented in Morning Meeting and think that you, too, will see what academic excellence looks like in the Upper Division.

Interim Comments

On the first day of school, pencils were sharpened and brand new assignment books and Google calendars were blank, and no one had experienced any hard work – other than, perhaps, getting out of bed. Now here we are almost two months later. Pencils have been dulled and re-sharpened many times, assignment books and Google Classroom calendars are filled with homework, tests, quizzes, and projects, and I assume – I hope – that everyone has had moments of hard work.  These things are all good.

But now that we are all more than just a few steps into the journey of the school year, how do we think about the lofty goals of what we are trying to accomplish – especially when we are all so busy. Big ideas and accomplishments may be important, but before we can get to them we have homework to do and practice or rehearsal to go to and a million other things to do first.

That’s why, at the halfway point in the term, teachers at Park take the time to stop and calculate interim grades and write interim comments to give students important feedback. And that’s why students need to take the time when these comments arrive home to read them carefully.

What can you and your children do when you read through the narrative comments? Three things.

  1. Find the good. It’s there in every single comment – I promise.
  2. Find the things to work on. That’s in every single comment, too – I promise.
  3. Have your child make a plan. How exactly will he or she keep doing the good and how exactly will he or she do the thing or things teachers are asking him or her you to work on?

This last step is the most important and, of course, the hardest, and it may require a conversation with a teacher or advisor. Your child may even have to ask for help and that can be difficult to do – but is so important to learn.

Interim comments are filled with suggestions and ideas, and these suggestions and ideas are the ways that you students can go from possibility to accomplishment. Teachers are giving their students a roadmap to follow to make the most of the term.

Upper Division Project Week

Take a look at the photos below to see what Upper Division Students were up to during Project Week. All Upper Division students and their advisors took a break from the routine of school to work and learn together in new ways at the Cape, in New Hampshire, at Hale Reservation and even on campus. During Project Week, students try new things, form new friendships, and make discoveries about their classmates, teachers and themselves.

 

Curiosity. Grit. Gratitude. Zest. Personal Responsibility. Habits for Scholarship and Citizenship at Park.

You’ve heard these words at Park – what do they really mean?

For the past several years, the Upper Division faculty has been focusing on exciting new thinking about how certain character strengths are important predictors of success.
What we have learned is that these performance-based character strengths are more like habits than innate traits and that when they are clearly defined, emphasized and modeled intentionally, as well as understood in terms of what they actually look like in a school setting, they can be practiced and honed. Our study of character strengths led to the creation of a checklist for the Upper Division comment forms, one that helped us to focus on these important habits. We have been using this checklist since the fall of 2013.

Our checklist focuses on five areas that we call Habits for Scholarship and Citizenship at Park. Each of the five words on the checklist stems from the list of predictors of success compiled by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania and in addition has a deliberate connection to the words found in Park’s mission statement. While the words themselves are important, it is the definitions that we have developed for each which are most critical to understanding these words within the context of being a student at Park School.

The words and definitions are listed below.

  • Curiosity is the desire to personally connect with learning. This begins with a sense of wonder, requires an open mind and a comfort with not yet knowing, and leads to learning for its own sake.
  • Grit is having the discipline to persevere in the face of hard work or setbacks with the belief that success is possible.
  • Gratitude is looking outside of oneself, recognizing the value of relationships within our community, and showing appreciation through ones actions.
  • Zest is an excitement for learning, which may be expressed overtly or quietly, that motivates oneself and inspires others.
  • Personal Responsibility is a student’s commitment to developing effective work habits and taking charge of her/his actions and behaviors in order to meet the daily expectations of school life.

Students at each grade level have defined what it looks like to demonstrate these habits in a school setting. Teachers use these student generated lists as they fill out the checklists on the comment forms, and students will use them as they self reflect and set goals for themselves. Here is an example of the list generated by the new sixth grade class.

The checklist on the comment form allows teachers to provide their students with feedback about the ways they demonstrate these character strengths in the classroom. The word demonstrate is key, here. For example, a student may be very curious but may not be demonstrating that in his or her classes as frequently as he or she could. This checklist will give students and parents that crucial feedback. Students will also self-reflect at each interim with their advisors and will set goals for themselves as necessary. As we think about this checklist, we want to stress the concept of growth mindset as defined by Carol Dweck. A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort (and that) everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

In the end, we hope that our intentional focus on these character strengths will lead to important conversations between students, parents and teachers that, in turn, will lead to meaningful growth.