Thursday, September 3, 2015

Transforming Libraries, Teaching Critical Thinking, and Much More

Transforming Monticello High’s Library Into the Creative Hub of the School
We gave purpose to many of our spaces. We transformed our markerspace library from a blank canvas to a veritable craft room with art supplies and tools. This makes it a perfect space for all those messy things that teachers want to do in their classrooms but can’t because they’re, well, messy. An area of the library that we dubbed “the hacker space” for its innovative technology usage got a green screen, a gaming system, and glass boards to make it perfect for filming and for group projects.

Future Ready: Roadmaps to Tech Integration
Districts must commit to supporting these initiatives consistently. There should also be a tiered approach to professional learning offerings. Much like we differentiate our instruction, we should do the same for different levels of professional learning. Ultimately, the professional learning opportunities should resemble a conversation and allow time for staff to connect, share, and learn from each other.

Is Learning Increasingly Self-Directed in the Digital Era?
Research shows that teachers' and peers' encouragement and support significantly influence student adoption of technology for self-directed learning. Thus, the success of self-directed digital learning depends significantly, at least in early stages, on the teachers' expectancies and instructional practices to teachers' encouragement and guidance in the use of technology-enhanced materials for learning.
There’s a Better Way to Teach Critical Thinking: 9 Rules of Thumb
“The reason teacher preparation programs fail to place critical thinking at the heart of the curriculum is two-fold,” says educational psychologist and critical thinking specialist Linda Elder. “First, faculty who control and teach the curriculum simply don’t know what critical thinking is. Second, they think they do.”

Photos For Class 
Teachers have told us they need a place to access safe images that are available to be used in the classroom and for educational purposes. Plus they want accurate image citations. We’ve heard you and created “Photos For Class” to meet your needs for images! - See more at:

To Apple or to Google that is the question
The discussion of which tool to use is worthless if all we are doing is automating old education methods. Don’t take tools and put them on top of current systems. Instead, ask how you can design meaningful digital learning experiences for students.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

New MHS Lobby Design Promotes Collaboration

This past week was a milestone in terms of re-design of spaces in two major areas at Mercy High School. First, we made the furnishing choices for the collaborative area and digital creation room that I have described in recent blog posts

Secondly, we took delivery of Steelcase furnishings that we have installed in our auditorium/gym lobby. The students love the comfort and lay out of the new design. And while it will allow students to socially as they wait for practices to begin or rides to pick them up, you can see that our choices also allow for collaboration on projects. This is phase 1, which creates seating for 53 students.

Take a look!

We await funding for phase 2. Here is a diagram of the entire project:

Designed by TMP Architecture

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Class of 2016 iWizards Well Prepared for their Futures

Four iWizard seniors (and a senior citizen!)
As I recently posted, some of my iWizards have grown up! As originally formed three years ago, all members were ninth graders.  While still skewed toward younger members, the iWizards will now be represented by students from four grade levels, among them the seniors pictured above.

Three of my seniors have been vitally involved with the program since its inception. We have shared many wonderful experiences and I have promised them that for all of their efforts I will write them absolutely superb college recommendations. I am presently in the process of drafting these letters. In those recommendations I will be remarking upon how the iWizard experience has helped these young women develop the following qualities:

The iWizards do not have fixed leadership positions. For each project, leaders are self-selected or selected by project teammates. Senior iWizards have been leading projects for four years now and have been continually identified as take-charge individuals with exceptional leadership skills.

The iWizards are accountable to each other rather than an adult leader and the team bond is the most effective system of accountability. Students who do not follow through don't remain iWizards very long.

Self Direction
iWizards are given free reign to develop their curriculum and instructional plans for projects like the new student iPad orientation and iCreate! — an arts workshop for middle school students. They do not need “approval” from a teacher though they select mentors who critique their work. The mentor's participation is more collegial than hierarchical.

Problem Solving
The iWizards become good at problem-solving. These problems could be technical, logistical or inter-personal.  

Presentation Skills 
All iWizards are involved in making presentations at student-to-student workshops.  This includes developing slide presentations or designing ice-breaker activities. The students whose letters of recommendations I am writing also presented last spring at the largest teacher technology convention in our state. They were invited by Apple to present on “ iWizards-- Empowering Students as Leaders“.

Outside of developing our collection of iPad Tips and Tricks, all of our projects have been completed as teams that have required continual communication through digital means such as Google Apps.

Stretching Technical Skills
It is not uncommon for the iWizards to join a particular project team so that they can learn more about a technology. Perhaps the best example of this would be a project team which intended to introduce the Schoology LMS to new students. They were required to learn how to use and develop tutorials before the school actually adopted it. Consequently, they became proficient long before the great majority of teachers did.

Finally, after mentioning all of these intangible benefits the iWizards gain from their participation in the group, it should be noted that all of their projects perform a service to the school or greater community. The benefits of this program flow in both directions.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Visit to Hillel Day School Part 3 -- Places to Make & Create

This is a third reflection on my visit to Hillel Day School and how it impacts my thoughts on redesigning major spaces in our building such as Mercy's Media Center. The first post focused on the marriage of design and innovative instruction. The second focused on collaboration and student agency.

This post reflects on the "maker spaces" provided for students by Hillel. The maker movement is one of the hottest in education. As explained in the Harvard Education Review:

The learning that occurs through the experience of making and the learning that occurs through instruction in new media share an unexpected pedagogical kinship. As Groff (2013) points out, we are reaching a period where it is just as easy for young people to produce. . . .The phenomenon that some have termed the “maker movement,” which describes the wave of interest in constructing and sharing personal inventions and creative artifacts, reconfigures the learner as a producer rather than a consumer. -- Harvard Education Review.

Hillel has assorted areas throughout the building for students to engage in self-directed "making" or the creation of products for projects. It is an ideal environment for the the kind of Challenge Based Learning Mercy students have done in the past. Students have access to cameras, power tools, 3-D printers, and a rich variety of assorted gadgets which they can use in areas like the green screen room, maker space, learning studio and Da Vinci Room.

At Mercy I am intent on reclaiming a space for making, the focus being the use of multimedia equipment. It would be a place where an individual, group, or club (iWizards, Robotics Team, etc.) could have access to equipment that was not tied to a course or a specific academic department. Below I have shared a design with which we are working. While is relatively small it would give us a toe -hold on our own maker movement. I expect to initially equip it with a portable or painted green screen, cameras, mics, MacBooks, and iMac and a 3-D printer. We are writing a grant application for this venture....But if you are a wealthy alumna reading this post, perhaps you would like this room named for you!

I will be writing more about these projects as they develop. . . . And I am hoping to visit the Hillel 7th/8th section with my principal when it is finished.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Marriage of Design and Transformative Instruction - part 2

In my last post I described a visit to a neighboring school which I believe is engaging in transformative educational practices which are accommodated by ingenious design elements. Fundamentally,  Hillel Day School has eliminated traditional classrooms. Consequently teachers can/must consider the optimal learning space for each lesson. 

In this post I want to reflect on how important flexible design is to collaboration and student agency. As I mentioned previously, Hillel's gathering spaces are open and transparent. Conference rooms have glass walls. Teacher "offices" are common spaces, encouraging collaboration. 

The Hillel students can create their own furniture arrangements for working in small or large groups. They can gather in a variety of commons areas or can sit at furniture in the hallway. 

Open spaces, mobile furniture, comfortable seating at Hillel (photo by G. Bank)
This fascinated me because at Mercy we are also trying to repurpose large spaces in our building and create more opportunities for students to collaborate. A great example would be the courtyard re-designs which allow students to comfortably gather.

Of course the courtyards are subject to weather and Michigan's hard winters. However, we are taking advantage of an enormous underutilized space in our  lobby. Next week our new furniture is arriving for a phase one 53 seat arrangement depicted. Currently students are forbidden to go into this lobby during school. That changes once the Steelcase furniture arrives (photos to come!).

However, I anticipate the lobby usage will largely be social. On the other hand, for our Media Center pilot we intend to repurpose a corner of the room clearly aimed at project work. With the help of NBS designers we are selecting furniture that is very similar to Hillel's: it is movable and supported by media, not unlike the corner configuration below, though with additional options. 

I was blown away by how many markable walls, surfaces and boards existed throughout Hillel. We also hope to bring this feature into the Media Center-- the object of course being to expand on our pilot throughout the space

NBS is also helping us take steps toward creating maker spaces in the Media Center to promote student agency. Hillel has done an astonishing job in this area too. This subject will serve as the third installment of my reflections on that fine school and how it is influencing the initiatives at mine.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The 2015 iWizard Tech Orientation (aka "My Babies Have Grown Up")

This was Izzy's third year leading an iPad orientation session
Three years ago Mercy adopted the iPad as its 1:1 device for the class of 2016. Shortly afterwards we formed a club of ninth grade iPad enthusiasts who named themselves the "iWizards". Those ninth graders set upon an ambitious project: They would conduct the two and a half hour tech orientation for the next group of ninth graders.  While the iWizards now pursue additional projects, they still produce the new student tech orientation before school officially starts. This year every Mercy student will have an iPad, and some of the iWizards who originally formed the club are now seniors. Learning with them over the past three years has been a fabulous experience.

Last Friday (August 14), twenty-four current iWizards provided an orientation for the new students four separate sessions. This actually meant that eight teams of iWizards independently taught sessions with a teacher of their choosing in the room for support.

The process of choosing the subjects, creating the curriculum and presenting the material is a great experience for these young women. They acquire presentation and technical skills but also they gain self-confidence and leadership skills. They hold each other accountable and each year we have been delighted to find that none of the iWizards bail out on the project over the summer.

By all accounts the iWizards did a splendid job on Friday. I have shared a small slice of the experience in the following video:

Top photo by Gary Morris

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hillel Day School-- A Marriage of School Design with Innovative Educational Practice

As I recently posted  I am preoccupied with the potential redesign of our Media Center. I also am participating in redesign projects of two other major areas of our building— the lobby to our gym/auditorium land a proposed multi-million dollar renovation featuring the creation of a large student commons. These redesign aspirations motivated me to ask a friend if she could arrange a tour for three colleagues and me of Hillel Day School. To our delight the tour was led by Head of School, Steve Freedman and we were accompanied my friend, PTO president, Robyn Presser.

What a tour it was! The renovations occurring at the Hillel are not only eye-popping, but intellectually engaging. They have been conceived by Prakash Nair of world-renowned architectural firm Fielding Nair, and the ambition is lofty. To quote the Detroit Jewish News, “The intent is to break hard from the traditional feel of a classroom-driven school and develop new gateways of learning."  In my opinion the project designers have successfully married physical design to leading edge educational practice.

There is so much to say about the innovative approach to learning that is evident at Hillel, and I could not possibly do it justice after a one hour visit. However, I will reflect on my visit in three short blog posts. 

This post focuses on some major design features that greatly impressed me and "broke hard" from traditional school design.

The terrific openness of the physical spaces struck me most. Besides large commons areas (such as the example below) the rooms— as Steve put it— “flow” from one to the next. 

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that natural light enhances the area and the furniture is on wheels, which is true throughout the building. This highlights a second feature--flexibility of space. Consequently a teacher must consider the optimal spacial arrangement, and has an assortment of spaces and furnishings from which to choose.


Room choices include interesting spaces such as the "Learning Studio", Seminar Room, and Da Vinci Room. We were allowed a sneak peek of the 7th and 8th grade learning areas under construction  on the upper floor, the design of which has been determined by the teachers of those levels. One can see the same principles at work.

Related to the flexibility and openness of the building is the transparency of activities that occur in these spaces. But I would like to take this up in my next post that will also touch on collaboration and student-agency-- two themes close to my heart.

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