Media for Race to Nowhere Events

In February and March, Trinity School hosted two screenings of Race to Nowhere. The event in February was a screening + discussion groups for educators and the event in April, hosted in conjunction with fifteen other schools in the Atlanta area, featured a screening + a panel discussion following the film. I hope to post the entire panel discussion in the next week, but in the meantime, the folks at Race to Nowhere created a shorter version. Here it is:

Panel Discussion in Atlanta Following “Race to Nowhere” Screening from Vicki Abeles on Vimeo.

We’ve also been featured in two segments on CNN’s “Fix Our Schools” Program:


A Med School & An Elementary School

What do an elementary school and a medical school have in common? I wrote the Trinity’s administrator blog post this week and it’s cross-posted here.

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“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” –John Dewey

In the Administrator Blog Post last week, Emilie Henry beautifully describes the environment in which Trinity children learn. She writes, “Our mission is to enable children to achieve their unique potential—our goal is to do this in a nurturing environment that encourages exploration, creativity, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, play, and curiosity, all skills that will prepare our students for success throughout their lives.” As I walk the hallways of Trinity, I am reminded that the School’s position as an elementary-only environment does not preclude “real-life” or “real-world” learning from taking place. This fact was only made more evident when I received my alma mater’s alumni magazine in the mail last month which included the article entitled Adjusting the Prescription: University of Virginia’s School of Medicine Overhauls its Century-Old Educational Approach.

What do a medical school and an elementary school have in common? More than you may initially think. The UVA medical students in the Class of 2014 are undergoing a learning experience that is radically different from that of previous generations. With a new medical education building, upgraded curriculum, and innovative technology, these students are being offered a learning experience like very few in this country.

I feel the same way about what Trinity currently offers our students as well as the School’s vision for the future. Trinity children – whether they are three years old or twelve years old – are being offered a learning experience like very few in this country.

Cooperative Learning: The Medical School’s “Learning Studio” is a radical departure from the lecture halls of the past. The large circular room with tables houses 155 first-year medical students, and Randolph Canterbury, Senior Associate Dean of Education, explains that “one of the goals of this whole model—of having students do a lot of the learning themselves rather than passively listening—is that they need to be lifelong learners.” In every classroom at Trinity, you will find only tables (no desks) and often you will see students working collaboratively on an art project, debating the best medium for a group presentation, or engaging in a cooperative learning task that requires problem solving and creativity. These tables require that students sit “eye to eye and knee to knee” in order to do the active learning that Dean Canterbury describes.

The Power of Reflection: UVA’s Medical Simulation Center is nationally recognized. While some may think the prestige lies in the six adult and two pediatric medical simulators (one of which costs $250,000), rather it is the Center’s focus on debriefing (or reflection) which is an essential component of the simulation experience. At Trinity, students are expected to not only master content but also understand their role as learners and the power of the learning process. One-on-one conferences during writer’s workshop, carefully planned friendship groups with our younger students, and a well-designed Trinity Advisory Process (TAP) provides our students with time to reflect on who they are as learners both in and outside of the classroom.

Active Engagement: Students in UVA’s Class of 2014 indicate that this new approach has made them feel less stressed and more engaged than their peers at other institutions. Tom Jenkins, a first-year student, explains, “The faculty really wants us to understand, not parrot back a lot of rote information…and I like the way everything meshes.” At Trinity, teachers place a premium on understanding. Students – whether they are in the hallway working in partnerships, in the technology lab grouped in small clusters with laptops, or sitting in the council ring in the ELD or ULD playground – are actively engaged in the learning process. They are exposed to countless opportunities for the worlds of art and science (or math and language arts) to collide, just as they do at UVA’s Medical School and in the world outside of the Trinity School gates.

Cooperative Learning. The Power of Reflection. Active Engagement. It’s easy to think that elementary education is merely preparation for secondary school or even college. However, I tend to agree with the educational philosophy of John Dewey and believe that education, even at the elementary level, is life itself.

Thinking about “Strengths Chasing” – Part II

“Simply put, strengths are the things that we do that make us feel energized and alive when we do them. Every single person has strengths. Children’s innate strengths are like live wires connecting their unique inner qualities to their promise as adults. Those wires have life’s most potent energy flowing through them, and we as adults have the power to amp up or damper down the energy flow. When the energy is turned up and strengths are developed to their fullest, people’s passions light up. -Jenifer Fox, Your Child’s Strengths

Strengths. Passions. Talents. How do we help children identify that which gives them energy and encourage them to pursue a path marked by purpose, connectedness, resilience, and fulfillment? Last summer, Trinity’s faculty and staff were asked to read Jenifer Fox’s book, Your Child’s Strengths, and even in the Spring, I continue to reflect on the ideas presented in the book. I’ve written (here and here) about the text, and I’m continually impressed with how much of it connects to the work we’re doing with personalized learning based on Trinity’s Strategic Vision, “The Child at the Center.” I wanted to share a few more thoughts and a reflection (written by a sixth grader named Josh) which perfectly illustrates the power of strengths-based education.

Fox encourages adults to engage in what she calls “strengths chasing.” An active process, helping children discover their strengths requires careful thought and deliberate questioning. When a child takes great pleasure, for example, in organizing books on a bookshelf, it is essential to distill the reason for the organizational habit. Is it enjoyable to alphabetize the books? Or is it that an organized bookshelf is helpful to other people? Or could it be that spending time arranging books and studying titles allows for creativity in future writing activities? It is important that we, as adults, help children chase down their strengths until it leads to what Jenifer Fox calls a “strengths epiphany.” Josh, a Sixth Grader, recently wrote a blog post about the process of finding his true passion. He writes eloquently about how both he and his parents engaged in strengths chasing. In a conversation with Josh, he expressed his love of swimming but explained that his experiences in the swimming pool have allowed him to discover a strength that translates to other areas of his life.

A Word: Passion

I get onto the field, I put on a helmet, and I pick up the bat. Then, I take a few steps onto the triangular shaped mat by the big, tall fence. I lift the bat onto my shoulder. The ball flies towards me. I see it, I swing the bat, and I miss the ball. Two more tries and still, I miss the ball. I walk back to where my team is sitting. I go through the season and it is finally over. I practice some during the winter and I try again in the spring. At practice and at the games, I’m not enjoying what I am doing. Then I realize something. Baseball is not my passion.

This is not the sport for me.

The next spring I decide to play soccer. I get all my gear and I am so excited. I jump into the car and head to practice. For the first few practices I like kicking the ball, shooting goals, and running with my friends. By the end of the season though, I again realized something.

This is not the sport for me.

I try tennis that winter, and I show up to all the practices. I then decide to start competing in tennis. I go to matches. I win some and I lose some. I am excited for some and not for others. This sport is fun, but I’m not passionate about it.

This is not the sport for me.

Then, my dad says that I have to stick with tennis. I beg him and ask him if I can try one more sport. He finally agrees. I think long and hard about a sport to try. I try to think what I will like. Then I decide. I was going to try swimming.

I have my first practice. I leap into the water and feel the cold water rush by my body. Chills are going up my spine. I am so excited. I attend all the meets and I love them. I get best times. I work hard at practice. After a long time, I had finally found it. Even though it is a vigorous sport, I think it is so enjoyable. I have a great passion for swimming. I realized something.

This is the sport for me.

That was four years ago. I have been swimming ever since and I love it. I truly believe that if you are passionate and you work hard at something, you can be the best that you can be.

Once a strength epiphany such as this has occurred, the real learning begins. Josh’s reflection and his description of leaping into the water and feeling the chills run up his spine beautifully illustrates the power of a strengths-based education. How can we better work with students to discover other tasks and areas of interest that engage certain strengths? How do we partner with parents and children in dialogue that evolves and develops throughout a student’s “school life” and culminates in an understanding of self they will carry with them long after they leave classrooms and hallways?

Living in a Learning Community

“We have a choice to make — we can either live in a learning community or a teaching community.”-@fastwalker10

Last week, I was blessed with a number of those “learning community days.” Yes, there are those “teaching community days” that rear their ugly heads every now and then. And, most days can be categorized as a combination of the two — some learning here and some teaching there…but basically, school, curriculum, and assessment per usual. There is no doubt that educators feel the ground shifting…the teacher is now the lead learner, the classroom is now the learning space, even the faculty lounge/workroom occupies both physical and virtual spaces and can be called the PLN (personal learning network). Whether or not these name changes indicate true shifts in the focus from teaching to learning, they are pretty clear signs that The Times They Are A-Changin’.

At some point between 3:30 – 4:30 on a too-humid Wednesday afternoon in April, @fastwalker10 uttered her observation about learning and teaching communities. While some would argue that it’s not one or the other but a combination of the two, I think I’m striving to live (and help create) a pure learning community along with the other learners at Trinity. So, what does that look like?

I’ve asked Maryellen Berry (@fastwalker10), Trinity’s Upper Learning Department Coordinator (read: Principal), to share her thoughts about her vision for learning communities:

It’s April.  In the life of a school, it’s a time for revving up of end-of-year activities, cramming in of curriculum yet to be “covered,” and simultaneously a time when teachers’ energy wanes.

As I prepared for the faculty meeting that I was to lead, I wanted to infuse energy, thinking and learning, and inspiration – lofty goals for an administrator who is also in April and whose “to-do list” grows exponentially with each hour.

Still, I persevered.  In the midst of my preparation, inspiration came to me via Megan Howard, a fellow educator at my school.  She sent a link to a blog, which ironically is one I have followed.  Zac Chase, an English teacher at the Science and Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, writes  “Things I Know 93 of 365” and I am inspired.  My April faculty meeting begins to take shape in my mind, and I can’t wait till 3:30 to share with the teachers.

I began by sharing with the faculty that I think administrators need to be good teachers and good models of what they want their students and teachers to do.  As I am prone to do, I launched into a story to set the stage.  I shared with them about my personal journey in preparing to present at Educon this past January.  Presenting to educators – no big deal – it’s something I enjoy and have experience doing.  Participating in dialogue with people who don’t remember playing a 45 rpm record and who are digitally wired – literally and figuratively was intimidating.  I had to set up a Twitter account.  “I don’t have time to Tweet anyone and I don’t have time to read about what someone ate for dinner,” I exclaimed to Megan who was presenting with me.  But I signed up.  The conference was intimidating.  I heard technological phrases that I didn’t understand, saw devices and wires everywhere, and listened to conversations on topics I wasn’t confident enough to participate in.

Yet, I was there. Stretching myself.  Learning. Growing. Questioning. Gaining skills to keep relevant in what I seek to inspire others to do every day with students.  I walked away inspired; I had learned and shared.

Perhaps more important that that, I surrounded myself with likeminded others who care about the students they teach and passionately seek to create learning experiences that capture the hearts and minds of their students.

Transitioning from storytelling to blog reading, I asked the faculty to read Zac Chase’s post and to capture five thoughts about his thinking.  Teachers gathered in small groups to share with each other about what they read and thought about.  Most groups were actively engaged in lively dialogue about the ideas presented in his post.

Vulnerability.  Risk-taking.  Not forgetting what it is like to be a student.  Asking ourselves to do what we require our students to do.  As we reconvened in a larger group to share with each other, the level of participation waned.  Every day, we expect students to do things we wouldn’t necessarily want to do.  They can’t opt out.  They are nervous, or afraid of feeling dumb.  All of these feelings were present in the room at that moment.

Educators have to be willing to model for their students.  We have to keep learning and growing.  Too often, when the stretch feels too great we complain that we don’t have enough time or we find everything negative to complain about rather than dipping a toe into the new arena and growing one step at a time.  We have a choice to make as educators – we can live in a learning community or a teaching community.  The choice is easy for me.  The growing is not so easy, but always worth it.


Learning Spaces: My Ten Picture Tour (#10PIXTR)

I’ve been thinking a lot about learning spaces recently. With Trinity’s World Languages Program, I have the opportunity to tour a number of people around our school and every time I walk through the halls, I see things that inspire, challenge, and excite me. I needed a break from today’s routine and found a few extra minutes on my Outlook Calendar. I decided to wander, with my camera, and thanks to Brian Barry (@Nunavut_Teacher), Katie Hellerman (@theteachinggame), and Cale Birk (@birklearns), I decided to post my ten picture tour. Here is my #10PIXTR from Wednesday, April 6th.

Personalize: A key phrase of Trinity's mission is "to achieve his or her unique potential," and much of the work I do is centered on personalizing learning at the elementary level.

Personalizing Learning: A key phrase of Trinity's mission is "to achieve his or her unique potential," and much of the work I do is centered on personalizing learning at the elementary level.

Integrity: The 6th Grade Leadership Class decides the school theme for each school year. This year, it's integrity.

Integrity: The 6th Grade Leadership Class decides the school theme for each school year. This year, it's integrity and the 6th Grade students must model and teach the importance of this word throughout the school year.

Design Thinking: First graders build an igloo out of milkjugs. They must work together to brainstorm, plan, and build an igloo that can fit at least ten students.

Design Thinking: First graders build an igloo out of milk jugs. They must work together to brainstorm, plan, and build a structure that can fit at least ten students.

Curiosity: These three students are peering in the window of the lower school gym, trying to figure out what they'll be doing when they go to PE class later in the day.

Curiosity: These three students are peering in the window of the lower school gym, trying to figure out what they'll be doing when they go to PE class later in the day.

Technology: At Trinity, technology must serve pedagogy...not the other way around. This is especially true in our 6th grade 1:1 tablet program.

Technology: At Trinity, technology must serve pedagogy...not the other way around. This is especially true in our 6th Grade 1:1 tablet program.

Play: These Kindergarten "drivers" experience both structured and unstructured play as they navigate the rules of the road on their trike bikes.

Play: These Kindergarten "drivers" experience both structured and unstructured play as they navigate the rules of the road on their trike bikes.

Metacognition: Students learn how to learn at Trinity. In World Languages at Trinity, goal-setting and self-reflection are essential in this personalized course. Students use Rosetta Stone for language acquision and can take any language out of 23 offered.

Metacognition: Students learn how to learn at Trinity. In World Languages class, goal-setting and self-reflection are essential in this personalized course. Students in K-6th grade use Rosetta Stone for language acquisition and can take any language out of the 23 offered.This first grader's journal displays her learning target for the day.

Cooperative Learning: Learners collaborate. These teachers (one music teacher, a second grade lead, and a second grade assistant) are working together to create a song about Earth Day to the tune of Katy Perry's song, Fireworks.

Cooperative Learning: Learners collaborate with one another. These teachers (one music teacher, a second grade lead, and a second grade assistant) are working together to create a song about Earth Day to the tune of Katy Perry's song, Fireworks.

Cross-Curricular Work: Fifth grade student's study of Ancient Greece is combined with art, architecture, and math, as groups of students (this team: Corinth) work to draw Greek architecture to scale.

Cross-Curricular Work: Fifth grade students' intensive study of the history Ancient Greece is combined with a study of Greek art, architecture/math, sports, and literature. Groups of students (this team's name is Corinth) work to draw Greek architecture to scale. The study culminates with Greek Olympics of the Body and Mind.

Imagination: Trinity's Storywell is a beautiful space where students can curl up with a book and be transported to places beyond their wildest dreams!

Imagination: Trinity's Storywell is a beautiful space where students can curl up with a book and be transported to places beyond their wildest dreams!

Five Easy Steps: How to make a “Ten Picture Tour”

  1. Use a cellphone camera, then you won’t have to pack/find another electronic gizmo.
  2. Take 10 minutes. That’s it.  Then you won’t find a reason not to do it.  And it won’t be too “staged.”
  3. Take pictures around your school that you think showcase some pretty cool things.  They don’t just have to be of kids learning, we believe you when you say they are…
  4. Put them into a blog post with basic captions so we know what we are looking at.
  5. Put it as a link on your blog page, so that when we come and visit, we know that when we see a link called “10 Picture Tour” we will learn a little bit about what your learning environment looks like.

(These Five Easy Steps are revised from the #10PIXTR post by Cale Birk (@birklearns) on The Learning Nation.)

On Becoming a Math Person…

My math-teacher-friends get mad at me when I say things like, “I’m just not a math person.” I certainly understand their reactions because I get mad at myself — and my fixed math mindset! Although I had a number of really memorable math teachers from elementary school all the way to Calculus at UVA, I still remember the days of four digit subtraction problems (with borrowing) that sent me to doctor with a case of hives that took a couple of days to go away.

@kplomgren is good friend, a former classmate, a cheerleading and gymnastics coach, and a JuniorHighMathTeacherExtraordinaire at The Westminster Schools. Formerly an accountant with a Big Five (at the time) Accounting Firm, @kplomgren’s is a natural in the classroom. Her approach to learning (first), teaching kids (second), and teaching junior high students math (third), is truly remarkable. Although I’ve never taken the opportunity to sit in her class, I am so impressed with her approach to math instruction and realize that I need to overcome my fear of hives and multi-digit subtraction and pay @kplomgren a visit. The reason? She’s aware of what’s happening in the world of math instruction (think: Khan Academy) and is breaking away from traditional instruction to meet the needs of her students in an authentic, thoughtful way.

I asked her to share her reflection below…

I initially started recording myself going through various concepts for a student-athlete in my class who misses quite a bit of instructional time due to training. Although no video can replace live classroom instruction, my videos would at least allow this student to keep up with the notes being taken in class, and in turn, complete the homework. Particularly with second semester, the material we are covering is no longer simply a review of what my students previously learned in elementary school.  When I covered converting repeating decimals to fractions, I knew I would have to re-teach the lesson to this student in Office Hours when she returned.  Since I teach 62 students, my Office Hours is often packed.  Students come for help on homework, for me to clarify concepts, and for any other general questions.  I am not afforded the luxury of spending 10 solid, uninterrupted minutes with a single student to re-teach a concept.  In fact, if you divide my Office Hours time equally amongst my students, each one would receive approximately 45 seconds of my time per day.

So, when I had a few minutes of free time during the day, I would put on a set of headphones and record myself going through the notes. This is not repeating the entire 55 minute class period; however, it is me going through some of the main examples I did in class.

And I realized, if I am doing this for a particular student to keep up when she misses class for training, why don’t I post this on my website (Moodle) as well?  Couldn’t other students benefit from hearing me go through the examples again?

So often, I realize that I teach things too quickly.  I think I am constantly trying to manage a balance in my 6th grade math class.  Since we don’t differentiate our 6th graders in terms of classes (Honors Pre-Algebra vs. Pre-Algebra) until the 7th grade, I have a diverse group of learners in my classroom.  I have some kids who wish I would move faster and give them harder, more advanced problems; however, I also have the other end of the spectrum, students who think I speak so rapidly that they have a hard time following what I am saying and doing.  For those latter students, having the benefit of recorded notes, that they can listen to, stop, and replay at their leisure is invaluable.

I will say, recording notes isn’t always the easiest thing.  Today, I made a 14 minute recording walking through commission and profit.  I was really proud of my work.  I thought I explained it clearly and articulately; however, at the very end of the recording, I made a simple mistake.  Yes, even math teachers make simple arithmetic mistakes!  When calculating the final costs in a profit problem, I said that $7,500 less $1,500 was $5,000.  That was the last step of the problem, I hit “STOP” on my smartboard recorder, and the file was complete.  OOPS!!  It was supposed to be $6,000.  I don’t have the technology wherewithal to know how to edit the video; how could I change the last part, yet save the other 13:45 of “good” video?  Despite my perfectionist tendencies, I just left the video.  I will explain to my students in class my mistake (maybe they can learn from it?!), and if I can find another 15 minutes in the next few days, I might consider re-recording the lesson.  So that is a frustrating aspect. In an article I read this weekend called “Shifting from Writing to Videography,” I relate to what the author said, “If I say three bone-headed statements in a single video, I cancel those and start again.”

Also, as a personal challenge, I have become more self-aware of my math “vocabulary” that I use.

I didn’t go to school necessarily to be a math teacher, and sometimes I am self-conscious that I don’t always use the appropriate math terminology.  However, learning and growing with my colleagues in the PLC has taught me a tremendous amount about this.  For example, I made a short video on how to find a fraction in between two fractions (think: name a fraction between 5/7 and 6/7).  One option is to multiply both the numerator and denominator by 10 (so you end up with 50/70 and 60/70).  When I initially recorded it, I said, “just move the decimal one place,” when in fact, what I really meant to say was to multiply the numerator and denominator both by 10.  A small tweak, but a pretty big difference in terms of number sense and terminology.

Despite my reservations, I do believe that posting recordings has been invaluable.

My principal recently reported that a student spent her free time watching math videos instead of having story time with her parents.  I was out for two days chaperoning my 8th grade girls on a retreat; instead of depending on a sub to cover what I hoped they were capable of covering, I made a quick video of myself and had her play it in my absence.

I can now spend 10 or 15 minutes recording certain lessons and when a student, who missed class, comes to Office Hours, I can refer them to Moodle.  In fact, today, I had two students miss my first period class.  Because I knew I would have to explain the concepts to both of them (and the chances I could knock it out at the same time was wishful thinking!), I recorded myself quickly going through the notes and posted it on Moodle.  Then, when one came to Office Hours at 2:50, I could refer her to Moodle; and when the other one showed up at 3:15, I could also refer her to Moodle, all the meanwhile, continuing to help other students on homework and later supplement their understanding.

As far as I see it, it is my responsibility to help these students know and understand the material, regardless if they are in class or not.

Having the concepts recorded on video helps to reinforce the concepts for students who are in class, yet get those students who miss class up to speed.  It is really a win-win for all, including myself.

Here are a few examples of @kplomgren’s videos…