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Friends School of Baltimore Private School Blog

The promise of personalization

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Jan 10, 2019 2:54:37 PM

“Personalized education” is a trendy buzzword in education circles these days. (Indeed, it is one of the goals articulated in Friends Connects, the School’s strategic direction.) Yet, as a recent article in Education Week details, there is no clear consensus on what exactly it means.

The traditional school model was purposefully designed to avoid personalization at all costs.  The convergence in the late-19th century of the movement towards universal, free public schooling and the Industrial Revolution produced a system of education that was proudly based upon the factory model of mass production. Schools focused on standardization and efficiency, intent on making education a largely homogenous and impersonal transaction in which, as education expert Sir Ken Robinson has put it, we “educate children by batches: we put them through the system by age group” and we operate with a “production line mentality.”  Sadly, the vestiges of this mindset are all too evident in today’s high-stakes testing regimen in many schools and in the outsized importance of standardized exams as a measure of academic potential and achievement.

The work of moving away from standardization is an act of educational rebellion – one that raises the valid question of why an individual teacher, much less an entire school, would want to adopt such a direction in the first place. As my fellow Friends educators will attest, the answer lies in the experience of seeing students come alive with remarkable passion and excitement when they are given the chance to explore areas of particular interest to them, to read books that speak to their own life experiences, or to research topics that they have always been curious about.  As teachers, we want more and more of those moments for our students. We want them to take ownership of their learning and do the hard work of charting a course for their educations that will be unique to them. And we want this because of our shared conviction that doing so will offer them the most meaningful and enduring educational experience possible.

As we embark on this exciting and novel terrain to provide a “personalized and deeply meaningful education to all students,” we plan to visit a number of schools, including  High Tech High in California and Eagle Rock School in Colorado, that have made personalization their guiding star.  And we intend to work closely with our students to hear about their vision for the future of this kind of learning at Friends School.  We’re under no illusion about the difficulty of the task we’ve taken on, but we are motivated by our memories of those magical moments in our classrooms when personalization made all the difference for our students.  Stay tuned!

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What is Personalized Learning? --  The Medium (Jan. 18, 2017)

 The Power of Personalized Learning for School Improvement -- EdSurge (May 27, 2015)

 

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Topics: joy in learning, personalized education, student-led learning, personalized learning

Final exams: Are we having fun yet? Actually, yes.

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Dec 20, 2018 2:18:29 PM

Exam Week; hardly a phrase that conjures visions of innovation in pedagogy or laughter and collaboration among students. And yet, for 10th grade U.S. history students, all of these qualities were on display yesterday during a most-inventive final exam. Teacher Molly Smith ’82, in lieu of a standard multiple choice or blue book exam, had devised a pair of historical whodunits for students to solve and, in the process, demonstrate their knowledge of history.

In one room students playing the roles of various real-life individuals gathered information to solve the actual murder of a governor in colonial New York.  Meanwhile, in the next classroom over, another group worked their way through an escape room challenge that required them to research and analyze historical incidents from the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

Later when I asked one of the students engaged in cracking the escape room code how her exam went, she furrowed her brow and said, “I thought it was going to be easy, but actually it was really hard – and also fun!”

The stark contrast between Molly’s Project-Based Learning (PBL) exam and those we recall (often, in my case, in still-vivid nightmares) from our own school days demonstrates that, contrary to conventional wisdom, joy and rigor can - and I would argue should - be a common and seamless pairing.  As humans, we thrive on overcoming challenges, and, as we all know, the opportunity to master difficult tasks, particularly in collaboration with others, can be intensely rewarding. Brain research has also taught us* that “play is critical to the emotional and intellectual development of every child.  We must create appropriate opportunities for play at every grade level.”

There may well always be a place in schools for the kind of cumulative production of factual information that the exams of our childhood epitomized. Surely, the ability to summon discrete pieces of knowledge is valuable and necessary, even in the age of Google, when the sum of human knowledge is, quite literally, in the palm of our hands. But we must also make room for new ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned (content knowledge), what they can do with it (analysis, synthesis, and hypothesis), and how these learning experiences will shape their developing hearts and minds. And all educators need to obliterate the false dichotomy between joy and rigor, relegating that antiquated distinction to the ashes of educational history.

*  Mind, Brain, and Education Research Informed Strategies, from the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning

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Project-based learning is a new rage in education. Never mind that it’s a century old. Washington Post, December 12, 2018

8 Play-Based Strategies to Engage Youth in Learning Edutopia, October 16, 2014

 

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Topics: student assessment, final exam, project based learning, Importance of play, joy in learning

In assessing student growth are teachers uprooting the plant?

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Dec 13, 2018 12:17:50 PM

One of the blessings of teaching at Friends is the two hours we give ourselves on the first Wednesday of the month to collaborate across disciplines, divisions, and grades. Known as PLUSS, for Professional Learning to Uphold Student Success, these ongoing professional development sessions are generated by faculty for faculty and provide the space and time to explore emerging ideas in teaching and learning -- opportunities we would not normally have during the busy school week.

For the past six years one consistent component of these experiences has been a shared reading and consideration of a piece of writing on Quakerism, the philosophy upon which our 234-year old school was founded.  On this particular morning, we were discussing “Meeting for Learning; Education in a Quaker Context,” an essay by Parker Palmer, a prominent Quaker teacher and author.

In his essay, Parker makes the case for the Quaker practice of Meeting as a useful construct to envision what happens in our classrooms when we are at our best.  In a “Meeting for Learning,” as opposed to a traditional class, he writes, “the individual is always in relationship, and knowledge emerges in dialogue. It is not only what the student knows, but what the student says back that counts. Here learning happens between persons and not simply within the learner.”

He goes on to point out that, like Meeting for Worship, Meeting for Learning requires time: “We must also bring … a capacity for patient waiting and expectation … Authentic education is not necessarily quick in achieving results, nor are its results predictable in advance.  And education suffers when we keep uprooting the plant to see how well it’s growing. We must trust that growth is happening and have patience to wait it out.”

As we considered these points, my colleagues and I wrestled with just how often in our own classes we “uproot the plant to see how well it’s growing.” Several minutes passed as each of us reckoned with Palmer’s powerful analogy and our unwitting culpability.

Parker concludes his essay with a reminder that resonated with all of us:  “The most important consequence of any meeting is the nurture of community, of recentered and reconnected selves.  Education (as contrasted with training) comes from a community and creates community.” Walking back across campus, I was warmed by the invigorating experience of learning amidst the community of my colleagues, and I couldn’t help thinking about the importance of discussions like this one – and dozens of others during our PLUSS days – in allowing us to envision the environment we seek to create in our School.    



 

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Topics: Parker Palmer, student assessment, Quaker education, Quaker schools

Preparing Our Children for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”

Recently edsurge.com published a fascinatingarticle by Tony Wan that introduced me to a term with which I had been unfamiliar; “the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”  The gist of the article is that as we enter this next stage of human development (“a time when new technologies blur the physical, digital, and biological boundaries of our lives”), the skills most in demand will not merely be those focusing on the STEM fields and computer programming, but will include philosophy, ethics and morality as well.

To illustrate this point Wan cites the “Moral Machine” dilemma proposed by MIT professor Iyad Rahwan: “(A)n autonomous vehicle is in a situation where it must make one of two choices: kill its two passengers, or five pedestrians.” Wan then poses a critical question: “If we are leaving these choices in the hands of machine intelligence … (who)are the ones that are going to be setting up the frameworks for these machines?”

Wan would argue, and I concur, that this exciting and complex new age of smart machines demands heightened levels of the qualities that are most inherently human, and that the humanities are, therefore, more important and relevant than ever before; this despite what the plummeting rate of college humanities majors would suggest.  (See also Nicholas Kristof’s 2014 New York Timeseditorial on the continuing need for the humanities in the 21st Century, in which he points out that it is only in the marriage of "hard skills" like computer programming with "soft skills" such as philosophical discernment that civilizations flourish.)

Having spent many years hard at work with my colleagues crafting an environment that fosters such vital traits as reflection, resilience, critical thinking, empathy, curiosity, and creativity – key elements of Friends School’s Teaching and Learning Paradigm – it is thrilling to see how these softer skills are informing the way we prepare young people for the complexity and fluidity of this new era.  Bring on the (Fourth) Revolution!

 

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Topics: STEM, Humanities, 4th Industrial Revolution

Do private schools serve the community?

Posted by Heidi Blalock, Director of Communications on Oct 17, 2018 1:29:19 PM

In the opening Query of the newly published 2018 issue of Friends Magazine, editor Sue DePasquale posed the following question to members of the School community:

What, if any, responsibility do Baltimore's independent schools have to be a good neighbor?

Several readers weighed in with thoughtful (and thought-provoking) responses, which we have excerpted below. We invite you to read on and then share your thoughts using the "Submit Comment" form below. Do independent schools, like Friends School of Baltimore, located in urban environments beset by myriad challenges bear a responsibility to go above and beyond community service? Lend your voice to the conversation.

David Olawuyi Fakunle ’05, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, Morgan State University School of Community Health & Policy; co-founder/CEO, DiscoverME/RecoverME"I would state that most, if not all, independent schools do not have an inherent responsibility to be a “good neighbor” of service to the urban environments in which many are located. That is one of numerous consequences of white supremacy and the inequitable distribution of power and resources that allow independent schools to create and perpetuate their own figurative bubbles of comfortable ignorance. However, such a responsibility becomes prudent as the demographic and philosophical composition of the schools’ student, teacher, and administrative bodies begin to reflect the diversity of the environments that surround them and beyond....More 

Amy Schmaljohn, Ph.D., inaugural Bliss Forbush Jr. ’40 chair of Friends School’s Institute for Public Engagement and Responsible Dialogue: "Well, I suppose I’d begin with a slightly different question. If I see our city as a place beset by challenges, I’m not likely to see the vast resources and creative spirit present in Baltimore. And if I ask myself what responsibility, if any, I have to be a good neighbor, I am overlooking the reality that I am already a neighbor, already in relationship with Baltimore....More 

Liz Lauros ’98, Deputy Commissioner of Strategic Partnerships for the City of New York’s Department of Social Services: "For me, the first step of answering this question is to examine why we want to be a “good neighbor.” Independent schools and other institutions often talk about this concept in the context of doing service work, and/or in reflecting on the experience of having resources when a larger community is lacking. We should pause when we are going down that path of thought and shift the framework toward considering that we all have a stake in a just and fair community, not only those who are oppressed or marginalized....More

Heidi Hutchison, Director of City Curriculum, Friends Select School (Philadelphia): "I believe our country is desperate for a renewed understanding of what it means to be a good neighbor...Although we now have technology that connects us, we seem to be less connected. Being a good neighbor takes courage and effort. We want to live in good neighborhoods, but are we good neighbors ourselves? Our own city of Baltimore literally bleeds on a daily basis. This year we have had 209 (as of 9/18) homicides and nearly 24 percent of Baltimore’s residents live below the poverty line. Erricka Bridgeford, one of the co-founders of Baltimore Ceasefire, asked our community to help Baltimore not just by calling for peace during Ceasefire weekends, but by attending community activism meetings. She doesn’t want us to throw money at a problem, but rather bring our children and families in unity together by getting to know one another … to listen and listen deeply....More

Ariana Sharifi ’18, first-year student at University of Maryland, College Park: "At Friends, I have learned what it means to be a good neighbor. Having gone to Friends for six years, the Quaker testament of community has been ingrained within me: We all have the right to a full, safe, and healthy life. A key part of Quakerism is integrity: Our School’s beliefs of equality and community must be manifested through our actions, and we must act on what we believe in. For these reasons, I believe that Friends’ responsibility to be a good neighbor is heightened....More

Tom Buck, Friends Upper School English teacher since 1987: "For so many of my friends and colleagues, being 'a good neighbor' in Baltimore means reaching out to help in some concrete way, whether it be tutoring or serving meals or rehabbing houses or providing needed supplies or chipping in with one kind of sweat equity or another. God only knows that I honor that, and have tried in some small way to do my part for decades…Perhaps because of the fact that it’s less complex, I choose to take on the challenge of finding ways to take advantage of Baltimore’s myriad cultural institutions…. During the 2017-18 school year, I shepherded groups of 10 to 25 kids and colleagues to plays at Center Stage (“Skeleton Crew”), Everyman (“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and “Intimate Apparel”), Iron Crow (“The Goodies”), and the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (“Red Velvet”). All of these theaters are in classic old, often-rehabbed, buildings downtown. To my way of thinking, these trips, mostly at night but occasionally for student matinées, are win/win. Members of the Friends community are getting what is often, if not always, a great experience at an urban cultural institution that likely needs all the support it can get...More

What are your thoughts? Be a part of The Thinking Cap's online discussion group. Weigh in on something you've read or add a new insight in the Comment section below. 

 

 

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Teaching our kids about healthy relationships

A lot has happened in the six years since I left Friends School of Baltimore. The Ravens won their second Super Bowl, Taylor Swift blessed us with "1989" and "Reputation," and Hillary Clinton became the first woman nominee of a major U.S. political party. As a society, we’ve also grown in our understanding of sexual violence and the form it takes on high school and college campuses.

 

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Topics: healthy relationships, consent, consent education, sexual violence, In It Together

Sleep, memory and learning: a perfect trifecta

Posted by Greta Rutstein, Director of Academics on Mar 14, 2018 11:25:21 AM

Every one of us can recall making the decision to sacrifice sleep in order to meet a deadline, write a paper, or finish something for work.  We convince ourselves that in order to be productive we must push through when in fact the opposite is true. We should go to bed. 

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Topics: sleep + memory and learning

Teaching empathy in the elementary classroom

Posted by Victoria LeBron, 5th grade teacher on Feb 13, 2018 1:04:29 PM

A few weeks ago, I asked my 5th graders to complete this prompt: Something I think you should know about me right now is____________. It was mid-January and seemed like a good time for a check-in. I was inspired to engage the class in this exercise after sensing an ongoing anxious energy among the students (tense body language, tears, distracted giggling). Maybe this would refocus us all, or at least help my homeroom to feel closer to one another. The students took a few minutes to journal on the prompt and then we met for morning meeting, like most days.

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Topics: Teaching empathy, empathy in elementary education

Students need city's arts, cultural institutions (and vice versa)

Posted by Tom Buck, Upper School English teacher on Jan 16, 2018 4:20:30 PM

I have been teaching high school and college English for more than 40 years and, although I’m way too old to wallow in regret, it wasn’t until practically the third decade of my career that I understood the transcendent importance of exposing my students to what Baltimore and the metropolitan area have to offer – culturally, historically, and educationally. Our kids have priceless opportunities to see and learn from the myriad museums, theaters, and galleries that surround them; What’s more, these cultural institutions need us almost as badly as we need them.

Last spring one of my English elective classes went to a Towson University student matinee of “X,” a play about Malcom X's struggle with Elijah Mohammed and the Nation of Islam. Based on what he subsequently shared and wrote in class, one of my students clearly learned more from that production than anything I taught him. This statement is less a knock on my teaching ability than it is a monument to the power of live theater.

A few years back I had an idea to send pairs of students off to explore area theaters and then report back to the class about their experiences. Last year, two kids visited a small theater in the Station North arts district to see an evening performance of a noir play. I am certain the performance itself was illuminating, but the fact that they witnessed  a community theater surviving in a tiny space in a marginal neighborhood thanks to the will and chutzpah of a struggling management team made even more of an impression than the play.

Over the past five or so years, I’ve taken groups of kids to Everyman Theatre, Center Stage, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Theatre Project, Towson University, and UMBC. Typically these organizations give us great deals because they need to cultivate young audiences in order to survive. Because of the relationship my Friends School colleague Helen Berkeley has cultivated over the years with Towson University, our aforementioned trip to the production of X was comped.

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Topics: schools and cultural institutions

Get outdoors with the kids this winter break

Posted by Caren Shelley, Lower School Art Teacher on Dec 19, 2017 6:39:55 PM

Growing up in Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood in the 1980s, our community was a mixture of working parents, single parents, parents trying to build a diverse community. Neighbors relied on each other, gathered together during difficult times, and celebrated in times of joy. When a child from one family outgrew his or her clothing, the items were shared with other families; and when a cup of sugar was needed, we had long blocks of friends from whom to borrow one.

Because my parents were artists and art teachers we were constantly making our own toys and games and enjoying family time. These experiences took on a magical quality in the winter, when the sloping snow drifts beckoned us outside to take in nature’s handiwork and to use the transformed landscape to explore our own creativity.

I continue to find inspiration being outdoors in the winter. Especially at a time when all of us seem glued to our electronic devices, spending an hour or two in the crisp cool air, listening to the sounds of nature and finding inspiration through art and culture are the best ways I know to prevent cabin fever. Below I’ve gathered a few meaningful projects and ideas for family outings that I hope you will enjoy. Happy winter break!

Take a moonlit walk

On a brightly lit evening (the next full moon is set for January 2!), listen to the sounds of near and far – have a destination in mind, a café or shop where you can enjoy hot cocoa or a snack to fortify your walk home. Or have it ready upon your return!

Snow painting 

Combine several drops of food coloring with cold water into empty dishwashing soap or squirt bottles and mix, using one bottle for each color that you wish to make, and then head outside to paint patterns or pictures on the snow! Using a piece of paper try to capture a print of your art by laying the paper on top and gently pressing down! Make decorative snow balls. Watch the colors mix and the snow compact itself like colorful jewels.

Puffy snowflakes

In a bowl mix equal parts salt and self-rising flour. Add enough water to make it the consistency of pancake batter. Pour into empty dishwashing soap or squirt bottles. Using colorful construction paper or wax paper as your surface, squirt snowflake or other shape designs and microwave on high for 30 seconds (microwave times will vary) until snowflakes are dry and super-puffy!

Snow tracks

This is a fun activity for the whole family.  Experiment with walking in different ways to make tracks in the snow!  Drag your feet, walk with your feet out to the side, like a penguin … maybe even walk on your hands!

Critter prints

Using an online guide that you can download and print, identify the many animal tracks you may find in your own back yard and learn what animals lurk nearby!

International folk tales

Spread the joy of world culture and read aloud to your children tales from far off places! Search the Caldecott Medal and Newbery Medal web pages for ideas. Plan together and prepare a meal from the country your story originates.

Plan a museum trip

Baltimore has many wonderful museums and some offer free admission! Plan day trips to one or two over winter break and share your top 3 discoveries with one another. Some fun ones to check out include the B&O Railroad Museum, the Fire Museum of Maryland, and the American Visionary Arts Museum.

Aquarium art outing

In winter I love spending time in the warmth of the National Aquarium. You can bring sketch pads and colored pencils and draw the many colorful creatures that fly, swim or crawl by! Half price Friday Nights run all year long! 

 

 

 

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