9.08.2008

Drew School Liveblog, September 8

230
Advanced Art class; the school-day's last period.  9 girls and 1 guy-- again, an art gender imbalance, I wonder why?  Anybody care to speculate?    

Music playing, assignments made, and students are working.    Reading about best practice, several writers have advocated that all subjects should be taught more like art: teachers do demonstrations, give clear examples of excellence in subject achievement, make assignments with clear expectations, and then step aside, letting students "practice" while teachers coach.   That is happening here, and it looks great.  Full engagement, lots of low-key support for classmates, substantial responsibility taken for product, and lots of ongoing feedback and positive affirmation offered by teacher. 

Art students are going to take the last few minutes of class to read a section and post a response to the blog.    Please read the above, and/or any three paragraphs below, and post a response of some kind, either reacting to what you have read, or just telling what you think the best thing that is happening here. 

1:20-2:20
After what seemed a very short transition, I am now in French class with Simone; she is the TA, and before the teacher arrives, she immediately takes command of this group of freshmen and sophomores, asking them to take out their homework,  which she is checking.   She didn't identify this when I asked her about authentic or applied learning, but it certainly is a great example.   I haven't had many opportunities to view high school "TA" work (ever?), and this seems great.   How many Drew students do this, TA work?  How systematized is it?  I like it.

The class is all in French-- our teacher is Senegalese, and is deliberately speaking only en francais.   (But in a complicated example of the imperative, he steps out of French into English to explain).   Simone is not needed for today's lesson, after the initial check-in, so after a few minutes we head out, taking a break for the rest of the period.  It would have been fun to see more of Simone's TA-ing in action, but not today. 

Instead we toured the school-- covering all four floors, and finding a very open, safe, informal, comfortable environment.    We went into the learning center, where teachers and tutors are available, all day, for drop-in assistance, and a group of students are taking them up on it.   Simone has an extended conversation with one tutor about a previous week's assignment.   We go upstairs and visit in the art studio; a class is in session, beginning painting, and Simone goes right on in, welcomed into the environment by the teacher.   Kids are very engaged, two different assignments in action, and the teacher, having established the expectation, is checking in with them.    She says she hopes this class allows kids to have a lot of fun, in what otherwise for some might be a very pressured day, and because fun elicits creativity.   The class is all girls; we discuss some reasons why that is so: the gender of the teacher (in contrast, there is a male music teacher, and more boys seem to gravitate to music), or perhaps the career tracks of men and women in the arts?   We also discuss how her art instruction has changed over the years, and for the 21st century; she suggests she is glad for more opportunity to focus on depth over breadth, recognizing the value of less is more; she also says that she is more aware that she now needs to teach the hidden elements of visual art, for greater visual literacy in a visual age (and refers to Pink's whole new mind in this context).  

Briefly we visit the library, where Simone happily says hello to friends with a casual and teasing banter; she says students at Drew (still) use the library books frequently; when I ask her about just using wikipedia, she says she doesn't trust wikipedia.  


1235: 
After a quick lunch (pad thai), I am back in class, in Physics, with Simone.    Over lunch, we discussed some quick topics of 21st century schooling.  "Simone" and "Alice" offered some input to me about what they think 21st century education is: they said it has to do with being able to really offer your own point of view and your political opinions, and speak your mind; to think independently and critically.   Simone is glad that she has exposure to a pretty wide variety of cultural diversity among her classmates, and they are all welcome to speak their own views.      

About authentic education, Simone says she really values the week-long experiential ed. programs Drew offers, called DEAL; she has done pottery and a Quebec exchange.

I asked about digital tools, and heard about appreciation for email and a homepage Drew offers for homework and other communications.   Neither Simone nor Alice are carrying laptops, but they tell me they both carry iphones to check their email and for other school uses-- I think it is really interesting to consider how we can use smartphones to leapfrog laptops.   I asked for examples; Alice says she has an iphone app for chemistry formulas she needs, and Simone says she has used it in class to check definitions of terms (even though, and I thought this was fascinating, she seemed to say she has to hide using her smartphone in this way because cellphones are not supposed to be used in class).    

We also spoke about the most challenging assignments they have had; Simone told me about a terrific history course she had where she had to write a paper about the West, and she used the school's great library (and librarian) to find sources, and wrote a 5 page paper about prostitution during the gold rush.  Alice told me about an essay she wrote last year on communism, having read Marx and other writings about communism in practice.  In her paper she offered an argument (and I liked her sophistication in recognizing this as an 'argument') that communism could only work in a closed system, utterly unaware of other options for societal organization.  Once people in communism become aware of other systems, communist systems will collapse.    Nice thinking. 

Physics: Animated, after lunch. Reviewing key terms, in an energetic back and forth question and answer session.  What about velocity-- does velocity have to do with mass?  She is working off of a digital projector from her laptop, and a powerpoint of key topics.  Students have been given a units problem-- and they are doing the work, talking and supporting each other.  Now three more acceleration practice questions-- students doing the calculations, and the teacher is moving about, checking answers and coaching the problemsolving. 

Is gravity a force?  Debate is breaking out among the students, and she is letting the debate play out.   A little press from the teacher-- explain your thinking.   It is a fun argument to watch.   Fun at the end, an activity measuring length of time of falling objects.  


11:15
I jumped ship from "simone" to "alice" for this morning's fourth class period, and I am in an English seminar, Literature of Ethics.   The class actually begins, (very nicely!) with a bit of a press to me: what am I doing here again?   Why am I even doing this?  the teacher encourages the questioning-- this is critical thinking, go ahead.  I answer, and then then teacher engages me when I say I want, in part, to shadow students to see their perspective and "hold up a mirror" to schools so they can see the "cool stuff" going on.   She says do I mean that administrators have no real idea what is going on?  I say that I think they do have some ideas, but that they, and everyone in a school, could all stand to know better what is going on.  She agrees that she thinks students do have a much better idea what is going on than do the teachers, as the students go class to class and see the breadth of teaching.  

We begin with a question about the night before's reading, from Steven Pinker on the Moral Instinct and how the understanding the brain can inform our understanding of morality,  Students are very engaged, and the conversation is free flowing. (the guys are also participating a lot).   Our teacher asks good followup questions-- what is the point, is there a moral gene, and students are pressed to support answers.   A student answers by citing a passage directly.   Followup: "and what is he saying about that?"   "What about the morality involved?"  This is great. 

taking a quick look now at the Course description-- which most of the classes have, really helpful course overviews.    Beautifully the course description opens with our guiding questions: What does it mean to be human?  How do we choose to behave under duress? Why do characters act unethically?  And it is made personal, connecting the course to ourselves:  how do we choose to act, and why?  How should we account for our lives? 

Course sheet also lays out the assignments, including multi-draft essays, reading journals, and presentations.  A rubric is also provided.

Today's Pinker reading was accompanied by questions for preparation.  One asks for close reading: what is the proof?   The second question is intentionally difficult-- and bravo.  Listen to this: "If morality is a biological imperative; if it behooves us socially and evolutionarily to behave 'morally,' does this negate the 'moral' nature of morality?"   I love this-- this really requires thinking.    (then added is this postscript: "if you understand this question, you get an automatic A on this assignment").     The third question induces an argumentative approach (I think Graff would love it), and demands assertion and defense.   "Is Steven Pinker a smarty-pants, or an opinionated goofball?  (you must pick one or the other, and tell me why)."  (Italics added).  

Teacher makes a connection to college preparation-- in college you will have to do deep critical thinking and focus on logical analysis, and let's start doing it here.   Let's scrutinize the Pinker article-- let's look closely at its logic and assertions.  Pinker says there are five human universals-- do we just accept that, just take that for granted?  No, let's interrogate it, what is he bases that on?  What is his evidence for his claim?  

Very strong approach here to explaining and defending.   Like it a lot. 
 

10:15
Went with Simone and got some coffee.  Now in Math class (Precalculus); in part of the modern part of the building with these great glass windows over California. 

Over coffee, hurriedly, (easy to forget how little pause time high school students have, rushing from one thing to another), chatted with Simone about what she thinks is most important preparation for college; she says it is strong essay abilities, a strong ability to write college writing.  Simone says she had a good junior year course, "writing for college" that helped a lot, and now AP English is very focused on this as well. 

Teacher asks for questions about homework-- and checks the breadth of the class for comprehension of what the question is looking for.   Very nicely he is using a digital projector, and can immediately shift back and forth between his notes and the textbook itself, to check on exactly which question is so difficult. 

Simone asks a question about something she really doesn't understand, and it is clear that here students are comfortable to do so-- it is totally ok to admit a confusion here, it is really a safe place. Good dialogue of questioning, back and forth.   Lots of questions-- students explaining things to each other, students really seeking clarity.   Working on slope now-- asking students to do it, students to draw the graph of a slope going 1 to negative one, one to negative one-- I like that he is asking the students do it, and then he is moving and coaching them-- students do. 

Glad for an aside he provides, bringing us to the real world-- what if you started a business, he says,  selling bags (pocketbooks), you'd have an initial investment of a sewing machine, and a per unit cost of material, and so you'd need a function analysis to determine when you would become profitable.    Then we go back to the text-- be great to keep the sewing business example alive, try to return to it, not lose it too quickly, it really grounds us in what the value of the learning is. 

Another real world connection-- why Walmart needs to sell a "massive amount of stuff to make any profit" is recognized by a function analysis. 

Now comes an interesting, really important point:  he says the calculating questions are typically not that hard for students, but the explain questions, the "why" questions are always harder for students, but that is ok because we will work on that all year, that will be a main theme of the course, learning to answer the "why" and the "explain" questions, which is exactly as it should be-- (throughout?)-- we need to be learning to think, to question, answer questions not just do calculations, to explain our thinking.  

Nice, visual, tangible display of the formula of the surface of a cylinder. 

Homework will be posted online-- he says, nice and convenient. 


9:30
I am in a 12th grade English seminar, Fact and Fiction: Latin American fiction.   Working on One hundred years of solitude-- what great readings at this school!   A course in Latin American literature (in translation) is itself too a nice nod to a global interest. 

Opened the class with a short youtube video about a disabled man without a memory-- short, engaging, intellectually stimulating, nice use of media and technology-- and then students write a response to it, and then there is a good, questioning dialogue to set up one of the key issues of GarciaMarquez, the problem and power of memory. 

Now we are into the text-- looking at characters as animal figures, looking at metaphor.   

Kind of a funny, good reference to a videogame, Civilization; I like the contemporary reference and familiarity with gaming.   Teacher is at the board, and then drawing a diagram with arrows and shapes, asking students to think about how this might be a representation of the movement of the book.   More non-linguistic representation.  

Simone offers a really interesting character interpretation, and the teacher, effectively, asks her to defend her argument.   then good followup questions.  Pretty wide classroom involvement, though I will note more of it coming from the girls. 

Ongoing effort to link back to other readings, to understand this book as being interconnected and in a dialogue of sort with the currents of Western Literature, with special attention to the kids' previous study of the Bible.   


9:10-- Just left humanitias, here are notes from it, written in the present tense. 
The room is busy with very good energy on this Monday morning.  Our discussion is about my VERY favorite subject, Plato's Republic.  We are beginning by setting a context, with a nod to previous knowledge and to organizing your notes. 

Simone shares with me the course syllabus, which is in fine essential question form, setting out five guiding questions: "what's out there, how do I know about it, what should I do, what actions are permissible, what can life be like?"  This is a great way to organize a course, pursing good, open-ended questions, questions which are authentically interesting, interesting to anyone, open ended, and very amenable to argument.  The course sheet also establishes clear methods of assessment-- 20% is allotted to imagination and participation, which I love, and then the bulk for "long essays." 

Professor, as Simone refers to him, opens with the big question for the Republic: What is Justice? 
 
After a helpful introductory lecture of 10 minutes, setting the scene, we plunge into the questioning, which I really enjoy.  What is happening in Book 1 of the Republic?  Do you know now, having read it, what justice is?  What is justice?  Students are venturing forth ideas, and defending them. 

The professor draws a nice analogy of the Republic to a symphony, what I would call something of a valuable non-linguistic representation, which is something I am looking for, and explains that the whole book is like a symphony. 

Having set out key overarching questions, we now go over an outline of themes to be developed in the Republic.  One of the five is framed as a question, the others as tensions or dynamics, which is just shorthand for questions really: seeming vs. being is just another way of saying What is the tension of seeming vs. being in the Republic?   We are not being told a summary of the content, we are being provided key questions to bring to it. 

More questioning: what is Piraeus, what is impiety?  An attention to vocabulary is here to, importantly. 

Reading the text aloud, and then more good, open ended questions.  Can you find any elements of these themes? A first answer is ventured, tentative, then a followup from the teacher: "go on, continue" (think deeper!). Patience, a great willingness to wait for the answers. 



8:30 AM
Good morning-- very happy to be here at Drew School (San Francisco) today, shadowing a 12th grade student, "Simone"-- not her real name.     This is the first of what I intend will be 20-30 such shadow/visits this school year. 

The goal of the blog is to observe and celebrate 21st century education, and I am here to see it in action, and  report and reflect on it in a liveblogging fashion.   For more on what I mean by 21st century education, you can scroll down the blog to previous postings-- you might start with the post: What is 21st century education, anyway? 

I warmly welcome Drew community member (students, teachers, and anyone else) to follow along over the course of the day (remember that in liveblogs, the chronology of the page is backwards with the most recent posting being on top)

I'm hoping that this will be interactive: I want to hear from you, and encourage you to share with and respond to each other.     Use the comment button to post your responses.   (I am moderating them for appropriate content, so they will not post immediately, but quickly)

Here are some prompts for you to consider, but please also feel free to write a reaction to anything I have written, or to respond to what someone else has written in the comments. 

1. What do you think is good 21st century education?  How is it different from what good education was 10 years ago?  How should schools be best educating for this dramatically different new age?   What are the necessary skills, aptitudes, minds or senses for success in this new era?   (see a list of these from different sources here)

2.  What are good examples of this kind of education happening at Drew?  What in general is happening here that is really excellent practice? 

3.   I think good 21st century education includes some of the following-- you could respond by telling me whether you agree or disagree, or respond with examples of these in practice:  
  • requiring students to think critically, ask good questions, and employ effective argumentation; 
  • authentic education where students engage with and apply learning to real problems; 
  • learning for global understanding and 'international-mindedness'; 
  • schooling which integrates effectively contemporary digital tools such as laptops and cell phones. 

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jonathan, It's only 11AM, and I am very impressed with both the volume and the comments / observations of your postings as you follow Simone through her day with us. I look forward to debriefing the day with you later. However, a few quick thoughts as the day continues: I thing one mark of a good high school is the willingness to have guests see it (us) "as it is". I feel that such frank, unscripted visits such as yours, or the ones I enjoy in various classes, etc, show the true school in action. I have no hesitation in having visitors: our teachers feel the same, too. The work going on in the classes is engaging, challenging, relevant and (usually) fun. I bet that as you leave later today, you will have an impression of Drew as a school where there are bright teachers who truly love working with their students. Both grow in the process. I also hope that you will leave with some awareness of the incredible ways Drew allows Simone and her school mates to grow outside of the formal classes. Ask her about her travels, sports, community service. These students grow in so many different, amazing ways. Sam

Anonymous said...

I really like the way you thoroughly look at what is happening in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

You are wonderfully obsevent, and I apprecite the positive nature of your inquireies. The comment regarding the sex or art student attendies I believe is a social norm, where as art is gentle, feminine and non agressive in our society- looking less appealing to male students in general.

Anonymous said...

I believe that one of the shining aspects of what Drew can contribute is the ratio of teachers to students. It really helps when student can get one on one time with the teacher and fully understand the concepts given during class. Also the LSP, offered here at Drew benifits many students and shows us that there are resources and people that can help further our education.

Anonymous said...

The way you use examples from the classes to show how they each indirectly teach information that connects the course to modern life is very interesting. I was in the math class desrcibed and I never really noticed how the teachers can connect their subject to everyday life. This is informative and detailed, nice job!

Anonymous said...

I go to drew high school an i feel like we have a great atmophere here. all grades hangout together. People are supportive of eachothers learning and differences. I think that we are lucky to have all the technology that we have.
i love the blog, it gives a very clear view on how drew really is.

Anonymous said...

I go to drew high school an i feel like we have a great atmophere here. all grades hangout together. People are supportive of eachothers learning and differences. I think that we are lucky to have all the technology that we have.
i love the blog, it gives a very clear view on how drew really is.

rchung said...

i kinda wished that jonathan would write more things about the adv. art class.......instead of an assignment...but it was pretty funny. yeah that part of the blog was more like a hw assignment.

Julia M. / Leva said...

We are very happy that you decided to check out what drew is like =) Truly, everything about Drew is great. The classes are interesting, the teachers are caring, especially Mr. Chabon. He really knows how to connect with the student body.

Thank you so much for visiting!!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a drew student:
-female
-12th grade

I'm writing this in response to an assignment from my Advanced Painting class (4th period)

I agree with your observations for the most part. The way these classes are taught is wonderfully engaging, innovative, modern and I really have had a fantastic learning experience for the past 3 years.

However, because I have been here for three years, I have learned that a Drew education is really what you, or rather the student, makes of it. It is easy to learn a lot through discussions here in the classrooms, but only if you are an engaged and motivated student to begin with.

Drew offers a wide variety of unique opportunities, like DEALL week where we spend an entire week studying a specific curriculum outside of our usual academic schedule (I have built rockets, done silk-screen printing and seen the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland myself...) and Spirit Week when we continue our regular classes but dress up for different things to show school spirit and compete in class competitions.

I like to think of myself as a very driven student, I take my studies seriously and can have a good time learning because of it. However, I have seen a lot of my friends, both that I met here at Drew and that I have known from middle school or elementary school, succumb to peer pressure, get caught up in drugs or alcohol and get behind in all of their classes. Like with a lot of highschools, it is (from what I hear) fairly easy to gain access to things like that here but if you (or your children as the case may be) are the type of free and independant thinker that tends not to bend to the trends and fads because of peer pressure, then Drew can be the best and most inspirational place for learning.

In any case, high school as an experience in general is what you make it and I think Drew is a fantastic place to make it happen.