March 22, 2012

Separated At Birth?

Once in a while, as I take stock of this Among Friends’ website, I entertain thoughts that, because it exists online, I must know a thing or two about technology.  A delightful note that I received from a parent the other day quickly brought me down to earth.

One of our moms, who has two elementary age children, wrote to me about the discussion her kids were having in the back of the car about our school’s computer lab.

Her daughter mentioned that our librarian, deana, had set up the computers.  Her son countered, “Steve did it.”

The little girl was in the midst of retorting, "I don't think Steve set up the computers," when the mom interjected to clarify that her son was talking about Technology Steve, not Head of School Steve.

(Our Director of Technology here at Friends’ is Stephen Butler – who actually goes by Stephen, not Steve.  That’s how we tell ourselves apart.  Only my mother calls me Stephen, and that’s only when I’m in trouble!)

The boy then said, "Well, Steve could do it, too.”

His sister quickly added, "And the Steve who's already dead."  The mom was puzzled for a moment until her daughter added that this Steve she was talking about started Apple.  

The mom’s note ended with “Just thought you'd be comforted to know the kids class you with Stephen Butler and Steve Jobs in your potential ability to set up their computer lab.”

Lofty company indeed.  But I think I’ll leave it to the professionals.

We’re getting ready to break for spring.  There will be no Among Friends’ entry next week.  Check out our school’s Facebook page for a great sign of springtime arriving at Friends’ School.  I wish you a wonderful restful spring break and time with your family where nobody gets you confused with anyone else.

March 15, 2012

Playdough for our Young Architects

An aerial view of Friends' School BSP (before solar panels),
as seen by our 4th and 5th graders using Google SketchUp
Our fourth grade class has had quite a week.  Fresh off being featured in the Daily Camera and spending their evenings learning the restaurant business, they have also been hard at work designing virtual three-dimensional computer models.  Along with the fifth grade class, our older students began to learn how to use Google SketchUp, a free software program which was developed right here in Boulder.

Google SketchUp is known by some as playdough for architects. It is a 3D modeling program  designed for architectural, civil, and mechanical engineers as well as filmmakers, game developers, and related professions. The program allows placement of models within Google Earth and that’s what our students were working on.

Oliver Davis, who is the dad of Olivia (5th grade) and Calder (PK), is the CEO of concept3D, a firm which specializes in 3D mapping. He brought along Zack Mertz, his vice-president of design, to Friends’ School to teach our students how to take a two-dimensional image of Friends' School straight from Google Earth and turn it into a 3D image. The kids designed a three-dimensional Friends’, complete with the school's distinct features, adding trees and even playing with how to add on new space.  One of the students figured out a way to design space for the school that looked like the Kremlin!

When asked why he thinks it's important for elementary kids to be familiar with more advanced software like 3D modeling, Davis responded, “Connecting the physical and virtual/digital worlds with 3D and other advanced media, such as Augmented Reality and spherical photos, will be a standard experience - beyond gaming. Whether interested in art, animation, computer science or just as a consumer, elementary students today will connect to everything virtually.”

Davis and Mertz have collaborated on creating photorealistic, highly detailed Google Earth/SketchUp models of Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and other well-known properties.  It was amazing to see how easily our students picked up the basic elements of the program.  Because it is free software, they can download it at home and build 3D models of their own house and neighborhood, or our school, right into Google Earth.

The fourth and fifth graders loved this experience.  Among many comments heard were:

I would never know how to do this on my own.  Now I can go home and do all this fun stuff.

5th graders learning how to use 3D mapping software
in the school's computer lab
I like how we can download images from 3D warehouse. 

Making pictures into 3D is so freeing.

Zack taught me how to make a house, then create a way to go inside!

I can't believe Zack came all the way from Minnesota to teach us this.

Really, really awesome!

Fifth grade teacher Liz Richards, who contributed significantly to this piece (thanks Liz!), remarked,

I think the best thing about the experience is the new enthusiasm it generated for working with practical software that is also fun.  Work can be fun!”

Who knew?

At Friends’ School, we had a sneaking suspicion.  And we’re very grateful to Oliver and Zack for their time and expertise and for advancing the knowledge of our kids.

March 8, 2012

The Polly T. Donald Enrichment Fund award recipients announced

Award recipients Tricia Callahan & Meg Hansen
If you know anything about Friends’ School (and I believe you do), you know that one of our core tenets is that we educate the whole child – head, hand and heart.

But what does educating the whole child mean exactly? It means that we recognize that each child is unique. It means we seek to provide a dynamic, challenging learning environment in which children can develop to their full potential – socially, emotionally, creatively, cognitively, physically, and spiritually.  It means each child deserves to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

And, if you take a careful look at our mission statement, you will notice that “we challenge students and teachers to reach their full potential as engaged, lifelong learners.”

Students and teachers. Grown-ups, as well as children.  The adults deserve to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged as well.

My predecessor, Polly Donald, Friends’ head of school for seventeen years, believed this more than anyone.  In 2009, when Polly announced her retirement, there was a strong desire to create something significant in her honor. 

Based on Polly’s belief that an individual’s personal growth inevitably enriches those with whom he or she comes into contact, the school created the Polly T. Donald Enrichment Fund.  The Fund aims to revitalize, inspire and support the personal growth of Friends’ faculty and staff.  Polly’s thinking is that, by being revitalized and inspired, the teacher or staff member will, in turn, enrich the Friends’ School community at large. Among other qualifications, award recipients must demonstrate a commitment to the children, families and mission of the school.

In Polly’s final year at Friends’ many parents, alumni, staff, trustees, and friends donated over $50,000 to the Polly T. Donald Enrichment Fund.  The Board-appointed committee who solicits applications and determines awards is chaired by trustee and parent Surrie Hobart and consists of former teacher Carrie Simpson and former parent and trustee Marion Taylor.

This year Surrie, Carrie and Marion reviewed ten applications for the award and the school is excited to announce that this year’s award of $2,500 will be given to two recipients:  Meg Hansen, our Director of Communications and Tricia Callahan, our elementary Literacy Resource Teacher.  Both Meg and Tricia are long-time employees at Friends’ who demonstrate a commitment to the children, families and mission of the school on a daily basis.

Meg will be visiting several western national parks, Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton, with her sons.  In her application, she wrote:

former head of school
Polly T. Donald
“I imagine ten days without computers, cell phones, video games, a website to manage, or anything electronic that would connect us back to the plugged-in, hectic life we seem to never be able to escape from these days. Back to nature, geysers, bubbling mud pools, glowing colorful Morning Glory Pool and Old Faithful, moose, deer, eagles, and …conversations, real conversations with the two most important people in my life, one  who will be off on his own wild adventures in two short years. What I need and really want at this point in my life is connection and more time with my sons where I’m not burning the candle at both ends to provide a life for them but can actually take the time to enjoy them and know even more of the incredible people they have become. They never ask me for anything, knowing I probably can’t say “yes” very often. To give this to them would be an incredible gift to all of us and would create more of the only thing that we can hold onto—memories.”

Tricia will be taking part in summer tennis lessons.  In her application, she wrote:

“When my daughter was in second grade I felt that our lives had become too busy and I just couldn’t keep up with (flute) lessons, rehearsals and performances, so I stopped playing.  Now my little girl is heading off to college and I’ll have more time on my hands.  I’d like to do something for me.”

In their communication to the entire staff, the Fund Committee commented:
“We were all inspired by your desire for continued growth and revitalization and humbled by your drive to stretch yourselves.  Be assured this fund is Polly's legacy and is here to stay.  Funds will be awarded annually so please re-apply.”

I know this was a hard decision for the committee to make because they received many wonderful and deserving applications. I am grateful to Surrie, Marion, and Carrie for their tremendous care and thought in the process, their dedication to the task, and their clear passion and love for this school and those of us who work here.

I am excited for Tricia and Meg to pursue their dreams this summer and to find the revitalization they so deserve.  Thank you to Polly, to our Board, and to everyone who donated to the Fund in Polly’s name. I’m proud to lead a school that not only educates the whole child, but also desires for our adults everything that it wants for our children.

March 1, 2012

Sleepless in Seattle


I am writing this entry from afar, as I enjoy the privilege of attending the conference of the National Association of Independent Schools in Seattle, Washington.  There are over 4,000 people here from all over the country, from Canada, and from independent schools across the world.

I’m sleepless, not so much from the cranky heating system in my hotel room, nor from the sirens wailing below on the downtown streets.  It’s from excitement.  Excitement about all of the amazing things that are happening in the independent school world and how our schools are leading in the way in giving our students the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

The theme of the conference is innovation.  The opening speaker was Bill Gates who knows a thing or two about innovation, from what I’ve heard.  He was introduced by the head of the Lakeside School here in Seattle, the only school from which the young Bill Gates ever graduated. 

When Gates was a sophomore at Lakeside, he invented one of the first educational scheduling programs that the school used and he manipulated it to benefit himself, his friends, and, it is said, his dating life.  As a high school junior, he and Paul Allen sold an urban management software system to the city of Portland.  The headmaster of his alma mater said that one of the best things his school did for the teenage pair was to get out of the way and let them innovate.  It is a wonderful argument for giving kids choice.

While Bill Gates focused much of his talk on the rapidly expanding world of technology in schools, and gave me some great new ideas about how to think about the ways our students need to think globally on this interconnected planet, I came away most impressed by the work he is doing with his foundation.  

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working to fund education throughout the United States and the world.  They have made dramatic inroads into the eradication of certain diseases.  And it has all been driven by one single motivator.  They are using the power of innovation to save and improve lives.  Gates encouraged his audience to do as he has done, in whatever big or small way we can:  to get involved and to do something, anything, to help our fellow beings.

As an aside, I was slightly warmed to note that the Microsoft CEO had a spelling error in one of his slides.  Not only that, but I and hundreds of others around me were taking notes on his talk on an Apple computer product.  It’s nice to know that nobody’s perfect.