February 28, 2013

Procrastination – There’s An App For That

Michael Hansen and Ryan Orbuch, app developers
A 16 year old Friends’ School graduate and his high school buddy have been getting some serious attention lately.  Serious, as in national news: featured in The Huffington Post, interviewed on a national broadcast of Fox News, highlighted in Apple’s App Store, and receiving shout-outs on dozens of technology websites.

The reason?  High school juniors Michael Hansen (Friends’ School Graduating Class of 2007) and his fellow Boulder High classmate and business partner Ryan Orbuch have created an app that, in its first month since launch, has sold over 20,000 copies, with daily sales reaching the thousands.

The app is called ‘Finish’.  It’s designed to overcome the clutches of procrastination.

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ll know that I started a recent entry with the line, “We’re all busy people, and like all busy people….” This app that Michael and Ryan designed is for folks just like us! 

They created software that helps users take advantage of how they naturally think.  ‘Finish’ gets in your face to remind you to get stuff done when you need to, and stays out of the way when you don’t. It’s making a big splash at the App Store.

The 'Finish' app
Apple receives close to 15,000 apps every month.  Getting one noticed by the public at large is against the odds. Getting the kind of press that ‘Finish’ is getting is like finding a four-leaf clover.  It rarely happens.

At Friends’ we can’t take a ton of credit for Michael Hansen’s technological prowess. (Though I can vouch for his mom Meg being a virtuoso at keeping our website and communications purring along.) He learned how to write computer code long after leaving Friends’.

But something Michael said on the TV news caught my attention. While talking about developing the app, Michael said, “It was a lot of experimenting and trying things and stuff didn’t always work out most of the time, but after a while we learned the skill sets.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a 16 year old’s way of saying, “I have grit.  I will persevere. I’ll reach my goal. I have a growth mindset.”

That growth mindset is something we value highly at Friends’ and we instill in our students every day, from our youngest preschoolers to our 5th graders.  Our teachers are experts on this subject and use language like this around our kids all the time.  We will grow our brains and set the bar high and keep going until we reach those goals.

In Michael’s case, if ‘Finish’ sales keep going the way they have, he’ll likely be writing the checks for his own college bills.  He may even find a way to pay his parents back for the investment they made in a Friends’ School education.

The Fox News interview

Reflecting on his time at Friends, Michael's mom said "I remember how his 1st-3rd grade teacher at Friends’ taught him that it’s ok to make mistakes, fail, and then to move on. Kelli really instilled in him that life isn’t always perfect and you learn from mistakes. She taught perserverance but also reminded him to be a kid and to have fun.”

Congratulations to both Michael and Ryan.  We’re proud of you. 

And, for any procrastinators out there, you can get more information on the ‘Finish’ app right here.  Just don’t delay!

February 21, 2013

Art and Math – A Match Made In Heaven

Friends' art teacher Rachel Relin making new
friends during her recent trip to Morocco
Each year, Friends' School awards a sabbatical grant to one of our teachers.  The idea is to give one of our hard-working educators an opportunity to rejuvenate themselves, while participating in a worthwhile activity that will also enrich our students’ experiences.

A year ago, 4th grade teacher Liz Richards used the award to visit Washington D.C. and colonial Williamsburg.  It was a great investment by the school as Liz returned with amazing ideas for teaching history and she became the inspiration behind our school election back in November. For more on this story, you can visit this earlier column.

This year’s recipient is art teacher Rachel Relin.  Rachel used her award over winter break to help pay for a trip to Morocco.  Long fascinated in the art and culture of North Africa, Rachel was able to enjoy an amazing trip, building on her long-standing interest and expertise in fabric arts. 

Fun facts:  Rachel has a Masters Degree in Fine Arts in Fiber Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design.  Her teaching experiences range from teaching Fiber Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art to developing art programs for the Museum of International Folk Art, and the Georgia O'Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. She has been our art teacher at Friends’ for seven years following her graduation from our own Teacher Preparation Program.

Just as with Liz’s experience, our students are about to benefit.

Moroccan-inspired geometric pattern
While in Morocco Rachel fell in love with the amazing geometric tile work that is so representative of the Islamic influence in Morocco and Spain.  Knowing that our 5th grade students are currently learning about geometry, Rachel connected with our math specialist, Erika Norman, to co-create a fabulous integrated unit of study.

Starting this week, Erika and Rachel began collaborating with our 5th grade class to explore the connection between geometry and art. Erika is guiding the students through the mathematical aspects of creating elaborate designs, and Rachel is leading the artistic aspects of making these geometric images come to life.

Islamic influenced architecture -
a photo from Rachel's trip
Earlier this week, our students watched a slideshow of Islamic architecture that is filled with geometric patterns. One of the most famous examples is the Taj Mahal. Our students are learning to create their own traditional Moroccan star patterns, following the techniques that Rachel has learned.

Repeating patterns, as illustrated in the eight-point Islamic star called the Khatam, made with two squares, is said to represent the unchanging laws of the Universe in a symbol of interconnectedness.

Interconnectedness is the perfect way to describe the way our talented teachers work together, combining their strengths, passions, and skills to enhance the learning experiences of our students.  Integrated curriculum at its finest.

Both Erika and Rachel, as well as our students, are excited for this process of collaboration.  Be sure to check the halls at school soon for the final pieces.

February 13, 2013

Did Miss Rumphius Really Do That?

Miss Rumphius, from the book of the
same name by Barbara Cooney
We’re all busy people and like all busy people, our e-mail inboxes fill every day with requests to which we need to pay immediate attention or with notices we don’t want. However, every once in a while, we receive something unexpected, a little gift that makes us sit back and smile.

This little gem of a story recently found its way into my inbox.  It came from one of our Friends’ School parents and was forwarded onto me by Beth Huennekens, our Kindergarten teacher. The parent shared a conversation she had with her child one day after school.  A simple and delightful tale, it shows the hilarious confusion that can happen when talking with five year olds. 
Please enjoy, and today take time to smell the flowers….
Kindergartner: Today in class we read a book called Miss Rumphius and she was a lady who loved lupus. She was the lupus lady.
Mom: Lupus? She loved lupus?
Kindergartner: Yes, and she wanted everyone in the world to love lupus too!
Mom: You read a book about lupus in class?
Kindergartner: Yes, Lu read it to us and the lupus lady spread lupus everywhere, all around the world.
Mom: That doesn’t sound very good…
Kindergartner: …it was good!!
Mom: How is spreading lupus good? And why were you reading a book about lupus anyway? You're learning about lupus in Kindergarten?
Kindergartner: It was a nice book. What's wrong with reading about lupus in Kindergarten?
Mom: So this lady spread lupus around the world? How did she spread it?
Kindergartner: By scattering seeds
Mom: Seeds?
Kindergartner: Yes, and they grew into beautiful flowers! Blue and purple!
Mom: Oh, you mean lupines!
Kindergartner: No! Lupus, it was lupus! She was the lupus lady!

Happy Friday to you all.   May you find lupines everywhere!

February 7, 2013

Good Things Happen At Friends’ In The Forum

At Friends’ we pride ourselves on the fact that we are a school where parents are actively involved in partnership with us in each child’s education. In support of that partnership, we have a dynamic and dedicated Parent Council at our school. 

The Parent Council leadership organizes meet-and-greet events for all our parents.  They bring in fabulous presenters for our parent education series. (Friends’ parent and psychologist Kristi Pikiewicz just gave a wonderful talk on Wednesday on parenting different personality types.) They coordinate Thanksgiving gifts for our teachers. They are involved in supporting our students and teachers in many other ways.  Some of the most visible events on our Parent Council calendar are our Parent Forums.

Parent Forums are town hall style meetings where parents and I share dialogue on any number of topics that are currently on parents’ minds.  I am always happy to talk to our parent body about anything that is going on at school. Some parents will submit topics to me ahead of time.  When I know about certain topics before the Forums, I will often invite other teachers or staff members who contribute to the conversation.

Our most recent (and first) Parent Forum of this school year was at the end of January. We had a great turn out and a robust conversation. It was a good reminder to all of us of how important these Forums are.  We will be having at least two more this semester.  The date of the next one is at the end of this article.

Among the many topics we discussed in January was the issue of late arrivals in the elementary school.  As a result of this conversation, using direct feedback from parents, we were able to change the way we start school in the mornings.  It’s been a huge positive change that has led to a calmer hallway, early entry into classrooms, and an increase in instruction time. Happier parents, happier teachers, and happier kids.

Parents also asked me about our Friday Gatherings.  Many parents agreed that they would like to see more Gatherings, especially more that focus on science.  I brought this issue to Dacia Horn, who oversees our Gatherings, and our elementary teacher team, who all agreed with Parent Council.  Dacia has booked more Gatherings, including one this week that centers on ecology and another next week as well.

Many parents came to the January Forum with questions about the ways we teach math and the Investigations curriculum in particular.  We shared an engaging discussion about our conceptual approach to teaching math versus more traditional ways in which many of us were taught.  Parents had questions about our math block and how to help their child with homework.  Parents of older students in the school were able to reassure parents of younger children how our math program has given their children the opportunity to grow as thinking mathematicians.

I won’t take more space here to go into each element of our math conversation: you can read a detailed overview of our math program here.  What became eminently clear was our need to provide more and ongoing education to our parents about our 21st century math program and how it gives our students a solid foundation that readies them for middle school and beyond.

The Forum gave us an opportunity to understand how parents are feeling about ways they can support their children in math.  As a result, Friends’ is committing to holding a parent education event in math twice a year, each semester.  Our first event this year is coming up on Thursday March 7th at 8:30 a.m.

I am grateful to all of our parents for coming to our Parent Council Forum. In the coming weeks, we will explore ways to make our Forums as relevant to our preschool parents as our elementary parents, including holding meetings in the preschool.  Thank you to all of you for bringing us your questions, your concerns, your stories, and your wonderings.  Mostly, thank you for being such willing and passionate partners in your child’s education.

The date for our next Parent Council Forum is Wednesday March 13th  at 8:30 a.m. in the Great Room. Please join us.