March 20, 2014

Snapshots from a Dynamic Community

Teacher Candidate Trevor McGill teaching the song
"Mathematical Pi" to 4th and 5th graders
As we enter into the last day of school before spring break, I would like to share with you several of the many amazing things that have been happening at Friends’ School in just the last single week.

Last week, I posted my 100th essay for this column. Readership for Among Friends’ has surpassed 30,000 since I began the blog two and a half years ago!  Each week, I generally focus on one aspect, achievement, belief, or highlight of school life here at Friends’.  This week there was simply too much going on to zero in on just one.

Erika Norman as Pi
So, a few snapshots….

Pi Day:  Monday was a day in the elementary school dedicated to the celebration of the irrational number π.  Multi-aged buddy classes shared various activities concentrating on circles and π.  Classes held contests on who could memorize the most digits of π.  Students and teachers ate pie together. And, in a weak moment, I somehow agreed to be part of a contest prize – 3rd grader Teddy W. won the honor of throwing a cream pie at his Head of School.  (He unfortunately has a good arm – photo below!)

Destination Imagination: Our fifth grade class, calling themselves the “Guacamole Monsters”, earned 1st place at the Destination Imagination Challenge on Saturday, and the 3rd grade boys (“The Micro Chips”) earned 3rd place. The 5th graders will be going to the State Destination Imagination tournament on April 12. Congratulations!

Book Making: In the preschool, kids and teachers were busy making their own books. In one class, after teacher Christie Stanford shared a book she made about her dog Duke, many children announced, “I want to make a book too!” Quickly, tables filled with children making
Our 5th grade D.I. team
their own books, adding details and talking about their work as they compiled their books.

Brains: In 1st grade, students from the University of Colorado Neuroscience Department joined Beth’s class for a discussion on the brain and how nutrition, exercise, and other factors contribute to a healthy brain. The next day, our 1st graders took a field trip to the Denver Aquarium. Apparently, they left right before the mermaids showed up! 

Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius: Wednesday morning, our intrepid 2nd and 3rd grade teachers Tyler and Diane once again donned their Roman garb to celebrate with students and parents the eruption of a huge Mt. Vesuvius volcano and the subsequent destruction of a model Pompeii that the kids had built. They topped it all off with a re-enactment of sea battles in the Coliseum. It was a sight to behold.

Preschoolers enjoying the book fair
Book Fair: Amazing parent volunteers, led by Carolyn Arras, Lisa Lund-Brown and Parent Council Chair Missy Gill navigated a hugely successful Scholastic Book Fair.  It was great to have so many preschool families join in the fun.

Much Ado About Nothing: Our 3rd, 4th and 5th grade were treated to a wonderfully abridged performance of Shakespeare’s comedy from CU’s Shakespeare Players, followed by a workshop on how the themes in the play relate to bullying.  Good lessons were learned about anti-bullying.

Storytelling for Teachers: Former Friends’ School teacher Julie Hart was back this week presenting an intriguing workshop for all our teachers on the science and art of using storytelling in the classroom.

4th Grade Energy: Mary’s 4th grade class is hard at work studying the science of energy.  Her students conducted a web-based scavenger hunt to discover the differences between renewable and non-renewable energy.  They have also been studying energy consumption in the U.S. and how it’s changed in the past 40 years.

Ants in Kindergarten: Laurie Kindergartners found themselves acting out roles as ants in an activity to build community and work together.

Auction Projects: Many classes were wrapping up their fabulous auction projects, with help from wonderful parent volunteers. We look forward to seeing them all on display at the Friends’
School Auction on April 26: it’s going to be Totally ‘80s!

Team Lunch: Thursday was our monthly multi-age team lunch where kids wore their team colors and connected with friends from all classes.

Marine Life:  Ist graders had a special visit and presentation on Marine Life from CU Science Discovery on Thursday. CU has had great representation at Friends’ all week!

Yup, that guy, getting pie in the face!
Spirit Day:  Today, Friday, is another Student Council "spirit day."  Your child has the option of dressing in snow-themed clothing.  We will participate in snow-related activities with buddy elementary classes. 

Zoo: And the animals are coming.  Today at 12:40, join us for a Gathering from the Denver Zoo.

Part of Friends’ School’s mission states that we are “a supportive, dynamic community committed to educating the whole child”. I think we’ve shown that this week.

Have a wonderful spring break!

March 13, 2014

Proven Results

Friends' School alumni, all current
honorees at Boulder High School
....back in the day
Increasingly we are becoming a more data driven society. With an abundance of information at our fingertips, we want to see proof, results, statistics - immediately. 

I remember walking down to the public library to look at Consumer Reports (they wouldn't let me check it out of the building) before making a major purchase – for a car or a camera for example. Now, I can pull up dozens of review sites in a matter of seconds and get infinitely more information and reviews.  And not just on cars and electronics –but on restaurants, bike repair shops, even independent schools.

Increasingly, parents don’t just want to know that their kids are learning and happy in school.  They want proven results.  In the educational world in recent years, that has meant a major focus on test scores. At independent schools like Friends’, who value academics but also value many other characteristics, results are not always a straightforward thing to prove.

In my Among Friends’ essay last week, I wrote that “we are charged with preparing students for their futures, supporting them to build skills they will need to lead successful lives.”  I wrote about characteristics such as: curiosity, passion, commitment, focus, strategic thinking, collaboration, creativity, and emotional intelligence.

How do schools measure such things?  There are more and more tools that are being developed to measure these “intangibles”.  At Friends’ in our upper grades, we use ERB standardized tests which give us one set of data about academics.  Each year our students do very well and outperform their public school peers. But that is not the whole story.

We are focused on the people whom are students and graduates become.  We stay in touch with our alumni and help them to stay in touch with each other.  We hear their stories and celebrate with them their successes.  Our admissions brochures and our AlumniAssociation Facebook page are filled with amazing success stories of adventurous, innovative young people making a massive difference in the world.  They are using their innate wisdom and creativity and passion to change the world for the better. They are inventors and athletes, they are raising funds to change lives, they are writing music and books, and studying to become world-class medics or business owners. 

Boulder High students who attended Friends' and were honored
at the Academic Letter Program last week
Just this week, Friends’ graduate Michael Hansen was featured on the front page of the Sunday New York Times Business Section for his work on developing the anti-procrastination app Finish. (You can read more about Michael in a former Among Friends’ column here.)

Last week, Boulder High School had its annual Academic Letter Program.  Friends’ School graduates were featured prominently.  Students at Boulder High earn an Academic Letter if they earn a 4.0 GPA or above in a semester or a 3.5 GPA or above in two consecutive semesters.  Sixteen former Friends’ School students were honored on Thursday night, in all four classes.  Almost every child in Friends’ graduating class of 2010 who are now freshmen at Boulder, earned an academic letter.

We are proud of our grads, of their academic success.  However we are also proud of their leadership and the differences they are making in their school and wider community.  We know they will all go on to bigger and better things than the academic awards at high school.

But it’s nice to know they’re on the right track.  Congratulations to all!

March 6, 2014

What Machines Can’t Do

Friends' 3rd graders at performing at a recent gathering
My favorite way to spend a Sunday – in the morning hours before my bleary-eyed teenagers emerge – is to brew a steaming cup of coffee and relax on the sofa with the New York Times.  The Sunday Times is a weighty tome that takes me all week to consume. My subscription comes with a nice bonus, which is online access to the rest of the week.  Sometimes, even the Monday paper includes a gem.

One Monday last month, Times columnist David Brooks offered his ideas on what human skills will become essential for our children and future generations. 

In an opinion piece entitled “What Machines Can’t Do”, Brooks ponders the skills we will need as computers become increasingly able to accomplish many routine tasks - and even some we consider more complex.

It is a vital question for schools and parents to consider. We are both charged with preparing students for their futures, supporting them to build skills they will need to lead successful lives. But what are those essential skills?

Brooks takes the position that some mental skills will become less valuable, specifically those related to memory, the ability to recite mass amounts of information on assessments, or the ability to process following a specific set of rules. He notes that even critical tasks such as picking stocks and diagnosing diseases are increasingly becoming the purview of machines.

But as machines accomplish routine tasks with greater and greater effectiveness, there emerge opportunities for other human capacities to flourish. First, he claims the future will reward enthusiasm. “The amount of information in front of us is practically infinite; so is that amount of data that can be collected with new tools. The people who seem to do best possess a voracious explanatory drive, an almost obsessive need to follow their curiosity.” The future, in other words, will reward those who have passion and commitment.

Second, he finds that while machines can instantly weigh the outcomes of an incredible number of options, “a human can provide an overall sense of direction and a conceptual frame. In a world of online distractions, the person who can maintain a long obedience toward a single goal, and who can filter out what is irrelevant to that goal, will obviously have enormous worth.” Humans, in other words, can be focused and strategic.

Next, he finds that humans can create systems in which people can collaborate – such as Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia. Many of the great advances come when people are able to
Kindergartner Sisi listening intently to her
4th grade sister Anna play the piano
think and work alone yet are able to share results with a group – and learn from the work of others.

Finally, he talks about the essence of creativity as an essentially human endeavor, describing it as “the ability to grasp the essence of one thing, and then the essence of some very different thing, and smash them together to create some entirely new thing.”

Brooks sees limits to the routinized thinking and working skills that emerged from a more bureaucratic era. In their place, he finds “it is precisely the emotive traits that are rewarded.”

The bolding of certain words above is mine. Those words are: enthusiasm, curiosity, passion, commitment, focused, strategic, collaborate, creativity, emotive.

Do the words sound familiar?  These are many of the goals we have at Friends’ for our students. They appear again and again throughout these blog entries, on our teachers’ web pages, in our narrative student reports, and in our admissions materials.  Our teachers encourage their students daily in these concepts. They make up the core of the character education and social emotional learning that Friends' is so well known for.

It’s no coincidence that they are also among the key traits I look for when I hire new teachers and staff.

Looks like I won’t be hiring machines any time soon!