Archive for Curriculum
The communication plan for our rollout of Intensives has attempted to balance the internal work to develop the new term structure and courses as well as the need for students and families to stay informed in a timely manner. Publish too early, and the plan could change significantly. Publish too late, and families and students would feel late to the party.
In January 2017, we announced the new school schedule in two parts, the new day schedule to launch in August 2017 and the new term schedule to launch in August 2018. The new day schedule stole the headlines due to its immediacy, and when school started, we hosted Denise Pope and shared more blog posts to reinforce the principles that supported the new day schedule.
In October, we revisited Intensives by publishing a blog post and holding three parent meetings to reinforce the program overview. Concurrently, teachers worked hard to wrote new course proposals, and department heads and program directors coordinated course approval and program scope and sequence. As that process drew to a close, we published the Intensives overview to a static web page and published on the blog an interview about Intensives with two UPrep parents who are also education specialists.
It is currently March, and later this month, we will take the next step toward course requests by publishing the full Course of Study, holding a series of advisor, student, and parent meetings, and sharing similar information in a web site video. We do this every year to prepare for course requests but anticipate that these meetings and posts will gain special interest this year due to the launch of Intensives.
The course requests process itself will serve as a vital communication moment, as everyone’s focus will be sharper when they are designing student course plans for next year.
Similar to the September events with Denise Pope, we plan to hold a speaker panel in October to reinforce the principles underlying Intensives and address questions in advance of the first courses in January. The panel will include an instructional leader from Hawken School, a UPrep Intensives teacher, and our director of college counseling.
Communication, one might argue, is equal in importance to design for program innovation to be effective. Messages of thoughtful consideration, planning, and student development must reach as many community members as possible and become part of word-of-mouth dialogue.
Originally published in UPrep Magazine
“A rolling stone gathers no moss.” — proverb
This ancient saying admonishes wanderers to settle down and establish themselves. But perhaps some wanderlust is good for you. The Rolling Stones evidently felt so, inspired by a Muddy Waters song of the same name. Wandering is not so aimless when we call it “exploration” and give it purpose: to experience broadly, appreciate difference, and try new ideas.
In 2015, UPrep set out to explore, question, and further develop intellectual courage, global citizenship, and social responsibility. First, the UPrep community identified the most promising opportunities for enhancing the student experience. Then, volunteer Research+Design teams surveyed literature, visited schools, presented at conferences, and wrote proposals. As you can see below, we are well on our way toward implementation of our Next Generation Learning Initiatives, which should be fully in place by 2020.
New Models of Time
Upcoming: Intensives (our working title), in which students take a single course for two-and-a half weeks to think deeply across disciplines, study contemporary topics, and learn in the community.
Completed: Senior LaunchPad, in which all seniors design and engage in an off-campus passion project, and present it to the community. Social Entrepreneurship and Feminism, two new courses that are entirely student-conceived, designed, and delivered. Global Online Academy, in which students have registered for 50 fully online courses for next year.
Upcoming: Construction of a dynamic new center to support entrepreneurial thinking and connection to community. The building will feature flexible spaces for independent, group, and class work and house global programs, the Makerspace, college counseling, mentorship, and other student leadership programs.
Social Justice and Educational Equity
Completed: A comprehensive review of justice and equity practices in and beyond the classroom. New courses that include social justice topics or represent many cultures. Coordination among teacher leaders, the Board of Trustees, and the Diversity and Community program.
Upcoming: Further development of culturally responsive classroom practices, course curricula, student leadership opportunities, and enhanced collaborations among different parts of the school.
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
Completed: A detailed review of SEL programs and UPrep needs, multiple surveys assessing students’ emotional health and social skills.
Upcoming: SEL curriculum built into the new schedule, Advisory for Advisors, and SEL classroom practices.
Upcoming: In 2018-2019, a new school calendar that includes intensive terms in January and June. New courses specially designed for these terms in which students deeply immerse themselves in different ways of thinking, study contemporary topics through multiple lenses, and learn in the community
and through travel.
While much of the UPrep program is consistent from year to year, Strategic Plan 2020 allows us to shake off a little moss and develop exciting new opportunities for powerful learning, which will equip our students to wander with purpose into a complex and ever-changing world
What is student-directed learning? Academic leaders use the term freely. Do we agree on its meaning? A group of us gathered at the Academic Leaders Retreat to discuss this question. The group included University Prep, Urban School, Christchurch School, York School, Lake Washington Girls Middle School, Evergreen School, Synapse School, One Schoolhouse, and The Berkeley School.
A common principle underlies our interest in this concept. Why does some of the best learning take place in student clubs? Students show greater engagement, work harder, and learn more when they control aspects of their learning environment. Daniel Pink wrote that autonomy, mastery, and purpose fuel motivation. Some students need more control than in the typical teacher-led classroom to feel “drive.” Making learning decisions is a critical skill in our fast-moving world.
Where have schools witnessed students design their own learning? We shared the purest examples from our school. UPrep has two student-led courses, Social Entrepreneurship and Feminism: Effects of Sexism and Advocacy. For each, students propose, design, execute, and evaluate the courses, in consultation with a faculty advisor but with no full-time teacher. When class meets, the students independently decide whether to focus on long-term goals, immediate tasks, or reflections.
The UPrep Community Service program encourages students to become “service captains.” They share the inspiration for a new community service activity, and then faculty and staff then step in to identify a community partner, arrange dates, and acquire materials. In the Student Produced Works course, students direct a play, create a painting, compose music, design a dance, and more. In the LaunchPad program, all seniors design an independent, community-based project around a personal interest to end the final year in the school.
During our discussion, academic leaders from other schools shared similar examples such as intensive clubs, internships, independent research, and very project-based courses.
Must students direct all aspects of the learning experience in order to gain the engagement benefits? Not at all! As Larry Rosenstock has said about the school he founded, we do not need more High Tech Highs. We need more different kinds of schools. Only the very rare school is ready to organize entirely around student-directed learning. Many schools want students to lead some aspects of the educational program. Most schools want students to make choices within their educational program.
Students benefit from opportunities to express “choice and voice.” Even a choice between two options is better than no choice at all. Teachers and schools that genuinely listen to student voice and adjust program in response support student engagement. Students may make decisions in discrete parts of the learning process, such as setting learning objectives, designing lesson activities, defining assessment methods, or connecting concepts learned to contemporary topics. Students may have choice at some times and not others. They may share the inspiration for new programs or activities that adults then carry out.
Our schools do not all have to become High Tech High in order to support student-directed learning. Better to start small, learn from experience, respond to local context, and then scale up. Schools are providing different opportunities for students to direct their own learning, creating schools that better inspire and prepare students for the future.
In many independent schools, most students are ready for college-level work by the time they reach junior year. Why, then, do we make them conform to the same time and curriculum structures as our younger students?
Students who study away during junior year know this well. Popular study away programs develop curricula connected to their place in the world, set students to real-world challenges, have more flexibility in their daily schedules, and ask students to present their work to experts in the field. When they return to school for senior year, students often find a conventional schedule confining and learning goals abstract (at best).
Two such students have visited me several times this year, to the point that I have invited them onto one of our strategic planning committees. Their requests: place-based education, interdisciplinary learning, and real world projects. They would like studies to connect to the city of Seattle, draw upon multiple academic disciplines, and to work toward meaningful outcomes.
Junior and senior year are ideal times to develop and test new models of curriculum and instruction. Students take many elective courses during this time, having completed most graduation requirements. Many design a course of study that allows them to more deeply investigate the subjects that interest them most. Junior and senior curricula already have quite a lot of flexibility.
As students prepare for the next step in their educations, they could follow a weekly schedule that supported independence and flexibility. Each class could meet just twice per week, reserving substantial time for individual and collaborative work on open-ended projects, including travel into the city.
Such a schedule would also create space for innovative programs in education. Internships, independent research, senior projects, service learning, and online learning are all promising new forms of study, but they cannot ultimately be effective if constrained by the fragmented time chunks of a conventional high school schedule.
A program centered on student designed learning experiences deserves equally innovative school architecture. Such a school would include spaces to work independently, meet with a mentor, collaborate with a small team of students, build and leave long-term projects, prototype and iterate, and identify resources and partners. This part of campus would support hybrid thinking, housing both disciplinary experts and specialists in community engagement.
Could such a program also benefit students and younger grades? Of course! This center would be available for innovative learning in all grades. The center would field test a model for active learning that could subsequently be adapted for all grades.
Photo by nicolastathers
Curriculum is the main dish in a school, the substance of what students are attempting to learn. Why, then, do most professional development programs focus on pedagogy, assessment, and classroom climate? Without addressing course content, attempts to improve engagement and learning will fall flat. Students are highly attuned to the objectives of their learning activities.
The Independent Curriculum Group is one of the only organizations through which independent schools directly address school curriculum focus. Originally founded to support schools seeking to drop Advanced Placement tests, ICG now attracts schools that are thinking creatively about the content and learning objectives of the instructional program. At this event, we met a school that has formed an academic department for topics in human development, another that offers eight world languages (see p. 36), a third that schedules athletics in the morning, and a fourth that provides students with “20% time” for independent projects. Nothing provides confidence in program change better than meeting the schools that have already done it!
The Academic Leaders Retreat West was the second of two personalized, interactive conferences. The location, Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, New Mexico, encouraged participants to engage with each other, reflect about what’s important in schools, and imagine innovative potential school programs.
Peter Gow and Jonathan Martin facilitated the group sessions. Among the highlights: Martin guided us through a systems approach to school change, elegantly blending theory with practice. In one activity, we used fishbone diagrams to identify the key institutional factors underlying the student outcomes we wish to change. For example, our group looked at student reluctance to take risks and identified factors such as teacher-defined learning objectives, grading practices, program fragmentation, and high student workload as key systems factors that inhibit student risk-taking.
ICG knows how to empower conference participants to personalize and maximize their experience. The retreat included three “unconference” sessions, in which we all proposed topics and led discussions. This allowed us to hone in on questions that were particularly on our minds and learn more about practices in other schools.
The evening events were just as significant as those in the daytime. The first evening, we watched Beyond Measure, the follow-up to Race to Nowhere. The film profiles a handful of schools, and specific students within them, who have succeeded in creating instructional program with meaning and purpose. I was struck by the stories of students who were dutifully attempting to meet their school’s expectations, but without passion. Their learning really took off when their schools launched new learning environments that featured student-defined learning objectives and authentic purpose. The second evening, Gow led a storytelling conversation about schools that have succeeded in shifting faculty culture toward program innovation.
Team professional development typically leads to program change much more than individual experiences. Three U Prep department heads joined me at this retreat, allowing us all directly feel inspired by the conference, meet all of the other participants, and then huddle with each other to discuss implications for our school. The momentum continued after the retreat, as we plugged lessons learned from the retreat directly into our ongoing strategic planning work on next generation learning.
Read the #ALRWest15 Twitter feed for more detail about the work of our three days.
Over the last 22 years, I have worked in six schools, consulted with over a dozen, and visited many more. Yet, I continue to think a lot about my own secondary school experiences. My old school serves as a powerful reference point for my ongoing work.
With my son about to enter high school, and amidst University Prep’s ongoing strategic planning work, I recently became curious about the accuracy of my school memories. Did I correctly remember those experiences? In what ways was my high school similar to and different from contemporary practice? I requested a copy of my transcript to find out.
The results: some of my memories were accurate, others wildly off-base. Brain research suggests that memories are encoded within patterns of neural activity, which are reshaped every time that they are activated. Therefore, memories change and become less accurate as a result.
Number of Courses
I took only five classes most semesters. A few times, I took six. Today’s students regularly take six to seven classes per term. While they get to study more subjects, depth has been sacrificed as a result. In high school, I studied AP biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus without prior coursework. Today’s, AP science and math classes often have prerequisites, as teachers express that they can’t possibly cover the specified content in one school year.
Some subject requirements were minimal – one trimester of art during grades seven through nine? One semester of science in grades eight and nine? One semester of history in the ninth grade? World language study was required through high school. Science was not! These subject requirements seem unthinkable today.
The “A” next to course names designates “advanced.” Tracking was a standard feature of the curriculum, and I took all of the advanced courses that I could. I vividly remember my upset at being placed in the lower math class in my first year. Through test performance and lobbying, I worked my way into the advanced track, where I remained and excelled. I felt the pernicious effects of track, a practice that has a common sense appeal and yet denigrates children and denies their potential.
I earned mostly B’s and only a few A’s. How did I get into Harvard? For one, grade distributions were wider then. An A reflected “unusual excellence” and was difficult to earn. My school defined B as “an honor grade,” which sounds a lot like today’s A. The A is now the most common grade in many secondary schools and colleges. I remember always scrapping to prepare for assessments and improve my performance. Perhaps that’s because there was always a higher level to aim for.
Ethics class? SAT prep? A capella group? Senior woodcarving panel? These were all required and took place during class periods, and yet only the full courses are reflected in the transcript. Today’s transcript captures every academic experience.
In today’s “coding for everyone” climate, it’s ironic to remember that such courses were widely available in the 80’s. The computer had just become “personal” and coding was synonymous with computing. I took two semester computing classes, one in BASIC and the second in PASCAL. My school offered a sequence of four programming courses! In the 90’s and 00’s, technology skills instruction displaced programming, and only now is coding making a spirited comeback.
Electives and Student Choice
It is currently popular in education circles to bemoan content coverage and uphold student agency and choice. Well, it appears that at least one fairly conventional, independent school offered more course choices in the 80’s than most schools provide today. The small core curriculum left plenty of free space in student schedules for elective studies, and the faculty filled the catalog with a wide range of interesting offerings. Today, a long list of distribution requirements forces a certain diversity in student course selections but prevents them from fully pursuing their interests. In 1986-1987, my high school offered the following electives to juniors and seniors.
English: Shakespeare, English Writers, American Writers, Great Poets and Poems, The Hero as Rebel-Victim, Novel and Film, The Short Story, Modern American Literature, Creative Writing, English Composition, Writing—Expository, Narrative, Descriptive, Introduction to Philosophy, Classics in Translation, Readings In John Milton’s Paradise Lost
History: America At War, Constitutional Law, Civil Liberties, Russia and the Soviet Union, Africa: Colonialism to Independence, Hitler’s Germany, The Vietnam War
Arts: Art History, Ceramics, Drawing, Furniture Making, Mechanical Drawing, Media, Music, Photography, Printmaking, Acting, Advanced Ceramics, Advanced Photography, Architectural History, Graphics, Sculpture
Other electives: Anthropology, Geology, BASIC Computer Programming, PASCAL Computer Programming, Advanced Computer Programming, APL Computer Programming, Astronomy, Business, Advanced French, Latin, and Spanish courses, German, Probability and Statistics, Psychology, Topics in Mathematics, Biology, Calculus, Chemistry, Math Analysis, Physics
Diversity and Social Justice
Neither the student body nor the faculty was particularly diverse, and yet some courses had a strong diversity and social justice angle. Invisible Man, African Independence, Civil Liberties, and other courses suggested a politically liberal, progressive tilt among at least some faculty members.
What courses did you take as a teenager? How does that course of study compare to your school today? Education literature suggests that U.S. schools have evolved little over the decades. While the current school reform agenda attempts to counter this trend, it is worth taking a look back to check the accuracy of our memories.