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Explore, Question, Develop: Next Generation Learning Initiatives

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

Completed: A new daily schedule that is easy to follow, supports deeper learning and independence, and
makes time for social and emotional development.

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.

Intensives/Immersives Design

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


Good Courses to Offer Online

What online course offerings best meet students’ needs? Initial ideas suggest four common types:

1. Elective courses in subject areas not offered at one’s school

2. Advanced courses for students who have completed the subject course sequence in their school.

3. Review courses for students who need more work to understand the material.

4. Courses for students who change schools and find that their previous coursework does not match up with their new school’s course sequence.

Missing from this list: the core, required courses of most schools. I wonder whether other, larger online course providers have success offering core courses that compete directly with schools’ core curriculum.

The Online School for Girls just announced their course offerings for 2011-12, and lo and behold, their courses fall neatly into the first three of these categories.

AP Computer Science
AP Music Theory
AP Psychology
AP Statistics
AP Macroeconomics
Environmental Science
Japanese I
Multivariable Calculus
Global Issues
Intro to Animation
Differential Equations
AP U.S. Government
Graphic Art
Intro to Human Anatomy, Physiology & Disease

Summer Courses
Intro to Computer Programming
Review of Algebra I
Write with Confidence, Clarity & Purpose
Transition from Spanish II to Spanish III
Transitions: French Enrichment Course

Photo credit: cindyfunk on Flickr

Will Online Education Transform Schools?

Online education will not replace place-based schools, but it could free teachers to focus more on students and professional development.

The rise of online schooling has gained much attention of late. 45 states (plus D.C.) have established virtual school programs (1). 495,000 students are enrolled in full or part-time online programs, 0.9% of the total national K-12 enrollment (1). Institutions such as Stanford University, the Oregon Virtual Education Center, and the Online School for Girls have launched successfully and then grown quickly. Some wonder whether online schools will quickly replace place-based schools. I doubt it, based on the history of other technology innovations.

School systems inherently resist sweeping changes. They broadly distribute decision-making authority across the institution, making rapid change nearly impossible. Wide gaps persist among education research, practice, and policy.Teachers still largely control the learning environment once the classroom door closes. Teaching has largely resisted trends toward professionalization such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In this environment, online schools are unlikely to take over as the dominant model for 9-12 education.

Could individual cost vs. value decisions lead to an education revolution? Again, I doubt it. Most efforts to impose economies of scale on teaching have fallen flat. Large, urban school districts were intended to streamline school administration but instead caused bureaucratic bloat and worsened inequities among schools. Technology-based instruction may work well for content delivery and basic assessment, but teaching involves so much more than content delivery and skills practice. Responsiveness to student needs requires individualization only possible with a low student-to-teacher ratio.

It is more likely — and more consistent with other technology innovations — that online education will find its niche within the education landscape. What online courses are most popular? Economics, psychology, world languages, computer science (3): highly applied subjects that do not satisfy college entrance requirements. Place-based schools do not consistently offer courses in these subjects due to low enrollment, but online schools draw from a much larger pool of potential students and are typically not responsible for a student’s entire academic program.

65% of Catlin Gabel high school courses have only one section. This causes significant pressure on teacher planning time and schedule constraints. At the same time, these highly specialized courses are among the most highly prized of the junior and senior course offerings. The school that accepts credit for online courses makes available a much broader selection of highly applied, engaging subjects at low cost to itself. This has the potential to reduce the number of “singleton” courses, easing pressure on teaching planning time and scheduling.

If online courses become popular, won’t some teachers have a reduced course load? Yes, and that would be a wonderful thing. In an age of electronic course materials, the need for teachers to deliver course content is greatly reduced. Teachers can focus on the interactive aspects of teaching: facilitating discussions, assessing student learning, building rich, interdisciplinary and real-world connections, and advising young men and women as they pursue their studies.

Teaching fewer periods would make it easier to meet with students and other teachers. Professional development, so long under-emphasized in schools, could really take off. Place-based schools would specialize in highly personalized, caring environments for learning and personal growth.


(1) “K-12 Online Learning: A Literature Review“, National Association Of Independent Schools, April 2010.

(2) Clark, Tom. “Online Learning: Pure PotentialEducational Leadership Vol 65 No 8, May 2008

(3) Booth, Susan. “In the Virtual Schoolhouse: Highlights of NAIS’s Survey on K-12 Online Learning” Independent School, Winter 2011

Leadership Positions at Catlin Gabel

It’s a good year to join the leadership team at Catlin Gabel. Come join this terrific school.

Head of the Middle School

The Middle School Head has responsibility for the oversight and daily operation of the Middle School which has185 students in grades 6-8 and 30 faculty and staff. Excellent communication and interpersonal skills, a deep love of middle school children, and a keen understanding of how students learn are essential qualities. Candidates need expertise in curriculum development, educational practice, as well as in faculty supervision and support. A graduate degree is preferred.

Director of Admission and Financial Aid

The Director of Admission and Financial Aid is responsible for maximizing the exposure, visibility, demand for and understanding of the School with both internal and external audiences; maintaining capacity enrollment of mission appropriate students; and providing access to economically diverse students through financial aid programs. This includes establishing strategic direction, goals, policy, work plans, work flow, and budget; overseeing the admission team’s day-to-day activities; and ensuring effective attainment of admission and financial aid results.

Athletic Director

The Athletic Director is responsible for the leadership, organization and administration of athletic programs and events in all divisions of the School. The Catlin Gabel Athletics Program is open to all Middle and Upper School students.  A “no cut” policy with the exception of varsity-level teams encourages wide-ranging participation in sports, consistent with the School’s belief that physical activity is perforce important and that athletic competition is vital to the formation of the young person. Catlin Gabel’s athletics program includes soccer, cross country, and volleyball in the fall; basketball and racquetball in the winter; and baseball, track, golf, and tennis in the spring. It is a vibrant, healthy, well subscribed and high profile school program.

Catlin Gabel offers a challenging course of study based on a progressive philosophy that is strongly student centered and predicated on an informal, highly interactive environment in which young people are valued for themselves and their ideas.


21st Century Learning and Progressive Education

Many education technology bloggers (1, 2, 3) have issued a call to transform schools into “21st century” learning institutions. Speaking broadly, these schools would emphasize student-centered instruction, project-based learning, and lots of technology use.

These authors make frequent reference to popular new books that describe how society is changing as a result of ubiquitous communication and productivity technologies. Titles include Switch (Heath and Heath), The World Is Flat (Thomas Friedman), A Whole New Mind (Daniel Pink).

I think they’re reading the wrong books. Adding more technology does not change teaching practice. The educational revolution they describe already has a name: progressive education. Over 100 years old, progressive education emphasizes learning through experience, the unique qualities of each learner, and the critical role of education in a democratic society.

Let us adopt a new reading list for 21st century learning, grounded in education theory and schools rather than technology and social change.

John Dewey: Democracy and Education, Education As Experience

Howard Gardner: Multiple Intelligences, Five Minds For the Future

Alfie Kohn: Punished By Rewards, The Homework Myth

Nell Noddings: The Challenge to Care in Schools

Students and teachers work together to design new cell phone policy

Our upper school students and faculty have come up with a new cellphone policy. I think this charts a great path between regulation and responsibility, responding to technology concerns in a manner that is consistent with other aspects of school culture here.

The upper school student body president sent this message.

Hello Everyone,

The moment you’ve all been waiting for has arrived. We have decided on a cell phone “policy.” Throughout all of our discussion, the experiments, and the survey, we have always sought a solution that would preserve and improve the social atmosphere on campus. We have also sought a solution that could be accepted by everyone and embraced so as to work not as a top-down rule that required enforcement, but as an organic initiative. We believe in the responsibility of students here and we also believe their opinions matter, because they define the culture of the school. When people wrote in the survey that they need their cell phones during the day in order to manage their calendar and call their parents and organize their carpools, we took that into account. When other people said that they enjoyed the decreased use of cell phones during the first experiment, we listened to that also. Combining all of these sources of input and keeping our original goals in mind, we came up with a policy.

First of all, there can be no use of cell phones in the classroom. This is already an established rule, but must be acknowledged and upheld by students in order to prove our level of responsibility with cell phones and also to prevent cell phones from interfering with the educational productivity of the school. There also are no cell phones allowed at assembly as a common courtesy to the presenter and to everyone present.

Cell phones also cannot be used in the library in accordance with the rules set by the librarians. The library is a place for studying and the potential of cell phones to disturb others is great.

Cell phones cannot be used in the science building either. The science building does not contain any common (lounge) spaces and so students in the science building are in class (where cell phones are not allowed anyway).

These four restrictions are not new, but they must be adhered to in order to preserve our responsibility for our own cell phone use. The new aspect of our policy is to restrict cell phone use at school to practical purposes only. If you need to use a calendar that’s okay, if you need to call your parents that’s also okay, if you need to find a friend who you’re supposed to be meeting with to work on your history project that’s okay too. However, cell phones cannot be used for social purposes. Don’t text your friends who are elsewhere when there are so many interesting, amiable people around who you can talk to face to face. Don’t abandon a conversation with the person in front of you in order to take a phone call from another friend who is elsewhere. And when you are utilizing your cell phone for a practical purpose, use it conscientiously. Don’t text your parents while you’re talking to someone else. Don’t talk on your cell phone in a place where people are trying to study or talk or sleep. Basically, don’t be rude. During the school day you can use your cell phone when you need to, but do so in an unobtrusive way that doesn’t hinder your own or anyone else’s ability to enjoy their surroundings and this school.

If everyone embraces this idea of having a healthy social community, this plan will be a success. So only use your cell phones when you have to (for non-social purposes), use them discreetly, and encourage your friends to do the same.

Thank you in advance, everyone, for making this endeavor a success.

-Your CGSA

Sexting and Texting

Our middle school head recently asked for resources to help understand sexting within the context of other technological risks and students’ general texting habits. I came up with the following. Do you have other good resources?

ConnectSafely: Tips to prevent sexting

Pew Internet Teens and Mobile Phones Over the Past Five Years

Teens and Sexting – PEW report 2009

Which Is Epidemic — Sexting or Worrying About It?

Sexting — and Common Sense

danah boyd: how youth find privacy in interstitial spaces

danah boyd: teen socialization practices in networked publics

Can you text with thumbscrews on?

Catlin Gabel’s upper school head speaks to the challenge of the perceived effects of cell phone use on school culture. “CGSA” is the high school’s student association.

Republished from the Catlin Gabel Upper School Biweekly Bulletin

This week we had a fascinating discussion in our faculty meeting around cell phone use at the school. The CGSA came up with what I consider to be a thoughtful, cogent proposal for us to consider, and we as a faculty debated it fiercely and finally passed it as a policy. It will be revisited towards the end of the year, but we will plan on introducing it soon.

Certain restrictions have always been in place, such as not allowing cell phone use in classrooms, the library, or during assemblies. A subtler, more complex point has been added which states that cell phones should not be used for social reasons during the day. What I told the faculty in an email before our meeting is I really like the way the articulation of this policy resists a rules-based guideline and focuses more on explaining the values we have that lead us to limit our cell phone use. For us it is not the most facile or straightforward way, but it is the better path. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida talks about culture as something that is ‘arranged’ in a certain way, and this is what we are trying to do with this kind of policy—to form culture and even identity through these values.

Of course approaching behavior in this way is untidy. There’s a lot of gray and that makes some people nervous. That’s why a rule-based system is so much more attractive to many people. With clear rules firmly in place, you know where you stand and which side of the line the students are on. But this means you really do not need to engage and know your students. You can simply take their phones!

Our approach is different and for very good reasons. It’s our commitment to change a culture in a deeper way, far beyond any Behavioralist model of limits and environment. We want to talk about what is going on inside each student. We speak of words like ‘commitment’, ‘decency’, ‘kindness’, and we speak to people’s hearts, not just some external indicator that leads us to believe they are abiding by the rules.

With kind regards ~ Michael

Michael Heath is the head of upper school at Catlin Gabel

There they are …

As a followup to my previous post, we broadcast the girls’ and boys’ basketball games tonight and gained 80 viewers. There’s the audience! If viewership is one measure of success, then give the people what they want!

20100202-Picture 3.png

Whither the virtual audience?

studnet speaker

We successfully broadcast Catlin Gabel’s workshop to design the school’s next community event(s). I had the uStream working smoothly, the facilitator played his role perfectly, and we included the contributions from virtual participants in the real workshop. In the two weeks before the event, we made at least eight announcements in newsletters, email messages, and online articles that people would be able to attend the workshop online. We have some 3,000 alumni and 500 current families from which to draw a virtual audience.

Only five people showed up, and two were my IT colleagues.

What happened? What is the potential of live web broadcasting in a school?

I have seen uStream used most successfully in an educational setting to live broadcast major speeches and conferences. I recently tuned into a great presentation at Castilleja School. A Stanford professor was explaining how all websites, but social networks in particular, are vehicles of persuasion. I was the only virtual attendee.

Broadcasting educational technology conferences seems popular of late. The audience is large, widely dispersed, and technologically savvy. Still, having been a virtual participant before, the presentation quality is poor enough that it makes difficult to pick up everything that is going on. Our virtual participants on Saturday made the same comment.

I don’t feel compelled to live broadcast major events at our school. I would rather record with videocamera and then publish the next day, in higher quality than uStream and as a permanent addition to our site. Just last week, I recorded our Martin Luther King, Jr. community meeting (elementary), published it to a private page for our community, and already it has been viewed 70 times.

Perhaps people are just too busy to attend a live, five-hour online event at a specific time. They can play recorded online video at their convenience. Maybe for this event, we should have eschewed live participation in favor of making a highlight reel of the major points in a recorded video format. Or maybe the gesture of opening the meeting to virtual participants was a sufficiently important to justify the work involved.

Perhaps we were competing for audience against ourselves. If the 100 most interested people actually came to the event to participate in person, how many more did that leave to participate virtually?

Have you seen the new Cisco ads showing telepresence in classrooms? Who really thinks that schools will be able to afford high-end video conferencing of this sort? Grocery stores have far more flat-panel televisions than schools these days, and they sell food.

I would like my next attempt at live broadcast to involve a sports event. Sports have the immediacy of experience that demands a live broadcast, color commentary could be fun and interesting, and the project would involve students. However, we would still be competing against ourselves for audience, the potential audience is relatively small, and a lot of people might feel content to just find out the score the next day. It’s worth a try, though, as students studying at home could easily tune in and follow the game.

I could imagine a schoolwide event during which we partnered with one or more schools elsewhere to pursue the same agenda and discuss similar topics. However, I would choose Skype for such a broadcast, so that it would be equally bidirectional.

Have you used uStream in a school with more success? Did you draw an actual audience? Please tell us about it.