Illustrating Self: Middle Schoolers Finding Identity in Graphic Novels

This year I asked my 7th grade students to read Gene Luen Yang’s wonderful graphic novel American Born Chinese, but I also asked them to finish the unit by writing their own graphic story. I’ve struggled in the past with implementing project-based learning curricula in my classroom, so I was excited to give it another shot this year. For many of my students, this was the first graphic novel they’d ever read “for school,” as they often say of books they read. Many of them already read graphic novels for pleasure; it’s one of the reasons, I think, our library is so stocked with graphic novels—students love them. But it was surprising to me that so many of them had not yet been introduced in an English class to the literary and academic value of the books they already seemed to enjoy. I wanted to fill that space, but I also love graphic novels.

Kids are visual learners (adults too!). It’s rooted in our development. Even at the earliest stages of learning how to read, students learn with pictures. Alphabets with pictures—E is for Elephant, D is for Dog. We all remember Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, or A.A. Milne’s beloved Winnie the Pooh illustrations. And for those of us lucky enough, we’ve shared in the particular childhood joy of Tarō Gomi’s Everyone Poops. Not to mention that, by middle school, many of our students are plugged in to the visual maze of the internet in some way (e.g., YouTube, Snapcat, TikTok, and Instagram). So it made sense, to me at least, that teaching them the moves that authors make through graphic novels spoke a language they’re all familiar with, while still introducing them to the essential devices and concepts I wanted them to understand as scholars of literature. Which is why, this year, I made the decision to teach a graphic novel that would culminate in an assessment requiring each student to make their own graphic text—a scaffolded project—building into a personal narrative essay they would later compose, their first major writing assignment of the year.

As we read Yang’s novel, I taught the kids the various techniques of graphic form, alongside the staples of literature like point of view and plot structures. I also asked, almost daily, that students consider how each of these techniques worked visually within the novel to help us understand what Yang teaches through his characters. By the time we were ready to embark on our project, students were quite familiar with the terms and ideas I would be asking them to use creatively in our project. 

Most importantly, each student had to tell a story, visually, in at least twenty panels—of various sizes and shapes—that was important to them and their life experiences. This was key. They had to tell a story that mattered to them, not just any old anecdote of silly story they wanted to tell. Specifically, I told them they needed to tell a story that taught them a lesson about themselves or helped them arrive at some new understanding about something. That’s not an easy task, but it’s a skill we’re constantly asking of students e.g. college essays, letters of intent, personal narratives. And because I knew they’d be writing personal narratives after this project, I told them that they could use the same story for this project they might also tell in their personal narratives. This was intentional. I wanted them to be able to start developing and revising and thinking about that story, with the hope that this would make for better final drafts of their personal narratives. It was optional, but many students took this route—and I’ve read some exceptional personal narratives! Sure, there were a few kids still told rather funny stories, but they were funny stories that had an impact on them in some way.

The project also required them to use all the terms and literary elements that we’d discussed in the unit. They needed panels, frames, gutters, bleeds, etc.—in addition to their story having a clear beginning, climax, and resolution. There was a lot they needed to juggle beyond simply telling a story with pictures! But the students and I also had to account for the fact that not everyone is an exceptional artist. I’m always doodling, so they were quick to remind me that not everyone likes to draw like I do. I allowed them to use some online tools like Storyboard That and My Comic Life, and I emphasized to those students who didn’t think they could do their best work with their own, hand-drawn artistry, that they should try out these online tools if they felt this way.

I think the results of the project speak for themselves. I met one of my goals this year: teaching with more project-based assessments. But also, the students had fun doing it!

“Yeah, but when will I actually use this in the real world?”: Making Relevance Visible, One Angle at a Time

If you have taught even a day, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of the the sometimes-sincere, sometimes-snarky question: “When will we actually use this in real life?”  Math teachers probably have heard this more than most, and we are lucky to have faculty in our math department at St. Andrew’s that are ready with answers. Math, after all, is everywhere . . . in the exchange of goods for money in a store, in the designs that underlay the construction of a bridge, in the stock market that shapes our economy. David Bramlett recently engaged his Pre-Calculus students in an angle of elevation activity that proved that math is, quite literally, all around us.  

Youth enrolled in Dr. Bramlett’s Precalculus course work together to capture and label angles around campus with the help of the Angle 360 app.

In this activity, students applied what they learned about angles of elevation and the trigonometric functions to calculate the height of various objects. The students set out across campus in groups of 3-5, and with the aid of the Angle Meter 360 App they took pictures on their phones capturing the angle of elevation from a classmate’s feet to the top of the object. At the same time, other students in the group measured the distance from the object to the classmate’s feet.  The students then imported their photos to a word processor to create a properly labeled right triangle and solve using trigonometric functions. The task was completed with each group making a lab report of their results.

Next time a student asks you, “What does this have to do with real life?” take a nod from David.  Ask them to find out for themselves. They may find that angles lurk in our very own plaza, that rhetoric underlies politicking, that to understand culture today you have to understand culture yesterday.  In fact, I have more than a sneaking suspicion that this particular reality-steeped version of inspiration and innovation is happening all over the place in St. Andrew’s classrooms. I’ve borne witness to it.   I saw it last week when Marty Kelly started class with a snippet from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to ensure that students see the far-reaching intertextuality of Old Testament stories.  I saw it when Margaret Clark made connections to Latin vocabulary and words in the English language.  I saw it just a few days ago when Harriet Whitehouse asked her sixth graders compose graphic novels to highlight the elements of “the hero’s journey” that lurk within popular books, movies, or video games.

What do you do in your classroom to bring content alive? Feel free to share ideas in comments below!

Two Flavors of Flipped: From 5th to 12th Grade

Several weeks ago, I had the honor of visiting our extraordinary lab-stuffed upper school science department, and in the process, I learned a lot, including: rollie pollies prefer rough surfaces; lab report writing takes explicit instruction and precision; and, take heart all of us who were traumatized by labs when we were in school: there is no such thing as “wrong data”- your data is your data, plain and simple.  

By a stroke of divine fate, I happened to visit Rebecca Bernhardt’s fifth grade science class right around the same time, and noted that, while the gulf between fifth and twelfth grade science may seem gargantuan, there was actually one distinct similarity: both featured faculty that integrated flipped classroom into their teaching practice.  I decided to interview Krissy Rehm (12th science) and Rebecca Bernhardt (fifth grade science) to learn more. What I found was that there are many flavors of flipped, but all of them have implications for more than just science instruction. (Note: For a storehouse of flipped instruction resources and examples that originate outside of our campus, check out this storehouse of articles, videos, and blogs from Edutopia.) 

Julie: What is flipped classroom?

Krissy: Students do the note-taking and lecturey type stuff at home and then when they come into the class they do activities and labs where they have to work on applying the material that they learned at home.  

Rebecca: So instead of the traditional model of the teacher bringing the students to class and then saying “now we’re going to talk about this new topic” and then assigning practice as homework, the topic is introduced via a homework assignment (it could be a video, it could be a reading, etc.) so that they come to class with that prerequisite knowledge.  I was originally introduced to it ten years ago by my little cousin who is a bit of a prodigy.  She’s now 14 years old taking college courses, but at the time was 4 or 5 and doing Khan Academy . . . It was such a novel idea: kids are getting introduced to the lesson via video and then they’re practicing it with their teacher.  

Julie: Why did you choose to implement it in your classroom?

Krissy: As a scientist I learned that the best way to learn science is to actually do science.  There is so much content that we have to cover in AP Biology.  We would never get through it all if I had to both deliver basic content AND do problems/activities/labs in class.  I wanted my kids to spend the most amount of time doing things in class where I can directly help them (and there peers can help them). If they’re doing problems at home I can’t help them, their friends can’t help them, and they certainly can’t do labs at home.  Students can answer any question they have with a simple click on their computers, so it’s not necessary for me to tell them basic definitions. Instead, it’s up to me to show them how to apply that knowledge. I deliver my at-home content through my YouTube channel.  So this is a way for them to get on Youtube and use it in a good way, to actually learn things to see there are videos out there that can help you learn information.  

Rebecca:  If they can get new content at home, that gives us time for more hands-on activities in class.  They’ve been front-loaded and we can immediately start applying it and do the hands-on stuff which is fun, and it gives me a chance to see if they actually understand.  It’s also a great way to give that introduction from someone who isn’t me. There’s a certain amount of trust that’s built between me and the student. They’ve learned they may not get it the first time. They are getting more comfortable saying “I don’t understand X, Y, or Z in the video.” Some of them just need one-on-one for these concepts.  So it’s a great evaluative tool for me. . . if they aren’t getting it from two different flipped videos, even when they can rewind and rewatch, they need another way. That’s been really, really valuable. The facts don’t lie. I gave the exact test last year [when my class wasn’t fully flipped] that I gave this year on observation/inference and there was an on-average ten point increase. 

Julie: So you both clearly see the value, but what do your students think about the experience of flipped?

Krissy: Mostly positive. The first year kids were more skeptical, but I think they bought into it after they saw I wasn’t going to budge about it.  My first year here the videos were awful. I redid all my videos the second year. And this year I’m redoing a lot of them again to make them shorter and including fewer figures I find in a book and making my own figures and building things like that.  So the first year they had a little bit of a struggle with it, second year much better, third year kids were like “these are the best things ever!” Kids seem to really like it. “Oh- I gotta go back and watch that video again!” . . . and “Oh- I missed that- let me rewind it” . . so they have it with them all the time and can look at it again if they need to.  I commonly hear from students that I write letters of recommendation for that the format of my classes helped them see the value in taking control of their own learning.

Rebecca:  Students are eager to do these assignments.  They enjoy breaking the monotony of having to practice problems at home  Students consider the break-down of homework- the difficulty versus due date versus desire-and even though the novelty of flipped classroom has worn off, they still ask me,  “Can I do your video assignment now?” The kids are craving it . . . they were nervous at first because it wasn’t what they were used to. I’ve explained to them the philosophy behind flipped classroom and why I choose video assignments, and there’s a lot of self-correction that happens. To quote some of my students, “at first I didn’t know how I’d like flipped classroom.  It was a little nerve-wracking doing a homework assignment in which I didn’t understand afterward, and I thought you were going to grade me poorly because I didn’t understand something in a video even after I rewound it. But then we came to class and you broke it down, and we practiced it, and when we started speaking about it, you reminded me of those things from the video, and if I went back watched the video later when studying it, all of a sudden it makes sense.”  They like that. I always leave videos accessible at any point so they become an invaluable study tool. Instead of me teaching a concept one time, they get to hear other experts in the field many times.

Julie: So what does this actually look like in your classroom?

Krissy: I teach seniors, so I’m not very hand-holdy. I expect them to [watch the video before class].  Sometimes I give them pop quizzes and they can use their notes if they’ve done it. We will do worksheets in class, so they will have to use things from the video.  If they haven’t watched the video, it’s usually not a huge deal (unless we had a pop quiz). Most of the work we do in class is in groups, so a friend can usually help to explain things.  This benefits everyone – the student that watched the video is now having to teach the material to someone else and the student that didn’t watch the video is learning by listening and asking questions.  Everyone is responsible for the material on the test. There are some [platforms] you can use to put your video and put your questions in it. It shows you who watched the video or not. I’m with seniors. They aren’t going to [have these checks] in college.  My job is to get them ready to use their time wisely – even when the teacher isn’t going to check to see if you did the assignment. 

Rebecca:  Generally I will introduce a topic via flipped classroom a day to two days before I formally address it in class, and so it slowly starts integrating into class. Full comprehension usually happens several days after they’ve gotten their lesson.  For example, I assigned a flipped homework assignment on calculating the volume of rectangular prisms. The follow-up class was yesterday where I passed them out 1 cubic cm unit cubes and had them measure the length, width, and height and then calculate the volume of one of them.  Then I asked them, “How many different rectangular prisms can we create using 27 cubic cm.” We had some time to manipulate numbers and visualize volume, and that moved into today where they’re actually taking different rectangular figures like boxes and books and calculating the volume of them. Ultimately, they are taking that video knowledge and applying it in class and lab settings. 

Julie: What platforms do you use to make flipped happen?

Krissy: I use Camtasia.  I can make a video, edit it, if I make a mistake I can put a little call out with “oops- I meant to say . . .“ If I make a huge mistake I can make the video over again. I bought it with my budget from the first year.  There are other free ones that others use (e.g. Screen-castify).

A glimpse of one of Krissy’s Camtasia Creations, featuring her own designed figures and voiceover.

Rebecca: Playposit’s pretty cool because I can upload any video, and I can pull from Youtube or really any video source.  But I can also add interactions to the assignments to check for comprehension. One of their assignments they had over their weekend is a video about measuring volume.  As the video introduces a concept or an equation or something of that sort, I can insert a question to check for comprehension. (For a preview of one of Rebecca’s Playposits, click here.)  So in measuring volume, the video introduces what volume is and three ways to measure it. Before the video explains what water displacement is, I inserted an interaction that said “What do you think displacement means?” I can go back and manually grade open-ended questions like that. But I can also add multiple choice questions. I also add in discussions, so sometimes an interaction might look like,  “Add to the discussion about what your current understanding of displacement is.” I’m trying to get them to think about where we are going with this. If the video gives an example, I’ll immediately pause and provide a similar example problem for them to solve, usually a little bit easier, to see if they can immediately utilize the same technique the video just explained. 

I’ve also gone through Google Classroom and Google Forms.  My videos are usually only 4-5 minutes max.  In one case it was only a minute, so I created the assignment on a google form and embedded the video with a quick check below it.  I also go through Brainpop; Brainpop doesn’t have videos with built-in interactions, but for lower and middle school students, the video content is top-notch, and there are great built-in quizzes, worksheets, and projects that I assign to check for understanding.

Rebecca utilizes Playposit to organize and insert formative assessment moments for many of her video assignments.

Julie: What are your thoughts on teachers outside of the discipline of science going flipped?

Krissy: It works SO well with science because we can do so many hands-on things.  It doesn’t have to be on a video or anything like that. Some teachers will say “you need to read that chapter and take notes.” So that could be flipped.

Rebecca:  I would be exhausted if I did a true lab every day . . that would be impossible, so they aren’t always doing a full-blown lab, but we are always doing  some sort of breakdown and hands-on activity to practice the new content. In math, it’s “let’s watch a video about how to solve this problem and then in class let’s practice it.”  If you are introducing a topic in class it’s eligible to be flipped.  You can record your own videos, and I have for some of mine, but I guarantee somebody else out there already has quality videos on this topic if you want to dip your toes in the water..

Julie: What advice do you have for faculty that are interested in flipped but aren’t sure where to start?

Krissy: So if you want to get your toes wet, you certainly don’t have to make your own videos. I think the students appreciate that I make my own videos.  But you certainly do not need to make your own videos. There are so many great videos out there for everything, so those should definitely be used to see if could flipped learning would work for you.   I would recommend at some point doing a few of your own videos. I think the students kind of buy into it a little bit more if you have your own voice on the video. It’s like, “Oh- my teacher did this!”  Sometimes I post a video by Bozeman Science (AP Bio series- science videos) or Khan Academy.  Maybe the student needs to hear it a different way (or they are sick of hearing my voice); there are great videos so you don’t have to make your own videos.

Rebecca: Try it once. Come meet with me and let’s make a pilot lesson.  Let’s flip one lesson, a lesson that you would normally introduce in class.  The really fun thing to do that I did last year just to kinda get my feet wet: you often teach four sections of the same thing; do two flipped and two not flipped.  Do a week of lessons, two flipped, two not flipped. You don’t have to have a full-time commitment to it, but just see the difference for a week and prove it to yourself. I mean, you can take my word for it, but until you’ve really tried it and the kids get used to it and you get used to it, that’s when you’re actually going to see the results.  Assess student engagement and compare it with your traditionally-run classes; see if they are responding more appropriately to the material; see if you can get further with your classes. Because that’s what I’ve found. My timeline is different than it was last year simply because of this one component. And some materials I’m getting through quicker and some I’m going into more depth.  I would say “try it out.”  Come chat with me or any of the wonderful people in i2.  You don’t have to make your own videos to do this. You can assign a video, something upfront that is not physical practice but is an introduction to something.  You don’t have to take their word for it that they watched it. I can show you ways to check for comprehension before they come to class. Give it a try, and see what happens. See how you like it. See if it eases your stress knowing that they are coming into class with that prerequisite knowledge.

Transforming My Classroom With Flexible Seating

Many teachers have been using some variation of flexible seating years before it became a trend. As long as I can remember, I have always had students who needed something less traditional than sitting at a desk. Of course, there are students who will always prefer that, and that’s the beauty of flexible seating. It’s not about taking away from what works for children but giving them the opportunity for ownership of how they learn best in different situations. 

To start the process, I have them take a survey during a Morning Meeting. I ask them how they might do work at home. A bed, a couch, a desk, or on the floor are some of the choices I give them. I then think about those choices and do a trial run by what they’ve answered. What I have introduced this year that is new (to me) is a very purposeful and slow introduction to their options. We first looked at expectations of each type of seating and posted them in the room. I then brought out a different one every couple of days with a visual reminder of the rules or expectations for that particular seating. By being more methodical about how, when, and why they use flexible seating, the students now are familiar with the best ways they can learn.

Does it always work perfectly? Absolutely not! But they know if they aren’t using the seating correctly, then they have to turn it in for the rest of the day. Flexible seating can lean itself towards a more relaxed learning environment where I am able to move around the room as students work in pairs or independently in spaces they feel they learn and work best. I also use different lighting instead of overhead lights on all day. I’m fortunate to have big windows in my classroom, so we often use natural light with a few lamps.  If the “big lights” are on, many times the children will ask to turn the lights off. Another good example of being in charge of how they learn best!

Making Calendar Time Meaningful in Pre-K3

The daily routine of calendar time is something early childhood and elementary teachers are all too familiar with.  The skills students acquire during this time are crucial to their development in math, problem solving, vocabulary, and literacy.  The repetitive routines of calendar time are so beneficial for students, but when implemented each day, these routines sometimes need a little “sprucing up” to maintain enthusiasm and interest.  If you’re looking for opportunities to make this time meaningful and engaging for students, here’s a peek into what PK3 teachers, Lea Crongeyer and Taylor Davis, are doing to actively involve our youngest saints in the creation of their classroom calendars each month.

 Adapted from the Reggio Documentation Panel-Making, the innovative calendars in PK3 are created through teacher support in collaboration with students.  The calendars reflect the highlights and precious memories from the students’ days, and they symbolize the thinking and learning that are taking place in the classroom throughout the month.  The conversations around these calendars also provide students the opportunities to reflect and record learning through a variety of media including paintings, construction-paper creations, pictures, and other student and teacher work samples.  Calendar time has come to life in PK3 as students see their favorite memories as they practice days of the week, counting, passage of time, ordinal numbers, and many other rich skills. Students are active participants as teachers guide them in reflecting on their day and creating the calendar entry, sounding out words and weighing in on the information to include in their collaborative masterpiece that will be on display in the classroom year-long. 

One of the most beneficial aspects of the calendar teachers are seeing is the conversations students have with one another as they reflect on their month together.  “Students love to go back and look at the calendars,” says Taylor Davis. “They are reading the room at an early age because they had a say in creating it.” Lea Crongeyer recently overheard rich conversations between PK3 students that reflect pride and ownership in their creation: “Remember when we had the water party? . . . It was fun tasting apples that day!”  Re-thinking this daily routine in PK3 has not only brought calendar time to life with excitement, ownership, and enthusiasm, but teachers are also seeing a love of learning fostered in our youngest saints as they reflect on and document all the amazing memories they have with teachers and friends each day.

In Taylor’s classroom, calendar headings are prepared in advance, and students’ pictures are posted next to their birthday month, fostering anticipation and excitement for calendar building that’s to come.

“We’ve taken something and made it our own, and this adaptation has been a breath of fresh air! I’m getting so many skills in but in a developmentally appropriate way.”

-Taylor Davis as she reflects on innovating the typical store-bought, ready made calendar so that it benefits her three- to four-year-old students.

Podcasts: A New Generation of Listening and Learning

What started as a quest to endure painfully long road trips to North Carolina with children in tow has now become a family passion that has bridged into my classroom. That’s right, podcasts. On a lark I tried a popular family podcast with my students, and they loved it. To focus their listening, I challenged them to create one question (and the answer) to ask a fellow listener. After listening, we paired up and compared questions and answers. What a fun way to boost active listening and listening comprehension.

Here are some favorites:

Hosts Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz guide curious kids and their grown-ups on a journey into the wonders of the world around them. We’ll go inside our brains, out into space and deep into the coolest new stories in science and technology.

Wow in the World is a family favorite and includes a wealth of knowledge school-age children will enjoy. A delightful bonus is hearing from children around the world and their “Wow in the World”.

Brains On! takes a more serious look at science through the lens of a child’s eye. Explore the catalog of podcasts to find one that matches your learners’ interests.

A note from the producers: Brains On! is an award-winning audio show for kids and families. Each week, a different kid co-host joins Molly Bloom to find answers to fascinating questions about the world.  Our mission is to encourage kids’ natural curiosity and wonder using science and history…but there’s no age limit on curiosity, and episodes of Brains On can be enjoyed by anyone.

Finally, Circle Round is a wonderful, community-building podcast that allows listeners to experience a folk tale together.


 Created and produced by parents of young children, WBUR’s Circle Round is a podcast that adapts carefully-selected folktales from around the world into sound- and music-rich radio plays for kids ages 4 to 10. Each 10- to 20-minute episode explores important issues like kindness, persistence and generosity. And each episode ends with an activity that inspires a deeper conversation between children and grown-ups.

Two Weddings and a French Class

For lesson 1 in French 4, the theme is personal relationships and emotions and being able to describe your ideal roommate, friend and soul mate. At this level of language learning, I believe that more communicative activities is necessary, to show real life application and break on-the-spot translation in order to promote thinking in the target language. That being said, I have created one main activity per lesson. With lesson 1, I have created a mock wedding that is student led. Everyone plays a role: bride, groom, maids-of-honor, best men, priest, mayor, judge, etc. They receive an order of how they are to run the ceremony and what the basic responsibilities are but then they must write their own lines. Each student declares feelings, roles in the process and desires for the couple. It really is quite something special to see them take responsibility for their part. They all got to sign a “wedding contract” and I photocopied the contracts and gave them each a copy of the ceremony they took part in as a ‘souvenir’.

This year, we held two ceremonies due to the number of students in the class. Walter Johnson with Sarah Bradford Seawright and Yahya Naveed with Jo’vette Hawkins. They all either memorized their lines or wrote keywords to help them with remembering what they needed to say. I think it was probably the best mock wedding I have had the pleasure of seeing in my 5 years here. They all understood what they needed to do and it went smoothly. We were even fortunate to have pleasant weather and held the ceremonies in the courtyard, with guests. Each student was given an opportunity to invite one guest to the ceremony and I would deliver them (students included, if they were free during the block).

After the ceremonies, we held a little mini reception where I gave them each a petit four that I ordered and had delivered (thanks to the recommendation and help of Teresa Deer). After eating petit fours and drinking tea (oh so good, Sarah Beth Greener made a homemade mint tea with sugar), I used the rest of class to discuss a quiz they just got back, clearing up any errors they might have had. Of course, I am proud to say that I conduct the class entirely in the target language and my students respond well. I have build them up to it and they expect it. I started 100% target language teaching in French 3. I like to think of my language class as an experience. It’s not just a place to learn the mechanics of a language but experience it as well. I hope we will be fortunate to have you as a guest at our next mock wedding next year!

Wall O’ Teacher Awesomeness

A view of a particularly exciting segment of the North Campus i2 Lab Writable Wall.
Note from Author: Yes, my handwriting may look as though I’m an eleven year old who includes hearts instead of dots on her “i’s”. But I promise I’m not eleven. . . . and I only use hearts over my eyes when I write notes to my five year old.

So I’m a relative newbie as an employee at St. Andrew’s. And in this new teaching and learning gig, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of popping into an incredible variety of classrooms. I cannot say this with enough emphasis: “OUR FACULTY ARE AMAZING.” Oh hey, that’s you.

Anyway, I know the word “awesome” is pretty much a hot button issue. People that use awesome are probably too young and too enthusiastic and are likely contributing to the ruin of the English language. But listen: if you saw what I saw and heard what I heard on a daily basis, you might accidentally let an “awesome” slip out your own mouth. Here’s just a smattering to wet your whistle:

  • David Bramlett’s use of wix to help with visualization and video making to show off student understanding of parabolas.
  • Margaret Taylor’s well-designed characterization centers, my favorite of which asked youth to choose which beautiful postcard best exemplified a character from their summer reading.
  • Marks McWhorter’s use of animal toys to serve as springboards for students doing incredibly complex diagramming of the relationships between the traits of different animals.
  • Karyn Kunzelman’s escape room activity that engaged youth in a review of all things space-related and had them focused and in complete delight at 2:30pm on a Friday afternoon.
  • Price Chadwick’s use of the cup throwing in the fountain and this “Ok Go” music video to illustrate the magic of physics.
  • Toby Lowe’s use of expert tables to enable youth to both teach and get peer to peer support on four math skills in preparation for a test.
  • Nancy Rivas’ ridiculously well-organized group project which required youth to audio record directions (in Spanish of course) to a mystery place on campus for other students in the class to later guess.
  • Grace Pei’s Chinese class writing a script for a version of Romeo and Juliet and then memorizing their lines and performing the play with great gusto on the stage in the Commons.

Here’s the thing . . .

I COULD KEEP GOING.

And I don’t know about you, but I think that’s kind of awesome.

St. Andrew’s 2019 Faculty Innovation Share Out

Lower School Edition

Fourth grade students listen to their peers explain strategies during math “studio time”, one of the many innovative ideas shared by math teachers Valerie Dembny and Mary Grace Jimenez.

The energy in the south campus auditorium was contagious last Wednesday afternoon as faculty members kicked off the year’s “Work-Late-Wednesdays” with a share out of innovative teaching strategies and school-wide initiatives. The five sessions were led by teachers eager to inspire colleagues and share the ways they are redefining teaching and learning strategies in their classrooms. Teachers enjoyed snacks together while they listened to colleagues share ways to reimagine the 100’s chart in math, new terminology to promote positive classroom communities, QR codes as a presentation mode for students, and exciting events on the horizon for the lower school like an Innovative Reading Fair! These sessions were inspired by a variety of ideas that emerged from collaborative experiences among faculty from summer workshops in beginning and advanced Responsive Classroom practices, The Number Lab’s Educators’ Collaboratory in Austin, TX, and Summer of Excellence meetings that resulted in the formation of a Lower School Literacy Committee, just to name a few!

Summer Keane, kindergarten teacher, taught faculty how to use QR codes as an innovative way to share student work within the community.

If you missed the power-packed hour of inspiration, you can access presentations and additional resources that are hyperlinked in the agenda, which summarizes each session. Additionally throughout the year, the lower school will host Work-Late-Wednesday sessions dedicated to innovation share outs. The dates of those professional development meetings can be found here. Mark your calendars to join us for collaborative times when faculty share to inspire one another towards innovation school-wide and in the classroom!

St. Andrew’s 2019 Faculty Summer Share Out

North Campus Edition

Faculty lean in as Dean Julius, 7th grade ELA teacher, prepares to share tips for meditation and mindfulness and the classroom and beyond.

A long-enduring adage claims that many teachers choose the vocation of teaching namely because they get to take the summers off. Last Wednesday’s power-packed Faculty Summer Share Out, however, indicates that such a sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth. Last Wednesday at the North Campus, sixteen faculty presented resources, ideas, and wisdom gleaned from a variety of experiences they had this summer. The twelve separate breakout sessions were inspired by a range of adventures: from visiting The Number Lab’s Educators’ Collaboratory in Austin, TX; to finding a book that transformed their approach to writing assignments; to globetrotting travel/conferencing in Japan, Ecuador, and Malaysia.

Katelyn Kyser reports out on her summer adventures with the Library of Congress Teacher Institute in Washington DC, passionate about sharing the range of pre-compiled primary sources available to educators across a wide range of disciplines and age levels.

Bummed you missed the event or couldn’t make it to every session? Have no fear! Many presenters have compiled resources they presented which are hyperlinked to their session titles in our session schedule HERE. Faculty at the North Campus can also stay tuned, because there is talk of an encore session of the Faculty Summer Share Out in an upcoming Late Wednesday. Want another way to re-live the great conversations from last week? Click here to view pictures and videos from the amazing breakout sessions.

Faculty sharing, growing, thinking, and learning together. . . this is the heart of i2.

What I Mean When I Say “Innovation”


WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and 
measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much 
applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman 

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45479/when-i-heard-the-learnd-astronomer

When the word innovation enters the scene, Walt Whitman isn’t usually the first name to come to mind.  Innovation is supposed to be in the purview of the Bill Gates, the Mike Zukerbergs, Steve Jobs. Innovation elicits locations like Silicon Valley, materials that are sleek and digital.  It generally does not usher forth the “mystical moist night-air.”

I argue, however, that Walt Whitman’s “When I heard the learn’d astronomer” offers a stellar mantra for innovation.  And it may not be merely for the reasons you might think. Whitman’s poem is generally touted as a critique on traditional education, a big, sweeping, impossible-to-miss, “I love nature and am the most important poet of the American Romantic Movement” kind of gesture.    

But when I read the poem, I see something different.  I think that the narrator has a compelling encounter with nature, not in spite of, but because of that learn’d astronomer. I see the startling combustion of the theoretical lit up by practical, the juxtaposition of impressive academic knowledge and grounded, real world reality.  I think the “perfect silence” of the stars feels much more perfect when stargazing is informed by the science that has sharpened our imagination of the universe. Alternatively, “the charts and diagrams” of astronomy are only enlivened once they are experienced in concert with the night sky.  In the first half of the poem, the narrator is being invited into a discourse community with others, signaled by the reference to the “loud applause.” In the second half, he wanders off, drawn by his individual passion and experience. There, again is that magical combo of both being initiated into the scientific community by gaining access to shared knowledge and the opportunity to follow your individual interest, led by your heart.

I argue that the best education is never an either/or enterprise, but always both, and I think innovative teaching isn’t just about engaging this particular generation of youth.  It’s welcoming the synergy of the powerful one-two punch of logic and emotion. It’s about seeing how the content in the classroom is all tangled up with the swirl of the world. It is about becoming more human together.   That is probably why when I read this poem about the astronomer, it reminded me a lot of St. Andrew’s. In the five years I’ve experienced the school as a parent, I’ve watched my first-second-third child be both emotionally and academically engaged.  In the month or so I’ve been here professionally, I’ve seen both the spirit of the night sky and the lecture hall in vivid display, often in the same lesson. St. Andrew’s can continue to be both traditionally rigorous and pedagogically innovative.  There is room for both. In fact, the two bolster each other.  Innovation and inspiration emerge out of the collision of the academic and the real world.  That spirit is alive and well here.

As a celebration of that spirit, the i2 Team presents this blog as a space for faculty innovators to share highlights of what they have going on in their classrooms.  Every other week, we hope to feature another faculty member that is taking risks, trying new things, and making a difference from the lecture halls to the night sky. We hope to curate the hard work you all do across both campuses to spread the momentum, the spirit that has always been at the heart of the incredible quality of teaching and learning at St. Andrew’s.  We hope that this blog will emphasize the myriad of flavors of innovation and inspiration taking place in classrooms ranging from the effervescent three year olds to our seniors, on the cusp of world-changing themselves. Thank you in advance for sharing your stories with us. We will become better teachers, better humans because of it.