A New Depth to Curriculum

This fall was filled with similar moments that brought back a sense of normalcy. From fans on the soccer field to our theater filled for the US play, Trap, to classrooms set up for the style of learning we pride ourselves on, it has been a year so far that more resembles 2019 than 2020.

There have also been moments where we cannot ignore the realities of the continuing pandemic. Checking vaccine cards before performances, spectator restrictions in the gym, and not having parents inside our buildings during the school day are just some of the ways we continue to feel the restrictions of the pandemic on a regular basis.

However, new doors have opened from what we have learned since March 2020. It was April of that year that history teacher David Cutler began bringing in virtual speakers who, under normal circumstances, could not come to a Brimmer classroom. (Click here for my blog post on these incredible speakers.) We quickly saw other teachers follow suit, and our students were given the opportunity to connect with historians, artists, scientists, and policymakers.

A Brimmer education has never been one that is contained by the walls of the classrooms, and the incorporation of Zoom allowed us to create unique learning opportunities during one of the most challenging times of our lives. Our teachers found that they could provide new depth to their curriculum by opening up the classrooms virtually to outside guests, and it has continued to this day. To give you a sampling of this work, here are examples from just the last few weeks:

Sasaki architecture and design firm came to Brimmer to run a workshop with the Architecture class to create vision boards using architectural photographs of campus along with a collage giving students more insight into architectural brainstorming practices.

Professor Jaime Hart, Associate Professor in Department of Environmental Health, Chan School of Public Health, spoke to students in the Geographical Information Science course on issues of environmental justice and public health and the ways she uses geographic data to assess the distribution of air pollution.

Janice Corkin ‘66 visited our Sculpture class on campus to share the clay figure technique she used to create the bronze figures dotting Brimmer’s campus.

Brian Forist, Professor, Indiana University, and Liora Silks, Newton Energy Coach, spoke to the Environment Club on separate occasions on the subjects of the relationship between parks and mental health and the positive effects of renewable energy in Newton.

In Current Events, Morgan Hook, a Managing Director in the Albany office of SKD Knickerbocker, spoke with students about his experience in public relations in politics and the ways that news we see and read is generated. Marshall Hook, Assignment Editor at Channel 7 News Boston, talked about the decisions that go into daily local news broadcasts. In this case, the speakers provided opposing views giving students an opportunity to consider different viewpoints and develop their own ideas.

Eliza Butler, Mental Health and Mindfulness Coach, taught 9th grade students the foundations of stress management and self-awareness in 9th Grade Wellness.

The Global Studies Program welcomed Jessica Chicco, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, to speak to diploma candidates about her work in supporting immigrants and refugees and her career path as an immigration lawyer working in non-profits.

NYPD Detective Rose Muckenthaler spoke with students in Criminal Law about her work supporting victims and investigating human trafficking over her twenty-year career, including the work as part of the team that arrested Jeffrey Epstein. Criminal Law also learned from Assistant District Attorney Graham van Epps about his work as a prosecutor in Massachusetts and the Bronx.

The past two years have provided a lifetime’s worth of challenges for our School. Yet from the tremendous loss and ongoing struggles, there are ways that we have adapted to provide more light and deeper connections. Our teachers and students are doing incredible work, and I cannot wait to see what they accomplish during the second half of the year.

Summer Reading List 2019

In the weeks and months leading up to a vacation, I start to revisit the books that have been on my reading list. I take a look at books that are currently in process, those that I purchased but have been sitting on a shelf(real and virtual), and the ones that I have heard people talking about recently.

Like most, my interests ebb and flow. I also tend to read more than one book at a time, usually balancing a more heavily researched based book with a biography, historical fiction, or more guilty pleasure, murder-mystery books.

So as we head into the Summer 2019, I thought I would share how my reading list is shaping up for this summer. I am sure that some new books will find their way on to the list and others may get bumped, but the best place to start is at the beginning.

Every Tool’s a Hammer by Adam Savage

81rv2mthYyLThis is a book in progress that I am in the final stages of reading. It started as a preview for a potential option for a faculty summer read and since that time was added as one of two options for faculty to choose from. Savage’s book focus on his journey as a Maker and the lessons he has learned over time. The book goes well beyond the ideas of physical making. His experiences creating are simply the way he introduces thought provoking ideas. I also really enjoy the way Savage defines Maker Culture and does not believe it is simply about building physical projects, but instead is rooted in the process that anyone takes to create something new.

 

Participatory Culture in a Networked Error: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics by Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd

61NsmghlY2L._SX350_BO1204203200_I was excited to find this book. It is based on a significant amount of research on the impact of virtual networks. I’m looking forward to this book, because it has a forward-looking approach, where as some other writings about technology look at the impact of technology solely from a place of deficit.

 

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

51t862BXZO3L._SX327_BO1204203200_Radium Girls is one of the books that has been sitting in my Kindle app for a while. As a science teacher, I am a bit embarrassed that it has taken me this long to get to the book. However, I am committed to reading this story about the girls that were known as “shining girls” because of the work they did at the radium-dial factories for watchmakers. To ensure that it does not get bumped, I started reading it last night and it hits my interests of science and history.

 

Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education by Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher

51rW8gqCZXL._SX331_BO1204203200_I happened across this book from a Twitter recommendation by Rachel Frankil(@srtafrenkil). NeuroTeach comes out of the Center for Transformative Teaching. The book, which includes pages for the reader to complete, discusses the importance of teachers understanding how of “the brain receives, filters, consolidates, and applies learning for both the short and long term.” The underpinnings are that teachers have an impact on how a child’s brain develops simply by the nature of their work, so teachers should have a better understanding of how the brain works. This books has a textbook feel to it, so it should be like self-paced professional development.

 

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

41ea1fBfXrL._SX329_BO1204203200_This book came highly recommended from a friend that has never missed on his book recommendations. 21 Lessons is Harari’s third book and completes the “trilogy” of Sapiens and Homo Deus. In his first two books he examines humankind’s history and writes about the future. In his newest book, Harari looks the issues we are facing at the present and will face in the near future. It has also been sitting in my Kindle App since December and it’s time dig into it!

 

A few other books that may make the summer list…

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Bitcoin Billionares by Ben Mezrich

Outcasts United: Story of a Refugee Soccer Team that Changed a Town by Warren St. John

I am not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Here is what the NY Times had to suggest for summer reading

Learning History Through Theater

In just a few weeks, the Ruth Corkin Theatre will be filled with students, parents, and alumni as we are transported back to New York City in 1899. While we will most certainly tap our feet and clap our hands to the music and feel amazed by the intricate set design and incredible choreography, it is also important to note that this year’s U.S. Musical,Newsies, offers an important history lesson to the cast and crew and those who watch the show.

Much like Hamilton: An American Musical helped to tell a historical story through song and dance, Newsies provides an opportunity to learn more about a segment of American History. Through its retelling of the 1899 Newsboys Strike, Newsies focuses on how society treated low-income children during this time period. Through dialogue and lyrics, we are given a glimpse of what it was like to be a child before protective labor laws. While early 20th-century America would shift its view on child labor laws, the United States did not ratify a change until 1938 when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Newsies is just one example of the importance that the arts and humanities hold in education. Theater engages audiences through storytelling and song, draws people into the story, and creates a connection to the characters. Angela Modany describes the process in a February 2012 Smithsonian article as “embodying empathy.” By creating connections to characters, either as an actor or observer, you empathize with their experience, gaining a deeper understanding of the historical context. The concept of embodying empathy is not a foreign one to Brimmer classrooms. Whether it is through special programming like Model UN, the Chinese Temple Fair, Winterim, and community service days, or in-classroom mock trials, debates, skits, and Harkness discussions, the Humanities and Creative Arts departments create experiences for students to build connections with people, characters, or events.

This year we have discussed the meaning of empathy and its etymology in detail. To be empathic means to be “in suffering” or to feel the feelings of another. In Dr. Helen Riess’ book, The Empathy Effect, she shares that we naturally connect to those with whom we share common experiences or traits. The concept of embodying empathy works seamlessly with Riess’ research. When students share experiences, they are both learning important topics and developing a profound connection that creates stronger empathic responses.

I look forward to seeing you at one of the performances of Newsies in March, and if you would like to learn more about the 1899 News Boys Strike in New York City, here is a link to resources produced by the New York City Public Library.

Flames of Achievement

img_0694

At Opening Convocation  in September, I shared a quote from Golda Meir. She said, “Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” As we near the end of the school year, it seemed apropos to look back at some recent observations that show the depth of achievement our students have made this year. One such example of students transforming the sparks of possibility into flames of achievement comes from the success of our spring sports teams.

All of our teams should be proud of their seasons, including the Varsity Baseball team, which won the League Championship, but I want to highlight the Girls’ Varsity Tennis and Girls’ Varsity Lacrosse teams. Both of these teams have generally flown under the radar during the spring, but this year, they made Brimmer history by each winning their team’s first league championship. Two teams that came into the year with modest definitions of success, both saw those sparks catch fire.

In the classroom, it seems like it was not that long ago that the Class of 2018 was starting Upper School. Over the past few weeks, teachers and administrators have been busy listening and watching our twelfth grade students present their culminating humanities project. Each student dived deep into the works of an author and produced a scholarly paper and presentation on their research. The students wowed their teachers with their interpretations of the text and the personal connections they made to their work.

A final example comes from the tremendous creativity that filled our School this week at the All-School Arts Celebration. I often find myself, and others, pausing in front of displays in awe of the way students have transformed their medium to create such wonderful artwork.

The list of personal and grade level achievements goes on and on. The students should be proud of their accomplishments this year! Billows of smoke have filled our hallways, from the sparks of possibility that have turned into their flames of achievement. Congratulations to everyone!

Morning Meeting Reflection on NYC Attack

The following thoughts were shared with Upper School students on 11/1/17.

Yesterday afternoon, while our school was ending the academic day and students were transitioning to sports, play rehearsal, and after-school activities, people’s lives were upended in New York City when a man drove a pick-up truck down a bike lane in Lower Manhattan, killing eight people and physically injuring at least twelve others—forever changing the lives of the victims, their family and friends, those that witnessed the attack, and causing those who have faced trauma to revisit their past experiences.

We have seen these types of tragedies in London, Paris, and throughout the world, but seeing it in New York feels closer to home. Many of us have strong connections to N.Y.C. through families, visits, and alumni who have moved there. Our empathy is even stronger having experienced the Boston Marathon bombing not too long ago.

Each of you are going to have your own personal feelings, responses, and emotions around these events. I want to share a few thoughts with you and ask you to think about them.

First, it is important during the times after terrorist attacks, while facts are still being collected, that we not jump to conclusions. As Ms. Christian shared, we should not make assumptions about the suspect or all people that look like the suspect. It is important to remember that when people choose to perform acts of terror, they are making individual choices and are not representative of all the people with similar identities.

The other idea I want to leave you with is how you respond to these seemingly random acts of violence. A natural response would be avoidance—taking extra precautions to stay away from “high risk” areas. By doing this, you will feel like you are helping yourself remain safe.

At the same time, though, it can feel counter-intuitive and is difficult to carry on with your normal day while keeping the events in mind. In many ways, continuing with your day can be a way to fight against acts of terror. By choosing to still visit N.Y.C. you are not allowing fear to rule your life. This does not mean you should not be cautious. Instead, it symbolizes something stronger and defeats the ideals of a terrorist. We still run the Boston Marathon each year for these reasons, and the N.Y.C. Marathon will still be run three days from today, for these reasons.

As we move into our moment of silence, I ask that you think about those that have been impacted by yesterday’s attack in New York City, the terrorist attacks that we may not hear about as easily, and all those that have been victims of terror.

There’s a Reason for Those Citations!

http://ideas.ted.com/the-big-mistake-we-all-make-about-ideas/
Image from http://ideas.ted.com/the-big-mistake-we-all-make-about-ideas/

Last weekend, I came across an article in the Boston Globe that called out to me as an educator: “BC cries foul after footage is used in video by Paul Ryan.” I could not help but start thinking about academic integrity, the work we need to do as educators, and the real world ramifications of claiming another person’s work as your own.

The article explains, in a nutshell, that Paul Ryan (and his staff) used video footage that did not belong to them. They took footage from a Boston College video production and used it without being granted permission. Why is this a big deal? Well, the Paul Ryan video likely violated copyright laws or another law that governs intellectual property. In addition, it is likely that highly accomplished and smart people will lose their job over this mistake.

The people working on Paul Ryan’s team are likely people that were very successful in their studies and worked very hard to earn a position with the Speaker of the House. So, how do we help our students avoid making a similar mistake?

For the most part, students are not making a malicious decision to take another person’s work and portray it as their own. Of course, there are times when a student is feeling the stress of a deadline or mounting work and may make a poor decision, but often students are unaware of their mistakes. This may come from choosing a source that should not be trusted, copying an image from the Internet, or relying too heavily on a google search. While access to information through Internet searches has countless benefits, it has also led to many complications and misunderstandings when it comes to intellectual property and plagiarism.

This is why we believe it is critical to teach students about curating sources, understanding how to tell what images or videos can be used, and how to go about gaining permission to use that media. Understanding “the why” behind properly giving credit to the authors of original ideas is a critical part of this learning and is supported by our Core Values of Respect and Responsibility. Our teachers and librarians play a crucial role in this process. Academic integrity is not about catching students, but is about informing them on best practices. As more and more content becomes accessible, this work becomes increasingly critical. We want to ensure that our students are informed and responsible curators of information so that they are not put in a position in college or the workforce like Paul Ryan and his staff.

Here are some helpful resources on Creative Commons, Copyright, and Fair Use from Brimmer’s Director of Middle and Upper School Library.

Exploration

Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.
— Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Since the beginning of time, humans have been explorers, seeking out new experiences through travel. From the hunters and gatherers that migrated across continents to Magellan circumnavigating the world to NASA’s New Horizons satellite reaching the edges of our galaxy, we learn through exploration and new experiences. At Brimmer, we develop explorers in a multitude of ways including our biennial program, Winterim. Next week, Upper School students will be spreading out across the globe, spanning nearly eleven thousand miles.
Today, more easily than at any other time in history, we can connect to people globally, learn about the history of every aspect of humankind, and experience different cultures. Access to information has allowed people to virtually travel to and explore new places. While reading, listening, and watching videos about different cultures can allow someone to deepen their global connection, it is not a replacement for physically visiting those nations, cities, or towns. It is impossible to get a true sense of the grandeur of the Giza Pyramids or to truly appreciate the awesomeness of the Parthenon without standing at those sites. One cannot fully understand the choices and values of a community without being there in person and talking directly with its residents.
I can still recall admiring with students the detail of the beautifully carved two thousand year old Roman statues and being in awe of the deep love of city and culture that drove New Orleans residents to rebuild even with future uncertainty. The power of our Winterim programs are the transformational moments that will lead students and faculty to a new understanding of people, places, and culture. It is an opportunity to learn what cannot be found in books or online. Many of these moments will be captured by pictures or videos, but it will be the ones that are etched in students’ memories that will never leave them. What will our students bring back with them when they return? I don’t know, but I’m excited to see and hear about their experiences.

 

To all our students no matter where they are going: Safe travels. Viaje seguro. Kār deinthāng thī̀ plxdp̣hạy. Bon voyage. Anzen’na tabi. Turas math dhuibh.

21st Century Yellow Journalism

How do you get the majority of your news information? Do you pick up a newspaper in the morning, scanning the articles and titles? Do you spend time throughout the day visiting traditional print media outlets that post their articles digitally? Or do you depend on news aggregators and social media to get the majority of your information about the latest happenings in the world?

The headlines over the past few weeks have been filled with concerns about “fake news”.yellow-journalism-spanish-war The sensationalized headlines with disinformation have spread quickly across social media platforms reinforcing concerns people may already have about a specific issue. Some people have called on companies, such as Facebook, to fact-check stories being posted, some have blamed media outlets for normalizing some types of sensationalism, and others have called on readers to be more discerning when they read articles. Fake news and sensationalism isn’t a new problem. Personally, I remember learning about Yellow Journalism during my 8th grade history class with Mr. Zabinski.

In an era where information is so easily attained and shared, we have known for a number of years how critical it is to develop digitally literate students. As a core 21st Century Skill, digital literacy refers to a range of skills such as:

  • the ability to utilize technology as a tool to research, organize, evaluate and communicate information
  • the ability to use use digital technologies, communication tools, navigating social networks
  • manage, integrate, evaluate and create information to successfully function in the world
  • understand one’s place ethically in the chain of shared information

Regardless of how you collect your information, the ability to evaluate and analyze information is a critical part of media literacy. We need to resist the temptation to share, like, favorite, or love articles based on their headline- something that I am guilty of doing from time to time. We also need to properly evaluate an article, taking the time to decode facts that may seem to good to be true.

How do we do this? What do students need to do? Here are a few ways…

Be Critical: Regardless of the source do not assume that all information presented is unbiased or factual. If there is a statement or fact that does not make sense, investigate. If an article is use broad statements and isn’t supplying quotes, sources, or data, then dig deeper.

Be a Fact-Checker: Cross check a story against other sources. Look up the original source that is being referenced.

Know Your Sources: Develop a list of sources you trust- media outlets, specific people, websites

Be Responsible: Understand that once you share something electronically it can never be permanently deleted. Think about who may be reading the information. Consider whether you are supporting the spread of rumors or fake news.

We are all responsible for the information we share, no matter the medium. Our students cannot depend on Facebook or other people to filter stories for them. Instead they, we, need to continue to develop the key skills needed to navigate our world.