Category Archives: International Baccalaureate

“Please join the faculty…” (part 1)

This was the title of a post in the Senior IB candidates’ blog for their Theory of Knowledge class. Their teacher, Alex Bogel, linked them to an article by Marc Prensky entitled “Our Brains Extended” which the faculty was reading over the summer. In the article, Mr. Prensky makes the point that “Technology… is an extension of our brains; it’s a new way of thinking.” He then poses the question, “Now that kids are routinely exposed to increasingly sophisticated information online, what’s an ‘age-appropriate’ curriculum? What subject matter from the past is still relevant, and for whom?” Finally, he suggests a vision for completely revamping the curriculum in our nation’s schools. He proposes organizing learning around four themes: effective thinking, effective action, effective relationships, and effective accomplishment. (Interestingly, these four themes integrate well with the fundamental philosophy of the IB curriculum, for example through the Creativity-Action-Service, or CAS, requirement.)

The students brought a wealth of knowledge and insight in their responses to Mr. Bogel’s posting. Here are six extracts from their work that, when juxtaposed, tell an interesting story of the students’ own visions for the role and potential influence of technology in their education.

I agree with the article about how [technology] is an extension of our lives it almost makes us super human. I also agree that we need to teach older and younger people that technology is great, but I don’t know if it is the BEST way because even though I may not love to read it is important to teach and be able to use. [Technology] is not the number one skill students need to take from school in order to succeed. Reading is the root of everything. – Jillian

I agreed with certain parts of the “Rethinking the Curriculum” section and linked the mathematics section with something my dad always told me. My dad always tells that real math is what goes on before we put our pencils on the paper. Real math is when you look at a problem and you figure out exactly what to do in order to solve it. Determining the numbers and values is just arithmetic. Math isn’t beautiful because we can add and subtract numbers; the numbers are just the tools we use to express mathematical ideas. – Karen

I really like the Effective Thinking, Acting and Relationships. In many ways this is what is happening at SBS, especially the effective thinking. I think that there is opportunity for the action and relationship aspects but they are not as out right or obvious to someone who is not aware of them. I think that these would enhance the SBS curriculum because they would make SBS an even more culturally aware and active school. Setting up programs with other schools around the world would make way for a new type of communication and connects for students and knowledge. – Elizabeth

I think our school should consider combining classes with teachers from around the world. I believe we need to move forward and make the future generations feel as though they are people of the world and not separated by distinctions. To create more global citizens, transnational cooperation is necessary. – Dorjee

I agree that the curriculum needs to be changed fundamentally, but I do not think that Marc Prensky’s emphasis on technology is as important as he made it seem. Technology definitely touches every aspect of our lives, but I think there must also be emphasis on learning through other outlets like music, art and nature. I have seen and experienced firsthand how technology can consume our thoughts and actually disconnect us from the people around us; so to put more emphasis on technology in schools we must first change the ways we use technology. The powerful connections that technology permits students like global communication must be treated more seriously if integrated into the curriculum. – Jane

Prensky’s curriculum suggestion seems like the most hard-to-apply concept in the article, mainly because it would involve an overhaul of the education system, and the agreement of town councilors everywhere on the fact that this is where our society is headed. If it’s a hard concept for me, a technology-addicted 17 year old to swallow, then you can bet that our current traditional education model isn’t going anywhere any time soon. – Caroline

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How Far We’ve Come

I was arriving a little later for school than I usually do, but I was nonetheless pretty sure it wasn’t typical for a large group of students to be walking down the driveway. Maybe something special was going on at the barn? Or perhaps a science class was doing a lab by the pond? Suddenly, it hit me – it was our very first group of IB diploma candidates, walking down to Sally and Hank’s house to take the first-ever IB exam in our school’s history. I smiled and waved encouragingly, trying to make eye contact with as many students as possible, and wondered to myself at how so many truly significant moments appear so normal at the same time.

Two days later, I was taking my first turn invigilating an exam (it’s worth noting that, like many people in our school, I didn’t even know the verb “invigilate” until this May). Whether I was projecting my own nervousness onto the students, remembering recent Upper School Rock Band rehearsals when diploma candidates were processing their feelings of apprehension since they were the first-ever students at our school to take the tests, or accurately observing how the students in front of me felt, it seemed there was a tentativeness to the room, a sense that one was doing one’s best without knowing for sure if that best would actually be good enough. Though invigilation, as I later commented to our Academic Dean Alex Bogel, is barely more interesting than watching paint dry (his response: “Oh, it’s brutal.”), the fact that I cared so much about the students and wanted the best for them got me through. I’m sure Alex had a similar experience.

Four days ago as I write this (on Thursday, May 16), I took my second turn at invigilation, a Spanish exam. This time was totally different. For one thing, I was starting an exam rather than going through the multiple procedures required at the end of an exam as I had the previous time. But far more important, these students were pumped. “Let’s do this thing!” yelled one student, raising her fist as others added, “Yeah!” “We’re fluent!” It seemed clear that after several weeks of taking exams, the students were well settled into the process. However tentative and nervous they were at the start, and whatever nerves still remained deep down, they appeared to have acquired additional confidence in themselves, enough additional confidence to not only feel it but also to express it.

I’m sure when the results come in, whether by envelope or email, some of the candidates will pause briefly and close their eyes, perhaps turning their face up to the heavens, before opening the message and finding out exactly how they did. And I suspect some of the teachers will share their nervousness. But whatever those results, right now, it’s clear that we all have done our jobs well. These students think clearly and deeply, can draw on extensive knowledge banks, and are able to make sophisticated connections. They have reason to be proud of themselves, as we are of them.

Just three more days of testing to go. And then…

let the wild rumpus begin!

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Filed under Graduation, International Baccalaureate, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Women’s Film Series Project at SBS

Ever since I came to Stoneleigh Burnham School in 2010, my interest in Women’s Activism has grown rapidly. I have spent three years engaging in intellectually stimulating conversations with many talented and promising young women. This school understands the importance of guiding young women to express themselves and seek change outside of the classroom. My goal is to bring in ideas and perspectives that will leave a lasting impression. We, as SBS girls, may live in a place where our voices can be heard, but in the outside world, women are often silenced. The oppression of women is not just a foreign issue, but increasingly present in the United States, where supposedly, “all citizens are created equal.” My frustration towards our gender’s oppression has inspired me to spread awareness to the SBS community. When I was given the opportunity to create a CAS (Community Action Service) project for the IB program, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to harness my passion for women’s activism and use it to inform the school. Ultimately I decided to create a Women’s Film Series, in which I would air inspiring documentaries and movies about the struggles of women around the world and the women who have led in the fight for equality.

On January 12th, the first night of my film series began with a showing of the documentary “Miss Representation,” directed by Jennifer Siebel. This is an inspiring film about the misrepresentation of women in the media. The students who attended this showing were outraged by how women are often portrayed in movies, TV shows, magazines and newspapers. Even the most powerful women in the United States, and throughout the world, have been bombarded with disrespect and mistreatment. The students left the film, feeling the need to seek change. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start this Film Series.

In the coming weeks I will be showing the following films: “Iron Jawed Angels,” directed by Katja von Garnier, which depicts the struggles of Alice Paul, founder of the National Women’s Party, to achieve suffrage in the United States. I then will show “Half The Sky,” a two-part documentary inspired by the book “Half the Sky,” by Nicolas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. This film documents the journey of author Nicolas D. Kristof and several celebrity activists into ten countries to tell the story of inspiring women. The women that they interview have lived in a world where forced prostitution, sex trafficking, maternal mortality, and gender-based violence have taken place. The last film on my list will be aired during Women’s History Month. I will be showing the documentary, “Gloria: In her Own Words,” directed by Peter Kunhardt. This film chronicles the life of Gloria Steinem, a prominent figure in the Women’s Movement. So, when this Film Series has finished, I hope that this community will have been inspired to become women’s activists and strive to seek change around the world.

– Mary P., 2013

 

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Filed under Gender, International Baccalaureate, On Education, The Girls School Advantage, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

The Center of It All

It’s all about the beanbags. The nine students in my Humanities 7 class had been adamant that we would able to fit the 22-27 relatives they were expecting for Family Weekend into our relatively small classroom, and when I demurred, they insisted that wherever we go, their beloved beanbag chairs should follow “because our parents should see what our class really looks like.” So it was that I greeted Barbara, who was responsible this morning both for cleaning my regular classroom and for cleaning the Meeting Room where we would be moving for the day, at a bright and early 6:15 A.M. I had my temporary classroom set up, and chairs set out for visitors in the Jesser 3 classrooms, by 7:00, and zipped to the dining room to fill my travel mug with decaf (a special treat for a special day) and soy milk.

Students, parents, and other visiting family members began filtering in by 7:45, cries of, “You brought the beanbags!” filling the air accompanied by knowing parental smiles. We began class by continuing a previous lesson on lying, the better to inaugurate our newest student-designed unit developed from the seed question “Does the media lie?” around the eventual theme question,”How does the media alter perspectives of the truth to change what you think and feel?” Students did a think-pair-share activity around different kinds of lies, thinking on their own, in groups of two or three, and then in the full class about their thoughts and reactions. They eventually combined to write their own definition of lying, “Lying is an untruth, possibly ongoing, being told that brings a consequence that may or may not be desired, yet is always bad.” That will serve as a working definition as we go through the unit, both with group activities on topics like news coverage of the elections and photoshopping of models, and with individual research on personally-chosen questions.

Housemeeting was impressive, all the more so because it wasn’t really any different from how it would normally be. Certainly a highlight, however, was the introduction of the brand new Middle School Interscholastic Equestrian Team, complete with a visit from the school mascot Athena the Owl, with Academic Dean Alex Bogel’s booming voice announcing each student as she strode down the center aisle waving her hand much as Queen Elizabeth II does.

Sometimes, a class can get disturbingly quiet on Family Weekend, but if anything, the presence of parents and siblings brought out the best in my French II class as they worked to understand the ins and outs of the just-introduced tense, the passé composé. They all raised their hands and tested out their new knowledge, never hesitated to ask questions, and achieved a much deeper understanding of the tense in our short 20-minute class.

I was about the third person to go through the lunch line, the better to scoot to the gym and prepare for the performing arts show. I tuned up the girls’ bass and guitars, checked the sound for the keyboards, played a quick fill on the drums just for the fun of it, and did mic checks. All seemed ready, and after an eternity of waiting, the rock bands took the stage. Judging from the tone of respect in the congratulations I received after the show, the bands succeeded in connecting with their audience and imparting a spirit of fun. Certainly Heather’s decision to grab her mic and abandon the stage, striding around the gym as she belted out the vocals to “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” helped set the tone, and the explosion of applause complete with shouts and whooping showed how much the audience loved it. That noted, all three groups got sincere and heartfelt, and well-deserved, compliments.

Immediately following the show, we had a Middle School parents’ meeting to discuss the institution of what we expect will be a new tradition, the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C., go over the developmental stages and needs of young adolescent girls and how our program is explicitly designed around research to meet those needs, and determine parental goals for the year. Partway through, I asked for questions, thoughts, and concerns, and wasn’t quite sure what to think when a long silence ensued. Years of practice leaving space for my students to talk caused me to wait patiently, and then one mother raised her hand and commented, “I’m overwhelmed, and I just feel so lucky that my daughter is here with all you are doing for her, the knowledge and passion you bring to your work.” A number of other parents nodded and murmured their agreement. The parents (and a few grandparents – as I commented, “If you care enough about the kids to attend this meeting, you get to have a say here.”) then came up with a solid list of goals for the year, and used a system of placing stickers to set priorities.

My advisees did a wonderful job with their student-led conferences, speaking about their work thus far with touching honesty, pride, and a willingness to identify areas where they need to grow and develop genuinely practical plans to bring about that growth. Several parents commented on how much they preferred the format, as students became agents of their own destiny, not the passive subjects of adult discussions and judgments.

Saturday afternoon, as my part in the weekend was winding down (being neither a houseparent nor an on-duty chaperone), I found myself standing at the soccer game with Academic Dean Alex Bogel. I filled him in on my experiences of the weekend, and he jumped in to let me know how delighted he was to have been asked the question of how our institution of the IB program has affected the middle school and other younger grades. Pointing to the hexagon that symbolizes the IB program, he noted the student at the center of it all. “And that,” he said, “is why we didn’t have to change a thing about the rest of our program.”

Student voice. Her best self. This is the mission of the school, and when you stay aware of and true to it, amazing things can happen. You couldn’t have asked for a better Family Weekend. I wrote the Middle School faculty earlier today, “As Middle School Dean, in particular at the Friday Parents’ Meeting, I get the heartwarming experience on Family Weekend of watching parents come in curious about why their kids are so happy here, and becoming increasingly, almost overwhelmingly for some, touched to see all we do and all that goes into it. So thank you all for making that happen, both over the last five weeks and then in particular the last two days. It’s a ton of work, I know, and it brings amazing results.” So it is, and so it does.
– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Filed under Equestrian Program, In the Classroom, International Baccalaureate, On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Bookends: Volume 3: Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s not necessarily the easiest!

Dear Alex,

So much time has passed since you posted, and it seems that my thinking is evolving every day – not just in response to the posting itself, but also in response to real-life, face-to-face conversations we’ve had since then. The time is long past to try to crystallize this thinking into something to share with others – as you said at lunch on Family Weekend, sometimes you just have to sit down, write and see what comes out.

What you are doing with your “Theory of Knowledge” students, helping them make their thinking so intuitively transparent to themselves that they can’t help but take charge of their own learning, is impressive. Furthermore, you are doing it in such a way that it infuses the intellectual life of the school, bursting the bubbles inside which it can be too easy to retreat and which serve only to impose artificial divisions. (More on that, perhaps, in my next post!)

That is, of course, pretty much the same thing we have been trying to do in the middle school. One of our primary tools is the student-led conference. This consists of a half-hour presentation by each student to her parents and advisor about not only what she is learning and doing in all aspects of her school life (even community service!), but also what she thinks about her accomplishments and further needs.

Beginning one to two weeks before Family Weekend, we distribute a series of self-reflection sheets to our classes. These require the students to think very specifically about what they have accomplished and what else they need to be focusing on. Through prompts such as, “What are three of your strengths in this course?” or “What did you find to be the hardest part of doing research for your paper?” or “What are two things you’re doing to improve your work in this course?,” students can access fairly abstract thoughts through concrete thinking about specific actions. I won’t pretend there aren’t occasional groans when we first start passing the sheets out, and certainly some students do respond better than others. At the same time, it’s often rewarding and just plain fun to track an advisee over two years and see how much deeper and more sophisticated their thinking can become. By now, ninth grade teachers know they can count on our middle school graduates to be quite self-aware of how they learn, what they do well and where they need support.

Part of what we teach the students is to be honest with themselves. Giving themselves praise is often the hardest part. As my Humanities 7 students pored over their forms last week, several worried, “I don’t want to say what I really think because it will sound like…” and I completed, “bragging?” Their faces relaxed, perhaps because I had made it okay to name the problem, and they agreed. I told them that being honest about what they do well isn’t putting anyone else down for their own accomplishments; they thought about it for a moment and said, “Yes, but it’s still hard.” On the flip side, they sometimes have a hard time thinking about where they need to improve, at least at this early stage of the year. Several were inspired to write that self-reflection itself is what they most need to work on. Fair enough, although I suspect the student who wrote, “self-confidence” had really hit the nail on the head. It’s tough to be a girl growing up in our society, feeling pressure both to be perfect and not to be better than anyone else.

Most parents love these conferences. In our first year, one of the Founders’ moms told me, “This is so much more useful, and enjoyable, than when you sit alone with the teacher and they tell you everything your daughter is doing wrong.” This weekend, one of my advisees absolutely nailed her conference. She spoke with authority and in great detail about what she was doing, where she was going, and how she could know she was going to get there. At the end, thinking about the first 7th grade conference a year ago, her mother teared up from a combination of deep pride in her daughter and the reminder of how fast she is growing up. She got a long, warm hug from her beaming daughter. It was an image I will always remember.

With things like this, we have begun our journey which will lead these girls, five years down the line, into your “Theory of Knowledge” class. They will know so much more then than they do now, about themselves and about the world. Their brains will be more developed, with parts that aren’t currently pulling their share of the load having fully kicked into action around the age of 15 or 16. And, just as I knew with absolute certainty five years ago that the six-year Seniors would be an extraordinary group this year, so too can I tell that this crop of 7th graders will be amazing in five years.

But then, they are already. As is true every year!

Sincerely,

Bill

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Bookends: Volume 2: Allow Me to Burst Your Bubble

By the time students enroll in the IB Diploma Programme they have amassed a great deal of knowledge.  My job, as their Theory of Knowledge teacher, is to make them forget it.

Alec Peterson, the first Director General of the IB and a TOK teacher, wrote that the aim of this course, and the reason it rests at the heart of the IB, is to address two weaknesses common to most upper secondary schools: the failure to make explicit in the minds of the students the different forms that academic learning and knowledge take; and the tendency for students to study their different subjects in discrete, insular compartments.

In other words, I need to help these girls recognize their developing powers of the mind and the ways these methods of thinking can be applied to new situations in any context.

Their powers of scientific deduction can reveal much about the structure of a concerto. The implication of a word problem in calculus demands the close reading skills learned in studying poetry.  All of this makes sense, indeed its value to the invested, active participant in life and learning is undeniable. But how to teach this?  I thought the girls would probably do a better job than I could.

I asked them first to do some talking and writing about what they mean when they say “I know.”  They took this in some wonderful directions, with answers ranging from investigations of empirical knowledge versus faith, to dismissive appeasements of parents and siblings.  No need to worry about honest self-assessment with this group.  What I did not expect was how quickly this metacognition would pervade their lives.

The heart of their homework for the week was to identify a moment in another class that required them to decode connotation.  By lunch the next day, reports were coming in from other teachers of TOK students’ demands and accusations.  Higher Level IB Math became a discussion of ways that we decode.  In Spanish, a simple request to translate a word brought talk of everything that “what does it mean” can mean. Students began to suspect (correctly, I might add) that their other teachers were in on this plot.

And that’s another part of what I get to do: help these girls forge and map the connections between their disciplines.  One of the great strengths of SBS, one that makes the IB a natural fit, is the faculty’s eagerness to make connections.  There is an infectious enthusiasm for understanding and synthesis, and as these girls and I work to integrate their tools of learning we find that everywhere we look this approach is being modeled.  The bubbles around disciplines are bursting.  But that’s how this conversation with Bill started.

-Alex Bogel, TOK and IB English Teacher

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Filed under Admissions, College Prep, In the Classroom, International Baccalaureate, On Education, The Faculty Perspective, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

“Bookends: Volume 1”

“Bookends” is the ongoing conversation between Alex Bogel, “Theory of Knowledge” and standard-level IB English teacher and Bill Ivey, Humanities 7 teacher. It is an exploration of metacognition and their students’ developing skills in critical thinking, reflective learning and more.

During orientation they took a few moments to interview each other.

Bill: Alex, what is the “Theory of Knowledge” (TOK) class?

Alex: TOK is such a dangerous course to sum up, in some ways. It invites us to examine the nature of knowledge and all the different ways in which we know, the inadvertent and determined ways with which we as knowers shape and define our knowledge and that of others. It’s an opportunity to understand not what we know, but how and why we believe that we know.

If I’m getting to work with these girls in the final two years of their time at Stoneleigh-Burnham, how does that tie in to their middle school formation as learners?

B: Since Humanities 7 does not have standard content but rather is created by the students out of their questions and passions each year, what unifies it from year to year is precisely how you go about learning and expressing what you’ve learned, on your own and in the community. In that sense, it mirrors TOK although we get so immersed in learning sometimes we don’t even notice it happening. That might be a difference.

A: It’s certainly true that TOK is determinedly reflective.  That said, these courses mirror one another in their student-driven approach to content.  As quickly as possible, TOK students will be providing the course’s texts: moments of knowledge drawn from their other courses, their lives, their cultures, and their questions.  In this way the content of the course is largely irrelevant; it is the approach to the knowledge issues that arise that is vital.  As I’ve seen in your class, this approach leads students to a natural and profound investment in their learning.  

B: Thank you. And I do think, when my students look back on their work, they generally have internalized a clear (and growingly sophisticated) sense of what they have accomplished. I also think my own metacognition, whether or not it is always visible to them, plays a role in that process, if only by role modeling. That’s one of my hopes and expectations here (and it’s already happening!), that as I learn directly from you and indirectly from your students, my own metacognitive skills will rise as will, in turn, those of my students.

A: Absolutely–I realized as soon as you proposed this project that my not taking this opportunity to reflect (determinedly) would be disingenuous.  As you say, so much of what we teach, we model: process, results, and joy and investment in both.  Just think how much we’ll have to say once we start teaching.

B: I am! So, until next time…

-Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean & Alex Bogel, TOK and IB English Teacher

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