K-8 Collaborative, a podcast of Baker Demonstration School
Carly Andrews (Head of School/Baker Demonstration School) and Jordan Grumet (Parent) explore moving the conversation forward on grades K-8 through the lens of a progressive education. Topics explore the creation of a nurturing and empathic environment through cutting edge philosophy and research. Listen to K-8 Collaborative on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. You can learn more about Baker here.
Episode 8: Design Learning and Thinking
On this episode, Jordan Grumet and Carly Andrews are joined by JD Pirtle of Depth and Light and Jim Leesch, middle school teacher at Baker Demonstration School. Both are teaching in the Design Engineering program in Baker’s 2020 Virtual Summer Camp. We discuss principles of Design Thinking, Engineering, the Maker movement, and Game Design and the ways this work supports students’ growth in creative and critical thinking.
Resources mentioned in episode:
Episode 8 Transcript
Speaker 1: This is a project funded and created by the Baker Demonstration School.
Speaker 2: I loved school. I was one of those kids who was really good at figuring out what the teacher wanted and giving them exactly what they wanted. But when I graduated from college, I felt like something was missing. I had a lot of ideas. I wanted to change the world but I had no idea where to start first. I just spent the last 16 years learning how to get the right answer. So, the idea of trying something that might lead to a wrong answer petrified me. The second is that I didn’t have a ton of experience with solving complex problems that had no one clear solution. So fast forward three or four years and I’m in grad school. About midway through grad school I took a class in design thinking and it changed my life. And the reason why was because it gave me those complex problem-solving skills, they taught us a methodology for how to address a problem for which you had no clear idea what the end solution should look like. We were challenged with all kinds of different things, ranging from how to come up with a plan to get youth to plan for their financial future, to putting on a hip-hop concert on campus for some rising rap stars. We also got a chance to potentially fail. If I’m being totally honest, our first try at putting on a hip-hop concert for up and coming Arkansas rappers, not so successful but I gained a lot of confidence.
Jordan: Welcome to the K-8 Collaborative podcast, where we move the discussion on schooling forward.
Carly: Through the lens of a progressive education.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Grumman, podcaster, doctor and proud father of a creative, energetic and empathic sixth grade.
Carly: And I’m Carly Andrew’s mother and head of school at Baker Demonstration School.
Jordan: And today we are going to discuss design learning. We have three special guests joining Carly and I. JD Pirtle has been working in technology and art design for the last 15 years. He is the founder and principal of depth and light. JD tell us what is depth in light?
JD: Depth and light is a consultancy in studio. So basically, our work is to help to partner with schools, to get them thinking about design and engineering in the classroom and then it’s kind of helped them actually roll that out. So, we do a lot of training a lot of advising schools on what to acquire, where to put it, how to teach with it, a lot of curriculum development and things like that.
Jordan: We are definitely going to dive deeper into that as we go. Jim Leash is one of the middle school math teachers at Baker and his love of game design theater and reading are all brought out in his interactive math lessons. Jim, tell us a little bit about game design? It’s not something I know much about.
Jim: This is a love of mine that came about 20 years ago with the modern era of board gaming that I think in the US we’re just starting to see kind of take flight now. In Europe, it’s been going for a little bit longer for the last few years. I’ve been getting small groups of students together, teaching them some of these less familiar games that focus on specific design elements and then asking them to go and create and find out how to make an interactive experience for themselves and their friends.
Jordan: So, Carly, I want to start with you when I started prepping for this episode. One question came to me over and over again, especially before I dove into it. What the heck is design thinking?
Carly: So, design thinking is a way of thinking that really came from the sector of designers who are really looking at problems that need to be solved. And so, the Stanford D school was a big place that helped educators really think about how this process could be helpful for students, how we could start with what they term as the first step of empathy. How could we help students in schools really understand a problem through a human lens? So, for example, when you’re thinking about a problem related to how a supermarket is set up and what it means to move to the supermarket with a wheelchair. And for students to really be able to understand, oh my goodness, my experience is not the only experience that another person can navigate the same space and have a very different experience. And in fact, have problems that are not working right now in terms of how the structure, how the organization is set up. It’s a way of helping students think through how to solve a problem. And so whatever that problem is and at Baker, we’re working on immersive, you know, real world projects, we’re helping them move through that process in order to create a solution that makes sense.
Jordan: JD is Carly talks about this, this idea of experiential learning and even empathy surrounding building things. Is there a maker movement in modern education? Why have we got to this point in our educational evolution?
JD: Certainly. Yeah, the maker movement in education. I mean, I would say it’s been building up steam since probably 2010. And certainly, I mean, a lot of, I mean, when I’m working with teachers, I try not to say, now we’re going to become makers because teachers are the original makers. They’ve been, you know, having kids demonstrate their learning or show their learning through tangible physical objects and creating and designing those for a long time. But I think there’s been a renewed focus and in a lot of ways, that’s kind of a response to removing that from education in like the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. I mean, I used my mother as an example as the only female on our school who took auto shop industrial arts and Home-Ec, and it was because she had interest in making things with her hands and designing things. And, you know, all those wonderful programs have been largely removed from schools. Meanwhile, we remove all those things from school in the United States, at least and we start to really focus on testing and test prep and rote memorization.
So, I think it’s, you know, it’s a response to, we kind of toss the baby out with the bath water and we’re trying to add those things back into school. And a lot of times we say to kids, this is important. We’re going to do some worksheets. We’re going to take some tests about this topic or this unit, trust me, it’s important. You don’t need to learn that for yourself. Just trust me the creator or the, you know, the holder of the knowledge, the teacher, we don’t really give kids a chance to learn through doing and learn by the experiments that we’re teaching them, you know, and having them memorize these theorems and things like that. So, to me, it is a way for kids to return, to learning, how to make things with their hands and to see for themselves these abstract concepts turn them into concrete tangible things and see if what we’re telling them is true is actually true.
Jordan: JD. It’s an interesting thought. We like these terms, design thinking maker. But what you’re talking about hearkens back to an early rage where Home-Ec and Auto motives maybe were those original maker curriculums. Doesn’t sound is cool, but it does make us wonder what are the differences in how people learn by doing as opposed to, by studying or reading or memorizing? How is the curriculum different? How does that affect kids differently?
JD: What’s interesting about like maker programs, maker, curriculum is dead. Some people are really good at decoding it like learning from a text base scenario. Some people are visual learners. Some people they need that tactile gross motor kind of input. So, what I really like about like, you know, learning in a Makerspace or learning in when you apply maker curriculum to other subjects is that you kind of catch all the learners. So, the kids who really struggle with learning things or following text-based instructions, they get another chance to kind of like you could write down a bunch of texts about how to make an omelet, or you could show me how to make an omelet. And if somebody shows me how to make the omelet for the type of learner, I am, I’m going to be able to replicate that. You know, there’s other people who can read the text, follow the directions and they’ll get the same product that I get. So, to me, it’s a way to kind of have a 360-degree approach to education that really grabs everyone. And also, I think there’s things that you can only figure out when you actually build something. So the goal of maker education is really to take the idea that’s in a child’s brain and have a cycle with as few adults as possible in the cycle that ends up being a tangible thing that started in their brain it’s an abstract, and it’s now a concrete that we can share with the whole world. And to me, that’s the whole point of art in general is we can’t share our interior life. We cannot share our emotions in any like immediately one-to-one way. So, art and design and engineering give us a way to share what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling in a way that other people can understand.
Jordan: Jim, as I hear JD speak about design thinking, especially when he was talking about some of that tactile portion of it, it makes me wonder about math. I’ve always thought as math being a lot more, how shall I say intellectual and less tactile? How does math work in a maker space first of all? And second of all, can you have design thinking when it isn’t tactile?
JD: That’s really good questions. It’s interesting that you ask the first one because my partner, Amy Frank just sent JD an email asking for his partnership. We’re looking at redesigning some curriculum, particularly with the way that school is having to adjust the way that we interact with kids. We’re taking the opportunity to try and partner with JD to come up with ways to make math more tactile through the maker space. Some of the ideas that we’re borrowing from as we’ve looked into this design is looking at some of the things that EHS does with their geometry program. They have geometry and construction teaching kids how to measure. That’s one of those skills that JD talked about earlier that sort of has disappeared from curriculum. Nowadays, we hand children problems with the measurement done for them and ask them to manipulate the measurements, using algorithms, using skills, but getting the kids back to the idea of like, well, you’re responsible for the measurement. And that’s a skill that has a lot of math embedded in it that we don’t really think about. Because as you mentioned, we’ve sort of intellectualized math, we’ve taken it out of the realm of the body and put it entirely in the domain of the mind. I feel like probably JD and I have different learning styles because when he was talking about the omelet like, don’t show me, I won’t be able to follow that. Let me read the instructions so I can ingest them. So for me as a teacher, the intellectual spaces where I’m most comfortable and where I have spent a lot of time in the last 5, 10 years is really figuring out how to get out of my head space and get more things done either with pencil and paper but also with materials. I did a lot of work with science Olympiad, which has a strong emphasis on not just talking about the theory behind different applications but actually working with interactive pieces, structures, lasers, design elements. At Baker, Amy and I are looking to really take math back into the realm of the body and make it something where the whole body gets involved in the application of the mathematics.
Jordan: Carly, I feel like there’s a dichotomy here. One is the creation itself, the building and the making but the other portion of this really sounds a lot like our episode six with Project Based Learning. Talk to me about where these two paths collide?
Carly: Yeah. I mean, I love how Jim talked about, you know, taking math back into the realm of the and JD talking about teachers as the original makers. And I think what we’re talking about with all of this is that the very origins, particularly in progressive schools have been centered on students constructing knowledge and have been rooted in how children learn. It is really moving into middle school where children are able to think more abstractly but through much of their elementary school, they’re learning through the work they’re doing with their hands. And so, what this does is it’s realigning back to what children need in terms of how they develop. And it’s realigning back into how we think in a progressive environment, which is that we are not delivering knowledge to you to take in and learn and regurgitate back to us. But rather you have agency as a student and you have your own ideas and we are setting up a space for you to design, to make, to bring those ideas to fruition in a way that is not my image for what you need to do as a teacher but rather something that is unique and original to you and how you are conceptualizing this idea.
Jordan: JD, Carly was talking about giving the students agency and I really struggle with this issue of design thinking and equity. In some ways, I imagine it brings greater equity of the classroom and in others, I could imagine it might take that away. Tell me the role of design thinking and how it affects equity in the classroom?
JD: Yeah, I mean, certainly I think that one of the things that educators have struggled with for the last few years is that our school system and I want to say our I’m going to refer to the United States because this looks very different in like Norway or Finland or somewhere like that. But the way our education system has been working for the last 40, 50 years and maybe forever is that it really favors extroverts. So, if you’re an introvert, if you identify as an introvert, if you’re somewhere in that spectrum, it’s kind of hard when there’s kids who are constantly raising their hands, they’re constantly answering the questions they’re jumping in as leaders of groups and things like that. So, I think that the design process is, you know, design engineering is innately about solving human problems. Certainly, sometimes problems for animals if you’re designing dog houses or, you know, something like that. But generally, we’re solving human problems and I think that that gives students kind of a North star to guide their making that they are not necessarily, it’s not all about them, it’s about other people. And a lot of at least the work I do with project-based learning is, you know, it is group work but it’s about identifying and seeing each student and then teaching them to see each other.
And so whatever contribution that they have to the group is there’s a place for that. It’s one facet of an overall project. And, you know, they’re probably a space in the group for an extrovert who wants to stand up and present and be the kind of exponent of what they’ve been doing. And then there’s also places for the, you know, the people on the other end of the spectrum that are the quiet thinkers, the quiet doers. So, to me, I think that as opposed to a traditional chalk and talk classroom where the teacher is in the front, they are the conduit of knowledge, kind of what like Carly referred to. When you have like a project-based room where kids are working together, I think that there’s just more nuance and there isn’t just like the extrovert raises their hand, the introverts are, you know, kind of go by the wayside. I think some of the issues that, I mean, there’s other issues of equity that we could talk about but I think that kind of covers like the different personality types of learning types.
Carly: You know, I think that one of the things that, you know, we were reading 10, 15 years ago around coding was this idea that all of a sudden, there’s this way that we can have a language that bridges socioeconomic racial opportunity gaps. And again, anything within this realm is reflective of the larger culture and the access within the larger culture and the ease with which in the larger culture, people of a particular demographic and race and economic situation are able to walk through the world that is reproduced in these settings. And so, I think we’re also talking about making a design, we’re talking about hardware and software and Wi-Fi and access to technology. And I think, you know, one of the things that really grounds our thinking at Baker is really the question around technology as simply a tool. And I think the flexibility that we can have with technology is really important, but we’re not a school that loves a lot of technology simply because it’s shiny and new, we’re a school that’s trying to help children immerse themselves in real world problems and find the tool that helps them to better collaborate and to better engage. And I think when we think about diversity in that setting, we need groups of students that are thinking in very different ways about how to solve particular problems. And so, the diversity of the classroom becomes a real strength for all of our students.
Jordan: Jim, I want to transition to another topic. When I think about your traditional math class, it’s really easy in a sense to assess the students, right? Did they get the right answer? Did they show their work? You can look at their homework or look at their test and get a good feel for how they’re grasping and what they’ve achieved. How do you make that kind of assessment in a maker environment?
Jim: It can be a big challenge, but it also can be the ultimate easy assessment because when you’re engineering things around a design program, you see the final product and you can evaluate the final product and you can’t fudge the math in the final product, right? So, if the product works well, the math behind it must have been sound. And if the product has flaws, you can just as easily dissect where the math went wrong with a designed process product, as you can, with a pencil and paper product. It requires you to think a little bit about how you’re going structure the design process itself for a particular piece of curriculum, making sure that the student is actually engaging in the math that supports the product that you’re trying to create. So, we ask the kids to do some thinking around asking and testing questions. And one of the groups was trying to discover how to proportionally describe the positions on a trombone slide with the notes that were being produced. And if you know anything about brass instruments and producing notes with them, as someone who played the trombone, like that’s not proportional and I know that it’s not proportional. And it was really hard for me to say, gosh, guys, you’re going to hit a couple of walls here and standing back and watching them hit those walls and then have to describe why the proportionality didn’t work and then coaching them through the process of like, well, but look at all the math you did to prove that it didn’t work. That is as relevant a product as if you had discovered some proportional reasoning behind the way the notes were being produced. The hard part is there’s so many good educational topics tied up the process of slow failure versus fast success. All of those pieces that schools have walked away from, and the design process forces us to readdress and think about again.
Jordan: JD, talk to us a little bit about that. Is there a presentational aspect to design learning? It seems to me a big part of that assessment is the presentation of the final product either to the teacher, to one’s peers or even to society in general.
JD: My approach to it is that the final product is important, but the process is equally important. So, one question I get quite a bit from people is like, how do you assess maker work? How do you assess design and engineering? And I think a lot of those people kind of come to the conversation with the assumption that you can’t assess creativity. But I think the formula to assessing creativity is pretty simple. I mean, if all the students are giving the same material, the same expectations in the same amount of time, what they do with those resources is creativity. I mean, that’s pretty much it and the design thinking process. I mean, because you are working in iterations because you are moving an inch at a time, not a mile at a time. The example I always give is that the educational environment I was in as a child was, you know, we might have like a small sketch that leads to a final thing. But for a long time, you’re kind of working in a vacuum on the project by yourself. And the teacher held up the perfect one at the beginning of the unit, if there were a good teacher but you were expected to do something that looked a lot like that. So, the chances of failing, like truly failing both with the letter grade F and failing in your own opinion and the teacher’s opinion was pretty high.
So, with the design thinking classroom, with a maker classroom, you can have the students, I mean, they have to be working in iterations and that each day is just a slice of time of that project. So, a lot of times, like, you know, at the very end, there is a final presentation kind of to your original question but we’ve all seen the work evolve slowly. It’s almost liked a stop motion animation or something. So, the final project is about how they speak intelligently about their work and things like that and how they presented and kind of contextualize it. But it’s just a slice in time, we no more important than the, then the 12th iteration. And ideally like on a long-term project, let’s say an entire quarter, the kids might work through 30 iterations of their project and when I’m grading, I’m grading each and every one of those. So, each part of that is such a small part of their grade. That one iteration is not just going to sink them emotionally. And, you know, letter grade wise.
Carly: You know, one of the changes that’s happened in pedagogy over the last 10 years is this idea that project-based learning isn’t simply, and I think this is where the real innovation is. It’s not simply the project that you do at the end, after learning all of the steps along the way or the math needed. That the project is the means for the learning of the math and the presentation skills. And I’m thinking of a really sweet project that I just happened to go back to school I’m just checking on a few things. And even in the midst of this quarantine, you know, what is standing sort of beautifully in our preschool playground is the mud kitchen that three of our students designed after watching the preschoolers play and talking with them and interviewing them and understanding what would be helpful to have in their kitchen. And, you know, just as a small example, one of the things they talked about is they wanted running water. Well, you know, the way that they worked to solve that and created a really cool system to collect rain so that the preschoolers could use that. It’s just this example of the end part of it is one thing, but that whole process is so important for those middle schoolers and so affirming to those younger students. And I’m sure for the middle schoolers, so gratifying throughout the whole process, that it wasn’t this sort of like fabulous bang at the end, it was a cool process from beginning to end.
Jordan: Jim, JD talked about these iterations and you mentioned this term slow failure, as opposed to fast success. Is design thinking, teaching kids differently about failure?
Jim: You were talking at the top of the podcast or maybe it was JD was talking about how schools have sort of moved into this high-stake testing zone. And when you take testing as your primary way of evaluating, it doesn’t leave room for failure. It leaves the students in a position of, in order to demonstrate learning I have to succeed all the time. And if I haven’t succeeded on this assessment, then there was no meaningful or measurable learning that’s been done. Whereas with the design process, it’s I love the word iterative, that’s one of the words I really work with on my board game design crew is you don’t come in with a great idea for a game and execute it flawlessly. You come in with what’s probably a pretty poor idea for a game with a really great kernel at the base of it. And the goal of the design process is to fail dozens and dozens of times to unlock the part of the game that’s really worth building on and you do that through empathy, you do that through feedback and you do it through lots of small iterations.
One of the things that middle school students really want to do is they put out their first idea for a board game. They get some feedback from some kids like, well that wasn’t as much fun as I’d hoped. And so, they start over again. It’s like, no, no, no, no, no, no change one thing, change two things, change them in small ways and see if that increases the fun or see if that doesn’t increase the fun and then try it again and then try it again. And this process of understanding that at the end of this, you’re going to have something that’s better than where it started, but even then, it might not be great, it might take months. I have many friends in the board game design industry and from the time that a designer has an idea for a game to the time that I can go to the store and buy it is usually a three and a half year process with professional adults, teaching kids that it’s like, you’ve got to keep going to it, you’ve got to keep taking different bites of the Apple is a completely different way of thinking about what success looks like.
Jordan: In the first part of the show we discussed what is design learning and how it impacts students. In the second half Carly, JD and Jim, will get more specific about how we integrate these concepts into our educational system. But first the K-8 Collaborative podcast is brought to you by the Baker Demonstration School. We are a school for the innovative, curious challenge, seeking student who have greet their future with eyes wide open and full of wonder. Our preschool through eighth grade students thrive in our unique experiential and dynamic learning environment. Located on the border of Evanston just minutes from Chicago. Baker is a private school nationally recognized for educational excellence and serve students in preschool through eighth grade. Our philosophy is rooted in the simple but powerful idea an education should do more than help a child excel academically. It should prepare them to thrive throughout life, no matter how different the future may look while academic excellence is at our core our hands-on dynamic learning curriculum is designed and inspired, curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. Learn more by visiting us @bakerdemeschool.org. That’s B A K E R D E M S C H O L.org.
Jordan: So, Carly, how much of a curriculum can be made up of design learning? Can it go too far?
Carly: That’s a really great question. And I think the question is underneath that also, well will students really learn to read, to write and to do arithmetic? And I think the answer is absolutely. And they can do that within a context that’s connected and where there is an embedded sense of motivation and what we like to talk about Baker is love. This idea that you can love something you can be motivated to do it. You see the connections between all the parts of it. And within that context, you can learn all of the things that are appropriate for your particular developmental age, that correspond with peers and other schools, et cetera. In order to do this well, this is an incredibly challenging way to teach. It’s wonderful. It’s inspiring, but it takes so much work and reflection and on the fly iteration. So when you say too much, I think schools that are doing this and doing this as the full philosophy of the school need to be able to provide teachers the time to really do this well in a way that allows for them to continue the pace of that type of learning.
Jordan: JD I almost feel like there’s a continuum where you have the traditional book-based curriculum. And then on the other side, you have something radical like unschooling, where there’s almost no structure whatever. It seems to me a design thinking engineering type curriculum would be fall somewhere, right in the middle of that.
JD: In an ideal setting, everything would be project based learning, everything would be student centered but like Carly said, it is a lot more work for the teachers to do this type of progressive education. The other issue is even if we designed like the most progressive ideal Utopian environment for kids at the end of their primary and secondary experience, they’re going to take the SAT by themselves. So, all the collaboration that we teach them, all the group projects, all of that kind of falls away when they’re sitting there taking the SAT by themselves. And, you know, another thing is that the most ideal way to assess this aside from kids demonstrating what they’re learning with, what they’re making and what they’re saying about what they’re making is to do narrative evaluation for the kids, and to have them really participate in that process. But again, those have to be kind of transposed into grades to give to a high school if they were to like leave a junior school like Baker and go to high school or for college. So, I really think that there are a lot of things that about traditional education, the ability to memorize something is important, the ability to synthesize ideas from text is important. So we really kind of have to take the best of both of those worlds and meld them together.
Jim: This is a tension that math teachers feel all the time because in my 25 years of teaching, what constitutes a pre-algebra program now, it looks what an algebra program looked like 25 years ago, almost. So there’s this constant push to keep adding more and more material to a curriculum. And so one of the ways that we try to balance that is by, you know, algorithms are important. Algorithms help you take a complex problem and simplify it and make it manipulable and make it something that you can apply in various situations. But rather than teaching the kid to memorize an algorithm out of context, with design thinking and with other techniques, we ask the kids to construct the algorithm for themselves. So, they’re not only learning the algorithm, but they’re also learning how to create algorithms for themselves and how to take complex problems and filter them through their own lens to find ways to simplify and to coordinate their own thinking.
Carly: You know, and it’s one of those things that when parents are really aggravated about whatever you want to call new math. You know, we’re in a world right now where the most complex calculus problem can be typed in to a program and students can get the answer. And so, the point has shifted. It’s not anymore anything about whether you’re using the right answer. It’s how do you think through this? And can you think in a mathematical way and apply that to different innovative new situations?
Jordan: Carly, I want to transition from the thousand-foot view we’ve been taking and get into more specifics of the types of curriculum available at Baker, especially coming up this summer because there are a lot of cool things going on with both Jim and JD. But before I do that, let’s talk a little bit about the cost of doing such programs, especially for educators listening. I’ve heard people talk about fab labs, right? Fabrication labs or maker spaces, quote unquote. Is this expensive for a school system to integrate these types of techniques?
Carly: Yes and no. I would start by arguing that it has to be expensive. I think that when we’re talking about design, we’re talking about a way of thinking and we’re talking about as a way of thinking habits that we’re helping children conceptualize with the materials that are in their environment. What we’re doing right now in e-learning through the quarantine is helping them do this in their home settings with the materials that they have at home. So, in that context, this does not need to be expensive. There are fabrication labs. We have one that we’ve just opened up at Baker and the tools and materials are expensive. And what we are doing with those is giving students another and different opportunity to show something that they can’t show with other means.
Jordan: JD, let’s get to specifics. You are going to be offering a course in the summer program at Baker in design engineering. Talk a little bit about what you’re planning for the summer?
JD: Sure. So, we have five different camps. There are two, one week, third and fourth grade camps that are really designed to be a developmentally appropriate for students in that range. So, the first one we’re going to be working with scratch, which is a graphical programming language that was developed by the lifelong kindergarten group at MIT. And for people who are not familiar with scratch or graphical programming, basically the kids can drag and drop modules that it used like a graphical interface. They can see the module and they kind of snapped together on the screen. And rather than like something that kind of is gimmicky or kind of talks down to the student, all of the different blocks and scratch represent real world coding, programming principles. So, looping conditional statements, you know, assigning variables and giving them value. So that’s the first one for third and fourth graders. So, we’re going to be really thinking about computer science, thinking about like designing simple algorithms as we build a working game. The second one for third and fourth grade is principles of electronics using snap circuits, which is another, you know, all of the tools that I try to use with students again, do honor to the student’s intellect not talk down to the student. They’re not a toy, although there is play. So snap circuits, they’re a set of plastic modules that snap together, hence the name. And the great thing about them is that they show the actual electronics component and they show the schematic symbol.
So as opposed to a painting, when I put the last drop of paint on that’s, it it’s a painting. Now the painting may disintegrate over time, but pretty much the Mona Lisa is the Mona Lisa. But when we’re talking about computational design, everything can be different every time we run the code. Moving onto the second camper, fifth through eighth graders, we’re going to be looking at virtual reality and virtual reality in this sense, there’s two ways that kids can use virtual reality as the consumer or as the producer. And you know, in my work, I try to move the kids to the producer. Not that I don’t love at the end of the day, sitting down with Netflix and being the consumer but when we’re in a school environment, I really want the students to go under the hood. So, we’re going to use a pretty new language developed by Mozilla, the same people who brought us Firefox, it’s called a frame and its basically just HTML code for like doing web design. So, kids are going to create their own VR kind of interactive environments with this language. And then our final camp is going to be using the micro bit, which is a microcontroller. And this is a concept called physical computing. So how do we as humans? How do we get input from things like sensors and things like microphones and how do we do a little bit of computation, which happens with computer coding and then do some kind of output? So, say we take in information from an ultrasonic sensor to see how close something is to us. What can we do with that? Do we output that to a bunch of LEDs, a bunch of lights and visualize how close something is? So physical computing is really about human input. Computation, and then I’ll put in a way that humans can understand.
Jordan: And it sounds like all these programs can be done in a distance learning environment, just as well as the traditional classroom environment.
JD: Is that fair to say? Absolutely. I mean, you know, the impetus behind these camps is the COVID-19 pandemic. We would, all of us, everybody would much prefer working with students in person. I mean, everybody who got into teaching, that’s why we did it to be with students, to be with other colleagues, you know, distance learning I don’t care what kind of virtual environment or how immersive it is or what kind of technology we have. We’ll never replace in-person school but we have a rare opportunity here to not only have a very engaging and intellectually rigorous camp but also to kind of start thinking about the world as it will be after this. You know, Twitter just said to all of its employees, you may go home and stay home and that’s it. It’s not just for this pandemic it’s forever. So, a lot of educators are thinking, okay, what can we do to kind of bridge now to when everything is back to the way it used to be? I’m going to say that I don’t think everything will ever be back to the way it used to be. We will go back to in person school, the new normal will become the normal.
So, what we’re really able to do with these camps and with distance learning in general is to prepare kids for this kind of partially remote partially in person hybrid world, that we will inherit when this is done. So, this is really a research initiative for Baker to not only provide a great program for the students but also to think newly about 21st century learning, because we’ve just had a huge variable that’s going to change that. And I’m excited about it I mean, it’s obviously a scary, uncertain time, certainly for people who are running schools and nonprofits and camps but, you know, I see a lot of grains of hope in this and a lot of opportunities in this.
Jordan: And Jim 21st century learning may involve game theory and design, or at least this summer at Baker at will. Talk to us about what you have planned for the kids?
Jim: We are going to be using two ideas here. The course is going to be broken into two parts. The first part we’re going to explore some games that the students probably have limited experience with, games that don’t typically sit on American shelves right now. And in the past, we’ve done this face to face. I’m a big proponent of face to face board gaming, but with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing us into separate spaces, there are websites online where designers have put their designs in a digital format so that we can simulate some of the same interactions that we would have around a game table. So, we’re going to be looking at elements like resource management. We’re going to be looking at decision trees. We’re going to be looking at planning and execution. There are some games that I introduced the students that introduce some of the same principles behind programming and that sort of thing. What we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be asking the students to reflect on like, well, what kinds of games did you enjoy? Because the space is so wide open, the kids can design games around any kind of theme, any kind of mechanism that they’d like to try. So really, it’s a chance to get them to figure out like, well, what kind of games do I like to play? And then we move into the second phase, which is around designing the game that you would like to play and figuring out how to take materials. And we’re going to be supplying the kids with some rudimentary materials kits so that they can make boards, they can make cards, they can make their own dice, they can do all of these elements. We’re going to start the design process. We’re going to look at everything from what makes the game fun to what makes the game artistic to what makes the game tactile. All of those different elements.
Carly: The reason we all got into this work is the experiences that we have with students and colleagues in an environment and I just feel like even in this setting, just to hear two amazing people talk about the way that they’re thinking about this. It just gets me so interested and excited. And I think, you know, one of the things that I’ve been hearing in my role as head of school is just this fatigue around technology and just the general, you know, research that we’ve been looking at for the last, however many years around screen time. And I think what’s interesting about what we’re putting forward is that it’s really based on this idea that not all screen time is equal. And what JD was talking about, what Jim is talking about in terms of really repositioning students as not simply being consumers of technology passively but really putting them in an active role where they are creating, where they’re designing, where they’re getting feedback, where they’re collaborating, where technology is a means that allows for incredible connection at this time. And I just feel like in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this feels like such an incredible creative response to the time.
Jordan: JD is there ever a time where you parse out your programs to include non-technology driven making, so to speak back to that old automotive class or home-Ec. Is there ever a time where you specifically try to move out of technology and get more to the building with your hands type projects?
JD: Certainly. I mean, I think, you know, when I teach, when I’m working with teachers, when I’m working with students, everything is paper first. So, you know, there’s concept that I call paper first innovation. And the notion of that is that we should not, I mean, there are some people who are great at composing at the keyboard or who sit down and they think, okay, I need something that’s going to grab all of my mail and put it into a folder. I’m going to write a little Python script and do that. Some people can just sit down and type that out. But most of us, I mean, we’ve been working with computers for 40 or 50, 60 years, maybe depending on how you count it, we’ve been drawing for thousands of years. So, there’s something very much, you know, built into us as a species to draw, to articulate our thoughts with some kind of stylus and implement on some kind of material like paper. So, to me, like the first thing that I say to students is draw this, sketch, this do pseudocode. You know, so you’re not writing actual computer programming or actual computer code, but you are kind of describing what you want your code to do. When a student comes to me and says this box that we’re laser cutting and designing doesn’t fit together. I say, go back to your sketchbook. People are always surprised at as students to keep a sketchbook, but that is the original way for us to iterate.
So, I really think that there is like the kind of mixed mode of we are drawing and thinking about this, we’re going to the computer and trying to make this. I mean, one of the most interesting things about maker work is that you are saying to a kid it’s not just about the abstract thing in your brain, that eventually you holding your hand, that I talked about removing as many adults, again, from that process as possible. You are asking a kid to design something in their mind, take it apart in their mind, build those parts and put them back together, which is a really novel and singular experience for students. So, we never can get to a good product without going to an analog set of tools without drawing. And we are drawing at the beginning, middle and end, and we’re making things out of cardboard, even if they’re eventually going to be wood. We’re just thinking about the materials and the project and a lot of different ways. And you know, I have never worked in a Makerspace where I was setting it up or where I was advising my clients to set it up where I did not include great traditional technology, like sewing machines, carpentry, things like that and emerging technology like virtual reality. It’s all about what Carly alluded to this earlier, but it’s about like the best tool for the job, not throwing technology at your problems.
Jordan: Jim, tell me what a successful conclusion to a design thinking program looks like. What have the kids picked up in the process? How do you measure as a teacher, if you’ve been successful in doing one of these projects?
Jim: Let me speak first to the way that the board game design works and what success looks like. Because I ran this program face to face at the Baker summer camp last year and when the students left that experience, as I alluded earlier in the program, they did not have a ready to publish board game because a week is not enough time to produce such a thing. But what they did have was they had a prototype, they had a sense of materials, they had created a structure in the form of a rule set, and they had the ability to teach other people how to play their game. And then on the other side of it, they had practiced both giving and receiving meaningful feedback on the, on the experiences that they were having. I actually heard through a friend of a friend about one of the students that was in my camp, who was still bringing his iterated board game into his school and showing it to people and getting feedback and working on the process, that is a hundred percent success. So, the kid walking out of the space with something that they own, that they’re invested in, that they know what to do with, they know what it can do for them, and they know how to make it better and they know how to apply it. That’s what success looks like.
Jordan: Carly, tell us what the future of design thinking looks like at Baker and maybe in our community in general?
Carly: I think that we’re moving to authentic community engagement that is service oriented. That is real world that is engaging students as real contributors to the world that they will inherit.
Jordan: And JD, if people want to learn more about design engineering thinking, are there any resources you could point people to, to learn about what exactly this is and how kids benefit from it?
JD: Sure. I mean, I think that, you know, kind of the current Bible quote unquote of this work was created by two people, Gary Stagger and Sylvia Martinez, it’s called invent to learn. And it’s, you know, probably 10 years old, at least now that’s a great book that gives, I would say fewer fine details, but more of an overview of the philosophy. And that’s really built on, you know, the work that Seymour Papert, John Piaget, I mean the constructivist kind of philosophy that really is the backbone of all of this. There are other books like design of everyday things, which is a great kind of overview of like how design works and why we design things. Those are two good resources, but I mean, you know, honestly, we’re in the infancy of this work in schools. And while it seems like it’s been going on for a long time, for a lot of us who were in this work, we really are just kind of at the very beginning, one of the big tragedies right now that I hope will go away in the future is there are not a lot of opportunities for pre service teachers to learn how to do this stuff. I mean, there are some Ed tech programs, but some of those that I’ve recently seen, still ask about floppy disk and things like that.
So, they’re woefully out of date but teachers are learning this on the job, in the moment after they’re already hired by a school. Maybe they’re doing it in student teaching, but we are really just kind of you know, Baker and the entire community is we’re pioneers in this. And the stuff we’re doing now will be those handholds for other people in the future, other educators to find, but we are having to create those in schools all over the country are doing this work. So, we’re in the nascent area for sure.
Carly: JD’s podcast, depth and light also is just engaged in this conversation is a great place to check out. Also, the K-12 lab at the Stanford D school has some great materials for educators who are doing this work.
Jordan: And Jim, if educators or parents want to learn more about game theory, where can they read it about it?
Jim: I have a friend who teaches this to her students at the middle school level and I borrowed a lot of her thoughts. Her name is Kathleen mercury, and she has a webpage at wwwdotkathleenmercury.com, where she talks about teaching game design to students. There’s also a couple of really good books that I use and borrow heavily from, for my inspiration. One of them is called challenges for game designers by Ian Schreiber and the other one is called a theory of fun for game design by Ralph Koster.
Jordan: This has been the K-8 Collaborative podcast on behalf of myself, Jordan Gromit and my cohost Carly Andrews. We would like to thank our guests, JD Pirtle and Jim Leash. We hope you found this episode about design thinking helpful, and don’t forget to subscribe the K-8 Collaborative podcast on your favorite listening platform to stay up to date on the latest episodes.
Episode 7: Parenting in the Coronavirus
On this episode, Jordan Grumet and Carly Andrews are joined by Kirk Greer, Baker parent and head of the upper school at The Latin School of Chicago, Laura Cinat, Chair of the Baker Parent Organization, and Rachel Yantis, Director of Advancement and Parent Engagement at Baker Demonstration School in Wilmette, Illinois, in a conversation about parenting in the pandemic. Their discussion explores the stressors of the pandemic, the challenges of working from home with the children, and the unique ways Baker parents are staying healthy and supporting their children through this time.
Resources mentioned in episode:
Episode 7 Transcript
Speaker 1: This is a project funded and created by the Baker demonstration school.
Jordan: No movies, Disney’s closed and all of these things that these kids are having these wonderful dreams about doing are no longer here.
Speaker 2: My students and all the neighbors and I have talked about different ways to keep kids doing things that are positive. Engaging with them in ways that are not electronics or TV.
Speaker 3: We’re expanding our horizons, learning new musical instruments and trying out new crafts and they’re cooking for me too.
Speaker 4: It was peaceful. We heard the birds chirping. We saw flowers danced with the wind.
Speaker 5: The situation is really forcing me to think outside the box as a parent to come up with creative ideas so that the kids aren’t getting stressed at home and I’m not getting stressed either.
Speaker 6: We have to reprioritize to family and I think that what these little boxes do is not only keeps their hands and minds going, but it creates a family opportunity to be together.
Jordan: Welcome to the K-8 Collaborative podcast where we move the discussion on schooling forward.
Carly: Through the lens of a progressive education.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Gromit podcaster, doctor and proud father of a creative, energetic and empathic sixth grader.
Carly: And I’m Carly Andrew’s teacher, mother, and head of school at Baker Demonstration School.
Jordan: And today we are going to discuss parenting through the coronavirus pandemic. We have three special guests joining Carly and I. Kirk Greer is the parent of a fifth and eighth grader at Baker. He is also the head of the upper school at Latin school of Chicago. Kirk fifth and eighth grade. Those seem to be big transition years, aren’t they?
Kirk: They’re certainly proving to be. It’s also the most exciting time that I’ve been a parent as well.
Laura: Laura Sinnet is the president of the Baker parent organization and a parent of a Baker alum and a fifth grader also. Tell us, Laura, what is the BPO?
Laura: Oh, the BPO stands for the Baker Parent Organization. And really if you’re a parent at Baker, you’re part of the organization and really our goal is to support and compliment the school in whatever their goals may be. And to really have an active and engaged community of parents that can enjoy each other as well as support their children.
Jordan: Rachel Yantis is a parent of a second grader and director of advancement and parent engagement at Baker. Rachel, I bet engagement is a tough nut to crack nowadays in this world of social distancing.
Rachel: It is, but thank goodness for text messages, social media email, in some ways I don’t really feel like we missed a beat.
Jordan: Carly. these are strange times. How are parents feeling right now in the midst of shelter, in place about their ability to support their kids?
Carly: I think that this time is characterized by a sense of every experience being very different and changing daily. I think with the parents that I’m in touch with, there’s a range of experiences they’re having. There’s a range of confidence that they have in terms of their children and their ability to support them and those feelings aren’t constant, they’re changing. And I think it’s a time where we need to have a lot of grace for ourselves and for our networks of parents that we’re connecting in, in nonjudgmental ways with our networks in order to support the parents within them. It’s a hard time.
Jordan: Kirk, Carly mentioned this idea of pivot and change. I’m wondering as an educator, what are you hearing from your kids’ parents? Were they mentally prepared for this change in the schooling regimen?
Kirk: I don’t think any of us were prepared for the change. I think you can put a plan into place. You can publish your Google docs, you can send your checklist, but I think particularly as we’re moving into week four week five of this, we’re learning so much day to day, I think that’s part of the exhaustion. I think that a lot of us are experiencing it’s that we’re learning so much day to day about remote learning. And I think also about one another, both has friends and colleagues at work. Part of the change is how each of us are reacting I think so differently to these conditions. So, there’s also the social emotional side of having to learn and adapt as each of our own unique personalities are interacting with this new world. We may have thought we were mentally prepared. There’s just so much new and so much to take in every day.
Jordan: Kirk, you bring up an important point back four weeks ago, we were ready and almost in a sense psyched up to change because it was required of us. But there’s almost this sense of change fatigue, three to four weeks in, we’re seeing no sign that we’re at an end to what’s going on soon. It changes and people get tired of adapting.
Kirk: Absolutely. I think that among our faculty and among our parents, we’re at this turning point that I’m sensing where the novelty has worn off. We miss each other so much. There really is no placing the casual conversation in the hallway, the chat in the lunch line, passing by families as they come in and out of the doors in the lobby. Like those things are just are irreplaceable and I think there’s a real longing for that. It’s trying to push through this say lull or kind of push through this wall right now, where try to get a second wind and take advantage of what we are learning. Because I think that hit everyone hard, even though I think the writing was on the wall when we got the definitive word about a week or so ago, I did sense a change in tone there, you know, we all knew a truth we didn’t want to admit, and we’ve learned so much for sure. Carly mentioned grace before, as this does start to feel like more of a routine. We still have to be very, very patient with one another and understand everything that we’re going through in our personal lives and our families and still be patient. Because I think even though we’ve been at it for a few weeks, we still have so much more to learn. So, I think we still need to make sure that expectations stay reasonable. You know, even though we’ve been at it for a while,
Jordan: Laura, I feel like as parents, we have a few different support systems in our normal school system. We have the school administrators and teachers and then of course we have the other parents. Talk about how the Baker parent organization is playing a supportive role to parents in this unprecedented time.
Laura: It’s a really good question. And I would say when the e-learning first started and kids stopped going to the school, I feel like there was a little bit of a deer in the headlights for all of us, like getting your feet under you. So, I feel like the parents to a certain extent, went a little bit quiet for that first week or two. Like, wow, we’re just trying to figure out our own households and, you know, rearranging the furniture and where’s the office going to be and the school desks going to be. And then there was kind of a coming together more by classroom. Like some of us having zoom chats, you know, in our classroom groups or with some of the friends that we talk too often, or, you know, carpool groups, parents used to see each other having some zoom meetings. You know, and now we’re starting to think about the parent organization more formally what does that look like? You know, we have a once a month coffee, BPO coffee and chat. It’s very informal and people gather. And so, April, we invited a couple of guest speakers and we had a zoom chat and we recorded that and we made it available to everyone and puts resources out to them. So, it’s really shifted our thinking a little bit and how we can support each other and connect with each other as well as the school.
Jordan: Rachel, one of the ways we support each other is through the other parents but the other way is, as we were talking about before engaging in the school. How are parents engaging differently with school administrators and teachers now that we’re being socially distanced?
Rachel: Oh, it’s a good question. I think a lot of the formal ways that we would interact are not present and I think it does make it more challenging. Something that I’ve seen really consistently with our parents is just an outpouring of support. I think a real premise at Baker that we all agree with is how important the relationships are. As I think on the one hand, it’s what makes this time so difficult, right? Is that we’re not in the same places. A lot of those sort of warm touches that happen in the life of a regular school day in the school house, feel like they’ve been stripped away, but I also think it’s, what’s making our community really shine in this time is that our teachers and parents and students even are finding ways of using even the zoom platform as a way of sort of staying in touch. I think from the perspective as a parent myself, what’s been interesting is I’ve always the support of the other parents and my child’s cohort. And I feel like we’re sort of an ongoing conversation about what’s going on in their class and with one another and just a real interest level. But I think we all have and everyone’s kids, but now, as we all know, if you have a child e-learning in your home, you’re a lot more present to it. You really are seeing what’s going on in the classroom in a way that you wouldn’t during the day. And frankly, you’re seeing the support that other parents are giving their children. And so, I think it’s for me, at least engaging my mind, even more in sort of the gratitude I have for the Baker community and realizing how involved everybody really is in their child’s life. And so even though we may not be getting sort of the parent to parent contact in the same way through sort of the official channels, like the BPO or the school. I really think that the parent engagement piece is still there and still really strong.
Laura: I wanted to add to that because, you know, it’s really interesting as I feel like this experience in many ways can even deepen the relationships among parents because we have to be so much more attentive to our children, to their experience of this and to our own situation and experience of it. So, the Baker community in general is a very authentic community, which is what I love about it. If my child is spending time, you know, in Google Hangouts with someone else’s child, what’s happening in the Google Hangouts, right? And Kirk and I have observed our children working together and doing fun things. And sometimes, you know, that communication can cause other challenges. Like I had a great conversation with Alison Greer the other day, where it was being really sincere about what my situation is like in the home and my challenges and what Emma’s challenges are. And well maybe if we tried, you know, “A”, “B” and “C” that will help all of us, you know, so I feel like it’s a deepening even of those relationships and becoming even more authentic and real and forgiving of each other. It’s very helpful.
Kirk: I would echo that for sure. I think that given all of the challenges of the current situation; I think the authenticity comes when all of us admit that we don’t know what we’re doing right. At the beginning of this to go back to one of the first questions, you know, did we feel prepared? Did we feel prepared as educators? Do we feel prepared as parents, as we’re getting into this? We have to admit that no, we are all desperately trying to figure out how to be the best parents that we can be. I definitely believe that the Baker community has been a great support. We’re all vulnerable. We’re all looking for answers. You know, it’s been really enriching connect with other parents in that way and very reassuring. And I love the fact that I get to see Laura almost every other day as I [inaudible 11:35] together.
Laura: Probably even caught me in my pajamas once or twice. Right? What are you going to do?
Kirk: Usually I’m just jealous of your picture I told you before, it’s not the same, but it’s also great in its own way. As long as we’re honest and vulnerable with another.
Jordan: It’s interesting that you mentioned this idea that normally during the school year, as parents, we are in and out of the school, we’re accompanying our children to games and performances. So, the parents naturally see each other quite often, which may be inhibits us from interacting a little bit more formally. But what you guys seem to be saying is that in this new reality, parents are becoming a lot more intentional because they are not running into each other. So there has to be a little bit more thought process into, maybe I should get on a zoom call. Maybe I should go to that BPO virtual coffee, because otherwise I’m not going to be seeing these parents and interacting with them. And in a sense that may foster closer relationships. I never thought about it that way but I imagine that’s one of the ways that parents are coping with the current situation.
Laura: Yes. You know, as another example in our cohort, there was a slew of birthdays in the month of April. So canceled birthday parties. You know, they do a nice singing of happy birthday on the morning meetings that the teacher has, but we organize those parades to people’s houses. You know, and we’re in our cars, we’re a good 20 feet away from each other, but getting a speaker out, that’s, you know, singing a happy song and the kids get to sort of dance out the sunroof or out the side window and see each other. And those weren’t things that even the parents of the birthday kid asked for, it’s the other parents saying, what is she doing for her birthday? And let’s just show up. And it’s really meant a lot to the kids and to the parents to do that. There’s a broadening of your perspective and what do other people need? How can I be helpful that’s happening?
Kirk: Because I think even if we have very regular touch points, we’re always in a hurry. We’re always going from point a to point B, right? It’s the drop off line to the next lesson, to the next swim practice. So, I think that the intentionality of it is in some ways a gift of this condition that we’re in. And I think we appreciate those opportunities to connect all the more and not to take them for granted and to actually be present and focused when we are with one another via zoom, as opposed to thinking about the long list of who’s picking up boom, and who’s going, where next? And did I already forget my other child. Am I in the right place,
Jordan: Four of you on this panel, see life through two different lenses or multiple different lenses, but at least two of them that you do see life through are one as an educator slash administrator and the other is a parent. Talk to me about some of the unexpected stresses for you having your daughter at home, just as a parent, not through those eyes of an educator?
Carly: I have to often be very careful in my role in separating those so that people are clear that my responses aren’t coming from a parent lens. And so, it’s been an interesting time, you know, I would say for my daughter, it’s been pretty awesome. She has to go to school where her mom is a big presence and there is something that’s really hard about that for her, that especially as she moves into middle school, that I recognize and I’m aware of and I am aware of the space I take up and the ways that I want her voice and her independence to emerge. And so, me not being physically present there is actually been, I think really great for her, but I would say for me, and I would not be saying this if she were three or five but it’s been an incredible opportunity. And I say that knowing that my situation is not representative of what parents are experiencing right now through this but having a daughter who is emerging into this interesting being who can manage much of her schooling day and who likes to play boggle. I feel like it’s just a great combination right now and we’re really, I’m just as somebody that works really long days and often doesn’t see her now that she’s my coworker. It’s created this awesome experience for us, for me to be passing her in the hall and having lunch with her in today at 10, I ended a meeting early and we did play a game of boggle at 10 in the morning. I mean that doesn’t ever happen in our real life.
And so, I think that I’m aware of potential stressors for her given her age, given that she’s an only child, we are quarantining with another family. It’s kind of an interesting situation because she’s an only child. And so, we’ve kind of agreed to the rules of how we operate everything but it’s just allowed for a little bit more connection and I think health for her. So, I’m aware of how this could be for her and I’m aware that it’s not representative of how all parents are experiencing this but it’s actually been really beautiful.
Jordan: Alright, Rachel, let me give a counterpoint to that rosy picture that Carly just drew for us.
Rachel: I can never do that. You may have to cut it.
Jordan: Me as a podcaster and a doctor, who’s always on zoom, always on our Wi-Fi, having the kids at home, all of a sudden, my zoom meetings are cutting out. I’m in the middle of recording a podcast and they run into the room and start talking to me, Rachel, it’s not easy being a working parent, a full-time working parent and having your kids at home. Do you think parents are struggling with getting their job done as well as feeling like they have to take care of their kids at the same time?
Rachel: I think it’s a real challenge, right? I mean, outside of this unusual circumstance, working parents, all parents feel the strain of performing well in what they’re doing and being a good parent, right? I mean, that’s an age-old discussion that I think we are always talking about in the circles that, you know, I’m traveling in, in the conversations that I’m having. I think people are struggling. I think at the end of the day, you know, you want to go to bed at night thinking I performed well at my job. I did everything that I had on my to do list. Maybe this is just me. I happen to be very type “A” and I was a good parent. I was a good partner. You know, whatever your sort of unique relational things is. And I think at least for me, the adrenaline begins right away in the morning when I often have a seven year old staring at me before I am upright and before coffee and all the way through the night where I’m thinking, I want to be engaged fully in my job. I’d rather not have him on every zoom call, even though he knows most of the people, fortunately that I’m interacting with. And yet if we have 10 minutes, you know, in between classes or something that he has and he wants to play basketball in his room with me, I want to be fully present and I don’t know that I always am.
And I hear that and other parents as well. So I think it’s a challenge and I think that’s why being in a community of parents and being able to just vent a little bit, or just say like, this is how I’m feeling and have that reinforcement from other people that say, I know that you’re doing a good job at your job or I know that you had a rough day, but that’s not the fullness of your identity or your child knows that you love him. And it’s okay that you’re working a lot or whatever it is. I think that those voices, and I think if anything, this time is showing us. Choosing the people that are in your inner circle and in your ear and at time like this as incredibly, incredibly important and I feel really grateful for the people that I sort of turn to for those encouraging words. I think if anything, we’re all experiencing right now is a lot of extra mental noise, right? Like again, and the best of circumstances, most of us are struggling with some sort of self-doubt, some sort of desire to be doing something different or better in our lives. And I think now with being in a pandemic that I think in some days we’re forgetting where even in the emotional stress of that, the not sleeping as well, probably not eating as well, probably not exercising as much, you know, whatever the things are that sort of stack up. I think it’s really easy to hit the end of the night and not go to sleep when you should and you know, the sort of the thoughts begins. So, I think it’s different for every family. I think we’ve all alluded to this but I do think it’s a struggle.
Carly: There is such a heightened sense of anxiety that’s related to the economy and to the jobs that people hold. And I think the response to that situation is often overworking in this situation. It feels like the one thing you can control in the midst of a lot that’s going on. And I just worry, as I think about our body of parents at Baker about also just the perfectionistic tendencies in our culture, this idea that you need to embody this always present playful parent. And also, as Rachel mentioned, just have these aspirations make sure that your job and all of the people that you’re interacting with are done in the way that you did them when you were in person and it’s just not possible. We have to have so much grace for ourselves right now. And we have to get rid very quickly of this sense of inadequacy. We are ready for this moment and we need to breathe through it and we need to forgive ourselves. And children don’t need a hundred percent of a parent’s attention all the time. And I think that’s a message that is so harmful in our culture. Parents can set up an environment for children to thrive in play, but they don’t need to be physically there present a hundred percent of the time.
Kirk: To build off that before the pandemic. I initially saw this as an opportunity. It’s like, okay, we’ll all be together more and this is a chance to make up for lost time and to be more present. But as we opened the podcast with, you know, my oldest is an eighth grader in the throes of being an adolescent. If I’m thinking about this moment as an opportunity as a parent to make up for lost time, that means I’m thinking about it from my perspective and not her perspective. Right? And, you know, as Carly was saying, you know, for our younger children, it’s important to create that environment of play, but it’s also important to pull back and let them play independently. And I think in the same way for my older daughter as she’s an adolescent. It’s important for her to know that she’s loved and supported and I’m always available, but she doesn’t necessarily want me to keep knocking on her door and say, Hey, how are you doing? Can I get you anything she wants to be alone? And she wants to be with her friends in the privacy of her room. So, I’ve just tried to remind myself particularly over the last few weeks, is this about my needs or is it about anticipating her needs? Yes, we’re all together, but she’s also an adolescent. Who’s trying to figure out how to be her own person and she’s about to launch into high school.
Jordan: Laura, clearly maneuvering this maze of social distancing and e-learning is not easy for parents. Do you see them using the BPOs of the world and the PTA as a resource of support for each other?
Laura: I think that as time goes on probably more and more, they will. I think, honestly, it’s more about reaching out to the friends that the other parents that they know and that they trust and that they enjoy. The question remains is a sort of more formal structure of the BPO. What will that role be? And that’s something I’ve been thinking a little bit about as we look at next academic year and I know, you know, in Carly’s well, it’s in, I think it was just yesterday. You said you could be e-learning, it could be onsite. It could be a mix, you know, you’ve got a bunch of scenarios you’re thinking through. And as I read that, I thought to myself, there’s a scenario we ought to be thinking through as well. And I think some of the basic sort of structures and missions that we’ve had will remain, I think they’re good in their sound. And so, the question is in of those scenarios, how do we adapt? I feel like we’re just at the beginning of that. And I think that over the next couple of months, we find out more, you know, more will be revealed by the parent community around what their needs are and what the BPO officially can do to support each other. I just want to add a little bit too, if I could, to the conversation about the beauty and the beast of working from home and having kids at home, because I will say that there has been some very sort of surprising beauty to it.
You know, I really enjoyed, especially the first couple of weeks, of course because it was back to the basics. We’re eating at home; we’re cooking at home. I’m not in my car, which was a beautiful thing. Playing the games around the table, playing catch. We have established rituals. I play catch every afternoon with my daughter or we’re doing dribbling drills, you know, or corn toss going on bike rides together, stuff that we hadn’t done because we’re not sort of let’s get our snack or a meal done and get to class or go somewhere. Clutter is cleared away and I was thinking, this is really back to the basics and much more like what my childhood was like. I had a couple activities but my parents didn’t spend their lives in the car, just a little bit of their lives. And so that’s been a really beautiful thing. And I think that the beast part of it, the challenges come up, especially when I’m having a need, which might be related to work. I need to deliver something and I need to deliver it fast and I need to focus. And if that collides with an acute need of my child, we’ve got a big challenge.
You know, I appreciated your point, Carly, that we cannot be a hundred percent there, but to explain to a 10-year-old who understands this, that you know, when she has a crisis, mom has stuff too. People expect things from me. Many people expect things from me and I expect things from myself and I also need time to myself. And so, if your child’s at the right age and you can find the right words to describe that it can really deepen the experience. So, I might be able to say, am I I’m understanding this is what’s happening? Is it something that can wait an hour? Like, can you read a book for an hour? And we can come back to it? How urgent is it? You know? So, it’s a different level of, I think, partnership. And again, that authenticity, even with your own child about what’s happening with you, like I do not need to be an invincible parent. She can see I’m stressed out right now because somebody is expecting something from me in 45 minutes, I need to get it done.
Jordan: In the first part of the show we discuss stresses placed on parents because of the current era of coronavirus and shelter in place. In the second half Carly, Kirk, Laura and Rachel will discuss how we can better support our children. But first the K-8 Collaborative podcast is brought to you by the Baker Demonstration School. We are a school for the innovative, curious challenge, seeking student who have greet their future with eyes wide open and full of wonder. Our preschool through eighth grade students thrive in our unique experiential and dynamic learning environment. Located on the border of Evanston just minutes from Chicago. Baker is a private school nationally recognized educational excellence and serve students in preschool through eighth grade. Our philosophy is rooted in a simple but powerful idea and education should do more than help a child to Excel academically. It should prepare them to thrive throughout life, no matter how different the future may look. While academic excellence is at our core, our hands-on dynamic learning curriculum is designed to inspire curiosity, creativity and collaboration. Learn more by visiting us at Bakerdemschool.org. That’s B A K E R D E M S C H O O L.org.
Jordan: Carly. I’ve heard the current environment referred to as isolation schooling in place of homeschooling. Why is this current situation more challenging than what we think of as typical homeschooling?
Carly: Children learn and have from an evolutionary biological perspective have learned with other children. The social dynamic is key to the learning experience and key to their developmental growth. So, what has essentially happened is that this core aspect of how children grow cognitively, socially, emotionally has been removed. Teachers and schools are really trying to provide a strong sense of continuity for children. Given that being removed from one’s social milieu, it creates an adverse situation.
Jordan: Kirk, as an educator, how important is creating the perfect curriculum at home versus the right calming environment?
Kirk: It’s a terrific question. Yeah, I think that what I’ve been really impressed with as a parent of two Baker kids, something that I’ve tried to take back to my school, where I work is that the comfort, the sense of safety stability, the consideration for the unique challenges that each family faces that that’s paramount and that while certainly Baker teachers have prepared, challenging, and meaningful opportunities to learn for both of my girls. It’s always in a context of what do you need? How are you feeling? And what’s the feedback that you can offer to help this be even better next week? So, absolutely it’s the social emotional wellbeing that is paramount and that’s the necessary condition for the students to feel prepared, to push and challenge themselves and be curious.
Jordan: Rachel something we struggle with at my house is this idea of is now the time to be more regimented or more lax with the kids. When it comes to sleeping, when it comes to screens. What’s the right mix?
Rachel: That’s a great question. I’m not an expert on this but I’ll speak from my own perspective. I know in our household, I think we’ve kept a lot of, and I do have a smaller child. So, we’ve kept a lot of the, of bedtime and eating together and that type of thing. But what I think I’ve landed on what’s best for my kiddo right now is to not have a stressed-out parent. And I was seeing a lot of this conversation about screen time and I think individually, we all have to land on this in a different spot. But I was seeing that the stress of me feeling conflicted over things like screen time or some sort of difference in the routine was really creating more of an adverse situation for my child than just relaxing a little bit and realizing that kids always end up opting out of this screen time to engage relationally. That seems to be the experience that we’re having and I think other families as well, you know, we’re wired up to engage with other human beings. And I think having a little bit of extra screen time, you know, in an enjoyable way, apart from zoom is how a lot of kids unwind paying attention to that as a parent. And again, knowing your own kiddo is really important. And I think this is again where we can support one another as parents to just say, relax a little bit. And again, how that looks and everybody’s house I think is really different. I also think it depends on your kids. I think it’s really possible. You have two kids, one of them might need something different than the other. That’s why parenting is so challenging.
Jordan: Laura, tell us what it looks like in your house. We mentioned this idea of maybe relaxing a little bit on the screen time and the sleep time, but how important is schedule and routine? Are you trying to keep your kids very scheduled or at least keep the same basic routine every school day?
Laura: It’s a funny question to ask me because I’m not a very regimented person to begin with because it stresses me out to have to say, it’s time to bed right now. It’s time to get right now, you know. So, I’m trying to keep the basic tenants in place that we need to get a good night’s sleep. And honestly, for my children, that means sleeping in later. That’s just the kind of rhythm that they have. So not having to be at school at 8:15, you know, the first morning meeting is at 10, Emma’s sleeping until whenever she wants up until that point. You know, so she’s probably not getting out of bed till nine o’clock, which means backup 10 hours. That’s pretty late. I mean, I’m not getting concerned if she’s, you know, not in bed at nine, she’s enjoying herself and still in a good mood and she’s getting enough sleep, that’s great. Same thing with food. I try to put in front of her, some helpful things, make sure there’s a bowl of fruit and at least a piece of lettuce today and offer her the food I want. But you know, if it’s lunchtime and I’m in a meeting and she wants to grab some lucky charms, I’m not going to worry too much about it. The screen time has definitely increased so much of her screen time is interacting with other kids, Kirk’s daughter. And my daughter has a cooking show that they do a few days a week where they actually come up with recipes and they record each other and they’re kind of interacting and socializing that way. So, I guess I’m pretty flexible with some principles in place to kind of make sure the sort of keeping them in the right direction
Kirk: As the weeks went on, we chose to focus more on the what instead of the, when, if you rummage through our recycling bin, you’d probably see some big broad sheets with big daily schedules and then lots of marker over them. And as we experienced working from home and my children are experiencing working from home in their own way, it’s just hard to predict what every day is going to be. It’s hard to predict how long anything will take. I’ve certainly felt that way in my own work. You have a sense of how long it takes to get a task done when you’re in your office, do you double it? Do you triple it like when you’re at home? And I know that that’s also the way that they’re used to doing work in a certain context, and it’s just hard to predict now. I think we’ve given up on the regimented schedules and just focusing on the, what enjoy your instruments practice at some point, make sure that you get outside at least once or twice a day. And you decide when, but we’re going to check in at the end of the day and make sure that you’ve taken care of yourself and your variety of interests.
Carly: And listening to you all the thread of just making sure that you’re lowering your own stress and that the environment is one where there’s flexibility when there’s flexibility, the stress is lower. And I think when you think particularly about young children, they’re sponges that absorb the stress within an environment in voluntarily. And it just is a reminder that the most important thing is not some externalized sense of what is right during this time or even some internal sense of what is right for our family during this time. But what is most important is that parents do what they need to do to connect in to the places where they need to connect it to lower that stress level. And whether that’s through just the social networks, that they’re a part of, whether that’s through just taking a run, whether that’s through just 10 minutes, closing the door in the bathroom and just leaving the rest of the world, whatever it is, it’s just making sure that you yourself are first feeling okay. And that the space of the rest of the home can reflect that.
Rachel: I think something Carly, you and I talked about early on was just even looking at the mood of your child and this sense of how to really prioritize what to focus on. And I think that’s been sort of a guiding force for me is just looking at Cody and thinking, okay, you know what, he’s in a good mood. He’s happy, he’s regulated, he’s engaging with his daily classes. You know, one day he was humming. And just having this realization that like, those are the markers, it was probably always should be the markers, but now I’m just spending my whole day looking for them, right. Where in a typical day, his teacher would be looking for those things. And I think that’s been a really helpful reminder to me is just especially for the younger kiddos, regulation, happiness, joy, exuding, all of those things. And I think since is the piece that is necessary for learning to occur any way, whether it’s in person or virtually. I think that’s been a really helpful marker in my own household. I have to say.
Kirk: Ultimately, the bottom line is, you know, the happiness, our kids, and letting go in particular, I know screen time, this is sort of woven into a few of our responses that there’s just this general screen-time bad. And that is just, I mean, it’s impossible now. So instead I think it’s more about how are they using their devices. And I think there’s actually some emerging research already that the general concern about quantity of screen time is misguided. That it’s about what are you doing on the screens? Are you just passively absorbing content or are you interacting? Are you using your voice? For our girls, they’re getting a lot of joy out of seeing their friends and doing the cooking show or my daughter has like built this entire Minecraft world with five of her fellow eighth graders. And it’s not screen time in the pejorative sense. It’s their window to one another’s worlds now. And I hope that we can sort of take that forward once we’re in a post pandemic world that we kind of rethink screen time and be much more attentive to the what and not just the quantity of minutes.
Jordan: Laura, we’ve talked a lot now about watching our children’s emotional environment and reaching for that happiness and that sense of wellbeing. But what about educational progress? Do you spend a lot of time worrying about their studies, making sure that they’re making a headway and progressing appropriately?
Laura: No, I actually don’t. I can say there’s a few reasons for that. I mean, one is I have an even greater appreciation for Baker teachers. You know, when that morning meeting starts or I’m in the kitchen, doing something where, you know, Emma has decided to park herself there, I overhear of what’s happening. And you know, some of this stuff is pretty advanced. I’m impressed with the different concepts and I’m actually seeing a lot more of the work that’s taking place. I mean, my daughter is one who, the minute she gets an assignment, even if it’s a Tuesday and it’s not due till Friday, she wants to get the whole thing done. She doesn’t need to do that, which I’ve talked to her about, especially if it’s one of those moments where I need to get something done and she’d like me to sit with her while she’s working her fractions, but I can see the substance of the work that she’s doing. I can see that she’s very much engaged with the work.
And I also think that it’s just such an historic time that you take a step back and have some perspective and say, what are the real learnings that are taking place right now? And I’m not sure what they are yet, to be honest with you, but they’re going to be there. Emma does that sometimes too. She’s made a couple little recordings of herself. She labels one Emma’s granddaughter and the other one, Emma and Emma’s granddaughter ask Emma a question, which she answer. I think that’s really amazing that she has this perspective that someday when she’s 80 years old, she’s going to have a grandkid. Who’s going to be asking about the pandemic, the great pandemic of 2020. And so, you know, when you combine the fact that I can see the schoolwork that she’s doing and she’s learning a lot there, and that there’s this bigger perspective that we need to keep in mind, I’m actually really not concerned with it at all.
Jordan: Carly, Laura brings up this interesting issue that while we think of the traditional e-learning curriculum, kids are out there doing interesting things, creating their own projects. If you’re a parent and you’re worried about making sure that your kids have a rich educational environment and maybe they’re not as connected to their daily activities while they’re interacting with school. Is there anything wrong with looking at things like unschooling or assigning them extra reading or project-based learning? Are you seeing that parents are taking this opportunity to allow their kids to a little bit more mentally run free?
Carly: I think that it’s an opportunity to follow some of the great progressive thinkers around children and how they learn and the idea that somebody like Maria Montessori put forward. Which is that children teach, they know what they need to learn and they learn by doing that. And the role of the teacher a hundred years ago in a Montessori environment was the one that was facilitating the way that the children would learn through the environment and it wasn’t a system where they learned simply because the adult was telling them or directing them. And so, it’s a time to rekindle that deep sense of agency and autonomy and curiosity in children. I loved how Laura talked about it. You know, what are those things that as a grandmother I am or my daughter is going to be talking to her grandchildren about and how can she in this time explore some of the books reread some of her favorite books, do those things that in an ordinary day, in an ordinary schedule, the ordinary carpool, you can’t.
Jordan: And Rachel, we haven’t talked much about physical activity, but talk a little bit about what you feel the role of physical activity is for kids out there stuck in their houses, not doing the normal physical things they do at school usually.
Rachel: It’s a really big deal. I have to say today. I mostly have been on zoom meetings and my son came in and said, mom, do you want to come in and play basketball before your next meeting? And I was, you know, of course him hung around because I was thinking, you know, I really could use these 10 minutes to send a few emails. And he said, you have not moved your body at all today. I was like, you’re right, I’m coming. So, I have to say one thing I’m really appreciating about bakers, is there is still movement every day. And you know, at least in our house, we are sticking to the schedule. I know a lot of it is recorded so that children can choose to do it at whatever time makes sense in their day. For us it’s just makes sense to do it at that original time when it’s on the schedule. I think everybody’s in really different living situations. We happen to be living in the city, we don’t have easy access to the outdoors. So, it takes a little bit of extra coordination for us as a family at night, to really decide we’re going to go out and do something. It’s certainly not a situation where a second grader would be doing that on his own.
So, it does create sort of extra load, I think on our family to figure that out, which is for me, why I’m so grateful that Baker still has the PE portion in play. But I know a lot of our friends have, instead of doing that or choosing to take that as their family break, where they’re going out and they’re walking their neighborhood or taking a run or whatever it is. The Baker overall focus on wellness is really important. Got our virtual 5k coming up where even though we won’t be able to do it in person, the kids will still be engaged in it. And this year, a lot of the parents will be engaged in doing that as well by necessity or by choice. So I appreciate the commitment, I think, to moving forward with the idea of moving your body, I even loved the way Cody said that to me, it wasn’t like, mom, you need to exercise because I probably would have been like, get out of here, right? It was the, you need to move your body that really appealed to me because it was true. It was okay, you’re right. I’m going to get up and move my body. So, I think it’s a really crucial thing. And I think for some people more than others, it creates a real opportunity to get inside of their head if they need to or get outside of their head, if they need to. I think moving around is really important
Jordan: With the world, shifting under our feet as parents. How do we make kids feel emotionally safe with everything that’s happening?
Kirk: Whenever there are big disruptions in our families or nationally, globally? I think we always have to start with the premise that our children pick up a lot more than we think they do. The first step is to be honest and direct and never try to hide what’s happening because they will always know more than we think they do. The concern or the anxiety comes from them. Sensing we’re not sharing the whole truth about the depth of the problem or the uncertainty about when it will end, whenever we’re trying to build that sense of comfort. It has to start with honesty.
Episode 6: Project-Based Learning
On this episode, Jordan Grumet and Carly Andrews are joined by Aimee Frank, middle school Math teacher, Melissa Makagon, first grade teacher, and Kerah Sandler, 5th grade teacher at Baker Demonstration School in Wilmette, Illinois, in a conversation about Project-Based Learning (PBL). Their discussion explores the nature of PBL, why it matters, and the unique ways Baker teachers are developing student projects.
Resources mentioned in episode:
Episode 6 Transcript
Jordan: This is a project funded and created by the Baker demonstration school. Now, when I think of boundaries, I think of rules, regulations and restrictions. And I think of the parents and the teachers and the supervisors who hold us accountable with regard to those boundaries. Now that’s not a bad thing. I know if you’re like me, I need supervisors. I need someone holding me accountable to do the right thing but beyond boundaries is something different. I think of those leaders, those teachers, those supervisors, those parents who inspire us to go beyond the call of duty to do more than we have to. To do it not because they tell us, but because we want to,
Welcome to the K-8 Collaborative podcast where we move the discussion on schooling forward.
Carly: Through the lens of a progressive education.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Gromit podcaster, doctor and proud father of a creative, energetic, and empathic sixth grader.
Carly: And I’m Carly Andrew’s head of school at Baker Demonstration school.
Jordan: And today we’re going to discuss project-based learning. We have three special guests joining Carly and I today. Amy Frank is Baker’s middle school math teacher. She sponsors the Kiva club and she is the director of the summer discovery program. Amy, what is the Kiva club?
Amy: Kiva club uses the online platform, kiva.org to fund loans for people in need, mostly in developing countries. We use a micro lending platform and the kids spend time on the website, looking at loans and deciding who they would like to lend their money to. They track the loans repayment and we’re looking for ways to continue that in our online platform, the kids are very invested in making sure we keep this going through the end of the school year.
Jordan: Well, a bunch of budding venture capitalists appears.
Jordan: Kara Sandler is a fifth-grade teacher at Baker and one of the original developers of the wildly popular Baker business school project. I know Kara that my daughter Layla specifically really enjoyed the Baker business school.
Kara: We had a great time together and Layla contributed so much to the program.
Jordan: And as a parent, it was really fun for us too, because we went and saw all the products and bought a few too.
Kara: We couldn’t have done it with all the parental support and we love knowing that each year the students select a charitable organization where all the proceeds from the market go. That’s one of the most meaningful parts of the program.
Jordan: Melissa McKagen is the first-grade teacher at Baker and is well known for her project based learning units, including the school of Dragonology. Melissa, I can’t imagine ever having something so creative when I was in elementary school.
Melissa: It really, really was a fun project to do. And I think the thing that really, it didn’t take me by surprise but maybe it did is how engaged everyone was not just my first graders, because it hit them right where their interests were. But I had students throughout the grade levels coming by and parents and other teachers and I think everyone was really into this. It was fantastic.
Jordan: Carly, I’m going to start with you. Today we’re discussing project-based learning, or we might call it PBL here. What is project-based learning?
Carly: Project based learning has a lot of different names. One of them is inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning. And with all three, the idea is that students are engaged in a meaningful, authentic question that often is connected to a real-world problem or issue. That is a part of the communities in which they live. And the learning is integrated as students ask the question and move through various solutions in order to create an authentic response to their question. So, the idea within any of this work is that students are seeing relevance. They’re seeing connection that disciplines and skills are taught in the context of this work, but they’re not isolated. They’re coming together in really rich, meaningful, complex ways.
Jordan: Amy, this sounds like a very student-based program. What is the teacher’s role with project-based learning?
Amy: In middle school, in math, in particular. Mr. Leisha, and I, we like to set, I guess, some parameters around what type of math we’re looking at. So, for example, one of my favorite projects that students did last year had to do with exploring the gravity in Mario world and whether it was the same as the gravity on earth. And so, we set those parameters saying, okay, what you’re going to need to know math wise has to do with quadratic functions and parabolas because Mario is doing a lot of jumping and he’s going up and then of course he’s hitting a high point and coming down. And so, we know that he’s forming a parabola when he jumps and that’s related to the quadratic function for students. Our role is to step in and say, here’s the math that you’re going to need. And then we’re there to support them as they dive further into that math and sort of keep them from going too far in the wrong direction, without giving them too much direct instruction and taking over the project for them.
Jordan: Carly, as Amy mentioned, Mario brothers, it makes me realize that project-based learning has to be different for the different age groups. How does it vary? Do the younger kids need more interaction from the teacher figures?
Carly: In all of this work? The teacher is the most essential part of it because they’re facilitating the whole project. And you know, certainly as you said, within developmental ages, you’re going to need different things, different supports, but also within one grade level class, students are going to need different scaffolding we call it. Different mini lessons to make sure that the skills that they have are strong and solid and able to support the larger project. And so, the teacher’s work is really essential and it’s very intuitive. They’re doing a lot of observing what’s happening. They’re setting up a lot of really clear deadlines. They’re doing a lot of workshop-based conferencing with students to make sure that they’re understanding where the challenges are coming up for particular students or particular groups. The work is very responsive. You walk into a classroom, that’s doing project-based learning and the teacher is the improper they’re present, they’re observing and they’re responding. And then after that class, they are reflecting. They’re thinking through what needs to happen next and they’re improvising that next day.
Jordan: Kara, when I think about young kids sitting in the school, the worst-case scenario, as they’re looking at a board with their eyes glazed over in project-based learning, it sounds like the students have to be more engaged. How do you get them involved as opposed to learning passively?
Kara: I think it really starts with the question that’s posed to the students from the beginning. We really think carefully about a question that’s going to be meaningful for students to investigate. And it needs to be something they really care deeply about. So, whether it’s something unrelated to innovation and creativity like bigger business school, where they get to just stretch the wings of their imagination and come up with amazing new products or something that relates to social justice and making improvements in the experiences of communities across the world. Students need to be really invested in whatever the problem is or the question is that’s posed and we’re continually amazed by the solutions that they come up with because sometimes our more rigid adult thinking doesn’t open us to the possibilities that students are able to come up with so readily,
Jordan: Melissa, Kara brought up this idea of real-world learning. Does project based learning, prepare them better for solving problems outside of the school system?
Melissa: Definitely because the meaning is there for them and they are invested in what they’re doing. And so, it’s not just a passive learning goes into what they are interested in. And so, they will spend time doing it. For instance, school Dragonology came from a science angle from the next generation science. And one of the things was how can you use tools and materials to build a device that uses light or sound to solve the problem of communicating over a distance? So that’s a pretty complex idea. My kids though, in their play and their choice time and their reading, they were really into this fantasy world of dragons and all of that. So, I wanted to find the hook that was there so that they could investigate this more complex concept. And they did because they wanted to become scientists and they wanted to observe these dragons in the field without being discovered, well, how are you going to do that? What are you going to use to communicate?
Jordan: Melissa, it almost like you have to start backwards, find what the kids like, and then find a way to use that, to teach them about what the curriculum requires.
Melissa: I would think so too. And I think that any kind of skill or standard can be crouched in something fun and meaningful for children. You have to find where their interests are.
Jordan: Carly, as a non-educator adult? When I look at my kids, I think about the ways I teach them. And I think one of the ways is modeling. They get to watch the way my wife and I maneuver through the world. There’s also didactic teaching, which is similar to a teacher teaching at the board, showing them how to do something. And then there’s experiential learning, which I think a lot of project-based learning is. Talk about how important experiential learning is within our school system.
Carly: It’s the most essential thing we talk at Baker about love, and we want for children as they start at age three and they finish at age 12, 13 to love learning. We don’t want there to be any sort of sense of fatigue around or a disinterest in learning. Once children get to third, fourth, fifth grade or middle school. And it’s one of the key things that we talk about again and again. And so, project-based learning is one of those ways where, because there’s relevance because there’s authenticity because there’s personal connection because children have curiosity in these things. It’s one of the key ways that keeps them engaged in a love of learning. I mean, you have a love of learning, you can do anything. They’re going to have jobs and careers that are going to change. They are walking into a world that is rapidly changing and they’re going to need to be able to teach themselves, go back to school, learn new things, innovate. They’re going to need to be highly flexible agile learners. And so, this is one of the ways that keeps that core. If learners are going to be flexible and agile at their core, they need to have a love of learning.
Jordan: Amy, what really surprises me is the creativity of some of these project-based learning programs. Do they allow the kids to be more creative in their learning?
Amy: I think one of the great things about middle school is that we can let the children come up with their own problem or their own question. And so not only can they be more creative, but we can make sure that what they’re doing is really speaking to their variety of interests. So, when we’ve done projects in math in the past, we have had students who have looked at income inequality. So, they’re coming at it from a social justice lens. We’ve had students who looked at the ratios related to piano keys. They’re coming at it from their interest in music. Whatever it is, Jim and I pride ourselves on convincing the kids that we can relate it back to math. So whatever interests they have, it’s our belief that we can turn it into a mathematical question and we can just help them craft that question, that problem to, and lead them in the direction of the math that they need to do it.
Carly: And one of the things that is a misconception about project-based learning is this idea that students go, they study a particular thing. How do they learn reading? How do they learn writing? How did they learn math? The thing about being an experience based school that employs things like project based learning is this idea that children have a particular skill that they’re learning in Amy’s math class and they are learning those skills, but they’re learning them through the lens of the particular problem based or project based learning that they’re doing.
Jordan: Carly, how agile are these project-based programs that are put on at Baker? Do you have a set plan with the teachers of which project-based programs they’re going to do every year or are they created within the year based on what the kids are looking for?
Carly: A little bit of both. You know, this year, there are many projects that are wonderful rituals that students know that when they get to the intermediate team, they’re going to be able to do the entrepreneurial unit with the Baker Business school. And that’s something that they look forward to and they’re excited about. And that team, even though it’s the Baker business school, they’re continuing to innovate. So that project looks very different than it did even one, two, three years ago. And there are projects that we’ve built even this year, we really started the year with designing pieces that were interdisciplinary that asked a big question that were new to our curriculum. So, we’re doing a little bit of both.
Jordan: Kara talk about the role of technology in project-based learning techniques.
Kara: She is incredibly helpful as the tool for us both in terms of the research aspect also in terms of connecting students in order to be able to work collaboratively on projects together. And then finally, in terms of presentation and sharing out their learning in a way that’s really effective. So, we often incorporate a design thinking model into our project-based learning. And so very important component of that is empathy, really looking at the problem from the lens of the people affected. And so that requires some research and really looking for resources from the perspective of those individuals and communities. And then in terms of the share out for students, there are some amazing tech platforms that Becky Crawford introduces the students to, and really innovative ways of sharing the knowledge out that they learn. We’re so excited to have the new maker space available because a lot of our project-based learning also involves creating new invention or new models. And now we can do so with some of the amazing options we have like 3D printing and other kinds of steam technology that are going to be available in the new lab.
Jordan: Carly, talk a little bit about the new Makerspace.
Carly: We have been thinking about making as a school for years and years and the making that’s happening in school is happening across classrooms. What we wanted though, was be able to have a particular space that allowed for particular tools. And so this maker space fabrication lab has particular tools that allow for a whole new level of, as Kara said, inventing, designing, creating as well as more flexible collaborative spaces for students to be able to work on coding projects together, and to be able to sit in front of a larger screen and be able to collaborate on that process.
Jordan: Melissa, talk a little bit about how project-based learning promotes this feeling of working within a team and team building. What did the kids learn about being a good team member?
Melissa: We started the year for instance, with bridges and then the children got into groups. They needed to work together to design what their bridge was going to be and the materials they had and they had to listen to each other for their ideas, and then they would try it. And then they’d come back and do a new design so that they could build on it. Toward the beginning was very difficult, you have to realize they’re six-year olds and they don’t really have that collaborative skill but the skill began to build as the unit went on. And by the end of it, they were really working nicely together in their listening skills to each other and their wait time with each other, giving each other a leadership role within that. That’s part of the teaching too. I think that’s where we facilitate that type of growth within the child, especially when you’re looking at young children.
Jordan: Amy, conversely, we’re talking about team building, but this also gives kids a chance to become leaders. Talk about kids taking leadership roles in their project-based learning?
Amy: What’s interesting to me is by the time we see them in middle school, the teachers like Melissa and Kara have been working with them for years to build these team building skills. So, they’re really quite good when they come to me as sixth, seventh, and eighth graders working with one another. Project based learning gives students who may not necessarily view themselves as leaders’ opportunities to take leadership roles. And the nice thing about that is there are multiple opportunities within a team to become a leader. And so, some of them are really good at doing the research. Some of them are really good at coming up with an idea, but not sure how to take the next step. Whereas there are others who come in and say, Oh, I hear your idea. And I think I know where we can go next with this. So, what’s great. Seeing the middle schoolers work in teams, is they have this platform for working collaboratively. They know each other really well, and they’re fairly comfortable with one another. They have all sort of learn each other’s strengths and areas of challenge to the years as well. So, they can create the space where you can lead in the area that is best suited for your talents and someone else can lead in the area that is best suited for their talents. So, there’s multiple opportunities. Don’t really see one leader emerging in a group, I see a group of three or four or five leaders, which just really speaks to the character of our students and the care they have for one another.
Jordan: Carly as Amy speaks; I think about this leadership role. And one of the things I love about Baker is that it gives these kids the sense of agency and purpose in their everyday school life. Talk about how project-based learning furthers that.
Carly: Absolutely well, to be frank, we’re recording this session in the midst of the pandemic and it is something that gives me great hope to think about our students as the next generation of epidemiologists, as next generation of governors and community leaders and people that are innovating and making a difference in our communities. This work positions them normalizes in their childhood, this sense of responsibility of purpose, of authenticity that best positions them for whatever they choose in their life. What we know from Baker graduates is that whatever they’re doing, it’s fascinating to look at our alumni data and look at the ways that they’re engaging in service learning in community connections and purposeful engagement based on the work that they’ve done at Baker, that’s connected them. That’s normalized a sense of responsibility to one’s community.
Jordan: In the first part of the show, we discussed the salient features of a project-based learning curriculum. And the second half Carly, Amy, Kara and Melissa will discuss some of the unique programs past and present. But first the K through eight collaborative podcasts is brought to you by the Baker demonstration school. We are a school for the innovative, curious challenge seeking student who will greet their future with eyes wide open and full of wonder our preschool through eighth grade students thrive in our unique experiential and dynamic learning environment. Located on the border of Evanston just minutes from Chicago. Baker is a private school nationally recognized for educational excellence and serve students in preschool. Through eighth grade. Our philosophy is rooted in a simple but powerful idea. An education should do more than help a child Excel academically. It should prepare them to thrive throughout life, no matter how different the future may look. While academic excellence is at our core. Our hands-on dynamic learning curriculum is designed to inspire curiosity, creativity and collaboration. Learn more by visiting us at Bakerdemschool.org that’s B a K E R D E M S C H O O L.org.
Jordan: Carly, what percentage of a curriculum should be project based learning? How do you decide?
Carly: A large portion of our curriculum at Baker is project-based learning? Because the idea is that asking big questions that are relevant, that are purposeful, that are interesting and learning strong skills are not separate. A project allows for all of those things to come together in an authentic way. So, it’s a big part of how we do learning at Baker. We’re a hundred years old. We were born in the progressive era. And so, experience-based hands on based learning is a strong, rich, deep part of our tradition.
Jordan: Amy, when I traditionally think about math, especially before this discussion, I would have been hard pressed to think about how you could use project-based learning for basic math concepts, but it sounds like I’m wrong. Tell me about some of the unique projects you’ve done in your classroom.
Amy: Our projects really run the gamut from silly and fun to really focus on real world experiences and real-world events. And so, one of my favorite things is making a marble run. And so, we look at linear equations and we relate that to making a marble run that we can then share with kids in the lower grades. And that’s just a fun thing. It doesn’t solve a problem, but it’s something that kids enjoy doing and it helps them make a connection between linear modeling and the real world. On the other hand, before we started our e-learning adventure, we did a unit on exponential functions and as it happened, we had a real-world model of exponential functions playing out day to day, right in front of us. We didn’t plan on this. It just came about naturally through conversation with kids asking us, how is this virus growing and us starting to talk about what that looks like? And it’s my belief really that if you give me enough time, I can tie anything that you can come up with to a mathematical subject. And this one just lended itself really nicely to a study of exponential functions. And so to give the kids a real world connection to something we study in math class, and I think to help them process what they were seeing on the news, we did some exponential modeling and talk about whether this curve that we’re seeing of a virus spread is exponential or whether it’s something else. So really, as I said, it runs the gamut between how high does Mario jump and what’s the force of gravity to how does the disease spread and what interrupts that spread or what facilitates that spread?
Jordan: The other thing I didn’t realize Amy, before we started this discussion is when I thought about project-based learning. I thought about these big multi-year projects or projects that were done annually or every other year, but from hearing you talk, it’s obvious that they are much smaller project-based learning activities that you’re doing on a fairly regular basis.
Amy: One of the great things about Baker is the ability for teachers and students to be spontaneous. When it happens that we enter a discussion or we start talking about a topic in math that the kids are really interested in, or really curious about, we can set our plans aside and say, well, we’re going to look at this through a different lens or a different way. And the great thing too, about having a two-person math team in the middle school is that there are plenty of days when the bell rings and Jim and walk into each other’s classrooms and say, wow, the kids are really interested in that. How can we take this further with them? And we spend some time talking about what their interests are and where we can go with it. And it turns into a project that we didn’t anticipate, and those can be anything from a couple of days, a couple of class periods to a couple of weeks. And that’s the great thing about the flexible nature of Baker.
Jordan: And Kara, the contrast to that is the larger, long planning that goes with a big project-based learning program. Like the Baker business school. Tell us a little bit about what the Baker business school is and how it came about.
Kara: We in fourth and fifth grade that’s the intermediate team here at Baker. We’re on a two-year curricular cycle for our thematic units, which are science and social studies unit. And so, we have sort of a topic that we know that we want to tackle but we want to do so in the most engaging possible way for students and we definitely see that as a project-based learning approach. And so, several years ago, we were tasked with creating a business and entrepreneurship, economic focus, social studies unit. And so, the teachers and I, at that time, we just had the best time coming up with this plan. It was at a time when shark tank was very much in Vogue. People were watching that and we thought, how can we create a similar experience for our Baker students? And so, we begin the process by inviting students to create a prototype at home. That’s completely voluntary for kids to do that. And then they come and share the prototypes with teachers. We then have to make decisions about what products might be most feasible for students to replicate at school in a much larger scale. And then the kids go through all the real-world stages of the entrepreneurial cycle. So, start by having a job fair and job applications and students select the products and companies that they’re most interested in working with.
And then they end up having to engage creating marketing plans. We have an entire immersion week where students manufacture their products and create commercials and websites. So, they’re really using all that technology that we spoke of before. And then we get into the sales of having to price out our products and all the financial elements that go into deciding what’s the most economical way to manufacture product, but also what’s the most ethical way to do it as well. I’m making those kinds of real-world decisions. The kids have a blast during manufacturing and that’s a ton of trial and error where they have to problem solve and figure out the best way to create a product efficiently. And then we have our market where they are just over the moon.
They’re so proud of what they’ve created and it’s incredibly exciting for them to see that they have an audience that actually wants to purchase their products. And in terms of an ethical and social responsibility lens, they select a charitable organization that they would like to give all the proceeds to and that’s run the gamut. It tends to be causes that are really near and dear to students’ hearts, and they make impassioned speeches to their classmates to decide which organization they’re going to donate the proceeds to. This year, it was St. Jude’s and we actually were delighted to have a representative from St. Jude’s come to collect and tell us how the funds would be used.
Jordan: Carly, watching my daughter go through the Baker business school, I was amazed at how truly integrative it was. And maybe that’s one of the powers of project-based learning is multiple subjects can be covered in one place.
Carly: Absolutely. And what is more important for children then to be able to, with the problems that they are going to face in their future to have multiple models to draw from. And this idea that learning is separate and siloed has come simply from the institution of schooling where math class is separate from science class, which is separate from language arts. But at Baker, this idea that they actually can all speak to each other and that there are connections and also different ways of thinking within each discipline that can be brought to bear on challenges and problems. It’s really a sophisticated, complex and valuable thing for children.
Jordan: Melissa, get a little granular for us. Talk to us about the origin of the school of Dragonology and what exactly the kids are learning.
Melissa: This was a unit that we did last year. The one difference with first grade when they’re so young and coming in is my units are a little bit longer because there’s more depth and breadth with it. And it’s more like a lazy, slow, lazy moving river, right? That seeps into everything. And you’re right. It’s integrated across whether it’s reading or writing or music teacher had come up with a song that the children learned as they marched through school. And so, the inspiration for it was looking at where the children were in their play, because that’s a big part of our curriculum with young children at Baker as well. They were really into this fantasy play. I was trying to think about this communication in the field, like without being discovered. And somehow this Harry Potter kind of thing came into my head and I’m like, well, I’m not doing Harry Potter, but they’re really into dragons. What is a natural list that goes in the field and studies these animals in the mythology that comes into it? And so, it just really spread and it inspired me and it inspired the kids.
And so, they didn’t even know the school was going to be happening. And we made the entrance to our classroom, look like a castle with burning sconces and we sent out invitations that were mocha colored. It’s hard to describe. It looked very old fashioned with the wax seal. So, they received these invitations to the school of Dragonology in the mail. So, I set it up from the very beginning and we made capes so that it was a school. Like we were a school within the school and every day they came in and they learned, first of all, how to be a scientist. And then why studying dragons were important and how it like would across cultures. So, we were just able to bring in so many different pieces. And so, it was more of a three month long because there was so much, we could do with it and it integrated into everything we were doing.
Carly: Melissa, I love when you talk about the physics part of this work with first graders.
Melissa: This is a magical year and they’re very creative and they still have these belief systems that are forming. And I knew that I needed to do this sound and light curriculum. By becoming Dragonology they had meaning for what they were doing. And so each piece of it, whether we were exploring with different sound waves, where we had a megaphone and we were trying to see how far the sound would travel before you couldn’t hear it anymore, or if we could bend light around the corner so we couldn’t be seen by the dragons. They were really invested in these, these science concepts, these math concepts, because of the whole fantasy piece of it.
Jordan: Amy, it sounds like it’s an iterative process dealing with these project-based learning units. How often does your vision of the unit at the beginning match up with what it ends up being in the end?
Amy: Almost never, but that’s what makes it fun. I think, as a teacher and that’s also a learning opportunity for me, the more I engage in this type of learning, the more I realized that coming into it with preconceived notions just doesn’t really work well. I actually think that it’s a lot of fun to sort of free myself with expectations and experience the wonder process and the productive struggle process with the students. If I set the math out there in front of them and say, Hey, I want to know where your imaginations and your interests can go with this. I’m here to set some math parameters for you. I’m going to learn something and I’m going to have a lot more fun with it and they are as well. If I coming with preconceived notions, I think we’re all going to get a bit bored. And particularly if I try to do them over and over again, I’m going to get a bit bored with myself and that just really takes the joy and the life out of teaching.
Jordan: Carly, it sounds like most of these projects are very physical in nature. And unfortunately, where we are as a community right now, physical distance is a very common problem. We’re doing an e-learning curriculum. How do you foresee project-based learning going forward? If this ends up being a more long-term situation?
Carly: At the root of project-based learning is a habit of mind that is grounded in design thinking principles. It’s grounded in, as Kara mentioned, empathy, that’s grounded in question formulation, that’s grounded in skills related to research and presentation and all of those can happen in an e-learning context. So, for example, our middle school team right now is doing some incredible work. Their students have been working on a particular science inquiry question related to the student’s area of interest. Scientifically the teachers have been supporting their question development. We’ve moved all of this online. And what they’re doing is they’re asking those questions and they are through this process of learning and experimentation and iteration creating what they’re calling a science show. So, think Bill Nye, the science guy. This idea that there is this whole genre of science-based filmmaking for children. So, what better way for our students to be able to communicate the scientific knowledge that they’re gaining through the questions that they’re asking through, the experiments that they’re running in the home context, then to film a science show based on their scientific principle that they’re learning. So that’s what’s happening right now, innovative, connected, inspiring, engaging, and all in an e-learning context.
Jordan: And Melissa did Carly tell me that you’re working on the school of ornithology, which is a follow-up to the school of Dragonology?
Melissa: I am. And this goes right in with what Carly was saying, because we just started learning about beak adaptations and how different beaks on birds, how they’re designed so that they can get their food. And so now they’re designing their own project of how can you pick up something that you don’t really want to pick up using what you know about bird beaks? And so, for instance, I designed something that was scooped so that I could pick up Legos because I’m tired of stepping on Legos on the floor. And so, they are now in the process of designing something to meet this need. But the good thing about the birds is that’s one thing that they can look out the window and we can become bird counters. The Cornell lab has a bird count going on. So, we can gather data. We can look at the variety of birds that are out there. So, it’s really as close as I could possibly get with. E-Learning it, I’m really excited about this unit and I’m glad we are doing birds right now.
Jordan: Amy, are there subjects that just don’t translate well to project-based learning? Are there times where it’s just not appropriate?
Amy: You know, sometimes we get into, particularly with our eighth graders, some upper level math that at least in its initial stages, doesn’t quite lend itself to PBL. And for example, right now we’re studying the laws of sines and co-sine. One of the things that Jim and I like to do is rather than giving students a formula, we ask them to work with us, to create the formula themselves. It helps to solidify their learning and gives them a bit more of a connection to the work. But as we get into things like higher level geometry and trig functions, there’s not in the entry level, an easy connection to a project there certainly is down the road. But yeah, sometimes we need to give them some foundation before they’re ready to build on that with a project. As we do that though, we try to make the connections of here are examples of when we might use the law of co-sine and the law of sines in the real world. And so, when they are ready, when they do have the foundation, they can see how it could translate to a project-based environment.
Jordan: Kara, the Baker business school is a fairly long-term project. Tell me about the difference in the students from when they start to, when they end, do you see changes in their abilities and their leadership?
Kara: Absolutely. I think all the students really grow and I think an important part of project-based learning that we haven’t talked about yet is the reflection piece. And so, we definitely make sure to incorporate that into a lot of our project-based learning units so that students can go back and take that metacognitive step of looking at their own growth and learning for Baker business school in particular. And I would say this is true of almost any project-based learning unit that we do. An area that students always comment on as an area of growth is definitely the way they’re able to collaborate with others. You know, fifth grade at time definitely where students’ interpersonal skills are growing and changing and developing.
And so, their ability through these types of projects to start to actually actively listen to each other and to share the airspace with each other and to not monopolize ideating in the process, I think is a really strong area of growth. I think sometimes students also surprise themselves in areas such as public speaking. They might not realize that this is something that they can do and they have the ability to do it just requires that they feel adequately prepared and that they really are masters of a subject, which problem-based learning also enables them to become. The other thing too, that we haven’t talked about yet is how students really become champions for each other. And so, in the reflection process, we often do some shout outs to each other and the depth to which students recognize each other’s growth. That’s one of the most meaningful parts for me as a teacher is to hear them recognize those amazing qualities and growth in each other.
Jordan: And Melissa, the students not only get to self-reflect, but they often get to present what they’ve created and learn to the community to their parents. Is that right?
Melissa: Last year in the bridges, we invited second grade class in and the partners explained their design. They had done a suspension bridge, which took about two weeks to do of going back and redoing it as you can imagine, not having those just even the physical skills to do this. And so, they would have to go back and rebuild and then describing what they did and how they did. It was a really big part and taking pride in what they did, but also then really after they tell others about it, they really solidified their learning that way too.
Jordan: Carly, what do you see as the future of project-based learning? Is it going to change over the next coming years?
Carly: I think it is going to be rooted in this idea of social entrepreneurship. This idea that there is a strong community base that whether students are looking at community issues for Baker, we have a yearlong connection with connections for the homeless and Evanston. So, whether it’s moving into projects with community partners that are asking big questions about our community, whether it’s around the watershed, the natural habitat surrounding us, the work will continue to move toward real world community questions. Our second grade and our eighth-grade classes work together in their study of native American populations within the Chicago area. And in the midst of that study met with an Evanston Aldermen and presented their ideas on how to incorporate a land acknowledgement for the city of Evanston. That sort of work that moves community connections forward. That solves community problems is I think, where this type of learning is going.
Jordan: Amy do the kids like project-based learning?
Amy: I think that they do. I think that anytime that they’re the drivers, that’s an opportunity for them to really set the stage for what we’re doing in class and they certainly do enjoy that. And one thing about Baker students is they’re very strong advocates for themselves and they know themselves well. They know what their interests are. So, when they have an opportunity to collaborate and build their work around those interests, I think they’re much happier than they would be if they were to sit quietly and listen to any of us, telling them the direction that we’re going.
Jordan: And Carly, if people want to know more about project-based learning, are there any resources we can suggest to them?
Carly: Absolutely. There’s a lot of really great sites. We use a lot of work from PBL works, project-based learning PBL works inquireed.org is asking big questions and creating interesting curriculum around inquiry-based project-based learning. There are also all sorts of connections with cult of pedagogy, which is an incredible teaching site. Melissa mentioned next generation science standards. So again, those really rich learning standards are the key to any amazing project-based learning. We’ll include all of those on our website.
Jordan: This has been the K-8 Collaborative podcast on behalf of myself, Jordan Gromit and my cohost Carlie Andrews. We would like to thank our guests, Amy Frank, Kara Sandler, and Melissa McKagen, we hope you found this episode about project-based learning helpful. Be sure to catch us next episode, where we will be discussing parenting in a time of pandemic. See you then. And don’t forget to subscribe to the K-8 Collaborative podcast on your favorite listening platform to stay up to date on the latest episodes.
Episode 5: The Coronavirus: Teaching and Learning in a Virtual School
On Episode 5, Jordan Grumet and Carly Andrews are joined by Andrew Marikis, Drama teacher, Rachael Chase, middle school Physical Education teacher, and Sarah Mohr, 5th grade Math and Science teacher at Baker Demonstration School in Wilmette, Illinois, in a conversation about progressive teaching and learning in a virtual environment. Their discussion includes ways they are adapting their experiential, hands-on curriculum to a virtual environment, adaptive technology supporting this process, and ways we are reimagining schooling at this time.
Resources mentioned in episode:
Episode 5 Transcript
Jordan: This is a project funded and created by the Baker Demonstration School.
Carly: Because I believe that open online learning wildly catalyzes those opportunities. Now before we go any further, I need to clarify some terms here because the words open and online learning are probably some of the most abused words in education right now. By open, I mean that at its very core it should be accessible to as many people as possible, but that’s just the beginning because I think accessible can be pushed to re-imaginable editable, changeable, so the ideas can continue to grow. By online, I mean that web technologies can connect people to information and to each other and by learning, I mean it needs to significantly impact the way people think, what they do, what they say.
Jordan: Welcome to the K through eight collaborative podcasts where we move the discussion on schooling forward.
Carly: Through the lens of a progressive education.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Gromit, podcaster, doctor and proud father of a creative, energetic and empathic sixth grader.
Carly: And I’m Carly Andrew’s writer, teacher, mother and head of school.
Jordan: And today we are going to discuss schooling in a time of Corona. We have three special guests joining. Carly and I, Andrew Moriquez teaches theater and improv at the Baker Demonstration School as students span the first through eighth grades. Andrew and days like this imagination is more important than ever.
Andrew: Yeah, I can’t agree more. It takes a lot to make real human connections through a very, very small aperture but some of the things young folks do with this time and space is really incredible and it honestly gives me life.
Jordan: I look forward to hearing more about what the students create. Sarah Moore teaches math and science to Baker’s fifth grade students. I was privileged to have my daughter in Sarah’s class last year. Sarah fifth grade is a critical time for young students to embrace the more analytical subjects, isn’t it?
Sarah: It definitely is and one of the things I love about fifth graders is that they’re really starting to ask deep critical questions and it gives me an opportunity through math and science to do a lot of observation exploration, which I’m excited to tell you more about.
Jordan: Rachel Chase is Baker’s middle school of physical education teacher and incorporates several creative and innovative programs including the ever-popular roller-skating unit. Rachel, with the kids cooped up at home, I bet that physical activity is a must.
Rachel: More than ever. Almost every kid and adult that I’ve talked to is shocked about the lack of activity that they’re getting right now without walking to class and going up and downstairs and the kids aren’t going to recess and PE, so now we have to purposely seek out that activity time, time aside to go for walks and it’s more difficult than other.
Jordan: Yeah. We forget that most kids walk to school and like you said, they’re up and down those stairs’ multiple times a day. It’s incremental the physical activity that now maybe they’re just not doing.
Rachel: Yeah. Research shows that kids need 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day. They’re not getting that from going to recess and going to PE and again, walking up all those stairs for the middle schooler’s way up top. Yeah, my job has shifted a little bit, but physical activity is more important than ever.
Jordan: Carly, I want to start the conversation by talking about something that maybe people don’t think about. And that’s digital equity. How big of a task is it for current educators to make sure that all students have the right equipment and access to online learning? I’m not just talking about computers, but Wi-Fi and even a safe home and a quiet place.
Carly: Well, there’s nothing like a pandemic to really show very clearly the differences in terms of equity in our country. And you see this playing out very visibly in terms of how schools given their resources, are even able to respond. We as a school value our diversity, our equity and inclusivity and it is a central tenant to our mission. And so, one of the things that we really needed to do at the beginning of this was to really think about, okay, if this is what we’re moving toward, then do students at a very basic level have access to the tools that equip them to best participate? And so, for us, that’s really re-allocating our resources, our computers that we have in the school have been moved around to our school community to those that need devices. And we’ve done the same with particular hotspots, we’ve specifically connected families to opportunities through their service providers that are free at this time in order to make sure that their Wi-Fi is allowing for them to participate in the best, most connected way, which matters to us. And in terms of the other things you’re mentioning, being able to be in a home that’s quiet, being able to even go outside for those activity breaks, all of those are very different and vary based on the privileges that some children have and others don’t. And so, we’re really trying to be aware in this time about how we can support all of our children.
Jordan: And Carly, I know that the middle schoolers had devices, they were taking home already, but if I remember correctly, the elementary school kids didn’t necessarily have their own computers.
Carly: No. And so that’s where the reallocation occurred. That’s where we really look to say, okay, how can we sign these out? We still have devices at school. So, we have been doing some very careful pass offs of devices to families who need them, whose children can then participate in a really engaged way.
Jordan: Sarah, we live in an amazing world where there are several digital apps and tools available, especially in math and sciences. What apps and programs were you using before we went to an e-learning curriculum and what are you using now?
Sarah: I like technology. I’m not going to say I’m amazing at it but I like it but I also like my paper and pencil. It was pretty easy in some ways to take some of the things that I used for math and science over to an eLearning platform. For instance, there are a lot of great videos posted by science teachers, university professors that I would show clips of any way to help get students engaged and ready to do experiments or think about harder concepts in science and I still refer to those. I like a program called mystery science, they post full curricula in terms of lessons and they include videos in that as well. I like to use their videos. I follow some of their lesson plans loosely. I benefit from having a chemist in my house. My husband’s an organic chemistry professor so I often ask him a lot of questions and he’ll direct me even to short little blurbs that university professors post through YouTube.
There are a couple of channels that are really good. There’s one that’s called six science. It’s pretty cool. He does a lot of fun experiments. I’m going to be checking one out surprise, surprise about how you can make a battery at home without having to use a lot of things that you wouldn’t have normally. And so, I would have gotten a lot of ideas from there anyway. But if you’re dealing with household items, it’s still possible for students to do the work and have the visual experience that I would have used. For math some of the programs translate directly practice through something like IXL that does adaptive practice problems for students related to all different skills. It’s easily usable at home as well as at school as long as the students have their passwords. And one of the things that’s been tricky for me is I like to make worksheets for my students and I always hand do them in Sharpie even though I get my problems and even a lot of my science questions offline. So that’s had to change because it’s harder to post a Sharpie written page online and have students fill it in but I have been messing around with whiteboards and tablet writing tools so that students can still hand write in their math answers if they’re not comfortable using buttons to put equations into a Google doc and such.
Jordan: Andrew, talk about your planning for the drama curriculum. As I mentioned previously, we know that there are lots of platforms digitally for the math and sciences. How much planning did you have to do and how much of your curriculum was available already out there on the internet?
Andrew: I really had to reimagine what I’m doing in a very big way because you can imagine the kind of work I do and the kind of work that is done in drama classes everywhere is so relational. It’s so the people in the room making the thing using their bodies, using their voices. These are the basic tools of drama and so figuring out what that means when we aren’t sharing a space, when we can’t interact with our bodies, when we really have an image and a voice to interact. It’s taken a lot of rethinking, so a lot of my planning, luckily, at least for second and third grade, was already heading in a direction of puppetry. What’s cool about puppets is especially when you ask folks to make a found object to puppet, it’s whatever you have, whatever supplies happened to be around are the right supplies to make your puppet, you’re good. We’ve really been focusing on sort of the individual crafting of characters, largely puppets and then learning how they exist in this new rectangular space that we’re all sharing something that’s been eye-opening for me in planning when we asked for like a gesture, a movement and a noise from students. It’s a common game. Everyone does how they’re feeling today, they make a noise and a movement, we all repeat it. The vocabulary of what that movement can be has changed in big ways. Instead of just putting your arms in the air, for example or jumping up and down or putting your head down. Now you can go in frame, out of frame. You can get a super close up, you can run away from the camera. I have to now think at all of these new dimensions but there are new tools to thinking about what’s available on the internet I’m using mostly just zoom. Zoom is such a valuable tool because it allows us all to see each other, to hear each other. I can break people up into rooms. I love using small groups to create something on their own and one thing that zoom does really well is the breakout room, so I can say, okay, these five students, you just talk to each other for 10 minutes. It’s opened a lot of doors for the way I like to collaborate and the way my students like to collaborate too.
Jordan: Rachel, as Andrew speaks about how he uses zoom, it makes me think a lot about how we incorporate physical space into our education. Physical education obviously uses space as a main concept. How do you set the tone for what’s going to be required for the kids when learning to do exercise and learn about exercise at home as opposed to when we’re in proximity to each other?
Rachel: So, our space has changed dramatically. Normally my classes via zoom start off with me saying, alright, and we’ll check the space around you. Do you have room to move? Is there someone that wants to join you? Do you have, you know a parent that’s home and wants a break? Do you have a sibling that needs a break? I have seen more dogs and bunnies and animals in our classes has been amazing. It’s definitely adapted a little bit, but I think the kids have really stepped up into how they use this space. Normally in my classes I have very clear expectations. When kids come into class, there is a screen up on the board. They know they’re walking; they know their warmup; they know what’s going to happen for the day. So, setting those clear expectations, whether we’re there or we’re here in our boxes on the screen, has been really, really beneficial. The kids, they crave that information to parents crave that information. So, the more that I give, the more they understand this is what’s going to happen today. Our half an hour classes move a lot smoother. Kids are calmer, they’re coming in excited for class, not what’s going to happen, and all of these, there’s so many uncertainties everywhere right now that keeping the clear expectations has been extremely beneficial.
Jordan: Rachel, I have to say one of my favorite moments from this e-learning transition is I was in the kitchen making myself some tea with my wife and I hear a rhythmic clanking coming from my daughter’s bedroom upstairs and I asked my wife, what’s going on? She’s like, Oh, Layla is just doing gym class.
Rachel: Yeah. We often talk about how we’re annoying our neighbor’s downstairs or other humans. As soon as we start any sort of jumping or running thing, they’re always like, my dog won’t stop barking, or my mom is yelling at me from downstairs to stop jumping. That’s awesome.
Jordan: Carly, as we talk about these curriculum changes, it makes me realize how complicated it is to go from teaching in person to teaching online. How much time did you have to prepare as a school for the e-learning curriculum?
Carly: I venture to guess that I could speak for many schools across the country in saying that we did not have a lot of time. If you look at the day that we really work together on making sure that we had a sense of the platform, we had a sense of how this could work and teams were able to really do a creative idea swap. We had about a week and a half before the school was closed. So, what this means is our team has had to be incredibly adaptable, incredibly flexible, and incredibly creative and we know that in moments of stress that diminishes the creativity and the innovative parts of how our brain moves. And so, we’ve been really trying to make sure that in the midst of this we’re still able to create the plane while we’re flying it together. We took a day to get our first week under our belts. We did a big survey; we learned a lot. We heard from teachers, our students, our parents. We moved into a 2.0 model and now we’re ready at the end of this week to serve in another part of our school and to really continue to iterate.
Jordan: Sarah, let’s talk about that 2.0 model. I mean once the kids leave the classroom and end up in their homes, you know they have no ability to bring physical materials with them, no handouts, no props. You know, you’re kind of stuck with using what they have there. Tell me about some of those innovations. How are you making it work at home for the kids?
Sarah: I like this model a little bit because it pushes the boundaries of creativity and thinking outside of the box. Especially for math and science where some things are pretty set. Like you show up in math class, you’re going to put problems on the white board, you’re going to talk about problems, maybe group students to do problems together and I always took that in other directions too. We’d walk around the room to do problems and I’ve liked thinking outside of the box with this. We’re really thinking about what do the kids have at home and I have a math assignment coming up where we’ve been working with fractions in order to keep things in the same structure as before. I reviewed some problems with them, I got excited about trying different whiteboard formats. I agree. Zoom is awesome. They have a whiteboard built into and that really helps because the students can then see problems but now I’m moving to a, how can we apply this, how can we use what we have in our house to do some of the more interactive hands on application, things that we would do at a school like Baker. And so, I came up with an idea again through searching round through some people I like online. I like this website estimation 180 where this gentleman who is a math teacher as well, does a lot of estimating experiments and I’m going to have the students estimate with fractions and decimals since they’re interchangeable in a way with height and they’re going to figure out how tall they think they are.
Compare their height to different things in their house, estimate what they think it is, measure it out, determine what the fraction value is of that exact measurement because on their measuring tape it’s not going to tell them exactly what the fraction is. So, I’m excited about things like that. In science, I think science is magic, but it’s real. The unit we’re doing right now, I found a whole series of experiments which are in line with what I’m teaching right now, which is the chemistry, the structure and properties of matter around magic potions and the idea that like we can make magical things happen using science and chemical reactions and we can do it with household items. So today in science class I showed the students how if you let a penny that was made after 1985 sit in a vinegar and salt solution, after filing the edge a little bit, the zinc will come out of the middle. It wants to be in solution because of the electron component and the salt highlights and accentuates the acid. It still takes a long time because vinegar is not hydrochloric acid, but we can do it in our house and I was able to break a penny apart for them today and show them after a weekend in this solution, Hey, you’ve only got the outside, you’ve only got the copper and tomorrow we’ll talk about what that really means at the molecular level and what’s going on with the and the electrons. They are now able to go themselves and find a 1985 or later penny and do this and see how it really works. But I can still show them online for those kids who maybe don’t have a penny of that, that’s recent or don’t have the vinegar, the salt, they can still see me doing the experiment online.
Jordan: Rachel, I feel like physical education, especially the props are important. Right. We talked about the roller-skating unit in your introduction there are basketballs and baseballs and soccer balls. How did you plan out your curriculum knowing that you couldn’t provide those props for the kids?
Rachel: It has been a challenge for sure. Thankfully my units are a little unique and I’ve made a lot of the equipment that we’ve used. We did a part core unit, we jumped off random things. So, I’ve got pictures and videos of parents sending that kids are jumping off things now and we did a can jam unit if you don’t know, it’s a Frisbee game and I made them out of garbage cans. I follow a lot of really amazing PE groups on social media. The PE world, absolute loves Twitter, so it’s amazing all the ideas and sparks that I’ve gotten from that. So, I’ve been providing kids extensive lists of activities to try and most of them include no equipment or household items like laundry baskets, brooms, things like that. And then I also have another list. If you have a Frisbee or if you have a jump rope, then you can use those things. Last week we had a video up of how to make a jump rope out of old tee shirts and plastic bags, so that was really fun for kids to try out and then some other jump rope tricks with that. This week we are making mini golf course holes, so they’re finding items from around their house. They’re going to have five minutes to create a golf course hall and I cannot wait to see what they create.
So, I want them to be creative and how they decide how they want to be active because ultimately my goal for PE is to help students develop, to be confident and competent movers for a lifetime. So, it’s their choice how they ultimately want to execute that. This has been a great time to kind of test run that. When I’m not there leading a class, they’re really deciding, Hey, this is what I enjoy. I enjoy going out and playing with the basketball or I enjoy walking around with my family and going geocaching or I enjoy jumping off those things. They’re able to really drive how did they want to be active, equipment has been a little bit of a challenge, but we’ve worked with it.
Jordan: Andrew, we talked about this idea that you almost have to build the plane as you’re flying it and so I imagine that many teachers have online peers and community groups in which help them innovate and develop this new curriculum. Talk to me about what your peer groups look like and where you go to get help when you’re stuck with issues about how to create this curriculum.
Andrew: I have a couple of places I go on Facebook that helped me out a lot. There’s the drama teacher’s Facebook page just called the drama teachers. I also really like, I just discovered this and I’m loving it a whole lot. It’s called teachers using Google suite for education. I have always loved the Google suite just to help me organize my own brain for many reasons, for many things, not just drama teaching, but what’s cool about it is students can share documents. You can make a script no matter where you’re at. Using Google docs, you can plan out how you want to structure a performance using sheets or Google docs. It’s really helpful to have just a basic tool like that that is kind of a blank canvas for folks to interact. And I lean on my other teachers at Baker, they are some of the most creative, incredibly talented teachers I’ve ever worked with and so just asking questions, how are you doing this? How is this working? How do we make sure students feel engagement? How do we most effectively use the chat function? Like there’s a thousand questions that I never had to think about when I’m standing in the room with a bunch of students before and having a group of people who I trust around me has made a big difference.
Jordan: In the first part of the show, we talked about how to prepare for an e-learning curriculum. In the second half. Carly, Sarah, Rachel, and Andrew will discuss how we focus on implementation. But first, the K-8 Collaborative podcast is brought to you by the Baker demonstration school. We are a school for the innovative curious challenge seeking student who will greet their future with eyes wide open and full of wonder. Our preschool through eighth grade students thrive in our unique experiential and dynamic learning environment located on the border of Evanston, just minutes from Chicago. Baker is a private school nationally recognized for educational excellence and serves students in preschool through eighth grade. Our philosophy is rooted in the simple but powerful idea. An education should do more than help a child Excel academically. It should prepare them to thrive throughout life, no matter how different the future may look. Well, academic excellence is at our core. Our hands-on dynamic learning curriculum is designed to inspire curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. Learn more by visiting email@example.com that’s B a K E R D M S C H O O L.org.
Carly, how important is schedule and routine in implementing an eLearning curriculum? Does it vary for the different age groups?
Carly: Yes, it’s very important and it does vary in such a time as this with so much change and so much that’s unknown in the lives of children. To be able to have the comfort of a routine schedule is essential. We know that children thrive on predictability, on anticipation of that consistent interaction or that particular schedule and it’s something that we do during the course of the year when we’re together. So, it’s even more important that our schedule is really clear and predictable for children in this context. And along with that, there is this real important part about what the schedule should be. There should be times within the schedule where they’re in science class with Sarah and they’re engaging on zoom, but then there needs to be time where they’re away and with Rachel’s direction, they’re taking a jog if they’re able to do so in their community, they’re doing screen breaks that enable them to be happy and healthy and get their minds moving in a different way. So, all of those things are things that we’ve also tried to really be conscious and deliberate about. Not assuming that children will naturally build those in, but the schedule itself needs to for a particular developmental age, provide the appropriate amount of connecting in time and the appropriate amount of choice, time away time, play time.
Jordan: And Carly, this idea of unsupervised time during the normal school day is new because typically if they were in the classroom, one of the teachers, or at least another adult in the school would have eyes on them. So, it’s a very strange idea that kids during the normal school day would have unsupervised time.
Carly: It’s true in the school day, they would have swim time, they would have recess time, they would have all of that. So, we’re relying on the family to help support that. However, I was in a class the other day, it was the first-grade class and a little one got up to leave the reading group and the teacher called them back. He came back. So, who knew?
Jordan: So, Sarah, in these times of upheaval, I imagine there’s a tendency unfortunately to sometimes give the kids busy work, we’re not sure what to do so let’s just give them something to keep them active. How do you keep the curriculum robust in this change of setting?
Sarah: For me, again, I’ve been challenging myself to really look at what I would have done in the classroom and is there a way I can make that happen or something similar to that happen through our new tools. With where students are in fifth grade with their critical thinking skills and their analytical skills. A lot of what I like to do in math and science beyond getting them the concepts that they need to move forward in these subjects is to really focus on how they’re using their skills and the skills are what’s going to take them forward and help them to be successful in these classes and in all learning into the future. And so, there are great ways we can still engage observation and critical thinking and question asking without being present in the same physical space with each other being in a shared digital space. And I think we can avoid busywork by really asking the right questions and thinking about what the outcome is we want to get. If what I’m looking for is to make sure that children are taking great observations. Then we can do experiments with household objects.
We can look around the space that each of us is in. If I want them to engage in a conversation about something that I demonstrate on zoom, so when I broke apart the penny that no longer had zinc in the middle, they don’t have to be in the same space to be able to analyze the penny that I’m holding up to the camera. They can write their responses in chat and I found that amazingly fifth graders are even more respectful of each other online than they are when their peers are talking in a class. I’ve watched them raise their little blue hands on Zoom, respond politely in the chat to each other’s questions and really keep it on topic, but focusing on what is the goal here. The goal is observation and question. Asking and analyzing and math might tend more toward that busy work just because there need to be practice problems. But if you remember that, again, forcing myself to really think about what is the goal I want and the goal is I want them to try problems on their own and then be able to recognize where they need to check in with me. So oftentimes during math class I’ve employed a system where I’m on zoom, I present a couple of problems to them, they have a couple of problems to go and try. They then check back in and show me, either hold up to the screen, their answer or present their answer in the chat and let me know, Hey, this worked for me. This didn’t work for me, but it doesn’t have to be a sheet of a hundred questions for a child to know, Hey, I still don’t understand this or for me to know that a child got it by coming up with the correct response.
Jordan: Andrew, I’ve asked you a similar question. How do you make the drama curriculum not feel less than if it can’t be person to person?
Andrew: That’s a really big challenge that me and my students are working together on as we speak. I think one of the things that’s been really exciting that Sarah brought up is how adept they are at knowing when to mute themselves, when to unmute themselves. I think it actually changes how we listen to each other a little bit. That’s something that I’ve found really exciting. Another thing because right now I’m teaching first, second, third, fourth and fifth and individual classes. Oftentimes there’s a lot when we’re all in the same room of saying, Oh, can I have you come join the circle, sit down, calm your bodies. There’s a whole lot of the willy’s people want to get out, they want to move, they want to move their body so much. And something I’ve noticed is some kids are doing that. I say, great, make sure you have space behind you to move and they’ll be running in circles and if that were in the same room as me and all the other students, it’d be really distracting and hard for us to listen and focus. But the one student who’s running up and down, the one student who’s doing jumping jacks, they’re all listening and they’re responding to the right time. So, something that’s actually been amazing is people have a lot more autonomy of their own body and can still participate fully in a way that if everyone decided to move in that way in one classroom, no one would be listening. It would be really hard to get anything done. So that’s actually been like a really joyful discovery for me is how students are using their autonomy respectfully and in a really productive way.
Jordan: Rachel, let’s talk about that autonomy a little bit. Sarah was talking about some independent work and I imagine with physical education, not all e-learning can be done in front of a screen. How do you incorporate independent learning into what the kids are doing each day for physical education?
Rachel: This has been a really unique experience for them and a chance for them to really decide what they like. My students have an activity log that they complete each week. Again, I ask that they try to complete 60 minutes of activity and they get to kind of decide how they want to do that. I give a list of activities that they can choose from and a lot of kids really benefit from that. Hey, I want to do some meditation and then I want to do a full body workout and that I want to make a jump rope and learn some tricks and then some kids know what they like to do already and they’re continuing to work on that. I’ve got a couple of kids that have picked up running with parents. They enjoy doing that now that, Hey, my mom and my schedule now lines up and we can go for runs in the morning. That’s what they like to do. My goal for physical education is to help kids develop into confident, competent movers for their life. We don’t as adults, most of us do not participate in team sports. We don’t go down the street and play baseball with our friends and we don’t run out, we play kickball. We do things usually more independent or in smaller groups. We enjoy lifetime activities like swimming or hiking or jogging, weightlifting. So, it’s giving kids a chance to kind of explore those more independent activities or small group activities that will translate into more lifelong learning, which has been really interesting.
Jordan: Carly, as I listened to this conversation, I think about the independence and autonomy and realize that in many ways we’re asking the kids to do things that they’re not used to doing. How do we pay homage to the emotional toll of all these changes on them and then integrate that into the e-learning curriculum?
Carly: That’s a really great question and I think it’s partly in the recognition that there are emotions around this whole experience and the experience of their family, which may be feels very different than the experience that is a part of their friend’s family. So, I think it’s a time for teachers to be calm and open and invite those conversations because they’re learning with new routines, with people that they love in their life who aren’t physically not present. And that requires of educators such a level of calm and connection and a deep sense of respect for where each of the children are.
Jordan: Sarah, often classroom learning is asynchronous, right? Each child may be at a slightly different place with the material. It’s intuitive that a teacher walking around a classroom can work with each child separately. How is that different in an eLearning environment? Is it easier? Is it harder?
Sarah: I think there are some things about it that are harder and there are some things about it that are easier. With zoom when the students are in the classroom in quotes and have their videos on, I can still read facial cues, body language to be able to tell where I think a student is. Even if their mics are muted, I can see them so I can see their reactions to certain things and I can then respond and check in with individual students. The breakout rooms and zoom that Andrew mentioned earlier are really helpful for that because I can step out with a student for a second or a small group of students and just check in and ask how they’re doing with the work. I find that it’s easier in some ways because all of the students sometimes hear or see a question that a student has on chat when they’re self-advocating because they didn’t understand something that they saw in the experiment. They would like me to repeat something that I said or they have a question about a problem that they’re working on and I’ve noticed that the ability of all the students to hear my response to one student that maybe if I was walking around the classroom would be a quieter response while the other students were doing whatever portion of the work they were working on.
I’ve noticed students stop and pause and seem to listen to that and look at the work that I’m putting up or hear what I’m saying. And it seems to be helping them to learn from each other and to recognize that maybe they didn’t have that question yet, but hearing the answer to that question and listening more carefully to what their peers are asking and what my responses are benefits them in their own learning and I’ve noticed a lot of questions tending toward deeper ideas, especially in science as opposed to asking what am I supposed to be doing now? Because I think students, as Andrew mentioned too, are listening more carefully to each other and watching what other people are doing. Asking in science when some of us are doing the experiments simultaneously in different spaces.
I’ve noticed students looking in ways that I can tell, they’re also looking to see what did their peers do with the experiment, what did they get, and then asking questions of that as well. Where sometimes I think in class lab groups are separate so you don’t see what the other lab group is doing because you don’t see it and you’re not part of that group, you don’t pay as much attention to it. But when all of our faces are up on a screen, you respond to each other and you’re paying attention to cues that you might miss in a bigger classroom. So that’s been helpful but it does require making sure that you are looking at your screen and paying attention to all the students where sometimes you would just in peripheral vision catch a kid that you could tell needed a moment of attention. So, it’s keeping me on my toes, but it’s definitely possible to still tell where students are and give them the opportunity to work at their own pace through the curriculum and ask the questions that they need answered at that moment.
Jordan: Andrew, up to this point, I feel like we’ve been talking about some of the difficulties of the e-learning curriculum. Are there any benefits or opportunities that you’ve realized since you started doing this?
Andrew: Yeah. There’s a couple of interesting opportunities for the arts, especially now. The arts are unique in how they help us process life experience. We’re all going through something none of us have ever gone through before, but we’re all going through it. What’s great about being a drama teacher right now is it gives us the opportunity to process it with young people through art. Not to run away from it and not to pretend like it’s not happening, but find the joyfulness in understanding this world that we’re living in. In that sense, this has been a really exciting opportunity as a drama teacher. The other thing that I think is kind of cool is we’re now all on camera. That is a whole other dramatic art form. We get to work with young people on what it means to have a closeup, what it means to cut, and then discover you’re in a new place to have a different angle. What does it mean to control the eye of your audience in that way? That’s not a thing we normally get to do in live drama.
So, having these new axes to play with can be fun. And honestly it gives me an opportunity to learn alongside my students because that’s kind of how we approach all of our dramatic projects and dramatic problems is as a group. How do we best want to attack this? It’s been difficult. Absolutely. But it’s also been kind of exciting and it’s also been kind of cool. I don’t think I would have leaned as heavily into puppetry, for example. The other day I gave students five minutes to find one to three objects to put together as a puppet and the things that came back in five minutes were some of the most wacky, creative, brilliant characters that you never would have seen before. And I want to say one last thing. There is a particular student in my second-grade class and they don’t like to talk. They almost never talk. They rarely engage and it takes kind of a lot of coaxing but when I asked to get a puppet, that student had a puppet very fast. That student performed with the puppet without that student’s face in the camera at all. They didn’t have to be there and I don’t know that I would have seen that from that student if we hadn’t given them the opportunity to escape to the periphery of this tiny box.
Jordan: Rachel. Clearly this curriculum is stretching us to create and do things in a different way. Assuming at some point we get back to a normal class schedule. Are there parts of your curriculum that you have now in e-learning that you think will carry over to the traditional classroom?
Rachel: This experience has given my kids a new appreciation for fitness. We do a little bit of fitness and I usually kind of talk it into other things. Usually when they come into the gym, they come in and they’re like, we want to do something together and we want to run around in circles and there’s so much space from sitting from the day, so I’m featuring fitness in a different way. They created their own five minute fitness with a small group the other day and I had a lot of kids come back that they really enjoyed doing that and they enjoyed finding out more about fundamentals and things like that that normally I wouldn’t get that response during class moving from this format into our physical space. I think they want more information on that. They want it out front again, now they’re working out with their parents, they’re being active together. They want that more cognitive side instead of the psychomotor, the doing. They want to know the why more, which has been really interesting and something I could definitely incorporate.
Jordan: It definitely sounds like the independence and the creativity will remain with the kids because they’ve been forced out of their box of being told exactly what to do and how to do it and my bet is that creativity will stay with them as they think about their physical health in the future.
Rachel: For sure.
Jordan: Carly, I’d like to wrap up by asking a very simple and basic question. We’ve been talking during this whole episode about how we have rolled out this e-learning curriculum and the challenges as well as the way kids have thrived. Talk to the parents for a moment. How do we let them know that this is an alternate way of learning but not a second best?
Carly: You know, I was just thinking as I was listening to everyone through this podcast. This idea that particularly as we think about middle schoolers, that real need, that they have developmentally to connect with each other, that we have really created for them a whole host of ways to find connection, to make meaning, to show their thinking, to make it visible. There are so many things that we’re learning through just even the word that Andrew used opportunity, through this opportunity that we have right now that is a hard moment in the life of our world and a hard moment for children. So for them to be able to move through this hard moment and to see opportunity and to create and to invent and to innovate and to add the end of that, and they’re very young lives to be able to say, we made it through this and this is what we did. There is no better lesson ever.
Jordan: This has been the K-8 Collaborative podcast. On behalf of myself, Jordan Gromit, and my cohost, Carlie Andrews, we’d like to thank our guests, Sarah Moore, Andrew Moriquez, and Rachel Chase. We hope you found this episode about e-learning and a time of Corona. Helpful. Be sure to catch us next episode where we will be discussing project-based learning. See you then, and don’t forget to subscribe to the K-8 Collaborative podcast on your favorite listening platform to stay up to date latest episodes.
Episode 4: The Coronavirus: Trauma and Resilience in Children
On Episode 4, Jordan Grumet and Carly Andrews are joined by Stephanie Osler, LCSW and director of the Mental Health service line at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia, and Cynthia Suarez Eudy, LCSW at Baker Demonstration School in Wilmette, Illinois, in a conversation about supporting children during the coronavirus pandemic. Their discussion includes ways children experience trauma, how families can support a child’s resilience, and ways that our communities can support our youngest members amidst this new reality.
Resources mentioned in episode:
Episode 4 Transcript
Speaker 1: This is a project funded and created by the Baker Demonstration School.
Speaker 2: Being at home with my parents, it’s sometimes annoying because they’re always like getting work calls.
Speaker 3: We do school online. We don’t get to see our teachers. We don’t know when we’re going to go back.
Speaker 4: It just isn’t the same without friends here.
Speaker 5: I miss my friends a lot.
Speaker 6: Yeah, I miss my friends.
Speaker 7: Now is starting to get boring.
Speaker 8: It’s very boring.
Speaker 9: It can get boring and I stay in touch with my friends by Face Timing them.
Speaker 10: Tomorrow, my friend throwing a virtual birthday party. I’m not exactly sure how the virtual work but I’m excited to find out how.
Speaker 11: The first thing I want to do when the quarantine ends, is have sixth grade camp and maybe a sixth grade graduation at the end of the school year, instead of having to do it in seventh grade.
Jordan: Welcome to the K-8 Collaborative podcast where we move the discussion on schooling forward.
Carly: Through the lens of a progressive education.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Gromit podcaster, doctor and proud father of a creative, energetic, and empathic sixth grader.
Carly: And I’m Carly Andrew’s head of school, teacher and mom.
Jordan: And today we are going to discuss how to help our children thrive despite the havoc the coronavirus is causing on our lives and ask the ever-important question are the kids, okay? We have two special guests joining Carly and I. Stephanie Osler is a licensed clinical social worker at Children’s Hospital of the King’s daughters in Norfolk, Virginia, and serves as the director of the mental health service line. Stephanie, I imagine your volume of calls has gone up recently.
Stephanie: So, it’s interesting that you say that because unfortunately our volume of calls has actually gone down. And I think I’m likening that to the fact that this sort of feels like summer vacation the first couple of weeks or so, and kids, aren’t quite sure how they’re going to respond or what that looks like for them. And so, parents are sort of watching that and waiting, but actually our emergency department volume has gone down. Some of our call volume has gone down. We’re still maintaining relationships through telehealth with our existing children that we have in service currently but it’s gone down, which worries me a little bit.
Jordan: Do you expect maybe as this becomes the new normal and the stressors buildup of having the kids home for longer periods of time, that you’re going to see that spike back up?
Stephanie: I definitely think that will be the case. I’m waiting for that spike to happen at this point and we certainly have lots of folks in our community talking about it. I’m sure in yours as well, it’s incredibly important topic and we want to make sure that our kids are well taken care of
Jordan: Cynthia Ute is a licensed clinical social worker at our very own Baker Demonstration School and currently is adjusting to the lack of little feet running past her office every morning. School Social work is a little different when it’s not face to face huh, Cynthia?
Cynthia: Yes, it is. As many schools, social workers know it’s a busy job, but it’s very rewarding. It’s very different now. I think is Stephanie had also said it’s been a little quiet on my end and I have a feeling that as stress starts to build, the longer students are in their home and not in their classrooms, I’m going to be getting busier as time moves on. I’m trying to put out lots of resources, but those are hard for kids to engage in when they’re used to just coming in, rapping on my door and saying, Hey, I need to talk
Jordan: Carly, today is an interesting day in the life of a head of school. It is the first day back of spring break. Talk a little bit about how today’s first day back is different than traditional.
Carly: For us at Baker, our students have been gone and this is a start of their three weeks where they haven’t been in school. So, we started in e-learning week, they went on spring break and now they’re returning back to their bedrooms with a computer in order to engage with their classmates and teachers. So, it feels very different. I think what we’re trying to do in this time is to make sure that all those rituals that are really important for children during the actual school day can be present and maybe different, but are somehow a part of the learning experience. So, for example, one of the things that we did was make a morning meeting message. Normally I greet the children in the morning, say hello, especially after a break, find out how they’re doing what they were up to and in lieu of that, but wanting them to still feel that sense of welcoming connection. We made a video message and posted it. Our teachers have been working all through spring break to really make some adjustments to the platform so that we can really ensure some better connections. We can ensure more synchronous time with other classmate’s breakout sessions with their classmate’s time with our advisors in person time with their teachers. So that idea that right now children need continuity and even though they’re totally in a different learning platform for us at school, they still need that relational continuity, which is what we’re really striving for at this time.
Jordan: Stephanie, we are recording on March 30th, 2020. Most schools have been out of class in person for the last two to three weeks they’ve been doing e-learning. A lot of times adults focus on our kids’ physical wellbeing when it comes to a time of crisis. Do we underestimate the emotional toll, these types of cataclysmic events cause?
Stephanie: We absolutely do. This really is an unprecedented time for our nation, for our communities. Within the past couple of weeks as you mentioned, our kids have gone from in-classroom social interactions to in front of a screen, talking with folks, similarly to what we’re doing right here today. And you know, there is this place where their physical social and emotional environment is the most critical or most important piece of their life. And then being separated from their peers and the positive adult interactions that they have at school with their teachers and with their counselors. You know, those are things that they’re not having regularly right now. So, it’s a very different time for kids. And certainly, there will be challenges in adjusting to that.
Jordan: Cynthia, Stephanie talked about this idea of we’re interacting with screens. How important is person to person interaction, not with this screen in front of them, but to actually be in someone’s physical presence, can electronic interaction be as nourishing?
Cynthia: It’s so important for kids to have that face to face contact, especially for the younger kids, you know, developmentally they’re not as self-aware and can’t always communicate verbally what’s going on. You know, what I find is that the younger kids usually communicate through their behaviors through their play. And when I can’t witness that, I don’t have a clear idea of what’s going on with them. For some of the older students, I feel like they’re a little bit more comfortable with that online communication, but again, there’s that lack of spontaneity where middle schoolers can just come in and knock on my door and say, Hey, this is what’s going on in the moment. It’s a lot more challenging when they have to set up in time to meet with me and then discuss what’s going on. There’ll be a lot more reluctant to do that but you know, I think kids crave that one-to-one attention and to some degree they still will be getting it via FaceTime, but I just don’t feel that it’s as nourishing as it could be. We are all going into this teletherapy mode, this e-learning mode, and we don’t know what the long-term impact is going to be on our children.
Jordan: Carly, in our previous discussion, you had said that you wished we use the term physical distancing instead because we are still looking for our children to have social connections, but the physical separateness affects the kids too, doesn’t it?
Carly: Absolutely. There is no doubt that this particular time and the distance that children have from key people in their life. I think a lot about how particularly in the United States, this idea of what a family is comprised of is really challenged at a time like this. So, children who normally have inputs from grandparents, from neighbors, from aunties, from just the realm of people in their social networks, all of those being cut off. For children there’s just a huge impact on how they walk through the day, how they feel about themselves. I think as educators and social workers and people whose professions are centered on the health and wellbeing of children; we all are “A” doing the best we can with option “B” but also really aware of some of the impacts that this might have.
Jordan: Stephanie, I’m wondering, do we have models for what global trauma does to children? I’m thinking back to Katrina. Where the kids studied during those difficult times and what the long-term effects of facing this trauma did to them emotionally?
Stephanie: Yes. I think that during those times, Katrina, 911 is another time that resonates with me when the entire nation faced a tragedy really, and how kids responded to that. And there’s certainly been a lot of work done since that time on looking at kids’ mental health beyond that. One of the things that really resonated with me, one of our child psychiatrists is from Louisiana and was in Katrina, you know, in the storm itself and also there afterwards serving kids. And one of the things she said to me was that one of the most important things was not recognizing the symptoms, not recognizing that kids were really struggling. So, there was really an under recognition of what kids were going through and the impact that it had on kids. So I think we need to take that into consideration as we’re looking at our kids today and seemingly maybe they’re doing okay the first couple of weeks and this could change, or this could remain the same, but we really need to, I think keep a pulse on our kids’ behaviors and our kids’ reactions during this time. And it really pushes us to the limit as parents to be able to recognize our own emotions when it comes to this and our own reactions and certainly keeping those things in the forefront of our minds and working with kids.
Jordan: Cynthia, it makes me worry, this shelter in place order creates a very unique set of circumstances for children and families. I especially worry about at-risk children, are they especially affected by these types of situations?
Stephanie: That’s such a huge question. I was just looking on the news today and right now with CPS there’s three quarters of the student population is signed up for free or reduced free breakfast and lunches. Those kids now don’t have that. That is going to have a huge impact on that population. There are also those parents who can’t go to work or their jobs have been suspended or don’t have childcare. I mean, that’s another huge impact that’s going to have on the families. We also know that during stressful times issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, that all drastically increases, and that has an impact on our children, which we have to be aware of. You talk about those with emotional disabilities, not just children, but the adults as well. Everybody is going through feelings of fear and anxiety but those who already have those emotional disabilities, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, you have to multiply that by 10 to a thousand. And they’re trying to manage all of this stress along with their emotional disabilities. They’re going to have a long-term effect on these kids and as Stephanie was talking about Katrina, I think that we’re going to be seeing the long-term effects long after this crisis is over.
Jordan: Carly, it appears to me that schools provide a lot more than just education. We talked a little bit about food insecurity. I know Baker has an active before school and after school program. How do schools step up in this type of environment and provide support above and beyond the e-learning curriculum?
Carly: It really is a whole community effort and we’re starting to see a lot of news about ways that schools are responding. One of the networks that we’re a part of the Evanston Early Childhood Council has been working with families of first responders and really making sure that there are daycares that are open for children of first responders and medical professionals. So, schools are responding in that way. They’re also great stories about schools who are sharing the storehouse of food that they were anticipating for lunches, now that they’re not in session, extra cleaning supplies to medical workers. So, there’s a lot of really important ways that schools can respond now and pivot in this time in order to ensure that the community is cared for.
Jordan: Stephanie, we talked a little bit about Katrina world events affect children. Do they incorporate this trauma into their growth differently than adult would per se?
Stephanie: Most definitely. There was a very large epidemiological study that was done in the nineties, which was called the adverse childhood experiences study. And this study really paved the way for us to understand how childhood trauma impacts children’s brain and growth development. And it’s important to consider that as we look at situations like this that are happening in our lives and understand that there are some kids who have ongoing stressors, who have had ongoing adverse childhood experiences and those kids incorporating yet another hit into their lives. It can be really devastating, particularly if it’s not recognized and if it’s not in a place where someone seeks support or help for the event. Even in a child’s life that we would consider resilient, a child that has a lot of protective factors and things that are offered to them that may not be offered to another child. It’s still will make a difference and the impact of this is really far and wide and although as a nation, we are all experiencing something collectively, we are all experiencing this a little bit differently. And so, we just need to really keep an eye on our kids and their behaviors and their manifestation of symptoms as we move through this.
Jordan: Cynthia, I feel like when we discuss childhood trauma, we think of the more painful aspects of what they could be going through. We worry about the fear and the anxiety. We talk about food insecurity, but it also hits me that there’s something a little bit more subtle going on that things as simple as interrupting their daily routines. And as Carly had mentioned, seeing the group of adults that they’re used to seeing on a regular basis, these things impact even our seemingly very healthy kids.
Cynthia: Yeah, they do. You know, one of the things that is really important to prevent anxiety in kids is structure in the home, in the school. If kids don’t know what’s coming next, they start to internalize that. And without even realizing, they start getting anxious and start trying to put things in place in order to feel some sort of sense of control. Our kids shouldn’t be feeling the need to control anything right now, that’s our job as parents and as educators’ kids. One of the primary needs right now for them is to feel safe, to feel secure and to know that the adults around them have got this for them and they don’t have to worry about it.
Jordan: Stephanie, as we become more and more aware of these possibilities. In what ways do kids start to manifest these stressors? What are the signs maybe to the adults or the teachers in their life that things are not feeling as supported as before?
Stephanie: Yeah. Some of this can bring on what we consider to be an acute stress reaction where kids may have difficulty sleeping. They may not be eating as much as they normally do. They may be more withdrawn, which is sort of difficult to gauge because quite frankly, depending on the age of your child, some of them are just naturally a little more withdrawn at this point, but we want to be mindful of that. We also would like to, you know, make sure that their moods are not looking different or feeling different than they were sort of pre corona virus, making sure that anything that looks not quite typical for them is something that we want to keep an eye on and certainly address as needed when the time is right. You don’t want those symptoms or those things to extend for long periods of time. So generally, you look at acute stress and a maybe a couple of week period of time. If it goes much beyond that, where every single day there’s an impact, then you’re going to want to really think about reaching out and asking for some support.
Jordan: And Carly on a community level as head of schools. Are there certain signs and symptoms that you’re looking for community wide to signal to you that other interventions may need to take place?
Carly: In any learning setting our teachers are connecting, given that we’ve worked with the kids now for six, seven, eight months, we’re looking for any changes in terms of their interactions. Are those atypical? Are they atypical a longer period of time? So, we have the benefit of our knowledge of them in a different setting. And again, children are all in transition and adjusting, but whereas Stephanie noted, looking for those things that are outside of the norm for a given child.
Jordan: And Cynthia as a school social worker, I’m sure it’s a common thing for students to approach you or into knock on your door. Do you feel like in these virtual interactions that we’re having that students feel like they can reach out to you if they need help?
Stephanie: I don’t know if they feel comfortable yet to do that. You know, I’m doing a lot more teletherapy even outside of school and there are some studies that say that students and teenagers may feel more comfortable talking in front of a camera and may be able to reveal a little bit more than they would in person. But I think during this initial stage is getting them to feel comfortable, to reach out to me is a little more challenging for them because it’s not just as easy as walking past my room. You know, they have to send me an email, they have to set up an appointment. I’m really trying to think about how I can make that call for help a little bit easier.
Jordan: Stephanie, from an organizational standpoint, do you feel like healthcare practitioners are taking extra steps to reach out to the community? Given the fact that they’re under this increased stress from shelter in place.
Stephanie: We certainly are here and I suspect that is the same across the board, you know, I’ve been on some calls just today with school administrators and our public school system and with other organizations throughout our region, looking at how can we be an available support to kids as a community response. And so I think that’s really important for people to come together and assure that kids and families quite frankly, because we cannot forget the fact that this is really impacting parents and their ability to do the things that they love and their jobs and their roles in life and not just the kids that are impacted here. It’s the parents too. So certainly, there’s a larger community effort, community response and I’m seeing that across the country, really from different service areas and different localities.
Jordan: And the first part of the show, we discussed the emotional toll that COVID-19 outbreak could have on young minds. In the second half, Carly, Stephanie and Cynthia will discuss what we can do about it. But first the K-8 Collaborative podcast is brought to you by the Baker Demonstration School. We are a school for the innovative, curious challenge seeking student who will greet their future with eyes wide open and full of wonder. Our preschool through eighth grade students thrive in our unique experiential and dynamic learning environment. Located on the border of Evanston just minutes from Chicago. Baker is a private school nationally recognized for excellence and serve students in preschool through eighth grade. Our philosophy is rooted in a simple but powerful idea and education should do more than help a child excel academically. It should prepare them to thrive throughout life, no matter how different the future may look while academic excellence is at our core. Our hands-on dynamic learning curriculum is designed to inspire curiosity, creativity and collaboration. Learn more by visiting us at Bakerdemsschool.org that’s BA K E R D E M S C H O O L.org.
Jordan: Carly in episode three, you brought up this metaphor of oxygen and flying. How does that relate to our discussion today?
Carly: Stephanie alluded to the impacts on children and reminded us that when we think about the family context, that parents are experiencing deeper profound changes to their life, to how they do work to how they parent. Most parents when they started this school year, did not imagine that they would be in their home for weeks and weeks helping their child with their schooling. There are huge changes that as a country, as a world, that parents are experiencing. Generally, as a species, we’re not incredibly great at change and change under stress. And so, I think in a situation where you have caring where you’re a caregiver, you are trying to understand something contextually while at the same time, trying to frame it for another human being. And that’s really challenging.
And so we did talk last time, just about the metaphor of the oxygen mask, making sure that you are taking the time to do those practices, that as a parent, as a person, as an adult, you need in order to deal with the rest of life right now, which is different and crazy and frustrating. People have different ways of filling up their cup as we talk about with children. For some, it’s just getting out by themselves, taking a walk, taking a run. If they’re able to give them the recommendations in their area for others, it may be a meditation practice. For others it’s finding a hobby and just having some flow time with that. I always tend to think about what are those things that don’t require a long amount of time, but that you can do in the five seconds you have before you move on to the next thing. So, it just is important to reiterate that all of us right now need to give ourselves a little grace. It’s not going to be perfect. We’re not going to be perfect. Not all of our responses are going to be perfect. So, to give ourselves a little grace and to give the people that are around us, that we’re working with a little grace as well.
Jordan: Stephanie, at a traumatic time like this, is it possible to parse out how much of the long-term effects are due to a child’s own reaction versus the reaction of their loved ones around them, their sense of stability?
Stephanie: This really brings up the idea or the concept of family resilience and why are some families, you know, more resilient than others and quite frankly, there are a number of reasons. But oftentimes they’re sharing beliefs and attitudes that actually support healing and support moving forward. In addition to that, we often look at how we can continue to educate and take care of our kids in a time like this, and also take care of ourselves. So, the modeling of our behavior is critically important during this time. One of the things that I think kids really struggle with the most is not knowing how their parents are handling a situation because parents often want to hide that from them. They don’t want to be emotional in front of them. They don’t want to show them that this is really painful for all of us. And there is a degree where that’s really helpful at times for you to be human and for you to connect with your kids on that level. So really digging deep from that family resilience perspective and making sure that you are keeping things open as much as possible. That obviously will be impacted by what stressors were going on before this ever started. Right? What are you bringing into this? So, I think that’s important for us to consider as we move through.
Carly: Stephanie, I love that idea and I want to remember a really amazing New York times story a few years back that was looking at a researcher who was looking at family stories and resilience. And the idea that when families tell the stories and not just the really great moments, the highlights, the top of the mountain stories, but also the low moments. This researcher was really looking at how that helped in the sense, give a context of for resilience within the family structure. And so, you can imagine thinking about hearing your great grandfather’s story of living through the depression, you know, in 1918, the Spanish flu, all of those things. And you have for children in those family’s stories, these embedded markers that my grandfather, my grandmother, my family, went through these things and look, they’re okay.
Jordan: Cynthia, as I hear both Carly and Stephanie talk about family resilience, it hits me that this is not particularly different than kids and what they go through on a daily basis, whether we’re in the midst of a crisis or not. It seems to me that maybe this just exacerbates the normal problems we all have.
Cynthia: Yeah, totally going off of what Stephanie says too, is that, you know, when our children see us panicking, they’re going to panic, right? If our children see us being responsible and being calm and taking the next right step, they’re going to react the same way. And as parents, it is a real fine line to be able to share our feelings with our kids while also being able to provide them that safety that they need to hear. The one thing I really wanted to just kind of help parents is providing that structure for the kids in the house while they’re here, they need to be able to set up a family routine that’s going to help to reduce some of that childhood anxiety. You know, one of the things I’m also looking into teaching some of the Baker students is that growth mindset is that through challenges you grow and your brain grows in different ways with a combination of family putting in structure, us trying to teach a little bit more about that growth mindset and resilience. I feel like our kids have all the tools necessary to really get through this and maybe learn something positive.
Jordan: Stephanie, as I listened to Cynthia talk about how we frame the growth mindset. I think a lot about how parents interact with kids and specifically the words they use. How important is it the way and what words we use to frame what’s happening right now for our children?
Stephanie: Words matter. They absolutely do and coming from a place where parents are the experts on their children. So, parents know their children best and being able to look across sort of a developmental span, like what I’m going to say to a first, second or third grader may be very different than what I’m saying to a fourth, fifth or sixth grader and then on up from there. Developmentally, we need to give them as much as they can tolerate is the reality. If they aren’t able to tolerate it, we shouldn’t be talking about it. Same goes for media exposure. You know, that’s a big question that comes up a lot in times like these is how much should I let my kid watch or listen. And right now, you know, running commentary every hour of the day on what’s happening in our country, including what’s happening in New York city and other places, that’s pretty bad, quite frankly.
Speaker 3: And so, I think it’s important for us to monitor, to moderate the amount of time that we’re letting our kids spend in front of that screen. Some people even say, if you’ve got a family member that tends to be catastrophic in their thinking, and they’re sending text messages or Face Timing and talking about the world ending that we ought to probably minimize that even during this time as well. So just being really mindful, I use the word mindful a lot because I believe in the power of mindfulness and I believe in that as an intervention as well, but just being mindful of the way that we’re communicating with our kids and the way that we’re allowing them to incorporate what’s going on around them.
Jordan: Part of our communication, Carly is teaching. And one way for us as adults to cope is intellectual limitations. So, we learn about the science. We understand and find out what a virus is. We try to inform ourselves with the best knowledge. Are kids emotionally mature enough to use this tech too. How important is education in science in helping kids cope with what’s happening?
Carly: Oh, I think so important. And I think certainly it’s helping children process intellectually, academically, emotionally, socially, physically, all of those things are important, but I think it is important at a time where the routines of their lives have really shifted to understand the science of this particular virus. And to understand the ways that viruses in the past have shaped culture have shaped medical technology have created the opportunity for new vaccines that have done wonders. So that a particular understanding of science, of technology and of the ways that scientists are creating now, I think gives a lot of sense of context as well as hope. I firmly believe that there are Baker students that are going to come away from this experience and move into careers in epidemiology, careers, in science, careers, in medicine, because it’s a profound moment for them. And as they think about their lives and who they want to be and who they want to help, and the communities that they’re passionate about, I think it’s an exciting prospect for them to think about how can I shape the world as a result of what I’ve experienced.
Jordan: Are the teachers looking for signs and symptoms that may be there’s too much education or too much intellectualization? Is there a point where the kids get overwhelmed by it?
Carly: This is a point where differentiation is so important and we’re delivering educational experiences to children that are no longer physically present. And so, we’re relying a lot on families to be able to help us understand how to differentiate absolutely. Neural diversity is hands down the framework for how we need to be thinking about children and they’re all not going to need the same thing. So, I think as teachers remember that as parents remember that there’s no playbook that all children live by. Their diversity and their needs are going to be quite different. So as adults, we’re watching their behaviors, their responses, their dispositions, and responding as parents, caregivers, and adults in those moments.
Jordan: Often in medicine, we say that we have to meet patients where they are. And in a lot of ways, it sounds like the same goes for kids in education that you have to educate and meet them where they are. And some kids are going to need more information and some kids are going to be overwhelmed by it. And it sounds like a unique balance that has to be formed with each educator and child separately, Cynthia, before you mentioned the growth mindset. And that reminds me that positive thinking can often be very important for kids. How important do you think it is for us to take a tone with them dealing with what’s happening right now?
Cynthia: I think as Stephanie said, you know, keeping it truthful. If they’re asking questions about this virus, what’s happening is to be having honest conversations with them about it, but also keeping that hopeful and positive frame of mind is really crucial being grateful in the moment. I mean, so many studies have shown the benefits of being grateful in your life and it goes through health issues, emotional issues leading off of that, the one thing your students tell me sometimes is, well, my parents tell me I shouldn’t be sad because I have all this. The one thing that I would really just encourage parents is to validate your kid’s feelings. Let them know that you hear them, that you hear that they are nervous or worried or scared, but also that they can also be really grateful for the things they have from my family. We have a tradition before dinner is, we take turns saying something we’re grateful for, and it could be anything from socks to video games, to our health and each other. But that’s just like being mindful. It’s a practice that positive and grateful attitude takes practice, especially in times like these
Carly: Cynthia, one of the things that you mentioned was parents or kids who say their parents say you’ve got all these wonderful things at home. How could you possibly be sad? Reminded me to really think about kids who have mental health vulnerabilities. It’s you already are dealing with anxiety or dealing with depression. This can really throw them into a tailspin, something like this. And so, keeping an eye on your child, if you know that they have already had struggles in the past during a time like this is really critical for parents and maybe increasing their access to a service provider to a mental health professional via tele can do that now. Pretty robustly, which is exciting to be able to provide that care into the child’s home. Just making sure that parents are keeping an eye on that for kids that are already vulnerable.
Jordan: And Stephanie we’ve mentioned things like positive thinking. I believe we mentioned meditation. What are the specific interventions we can do to reduce the effects of trauma in our children? Are there simple things we, as parents can do, or educators?
Stephanie: We as parents can cope effectively alongside them. And if we can provide a safe space for them to feel what they need to feel to get out what they need to get out in any way that is, and not be as judgmental as we sometimes can be. I think it’s important to do that during this time. You mentioned meditation. Mindfulness is a form of meditation. You know, there are so many great apps out there that kids can grab onto one that comes to mind for me, my 12-year-old uses this consistently in the evenings is calm. There is a cost to it, but it’s a fantastic app. And there are plenty of others out there as well that kids use getting outdoors is really critically important right now, getting some sunshine, getting some fresh air in your backyard, walk around your block. You can still create social distancing, but be outside and ride your bike. You know, anything that can get you sort of a way and getting those endorphins running and making you feel a little bit better. Sleep is critically important during this time too. Some kids are maybe sleeping a little more and that’s okay because this is a lot to take in. It’s pretty exhausting for kids right now. And so that’s okay too. We want to be sure though, that screen time is not impacting their ability to sleep. So we still want to be mindful of turning those screens off before bed, you know, at least an hour before if possible, and other tips and tricks to kind of manage that because we are on screens more now, and we’re going to, as parents need to relax our screen time rules so they can still be social and they can still be educated and they can still do the things that they need to do. There’s no shame in that at all. I encourage folks to do that.
Jordan: Carly, one thing I really appreciate about Baker specifically and progressive schools in general is this concentration on social consciousness. How can this help kids feel empowered in these difficult times?
Carly: Absolutely. An agency is one of the key important ways to reduce stress and we feel that we have more control over our lives in our situation. It reduces our stress. There are many ways that families can do this. And Cynthia mentioned the way that the family traditions and rituals may shift at this time really involving the kids in the family with those new traditions. You know, parents at this time, can’t be cooking every meal and cleaning up every dinner dish and making sure the house is clean and making sure their work is done. And we really have to come together with new rituals and their family and making sure that the kids in the family have a say in that really making sure that as we think about others in our community who are deeply impacted, that they are able to participate in that support. So, for example, one of Baker’s partners, connections for the homeless and Evanston is really doing a lot of important work at this time. So, the collections that they need at this time are different than in spring’s past. And families can engage children with the drives that they have right now for spring jackets and boots for things like can openers and other needs that they have. So, there are ways that children can feel as though they’re doing something they’re helping. They have a say in their rituals of their life.
Jordan: Cynthia, talk a little bit about love and affection. Can we hug our way through this problem?
Cynthia: I think that personal physical contact is very important for us parents, to our kids, that sense of love and connection. They’re not getting it all through their friends and their school and they’re going to need a little bit more at home. They’re going to need a little bit more of that reassurance, that safety that they get from those extra hugs and that extra physical contact. I think we can rely on hugs to help
Jordan: Stephanie speak on that a little bit. We are definitely physically distanced from our friends and relatives. Is it important for parents to be a little bit more affectionate? Do the kids thrive that way?
Stephanie: I mean, I think some kids certainly do. And again, I’m going to rely on parents as experts here, you know, your kid, you know, what they need, they may need a little more support and affection during this time for sure and that’s okay. You know, I also struggle with kids whose parents are healthcare providers and unfortunately some of those families are being separated during this time because they’re trying to keep everybody safe. So that adds another layer of protection for the family and for the kids. So, there’s lots of ways to look at that and think about it but if you can hug your kid, hug your kid, for sure. And, you know, encourage even siblings, even though, you know, sometimes they want to punch each other versus hug each other. But I think it’s important to encourage them to, you know, give a hug and show some empathy and kindness respect. We can teach all of that right now in our kids and what’s going on around the world.
Jordan: Carly, besides listening to the K-8 Collaborative podcast, if you’re a parent looking for more information or trying your best to weather the storm, where should you look? What are some of the resources you have available to you?
Carly: I would say first, there is so much information that is coming to families through their email inboxes that is available online, that they can connect into those sources that they normally go to for really helpful information. I feel like at this time, moving back and having a little time away from all those resources. And as Stephanie mentioned, making sure that, you know, you’re relying at this point, you know, your kid, you know what you need, making sure you’re giving yourself time to be able to do those things feels really important, especially right now.
Stephanie: Positive adult interaction is actually a protective factor for adverse childhood experiences and trauma. So, any type of positive reaction and response that you can provide to your child during this time is really critically important. In addition to that, there are a couple of go to resources that we use a lot when we’re asking parents to look for some education on certain things or psychoeducation. And one of those is the national child traumatic stress network NCTESN.org as some great resources out there. In addition to that child mind in New York city has some really great child focused resources and which again is childmind.org as well. So those are a couple of really great resources. We are writing some blogs here. If anybody wants to take a firstname.lastname@example.org, we’ve got some information there too, but a lot of folks have great info out there. And I agree with what Carly said. You may need to take a break because it’s a lot. And social media provides a lot of that as well. Certainly, if you need it, it’s there.
Jordan: And Cynthia, for families that aren’t aware should families and kids be contacting their school, social worker. Are you guys still there and answering questions and interacting with kids and families?
Cynthia: Yes. Please, please reach out to us. I know that in the younger kids, mostly it’s the parents, but as Stephanie said over and over again, watch your kids notice any changes in them. Let me know, see how I can be a support. I have a wealth of resources that I can provide either to them in the home, in their community, to my middle schoolers, I say, email me anytime they can. I’ve been already emailing them. And I’m going to check in on their homerooms, but definitely reach out to your school social worker because she does have those local resources that could help you and your family.
Jordan: This has been the K-8 Collaborative podcast. On behalf of myself, Jordan Gromit and my cohost Carly Andrews. We would like to thank our guests, Stephanie Osler and Cynthia Ute. We hope you found this episode about making sure our kids are okay in these stressful and unprecedented times informative. Be sure to catch us next episode, where we will be discussing how to build a rich and nourishing e-learning curriculum. And don’t forget to subscribe to the K-8 Collaborative podcast on your favorite listening platform to stay up to date on the latest episodes. See you next time.
Episode 3: Parenting Through the Coronavirus
On Episode 3, Jordan Grumet and Carly Andrews discuss the coronavirus. Their discussion includes ways parents can support children during this unprecedented time, how families can best handle the stresses of this transition in their lives and work, and ultimately how a child’s growth can continue amidst this new reality.
Resources mentioned in episode:
Episode 3 Transcript
Speaker 1: This is a project funded and created by the Baker Demonstration school.
Speaker 2: It’s a virus that’s been going around.
Speaker 3: My dad keeps worrying about viruses.
Speaker 4: It can spread very quickly.
Speaker 5: How did the coronavirus start?
Speaker 6: Like I wonder if like they run out of food and then they can’t leave their house or something.
Speaker 7: My friend came to school and he started saying, “nobody touch me, nobody touch me” because he heard about it on the news.
Speaker 8: Doctors have like this white suit, like, you know, to get like wasps.
Speaker 9: He was getting bullied and everybody was saying that he shouldn’t be here. He should go and everybody was like, not going near him or talking to him. So, he was like really lonely. And like, I stood up for him with all the people and like told them that it’s not all Chinese people that have the coronavirus. I kind of like researched because I don’t know. I get pretty worried about that stuff but when I know more about it, I don’t get as worried.
Jordan: Welcome to the K-8 Collaborative podcast where we move the discussion on schooling forward.
Carly: With a lens of a progressive education.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Gromit podcaster, doctor and proud father of a creative, energetic and empathic 6th grader.
Carly: And I’m Carly Andrew’s writer, teacher, mom.
Jordan: And head of school. And today we are going to discuss how to help our children thrive. Despite the havoc the coronavirus is causing on our lives. Carly, this was not originally what we were planning to talk about in this episode, was it?
Carly: It’s true much like many of our plans for what we were thinking about what happened this too has changed.
Jordan: Today is March 16th, 2020, and all schools in Illinois, as well as across the nation have closed. Have you ever experienced anything like this before?
Carly: No. Nothing, nothing of the sort, this is so radically different. I think from all of our contexts and our paradigms for how we think about our future, it’s unprecedented in our lifetimes.
Carly: We have your years of experience as an educator and my years of experience as a physician and I can tell you that I have not been through anything like this either. I would imagine we’d have to go back to the flu epidemic of 1918. The Spanish flu were something around 40 to 50 million people died. Now that was back when we didn’t have the healthcare resources and knowledge, we have today but I can’t think of any time in modern history where we’ve been faced with these same kinds of challenges.
Carly: That’s fascinating. Is there anything from that historical period that is helpful for us?
Jordan: Interestingly enough, social distancing was an idea back then and there are great cases of cities like St. Louis that use social distancing and therefore had a much lower mortality rate during that flu pandemic back in 1918. Some of our practices have been tested and studied. So, it’s not completely new and I do think we did and have learned from pandemics in the past.
Carly: That’s reassuring.
Jordan: I hope so. Certainly, when you’re in the midst of it, you never know what to think and what to believe and of course we’re all bracing for the worst, but let’s hope for the best. And I think this brings up a really important discussion about what we do as parents. I think a lot of us are struggling with a framework of how to address this with our children and more importantly, how to reassure them. What do you think the first step is when we’re dealing with something like this with our children? I imagine assessing them and trying to figure out where their brains are at and what they know has to be one of those first steps.
Carly: Absolutely. And in fact, maybe even moving back a little further and using the oxygen mask paradigm, I think probably the best thing is to first assess where you are as a parent. Certainly, children in many ways are so impacted by the feel or the mood or the emotion in a household or with a particular parent. So, I think it’s important to deal with your own stuff first. If you’re feeling a heightened level of anxiety or worry, just doing those things that are in your own toolbox for really bringing your nervous system into a more steady place. And then once you’ve been able to do that and families across the country are now not only in a place of uncertainty, but are transitioning from a work life with many other people to home with children, with other partners and there’s just a lot of uncertainty and change.
And so, I think continuing to assess, how am I doing as a parent? How am I feeling? Am I making sure that I’m doing those things, getting out for a jog, taking a walk, clearing my head in ways that help you then be able to deal with the people around you? And then after that really being able to, as you said, listen to what children are asking for. This is a time where they need for us to be a parent. They don’t need to understand our worry. We don’t need to process that with them. What they need to understand is they are taking care of, and we are as parents doing our best job to make sure that they’re safe. And I think this is a perfect situation where understanding that virus understanding the science behind it, how it passes from one person to the next, what we understand about that can be very reassuring to children because then a parent can come and say, these are the things that we’re doing to make sure that you’re safe. But again, that continued message, you don’t need to worry about this. It’s my job to take care of you, especially for children that are younger, that’s that reassurance. And as you said, children, come with questions, answer the question that they have. Don’t assume that they have other questions gauge the level of depth that you provide based on what they seem to want to know.
Jordan: I want to break down a few of your comments. Let’s first start with this idea of the oxygen mask. I love that metaphor. We’re of course talking about when you’re on the airplane and they say that you should put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before you attend to your loved ones or your children in medicine, we have a similar metaphor. And we always say that you should take your own pulse before you walk into the patient’s room. And the idea is that we all come into this process with our own anxieties. And one thing we’ve learned is that children tend to be incredibly empathic, which means they feel the emotions in the room. And I’m sure as an educator, that’s something you talk to your teachers about quite a bit, but maybe the same message needs to be out there for our parents. Your kids will feel your inner turmoil and will react to it.
Carly: So how can you find space to deal with that so that when you’re present with them, you’re not bringing that energy, that sense of worry or anxiety to them.
Jordan: We in our family, pride ourselves on the fact that we allow our children to take part in and listen to our adult conversations. My wife and I were having one of these conversations about the coronavirus and it was only later that I realized that my daughter and son were listening very intently. And maybe while they had the maturity to listen to that conversation, they might not have been processing the information the same way my wife and I were. And so, I had to really go back and think about it. And for parents listening out there, how do we gauge exactly where our kids are at the moment with their now.
Carly: It is a matter of being in conversation with them and seeing what comes up, seeing what questions they ask, seeing what comments they have. There are so many things that are available and coming available in terms of resources online right now. And one of my favorites is a movie called the “Scared is scared” by a six-year-old named Bianca Yavar. And she tells a story about a number of things, but it’s also about how six-year olds think about something that creates nervousness. So, I think for parents, oftentimes we rushed into these situations and we over-talk. We assume that children want to know more or more worried or more anxious. And you know, there’s no recipe. Each of our children are different in their needs and desires are different, but I think the same principles apply. Listen to your child, figure out what it is they need to know from you provide that with care and sensitivity, and also a deep sense of reassurance that you taking care of them. Many of the things that are happening also, I feel like provide parents that opportunity simply to step back and say, okay, we’re all at home for many families, they’re able to say we’re healthy.
So, let’s now turn the focus away from us and out to our larger community and let’s talk about what it means to be a community. When we who have these privileges, who are healthy, who have a home where we can work, can say, we’re going to step back. Because in that stepping back, that’s making sure that people that are more vulnerable than us are able to be cared for in being able to step back and allow for our hospitals, not to be overrun and allow for people to be able to be taken care of. We give them also insights into how we operate as a community and how it’s not always about us.
Jordan: I love this idea of reassurance with our kids. And one thing I’m realizing is that the first thing they need to hear is that mom and dad are okay, and that you, you kids are going to be okay before we can even get to that broader conversation about how is a society, we address these things. But even just letting them know that there is a plan in place that we have governmental agencies, we have social agencies, and then we have our own knowledge and common sense all to work, to combat the fear they have. Having these conversations is not easy, but I feel like we have to have them sometimes multiple times for the kids to really realize that even with all the panic they see going on, there is both safety and a plan.
Carly: Yes. And to your point earlier about children are empathic beings. So, their worries may be less about mom or dad, and it may be more about grandparents and what they’ve heard on the news in terms of the vulnerability of those that are elders in our community. The ways that we really talk about that, it’s a challenge because we want to provide our children with reassurance and we don’t want to over promise. So I think it’s always helpful for parents to be able to say, this is what we’re doing based on what we know based on the science of this virus, based on the recommendations of those that are a part of the center for disease control that do this work based on our physicians, suggestions, these are the things that we’re doing and to focus on what we’re doing. So, when they see that you as a family have more food in your house than you normally do, this is something to talk about. And it’s not you in a moment of panicking. It’s a you in a moment saying to your children, well we prepare if one of us were to get sick, we would not be able to go to the store and we want enough food for a good two weeks or so, so that we are all safe.
Jordan: As you mentioned that I think about the power of trying to empower our children. So when something like this happens, we tend to feel very helpless but as you’re going through those steps and you’re going through the knowledge we can give to our children, it helps me realize that if we can find ways to empower our children, for them to feel like they have some sense of control of what’s going on around them, we can really help them through these types of stresses. What ways do you think are out there for us to start empowering our children in this kind of situation where we might not even be sure ourselves what the ultimate outcome will be?
Carly: Well, I think one of the first things that’s really changed in their lives is our proximity to their community of people. So now they’re close with family, but they’re physically distant from those that are normal and wonderful part of their day, their teachers, their friends at school there, aunties and uncles and cousins that come by on Sunday for dinner and those sorts of things. And so, I think one of the first things that’s really important is to make sure that even though there’s physical distance, that there’s social connection. So what are the ways that adults in the life of a child can connect them through you know, we’re talking now through zoom, through Google meets, through a numerous ways to connect via video chat with their aunts and uncles and the people that are in their life, their friends. My seventh grader was so disappointed by this. And the first area of disappointment was just not being able to see her friends at a time in life, where those are the most important people. So, figuring out those ways where that can still happen feels important.
Jordan: It also hits me that we can try to empower them to help in this most difficult type of situation. So certainly, for our kids checking in on the grandparents, as you were saying, using our technological abilities to spend time with them and visit with them virtually because they can’t physically. Also trying to teach them about ways of helping the community otherwise. I know that some parents are helping their kids donate parts of their allowance to the recovery effort and to help research on Corona virus and to provide things like masks and supplies to hospitals. There sounds like there’s some concrete ways that kids can actually feel connected to their community above and beyond just their family and friends.
Carly: I love the conversation moving to generosity because in a moment where they’re experiencing this closing in this saving of food or buying more food. How can they also in this moment, experience generosity and the generosity of the family as they look to those in need, as they make donations to places that are doing really important work in the midst of a challenging community moment. And those will emerge as we understand more what, the ways that our communities have been impacted and the needs that are going to follow and probably follow for the next decade economically, socially medically. And how can we think about rather than just the hardships or the changes, but how are we orienting children to think about the opportunities that exist to really support community life at this time.
Jordan: And not just opportunities to support the community but it sounds like it’s a perfect opportunity to educate our children about just a variety of different issues. Certainly, I feel like after they’re reassured and calmed down, it is a wonderful time to teach them about what a virus is and how viruses spread and look at the history of viruses in our world. And certainly, in our country, even to get as granular is how we sterilize and clean and wipe down the surfaces. It seems to me; this is a great chance for kids to get some educational experience and learn a little bit about the world.
Carly: There are so many inquiries that are fascinating for children to follow. The ways that a globalized community is able to connect and all of the rich parts of those transmissions of culture and learning and philosophy and thinking and art, and how does a virus impact a globalized community that’s deeply connected. And who are all of the people who have helped us better understand how viruses are transmitted and how we can better be healthy and stop those transmissions. There are so many things that parents and teachers at this time can really help encourage in terms of inquiry that come up now in a really unusual time.
Jordan: The other thing is quite different from other pandemics, especially big ones like back in 1918 with the Spanish flu is back then they didn’t have nearly as sophisticated technology. I’m specifically talking here about television and radio and social media. This is a hard time for kids to navigate what’s happening in the world and to try to sort out what is reality and truth versus fear-mongering. How do you think parents should help kids navigate the maze of information that’s coming at them nowadays?
Carly: I think we all could use a move away a diet from the news. There is so much right now and all the research talks about the increase in your time spent listening to this news increases your level of anxiety. And for children, it is so important to turn off the TV, to turn off the radio and perhaps to curate those NPR segments or those pieces articles that you think would be helpful for them, or to watch a new segment but then to turn off the TV, because now it’s an opportunity actually to enjoy a lot of other media. Personally, I am a big reader and I was just looking for some book lists, you know, and I did some Googling around, you know, books to read during the quarantine. And it’s funny, all the books are really apocalyptic books about the virus. And its sort of like at this point, I actually want something, a little funnier, a little more life-giving. And so how can we also think about that for children in the midst of all this going on? How can the media that we do curate that we do make sure that they’re engaged with also just brings up other parts of life?
Jordan: It seems easier in the beginning when it’s a day or a week, I start to wonder what the long-term effects will be on children. If this becomes a prolonged quarantine, in the sense of kids are out of school for a good month or two. How do you think the experience is going to change for kids as this becomes longer if it indeed does?
Carly: The children that are most impacted the longer this goes are those that have homes where families are still having to work, where there are real economic stresses, where meals and those particular things that are necessities for children are really unpredictable. In other words, we at this time turn our attention to children who will really aversely be affected by lack of food, lack of a stable home situation, given all of the changes and challenges for hourly employees in our country for employees that don’t have sick leave. I worry the most about those that are in those situations. And I think the ways that we can continue to spotlight that and begin to look at organizations that are best serving children meals during this time, it’s going to be really important.
Jordan: I think about the fact that we spend a lot of time reassuring our children and making sure that their needs are met, but it’s also a time to help our children see that there are many who have needs outside of their personal experience or family and help open up their sense of compassion for what is happening to the rest of society and open up their eyes to the fact that sometimes people are suffering but they don’t see and that aren’t their friends, but is still occurring. And maybe this is a chance for everyone to see that we are an interconnected world and that other people’s suffering affects us.
Carly: And there’s such a moment right now for children to be able to move from the micro to the macro and vice versa. I have a friend who, in a moment where let’s say I’ve just had a hard day at work and there’s something that’s just really challenging or problematic. His advice is always just look at the New York times. And again, it’s that idea of I’m so, immeshed in this moment, but I need to step back. I need to look at the front page of the paper and I need to reorient my perspective. It’s one of those moments for children I’m upset as a child that this particular afterschool program got canceled or I can’t see my friends for an unknown period of time. But let’s move back and understand from a white or a perspective how other people are experiencing this. That is the anecdote to narcissism, to deep self-interest and the invitation to empathy, to this broader mental growth that happens with our children, where they begin to realize that their perspective or their experience is not everyone’s.
Jordan: It seems like step one is reassure them and make sure their needs are met. And then step two, is that process of reframing and helping them place themselves in a wider framework of society. And what’s happening to all of us right now, as we deal with this life changing event.
Carly: Absolutely well said.
Jordan: In the first part of the show, we discussed how to help children cope with the changes thrust upon them because of the coronavirus pandemic. And the second half we will drill down on how to help them thrive but first the K-8 Collaborative podcast is brought to you by the Baker demonstration school. We are a school for the innovative, curious challenge, seeking student who greet their future with their eyes wide open and full of wonder our preschool through 8th grade students thrive in our unique experiential and dynamic learning environment located on the border of Evanston. Just minutes from Chicago. Baker is a private school nationally recognized for educational excellence and serve students in preschool through 8th grade. Our philosophy is rooted in a simple but powerful idea and education should do more than help a child Excel academically. It should prepare them to thrive throughout life, no matter how different the future may look. While academic excellence is at our core. Our hands-on dynamic learning curriculum is designed to inspire curiosity, creativity and collaboration. Learn more by visiting us at Bakerdemschool.org that’s K E R D E M S C H O O L.org.
Jordan: Carly, up to this point, we have really focused on coping mechanisms but given our uncertainty with the availability of our current brick and mortar educational system. How can we ensure that kids will continue to thrive and learn in this current environment?
Carly: Well, I think that question is great for children, it’s also great for adults at this time. All of the sudden in this moment of uncertainty, people are at home, they’re not headed out. And so, things have radically changed that are normal staple parts of their daily experience. So, there’s this really interesting framework that Dan Siegel, who’s a neuropsychiatrist writes about. And he talks about the mind as I dynamic Oregon and the sense that it’s constantly needing input in order to be really healthy. And so, if we think about the framework of a dynamic brain and all of the inputs that a child needs and that a parent who’s at home with children trying to get some work done also needs. There’s a lot of things on that platter that he talks about that are really essential for just being steady throughout your day, feeling like yourself, feeling good. And so, he goes through similar to like the food pyramid and all the things you need to be healthy in terms of what you ingest. He talks about all the things that your brain needs in order to be healthy. And so, I think, you know, whatever the situation is, if those things can be present for children and adults during this time, I think we’ll have a far better chance of not only making it through, but making it through in a really healthy way.
Jordan: Dan talks about the healthy mind platter, which I love just that visual of the things, just like the food pyramid that a kid needs. First and foremost, there’s this mention of sleep and we tend to sometimes forget this as a big issue, but sleep is majorly important for our children’s health. We kind of get that when we talk about their daily school life, right? We know that it’s Sunday night and they need to get sleep for Monday. If they’re to come prepared, be able to perform at their best. Now that the kids are not in a brick and mortar school, we sometimes forget that this is not a weekend or a holiday. How important do you think sleep plays a role in keeping our kids healthy at home?
Carly: Oh, it’s huge. In fact, this is an opportunity and one of the many opportunities in this unexpected time for children to actually get more sleep, you know, one of the reasons why children don’t get enough sleep is the starting time of schools. So how could parents really continue to invite more sleep at this time? And I think one of the things that we understand is that the gray matter growth for children that are three, four, five is the same as children that are moving into middle school and they need about the same amounts of sleep. I think it’s great for parents to use this as an opportunity, let your child sleep in. There’ll be lots of things if they’re in e-learning with their schools that they’ll need to do, but let them do it with a framework of having more sleep. And we all are better when we have more sleep or more reasonable or more funny, we are more who we are. So, it could be one of the actual, unexpected, unintended, but wonderful outcomes.
Jordan: With the cut down on preparation time and commute time, kids don’t have to get up as early. They don’t have to get ready as much, and they don’t have to go anywhere, which automatically pads our schedule a little bit, which means they can sleep in a little later. They can go to bed a little earlier and still have plenty of time during the day.
Carly: It really is a wonderful thing.
Jordan: We like to talk about educating the whole child. And in fact, I believe we had a conversation about that during our episode about a progressive education episode 2. How important is physical activity? I know right now; the kids really do feel cooped up in the house. How is important that we push them to physically move and get some activity, whether inside the house or out?
Carly: Aside from sleep. And maybe I shouldn’t prioritize these, but I think it is the most important. It is so essential for regulation. It’s essential for the emotional life of a child. It’s absolutely essential and it’s frankly essential for adults. I have been running to the Lake every day and coming back as we all do after exercise, I feel great. It’s important for everyone to be able to do the type of exercise, spend the time outside it’s frankly, one of the things that parents can do right now is head out into the natural world. The number of preserves, even in Lake County centered by Chicago are amazing and great opportunities. All of those places right now are safe places for children to go and run and play. And for older children, to be able to do a game of basketball, I mean, in our neighborhood, we’ve got a basketball and everyone right now is shooting with their own basketball. But the idea is that they still need to be out and they still need to be exercising. It just keeps everything in balance.
Jordan: And it’s important to note that at least as of right now, social distancing doesn’t necessarily keep kids from going outside and doing things. So, yes, we don’t want children getting together in big groups but riding your bike, playing basketball, especially on your own, going for long walks, even going for things like drives are all okay. And shouldn’t really interfere with our attempts to stop the virus from being spread.
Carly: And the physical time is such an important piece. There’s a lot of things that are available for families. I would encourage, you know, whatever families are thinking about in terms of how they’re going to order the day. It’s just important to work with your child, to create a schedule. Children thrive on consistency on predictability. there are many novel things that are happening in their life right now. So really being able to set up a schedule that makes sure that physical time is really valued. That sleep time is really valued. That other parts of the day are present and expected. It eliminates arguments, it eliminates nagging, it eliminates all those things, it allows for children have agency into how they want to set up the day. I mean, it’s one of the benefits right now is that, like you said, we’re not commuting. We’re not having to spend a lot of time getting all dressed up. We have this opportunity, every plan that we have has been canceled. So, we can order time in a way to really make sure that these values are accomplished and we’re doing it in concert rather than in conflict with children.
Jordan: I’m glad you mentioned schedule setting. It’s certainly, isn’t part of Dan Siegel’s framework. But as a parent with two kids running around, as the adults are trying to work from home. This idea of having the children set their own expectations and then follow a schedule I’ve found to be incredibly helpful and maybe combats a little bit of that sense of expansiveness. I love that the kids can think that anything is possible and their expansive possibilities to do whatever they want with their day, but it can get overwhelming if you haven’t compartmentalized a little for them, what they should be doing when.
Carly: It can be totally overwhelming for adults too. Yeah. It’s just important.
Jordan: Now, this is an educational podcast and we’re talking about children’s health during the self-imposed quarantine because of the Corona virus and I feel like we’re being remised because we haven’t talked about education time or focus time yet. But before we do any healthy daily schedule has to also have a little bit of playtime and a little bit of downtime. How important are those to keep our children healthy?
Carly: They’re essential and children naturally play. So, it’s just continuing to allow for those times for them to be playful. What actually is probably more important during this time is for adults to play their brains, need play as much as children. And so, when are you as an adult being playful, being playful with your children, with your friends in ways that are able to keep that part of your life, the spontaneous fun part of your life? That’s so important for our health and wellbeing going, but yes, children need downtime and downtime, that’s not necessarily always screen time. There is going to be a lot more screen time during this time. I am a firm believer in the idea that we do not as educators and parents need to have this perfectionistic ideal. We’re going to get through and we’re going to get through healthily and we’re going to get through with a lot more screen time.
Jordan: So, Carly, you mentioned screen time. Should there be limits on screen time? How do you think parents should manage that when the kids are home and often unsupervised a good part of the day?
Carly: First, I think that there will be more screen time. So, understanding that as a given and giving yourself a little bit of grace as a parent is really important. This is not a moment where you’re going to be able to have that ideal balance that you maybe would in your normal work life week. I don’t think their children need to enter a vacuum where adults are just allowing unprecedented amounts of screen time. Certainly, children in many schools will be involved in e-learning and it will be important for them to continue that, to continue conversations with their classmates and teachers through their e-learning programs. But maybe it’s a time for the normal screen time to look a little different and allow for the time that really is missing right now in the life of the child, which is really getting outside, going and shooting a few hoops of basketball, taking a jog, doing those things that help them stay calm and connected and feeling good.
Jordan: So, you mentioned e-learning and certainly part of keeping our children healthy is allowing them a certain amount of focus time per day, focus time helps them learn and grow and develop their brains. I don’t want to get into the real specifics about how schools are presenting the curriculums to the children with e-learning. Talk a little bit about what Baker is doing with e-learning and what you see the trends going to be for the next month.
Carly: You know, it’s fascinating. We’re a hands-on experiential school that is highly relational. So that inquiry question for us has been, you know, how do you take an experiential progressive program and you move it to an e-learning context. For us in about a manner of two weeks, we really began planning about two weeks ago. Wondering if this may be the outcome principally, what we’re trying to do is still make sure that “A” this experience continues the relationships that teachers have with families and children, that it continues and extends those that it doesn’t feel like a separation or a loss, but it feels like a deepening of that relationship. And the second principle for us is how can we still within a context of an e-learning experience, make sure that there’s, hands-on, there’s not each assignment or learning material needs a particular screen, but it still is asking children to inquire, to engage in the curiosities that they have for our younger children. Making sure play is central to whatever we’re sharing with families for older children, making sure that they’re still connecting with their peers. So how can we in the midst of this different context, still have the education that still feels for us like Baker. It’s actually a huge, incredible opportunity that will make us better and we’re really excited for what is to come.
Jordan: One of the things that I’ve always been impressed with Baker for, and probably most progressive schools is this idea that children learn through exploration and adaption. And while maybe a lot of us would look at the changes we have to make based on the Corona virus as a bad thing. It seems to me that schools that grew up in a progressive education environment are much more likely to embrace, adapt and grow this new environment and look at it more as a challenge and a chance to learn as opposed to a second-rate option.
Carly: Absolutely. I think that frame of mind needs to shift. What are the possibilities given this moment? I firmly believe that we are through this experience, creating the next group of scientists, of physicians, of children that are deeply curious about what’s happening and are through this Seminole experience, having all sorts of thoughts about their own future. And what we know is the last 48 hours has so rapidly shifted so many assumptions that public officials have had that in my case school leaders have had. How can we make sure as children move on into their futures, that their orientation is toward adapting toward shifting toward pivoting toward all being well, but having the mental, emotional intellectual resources to adjust to a situation?
Jordan: And do you think parents should be relying on their school systems and e-learning to provide that focus time, or is it incumbent on them to also be supplementing extra with their own educational experiences and chance for the children to focus?
Carly: Parents have a lot on them right now. And I think that there is no one thing that I could say to parents about what they should do. What they should do right now is take care of how they’re feeling and their emotional state. Ideally schools are partnering with parents that are providing those opportunities for focusing time. And we know that this has come upon schools really quickly and the larger the school potentially the more challenges there are with implementing this type of model for education in such a short amount of time. So, there’s a lot of limitations, but I would say that oftentimes children are the ones that come up with the focus time. So, if the school isn’t providing, if the parents don’t have. How can the children’s interests be the opportunity for that focus time? All of us need it in our life. We feel better when we’ve been able to think in a flow light manner where we’re not distracted by a lot of different stimulus. It’s a type of quality of thinking that Dan Siegel’s talking about with focus time. So how can we provide that? And maybe for some children, it’s found in a really incredible book that they are just hunkered down and reading. And at the beginning of the podcast, you talked about the questions that children might have the historical reference to the Spanish flu. There are so many interesting inquiries that children might follow because they were interested in what’s happening right now. And what has happened in relationship to science and viruses.
Jordan: And to also reassure parents, sometimes we forget that these are short term difficulties and school administrators, as well as teachers will be incorporating this short-term change into the long-term educational plan. So whatever resources are not available during these weeks or even months in which the kids can’t attend school, except virtually all of those things will be considered when curriculums are modified for future semesters and years.
Carly: That is such a reassuring statement. I wish I had said that. Yes, even this morning, I was in a video conference with our summer camp team and they already had ideas for how we’re going to shift offerings in the summer camp and how we’re going to offer more specific academic areas of focus, given that for children in our area and for their parents, this is going to be a need. We don’t know how long this is going to last, but we do know that when we come on, the other side of it, children are going to need different things.
Jordan: And last but not least, I think we cannot end this conversation without bringing up this idea of mindfulness and connection. Certainly, for our kids to be healthy at this time, when they may feel a little more isolated than usual. How do we bring the sense of mindfulness and connection back to their daily routine?
Carly: Oh man, it’s so important. Even the social distancing language itself. I mean, I wish it would slightly shift to be physical distancing because we know that children need deep connection. And so, the ways that through technology, we can facilitate those connections is going to be essential for them, with their friends, with their relatives, with people in their life that really matter to them that. Maybe they aren’t in touch with as much. But right now, seems to be an important time. It’s just a time to renew those and to engage those really wholeheartedly. The part that Dan Siegel talks about in terms of the mind in time, he talks about it. The inward time, it’s important for children to have tools to manage their own stress. We know in our culture that children’s anxiety rates have really radically increased. It’s interesting, it’s really correlated to the advent of the smartphone and the engagement of technology. So right now, many schools are doing the good work of making sure that children have tools to recognize how they’re feeling, to recognize something that’s anxiety provoking through mindfulness practices in schools. We have a rate group in our middle school that does a lot of meditation. And in fact, the favorite and one of the seventh-grade advisories is LeBron James, who we know is fabulous in so many ways, but also has this incredible voice and leads, mindfulness sessions that our children follow. But, you know, there’s all sorts of resources and mindfulness meditation is not everyone’s thing. But what is in your toolbox? Is it a run? Is it taking a good, long walk? Is it diving into a book that you love, but what are those things that keep you calm and centered as an adult? And then how can we make sure that, you know, it may be different for your child, but what are those things that should be in their toolbox that they find comfort and relief and focus from?
Jordan: Well, Carly I think this has been a great conversation about what we talk about as in an unprecedented time, if people want to know more about helping their children cope and maintaining a healthy environment while kids are staying home from school. Where can parents find more information?
Carly: I imagine that if your feeds are like mine, that they are full of places for parents to find all sorts of good information. There’s a few that I think are really important. First of all, the trusted sites that you normally go to. So, places like PBS or NPR are putting out great content right now that’s specific to children. And I think those are great sites for parents. I also love the child mind Institute, which has a number of really great resources. Dan Siegel, who we talked about on this show has a lot of great resources and blogs. Always it’s important to remind people that the CDC is an important source for questions that you have around the virus and its transmission.
Jordan: Certainly, there’s no textbook that tells us how to get through these times that are changing ever so rapidly, but clearly focusing on our children’s wellbeing will help them as well as us get through these difficult and uncharted times. This has been the K-8 Collaborative podcast and behalf of myself, Jordan Gromit and my cohost Carly Andrews. We hope you found this episode about the Corona virus and the changes that’s causing in our educational system and our lives be sure to catch us next time where we’ll be discussing the importance of having wonderful teachers.
Episode 2: A Progressive Education
On Episode 2, Jordan Grumet and Carly Andrews discuss progressive schools. Their discussion includes a basic overview of the history of the progressive movement in the United States, the practices of a progressive school, and ultimately how this tradition prepares children to be life-long learners.
Resources mentioned in episode:
Episode 2 Transcript
Speaker 1: This is a project funded and created by the Baker Demonstration School.
Speaker 2: I just think it’s different than any old school. Not every school has a swimming pool and not every school has so nice teachers. I mean, we have really nice teachers and I’m pretty lucky that I get to have really nice teachers.
Speaker 3: I like how it’s different from other schools.
Speaker 4: It’s a much more creative environment.
Speaker 5: It also means a smaller class, which means you can really get work done and focus and I think that’s pretty great.
Speaker 6: We do Math and Science and we also do Latin and Science and they’re all connected.
Speaker 7: There’s a lot more freedom in the style of teaching and it’s because it’s a smaller class and it’s slightly more intimate that’s able to take place.
Speaker 8: I love at school, the individualized approach.
Speaker 9: You feel a lot more open to ask questions. It’s a good environment.
Speaker 10: In Social Studies, I know that we’re going to be talking about Hiroshima and the bomb, dropping the bomb. We’re going to have a bit of a debate and I like debates and arguments, so I think that’ll be really fun.
Jordan: Welcome to the K-8 Collaborative podcast where we move the discussion on schooling forward.
Carly: Through the lens of a progressive education.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Gromit, podcaster, doctor and proud father of a creative, energetic and empathic sixth grader.
Carly: And I’m Carly Andrew’s writer, teacher, mom and head of school.
Jordan: And today we are going to discuss what is a progressive education. Carly, I wonder about this all the time because I hear that term progressive and then I’m wondering is there a specific definition?
Carly: Maddening though it is, there is not. There are many characteristics and associations that are common in schools that call themselves progressive but there’s not one definition. Many people talk about it as a type of learning that really changes the relationship between the teacher and the student. A type of learning that has more depth than breadth that engages students actively rather than passively. So, there’s all sorts of ways you could talk about it but not one common two sentence definition that I could share.
Jordan: One of the things that I’ve noticed is since the definition is a little bit elusive, it’s much easier to talk about the different values associated with a progressive education as opposed to trying to get into the weeds of specifically what words fit the phenomena.
Carly: You’re really right and schools that are progressive really have a commonality in terms of these values and they may look different in each of the settings, but the value of themselves really, really shine clear.
Jordan: When do you think modern day progressive education movement started? You know, interestingly, it was around the turn of the century and even better it was around the city of Chicago. There were many progressive educators here in the city that were working with people internationally that were developing the movement. People like Maria Montessori, the folk schools in Scandinavia, and so Chicago was a bit of a hub. What was really happening at that time was within the industrial revolution, there was this radical change in society. There was this unease in terms of wondering for children what they were going to do. There wasn’t necessarily like we have today the sense of what am I going to do and the sense of openness of that or potentially the fear of that. You know, if your family had farmed the land that you lived on for hundreds of years, you were really brought into that through [inaudible] ship and learning by working with the elders in your family. And so at this time this radical change really created a bit of a destabilization in the culture and what was really happening in the educational movement was this larger idea that what we thought we would do, which is to educate children for a particular trade is no longer possible because the changes are happening so rapidly. So, what we need to be able to do is to make sure that children can be adaptable, that whatever they do in their life, they can learn how to learn.
Jordan: I almost feel like when I was looking at the history of a progressive education that there was a flurry of activity in the twenties and then it seems like in the 1950s after both world war one and world war II, there was a move to more concrete, traditional educational pathways and the movement almost seemed to disappear for a while. And now it’s had quite a resurgence in the nineties and two thousand does that sound right to you?
Carly: Yeah, it sure does. And the historical timeline of it, the launch of the Russian spaceship, Sputnik, again, it was another moment of fear in the country and this idea that the Russians were technologically more advanced, scientifically, mathematically more advanced. And so, the country and the values at that time were really around making sure that we kept pace with those things. So, there was a real emphasis on skill and being able to measure skill. There was a really seminal document called a nation at risk that really charged people and created a sense of fear and worry about what was the weakness within the educational system in the United States. So, it’s interesting, I just was reading this article by David Brooks in the times that was talking about how Scandinavia got great. And he talks about the development of schools. At that time, they were called folk schools and this idea that if people were going to be able to contribute to an emerging industrial society, they’d have to have more complex inner lives. And so, the complexity of the education and education that helped people understand complex systems interrelationships was much more important than what was really emphasized, you know, midcentury in the United States. This idea that you read, you do math, you recite the facts of history, you know a little bit about science and you can test, well. The United States really went down still a pretty traditional path and there were not many schools at the turn of the century that were following the philosophies of the progressive educators like John Dewey, Elizabeth Harrison, Francis Parker, and even Montessori.
Jordan: So, it sounds like we made a move towards categorization, classification and skills assessment and maybe away from some of the more creative means of educating our children at that point.
Carly: Absolutely. And I think that’s a really great point and I think that was a place where education moved more into the hands of the legislators. This was also not a time where our decisions were really rooted in what we understand about child development and what we understand about cognitive science and the best ways that children learn.
Jordan: So, in contrast to that view of the midcentury, I was looking for a sentence that sums up kind of at elusive nature of a progressive education and I saw it written that meeting children’s needs should take precedence over preparing future employees.
Carly: Well, I love that statement because when you think about child development, you could have all these things that you want for a three-year-old to accomplish in their future life but you’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t make sure that the three-year-old is getting what they need developmentally at that time.
Jordan: Let’s talk about some of the key values associated with a progressive education. The first and foremost I see is attending the whole child. Talk about that a little bit.
Carly: What’s really cool is we know that children learn better, that their learning has more depth, that their learning is broader, that their memory is stronger when a lot of different things are happening. So, if a school simply attends to a child’s cognitive development but doesn’t, for example, make sure that there’s a lot of opportunities for fitness, for movement during the course of the day, then those cognitive goals are not met. So, the idea around the whole child, and it’s become a bit of a cliché in our culture, but I think it’s really an important concept. It’s this idea that children are not just cognitive beings, they’re physical beings. I had a doctor when my daughter was very young who would always say, when I would complain about something happening, she would always say, well, has she had enough sleep? Has she been eating? And this idea that children are bodies and their bodies need to be taken care of. We know that the brain is a dynamic organism. It’s not static. It constantly needs input.
So, we have to make sure that children’s physical needs are being met. There’s also really great research that is really linking their fitness to better cognition, to better regulation. We know that when children are able to have times for recess during the course of the day at our school, they’re swimming. Those experiences enable them as they move into their next math class to really do so well. You know and in addition to that, we know that children can’t learn if they’re not feeling safe, if they have an environment where they’re not connecting with their teachers, the adults in the building, their classmates. So, all of these things associated and emotional lives of the children, their physical lives and their cognitive selves are all in development and they’re not all growing at the same pace at the same time. So when you think about children, what’s really important is that a child may have this incredible aptitude toward abstract thinking in the fifth grade, but socially may not be reading the abstract clues in an interpersonal interaction and may need some coaching about really concrete ways to join and play without offending a group. It’s just really cool, right? Just to think about the ways that children learn. And this idea around, you know, neural diversity that how one child learns could be so different than how another does.
Jordan: When we talk about looking at the whole child. Of course, we’re talking about intellectually and physically as you were talking about. We’re also talking emotionally and I tend to think of that other big you word that I at least connect with a progressive education, which is empathy. It seems to me empathy is a big part of that whole child care we see in progressive education.
Carly: It’s so essential for children and oftentimes people think that you either have it or you don’t. Empathy is something that can be taught and it is something that is a set of skills of being able to take a different perspective, being able to imagine another’s experience. Empathy is a huge imaginative act, right? And that’s also something that links into how children experience their early days. So, it’s an important glue for the community and it’s important for their future lives. If this three-year-old who moves into college cannot imagine the world from another perspective, then all is lost.
Jordan: So, we’re talking about the different key values associated with a progressive education. You’re just talking about attending to the whole child. The next on the list here is collaboration and I find this an interesting idea because we’re really talking about collaboration on a bunch of different levels, right? We’re talking about between teacher and student, between student and other students and also the formation of mentor apprentice relationships. Talk a little bit about how collaboration plays a role in the progressive education.
Carly: Well, one of the most exciting parts about a progressive education in terms of collaboration. Is this idea that teachers learn with students and that paradigm shift is central. So, children grow up in a schooling environment where the teachers are not the source of knowledge, rather they are the co-learners, so they may delve into a topic that the teacher is not an expert on, but the teacher knows how to learn and can model all of those skills. In addition to modeling just the love and joy of trying to figure something out. I walked into a Math class yesterday and both Math teachers laughed and they said, you have come at the perfect time. We are totally stumped this is seventh grade Math class. They were talking about some complexity that right now I cannot recall but to watch them then model the skills for how to solve the problem with the class and also their sense of ease in not knowing was so important and what it says for students is it, first of all it says you’re invited.
Learning is not about knowing everything. It’s about knowing how to ask great questions and I love that invitational part of this paradigm shift. I think also with this idea of collaboration is the point you made earlier about the importance of empathy. When we have 16 other children in a class and a child gets to come to school every day and interact with those other children and children in other classes and children in their buddy class, they have this incredible opportunity to learn about experiences that are different from them. And it really is at its core, one of the best things that a school can do because if our children aren’t able to leave our walls and really be able to interact and relate to a wide variety of people and aren’t able to be empathic and are unable to figure out how to change their tactics or change their communication styles in order to connect, they’ve really aren’t best situated for moving out into the world.
Jordan: You use the term invitation and one of the things that I noticed with my daughter is there is also an invitation, I think from the other students as well as the teachers to take a leadership role. So, this idea of rotating leadership that everyone is invited at a time, that they feel comfortable stepping up and being the leader or being the teacher. And I think that’s very different from what we would think of as a traditional education where the roles of teacher and student are very defined.
Carly: Oh yeah. And that’s so powerful, right? For a growing young person to be able to take a leadership role, whether it’s in a project that they’re leading, whether it’s around a subject that they’re really curious about that they just learned a ton about, whether they’re presenting about an engineering or design model. It’s positioning students in a way that builds their confidence and their sense of self. It also helps them hone in on what they’re interested in. Yeah, so that’s a really, really exciting part of collaboration in a progressive setting.
Jordan: I’ve also seen social justice mentioned as a major tenant of a progressive education. What role does social justice play in this setting?
Carly: Well, John Dewey in early writings about progressive schools really talks about the point is that schools are creating citizens and citizens who can think through complex political issues, who can understand the economic and the historic and the cultural and can contribute in a way that is meaningful so that our communities and our cultures are strong and safe and healthy. And so, if we think about this idea of educating citizens and not simply students, they are inherently than contributors to a society. And if they are going to contribute, then they need to really understand the issues at play, the power dynamics, the inequities in the system. They need to be able to have agency to be able to lead. Let me give you an example. We had a second-grade class that was studying about what’s called the council of the three fires. Their general questions started out with who was here in this culture on this land prior to us. They learned about what was called the council of the three fires. So, these are the people that were on this Ridge of land that we occupied close to Lake Michigan and they were learning all about their practices and the ways that the community tended to the land. And also, at that time we’re really interested in what is emerging in many places and called a land acknowledgement.
So, this idea that universities, places of worship, other community organizations are writing what’s called a land acknowledgement in order to simply be able to say we honor the people that were here before and what they did to care for this place. And as they’re learning about what land acknowledgements are, they researched what the city of Chicago did. They’ve just adopted a land acknowledgement but they noted that Evanston and Wilmette where we currently are red on the border, both do not have them. You know, in addition to all this historic understanding they have of the place and their emerging understanding of the history of land acknowledgements, they worked with several native peoples to be able to write the land acknowledgement that they proposed for Baker. At that point, the eighth grade was working with them on developing this. So again, you have the second grade and eighth grade collaboration that’s happening. So cross grades can really meet and not just to play outside together, but they can meet around intellectual issues. They develop this land acknowledgement and then they invited our alderman who came to school, they presented the land acknowledgement and really engaged him with a reason why it matters. They talked through the history, they talked about how much of this history is unknown and unacknowledged in the city of Evanston and the village of Wilmette. And they then asked, how can we get this adopted? How can the city of Evanston adopt this and how can we make it visible for our community?
So again, this idea that all of a sudden you have this intersection of history and social justice and the way that they’re learning through collaboration across different ages and grades. And you know, one of the things that progressive educators talk a lot about is this intrinsic motivation. You know, a child may not be motivated to read a chapter about the council of the three fires and fill out five questions in response to what they’ve read. But I’ll tell you what, as I watch their meeting with alderman, they’re 45 kids sitting there totally passionate about what they want to do and super knowledgeable about why we should do it.
Jordan: This talk of intrinsic motivation reminds me of our conversation from the last episode about the B-mail, the mail system, the kids set up for the school and clearly that project was completely created newly for that group of students. So there really is a lot of intrinsic interest in the kids that drives the curriculum.
Carly: Absolutely, and the idea then within the progressive model and going back to doing an early work is this idea that if you don’t have love, if you don’t love to, if you don’t love what you’re thinking about in that moment, you’re not going to be able to adapt, which is what the economic forces at play are going to require of you if you’re going to survive and thrive. So, add it’s rude if a child doesn’t love learning, that for us is a real danger sign.
Jordan: And as we mentioned, these projects that have occurred at Baker, I’m thinking of another key value associated with the progressive education and that’s deep understanding. When you talked for instance about these land agreements, it’s clear the students had to delve deeply into the philosophy, but also the structure as well as our own political system to understand how to create a plan that they could actually take action on.
Carly: So, content is something that oftentimes when legislators are thinking about how do we capture what students know, content seems to reign Supreme because it’s much easier to test. But actually, students need to know how to think. They need to know how to ask really smart questions. And so, you could have a program where they really learn a ton of content. Maybe they’re able to really regurgitate it really quickly. Maybe they’re able to test really well but what we’re interested in and what progressive educators in the movement are interested in is how can we make sure that students can think deeply. So again, this idea around complexity that if children are moving into what is a complex economic future, how can we make sure that they are able to think in complex ways.
Jordan: And this relates to another tenant which is active learning as we’re describing these projects. Clearly the kids have to take a very active role. They’re just not passively absorbing information.
Carly: One of the things that we always talk about is that your third grader learns all the habits of mind that are essential to this developmental age but how we’re doing it is through active learning. And again, that is what keeps that intrinsic motivation in place. That’s what keeps the love in place. That is what also keeps that interest of the child. You could learn an algorithm for a particular math problem or you could build a model. The progressive classroom would favor that model because children are building and doing something and so they’re therefore understanding the way it can be used, the inherent challenges involved, the way that they might continue the exploration of it. So, it’s something that is really essential. So, children are learning through doing coding, writing, creating music rather than learning about how to do them. It seems totally obvious, but yet we have created for the last hundred years a whole school system that doesn’t embody that at all.
Jordan: I was about to say, it seems obvious, but the progressive education actually sounds different than traditional in the sense that it takes kids themselves very seriously, that kids are elevated to that level where they can be very active participants in their own education. Maybe they can even drive their own education as opposed to passively going along for the ride.
Carly: The commonality amongst progressive educators from Dewey to Montessori to Clara and Edna Bell Baker, our founders of our school. Is this idea that preschool is essential that children know where they want to go and our job is, as Maria Montessori said, follow the child and it’s a radical turn philosophically and sometimes I think rubs people the wrong way. You know, this notion of adults should teach children and adults have power over children. And what she would say is that children by the age of five without formal schooling, they have learned how to walk. They’ve learned how to run; they’ve learned how to speak a new language. Some children in bilingual contexts have learned how to communicate in two different languages. All of those things without formal schooling. You know, imagine a child at a beach and they have a shovel and they’re digging a hole. An adult walk by and takes this shovel from the child and says, Oh, let me do this. The child then cries and asked for the shovel back. The child that’s digging the hole is building the muscles that are going to be needed for them to be able to have the fine motor skills later on in order to draw a picture or communicate a love letter to someone you know. So, it’s idea of the children know how to grow and it’s the job of adults to observe them and to put them in environments where they can thrive.
Jordan: So, we’ve talked about some of the key values and tenants associated with a progressive education. What is a progressive education? Not can you dispel any myths or rumors that people miss associate with this type of education?
Carly: The myth of progressive education is that you can’t measure it. While progressive schools do not overly rely on standardized testing to map every area of growth for a student. What is very clear is that this type of learning really produces students that can really do amazing things. And so, there’s so many ways that we’re able to track this qualitatively and quantitatively through portfolios, through reflections, through testing, through observations of their work, through interviews. It absolutely can be documented. I think the second thing it’s probably related to that is this idea that it’s a free for all. Like there’s no curriculum, there’s no testing, you know, it’s kind of a loosey goosey model and we always talk about this idea that actually for this type of model to run really well because it requires and depends on student autonomy. It requires so much planning, so much improvising, so much late at night teacher work to be ready for the next day. It’s hardcore.
Jordan: In the first part of the show, we discussed some of the key values of a progressive education and what sets it apart from traditional modalities. In the second half, we will drill down on how Baker fits into this framework, but first, the K-8 Collaborative podcast is brought to you by Baker demonstration school. We are a school for the innovative curious challenge seeking students who will greet their future with eyes wide open and full of wonder. Our preschool through eighth grade students thrive in our unique experiential and dynamic learning environment located on the border of Evanston, just minutes from Chicago. Baker is a private school nationally recognized for educational excellence and serves the students in preschool through 8th grade. Our philosophy is rooted in a simple but powerful idea. An education should do more than help a child Excel academically. It should prepare them to thrive throughout life, no matter how different the future may look. While academic excellence is at our core, our hands-on dynamic learning curriculum is designed to inspire curiosity, creativity and collaboration. Learn more by visiting us at Bakerdemschool.org, that’s B A K E R D E M S C H O O L.org.
Carly, I feel like there’s a continuum with traditional schooling on one end and full progressivism on the other. Where does Baker fall on this continuum and why?
Carly: Well, we call ourselves a progressive school, so on a continuum maybe we’re at 75%. So pass the middle and not on the extreme end and I guess maybe the way I would calculate that response would be that, we do a lot of curriculum planning and that planning centers on the child and is informed by the developmental age of the children and is informed by best practices that are constantly emerging. We don’t fall at the other end of the spectrum on a fully emergent curriculum. So, in other words, in a curriculum that is constantly being rewritten. Baker is nationally known in the progressive school movement. A part of the progressive education network has been mentioned in articles and books and many of our present in national conferences about the work that’s happening here.
Jordan: It’s important to note that a lot of students move on from Baker to non-progressive schools. What type of training is put in place to help those kids adapt to the new situations once they move towards a traditional high school setting?
Carly: Oh, I love that question and I love it because oftentimes it’s a question that people have wherever they are sending their children. This idea that if I want my child to go to X school does the period of time before that need to model that school in order for them to be successful. And I think what we would say is, okay, so if you want your child to be really successful in elementary school, you want them to be able to read. You want them to be able to write. Then the preschool doesn’t necessarily have to look like an elementary school. And in fact, preschools that are really pushing really hardcore reading and writing programs at an early age are so challenging because developmentally children aren’t ready for that, it creates a lot of frustration. And so, it’s a sort of misnomer that it needs to look like the next situation in order for a child to be successful. You know what’s interesting is Baker grads come from an environment where they’re engaged with their teachers. The teachers are co-learners, as we’ve talked about, there’s this really beautiful collaborative relationship. And they also are coming from an environment where there’s a lot of interdisciplinary thinking and project-based work and many of them move into really great schools that would be more traditional.
And one of the things that comes out again and again, and in fact we even had an alumni day yesterday where we had 60 alums in the building having dinner with us and talking about their lives. And one of the things that comes up is this idea that Baker grads know how to advocate for themselves.
So, wherever a child is in a progressive setting, if they’re in relationships with teachers and that’s the norm, it’s the norm to say, oh my gosh, this concept around Hinduism is really confounding to me. Can we find a time and resource where I can come and talk with you about it? That is something that they take with them. So, for our kids, they go to about 80% go to two really big North shore public schools. Their classes are big. They all of a sudden who’ve come from a world where they know everyone know, like you know, 0.1% of the population. But the idea is, is that they still then carry that relational part through. So I mean we have talked with principals and teachers and coaches that say, you know a Baker kid because they come up at the end of the day of the first day and they introduce themselves or they raise a red flag and say, Hey listen, I love to really go over this math problem because that’s what they’ve been doing their whole life. They’re so well to be able to enter what is a much larger environment and what is a more traditional environment. They love learning. They can dive in in ways that really impressed the teachers that they work with.
Jordan: You mentioned before problem-based learning and I feel like that is also a major tenant of a progressive education. How do you find that the students adapt their problem-based learning skills to a traditional testing environment when they leave Baker and move on to their next school?
Carly: Well, if you are raised doing problem-based learning then more traditional based learning is basically easier because with problem-based learning there’s a lot more complexity. You’re not going for the right answer. You’re trying to evaluate the situation, the problem you’ve been given.
Jordan: This gets back to that aspect of a deep understanding of topics. If they go further in complexity, they tend to have an easier time answering your typical traditional testing type questions.
Carly: So, you know, one of the things that was happening this week, it’s been really fun in the middle school. We’ve had this roller-skating unit. Awesome. Right? So, the sixth-grade teachers working on the circulatory system, you know, it’s one of the standards of the sixth grade and really thinking about body systems. Students are working in teams and they’re deciding how many turns around the gym they want to go on their roller skates and they’re basically testing the resting heart rate and then they’re testing their heart rate after X number of laps and finding the percent change. So, when you grow up and you’re linking Math and Science MPE altogether and it’s small like one day project, I mean this isn’t a huge project, but it’s just an example of like how everything can come together. You’re seeing connections amongst things. So, it’s also a perspective that they take with them that if I’m not always learning in isolation, I may go to a more traditional school and my high school experience where it is more siloed. The perspective that I bring is that I’m able to see all of these different connections and that is brought to bear on the conversation of the class.
Jordan: So, if parents out there interested in a progressive education, how difficult is that to find in the United States today? Are there a lot of progressive programs out there?
Carly: Sadly, there aren’t a lot there in the public system. There are a few in the North shore because of all of the changes and federal requirements around testing, it’s just easier not to be progressive, you know, frankly for the teachers that work in a progressive environment, and I know that’s something that we’re going to talk about next time, but it’s a heck of a lot of work. It’s hard to think about at a full systems level and I think there’s so many things that public schools are doing and pushing forward that come from a progressive model, but to fully embody everything, it’s really hard.
Jordan: I’ve noticed that there is a definite move towards progressivism in traditional education as well, that public schools are studying and using some of their value system and tenants to build their own curriculums.
Carly: Oh yeah. And this is so exciting. I could not be happier. I mean, if you think about what we’re really about, which is to make sure that all of our schools are building children that can become citizens in a democracy. And we think about the complexity of the challenges that are facing this generation of students. Whether it is designing solutions to some of the precarious things that are happening in our world around climate change as one example, we need to have a generation of children that can think and design and create in radically different ways. So, I think it’s just exciting to see that inquiry-based movements that are happening in the public setting, the project-based movements, the ways that the interdisciplinary movements that are changing, how the system educates children.
Jordan: And you mentioned the challenges facing the next generation. I was happy to see that progressivism also seems to embrace technology. Talk to me about how technology plays a role in Baker’s curriculum.
Carly: You know, any technology we talk about, it’s a tool akin to the pencil. It’s something that is not something to be used for its own sake. It can help solve a problem. And so, we’re using technology in a way that’s authentic, that’s meaningful, and that allows children to still do the things that we want for them to be able to do, which is to think critically to create, to design. And so, technology becomes really essential from early units on coding as another way of communicating another language development at a young age through the fabrication lab that we’re currently building as a way for students to be able to express their ideas in more complex ways.
Jordan: Is there one program specifically at Baker that you feel really exemplifies its progressive nature?
Carly: I could talk to you about so many different grades and programs. You know, maybe what I could just do is talk about something that’s happening this week. What’s cool about my job is I get to see progressive practices in action with teachers and students throughout the year and it’s always evolving and all of that gets me so inspired. But one of the things that’s happening coming up is we have a Science Expo for middle school. The students have been looking at the UN sustainability goals and there’s 17. There’s a number of goals that are really key areas that the UN is focusing on in terms of sustainability. And so, what the students did is they picked one of those particular goals and then they created testable question around one of them that they are going to think about. The beauty of this is that the students have very different questions. They’re engaging in an area of deep interest to them. It’s connected to work that’s happening at a global level and what we’re asking them to do is to not recreate an experiment, to not recreate a lab, but to be able to create a question and create an experiment that allows for them to understand their hypothesis and that is pretty darn progressive and pretty cool.
Jordan: One of the things that as a Baker parent and maybe surprising for people to hear is even as far as the holiday assembly, the progressive nature of Baker is so obvious. So, for the holiday singalong, everything from the decorations to the emceeing, the assembly to the music, which some of it is written by the students themselves. Just shows what a full experience, everything the kids seemed to do in a progressive school. So, they seem to attack even things as routine as a holiday assembly, but do it in their own way.
Carly: I think that’s a great observation. In fact, tonight we have a class of students that is doing a performance in the theater. Going back to one of the first things we talked about, Jordan, if teachers are able to give up power and students are able to share in the responsibility, you know, the holiday sing is not a polished thing, but it’s a meaningful experience because the students have been a part of the full process from the early conception of it all the way through to the execution of it and same as the comedy of errors performance tonight. This is not something where we’ve hired a set designer who’s created polished, beautiful sets and yet the performance will be incredible because the students have been a part of it from beginning to end. They actually know what they’re saying and it’s this incredible physical comedy that they have delved into. So those can get out of the way a little bit and be okay with something not being perfect. It’s actually become something that’s far deeper, more meaningful when children are guiding it.
Jordan: And I’ve noticed that when we as parents let go of this idea of perfect, the kids tend to create something better than we had planned in the first place. And I see that quite often when I follow Layla to school events that the more, they seem to control the outcomes, the better the experience for everyone involved.
Carly: Totally. And you know when they’re able to have some autonomy, when they know that a lot is riding on them, they rise to the occasion and they feel all the confidence of that. And you know, when we think about these sensitive periods that are coming up for children, so for us in terms of like our middle schoolers, we know that neurobiologically this is a sensitive period in the life of a child. There’s a lot that’s changing culturally it’s challenging. And how cool is it that during this period and with this type of thinking, they’re growing in their confidence at a time that it seems as though confidence levels are at their lowest is when children are able to really own something and really bring their own ideas to bear on it. They just feel all of the confidence and excitement of that.
Jordan: The other thing is apparent, which has been wonderful to watch, is that they are able to come to these challenges and associate a sense of joy with them. So, whenever I see my daughter being challenged and enjoying it, it creates this feeling in me as a parent that she’s really learning.
Carly: Yeah, absolutely. That sense of joy and flow that happens when you’re deeply engaged in something and the resilience that comes from working through something and for the answer or the solution, that hypothesis that you had maybe totally wrong and how cool in that moment to reformulate and take the new information that you’ve learned and create a new hypothesis based on that. And the sense that children can develop a resilience, that learning takes time. There are moments of ambiguity and there are moments that seem opaque and how can they, in terms of their dispositions to learning, really have a drive in a curiosity that takes them through those harder parts of the journey.
Jordan: We mentioned before that unfortunately the number of progressive schools in the United States just isn’t that large. If our listeners are looking to learn more about a progressive education, what resources are available? How can they find a school around them?
Carly: The progressive education network is a source for us Baker Demonstration School, on our site, we have information about progressive education and the values and practices of it. There’s also a really great book called loving learning by a former head of school of park day school. His name is Tom little, and it’s a really wonderful book that describes different schools in their progressive practices over time.
Jordan: And of course, anyone can always visit us at Bakerdemsschool.org. That’s again, Bakerdemschool.org.
Jordan: This has been the K through eight collaborative podcasts. On behalf of myself, Jordan Gromit, and my cohost, Carly Andrews, we hope you found this episode about the progressive education informative. Be sure to catch us next time where we’ll be discussing. Excellent in teaching. And don’t forget to subscribe to the K-8 collaborative podcast on your favorite listening platform to stay up to date with the latest episodes.
Episode 1: Why Independent Matters
On Episode 1, Jordan Grumet and Carly Andrews discuss why independent schools matter. Their discussion includes a basic overview of what an independent school is, how it works, and what it ultimately means for children to be part of a school that is guided by mission.
Resources mentioned in episode:
Episode 1 Transcript
Intro: This is a project funded and created by the Baker demonstration school.
Speaker 2: My name is Layla Gromit. I’m in sixth grade and I go to Baker demonstration school.
Speaker 1: Is your school different from other schools you’ve attended in the past?
Speaker 2: Baker is different because everyone’s nice. The parents are nice, the teachers are nice and they’re always there to make sure that you’re okay and that you enjoy being there and that you don’t hate it.
Speaker 1: Do you get a lot of homework?
Speaker 2: I’d say I’ve gotten more homework than I have in the past. The homework isn’t bad. It’s not too hard but it’s really fun to do because we’re doing a science fiction story in Language Arts and it’s really fun to write and just express however you want to express whatever you’re doing in the story.
Speaker 1: Would you change anything about your school if you could?
Speaker 2: Not really. I feel like it’s so well put together that there’s not really anything that I’d want to change.
Speaker 1: Anything else you think we should know about your school? Anything special about it?
Speaker 2: Well, the special thing about the school is you come to school and there’s always our principal Ms. Andrews and she’ll just greet you and tell you hi and she’ll ask you how your weekend went or just how you’re doing. And it’s really special because, and the other school I’ve gone to, no one would ever do that for me.
Speaker 1: Does she greet you out at the front door?
Speaker 2: Yup. She stays there. She holds the door and she smiles and she always waste every single person that walks inside.
Speaker 1: Has she always done that as long as you’ve been going to the school?
Speaker 2: As long as I’ve been going to Baker, she’s always done that.
Speaker 1: Okay. Anything else you want to say?
Speaker 2: Nope.
Speaker 1: Welcome to the K-8 Collaborative podcast where we move the discussion on schooling forward.
Speaker 3: Through the lens of our progressive education.
Speaker 1: I’m Jordan Gromit, podcaster, doctor and proud father of a creative, energetic and empathic sixth grader.
Speaker 3: And I’m Carly Andrew’s writer, teacher, mother and had of school.
Speaker 1: And today we’re going to discuss the merits of an independent education. Now, Carly, I have to tell you the truth. The first inkling that an independent education would be different was watching my daughter. You see, when I went to school, I dreaded Monday mornings and I was abeyant Friday afternoons. My daughter Layla, who goes to Baker is nothing like that. Is this something you notice in the kids?
Speaker 3: School can be joyful. Who knew? One of my favorite jobs in my role is just stand at the door on a Monday morning and watch the children walk into school and say hello and see how their morning was. The beauty of watching them come in smiling, ready to go, feels great. School should be a happy, joyful place. You should look forward to coming on Monday. It should be happy Monday rather than happy Friday.
Speaker 1: I have to tell you; I do have some iconic images of Baker Demonstration School. One of them is that red door, which you stand by, but another is early on when Layla first started coming to the school, it was a real snowy day, just the worst of weather and as we dropped her off there, you were standing at the door welcoming the kids and it’s just a memory that has stuck in my mind.
Speaker 3: People always comment on it and the real truth of the matter is that it’s really the best part of my day. You think about the work that head of school does to be able to have a moment at the beginning of the day to be outside, to connect with each of the children, to be able to see in their eyes how they’re doing? It often allows me the opportunity to connect in a way that I can’t throughout the rest of the day, given my schedule. For me, it gives me information to, I’m able to notice something and go to that third-grade teacher and say, you know, so and so is having a really rough morning. We have a little conversation about this and give them a little head up. It’s a really joyful part of my day that I look forward to.
Speaker 1: We’re going to jump into a conversation about the differences in an independent school, but one of the things I immediately noticed as you were giving your answer is you use the term head of schools. Is that the same thing as a principal in a public school? What’s the difference?
Speaker 3: A Head of school as a term used in independent schools or director across the country. It is a little different than a principal and a little the same. How it’s similar is that a head of school in an independent school is responsible for the academic program of the school. Where it’s different is they’re also responsible for the financial, for the advancement and development for the revenue generation. So, in many ways it’s akin to a superintendent. It’s overseeing not only the academics, but the financial, the student experience, the parent experience, the alumni relations.
Speaker 1: And philosophically is there a reason to connect the academic with the financial?
Speaker 3: There are three great resources I think that all schools have, they have time, they have money, and they have people. If the finances of the school and the way the time is allocated in the school aren’t directly connected to the particular mission of the school. If you can’t look at the finances and see the strategy there, your off base. So yeah, I mean that’s what I love about my job is as a head of school working in a mission driven organization, we can look at everything from the lens of that mission. We can look at the academic program, we can look at the finances, we can look at how and what we’re raising money for. We can look at our marketing and it all needs to be able to really align and I love thinking about the ways that schools can better align.
Speaker 1: So as usual, I’ve jumped to before even starting with the basic definitions, let’s go back to the basics. What defines an independent school?
Speaker 3: An independent school financially is not funded by state government or federal government dollars. Its finances come through two parts. The first is tuition and the second is through fundraising. Independent schools have traditionally in the history of our country were present before public schools. And have continued on through the evolution of public education. So, an independent school has a particular mission that is very distinct and unique and really sets up the structure, including the finances and advancement efforts in order to fulfill that unique mission. There are many, you know, just an hour or two North of us that have outdoor education related missions. There’s a some range from very traditional to very progressive.
Speaker 1: We mentioned already that the titular head is the head of schools. Are there other structural differences that are common to independent schools that set them apart from public?
Speaker 3: The business office that’s usually in a public setting housed at the district level, the communications and marketing. That’s usually a part of the district level is all housed in one place in an independent school. So, there’s, you know, the students and the teachers and the division heads that are working on the academic program. But then there’s the business office and the advancement director of communications and the director of finance all working within the same building.
Speaker 1: And how are these schools accredited? Is there a governing body for independent schools?
Speaker 3: Yeah, there are around 1600 independent schools across the country that are affiliated with the national association of independent schools NAIS. NAIS as the national body then has accrediting bodies that are related to regions. So, for example, here in Chicago, ISACS the independent school association of the central States has an accreditation review process every seven years. Every year there’s something that the school is doing related to their accreditation, which culminates in a large self-study that the school does and a review team that comes and reviews the school.
Speaker 1: And you mentioned that some of the original schools in the United States were independent schools. You mentioned 1600 schools. Do we have any idea how many students actually go to independent schools on any given day in the United States?
Speaker 3: Over 700,000.
Speaker 1: You had mentioned before this term mission-driven, and I hear that a lot when people talk about independent schools. What does that mean exactly?
Speaker 3: It means that we as a school work to define our mission as representative of the board of trustees and the originating founders and that mission then guides our work. And what this allows is for us to have a very distinct program, we can define our academic mission and relationship to the larger mission and be able to have a distinct way of educating that is aligned with our founding.
Speaker 1: Philosophically. Sounds like independent schools are freer to look at the child and have that whole child hypothesis when deciding their curriculum. Is that fair to say?
Speaker 3: In a progressive school, we’re interested in a few core things and the first is that children learn the habits of mind and the skills related to particular disciplines that are appropriate to their age, just as all their peers in public and other private schools. But in a progressive school like Baker children learn that through hands on experiential means. That’s really central. The second is what you have just alluded to this idea that yes, a child’s cognitive development so matters to us, but that can’t happen and it doesn’t happen. Well, I believe in any setting if a child isn’t able to show up and to be seen and to be loved and to people that notice what their curiosities are, what their interests are, and see their identity and encourage that development. So absolutely, I think that no great educational experience comes at the expense of not being able to show up and be who you are. Our teachers are successful. Every one of them here embodies this idea of being in relationship with students. We can’t have a teacher at Baker that doesn’t love to be in relationship with students that doesn’t love that banter as they’re walking down the hallway that doesn’t love sitting by them at lunch and talking about something that they’re planning for the weekend, that doesn’t love diving into a really complex math problem with them. All of those things are essential for children to grow.
Speaker 1: And this hearkens back a little bit to the conversation we had at the beginning where we discussing this idea of being excited on Monday morning as opposed to wanting to stay in bed and not go to school. That joy wasn’t a part of my education and I see it much more in my daughter and I suspect a lot of what you were just talking about is the reason why.
Speaker 3: Yeah, and you know Jordan, we have children that start at age three. We go through the eighth grade and we have so many families coming to find us in between really the third and fifth grade and the story is so similar. It’s that idea that my child has loved learning for much of their life. All of a sudden, they don’t want to get up in the morning, they don’t want to go to school. They’re changing right before the parent’s eyes and it’s that loss of interest and engagement that was once such a profound part of who they were. This idea of education at its core has to retain a love of learning. If children are moving out into their future and are going to need to lead in the ways that they’re going to need to lead. If they are going to really substantively respond to the complex issues of climate change, to the design and engineering complications that they will inherit, they can’t do that without retaining their love of learning. We firmly believe that without a love of learning, we’ve lost our power
Speaker 1: And I’m interested that you mentioned that kind of third to fifth grade period. That was when we transferred with our daughter Layla and the biggest difference we noticed, which probably has increased her happiness quite a bit is the change of empathy. What we found at Baker, and I suspect lots of independent schools is a very empathic environment and when kids are put in an empathic environment, they tend to learn better and feel better about the process and certainly that was our experience.
Speaker 3: That’s a really great observation and I think it’s so interesting when children are, you know, really up into the third grade, they’re very concrete. It would be very developmentally appropriate for a child to look at another child and say, wow, your left eye is bigger than your right eye because it’s something that they noticed and to them it’s true And so this sort of idea of how do you during this developmental period create this new level of cognitive growth, which is my experience of something is only one small sliver and somebody in even in my realm and my circle of friends could really experience something in a very different way than I could. It’s a revelation, right? The work of great schools and certainly work that we’re committed to is this idea that we can’t actually depend upon the environment, the culture, the family to teach empathy.
We hope that those are in place in the synagogues they attend in those, but the family dinner table. But it is our responsibility to make sure that in the space of the school that we are proactively teaching it and having conversations about it and doing roleplays and in whatever developmentally appropriate way having it as a part of the conversation. You with your family are able to teach your children so many things through the travels you take through the books you talk about together through the ways that you prepare a meal. But what we offer as a school is those 16 other children and all of the conflicts that come up with them, all of the different opinions, all of the different cultural, racial, socioeconomic backgrounds that create the diversity of the classroom. And that is what we are saying is, Oh my goodness, the fodder for great learning.
Speaker 1: I want to parse out some definitions here just to be clear. Baker is a progressive school and up to this point we’ve been talking about independent schools. What’s the relationship between progressive and independent?
Speaker 3: Progressive defines a pedagogy that really started in Chicago at the turn of the century. People like Dewey, Francis Parker, our founders, Clara and Edna Baker, Elizabeth Harrison, who is the founder of national Lewis University. We’re all in conversation about how learning could support the radical changes that were happening in that industrial revolution. Interestingly, similar times, a hundred years apart. And so, what they were historically noting was that we can no longer teach for a particular trade because the trades are changing so quickly. So, Maria Montessori actually put it really beautifully. She talked about the need to teach for adaptability.
This idea that I can learn how to learn and I can do that throughout my life. So progressive schools within an independent school tradition are those that are teaching through hands on experience. We would not define ourselves as the college prep school. A School, where the teacher is the center of the learning. They perhaps deliver the learning through a lecture. The students are the recipients of that learning. They show their understanding through taking a test or through recitation or things like that. Now that’s a pretty traditional, even college prep schools are probably not that traditional anymore. But on the progressive side, the idea is that the child, rather than the teacher is the center of the curriculum. In many schools, the curriculum or the teachers the center. So how this looks is X school has purchased this curriculum. They do it from first grade through eighth grade come hell or high water no matter the type of students there that are in their classes. They are on day three doing X on day four Y for a progressive school. If the child is the center of the curriculum, there’s a heck of a lot of flexibility and creativity. Now there’s a really awesome part of this and there’s parts that people worry about.
What people often hear when we talk about progressive education and the child rather than the curriculum is center is the children may or may not learn a set of skills that are essential for their future growth. What we would say is absolutely, we are so committed to making sure that our children, when they’re graduating, I mean they’re headed into high level math, they’re headed into high level language classes. They are ready for their next step, but how we get to those skills in third grade may look different because this year’s class was a little bit more interested in the study of simple machines through the lens of architecture, for example, and that’s new this year. We didn’t do it that way last year because the other group had different interests, so it’s that idea that we can be flexible because we’re centering the work on children. That is what links back then to that idea of the level of learning that when children see what they’re interested in and their questions about the world are given space and time and are able to be investigated as the real work of school. How could you not love learning?
Speaker 1: It sounds like it’s safe to say that while not all independent schools are progressive, they probably lean a lot more progressive than public schools.
Speaker 3: Absolutely. In fact, as a part of ISACS, which is the independent school association of the central States, we have a progressive heads group that meets and it is so clear that regardless of our missions, so many independent schools are more under the umbrella of the progressive tradition, which is exciting. There’s a lot of commonality and conversation that can happen. You know Baker is been a part of national conversations in progressive ed for years, so it’s a bit of an anomaly. Sometimes we joke that we’re better, well known nationally than we are locally.
Speaker 1: I want to focus a little bit about the framework that the independent schooling system allows. Do you believe that independent schools allow for higher academic standards?
Speaker 3: What’s really incredible is because we are not beholden to a district wide curriculum or standards are able to actually elevate our standards and our curriculum in a way that fits the mission of our schools. So absolutely and I think that’s what’s really one of the really exciting things that’s going on right now. We’re able to differentiate and accelerate. I was in conversations yesterday with a family of a child who is so gifted in particular areas and the things we’re able to put forward to that family as ways to engage their child. It’s the freedom to be able to do that. That freedom allows for us to draw highly creative teachers who love to develop curriculum, who love to be responsive to the needs of students who would much rather in their second year do something different, refine something rather than do the same thing. Our best resource for children to have an amazing education are our amazing creative teachers.
Speaker 1: I noticed very quickly when Layla started at Baker that “A” class size was smaller and “B”, that a lot of the different level classes interacted with each other. So, when she was in third grade, she may have projects with fourth graders or second graders. And it took me maybe a year or two to realize that a lot of that where the innovative teaching techniques of the teachers do teachers in an independent school have a little more freedom.
Speaker 3: As a part of my work, I’m hosting a lot of different school visits and many of those visits are from public educators that themselves are really developing practices that we have at Baker and they’re coming to check it out. So, in fact yesterday we had a visit from a school district out West and that is one of the things that they commented on and what often educators from other settings comment on. Well, how they say it is this, your teachers are so happy. they love what they do. And I think you know, I mean you know Dan Pink’s work, I’m sure this idea that our engagement and happiness come from also a sense of autonomy. We’re connected as an organization. There are things that every teacher at Baker does because they work at Baker but they are able to have so much autonomy to develop curriculum and ideas and that fuels the whole experience.
Speaker 1: Talk about that curriculum process. How much freedom do the teachers actually have to innovate? How much can they change the curriculum from year to year?
Speaker 3: Let’s say having an understanding of a particular algebra concept that is essential, but what that skill also needs are particular habits of mind that will stay with the child through the rest of their lives. So, for us, perseverance is a habit of mind that we are actively cultivating and it’s something that’s noted in our progress reports. So, where they have the freedom is to develop the curriculum in response to those skills and habits of mind. But children through all of the particular touch points in a year need to be mastering those skills and habits of mind. For example, in kindergarten, children are developing their mathematical thinking, they’re developing patterning, which is so important in early math thinkers. They’re developing their literacy skills or spatial skills, and they had this visit a few weeks ago to the Wilmette post office and the conversation in the class after that experience continued and continued and great teachers notice, right? Like this conversation didn’t die out. It’s kept going. What they did is they built this replica of your traditional blue mail receptacle in your neighborhood, right, that you dropped holiday cards often.
New Speaker: They built that and then what they did was they created these postcards and made their own stamps. And then in addition to that, they zoned the school. So again, here’s where the patterning is coming in. They figure out the ways that they could zone the school. They created addresses for each of the particular offices or classrooms within those zones. And then again, talk about complex patterning. They created their own delivery routes. So, this did not happen last year and this whole, and we call it B-mail. So, this B-mail may not happen next year, but based on the work that needs to happen in terms of their skills that they’re learning in math and literacy and based on their interest in this visit to the woman post office, this experience is facilitated by this teacher.
Speaker 1: In the first part of the show we discuss what defines independent schools and what sets them apart. In the second half we will talk about the elephant in the room and how you can learn more. But first, the K8 collaborative podcast is brought to you by the Baker demonstration school. We are a school for the innovative, curious, challenge seeking student who will greet their future with eyes wide open and full of wonder. Our preschool through eighth grade students thrive in our unique experiential and dynamic learning environment. Located on the border of Evanston just minutes from Chicago. Baker is a private school nationally recognized for educational excellence and serve students in preschool through eighth grade. Our philosophy is rooted in a simple but powerful idea and education should do more than help a child Excel academically. It should prepare them to thrive throughout life, no matter how different the future may look. While academic excellence is at our core, our hands-on dynamic learning curriculum is designed to inspire curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. Learn more by visiting us @bakerdems.org that’s B A K E R D E M S C H O O L.org.
Speaker 1: Carly, I feel there’s an elephant in the room while discussing independent schools and that elephant is cost. I saw an estimate that the average typical day school costs around $21,000 per student per year. What does it actually cost to educate these kids?
Speaker 3: Most independent schools’ price themselves about 20% to 30% lower than the actual cost of the education. What that allows is for more affordability and it allows for them to use the fundraising advancement wing of their organization to raise money for the remaining cost of the education through endowments or through restricted gifts or through unrestricted giving. What that means is that families are typically paying less than the cost of education. Independent schools across the country are committed to ensuring socioeconomic diversity within their schools. So, there are robust financial assistance programs that are set up in order to ensure that children at every part of the income spectrum are able to be together in this education and reap the benefits of it.
Speaker 1: So, what percentage of students get some financial aid or another?
Speaker 3: Nationally I think it’s around 20%. At Baker, where on the higher end of 25 to 29% it’s an important and core part of our mission. We are not an elitist independent school. It’s not the feel when you walk in. It’s not a part of our mission to be. And so much great research, particularly at the college and university level really talks about, you know, the smartest, highest functioning teams are those teams that are diverse, that are not homogenous. And our responsibility is to enroll the most interesting, innovative, diverse student population that we can, all of our students benefit from that. Our financial aid is an essential part of how we see ourselves and our mission.
Speaker 1: Let’s talk a little bit about this idea of elite-ism. Certain independent schools in the past have been characterized in that way? Is that outdated thinking? Have the schools changed?
Speaker 3: I think there is a huge movement for change. Independent schools have traditionally been spaces, particularly at the turn of the century that were enrolling predominantly white students and ensuring their success individually and where real shift has occurred. Jordan is in this idea around the common good I have at schools with public purpose is a huge mission across the United States. It was started by an incredible school in San Francisco and the idea is that private schools go and need to, as a part of their mission go well beyond benefiting one individual student. They need to be serving the community good. Children are from a very early age thinking about issues within their communities. They are out in their communities doing particular work.
So, let me give you an example. Last year the second graders who were in engaged in an ecology unit learned that the stand of woods, probably a quarter of a mile from our school walkable on a great day. There was a measure before the city council to create a road that would eliminate the standard what’s called Isabella woods, so as a part of studying ecosystems and watersheds and the intricate complex ways they interact. They learned more about the legislation that was in front of the city council and worked with several people that were involved in making sure that people knew that this stand of woods mattered right away as an eight-year-old. The sense of being in the community of thinking about the common good is normalized. It’s not something that they do once a year with their family. It’s a habit of mind and so independent schools are best when they are positioning children to be thinking about the common good, about the community and the issues that face it. We don’t have a lot of bureaucracy that holds us back from walking over to that stand of woods and going to city council. What it does is it ensures that children from an early age are thinking about their community and feel those inextricable ties between themselves and the places where they live.
Speaker 1: I was really pleasantly surprised upon entering the Baker community is that the community is fairly diverse socioeconomically as well as racially and culturally? I have to admit, I wasn’t necessarily expecting that at the outset.
Speaker 3: It’s a real important part of our mission. As I mentioned historically, we have a lot of ground to cover and independent schools like Baker need to lead in these efforts. So, what we talk a lot about is when children enter Baker, they need to be seen for who they, racially, culturally, their identities need to have affirmations throughout the entire community. And so, what you’ll see is, you know as you walk into our kindergarten hallway, you’ll see that they’ve read this book called the color of us and they have painted the color of their particular skin tone and then they’ve written poems about their skin. And this idea of who I am, how I look is different from the person sitting next to me. And I am seen and I am affirmed and I am loved exactly for who I am. When you walk by the preschool classrooms, you see all of the pictures of the children and you see these questions that they’ve asked. The question that was up about a month ago was what is your family like? And they’ve written down all of the responses of the students to that question about their families. And what it allows for them is to talk about all of the differences within their family structures and again, be affirmed. Their family is different from the family of the child sitting next to them and that’s okay. They’ll turn when they enter school cannot have their identity left at the door. It needs to be firmly intact through their entire experience.
Speaker 1: I know, especially special needs children’s often find public school lacking. How do independent schools integrate special needs kids into their curriculum?
Speaker 3: I think we start philosophically with the idea that neural diversity is a norm. Each child thinks and learns very differently. Independent school is because of just small and large things in place in terms of the large part of the mission or the small part of, you know, being able to walk through your classroom. And get the supplies you need that are set out for you and have freedom of movement often helps children who maybe struggle with regulation in a more traditional setting and allows them to be successful. So, I think there’s so many things in independent schools that allow for children with learning differences to really thrive when we know that we don’t have the resources. It’s one of those moments where we’re frankly in conversation hoping to partner with the parents to be able to say, okay, what’s next?
Speaker 1: I’ve seen out there the suggestion that independent schools are cutting edge or some would even say the experimental labs of the education system. How do you feel about being labeled that way?
Speaker 3: I think it’s a core part of our responsibility. Listen, we are able to respond and change. We have personnel, our human capital of people who are creative and thoughtful and innovative. If we aren’t pushing the limits of what is possible in education, we’re not doing our job. This is why people are drawn to work in spaces like independent schools. I love the tourists I’m able to give to people from schools across the country to student teachers that are really trying to figure out the type of school that they want to teach in, to classes visiting from Northwestern, to graduate students who are thinking about organizational dynamics. It’s our job we’re laboratory and I think what that does is it benefit students in such an incredible way. We know that the old modes of education are no longer resonant and are not going to serve our children. The world is changing far too quickly to continue in modes that we know are no longer effective.
Speaker 1: I want to get specific here to Baker. How do you see Baker fitting into the independent school framework and are there differences that are unique to Baker?
Speaker 3: A few months ago our fourth and fifth graders were involved in this incredible entrepreneurial project called the Baker business school and it’s basically where they take an idea, they incubate it, they develop a prototype and eventually if they are given the funds from the venture capitalists, they are able to manufacture their product. The final culminating part of that is they put it up at a market that we have at our school on a Saturday. And so, they’re able to go through this whole process, all of the strategic thinking, all of the ways that they’re able to think about their math through the lens that they have as CFO of their company. The way that they’re able to think about video editing through the lens of being the marketing director of their business, the way that they’re able to think about humans and develop empathy and motivate their team if they are the CEO of the organization. All of those things are happening and what’s important is that this whole Baker business school experience isn’t something that’s created for the refrigerator. It’s developing this intrinsic motivation because students know that their audience, the people that are going to buy their product are deeply interested in what they have to produce, so their level of engagement, the quality of the work that they’re putting forward is so rich and they then once they sell the product, I shouldn’t have said that. That was the ending point.
The ending point is thinking about what to do with their profits. I think it was about an 1800, $2,000 check that they wrote to an that they had researched. They were interested in really thinking about children who had particular diseases and the ways that they as children could write a check to an organization with our profits and help something that is really hard for other children their age. It’s that idea of all of these skills are being learned through this context. The engagement of the student is so palpable and they’re having to think about their community and the ways that they give back all throughout the process and the way that that can seamlessly be integrated is so exciting and the memories that they have as they leave the alumni who come back and talk about this project, it’s just one of many. It’s not the only thing that happens in the fourth and fifth grade by any means, but it resonates on such a deep level and I think its that human component, that interest and curiosity all tied up together.
Speaker 1: My daughter came to Baker in fourth grade and one of the first thing she did was the Baker business school and I will tell you; I noticed a huge leap in her executive functioning from when she started that project to when she ended it. And the thing that really amazed me was how integrative and experience it actually is. So yes, they have to understand math, they have to understand English because they have to write out copy for their advertisements and their YouTube videos. They have to understand business and economics, they have to understand human psychology to think about what someone would want to buy and how to sell it to them. I just thought it was an amazing experience and something even much more simple than that is one of the first things she also did was a staycation project where her assignment was to plan a staycation in the city of Chicago and go on the internet and research how much it would cost to book a hotel room, go eat meals, maybe go do some sightseeing. And so, they were given a budget and given access to the internet and they had to plan a whole staycation. And it’s projects like these where I really felt that her learning just leaped forward.
Speaker 3: That’s such a great point around her executive functioning and all of those soft skills, and they probably shouldn’t even be called soft skills, right? The ability to organize your time and to organize your team the way that you have to learn how to resolve a conflict that comes up in the course of the manufacturing of a product or in the idea generation. How many adults do you know that they pitch an idea and they can’t step back from it and then move on to another idea? They’re so tied to it, but think about children at the fourth grade who have to pitch an idea and maybe the group doesn’t go for it, or the venture capitalists don’t fund it. You know, they’re learning like how to be flexible thinkers, innovate and marshal their resources in their next pitch. All of those things around communication, how to function well and thrive within a group. Those are so hardcore skills. Right?
Speaker 1: I’d like to wrap up here and of course we are big fans of Baker itself, but independent schools also in general, if people out there are interested in learning more about an independent education, what resources are available, how do they find the independent schools in their area?
Speaker 3: Baker can be found just as simply as I’m heading to our website, which is Baker Demme school, B A K E R D E M @S C H O O l.org. Any Google search independent schools near me, NAIS, if you’re in the Midwest, ISACS, I S A C S are great sites where you can really see the richness and diverse offerings. There are so many schools in our case in the Chicago area that are doing such interesting, innovative work.
Speaker 1: This has been the K-8 collaborative podcast. On behalf of myself, Jordan Gromit, my cohost Carly Andrews, we hope you found this episode about independent schools informative. Be sure to catch us next time where we will be discussing a progressive education. And don’t forget to subscribe to the K-8 Collaborative podcast on your favorite listening platform to stay up to date on the latest episodes.