Category Archives: curriculum

Boosting Our Math Curriculum With New Resources

One of the challenging but rewarding aspects of my role as Director of Curriculum and Instruction is making sure that Morgan Park Academy students and teachers have the educational tools and resources they need for 21st-century teaching and learning.

This fall, we have been excited to debut two major improvements that have boosted our math curriculum for grades 3-12. The numbers at the core of mathematics haven’t changed, but the tools and approaches our teachers employ to convey this often-vexing subject are ever evolving.

The principals, teachers, curriculum leaders, and I dedicated a lengthy review last year to our textbook needs for math in grades 3-8. In analyzing several options, we found an amazing package from educational industry leader McGraw-Hill that aligned well with MPA’s approach to teaching and learning. It offers digital accessibility to the textbook and materials, allows teachers to customize content, and provides supplemental tutorials and resources online.

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Technology Integration Defined

Technology Integration is a vital component of 21st century learning. In order to successfully integrate technology into the classroom, we must have an understanding of computer literacy. Computer literacy provides students with a background knowledge of basic hardware, software applications, internet, and problem solving skills. Students are learning key components of technology that will develop a skill set to promote lifelong learning. This skill set supports critical thinking, self-management, and social interaction, enabling the pursuit of further education and career goals. These skills are applied in the classrooms through effective communication, working collaboratively with peers, and through lessons that enable critical thinking.

_dsc4272Technology integration can take place in various forms, such as: 1:1 implementation (iPad or Chromebook), project-based learning (PBL) activities, flipped classrooms, game-based learning and assessment, interactive whiteboards, web-based research, along with creative projects that utilize the technology that we have available at MPA. As an educator, it is beyond exciting to see the evolvement of students while learning new forms of technology. Many struggle at the beginning and even have the desire to quit, but this is when words of encouragement are needed most, and most effective.  

Let’s take a closer look at “flipped learning.” Flipped Learning is a “pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter” (Flipped Learning Network). Basically every class at MPA exhibits this instructional method! This approach allows students to learn to work both as a group, but to become independent learners as well, all while engaging the students. One of the ways in which to successfully create this type of learning environment is to use technology.

Schools effectively integrate technology when students are able to choose technology tools that help them obtain information in a timely manner, analyze and synthesize the information, and present it professionally. Thus, making technology an integral part of how the classroom functions is necessary — technology should be as accessible as all other classroom tools. Because technology provides us with a universal learning platform for students, successful integration equates to successful learning. MPA exemplifies this theory through a rich curriculum of technology-integrated courses, which include Physics, Programming, and our Robotics Co-Curricular. Students will become lifelong learners through technology use, making choices based on talent and drive, rather than necessity.

By Shavonne Terry

Ms. Terry is the Educational Technology Coordinator at Morgan Park Academy.

Why I like being a teacher in an ISACS school.

Over the past two months, I have had the opportunity to experience three professional development opportunities: I presented at the Illinois Science Teachers Association (ISTA) in October, I went on an Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) accreditation team visit in late October, and I presented at the ISACS Annual Conference in early November. These three experiences reinforced the rewards of being a teacher at an ISACS school.

At the ISTA conference, I gave a presentation titled “Back to BINGO for Bio Vocab” in which I shared some tools that I use to help students learn complex biology vocabulary. Although I had been to ISTA as a participant for several years, this was my first time presenting and I was reminded of how intimidating it can be. At MPA, we constantly encourage our students to demonstrate their understanding of material in a variety of ways. We encourage our students to speak up in front of the class, design models of scientific inquiry, and propose new solutions to problems. We also have students present on a regular basis and they have developed the tools to collaborate with each other and be comfortable in front of a group of their peers. Presenting at the conference reminded me of how important it is to have opportunities for students to “show what they know.”

drownCurrently, I am in my 16th year of teaching at MPA, during which I have been through two ISACS self-study processes, a process that occurs every seven years for each member school. In late October, I had the opportunity to serve on an accreditation team for the first time and see the other side of this process. The collegiality and collaborative effort that is needed to be a successful accreditation team is tremendous. In the span of three days, the team needs to have a good understanding of the school they are evaluating and work together with other members from several schools in order to complete a detailed report. With this experience, I was again reminded of how well-prepared our students are to encounter situations such as these. Through activities such as Project Week, Service Days, and cross-division events, our students are exposed to many opportunities to work with people in different learning environments and achieve goals with people whom they have just met.

Finally, although I have attended several ISACS conferences over the past years, this was also my first time presenting at this conference. I delivered “Back to BINGO for Bio Vocab” to my ISACS peers. This session was extremely productive because although I was the official presenter, the collaborative effort in the room was fantastic. The proposal of new ideas and the contribution from all teachers present in the room was amazing. I came away from that opportunity feeling validated in strategies I was currently using and also challenged to think of alternative ways to continue building on tools that I currently use. This is another reminder of how at MPA we encourage discussion and sharing, and how we want students to be able to review the work of their peers and provide constructive feedback.  

In each of these three opportunities, I was reminded of the ISACS mission and vision: ISACS leads schools to pursue exemplary independent education. ISACS schools empower students to contribute and thrive in a diverse and changing world.

MPA is a place that embraces these goals and I am pleased with the opportunities that teachers in Independent Schools have to continue their learning.

By Emily Drown

Mrs. Drown is an Upper School science teacher and the Curriculum Leader for our Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Department.

Service-Learning in the Lower School

A common thread throughout our Lower School teaching is that students learn by doing. That underlying principle is woven into service-learning, too.

lizAccording to the National Youth Leadership Council, KIDS Consortium, service-learning projects work best when they fit the ages and developmental abilities of the participants, include interesting and engaging service-related activities, explore the context of the underlying societal issues the service addresses, and address needs that are important to the community being served. While these goals may sound lofty for our youngest students, our Lower School teachers prepared meaningful and personally relevant service activities for their children that encompassed all of the above.

The Upper School Service Council selected Conservation as a theme for the October All-School Service Day. Over the course of a couple of weeks, Lower School students investigated and addressed real-world issues using 21st century skills of collaboration, open-ended inquiry, and problem-solving. Meaningful learning was a result of an interdisciplinary, hands-on approach to teaching. Below are highlights of grade-level activities.

After reading The Earth Book by Todd Parr, students in PK3 talked about keeping the Earth clean and what the recycling symbol means. They became recycle detectives and hunted for the symbol around campus. Sorting games provided practice for separating garbage into appropriate cans and then students created large recycle bins. The preschoolers also set conservation goals including: using only one paper towel to dry off their hands after they wash them; remembering to turn off the water after they wash their hands; and, eliminating paper cups at snack time, using instead the reusable cups they made.

Although rain prohibited the students in PK4 from beginning their preschool garden, their conservation efforts were not dampened. Using puffy paints, students made Earth pictures and discussed ways conservation and recycling can protect the Earth. They decorated water bottles that will stay at school and be used in lieu of paper cups. A recycle versus garbage sorting activity helped students see how much trash they can actually reuse.

Students in kindergarten focused on recycling and discussed big ways their small hands can take care of the Earth and nature. After reading stories about helping the Earth and watching a video about what happens at a recycling plant, students wrote in their journals and created a Recycled Robot out of recycled boxes and papers. After examining their lunches, students found ways they could reduce their garbage, such as using reusable or recyclable containers and cloth napkins.

First graders learned about filtered water, which is an important part of everyday life. Humans need to drink water to survive, and clean water allows them to drink healthy water that promotes well-being. Students discovered filtering this water takes work! A hands-on science activity showed students how water filters remove sediment and other substances from drinking water.

Second graders  studied different energy sources and realized that some are renewable and others are non-renewable. They found examples of various energy sources in their lives. The children sang about several types of energy. In a “Today Show, Friday Summer Concert”-fashion, students presented their findings in several songs and interviews, using resources from the National Energy Education Development Project. Their Energy Rocks! series included student groups such as Bruce “Hot” Spring Steam and the Geysers singing about geothermal energy. Bernie and the Biomasters sang about waste heat. Madam and the Spillways harmonized about hydro-power. 10,000 Methanics, performed their hit single “Home on My Range” and taught listeners about natural gas. Unveiling their hit song “Solar Collection,” the band Fusion shared with listeners the power of solar energy. Darrieus and the Wind Spinners debuted “Watts on the Wind” and gave listeners a glimpse of blade power in wind energy.

Third graders drew inspiration form their summer read. In the novel, Marty McGuire Digs Worms, students were challenged to make something that is good or helpful to the environment. Our MPA students began working on an up-cycle project and created designs from recycled materials. Students presented their creations to their third grade peers.

In fourth grade, Middle School students visited and helped up-cycle cereal boxes and Lysol containers to make them more beautiful and useful for storage. The sixth grade class also shared books on conservation. We ended our service day with whole class and small group discussions on ways they could conserve in our community.

Fifth graders discussed conserving resources in school and at home. They focused specifically on recycling their garbage and conserving electricity. Students created signs for recycling bins to help them know what should go in recycling at home. They also designed covers for their light switches to help family members remember to turn off the lights when they leave the room.

Teachers set their students off on a path of guided-discovery and as a result, the students’ notions of conservation are both internal and personal. Because their learning was meaningful and developmentally appropriate, Lower School students’ understanding of conservation will last well beyond Service Day.

By Liz Raser

Mrs. Raser teaches second grade, is our Assistant Lower School Principal, and is the Curriculum Leader for the Elementary Team.

The World Needs More Rockwell

Norman Rockwell would have loved MPA. Way ahead of his time, in the 1950’s, he viewed himself as a citizen of the world. He would have appreciated our diversity, our global perspective, and our acceptance of one another. As Americana as Rockwell was, he was also a man who understood the interconnectedness of the world he was part of, the need for global understanding, and a man who, through his talent, cleverly forced his fellow citizens to come to terms with the injustice, discrimination, and bigotry in the society of which they were a part.

rockwellitHis painting “Golden Rule” (pictured right) is a famous image that was created for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. This beautiful image is not unlike the United Nations, the organization it was produced to commemorate, or MPA for that matter, in that it is both multicultural and ideal in the sense that it is reflective of a world in harmony and a reminder of our shared humanity. The “Golden Rule” first appeared on April 1, 1961, as a dedication to the United Nations to “reflect his appreciation for humanity as a citizen of the world.” Think of what a revolutionary idea that was in the 1950’s! The UN later adopted Rockwell’s image and today, a mosaic of it hangs in their headquarters in New York City, reminding us that, “it is about narrowing the gap between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be.”

Rockwell painted this at a time that challenged the world as it was and, in retrospect, helped to define what we, as Americans, actually wanted the world to be: The 60’s, a decade that addressed the injustice of social issues. Segregation. Integration. Bus boycotts and sit-ins. Religious intolerance and women’s rights. The War on Poverty. The Greensboro Four, Rosa Parks, Kennedy, and MLK. A time when “Do Unto Others” was too frequently interpreted to mean “Do Unto Others who look like you.” And here was Rockwell, confronting the hypocrisy of the world around him and creating this beautiful image of an America he envisioned –  a collection of global peoples, laying it out for the rest of America to digest and, in the comfort of their own homes, reconcile who they were, with who they wanted to be. The world today needs to take a fresh look at Rockwell.

On October 24, the world will commemorate the UN’s 71st anniversary. All these years later, we are still striving to answer Rockwell’s challenge and close the gap between who we are as Americans versus who we want to be. Are we the nation Emma Lazarus saw or are we a divisive, bitter people, fearful of our neighbors? The UN can help us reconcile these differences. Its creation out of the most catastrophic and deadliest war in history, its mission to maintain peace and security, and its additional responsibilities of fostering self-determination of peoples and promoting basic human rights around the world make it the model schools should look to when we talk about global education, the continued strive for a world of peace, and our interpretation of Rockwell’s image of the “Golden Rule.”

Last year the UN developed 17 goals for sustainable development which take aim at transforming our world by 2030. Putting an end to poverty and hunger, guaranteeing education, teaching about responsible consumption, reducing inequality, and the rest of the goals remind us that we are all connected and are deserving of these basic human rights.

In order to accomplish this and introduce global awareness in the classroom, here are some ideas we should consider when working with our students:

  1. Understand that education is about relationships. It is a human experience and human beings are complex. Interestingly, recent studies have shown that the type of college one chooses has little to do with success later in life, but connections to the real world, becoming a “do-er” in the educational process, and finding at least one teacher who challenges you, does!  
  2. Empathy is critical to a strong global program. Without it, it fails. Understanding the perspective of others is critical and powerful to building peace.
  3. Cultural humility is key. As teachers, we need to create experiences that allow our students to understand that the world they are a part of is big. This generates humility, which creates the space for empathy to develop.
  4. Reflection is critical to the learning process and the creation of global citizens. Use reflection activities in the learning process such as:” I used to think” and “Now I think…”
  5. There are multiple opportunities to globalize our curriculum. This requires continued reflection and support of all teachers, not just those in the humanities.

As we approach the UN’s anniversary, it is my hope that we see this as an opportunity to take a good, long look at Rockwell’s image, its message, and reflect on the kind of person and educators we aspire to be.

By Colleen Amberg

Ms. Amberg teaches Middle School English and Social Studies. She is also the Director of Global Learners Program.


The Importance of PBL in Today’s Classroom

Today is April 8th, 2016 and I sit in a hotel room in Nashville, Tennessee. Though the hotel is beautiful and there is so much going on around it, that is not the purpose of my visit to Nashville.

danI am here to learn more about the world of project based learning (PBL), a new and exciting movement within education. But with most things, change is slow. So often, teachers cling to “tried and true” methods of instruction and assessment; if it worked in the 80s and the 90s, it should still work in 2016. Well, unless you want students to become fact-factories that cram information into their brains for a short-term outcome, or recreate projects that have not changed since the creation of the personal computer, this method is no longer effective or applicable. Educators are supposed to be training students to think and to be prepared for an unpredictable world and workplace.

You may be thinking, “But, Mr. Peters, students need structure, rules, and guidance before they can own their learning.” And my answer is of course they do, but if we teach students using the methods of yesterday, then how are we preparing them for tomorrow? This is where PBL comes into play. I challenge every teacher at every school to use PBL – it is the future and it begins with authentic projects and outcomes. For example, as a history teacher, I could easily assign my students a 5 page research paper with the prompt, “Why did the Allies win World War II?” Students would do their research, write the paper, turn it in, and make sure they have a proper works cited page. Or…I could make the project authentic with this prompt: “The President comes to you as a trusted advisor, asks you to investigate the military strategy of World War II, and to create updated tactics to be implemented by all NATO members. You will have two weeks to research and create your recommendation and you will present to NATO.” Now, as a history guy, the second option sounds way more interesting than just doing a research paper. Sure, some students may say I just want to do the paper –  it is easier and less work. But once you have taught them how to work in teams, taught research and presentation skills in addition to content, the second option is better because students have been taught lifelong skills that will benefit them in college and in their careers. PBL assignments offer students the chance to work on the 21st century skills that are so coveted by universities and the real world: creation, collaboration, and critical thinking.

There is a blog post by John Larmer that we read in our conference about authentic projects. It is excellent for teachers and administrators looking to challenge faculty or departments to step up to the 21st century way of teaching and learning. Remember, even in PBL, you can still use direct instruction, note taking, listening, short writing prompts, and other “traditional learning models,” but they shouldn’t be the only way you teach students. There is that old saying, don’t be the “sage on the stage but the guide on the side.” I want teachers to be everywhere: center stage, side stage, and backstage. Teach your students today where they live; what I mean by that is use what students find interesting and engaging already. Use social media and other technology. Allow students to use Skype and Facetime to interview experts from around the world.

Lastly, I attended a discussion about teaching math and the old adage of when will we ever use this in real life? PBL is the answer math teachers. Use real world applications to teach math: algebra to explain carpentry, or geometry to explain Google maps and how to plan a trip. By giving students in math class the opportunity to apply the math principals and to meet with an expert that uses math every day, they will see the value and get excited to learn math. We need to focus on prepping for the future and not become fact collectors, because students all have smartphones and can look up any fact. Teach skills that create original content, that reinforce the important content of each academic department, and implement authentic learning experiences in the classroom that challenge students and get them excited about class.


Source: John Larmer Blog

By Daniel Peters

Mr. Peters teaches Middle School social studies and coaches basketball and golf. He also is Middle School assistant principal and our curriculum leader for physical education at Morgan Park Academy, a Chicago Private Independent School.

Why are 21st Century Skills Important?

21st century learning shifts the focus of learning from memorization to application. Often students think that 21st century learning means using smartphones and tablets daily in a classroom, that all projects and learning activities will be completed on a computer, and that all research will be done on the internet. Now, those are not completely incorrect assumptions, but 21st century learning is more than just using technology to learn content in the classroom; it is also about skill-building and collaborating with students that may not be in your immediate social circle.

dan21st century learning is about problem solving, not rote memorization of facts. It is thinking critically, not expecting all thinking to be done by the teacher or a fellow student. Students must be self-motivated and driven to think and solve today’s complex problems. 21st century learning is learning by doing, which, at times, means learning by failure, a sentiment aptly captured by Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” In the 21st century, we need to realize that real learning comes from doing, failing, learning, doing again, and then succeeding. We want students to be adaptable to the future so when life gives them lemons, they make lemonade. The four major components of 21st century learning are:

  1. Skill building: Skills are essential when preparing students for Upper School, college, and the real world. Teaching skills allow students to be adaptable. Teaching research methods, using debate and discussion in class, and emphasizing problem solving are the types of skills that allow students to engage with content. At Morgan Park Academy, teachers teach skills as a way to engage with the content; they do not just lecture. As a history teacher, I love the content that I teach. History is my passion and I want to share that passion with my students and help them to become better writers, researchers, debaters, creators, and students than when they entered my classroom.
  2. Collaboration: This 21st century skill is one of the most necessary in education and society today. As the world continues to become smaller because of new technology changing the world daily, students need to learn to be able to work with those that have differing viewpoints and different abilities as them. It is not always easy to work with someone that you may or may not be friends with, but those opportunities can bring about the most real learning. Being challenged by a different viewpoint or a way of completing assignments can bring out true collaboration. Steven Spielberg stated, when I was a kid, there was no collaboration; it’s you with a camera bossing your friends around. But as an adult, filmmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself.” What Mr. Spielberg describes is what 21st century learning is all about. Appreciate the different talents around you and realize that there is not always one way to get to the answer.
  3. Problem solving and critical thinking vs. rote memorization: This 21st century skill is the most important in my opinion. Today, we have iPhones, Samsung Galaxy phones, iPads, and Macbooks that are all connected to the internet. The internet gives students access to knowledge from the beginning of recorded history and predicts what will happen in the future. So why teach students to memorize facts, figures, and functions? Instead of focusing on memorizing content, 21st century learning challenges students to see a problem, then solve it. Collectively as an educational community, students, parents, and teachers need to realize that knowing lots of factual information is not preparing students to think on their feet.
  4. Learning by doing: This 21st century skill manifests in Lower School and classes like art and music. Of course we “do” in those classes. Called Project Based Learning (PBL), PBL has become an important change in the way students approach learning. PBL takes all of the 21st century learning skills and puts them together to complete the ultimate task. Learning in a way that will not only challenge students, but challenge the world they are going to inherit from us.

21st century skills may be the new buzzwords in education, but they are so much more than that. These skills represent good teaching. Students need to be able to explore,fail, and pick themselves back up once and awhile. Students need to work within a group and realize they might not be the leader every time, but that they are still an important part of the group. Students need to use technology in an appropriate way to make learning more accessible to them so they may solve the problems posed to them during class. Parents need to support these 21st century learning skills and cultivate an environment where exploration and curiosity drive learning,not grades. Teachers need to adapt to the student of today and meet them in their world, instead of the other way around. In closing, education is a place of wonder and exploration and every day I learn something new because of the talent, drive, and care that students at Morgan Park Academy put into their education.

By Daniel Peters

Mr. Peters teaches Middle School social studies and coaches basketball and golf. He also is our Middle School Assistant Principal.