Category Archives: curriculum

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.

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.

The iPhone was introduced in 2007? Say what?

Yes, you read that right. Just 2007. Imagine a world with no iPhone? When I read that I had to sit down!

ambergI was seriously blown away at how much the world has changed since then and it’s not slowing down. What else has changed in that time? There are now millions of apps, the entire social media platform (the explosion of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), the iCloud (which I’m still trying to wrap my head around!) – just to name a few. Put these things together and think for a bit about what the world was like pre-iPhone and pre-Facebook. It’s hard to do! And it wasn’t that long ago! We are living in an unbelievable time in history. But we can’t slow it down enough to realize it.

So why does that matter? Well, for as much as the world has changed, schools in most respects, for most students, have pretty much stayed the same: industrial, factory style, bell-driven, segregated subjects, one answer, test driven.That needs to change and is a change we have already implemented at MPA.

Our students are growing up in a world that is on many levels radically different from that of their parents’ and teachers’. They will not be walking into factory jobs like their grandparents; many of the top jobs of today didn’t even exist as jobs 10 years ago. Apparently there’s a need for Chief Listening Officers today! Who knew? If so many of the jobs in big demand today didn’t exist 10 years ago, why then does school, in general, not reflect this new world?

If we are to do right by our kids, here are 3 things we need to understand as parents and educators:

  1. First, information is not a scarce commodity anymore. It’s everywhere! Teachers don’t hold the answers to the questions students ask, Google does. Kids don’t come to school to get information from the classroom like they used to do – the world literally is their classroom. The student today brings the information to the classroom and it needs to be our job as teachers to help them learn to decipher and evaluate it. This takes time and requires us to look hard at the content we teach and ask, “What can we let go of?” Instead of focusing so heavily on content, as teachers we need to teach students to ask questions of their content like, can you trust it? Is this accurate? Where did it come from? What’s the bias? With the amount of information out there today, this is an exhausting job, but it is the new reality and if we do it right, we will help raise globally responsible citizens.
  1. Because of the overwhelming amount of information we have access to, it is important that we become comfortable with the idea of not knowing. It’s ok as students, teachers, and parents to NOT know an answer. Having gone through school in the 80’s and 90’s, for me, this idea can be downright frightening. But think about how much information we are talking about. With the internet, students literally have this rapidly changing world at their finger-tips! What student can be expected to know all of the answers, all of the time? And besides, Google can oftentimes get the answer faster than recalling it. Admitting we don’t know is both humbling and liberating. Humbling because we are reminded, as Socrates stated, that there is much we do not know. And liberating because as teachers and parents we allow ourselves to be human in this new world.
  1. The rapidly changing world with its unpredictable future leads to the need for schools to see value in creativity, global education, and service, like MPA does. In public schools, creativity is often squashed out of our kids through the educational process. “Kids enter school as a question mark and exit as a period.” While I first heard this more than 20 years ago, it is an eerie reflection of today’s public schools. Art programs are cut and music is frequently slashed. Those making decisions too often deem the arts as less important than “core” subjects, or the money’s just not there. Somewhere along the way, creativity is not just lost, but authoritatively stamped out of students. This is not just sad, it’s dangerous. Why are we homogenizing our children’s talents in school when homogenized skills are increasingly being done by machines or outsourced?

Divergent thinking is what is needed to solve the global issues of our time. There is no single answer to ridding the world of poverty, terrorism, global warming; curbing population growth, consumerism, and disease; sharing resources and improving education globally. If we want students to see themselves as global citizens, schools need to give students the time, exposure, opportunity, and guidance to explore real world issues. These are the questions of their time and they’re not going to be answered independently. Instead, an organic classroom that allows students to collaborate and investigate naturally encourages the exploration and exchange of ideas as they emerge. Flexibility matters in today’s classrooms.

To do this, ideally, schools need spaces for kids to create: maker-spaces, green rooms, seminar spaces, and global forums. When we change the space, we change the learning that takes place.

So if divergent thinking is so important, why is the focus in traditional schools based on convergent thinking? The answer is simple – convergent thinking is easily tested. The information can be quantified. But being human is so much more than what can be measured on a test. Think about the other parts of the child that go unrecognized when we do this: how do we measure things like creativity, empathy, alertness to opportunity, global competency, and passion, among others?

I think the answer lies in reflection – something we too often leave out of the process to save time. If we could slow the world down long enough to honestly consider what kind of learner we are creating with our current system, what kind of human being we are nurturing, and what type of society this person will construct with their education, maybe then together we would demand better for all of our children. Imagine that.

By Colleen Amberg

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

Cultivating Kindness

Kindness is not only embedded in our children as they live the MPA Way – “Be Kind and Do Your Best,” it is rooted in our curriculum. Because of our emphasis on teaching the whole child, as educators we believe that fostering social and emotional development is just as important as the academics. From the very first moments students enter through our doors, to our recent celebration of Random Acts of Kindness Week, teachers implant concepts of kindness and friendship on a regular basis.

lizIn addition to weekly Character Education classes taught by Jennifer Stec, our Wellness Counselor, classroom teachers instill messages of kindness and humanity. Our three-year-old preschoolers are recognized daily for their kind acts with heart stamps or stickers from Miss Bridget. They proudly add a heart to their Kindness Tree for good deeds. Students in Miss Betsey’s room and Ms. Misulonas’ room dub themselves as “Bucket Fillers,” adding pompoms to a container for each kind act or display of friendship. In Ms. Davis’ room you will find a “Warm and Fuzzy” jar from which students earn a fuzzy puff ball every time they do something that makes their hearts feel warm and fuzzy. All Early Childhood classrooms coordinate holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas with notions of giving thanks for family and friends. First grade classroom libraries hold countless picture books with themes of kindness and good character, such as the Berenstain Bear collection emphasizing manners, respect, and telling the truth. The children love reading and journaling about experiences they have had similar to the characters’ trials and tribulations.

This year, second grade began with a reading unit on kindness and a social studies unit on citizenship. Stories provided wonderful cross-curricular connections and students quickly internalized messages such as kindness is contagious; actions of one person can make a difference; kindness is a two-way street; and, the importance of becoming contributing members of a community. Students in Mrs. Arnold’s room make time for positive tattling sessions where students “tell on their classmates” for being kind, helpful, or supportive. My second graders create “Happy-grams” for each other. During a third grade reading unit on kindness, Mrs. Schmidt’s students discussed what qualities they look for in friends and to treat others how they wish to be treated. Characters in the novel Charlotte’s Web helped illustrate empathy, and showed how true friends take care of one another and stand up for each other, even when it may not be the popular choice. Themes of kindness, friendship, and compassion in many fourth grade novels, including The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Bridge to Terabithia, and Maniac McGee, prompted thought-provoking discussions. Novels read in fourth and fifth grade parallel social studies courses in Regions of the United States and World Geography triggered discussions of global friendships, tolerance, and acceptance. The fifth graders’ summer read, Wonder, set the tone and themes for the school year: friendship, family, kindness, acceptance, and courage. Students learned about the craniofacial abnormality that the main character, Auggie, has in the book. They discussed and defined the difference between sympathy and empathy. The students wrote a precept, reflected on its meaning, and use it as an internal guide.

Even though we model and teach our students to follow The MPA Way every day, as a Lower School we initiated Random Acts of Kindness during our January Service Day to add to our daily teachings. A random act of kindness is a simple act which brightens someone’s day. It can be something significant, like donating items to a charity, something smaller such as holding a door open for someone, or simply saying thank you. It can be planned in advance or happen spontaneously. Our goal was to re-energize our daily efforts with messages from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and inspire the children to follow Dr. King’s dream, today and every day.

The second week in February is Random Acts of Kindness Week and the Lower School student body celebrated with daily activities, quotes, and good deeds. During Manners Monday, students were encouraged and praised to use their best manners. Hundreds of notes poured from classroom writing centers and Appreciation Stations on Thankful Tuesday, as students thanked adults in their lives. Helping hands were in abundance both at home and in school on Wednesday’s focus, “What Can I Do To Help?” Throughout Thoughtful Thursday, students found countless ways to lift someone’s spirits. Friendship Friday fostered new friendships as students sat at tables in the dining hall by their birthday month rather than assigned tables.

Many classrooms have various positive incentives or rewards for good character. As students accumulate tallies for cooperative tables, marbles for positive actions, and tickets or “Caught Being Kind Cards,” they earn good citizen celebrations or prizes during Marble Parties, Prize Day or a trip to “The Store.” Posters and other visual displays of good deeds, such as trees with paper hearts, buckets, paper chains, or paper dolls adorn classroom walls. However, the greatest testament to our efforts is witnessing the culture of kindness we see in our student body. The evidence of our year-long emphasis on fostering a positive school environment and promoting the MPA Way is in the character of our students.

By Liz Raser

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

So Why is Shakespeare So Important?

Inevitably, when it comes to reading Shakespeare, the question is always this: Ms. Burgess, why are we reading Shakespeare, and why are you making us read it in his language?

sandiMy answer varies, but the prevailing theme in my answer is that it is okay for something to be hard. It is okay that students struggle sometimes. Learning to work through something that is unfamiliar and difficult teaches important skills and reinforces valuable lessons in commitment and perseverance. While the language is unfamiliar and awkward for students, it reinforces the purpose of the play — to perform for an audience without access to the written word. Reading Shakespeare’s words as he intended highlights the craft of the language itself–the new words and phrases that come directly from him into our speech today–and how his words were heard by an actual Elizabethan audience in 1595.

Teaching students to not only read, but to appreciate Shakespeare’s work is not only a challenge for them, but represents a teaching challenge for me as well. If I can get students to remember the plots, characters, and important moments from the plays, but also to be able to analyze and work through the many difficult literary devices and formulas employed by Shakespeare, I know, when faced with other difficult readings or assignments, students will be able to make connections to problem-solving strategies in reading Shakespeare and maybe even to the content itself.

Our goal here at MPA is to make sure students are encountering Shakespeare in the Middle School and Upper School in a variety of ways: from acting out A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 6th grade, to reading Romeo and Juliet and Merchant of Venice in 7th and 8th grades, to writing love sonnets and reading Hamlet and Macbeth in the Upper School. These works are simply examples of the numerous possibilities! With Shakespeare, the connections we can make within our curriculum are endless.

To me, Shakespeare is too important to dilute or to ignore. His work, though written in a hard to imagine world, is as relevant today as it was 400 years ago. The qualities of his characters, their triumphs and sufferings, speak to us even now. We, too, struggle with pride, the pitfalls of love, social expectations, and our own self-awareness just as Hamlet, Portia, Shylock, and Macbeth did. And just as our society today struggles with discrimination and prejudice toward others, so, too, did Venice, Verona, Scotland, and Denmark. Hearing Hamlet struggle to make sense of his place in the world, or Shylock asking why he was treated so differently than everyone else, lets the students experience that same language, the same sounds as an audience in 1598. These experiences help students make connections, to see a reflection of themselves, emphasizing the timelessness of Shakespeare and their own place in our world.

We’ll continue to make Shakespeare important here at MPA, introducing students to new plays and poems which continue to challenge them in new and exciting ways. Studying Shakespeare reminds them that it is okay to take a bit of time to work through something so difficult–even for me, their teacher.