Category Archives: Upper School

De-Mystifying The Honor Council

This year, Morgan Park Academy has reformed the Upper School Honor Council. The purpose of the Morgan Park Academy Honor Council is to allow for a unified and objective evaluation of a student’s work as it relates to our Honor Code. The MPA Honor Code “prohibits lying cheating, and stealing relevant to the school community.”  

drownThere are many high schools, colleges, and universities in the United States that have Honor Councils that operate similarly to ours including Middlebury College (Vermont), Princeton University (New Jersey), Davidson College (North Carolina), Duke University (North Carolina) and Knox College (Illinois) just to name a few. Like these schools, we chose the model to allow for peer evaluation and discussion, rather than discipline that is solely teacher-driven.

The MPA Honor Council is purposely weighted with 4 students and 3 teachers to allow for the students’ peers to have the most impact on the outcome. There is also one faculty advisor who serves as the Prefect to make sure that proceedings run smoothly and fairly. This year, I am serving as Prefect. If there is a question about the authenticity of a student’s work, a teacher or a fellow student can bring it to me. At that point, Mr. Drahozal and I review it with the teacher to determine if it is something that should be reviewed by the Council.

Honor Council meetings are not attended by parents, but we do encourage students to bring an advocate with them such as their advisor or another faculty member. Throughout this current year, we have heard several cases ranging from plagiarized English papers and history assignments to copied math homework. Our current Council has had a great deal of experience in reviewing a variety of students’ work this year, including those from several teachers and different grade levels.

Occasionally, students and/or parents are concerned that there is an Honor Council meeting for an insignificant assignment such as a homework. One of the reasons for bringing back the Honor Council this year was to help guide our students to make proper choices throughout their high school career no matter the weight of the assignment. I have personally seen students fall down the slippery slope of copying a homework assignment, to cheating on a quiz, to plagiarizing a “short” paper, to ultimately plagiarizing a term paper. In these cases, the minor infractions were overlooked, and then suddenly we have a student who has not been held accountable for small things to getting harsh consequences for more drastic offenses. Our goal is to help curb the small infractions so that the student will not commit larger infractions. The Honor Council wants to make sure that students understand what they did and give them opportunities to learn and improve from there so that they don’t make the same mistakes again.

The Council allows both the student and the teacher opportunities to talk about the student’s work and for the Council members to ask questions for clarity. The existence of the Honor Council has allowed for cases of copied work, cheating, etc., to be treated more fairly because of the board; the review is consistent and objective. Prior to the Honor Council, the consequences of violating the Honor Code varied depending on the teacher and the subject. Under the current review system, the consequences range from 50% max on the assignment resubmission to 80% max on the assignment resubmission. All of the cases where a student has been found in violation of the Honor Code have resulted in a required resubmission of the work. There have also been a handful of cases this year where the student has been found not in violation of the Honor Code. In these cases, all information related to the meeting are destroyed. When students are found in violation, they are notified via private message; there is never a public announcement of any Honor Council meeting or the results of any meetings.  

The Council has been brought back this year because MPA wants students to learn from their mistakes, to help guide them through the process and how to meet the expectations of different assignments. This guidance will ultimately help students as they do future assignments for that particular class, but more importantly for all of their future work.

 


By Emily Drown

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

The Purpose of Semester Examinations

As a college preparatory school, Morgan Park Academy exposes students to a wide range of course assessments, including semester examinations. It is important for teachers to have a variety of ways to gauge student progress; semester and final exams in the Upper School are useful for this very purpose and serve as a means to assess the major learning outcomes for courses. As part of the exam process, students organize and review materials learned, thereby enabling them to gain a broader view of that which they have studied. The practice and discipline of preparing for the various assessments in their courses provides students with invaluable learning experiences that will also help them as they move on to college.

TomEducational theories support the benefits of students reviewing course materials. David Gooblar, a Rhetoric Instructor at the University of Iowa, supports this idea. He feels that exams create a cumulative review of the course content which provides feedback for teachers and lets them determine if they need to revise future lesson plans. At the same time, students benefit from seeing the entire course when they go back to review for their exams because it enables students to have an increased retention of the course materials. Also, students have an increased motivation to retain knowledge during the semester knowing that there will be a culminating exam.

In addition, exams are important in college, so the practice of learning to master exams is vital in high school. Exams help to instill work and study habits for students as well. Moreover, they are an easy way to have a common measuring point of comparison for students. This mode of comparison is important because it allows teachers to see if they have any gaps in their curriculum. Final exams help to ensure that students stay focused until the end of the school year as well and are one way to insure that teachers are covering their entire curriculum. For these reasons we feel that exams serve a useful purpose for our students.

 


By Tom Drahozal

Mr. Drahozal is the Upper School principal. He also teaches history and coaches our varsity baseball and girls’ basketball teams.

What I Learned from my Favorite Teacher

Dr. David Sandmire, a professor in the life sciences department at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, has been one of my most influential teachers. I first met him while taking his Anatomy and Physiology course during my sophomore year. He is the person to whom I credit with changing my major to medical biology, with changing my career aspirations to teaching, and is the reason I enjoy teaching and feel confident in my ability to do so. Dr. Sandmire was the first person who allowed me to experience authentic learning, by which I mean, learning through critical thinking and analysis, rather than just simply memorizing.

drownAdmittedly, I was completely confused and overwhelmed with the first authentic learning case study that he gave us to complete. Dr. Sandmire had configured each study in just the right way that even if we would have had the almighty “Google” at that time (we relied on medical journals and reference encyclopedias) there is no way that it would have helped us conquer these assessments. After my first pathetic attempt to do this case study on my own, I realized that Dr. Sandmire was trying to teach us the value of synthesizing information, asking meaningful questions, and defending our ideas based upon sound evidence and facts. The importance of memorizing facts was diminished significantly by learning how to analyze material and formulate a reasonable conclusion that made sense. I have used these lessons from this class forward, including my current teaching strategies, which focus on using facts to help evaluate situations. And, although these methods may be different than the traditional lecture method students (and parents) may expect, it is so rewarding at the end of the year to see how much they have grown in their ability to be authentic learners.

One of the biggest challenges as a teacher is to be able to reach all types of learners. When you add to this that students can now “google” any fact-related question, teachers have to connect with their students in innovative ways. Teachers no longer hold the position of “sage on the stage.” Instead, our role has evolved to develop lifelong learners, not simply share facts which students then memorize, regurgitate, and forget. Instead, I have changed my teaching style to reflect how I feel best promotes critical analysis, or, authentic learning.

Every year I regularly have a handful of meetings near the beginning of the school year to explain to parents and students how material is learned in my classes. I explain to them my belief that the 42 minutes I get to spend with their child each day is not best utilized by me writing out notes that I have condensed from the textbook that the students are reading. Simply repeating material I think they have already grasped is not a sufficient use of classroom time. When I first began teaching, I felt the need to “know everything” and felt secure with a marker in my hand and prepared notes from the textbook. Classes went by with little discussion or questions, and I didn’t have to worry about unexpected questions that I might not be able to answer. When I think back to those years now, I can’t believe that’s how I used to spend my class time with students. Now, if you pick any day of the week to come into my classroom, you probably won’t see me at the front of the class, and you probably won’t see all students doing the exact same activity. During any given lesson, I might have five or six students at the microscopes, five or six students working from their iPads, and a handful of others working collaboratively to solve a question that I have put up on the board. I work very hard at the beginning of the school year to get students to become comfortable with the idea of a “fluid classroom.” In my mind, this means that students are free to work from one activity to the next at their pace and regulate their time so that they can complete all activities within the given time frame. This allows students to spend more time on what they really like, but also demands that they experience all activities that relate back to one central topic.

It is a great experience to see how the students transition throughout the year from being so dependent upon the teacher to get facts, to working collaboratively with each other to analyze complex problems. Of course, this requires that students still learn the facts, but instead, they are using class time to use the facts to reason out a problem. I am thankful for all of the wonderful teachers that I have had throughout my life and who have exposed me to different teaching and learning styles. I am also thankful for the opportunity to teach and challenge our future.

The Role and Rewards of Being a Mentor

One of the key relationships that teachers can develop with students is to be a mentor for them.  This is similar to the role of advisor, but at the same time, there are some differences. For the mentor and student relationship to develop, there has to be a connection between the teacher and the student. The goal of a mentor is to help a student advance and maximize their educational and personal growth. Many times, this type of relationship will continue long after a student graduates.  Quite a few of my former students still reach out to me for advice and at the same time they want to check and see how I am doing as well. These conversations and relationships mean quite a bit to teachers and is one of the reasons why many of us become teachers.

TomUnlike the advisor who is usually assigned to students, a mentor is someone that a student seeks out and the teacher agrees to help. In the role of a mentor, the teacher wants to optimize the educational experience for the student. This can be done in a one-on-one setting and could include discussions about curriculum and extracurricular activities. An advisor can do this too, but many times they are looking at a group of students instead of an individual. To be a successful mentor, one must be a very good listener and be able to demonstrate a sincere understanding of the concerns of their students. The life experiences of a teacher can be beneficial in helping to advise students as many times the teacher was once sitting in the same spot when they were themselves a student.

It is beneficial for students to have multiple mentors. This allows a student to get different perspectives from teachers that they hold in high regard. Some of the factors that help to make a match and make things click between a student and faculty mentor vary, such as: age, discipline, and personality. These are, of course, personal preferences that develop in relationships. The reward for students is that they develop a rapport both in and outside of the classroom with their mentor while gaining the advice of someone who has gone through similar life experiences when they were a student. The reward for the teacher is to realize that you have had a positive impact on a student that will last a lifetime. To me, one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is to see and hear how well your students are doing in life after they have graduated college.


By Tom Drahozal

Mr. Drahozal is the Upper School principal. He also teaches history and coaches our varsity baseball and girls’ basketball teams.

The Value of Differentiated Instruction

In February of 2015 I was introduced to a professional development opportunity called “The Future of Learning,” an annual conference developed by and held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Boston. The Future of Learning conference came out of Harvard’s Project Zero, an endeavor, according to the Project Zero website, “founded by the philosopher Nelson Goodman at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1967 to study and improve education in the arts. Goodman believed that arts learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but that ‘zero’ had yet been firmly established about the field; hence, the project was given its name. Over the years, Project Zero has maintained a strong research agenda in the arts while gradually expanding to include investigations into the nature of intelligence, understanding, thinking, creativity, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural thinking, and ethics.” I was fortunate to attend this week-long conference in July 2015.

drownAt this conference I met my first hero in the education world, Howard Gardner, who explained his Theory of Multiple Intelligences in his 1983 book Frames of Mind. In his book, Gardner describes different intelligence modalities including logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, verbal- linguistic, visual-spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and musical-rhythmic and harmonic, stressing the importance of including all of these modalities in everyday education. At the time, this was ground-breaking research in education, acknowledging that intelligence comes in many different forms and it is important to offer children educational opportunities in all of these areas. Gardner’s work has been referenced innumerable times to promote the inclusion of programs such as art, physical education, music, and character education.

Participation in this conference afforded me the opportunity to see education across the world through the different lenses of elementary teachers, special education aides, school counselors, heads of school, and a variety of other school staff professionals from both the public and private sectors. Through a variety of opening plenary sessions, to in-depth focus groups on specific topics, to learning groups, educators from all backgrounds were given the opportunity to share their opinions and unique perspectives of how the education landscape is evolving right before our eyes. What struck me as most significant was the affirmation that we are doing so many things right at Morgan Park Academy! Gardner strongly believes that no person can be characterized by just one of the intelligence modalities; rather he views each person’s intelligence as a unique blend of all of these intelligences. I see this every day at Morgan Park Academy. Our students demonstrate their multiple intelligences from the athletic fields, to the theater stage, and of course, to the classroom. Our community embraces and supports students pursuing different skills throughout their education and we encourage the continuance of this throughout their life.

Today it is widely acknowledged that students should be exposed to the different intelligence modalities in schools and the benefits of providing students with a variety of opportunities have been widely researched and encouraged. In Carol Ann Tomlinson’s book The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of all Learners, she explains the necessity of differentiated instruction along with providing teachers tools for implementation. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) has acknowledged the relevance of her research by stating:

“Although much has changed in schools in recent years, the power of differentiated instruction remains the same—and the need for it has only increased. Today’s classroom is more diverse, more inclusive, and more plugged into technology than ever before.”

When I began my teaching career 15 years ago, I set out to teach in the same fashion as I had been taught, which was mostly through textbook readings and lectures. I quickly recognized that there was a lot more that our students had to offer than memorization of facts. Throughout the years, I have continuously tailored and redesigned my units to allow for students to demonstrate mastery of the material in a variety of ways. Some of the favorite activities that have come out of this are the cell diagrams where students have created everything from Disney movies, like Lion King and Frozen, to Santa’s workshop, to making leaf imprints to visualize and draw the stomata of plants. I see one of my biggest challenges and also most exciting opportunities in the teaching career as never getting content with teaching a unit as I have taught it in the past. Each class presents a unique blend of learners and it is my job as an educator to reach every student. Using Gardner’s work, I have been able to continuously revisit what and how I am teaching to be most effective for each class.


By Emily Drown

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

When will my child be fluent?

This is a question that language teachers get all of the time. My normal response is “well, I’ve been working on it for about 20 years.” Parents’ eyes usually pop out of their head, amazed. Gaining language proficiency takes tons of time and dedication, and yes, it usually takes many, many years. It’s better to treat fluency, then, like an ongoing process rather than an ultimate destination. Most students of language simply won’t wake up “fluent” one day; instead, they should notice small incremental improvements in their fluency over long periods of time.

DSC_0029xBefore we speak more about the process of becoming fluent, let’s first talk about what fluency means. Fluency is achieved when a speaker can produce language fluidly and naturally, without pauses or hesitations. Students demonstrate fluency when they are able to communicate easily without rummaging through their heads for that one vocabulary word from chapter eight or reaching for a dictionary.

What fluency does not take into account is accuracy. Verbs must be conjugated, adjectives must agree, sentences must have a logical connection to one another, etc. Fluency does not guarantee any of these qualities. As much as we might love the idea of our students chirping effortlessly in Spanish or French, we also have to consider the huge amount of information and skill students must acquire before their speech can make sense! Vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation are just some of the familiar components of a complex system that language learners are constructing in their heads while learning to speak.

Fluency and accuracy together are considered to be part of what we language teachers call proficiency. It is the goal of a language teacher that students learn to speak (and write!) with both accuracy and fluency. However, that is only part of the story. In order to communicate effectively, students must also learn cultural norms and customs and what are called “discursive strategies”. Students need to learn how to address others formally and informally, how to manage greetings and partings, courtesy expressions, and turn taking, among other important skills.

Now that we’ve thought about some of the many aspects of language that learners need to think about while speaking, perhaps it makes more sense why it takes them so very long to “become fluent!”  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate each and every step they take towards becoming better speakers and writers of their language of choice. In my next post, I will speak more about proficiency goals and how we help students to meet them.


By Lisa Camastro

Ms. Camastro teaches Spanish II, III, and IV in the Upper School and is our curriculum leader for World Languages. Read more in her Q&A.

 

Making Connections and More “Ah-Ha” Moments in the Classroom: Curriculum Integration

Ah-Ha!

Yes! I got it!

Ohhhhhhh!

All of these phrases come from students when they ‘get it’, when the light bulb has been lit, when they’ve finally figured something out. They describe the glimpse of real-time learning teachers strive for every day in their classrooms. These are moments teachers work to see, to witness in their students in every lesson, every activity.sandi

However, these moments are sometimes hard to find, hard to catch, and hard to create in the classroom.  Educators are perpetual students themselves, seeking to better their classrooms for their students and their communities so that more of their students experience these flashes of learning. The question arises at every meeting, every seminar, and every conference: how do we, as teachers, help facilitate more of these moments?

This year, MPA has sought to create a learning environment that will allow students to experience more of these moments in the classroom by integrating our English and History curricula more closely between disciplines. With this in mind, MPA Middle School English and History teachers chose novels, poems, plays, visual media, textbooks, and projects that help bridge the two disciplines, which will link the material they are learning together in a dynamic way.

Our goal is to give students not only content knowledge, but also the space and opportunities to make close connections between the literature they are reading and the history they are learning. Those ‘Ah Ha!’ moments increase in number when students can see that history is the retelling of past lives, and the literature they are reading is a reflection of those lives. Making clear, relevant connections between the two disciplines deepens understanding and builds comprehension and retention.

Currently, students in the 6th grade are reading a young reader’s version of the Epic of Gilgamesh and simultaneously learning about the civilization of Sumer (ancient Mesopotamia) where this great story takes place. Meanwhile, students in 7th Grade English are reading Anna of Byzantium, and concurrently making connections from the medieval Crusades described from the main character’s point of view and the historical events of the Crusades about which they are learning in 7th Grade World History. In addition, while students in 8th Grade English are reading Esperanza Rising, a story of a young Mexican girl forced to immigrate with her newly widowed mother to the United States in the midst of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, they are learning about Mexican cultural traditions, such as the creation of yarn dolls, and the plight of migrant workers in southern California during this period. Later in the year, 7th and 8th grade English classes will read A Long Walk to Water, which describes the struggles of young children in southern Sudan, and will link together the issues concerning that country and the larger continent of Africa being discussed in 8th Grade World Geography and 7th Grade World History.

Relating people, places, and events in history to the characters, settings, and conflicts in integrated literature will build a network of learning that will carry them into Upper School classes, and later help cement a foundation of knowledge that will endure through college.


By Sandra Burgess

Ms. Burgess teaches Middle School English.