According to this New York Times article, the jury is still out regarding technology’s impact on kids and learning.  It’s good to keep in mind that while we all have anecdotal evidence, it is still anecdotal.

Debates away, folks!



Holding the moment.

One thing that I took away from reading Medina’s book is the importance of active engagement with a class or a group.  The idea that learning might be helped by emotional connections or through physical interaction is not surprising; however, what I take from it is that the effectiveness of learning is greatly increased by a teacher’s or facilitator’s ability to hold the present experience up for the class.  The more present that a teacher can be with the group, the more comfortable (I have found) the group can have with learning.

I wonder if there is a greater benefit to being present with a group than getting lost in the goals of the class.

Thoughts on Brain Rules and 7/1/09 retreat morning

I found both the book Brain Rules and the topics addressed in this morning’s conversation to be engaging and useful.  Many of the topics “felt” right as I read them – especially those which addressed how learning is improved through multi-sensory experiences.  I also intuitively agree that repetition is the key to transferring information from short term to long term memory and will make more an effort to use more repition in my classes this year.  I was surprised to learn how long it actually takes for information to be transferred to long term memory.  Chris Kaufman’s presentation was very informative and interesting – though I felt that we perhaps didn’t utilize his expertise as effectively as we could have.  Through our largely philosophical questioning however, he probably did gain a fairly good sense of who we are as a community, and thus when he returns, he will be able to more effectively meet our needs as a community.  The type of information that he presented at the very end was particularly useful to me -very specific advice about how to structure our teaching considering what we know about brain function.

Upper School Retreat ’09 Faculty Letter

August 1, 2009

Greetings Colleagues,

I am writing to update you on retreat planning and to ask for some help.  As you know, the executive function capacities of our students arose as an academic concern in our 9th grade study skills discussions and as an emotional concern in our Upper School advisor meetings.  We asked if that capacity is under assault from the emerging technologies, what emotional and academic cost is being paid by our students if it is, and what we can do to strengthen that important capacity and to counteract forces that tend to undermine it.  The retreat, informed by the summer reading and by our experiences, is a chance for us to better understand executive function, what strengthens and diminishes it, and what we can do to enhance it.  The potential positive and negative impacts of emerging technologies are of special interest to our consideration.

The retreat will take place in the arts center on Tuesday, September 1, which is the second day of meetings.  It will begin with a light breakfast from 7:30 to 8:00 followed by an ice-breaking activity.  We will then have two sessions focused on the book, Brain Rules, before yielding the floor to Chris Kaufman, the lead psychologist for the Portland Public School System and a specialist on executive function.  After participating in the earlier sessions, he will focus his session on executive function in light of our summer reading and the kinds of comments you have made throughout the morning.  After that session, we will break for lunch.

In addition to some time for digital and live sharing, the afternoon will feature a debate between two giants in our field, Emily Graham and Phuc Tran.  While they are now working on the specific focus and format of their discourse, the statement they are debating is as follows: Given the digitally saturated lives of young people today, schools would serve them best by becoming digital free zones of learning, working explicitly to counterbalance the effects of such an upbringing.   I leave you to speculate on who is taking which position.

Here is where I am asking for your help. The first session in the morning after the ice breaker will consist of faculty led small group discussions of different chapters.  If you found a chapter particularly compelling and would be willing and interested to facilitate a discussion on it, please email me back before August 17th.  Let me know what chapter you are interested in and what your proposed discussion topic might be.

We will use the Good Teaching Blog during and after the retreat.  I have attached a copy of this letter as a post.  You might want to remind yourself how to access the blog before the retreat.  You can find The Good Teaching Blog at

I am enjoying my summer but also look forward to rejoining my colleagues in the excellent work we do together.  I hope you feel the same.

Take care,


Have You Explored

This looks like a very interesting tool for all disciplines. Have any of you had direct experience/success with it? :

Being a neophyte with so many new tools at my disposal, I am trying to focus on those that best can serve my foreign language teaching purpose .

On-Line School Advantageous for Girls? One School Thinks So…

I just came across the following post on, posted by collaborator, Paul Miller:

From the Tennessean 6/29

Harpeth Hall staffers design Online School for Girls

Girls learn differently.

At least that’s the philosophy behind the new Online School for Girls, a virtual school developed by employees of Nashville’s Harpeth Hall.

The Green Hills private school has been educating girls in a traditional setting for nearly 60 years, but next year will expand course offerings into cyberspace. To pull it off, staff members connected with three other girls schools in Ohio and Connecticut to build a program that will eventually be open to girls across the world.

But is there really a benefit to offering same-sex classes online?

The folks at Harpeth Hall think so.

Girls like to collaborate and connect with each other, said Molly Rumsey, who sits on the online school’s board and is a member of the technology department at Harpeth Hall. That’s why the online courses will use a social media model that allows students to post questions and have a digital dialogue with classmates.

Lessons will reward creativity and show students how what they’re studying is applicable in the real world — two principles research shows help girls learn. The online school will also allow students to take challenging courses that may not be offered at their school.
6 pilot courses planned

Next year, Harpeth Hall girls will pilot six courses so employees can work out all the kinks and tweak the courses as necessary. Eventually, any girl will be able to enroll in the courses, whether she is in public school or home school.

“They will be able to connect with girls all over the world,” Rumsey said. “It’s really unique.”

Organizers don’t know yet how much the courses will cost or what subjects will be offered. The pilot courses include genetics, multivariable calculus and differential equations.

States across the country, including Tennessee, have or are developing online courses for students, but this would be the first set of courses geared toward girls, according to the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools.

Conversations about creating online programs for girls began last year, and Harpeth Hall moved rapidly to get the courses ready to launch.

“We recognized the importance of online education,” said Karen Douse, director of library and information services at Harpeth Hall. “And we knew it would be a great opportunity for our girls and girls around the world.”

Chloe Lainhart, 17, will be a senior this fall at Harpeth Hall, but before enrolling in the all-girls school, she attended classes on a coed campus. Based on her experience, she agrees genders learn differently and sees the value in the Online School for Girls.

“I am actually really excited about it,” she said. “There are so many opportunities at Harpeth Hall, and this is one more we can learn from.”

What do you all think??

Report: Socializing online is…educational

A MacArthur funded study was just released regarding the activities kids are involved in online.  It’s an interesting read for all educators and parents.  They conclude that the “hanging out”, “messing around”, and “geeking out” that kids do online helps students gain media literacies and skills they will need to fully participate in the 21st Century society.  Here’s a quote from the summary of the report:

New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in a classroom setting. Youth respect one another’s authority online, and they are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults. Their efforts are also largely self-directed, and the outcome emerges through exploration, in contrast to classroom learning that is oriented by set, predefined goals.

In the conclusion, the report goes on to say, that schools (and parents) should not see social networking as a waste of time:

Rather than seeing socializing and play as hostile to learning, educational programs could be positioned to step in and support moments when youth are motivated to move from friendship-driven to more interest-driven forms of new media use.

Another point made in the conclusion is that kids find learning from their peers highly motivating:

Peer-based learning is characterized by a context of reciprocity, where participants feel they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture. Whether it is comments on MySpace or on a fan fiction forum, participants both contribute their own content and comment on the content of others. More expert participants provide models and leadership but do not have authority over fellow participants.

And finally, the report concludes with this (among other) question:

what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement?

You can access the summary “white paper” or the entire report here.

Multi-Taking and Executive Function

A movie of a multi-tasker at work and the accompanying NPR story on multi-tasking and executive function:

“You Must Remember This…As Time Goes By?”

would like to explore and discuss how kids RECEIVE and RETAIN what they hear.

I recently came across a book by James Zull, a Biology professor at Case Western, called  The Art of Changing the Brain – Enriching Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning. I have only read excerpts from the book, which considers the positive and negative role of emotions, motivation (both extrinsic and intrinsic), and  feelings in the learning process. He points to the importance of “changing data into knowing” and how it can be transformative in three important ways:

“• by using past experience we determine and carry out plans for the future

• rather than remain a passive “receiver” of information, we become a “producer” of knowledge

• we take control of our learning by figuring out what we need to know and actively pursue finding it out”

He then goes on to lay out three factors necessary for effective learning that ultimately can affect what students retain in long-term memory versus what gets lost/discarded in the very short term. –

a.  the student having some sense of control

b.  his/her understanding of the reason for learning

c.  recognition of the student’s affective approach to the task

I often wonder how much the lack of control that many of our juniors and seniors experience in their lives runs counter to the ideals that Zull articulates.  I am certainly seeing students struggle more with retention and portability of knowledge and skills. As kids apparently see the college process becoming ever more competitive, is extrinsic motivation threatening to overwhelm intrinsic, and is the ‘passive’ receiver of information eclipsing the ‘producer’ of knowledge?   How can we best figure out if all our talents and tools will have a deep and lasting impact in our students’ knowledge and skill development?

Is he talking about us?