Free Your Mind: Educational Agility

By Jacqueline Westerfield, Grandview Preparatory School, Head of School Our world is changing by the second. Each day, we race to catch up with mounting responsibilities, media streams, and new projects. As a school leader, I recently joined colleagues from across the globe at Columbia University to work extensively on exploring one big pressing question: […]

via Free Your Mind: Educational Agility in a Modern World — Carpe Diem

Top Grandview Moments of 2015

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As 2015 comes to a close and our teachers, students and staff are basking in one more week of winter break, we would like to reflect on some of our best Grandview moments this year. Here are our Top Grandview Moments of 2015– in no particular order:

GRANDVIEW ROBOTICS SPARKS TECH-LEARNING AT GPS

In January 2015, our the Grandview Robotics Team participated in the FIRST LEGO League World Class Challenges. The addition of Robotics to the Grandview curriculum has sparked an interest amongst the student body in programming and game design, and we are excited to announce that we will be adding courses in video production and editing this spring. At Grandview, we’re in the business of inspiring and cultivating passion in our students. What makes kids passionate? More often than not, it’s when they are doing, thinking and creating— when they are engaged and invested in the learning process. Students in our…

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Innovation Students Participate in Cross-Divisional Field Trip

Learning across grade levels builds such a strong community!

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Innovation Track students in Grades 1 – 12 visited the Museum of Discovery and Science in Ft. Lauderdale.

One of the many benefits of a small school is the ability for students to interact across divisions. The latest Innovation Program field trip took advantage of this; at the Museum of Discovery and Science (MODS) in Ft. Lauderdale, middle and upper school students collaborated with lower school buddies to complete a scavenger hunt throughout the museum.

Among the 25 challenges students sought to complete were activities like discovering which craters on Earth are the oldest, completing a puzzle of a skeleton, and testing balance.  After the hour-long hunt, students viewed Hubble 3D in IMAX.

Junior Caitlen Macias assists a lower school student on the balance board. Senior Caitlen Macias assists a lower school student on the balance board.

Middle and upper school students had the task of helping the lower schoolers to prioritize and complete the activities. In addition to using their knowledge…

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Innovation Program Thrives in First Year

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Students in the Innovation Program spend 20% of their time completing a passion project, which links student interests to deeper, experiential learning. Students in the Innovation Program spend 20% of their time completing a passion project, which links student interests to deeper, experiential learning.

An algae biofuel run engine, a state of the art music studio, two beach volleyball courts, and an equal rights club for gender marginalized individuals…what do they all have in common? They are the “Passion Projects” for the new Innovation Program at Grandview Preparatory School.

Launched in January as a pilot program, the 2015-2016 academic year marks the official start of the Innovation Program, which is an anomaly in South Florida and allows students to learn academics while applying knowledge and skills to bigger world. The objective of the program is to allow students to enroll in a blended-learning flex model, where they can complete high level collegiate curriculum, experience in-depth project based initiatives, and produce visible demonstrations of learning. The Innovation Program’s course of study is customized…

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Redefining Educational Success: Board the Correct Train, Clear the Tracks or, better yet… Blaze a Trail

Platforms sign hanging in the Foyer of Moor Street Railway Station, Birmingham, England, UK, Western Europe.

Getting where we intend to go involves taking the correct first steps or making the proper adjustments along the way.  Sometimes we head in a particular direction and realize too far down the path that we are going the wrong way.  This is happening right now in education.  Currently, multiple educational trains are running simultaneously, and most are hoping to arrive at the same general destination – success.

Success has many definitions, but for purposes of this discussion, we will define success as ‘desired outcomes’.  As parents, most of us hope our children will learn what they need to learn in order to do what they hope to do in life.  So we send them off to school to begin the journey to his or her best possible future.   Thus, our educational train station has several trains taking different routes to arrive at destination success.  Almost all of these trains include the college doorstep as the gateway to the brightest futures.   On the platform, we find independent trains, public trains, college preparatory trains, alternative trains, traditional trains and progressive trains.  When the whistle blows, each train sets out on predetermined tracks to the much desired land of opportunity called higher education.

Recent publications such as Most Likely to Succeed (Wagner & Dintersmith) and Creative Schools (Sir Ken Robinson) point out clearly that the problem we face today is not about the destination (college or future success), the passengers (our children) the engineers and conductors (the educators and families) or the trains themselves (our schools).  Our trains are doing what they were designed to do, riding on the tracks on which they were built to travel.  Instead, the problem rests with our actual infrastructure.

Automobiles and highways disrupted the train travel industry in the same way that education is being disrupted today.  The real problem in education rests with one obstacle on the collective tracks that is actually derailing the whole journey: the college admission process (not college itself).  The college admission process has forced strange changes in education over the last decades, and none of those changes have yielded positive results.

Simply stated, since the early 1980s, more students have looked to enroll in college (great news).  Colleges have enjoyed the benefit of rising tuitions and rising applications (seemingly great news).  The new normal for students and families is that they are expected to go to, and pay for, college (potentially bad news if this becomes too expensive).  With this amazing increase in the number of college attendees, our society and our industries should be booming, right?  Opportunity should exist all around.  If not, where have we gone wrong?

The truth is that opportunity does exist all around and we haven’t gone too far down the wrong path.  This could be an amazing time to be a student and an educator if we regroup, remove obstacles on our current tracks, and perhaps, even blaze new trails. This requires courage and the ability to see that the emperor is not wearing any clothes. The default emperor here is the college admission process and the standardized testing industry.

Quality education and college attendance remains vital to our society’s success.  The process of getting in the college door should not deprive students of the very skills they will need to thrive once enrolled and graduated. Similarly, the process should not deprive parents and teachers of our very purpose.  Quality education involves assessments not capable of being standardized.  As noted in Most Likely to Succeed: 

“Every child in America is at risk. Student after student in school after school, spend their school hours bored, covering irrelevant material, doing mindless tasks, taking far too many ill-conceived standardized tests, and having the creativity and innovation schooled out of them.” (p.58)

The testing industry has indirectly derailed what was once fantastic about our schools.

Every day I see preschool families who want their children to be given more academic work and less time on the playground because they believe it will help prepare them for long term success.  The evidence is clear that it will not.  Young children’s brains and bodies benefit most from the natural things they were designed to do at this age – creative play, outdoor exploration and discovery.  Research shows that making our preschools ‘more academic ‘ produces long term harm.  Instead, there has been a decline in gross and fine motor skills, attentiveness, creativity, general well being and academic accomplishment in children.  We can thank the testing emperor for this result because parents and schools have gotten the message to board the wrong train, or to board it too soon for fear of being left behind.

This trend has become magnified in K-12 education where the quest for the untarnished, straight “A”  record has parents and schools forgetting the golden rules of parenting and teaching.  The culture of anxiety has prompted unhealthy behaviors such as cheating, grade inflation, lessened accountability, finger pointing and wrongful criticism.  School leaders field fearful questions regarding curriculum choices, acceleration plans, grades earned and homework loads, not because the research shows it is warranted, but because of the role of the emperor.

Today’s elementary school parents fear that “Cs” on the report card now mean “C’s” on the transcript later, which, in turn,  means fewer college opportunities.  This fear has prompted parents to take ownership of the learning process at a very young age.   Nervous parents place pressure on their children, and their children’s teachers, for “A’s”.   As a result, children are divested from this high stakes process.  They become passive, reporting that, “my mom didn’t put my homework in my backpack”, rather than owning any sense of accountability for the work, and ultimately, the grade.  Somewhere along the line  ‘the grade’ has become synonymous with ‘the value’  of the human child rather than a separate measurement for the quality of the work produced.   The “A” child has become a symbol of good parenting, not a reflection of true learning.  By creating the expectation that only A’s are valued, we rob schools of meaningful tools to guide student progress. Educating Millenials in the Anxiety Era: Getting Real November 2014

Our educational trains are speeding rapidly on the the tracks, curving at the will of the emperor sitting smack dab between where we are and where we want to be.  If we have identified the emperor as the testing industry and the clerical need for colleges to process the rising number of applicants, what can we do about it?  We must clear the way for a worthwhile educational journey and safe passage to future opportunities.

To do this we must emphasize the true purpose of an education and take steps to either get obstacles off the predetermined track or blaze a new trail all together.  To remove the obstacle, our naked emperor, we could do three things.

  1. Identify the culprit –  publicly acknowledge that the threads that have been spun have not created suitable attire for anyone, much less our future generations.  Standardized testing and memorization of mountains of content knowledge are not the tickets to long term success.  The testing industry and politicians have been spinning that yarn for too long. Our job is to state this in books, documentaries, blogs, parent teacher conferences, community meetings, task forces, backyard barbecues and grocery stores. Doing so will increase awareness and accountability.
  2. Adjust the track – work around the obstacle by separating the college admission/testing process from the entirety of the educational experience.  As long as the naked emperor remains a necessary evil to getting in the college door, design systems fair to students and families in the meantime.  Preschool playground time must not be sacrificed for SAT and ACT vocabulary practice.  Test prep can remain test prep at the high school level, but advanced science courses should be more about real science experiences rather than memorization.
  3. Blaze a New Trail-  Be the new Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart,or Steve Jobs.  If the trains or the tracks are not the best route, build new ones. Parents can partner with teachers, schools can partner with colleges and colleges can partner with industry.  We can all get in this together to shake off the structures that no longer serve us.  The freedom to rethink is powerful thing.  It is time to remember that we’ve always had the power to boldly go where no man has gone before.  We simply need the courage to speak up, stand up and get moving.

The Art of Studying

Great article by Susan Rose!

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The month May brings us closer to the end of the school year– and closer to final exams. Whether students are studying for their very first middle school finals or seasoned seniors are gearing up for dual-enrollment and AP exams, the following study tips, discussed by Personalized Learning Coordinator Susan Rose, can be extremely helpful in feeling and being prepared.

Elaboration (1)

Did you Study?

“Study for your test.”, “Did you study?”, “I need to study.”, “You didn’t study hard enough!” How often do we toss these phrases around as parents, as teachers and as students? ‘Study’ is an extremely vague word and means different things to different people. When we tell our students to go home and study, they often have no idea about how to effectively go about this. Does it mean reading the chapter again and again until you know it? Does it mean making flash cards and drilling…

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Project-Based Learning at Grandview: Greenhouse Effect

So exciting for our students!

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Students build greenhouse to rehabilitate local endangered species

Students clear the land for the footprint of the greenhouse. Students clear the land for the footprint of the greenhouse.

For students in Grandview Preparatory School’s Innovation Program, learning is literally taking place outside of the classroom. The Innovation Program is a personalized learning experience for highly motivated high school students. The course of study is customized based on the skills and interests of the individual student, comprising of collegiate curriculum taught in a blended (online and in person) format and the completion of a completely student-run, in-depth research project using student passions to enhance innovation and connect students to the community.

Dubbed the “Passion Project,” students in the program collaborate to use each member’s strengths and interests to decide on a topic, assign roles and execute the project. “Projects like this one make school more like real life,” said Sam Berey, Director of Program Innovation at Grandview and the faculty advisor…

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Book Review of The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Young Adults

Reposted from the SAIS website 

By: Frances E. Jensen

Reviewed by Jacqueline Westerfield, Head of School, Grandview Preparatory School, Boca Raton, FL

It often seems that everything old is new again. Theories, methodologies, and strategies abound when it comes to raising and educating successful young people. It isn’t often that a new book presents significantly useful data to add to an already expansive library of information, but The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Young Adults, by Frances E. Jensen, MD, does just that. The author is a neuroscientist and mother of two sons. Her perspective is personal, and the data undeniable, regarding both the strengths and vulnerabilities of the adolescent mind.

For adults, the key takeaways from this book involve two primary concepts. First, we have a duty to place this conversation at the forefront of educational dialogue. Second, the young people themselves need to see and understand this research. The good news about the data is that teenagers are high-powered learning machines. The bad news about the data is that their developing brains are extremely vulnerable to learning the wrong things. Therefore, with our fully-formed brains, we adults must provide frameworks to help our youth maximize learning potential and protect against those things that interfere with healthy brain growth.

We now have powerful data showing exactly what the developing mind should and should not be doing. Without getting too deep in the science, Jensen’s book illustrates these facts:

  1. Significant new research has developed in the last decade regarding the adolescent brain. Contrary to previous assumptions, children’s brains continue to be shaped by their environment, physiologically, well past their mid-twenties (pg. 7).
  2. The National Institutes of Health found that the teen brain is only 80 percent developed. The brain develops from back to front, with the prefrontal cortex (the part that houses executive function) as the last to form (pg. 37). This means teens are physically – not just behaviorally – prone to high risk behaviors (pg. 104).
  3. The teen brain is hardwired to learn quickly, much faster than the adult brain. This sponge-like capability results from the physical phenomenon of excitation, where the pathways of cells and their synapses activate repeatedly, thus strengthening. Jensen explains, “The more a piece of information is repeated or relearned, the stronger the neurons become, and the connection becomes like a well-worn path through the woods.” The brain molds itself based on this cycle (pg. 71).
  4. Sleep is essential and teenagers are on a different clock. Primarily because the teen brain is such a powerful learning machine, more sleep is required at this age – approximately 9.5 hours per night. Sleep is actually a key part of the learning process for teens because that is when the brain solidifies the learning that took place during the day (pg. 89).
  5. Regarding addiction, Dr, Jensen states that addiction is actually a form of learning, and therefore, young people are particularly at risk for developing addictions at this age. The data is clear that the young brain exposed to addictive substances will rapidly learn to crave more. The adult brain, when first exposed, does not react the same way. The use of marijuana is now outpacing alcohol as a public health problem in teens (pg. 142). The chemical THC in marijuana is much more concentrated and much more dangerous than that found in the marijuana of previous decades. Beyond the addictive risks, the research shows that THC at these levels is particularly detrimental to cognitive abilities (pg. 146) and can activate mental illness that would not otherwise emerge (pg. 152, 154). Similarly, the relatively new phenomenon of prescribing painkillers for sports injuries has shown a rise in addictions for students who were not previously using other substances.
  6. The teenage brain is not well equipped to multi-task (pg. 43) and is prone to higher levels of stress (due to underdeveloped prefrontal cortex). In some ways, technology is a drug because it uses the same brain circuits as those activated by chemicals that induce addictions (pg. 206, 216).

So what are we to do with these facts? The call to adults everywhere is help young people understand the strengths and weaknesses of their developing brains. We know teenagers can grasp facts at this age since they are programmed to learn quickly at this time in their lives. However, they are neurologically predisposed to struggle with executive function. Here are five key pieces of advice for parents and educators to best guide our teens:

  1. Expose and encourage students to truly engage in learning as much as they can during this window of intense learning power. As teens become more aware that they have the power to actually create their brain, they will be more likely to use it wisely. To do this best, we must make school relevant and responsive, aligning with current brain-based strategies. Schools should also consider later start times to better support teen sleep patterns and needs. Also, schools should consider some gender-based curricula to account for the differing developmental needs of boys and girls (pg. 233-237).
  2. Provide structure for decision-making. Emphasizing steps, modeling the thinking process, and encouraging a one-thing-at-a-time approach will help clear a path for long term benefits. As much as teenagers believe they can watch TV, listen to music, and SnapChat while doing homework, the data shows that they cannot (pg. 218). Force them to develop a habit of list-making. Visual lists are a wonderful tool to help strengthen executive function (pg. 219).
  3. Repetition. The delayed development of the prefrontal cortex in adolescents requires adults to provide constant repetition so teens can remember important information. This applies both to life lessons and educational material. “Frequency and ‘recency’ are the key words here. The more frequently and the more recently teens learn something, and then recall it, the more entrenched the knowledge will become (pg. 73).”
  4. Provide data and talk openly about high-risk behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2010 stating that schools, pediatricians, and the media needed to do a better job of making the public aware of the unique vulnerabilities of this age group (pg. 138). In the past, adults have had to preach anti-risk taking messages to teenagers with a ‘because I said so’ approach, even though many adults often drink alcohol. To the teenage mind, this preaching seems hypocritical and illogical, particularly when the young person is over 18 and classified as an adult in the eyes of the law. Armed with the new research, adults can now clearly explain why alcohol and other substances are particularly damaging to the young brain and its future potential.
  5. Understand sleep patterns, get outside, and set limits – with everything. Provide environments for success. Encourage needed sleep by taking the TV, computer, and the mobile phone out of the bedroom. This helps to monitor teen’s attempted multitasking (pg. 100). Also, don’t be afraid to be the bad guy when it comes to setting curfews and calling other parents to check on social plans. Finally, provide opportunities for teens to be in nature; exposure to nature has many benefits such as reducing stress and depression (pg. 92).

The specific data and advice given in Frances E. Jensen’s The Teenage Brain is extremely useful to those of us past our mid-twenties, with our fully-formed prefrontal cortices. As educators, we have a duty to help our teens understand both the strengths and vulnerabilities of their young minds. This book is a great tool in that regard.


Jackie Westerfield is the Head of Grandview Preparatory School in Boca Raton, FL. She can be reached at jackiew@grandviewprep.net or on her Twitter account.