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Spotlight Blog

January 15, 2017

Professional Development

Why does it matter to us so much? –

Professional Development
By Erin Murphy

Professional Development. In schools we use this term freely and as educators we know the definition and importance, but why does it matter to us so much? In short, professional development allows teachers and administrators to engage in the type of learning we strive to create for our students; the type of learning we search for, participate in with excitement, and  strive to channel long after the experience is over. Just as we see students in the courtyard or hallways talking through a problem or sharing thinking about a book, teachers spend their time during a conference or workshop brainstorming ideas and finding ways to bring the learning back into the classroom the very next day.

Edutopia, an organization focused on encouraging innovation in schools, notes that “ongoing professional development keeps teachers up-to-date on new research on how children learn, emerging technology tools for the classroom, new curriculum resources, and more. The best professional development is ongoing, experiential, collaborative, and connected to and derived from working with students and understanding their culture.”

Our MP&MS faculty and staff don’t close the books on learning after the students leave for the day or for the summer; they are enthusiastic participants in their own continuing education. Administrators seek the same type of experiences to focus on leadership, curriculum, and best practices. Jesse Swagerty (Technology Integration and Innovation Specialist) says “Professional development is inspiring, energizing, practical, and sets up a community of teachers as learners. It is time and money extremely well spent.”

One of the unique professional development organizations in the Bay Area is the California Teacher Development Collaborative (CATDC)…

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December 01, 2016

The Importance of Drama

The Importance of Drama
By Charlie Queary

What Do Students Learn Through the Study of Drama?

Drama is a remarkable force in the education of young children from junior kindergarten through eighth grade. Through teamwork, drama nourishes trust and communication skills while promoting acceptance and encouragement among all types of learners. Drama provides an experiential element to the learning of social skills, behavioral boundaries and language arts. It nurtures self-esteem as it promotes confidence, self-expression, and discipline at every grade level. 

The Primary Years:

Primary school students learn the skill of storytelling in drama.   Starting with simple exploration of movement and vocal expression, junior kindergarten and kindergarten children quickly find themselves pretending to be characters in archetypal stories they all know, such as “The Three Pigs” or “Little Red Riding Hood.” Then, in first grade, they begin to adapt, stage and perform classroom literature with pertinent social and emotional themes. By second grade, children apply their understanding of narrative structure to generate original stories. Group effort, and the necessity of building consensus, teaches empathy, cooperation and collaboration. Students discover the value of teamwork through their exploration of drama.

Drama in Middle School:

Our middle school drama program prepares students to be communicators. Improvisation exercises are introduced in fifth grade and are designed to help train students to stay focused and responsive; to pursue their character’s intentions and objectives; and to explore the scope of their individual emotions.  In sixth grade, the acting skills gained from this work are then applied to the study of scenes from realistic plays. This year also features an overview of Western…

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October 15, 2016

The Art of Making Mistakes

Margo Koch, MP&MS art teacher, explains why mistakes are an important part of the artistic process and a souce of beauty –

The Art of Making Mistakes
By Margot Koch

Every year, we walk into our classrooms and find not only new students, but ourselves as new teachers. There are so many discoveries to be made: What is it we want to teach? What is it students need to learn? And how do we bring those two things together? There are endless possibilities. But one subject to which art teachers seem to return again and again is that of the “mistake.”

Beyond explanations of materials, techniques, perspective, composition and the history and methods of other artists, we often focus on an agenda that may be somewhat unique to the teaching of art: the necessity of seeing the “mistake” as a window or door rather than a wall.

Children have a natural inclination to believe in right or wrong, black and white, good and bad. These are usually so much easier to identify with as guides through early life than those grey areas. So it’s not unnatural that over time most students also come to associate the word “mistake” with consequences of some sort, a need for a cover-up, avoidance and even shame. Thus, considering ways in which we can teach other perspectives may actually be of increasing importance in the growth of our students as whole, balanced beings.

In Zen there is a saying: To keep a horse happy (or a cow, depending on what text you read) you must give it a large pasture. That doesn’t mean no limits – no fences at all. But the enclosure or limits should be wide enough to still allow the horse (or student) to explore and play.

With each new project, we provide a basic structure whose parameters students are expected to respect. This helps reinforce the lesson that any success rests to a large part on understanding the basic foundation of the work. But of equal importance in art is that students explore to the very edges of those parameters, looking for new ways in which to play…

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September 01, 2016

What is Design Thinking?

Learn how this revolutionary thinking model is changing the way students find solutions to problems. –

What is Design Thinking?
By Ferenc Dobronyi 

What is Design Thinking? Ask any fifth grader and they’ll tell you, simply, “A way to solve problems.” The more in-depth response would be that Design Thinking is a model for idea creation and refinement that works toward bettering a specific need.

Design Thinking emerged as researchers studied the differences between the way scientists and designers looked for solutions. The Stanford Design School began to teach the method in 2005, and the concept has moved everywhere from big business to kindergarten classes.

As designers, our goal is to solve problems by understanding what an “End User” needs rather than what we think they want. This is achieved through interviews, observation, testing and setting aside personal judgment. In light of these elements, building empathy is at the core of Design Thinking. A young student will offer a solution based on his or her own experience: “You’re sad? When I’m sad, I think about horses, maybe you should think about horses.” But if you don’t like horses, this is no solution at all. With empathy, young students can develop a capacity for understanding another’s experience, expanding their emotional palette, and cultivating the ability to make connections with others. “You’re sad, sometimes I get sad, too. Tell me why you’re sad. What makes you happy? How might I help you feel better?”

In the classic model, lone inventors built creations they thought might change the world. But for every light bulb, there are thousands of forgotten inventions that failed to find an audience. Through Design Thinking, groups create multiple solutions for any given problem. An invention or innovation based on an existing idea may not change the world, but it can significantly help better one person’s life. Given the nature of our shared information world, the solution, with tweaks, may immediately help people with similar …

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May 11, 2016

Coding at MP&MS

Chris Corrigan –

At every function where I meet with parents, technology professionals, and/or teachers from other schools, it’s always the same questions. “What are you doing about coding?…How are you teaching coding?…Do you have a coding curriculum?…When do you start teaching coding?…What languages are you teaching? ” The buzz around coding is electric and contagious right now. I have been in discussions and read articles where people have even proposed having coding count for or replace foreign language requirements in schools.* The topic is hot, and the questions are valid. But before we can address any of these, we need to address the most important question that rarely comes up: “Why are you teaching coding?”

This question predicates everything I think about the topic. Before I go any further, I should make a confession. The only class I ever failed and had to repeat was a coding class I took in college. It was a class in Pascal, and it was massacre. I should also point out that I retook the course and got an A, but that’s neither here nor there. As time has passed, I’ve dabbled in a few other languages as well—LISP, Java Script, HTML, C++, but to tell you the truth, I’ve rarely used them for actual coding or programming. But now that I work in schools as a tech guy, it makes me think…what was the purpose of taking a course in Pascal? What did I gain from it, and how do I use it? I’ll admit that there were many benefits, but few of them have anything to do with actually learning the language.

So what are the benefits, especially for our students? The way I see it, teaching one language or another doesn’t matter. Like so many…

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January 11, 2016

Check-in – SEL Tools in the Spotlight

Elizabeth McLeod –

Check-in is a tool that students practice at school in a multitude of ways. Mindfulness offers a way to check-in with our own feelings and energy level. When practiced regularly, this can lead to greater self-awareness and self-regulation. Teachers provide structures -such as going around in a circle or taking turns with a partner - and sometimes we use metaphor or art as a way to express the feelings. I may show my feelings in a sculpture or by comparing my mood to a volcano or ray of sunshine. Students share how they are feeling and practice active listening as they hear about what is going on for their classmates and teachers. Sometimes students remark that they are surprised that their assumptions about others may be wrong or that they noticed something about themselves that they might not have been aware of if the time and space hadn’t been given to reflect in this intentional way. Group check-ins build social awareness and when practiced over time can cultivate empathy and understanding.

Another ritual that happens at the SEL Community Meetings is when students have the opportunity to reflect on things for which they are grateful. Volunteers stand up to state these Appreciations and are coached to use certain language so that their words are positive and specific. For example, “I appreciate my parents because they make it possible for me to go to MP&MS where I get to have fun learning and seeing my friends/community.” It’s a wonderful moment in the meetings, and there are always more hands in the air than we can call on. Adults and children both comment on how good it feels to spend time focusing on these sincerely positive thoughts and feelings. It contributes to positive feelings on the individual level…

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December 01, 2015

Cooling Off – SEL Tools in the Spotlight

Elizabeth McLeod, School Counselor –

Every Monday morning the entire primary school gathers for community meeting, with a different grade level leading each week’s meeting. This year we have added a new component to the weekly meetings: SEL Community Meetings. During these meetings, we sit in the round, open with a moment of mindfulness, and end by singing together an old MP&MS favorite, Side by Side. For the first few meetings, we made sure that everyone had a shared understanding of what the letters SEL stand for: Social and Emotional Learning. We encourage you to ask your child what this means, and why it’s important. Recently, the focus of our meeting was on cooling off, or how to deal with feelings of disappointment, anger, and/or frustration.

Every six weeks when we gather together for an SEL community meeting, we will focus on a new tool. During the recent meeting focused on “cooling off”, Ellen read the picture book Mean Soup that tells the story of Horace, a boy having a bad day. Everything seems to be going against him, so Horace feels mean and starts to take it out on others around him. His mother helps him cool off by suggesting they put all the upset energy into a soup, and together they mix and blow on the soup until Horace fells better. After the story, the students watched a short video featuring MP&MS classmates’ sharing their favorite ways to cool off. Many students from all the grades also shared their favorite…

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