Pre-Planning Recap: Day 3

Today, Middle School teachers had the pleasure of working with Meg Cureton on a design thinking flash lab centered around making connections with one another. DT FLash LabConnections: Design Thinking Flash Lab
Part of the flash lab included these two excellent videos (we may have skipped the second one, actually, be we’ve used it before and it’s really good).

Get Things Done
We had a few hours to get some things done on our own and grab some lunch. Then, we followed up on our morning flash lab with some creative time in the Studio(i) maker space. We took our low-res prototypes and turned them into something more high-res and impactful for one another. We also learned how to use several of the technologies in the studio.

Maker LabMiddle School Maker Lab
Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 4.28.39 PMMake, Design, and Engineering @ MVPS


Pre-Planning Recap: Day 2

day 2

Today was a robust, action-packed day #2 of pre-planning. Front-loading and launching the key initiatives for the upcoming semester, communicating the basic “housekeeping” items, duties + red binders (Thank you Mel), preparing for R & D teams (Thank you Angél), and getting CPR (re)-certified (Thank you Anne-Brown and Patsy). Here are the slide presentations for Advisory (Thank you Max and Tasha), Visible Thinking (Thank you Ann and Charles), and Eportfolios (Thank you Katie).

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Curiosity and Intelligence

Curiosity and Intelligence

Curiosity and Intelligence

Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation hosted the 3rd annual Council on Innovation last Friday. Students in the Upper School iDiploma cohorts read and discussed the article ‘Curiosity is as Important as Intelligence‘ beforehand, then listened as the panel of external experts discussed the same article.

The conversation was interesting. Here are a few of the quotes and questions I captured…

Complexity is an indicator of change.

No one says, “I’m going to manage complexity today.” (As HOMS, I might disagree)

How much is innate and how much ‘around the margins’ can you change? CQ, IQ, EQ, SQ? What is the role of genetics?

I’m curious about self-awareness, self-regulation, and human nature.

Curiosity and Intelligence

We have as many internal genetic traits as we do external (tall, fast, etc.) There is no entitlement for genetic traits.

What role does hard work play? Einstein has a quote about everything. Somewhere in that hard work something is going to happen. I want to hire the hard workers and then give them the coaching.

Technology is an enabler of curiosity (and intelligence).

Curiosity does not equal intelligence. Sometimes curiosity leads us to bad stuff.

How can EQ and CQ be more heavily weighted in the college admissions process? Does this become the new diversity issue? Part of me worries about that.

What would the author have said if he had 6 more pages?

I believe curiosity is MORE important than intelligence.

I don’t hire anyone based on where they went to school, but what they’ve accomplished and how they present themselves.

The SAT is a pretty good predictor of what one’s grades will be like in their first year of college. That’s about it.

If it’s not a good predictor, but that’s what’s being used, what can we do to change the metric?

Prepare to Launch

Prepare to LaunchPrepare to Launch

I count myself fortunate to be part of an organization that encourages the launching and shipping of ideas, that embraces a ‘fail up’ culture of learning and achievement. This has empowered my colleagues and I to boldly try new ideas. Reflecting on the last few years, I can recall numerous wins and successes as well as a few that I’d love to ‘redo.’

Why do some initiatives go so well while others struggle or fail? What makes the difference?

Fail Ups
In my first year as a division head, I recall our team was eager to help teachers give feedback to students about the newly created “mindsets.” Since the 6 mindsets were not yet reflected in the report cards, we decided it would be great for teachers to write comments about each of the mindsets for each student. We had heard other schools talk about similar approaches. We had a discussion in a team meeting and next thing you know, the decision was made and the initiative launched. And it was hugely unpopular. Teachers were upset. The amount of comments that actually had to be written were well beyond what they were used to writing. In fact, when we did the math, we realized it was a pretty unrealistic expectation. We regrouped, with feedback, and pivoted to designing rubrics that all teachers could use. Teachers gave input on the rubrics. In retrospect, we could have taken more time to enroll stakeholders and talk to other schools. We could have done the math. We could have piloted smaller versions of the comment writing with a select few volunteers. Or we could have thought of rubrics first.

Victorious Launches
In my second year, we launched a 1:1 Chromebook program. We took months researching, chatting with other schools, meeting with our Director of IT, and comparing different attributes of devices. We made a sound decision. We are still using Chromebooks today and they are appropriate for middle schoolers. The success was in the research and selection of the program. There were some folks who were not in favor of the decision, but we had solid and compelling reasons to share and ultimately, the majority of our community supported the initiative. We could have done a better job in the rollout, specifically, how we shared the info with parents. I recall a rather lengthy rising parent meeting where questions took over the agenda. And while we prepared for the classroom management portion with Hapara, we spent the next year or so reconfiguring the network and internet access to make sure it didn’t slow or crash.

In my fourth year, we finally cracked the code on summer grants. We chose 4 initiatives that were all interconnected. We went with pairs instead of individuals so there was always an element of collaboration. We met as a whole group and launched the initiatives with the faculty before school ended so they were all part of the process. We clarified the expectations by having grant recipients follow the design thinking process. We had dates set in advance for monthly check-ins and we provided resources in between. Each grant was allotted time in pre-planning to workshop with the whole team. These 4 grants allowed our team to go further faster. We are making great strides as each of these grants is part of our team’s wildly important goal to ‘expand learning measures.’

These are just a few reflections. I have many more. What reflections do you have? What initiatives have you launched? What made some victories and others fail ups? 


Scaling Up Badging

Scaling Up Badges

Scaling Up Badging

In a recent professional learning workshop (at #MVCollider), our team made new strides in the pursuit of badging and micro-credentialing. 3 significant insights have got our team thinking. The first insight revolves around how to create a badge using the 6 components of a badge. A second strand fuses badges with vertical learning progressions. The third one envisions taxonomy or a framework for organizing badges and ‘permission’ for ‘local level’ badge building by anyone in the learning community without diluting the quality of the overall badging program.

Build a Badge

At the start of the session, participants were instructed simply to ‘build a badge.’ No further details were provided. Each table cluster had supplies. Teachers began drawing or constructing a physical model of a badge. The facilitators expected, in advance, that most folks would focus on the ‘art design’ of the badge. We took the opportunity to share that there are at least 6 key parts to building a badge. And the place where most folks begin (the art design) is only one part. Clarifying the other elements and being intentional with their design is critical to ensuring an accurate and meaningful measure of student learning.

6 Parts of a Badge

1. Name – Something catchy, fun, or simple and straightforward
2. Description – 1-2 sentence explanation of what the badge is all about
3. Criteria – List of the demonstrations of skill, knowledge, or transfer required
4. Evidence – The process or product that must be submitted for verification
5. Art Design – Something stylish, fun, high def, and visually appealing
6. Form: The actual badge in multiple manifestations: digital, sticker, magnet, patch, etc.

Scaling Up Badging

Empowering Teachers: A Taxonomy for Badging

Consider it a huge WIN when teachers are proposing ways to introduce badging! Once teachers aware are of the components needed to build a badge and they are inspired to take action, how does a school encourage this pursuit while also maintaining the highest quality of the overall badging system? Make sure to create a protocol and flow to ensure high quality, otherwise there is a danger of diluting the excitement and meaning with students.

Members of the MVIFI team have been working on a compelling taxonomy. Trey shared with the Collider seminar how it might work. Badges are classified like elements in certain categories: skills, content, mindsets. Badges that are “unstable” occur in the “classroom specific” or “event specific” categories. These differentiations allow for badges of varying degrees of quality and purpose to be created at any level in an organization. Not all are adopted for external use (or even internal use beyond the local classroom).





Vertical Learning Progressions

A learning progression is a road or pathway that students travel as they progress toward mastery of the skills needed for career and college readiness. Each road follows a route composed of a collection of building blocks that are defined by the content standards for a subject. What if vertical teams or R & D learning outcome teams created ‘vertical badges’ based on the process standards for each discipline? Imagine a study skills badge (a class where there is not a numerical grade) for note-taking. What are the criteria for earning the note-taking badge in 3rd grade? Then again in 4th grade? How are they different in 5th or 6th and so on up through grade 12? Or what about a series of Art badges? One for painting? Clay? Drawing? Photography? All skills that can “level up” each year as new criteria are identified and accomplished. All criteria that can be aligned by a vertical team.

In her blogpost, Making Learning Progressions Visible, Jill Gough highlights the work her team has done related to Susan Brookhart’s book.

Please share your thoughts and reactions? What are your questions? What are your badging ideas? How can we scale up badging?

MVIFI Introduces Collider Conference

Collider ConferenceMVIFI Introduces Collider Conference

Yesterday, Mount Vernon spent a half day introducing a new, in-house approach to professional learning: Collider. The new MVIFI nucleus team, wearing their sweet new ‘mechanic’ shirts, led the charge.

More personal reflections coming soon. Meanwhile, here is a list of all sessions/topics and Jim Tiffin’s storify of major tweets and insights…

List of Workshops and Sessions/Topics

Jim Tiffin highlights the key moments via twitter via Storify

I am proud of the Middle School teachers who led several sessions and took an active role as participants.







The Nucleus

Launching Student Led Conferences

Student Led Conferences
Student Led Conferences is about giving students greater ownership of their learning.

Launching Student Led Conferences
One of our major initiatives, Student Led Conferences, is about to debut. In order to prepare, conference mentors will meet with their mentees this week instead of Advisory.

The purpose of the second meeting is two-fold…

1) Cultivate deeper relationships with your mentees (get to know them well)

2) Coach them in revising their 2 goals (1 academic, 1 personal).

Try SMART goals OR challenge them to pose their goals as questions (How might I {action} in order to {significant impact}?

To truly make this debut a success, mentors and students will meet a total of 4 times before SLCs on September 23. Each meeting has a distinctive purpose.

Sept 1: Cultivate relationships, revise goals (* note: goals were set the first week of school)

Sept 15: Feedback on Digication ePortfolio

Sept 17: Students pull Power School grade reports, get feedback, communicate any flags to teachers/parents

Sept 22: Rehearsal with partners (students are sharing their goals in Fall conference)

Student Led Conferences is one of four major initiatives intended to expand the learning measures beyond (but still including) numerical grades for this year. Much gratitude to Mrs. Tripp and Ms. Goins for the research and time they spent advancing the work for our team!

Student Led ConferencesStudent Led Conferences

Resources & Research
ASCD When Students Lead Parent-Teacher Conferences
A Guide to Student Led Conferences

Unleash the Drone!

Unleash the drone!

A crowd of over 350 students and teachers cheered and watched in awe as the DJI Phantom 3 drone was unleashed on middle school during chapel announcements. The drone is the newest piece of interactive technology to be purchased for student and teacher learning. While many fascinating learning opportunities exist with such tech (students will learn to fly, as well as design new uses and explore ethical decision making in current events), our drone has become a vehicle for introducing another emerging technology: digital badging. Unleash the drone!

As a way to expand the learning measures, Mrs. Wilkes and Mrs. Levinson spent the summer researching, designing, and planning how to launch badging with our faculty. In pre-planning, our teachers earned over 60 badges (the Drone Flying Ace) is only one of many exciting new badges that Mount Vernon faculty can earn. Our IT Director Mikey Canup has been awesome at not only supporting our ideas, but helping us implement them! Even when we crashed the drone outside a few weeks ago (two propellors broke in half), he smiled like a forgiving father.

Unleash the Drone
The DJI Phantom 3 flies overhead at Middle School at chapel during announcements.
Unleash the Drone
The crowd cheers wildly as the newest member of the Middle School community is unleashed – the Drone!
Unleash the Drone
Mr. Townsend is thrilled to receive a physical sticker badge to match his digital “Drone Flying Ace” badge!

Although many of the faculty have already received their earned badges via an electronic file, today we recognized those who earned the Drone Flying Ace badge with a secondary, physical sticker to match the digital badge. The sticker can be posted anywhere (mine are on the clear, plastic case protecting my laptop) to display and share new knowledge and skills you have demonstrated. Other badges include demonstrations such as operating a Clear Touch, presenting at a conference, blogging, designing formative assessments, and others.

Unleash the Drone
Mrs. Wilkes and Mrs. Levinson have done the heavy lifting to introduce badging to our faculty. We are exploring ways to expand the learning measures beyond a single, numerical grade. Will it catch on with students?
Unleash the Drone
Two physical sticker badges affixed to my computer cover that match their digital counterparts (posted on Haiku, personal blogs, and Credly). They fit nicely next to the DC super heroes – that’s what our team is – a legion of super heroes with incredible powers!

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 2.15.19 PMFeatured on Mount Vernon’s News Site!


4 Characteristics of a Quality ePortfolio


4 Characteristics of a Quality ePortfolio

1) Easy to Use – We launched our first version of a student eportfolio using Google sites two years ago. It was the result of a collaborative summer grant with a team representing Preschool, Lower, Middle, and Upper School. The product was visually appealing and featured two major sections: Collection and Showcase. The Collection was for everything. Finished, unfinished, polished, and imperfect. The Showcase was reserved for only the finest works. All of the learning demonstrations and reflections were curated by the 6 MV Mindsets (Collaborator, Communicator, Solution Seeker, Ethical Decision Maker, Creative Thinker, and Innovator).

While I’m still a fan of this first prototype and many of its features, it struggled to catch on with students (and teachers) across the entire School. Even in Middle School, where we made it a major focus, our team discovered that the Sites platform was difficult to upload, challenging to access and share, and there was a lack of student ownership. After two years, and as the result of a second XLR8 summer grant, we are pivoting to a second iteration ePortfolio platform with Digication.

2) Customizable – The obstacle of student ownership is not one to be ignored. Not only is the new platform more intuitive and easier to use, but it allows a much greater degree of user customization. The students can change the look and layout to suite their style, thus helping to make it feel more like “their” ePortfolio rather than “the School’s.” We will continue to explore other ways to expand student choice as we go.

3) Storytelling – Perhaps the most important (and currently untapped) power of ePortfolios is “the why.” Why should students (or anyone for that matter) create, curate, and maintain an ePortfolio? Many reasons come to mind including…

  • Measure student learning (qualitative, thinking made visible)
  • Use as a tool for college admissions or job interview
  • Reflection and record keeping

These are all compelling reasons, however, I’m starting to think the most powerful reason to create an ePortfolio is for storytelling. Each entry should tell a story. Each learning demonstration has its own story arc and together, all of the cumulative entries build their own story arc. The story is about your life. It’s about your impact on the world. It’s about your learning journey. What could be more important or significant to share with others?

storytellingstorytelling 3 storytelling arc

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4) Blend of Showcase and “Work in Progress” (WIP) – One final, key ingredient is what I believe was inherent in the design of our first version, but that I continue to hear discussions and debates about among our team. It is often communicated as an “either or” paradigm. I believe it should be both. A quality ePortfolio contains both pristine, perfect showcase works AND messy, dirty samples of failure and or halfway learning – what I call “work in progress.” I have modeled my own blog after this approach – often posting half thoughts and snapshots of ideas that I may or may not come back to in the future. This allows freedom to capture ideas before they escape without having to make sure they are perfect before shipping.

What other characteristics do you think are important for quality ePortfolios?

A Brief History of Badging at MVPS

The jury is still out amongst many about badging. It’s no secret I’m a fan, though much remains to be learned. The work of this summer’s XLR8 summer grant program has only further activated my enthusiasm for exploring and experimenting with badging and micro-credentialing in a variety of scenarios.

Next week, when teachers return for pre-planning, I hope they will begin to see the value (and the fun) and share in the growing interest in badging. I could not be more proud of the work of Amy and Chrissy in this area. Get ready folks!

In anticipation of the work and discovery that’s yet to come, here is a quick recap of some of the journey’s highlights so far…

Summer 2014
MVIFI issues badges through credly for FUSE facilitators
Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.04.48 PM

Fall 2014
– Launched first 4 badges for students to earn focused on Digital Citizenship
– Conducted research and reflected on “Hacking Badges

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 2.49.55 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 2.50.23 PMSummer 2015
– Students Engage in optional DIY summer learing. Earn digital badges.
– 2 #MVMiddle Teachers engage in XLR8 Summer Grant to research & develop badging.
Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.01.48 PM

Fall 2015
– Start with Faculty. Show the value in using badges as a way to expand the learning measures. Why Badges?
– Experiment with Students slowly. Find pockets of excellence (TAB, Duolingo, Study Skills, Chrome Ninja II Camp)
bandanaallcolorsRead article from MVPS website about students embracing badging through summer DIY program.