Posts filed under Uncategorized

A Blue STEAM engine

Right now, at the MIT Media Lab, RISD the Institute of Design at Stanford, and NYU's ITP program, graduate students are tinkering, designing and making at the edges of technology with tools that we can only imagine, as well as tools that we have had at our sides for ages. Here in New York City, children at places like Beam Center and the Makery are working to understand component parts of technology --circuitry, sodoring, programming, robotics-- in combination with a multitude of design techniques to "make" their way to innovative implemenation of powerful ideas. Taken together, there is widespread agreement that makers represent an important future direction for education -- a perfect combination of tools for scientific and design innovation and 21st century skills like collaboration, flexibility and creativity. Since our inception, Blue School's DNA has been infused with the spirit of making. Three of our founders (Chris Wink, Matt Goldman, and Phil Stanton, the founding Blue Men) used a variety of materials and big ideas to build Blue Man Group, and a show that comments critically and creatively on our society. Then, as now, we understand that children need to own and make their ideas real using the academic, social and technical skills we teach in school.  In many ways, Blue School assigns a 21st century exclamation point to the education research that informs our work, as well as shoots off a question mark about what is next and how we can keep getting better.

A lot is going on with our makers at Blue School right now, and we are building the scaffolding for more to come.

Next week, our second graders will be learning to fly (almost). Working with a visiting faculty member from Beam Center (who is a tinkerer, woodworker, artist, and robot-maker in his own right), our seven and eight year olds will build a glider together. Their idea to build a glider emerged from studying birds and looking at DaVinci's observations, designs, and artistry. In kindergarten, children are building houses, vehicles and hotels to redesign our neighborhood which is still struggling to recover after Sandy (yes, more than six months later). They are using tubing, soil, wood, and other materials at various scales. In first grade, children have built a classroom-sized wooden Rube Goldberg machine, and are working diligently to add, take away, and explore to see how things move, fall down, and stand up.


They are scientists and tinkerers, asking questions, failing and trying again. They discuss how machines can have an impact on the world.

And, what's next? We are bringing the practice of making to a new level at Blue School by working to codify a sequence of specific skills and experiences children need to be innovators and makers in the era of digital technology. If we aim to graduate 21st century inventors, engineers, and creatives, then school must be a laboratory where children can test out and experience those roles now. Thanks to conversations with people like our esteemed Advisory Board member John Maeda, president of RISD, Jon Santiago at HTINK,  Mike Fischthal at Pixel Academy, Brian Cohen at Beam Center, and Deb Windsor at Construction Kids, and influences from books like Design.Make.Play and MakeSpace, we hope to make the conversation around integrating and teaching 21st century skills broader, louder and more visible by developing maker spaces and experiences at Blue School that give our children access to the same types of thinking that is happening at the graduate level.

Posted on May 8, 2013 and filed under Uncategorized.

Vehicle Stories from Kindergarten B

I’m thrilled to announce guest bloggers Molly DeGesero and Richard Jenkins, the teaching team of Kindergarten B. At Blue School, we think a great deal about how children develop not only the skills but also the agency to become active and purposeful readers and writers. In the post below, Molly and Rich show how literacy (as well as so much else) begins with children's natural inclination to tell stories.

From Molly and Rich

“The children themselves continually reminded us that play [is] still their most usable context.” Vivian Gussin Paley 2004

Every day in Kindergarten, children walk into the classroom filled with ideas, excitement and energy. It is our job as educators to watch the children at their work: play. When children play, they tell a story. They tell stories based on their lives, their experiences, their hopes and their dreams. A play theme of family might tell the story of a little girl lost in the woods found by her faithful puppy and returned to the safety of her home. Another story might begin with Ninjas conquering the bad guys of the world and transform into a peaceful meal around a common table. As we observe, we think about ways for children to document and record the stories they create through play.

This year, Kindergarten B had the opportunity to visit ConstructionKids, a child centered woodworking lab in Brooklyn, where we created wooden vehicles. When we returned to Blue School holding our vehicles proudly,  we naturally went back to the work of children: we needed to play with them! After painting them with Glow Paint and playing with them in various environments from the Glow Hall to our own classroom, we elevated elements of story embedded in their play with these vehicles. We asked the children to create story maps: Who drives your vehicle (character)? Where does your vehicle drive (setting) and what does your vehicle do (action)?

With our story maps and vehicles in hand, small groups of children ventured out into our Construction Lab to “play the story of our vehicles.” Children first sat in a circle and looked through their story maps, but like any good author plans change once you begin writing! A story map including an adventure in the forest changed when the vehicle met another vehicle that took them into an elaborate city dwelling. Children's social interactions  influenced the kind of stories they were telling! At this moment, we supported the children in documenting and saving their stories. Once they had finished playing, they sat around the computer and dictated their “vehicle story” to a teacher. Children listened to one another’s stories with care and intention. They were excited at the twists and turns taken and even remarked that what they played wasn’t necessarily the story that ended up being told. Below are two sample stories from this experience.


Story A: Told in the Construction Lab with Glow Vehicle

Once upon a time, there was a car that had lots of friends. She was thinking, “Why can’t I go somewhere else?” Finally, she wanted to go somewhere and that included the places she was close to. Then she remembered that the closest places were where there was nature. Then she thought, “Why can’t I build a road there so I can go whenever I want to?” “I’m going to build a road so I can get there.” She made friends with animals. Then the animals needed to get to places. She brought them there.

The End

Story B: Told in the Construction Lab with Glow Vehicle

I am a car, which lives in a house. I am a normal car but I fly and swim in rivers. I have three friends, one is named Orion, one is named Dino and one is named India. I can do most anything. But I can get stuck in rain. I have the power to travel anyway but I cannot die. I stick with what I know. I believe in what I see. I made my life about recycling and keeping planet earth clean. I live in a recycling plant made for cars with an area with really nice beds and jumps and everything. I love to go visit my friends India and Orion. Dino comes to visit me. Not the other way around. I have one more question. Think up some more please.

The End

Posted on April 26, 2013 and filed under Uncategorized.

On being a great teacher

Blue School prospective parents sometimes ask me what qualifications I look for in a teacher, or where our teachers come from. I usually stop and have to think, because the qualifications for me of a masterful teacher are truly a set of personal and intellectual qualities demonstrated over time more than a list of itemized skills. And while checklists, rubrics, and multiple lists of attributes that define great teaching and skilled teachers certainly exist, I think we have lost the forest for the trees in a profession that lies so stubbornly on that sparkling line between art and science. For me, and at Blue School, a masterful teacher is a person of intellect, who is engaged and excited by the prospect of understanding a child's mind, personhood, and individual nature a little bit better every day. She has chosen this vocation not to be loved by her students, but to appreciate and understand who they are and the mystery and wonder that they bring each day. A masterful teacher has fun with children and holds them in the highest regard (and thus to the highest standards), looks them in the eyes, laughs at their jokes, smiles when they succeed, and helps them get up when they fail.

A masterful teacher has a vision for the classroom that is both responsive to the children he teaches but also unwavering in his attention to what they need to learn at all developmental stages. She knows that freedom of thought comes within structure and parameters. He cherry-picks the best from great educational programs and current ideas, and makes them his own. She is inviting to families and values their partnership, and works to ensure that each child is seen and known from all sides. He is a reader of books and a person with ideas about the world.

A masterful teacher is a team player, and knows that her practice is as much about building the school as it is about her classroom. She is courageous enough to take and incorporate feedback from colleagues, and creative enough to take the suggestions farther than the giver ever intended. He is a collaborator through thick and thin, knowing the work of nurturing good citizens and people requires hearing one another out, healthy disagreement, and patience, as well as the thrill that comes with an idea better played out by two rather than one. She is exceedingly humble and curious about our work, knowing that the more she learns, the more questions she will have.

This is a tall order, and it is no wonder that as the national conversation about education narrows, so many of these brilliant and expansive thinkers are leaving the classroom. I see it as my responsibility to create a culture where people like this can learn, grow, take risks and thrive, just as we want them to do for our children.

Posted on April 1, 2013 and filed under Uncategorized.

"Rainbows in the clouds"

This weekend, I was surrounded by close to 10,000 people -- teachers, school leaders, and other educators -- who chose to attend the ASCD annual conference (#ASCD13) in Chicago. There were many important ideas to share -- and I will do so in future posts -- but I wanted most immediately to share with you my thoughts listening to Maya Angelou. In a room of 10,000, Ms. Angelou made the space feel intimate by singing an old song with lyrics: "God puts rainbows in the clouds." She explained her belief that the rainbows in the clouds are there "so that each of us- in the dreariest and most dreaded moments- can see a possibility of hope." Angelou told her own life story and spoke about her own rainbows that allowed her to grow from a child who was selectively mute for several years into the woman, defying any label, that she is today. Then, she said to all of us, "YOU. You are the rainbows in the clouds."

We educators are lucky in that no matter what our school's circumstance, our every day work begins with hope. We come to school with the hope and optimism that today, we might change a life, light a fire, catch a moment of creativity that can one day change the world. We also hope that the minds we touch will not only be changed but that they will change others.  Every day at Blue School, I cherish the responsibility to lead a school where it is possible, through our efforts, for children to do  and practice the kind of thinking that can "make a ding in the universe." We do not take this responsibility lightly.

Angelou ended with the poem, Brave and Startling Truth that she wrote for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. These two final stanzas remind us that we represent the possible:

"When we come to it We, this people, on this wayward, floating body Created on this earth, of this earth Have the power to fashion for this earth A climate where every man and every woman Can live freely without sanctimonious piety Without crippling fear

When we come to it We must confess that we are the possible We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world That is when, and only when We come to it."

I am grateful to have the chance to come to it each day.

Posted on March 20, 2013 and filed under Uncategorized.

Budding scientists

A few weeks ago, I went to MoMath, an incredible new museum in Manhattan where the beauty, complexity, and joyful nature of math is visible and available for thirsty and voracious learners to explore. I gravitated towards their Zometools, building tools that allow children to build all types of geometric constructions. I rushed to purchase many boxes of these tools (among other fantastic games) for Blue School. I delivered them to classrooms on Monday. On Thursday, a child came to me with the sculpture he made from the tools, and a card on which he labeled the sculpture, "Flaming Flowers." He told me I could "borrow" the sculpture for a few days – his way of saying thank you for purchasing the tools for his classroom. It sits on my table now, on loan until Monday. 

We examined it and spoke about his process, and then we turned it upside down, and we saw his flowers become a rocket ship. Later on in the day, I walked upstairs, where kindergarten children created a structure by balancing sticks on top of one another. They had created a perfectly balanced cluster of about 15 sticks on top of just one or two. I asked them what they were building and each child joyfully shared a different description. I challenged them to keep going to see how high they could build their structure. One child said, "But what if it falls down?" and the other responded, "Well then, we will try again."

What does this have to do with saving science?

Dr. Anissa Ramirez, Ph.D., engineer, who spoke with co-founder Matt Goldman at SXSWedu last week, credits her inquiry training in the sciences with giving her the ability to "stare at an unknown and not run away, [because this] melding of uncertainty and curiosity is where innovation and creativity occur." By giving children the space and time to explore a variety of materials, we encourage them to question, take on new perspectives, work together, conjecture, and support their thinking with evidence. At Blue, children are given time to observe and reflect, to compare, connect, and extend their ideas. They learn how to assess what worked and what didn't, and how to try again.

Across the subject areas we explore at Blue, we emphasize the tools children need to be active learners and partners in their education rather than passive recipients of content. As the E.O Wilson offered in his advice to young scientists at TEDMED, "What is crucial is not technical ability, but imagination in all of its applications."

So, when you hear someone speak of creativity in opposition to (or even just next to) science, remind them how Ramirez and E.O. Wilson, and all of our most cherished scientists and engineers, use their creativity. Tell them about the courageous, imaginative, disciplined, project-based work that scientists do in pursuit of the big ideas they create that make the world better. Then, tell them Blue stories about balancing acts in kindergarten and the flaming flowers/ rocket ship in first grade, and more, about ways our children are thinking about pop up playgrounds for areas impacted by natural disasters, methods to solve a math problem, or ways to preserve the history of our Seaport. Creativity is not just for the arts and it is not an add-on to the Blue curriculum. Creativity is essential to everything we do, including as Ramirez says so well, to saving science.

Posted on March 8, 2013 and filed under Uncategorized.


I am jealous of the children at Blue School. Because they take off their shoes in the morning as though they have just come home.

Because they begin their day by entering into a safe, joyful circle of friends, and even sometimes dance and sing to start their days.

Because then, they get to read, to laugh, to delve into books about families, or “greedy apostrophes,” or the One and Only Ivan, about triumphs, the history of the world, or about the possibilities for Lego. They get to talk and think about these books.

Because they play through their stories and ideas, and then write them up, talking deeply with friends and teachers about their ideas and their work.

Because during their days, they discuss revolution, the difference between work and play, the best way to build a ramp for speed, how electricity really works, how to make a map or a graph, how to find out who counts, where our food comes from, or what it means when a fish market in lower Manhattan is torn down.

Because they can take a puppet parade into the streets and sing loud enough so that the whole Seaport can hear.

Because at two and three, they rub their hands in shaving cream all over the tables and themselves in glow lights, and people around them smile, instead of telling them to stop.

Because when they have an idea, someone is right there to listen and ask questions about it.

Because they are transforming a classroom into a forest.

Because they write well and articulate their grand thoughts; because they can argue a point.

Because their teachers write about them with admiration and appreciation between the lines, and collect their work with them to archive it so that they will forever have a story of learning to share.

Because they can make imaginary castles and skyscrapers, as well as forts and art installations with their blue blocks. And then they can knock them down with the confidence that they can build something new.

Because their parents are discerning and know that deep exploration and finding out, as well as

being seen,


and heard,

are at the center of a great education.

Because they are deep into Howard Zinn.

Because we have stealth artists who change the Andy Goldsworthy-inspired installation on the 5th floor every day without being noticed.

Because they challenge one another’s thinking about numbers, and problems, and give each other feedback, and actually – even at 3 years old – reflect on their work.

Because their families sit together and stay together and live their lives together and form a community around the belief that they are giving their children a voice, the tools and the experiences in the world to

find their passion

make it big

and make a ding in the universe.

Marianne Williamson says “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

I often think about what it is that gets in the way of a national commitment to change the way we educate our children, given that everything we know about the brain says that children must discover, and play, and solve complex problems. I wonder if it is the powerful results (Williamson’s "light") that we see when it happens, and the potential for real, potent voices of all kinds, and shapes and sizes to emerge and to challenge our what-has-always-beens. Do we have what it takes to allow for a generation of children to grow up with the sharp and clear determination as well as the capacity to challenge us all to be better?

For us at Blue School, it is an honor and a privilege to spend our lives pursuing the connection between what we know about children’s learning and our educational practices, and to reconnect that which we all say that we want – a more sustainable and harmonious world – with our daily lives in school.

Posted on February 1, 2013 and filed under Uncategorized.

A Little Bit of New York City, by our second graders (2nd A)

Dear friend on the other side of the world, Today I am sending you

a model of my city.

Place it on your dresser

so you can smell the

salty air by the East River,

hear skateboards rolling

over the concrete street,

see cars driving on back roads,

hear the wind zooming

through the wavy trees and

the still, still buildings,

see the lights on the Brooklyn

Bridge making shadows in the water.

So you can hear music

that calls you like

Pavlov's dog and makes you

want to run to the

truck and eat ice cream,

smell the omelets

and the french toast

and the salad

coming from Hope and

Anchor in Brooklyn

Taste the black and white cookies and

smoked salmon coming from

the restaurant on Barclay Street,

and the salty french fries,

see the taxis driving fast like a cheetah.

So you can see the seagulls

wings flapping

like a bumblebee,

see the bikers' adrenaline

pumping on the bike trail,

the silent buildings all in a

row like a graveyard on Bleecker Street,

hear the ferry crashing through

the big waves in the water,

see the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center.

So you can climb a skyscraper.

Climb to the top

and wave to me

Then please, please

come visit me.

*Inspired by "Dear Friend in the Desert" by Kristine O'Connell George

Posted on January 14, 2013 and filed under Uncategorized.

Winter Celebration

This week began with a powerful moment as we all gathered for Community Meeting after last Friday's events in Newtown, and heard the first grade lead us through Woody Guthrie's "Why Oh Why" and then our fours sing "This Little Light of Mine." As we ended our meeting in quiet reflection, we held our children tight and were thankful, our hearts full as our thoughts wandered to those who are now without loved ones, and for the despair and anger that events like those at Sandy Hook summon up in us. And yet, as educators and parents we are charged with helping to look forward, and that is what we did at our Winter Celebration on Thursday. From our 4th graders' two-part a capella Dona Nobis Pacem to the K-2 flash mob accompanied by the tunes of the Trans Siberian Orchestra to the community-wide singing of Auld Lang Syne, it was a moment, as one parent said to me, that Blue School was most profoundly itself.

Moments later, families wandered the building to see the ways that children made the learning of their semester visible. They wandered up the "Tower Where Wintertime Lives" an installation of children's letters to winter with a recording of their voices resonating throughout the stairwell; they demonstrated their knowledge of bridges and how to build them, wrote poetry about the definition of beauty in a changed neighborhood, modeled art installations on the work of Andy Goldsworthy, explored the impact of water and wind during a hurricane, and much more.

It was such a pleasure to see all of you there, and we wish you all the best, and a powerful, enchanting 2013.

Posted on December 21, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

Badger and the Book Fair

From the story, Crow and Weasel, by Barry Lopez (1998): Remember this one thing, said Badger. The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memories. That is how people care for themselves.

Last week was a week about books and stories at Blue. On Tuesday night, after months of hard work and incredible organization by dedicated parents, our Activity Space was transformed into the Blue School Book Fair where a wonderfully curated collection of titles for the littlest to the biggest (grown up) readers were on display for the choosing. It was irresistable, and I had to go back day after day just to settle on which books to buy and to explore it fully. During these few days, we had visiting authors reading throughout the grade levels, including those from outside and from our own staff as well. It was a deliciously literature-filled week, worthy of the Badger. Please see pictures!

book fair 2619
book fair 0020
book fair 01 copy
Posted on December 11, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

"Spill the word on its side and see what comes out"


Yesterday, we had Lee Ann Brown, acclaimed poet and 4th grade parent, join our 3rd and 4th graders in a poetry lesson. During the course of her lesson, she had our young poets writing busily. In introducing her lesson, she said: you need to "spill the word on its side, and see what comes out." In her acrostic poem, August spilled out her name and wrote: An Unusual Gust Under the South Trees. 

Yes! Spill the word -- even, spill the WORLD -- to see what comes out. Over the past few weeks, it has been incredible to see the ways that children spill their worlds to see what comes out. After reviewing the damage in the area and becoming "part of history," our 2nd graders are studying the question of "what is beauty?" Our 3rd graders are thinking about culture -- what defines it, where does it live and where is it created? Our 2s have ended their study of water, and are now pursuing its opposite in earth (or clay), learning how the world can be manipulated in such different ways with their hands. And in studio, 4th graders are creating silhouettes that represent their research studies of revolution and evolution over time. They have been considering the following questions in their studio class as they create these silhouettes and make their thinking visible through artistic representation: If history is a series of stories, who tells the stories? How do different points of view change a given history? Why is it important to consider all points of view? Why does perspective matter? Here is a bit of their conversation:

Child 1: " The winners write the history books.  Say there's a big war and the side that eventually wins AND the side that lost did some bad stuff.  The winners bend it so that they look like they did all the good stuff and the losers all the bad stuff."

Child 2: "Isn't that called propaganda?"

Child 3: "... I can't explain why it just is it gives you a different story, a different picture of what happened.  Maybe because what actually happened is going to be different than what somebody thought.  It's not just what you heard."


Here's to all we are working to do to do a bit more spilling out of the world to study what comes out, and a little less telling children what they must find.

Posted on November 30, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

a day in the life of questions

Over the past few weeks, we have been preparing for our Make the Road by Walking meeting, which we held last night to give parents a clear understanding of Blue School's status and where we are going. In general, I believe so strongly that we need to show more than tell, so I prepared a short video to illustrate the types of wonderings and questions our children have each day in our school.

So, to wit, a day in the life of questions at Blue School.

And it's true: here, when a child wonders (do horses sneeze? where do dreams come from?) we respond with a set of paints and a big sheet of paper. When a child cries, a friend goes to help. When children ask questions about a devastating hurricane, about friendship, about plants,  people from the past, we include those questions in our studies. When it is time to look at their progress, we ask them to speak first. Children are, most profoundly, at our center and our core. They are known. And seen. We push, respond, and listen. We play.

And here’s the thing. While good educators have instinctively known for a while that play is productive, we now know that it’s actually a requirement for learning – indeed, at its best, learning IS the best kind of play (joy, engagement, passion and people) all the way through. So, we play because of the way it changes the brain to handle complex experiences, to consolidate new ideas, and to increase insights and creativity. We play because then, when children get to interview the elderly of the Seaport or discuss the nuances of the American revolution and its causes, they can do so with the flexibility they need to understand and consolidate their learning. We do it so that they can learn about boundaries with their friends and with grown ups too. So that when they read the Odyssey in 5th grade and study the hero and its match, the innocent, they can create and apply complex theories to the world they see around them. Just as they will in early adolescence when their brains change as or more rapidly than they do from 0-3, and they become the big and critical thinkers that we all know them to be. Play is not about lessening expectations – it's the opposite, in fact. Every minute that children play, they are preparing for reading and writing, connections and ideas, becoming resilient, collaborating, and building relationships and meaning.

Posted on November 20, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

From the rising water... our work ahead

On Monday night, we held our breath as pictures revealed a terrifying reality in the South Street Seaport neighborhood and at our school. The entire neighborhood, subways, and so much of New York City flooded. The warnings, speeches and predictions of the past could not have prepared us for the reality of facing a flooded and severely damaged New York City and east coast. Since Tuesday afternoon, our team has been onsite gutting and rebuilding our first floor, throwing out many items, the hardest of which was the student work that we'd carefully stowed in a newly organized storage room on the first floor. We have been incredibly lucky and awed by the showing of community support and love we've seen over these days, and to have an incredible staff to be reckoned with. Staff members and parents who had no power, heat or place to live came within hours on Wednesday morning to help pull documents, materials and furniture from the building.

And at the end of the week, I am tired but proud of our school and its wonderful people, and even more urgently focused on our mission. The flood in our city is just the beginning: the climate is changing quickly, the global landscape is interconnected in a way that requires incredibly creative, flexible and complex thinking. We have no more time to tinker around the edges. The national conversation about education feels in many ways like a diversion from the reality that, in most educational contexts, we are not even close to educating young people in a way that matches the complexities of challenges we face. I hope that in schools (and I know that at Blue School), we will allow children to grapple with questions that emerge from cases like these: how do government leaders respond when faced with a complex challenge like this? what about more informal leaders or groups within communities? who counts in the recovery? how can a city or a government divert resources from one place to another? how do we decide what to do first? what could we do to better prepare our coasts for increasing flooding and topographical changes? how would a city exist without basic services? how can we cultivate compassion, service and the desire to hear one another out in our culture? and after all, how does a community make change?

If we give children the chance to ask and answer hard questions as a daily practice--the chance to try out a solution in theory and learn from failures--they will be hard wired to pose answers to the questions that will come to them in their lifetimes, the likes of which we can only imagine.

Posted on November 4, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

Creativity: an academic domain?

I would like to shift our school's conversation about creativity from one that is connected solely to the artistic domain, to one that is nuanced, and is better defined by Ken Robinson who writes that creativity is "the process of having original ideas that have value." If education serves as the foundation for improving one's life and our world, as I would say  it does, then having original ideas that have value is at the core of what schools should endeavor to do. Stating the challenge is one thing; meeting it is a complicated dance. At once, here at Blue School, we provide a great deal of room for wonder, curiosity, and exploration. We open up time and space, provide materials with which to explore, and we follow children's interests and questions.  We catch moments of creativity and support children to build them out into innovative projects and throughlines in all domains from scientific inquiry to social interactions to creative writing. At the same time, we equip them with tools to read, write and use numbers and facts, with understandings about the histories and ideas in our world. We teach them to communicate in a myriad of ways, try on different lenses, and show them examples of the best thinkers, question-askers, and explorers. We do this so that they can master specific ideas and domains and so that they are ready to pursue an original idea when it arises.

We want to know more about how this looks in our classrooms now, as well as what strategies and routines we can and do use to further the having of original ideas. This year, some of our teachers will be pursuing this question through an action research project with the support of New York University and our Director of Research and Documentation, Lindsey Russo. We are looking forward to thinking more specifically about how our approaches here at Blue School nurture the conditions for creative and innovative thought. I look forward to sharing our thoughts, new questions and learnings with you.

Posted on October 19, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

How Children Succeed

A few Saturdays ago, I attended a talk by Paul Tough, the author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Tough is the author of the much quoted New York Times article What if the Secret to Success if Failure? The book is an extension of the article, and the case for the importance of character in the success of children. If you have time, read the book, but if not, here are a few thoughts that made me think of our children and our school. First, relationships and attachment matters. I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but it is worth mentioning that scientifically, we understand that the ways that parents and children attach during childhood provide the secure base from which children can feel empowered to explore.

Second, Tough reminds us, some adversity helps to build resilience, perseverance and grit. Paul Tough writes about a kind of U curve. When scientists asked a cross section of people to identify incidents of adversity, he found that (predictably) those with high incidents of adversity in their lives often faced incredible challenges as adolescents and adults. However, he notes that those who had no incidents of adversity also struggled a great deal. Those who were the most successful in work and relationships as adults had 2-5 incidents of adversity growing up. These experiences with mistakes and even failure helped them build resilience, perseverance, and ultimately character. While obviously, no parent wishes for adversity for their children, it is important to know that these experiences are key factors in the pursuit and attainment of happiness, success, and meaning in their lives. In the minutia of the everyday classroom, we take this stance towards risk, mistakes, and setbacks. While we want to give children tools to keep getting better and practicing, we also have to be willing to let them struggle and fall a bit, and be there to help them get up and try again.

One example of this was a moment I observed in a classroom today. A child had made a mistake yesterday which caused upset and hurt among classmates. A discussion took place among the class, and the child apologized for stepping outside of the bounds of what the children expect from each other. In turn, each child put their hand over their heart, looked this young person in the eye, thanked him for his apology, and said that they'd forgiven him for his mistake. What an important lesson to learn that mistakes happen, are hard, incur feelings from other people, and can be resolved and learned from -- for every child in the class.

Third, and related, is grit. It is a bit of a buzzword these days, but the meaning Duckworth (the originator of "grit," and TedxBlue speaker) posits is this: perseverance in pursuit of a passion. As I mentioned in an earlier blog and in my remarks at our event earlier this year, we are working on praise for effort and practice, and on searching for the best combination of an open ended exploration of ideas with a disciplined approach to fleshing them out. That is, how can we embolden children to pursue their passions by exposure and explorations in many domains and through many lenses, but also provide them with practice and discipline in those pursuits so that they can notice a shortcoming, a place to work harder, or a next step? How can we help them persist rather than give up?

When we speak about the Blue "bubble" which I have heard some here do, it makes me think. In so many ways, school should be a bubble where warmth, engagement, and curiosity reign, and some of the harder things we face as adults are kept at bay, and yet I also believe that school can and should be the place where we test out our mettle, learn from conflict and struggle, understand multiple perspectives that look different from our own, and wrestle with sometimes hard moments.

I'd love to hear from those of you who have read or are reading this book. It's a great, fascinating read, and one that I think underlies much of what we consider here each day.

Posted on October 11, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

Our better, "bluer" selves

I was listening to an almost founding parent recently who spoke about how moved he was by the idea that the school was founded as a place where we "treat each other with just a little more consideration than is usually evident out in the 'real world.'"  He said that at its origin, there was a sense that not only would community members bring Blue to our classrooms and families, but also out into the world. I believe that treating each other with a little more consideration means pushing each of us to be our better selves each day. For our children, we host a daily morning meeting where children greet one another, look one another in the eye, and share thoughts, ideas, wonderings. Do we do that well enough as adults? We ask children to reflect and consider how our differences make us stronger. Do we value difference as adults, or seek sameness? We ask children to try on the lenses and perspectives of others. Do we consider the lenses of our colleagues, friends, teachers, families? We ask children to ensure that no one is teased, ignored or put down, that they seek to understand and treasure one another. Do we do this consistently at work, at home, and with each other at school? We ask children to speak directly to one another when a problem arises. Do we speak directly with one another enough? We ask children that when they make mistakes with others, to make it right with the person they wronged. Do we spend time hearing each other out?

For me, it is lifelong work each day to hold myself to the standards of respect, excellence, and joyfulness that I (and I think we) have for our children every day. I hope if nothing else, we instill in them the sense that this will be a lifelong project, and that practice with focus, meaning, joyfulness, conflict, relationships, setbacks, and pursuit of knowledge is what we do in school. I have that hope for all of their grown ups as well.

Posted on October 4, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

Small questions go big

This week, two small questions became big in kindergarten and first grade, which is what we all want great questions to do. In KA, children were asked to consider what they already know already about numbers. 

Next in 1A, two children cornered me in the stairwell: "How many days of school are there?" I responded that I had no idea (why should a Head of School know something like that!?) It launched an investigation that started with examining cubes in their classroom. Now, 1A is immersed in a deep exploration of how cubes can be used to answer this very relevant question. They made a plan: they looked at the school calendar, counted the number of days in each month, created each month with cubes, and then attached them all together. The small group then recruited the entire class into the research because different groups were getting counts that are not the same. As one student shared with everyone in reflection, "Maybe the whole class can help!"

Classroom observations:

Students used a calendar to figure out how many days we are in school each month. One child shares with the class that it was "really hard work."

Two students began to count of all of the cubes that represent the days that we are in school each month.

One student is excited when the count is finished and the number is over 100!

Another student's idea to count by 10 to see if we can get a number that always comes out to be the same. One child shares: "Our numbers are different again!"

Today, I heard they have a final answer!

Posted on September 27, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

Notes from Summer Institute, Part 2

One of the most important aspects of teacher work in a lab school is action research, which is the process through which teachers create, explore and implement new ideas. During the Summer Institute over the past few weeks, we began a deep dive into the question of creativity, and how we can cultivate and capture it in our classrooms. When you come to Orientation today, you will see some of the initial thinking about this inquiry on the walls of the Commons (formerly known as the MPR). 

Two days to go! See you soon.

Posted on September 4, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

Notes from the Summer Institute, Part 1

Late August is one of my favorite times in schools.  The building starts to shine. The repairs are completed. Brand new manipulatives, crayons, craypas, books, and paper arrive and the lobby fills with boxes. The big ideas and planning of the summer turn into the daily reality of children and families, of teaching and learning. In this way, 241 Water Street came alive last week.  We began with our new faculty members on Monday, and were joined on Wednesday by the entire staff and returning faculty. Each  day begins with a Responsive Classrooms morning circle led by a teacher -- each with a Blue School spin -- and they have already moved from celebrations of wonderful summer moments, to thoughtful reflections on our best moments with children in the past, to hopes for what is to come.  What began as a group of people fresh from the summer has become in just a few days, a professional, collegial community.

Most vibrantly, this week our first major studies of the year emerged. This year, our students will be studying, among other things: the biology of plant life and the impact plants have on our lives;  the nature of work and play in children now and in the past; the culture, history, traditions and practicalities of food; how humans make buildings; the incredible stories of the people of our South Street neighborhood as it has changed; the histories of our families; the systems through which decisions are made in the US (do rules make the community or do communities make the rules?) as the election comes upon us, and more.

And the ideas keep coming from our energetic and super-smart faculty: a "picnic basket" of ideas and questions passed from classroom to classroom to share the work of each group across the school, systems and structures for improving our common spaces as children begin to own and plan for them by grade level, and a quilt of ideas and themes created by our faculty as their studies evolve.  The energy is palpable, and we know it will be even more so as the children arrive and complement our ideas with their specific curiosities, wonderings, and passions.

Best of all, we have another full week together! Stay tuned...

Posted on August 27, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

Teaching Innovation Conference

I'm thrilled to let you know about a conference we are planning on Thursday, November 15th. Titled Teaching Innovation: giving children responsibility for their learning and our world, we have invited a number of speakers to share their ideas and practices surrounding the notion of responsibility for learning: how it looks, how we cultivate it, and what it means (see this flyer). Already, we have wonderful speakers from the world of early childhood and primary education committed to speak, and we hope and expect many more presentations to emerge from schools and educators all over. While the conference has been created for educators, we hope that if you would like to attend, you will sign up to do so. Related to this topic, please take 15 minutes to watch the video below. It illustrates what responsibility and ownership for learning look like in older children.  These high school students in the Berkshires created "The Independent Project," a student driven approach to learning that exists as a small school within their large high school. It's just 15 minutes, and you'll see the kind of self-assured, flexible, powerful and curious learners that result from student-driven curriculum once children have the tools for exploration of their worlds. The video was shared by Sam Chaltain, who will be speaking at our conference in November. Enjoy!

Posted on August 17, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

Collectively raising successful, happy children

One of the wonderful things about Blue School is that at its core, it is an invitation to consider not only critical questions within education, but also to explore our shared responsibility as parents and educators to raise happy, passionate, successful children. Defining those words, and what they mean to each of us, is a complicated matter. For me, so much of the work of building a school is working through these questions together. Recently, I've seen two really interesting pieces that move this conversation forward. The first is an hour-long video from the Aspen Ideas Festival. It features a conversation between key players in the world of education and parenting, including advisory board member Larry Cohen, Ellen Galinsky, and Amy Chua, author of Tiger Mom. If you can spare some time, you will find this discussion very thought-provoking. I did with both my parent and educator hats on. Second, if you haven't already seen it, the New York Times Sunday Review last weekend featured an article called "Raising Successful Children," arguing again for a balance in our parenting. In this article, Madeleine Levine references Carol Dweck's Mindset, which is a great book about the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset. Her work was also featured in a New York Magazine article in the Spring about the impact of praise.

If you've had a chance to read the Berger piece in my last entry (no guilt if you haven't), Dweck's work provides a simple and compelling rationale for putting student effort at the center of our classrooms, and our praise.

Happy reading.

Posted on August 7, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.