Learning How to Learn

“Neuroteach” co-author Glenn Whitman will speak at Country Day Thursday, Aug. 16, about helping children achieve their full potential. The event is free but tickets are required. Click here to register.

Last year when Rachel Schmalhofer walked into a workshop on learning and the brain, she was curious. When she walked out, she was converted.

“I was just blown away at how fun and charismatic they were, and how easily they took meaty scientific research and made it accessible. As soon as I left the workshop, I knew we could apply what they were talking about across the whole LCDS community,” said the director of learning services.

“They” are Ian Kelleher and Glenn Whitman, and the pair distilled current research on mind, brain and education science into an eminently readable and practical book called “Neuroteach,” which every teacher received a copy of at the beginning of the year.

“This is just the jumping off point,” said Schmalhofer. “LCDS has made a commitment to staying on the cutting edge of mind, brain and education research and our efforts will continue to grow every year. What we are doing is a really big deal and represents an effort to create a culture of learning not just for our students, but for our teachers and parents as well. We want to practice what we preach.

“It’s different because it’s an undertaking that engages the entire community: teachers working to use current research to inform their practices, and teaching students to become more efficient, effective, motivated learners; parents continuing the conversation at home; students developing their abilities to be reflective about their learning and to approach learning from a mastery orientation rather than a performance orientation,” she said.

Classes as disparate as Brenna Stuart’s World Civ II and Sheryl Krafft’s preschool have embraced the idea that understanding the brain, the organ of learning, is critical to learning, and they’ve seen it bear fruit. The profound — if occasionally just plain common sense — ideas animating their efforts receive  thorough and engaging explication in Whitman’s “Neuroteach.”

Whitman is the director of the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL) at St. Andrew’s School, with whom Country Day has become a partner school. Other partners include Johns Hopkins and Harvard. Whitman is coming to Country Day Thursday, Aug. 16, to speak with the community about helping children achieve their full potential. Click here to register.

Part of the partnership entails sending one administrator and one teacher from each division to a week-long workshop at the CTTL for at least the next three summers. This year’s group consists of Todd Trout, Lindsay Deibler-Wallace, Sue LeFevre and Joie Formando.

“Why are we doing this? Because we always want to be the obvious best choice for your child’s education,” Schmalhofer said.

The Never-Ending Essay

For the last three years, the kids in Stuart’s World Civ II class have started off the year with an assignment that, if it were a movie, would be terrifying and star Boris Karloff: The Never-Ending Essay.

Students start in September and, this year, they finished in February.

It’s pass-fail with four phases. The first is Argument, the second is Organization, the third is Support and the fourth and most difficult for student and teacher alike is Clarity. In this last section, students have to shorten their essays

The minimum number of drafts is four; most kids do 12.

Stuart’s rationale for pass-fail is that, “Grades are a primitive form of feedback and this takes the focus away from grades and puts it on the feedback, which they can put into practice almost immediately. And it also allows me to completely individuate the instruction,” she said.

“So I’ll say, OK, your essay is this many words, make it 20 percent shorter. Find every instance of some form of the verb ‘to be’ and change 70 percent of those to active verbs. Sometimes the result is genuinely elegant, and I’m like, ‘Go read this to your mom!’”

“At the end of it, are they better writers? Yes. And they take ownership of their work in a way they didn’t at the start of the year,” Stuart said.

Emphasizing the value of feedback to further students’ learning is a critical idea in “Neuroteach,” that aligns perfectly with the book’s goals, that is, “research-proven foundational principles of effective teaching,” Schmalhofer said.

“It occurred to me that coaches have a different relationship with their players than teachers do with their students, and they can be hard on them in a way that drives them.” Stuart the Crypto-Drill Sergeant finally cracked the code, however, because the “essay puts me in the position to coach. It changes the relationship,” she said.

Filling Up Little Toolboxes

In the preschool classroom, Sheryl Krafft is putting another “Neuroteach” lesson into practice: the idea that a mistake is an opportunity to learn and try again.

“Mistakes are part of being a person,” Krafft said. “I want to show kids that when something happens, it’s not the end of the world. You just make a new plan. I want to strengthen their resiliency and fill up their toolbox so they have strategies for when things go wrong.

“I want to enable them to feel capable and to feel confident knowing they have a hand in solving problems, that they can do things on their own and make them come out the way they want if they stick with it and see their mistakes as a natural part of accomplishing something,” Krafft said.

Schmalhofer held up Krafft’s work as another model that exemplifies a “Neuroteach” principle.

“What Sheryl’s doing is laying the groundwork for students as young as 3 to approach learning from a mastery, rather than a performance orientation,” Schmalhofer said. “It’s a foundation that our teachers will be able to build on for the rest of their time here at LCDS.”


“Neuroteach” co-author Glenn Whitman will speak at Country Day Thursday, Aug. 16, about helping children achieve their full potential. The event is free but tickets are required. Click here to register.

 

Enjoying the Right to a Speedy and Public Mock Trial

By David W. ’18

On a crisp February morning, seven sharply dressed men and women flowed into the Lancaster County courthouse, through the security checkpoint and up to the seventh floor, toting the full complement of lawyerly accessories: briefcases, legal pads, and loose papers, pens and folders.

They walked briskly down an empty hallway toward Courtroom 19, where a bailiff ushered them through the two large wooden doors. They took a seat at one of the two counsel tables and arranged their case materials while they waited for the judge and jury to arrive.

The seven looked the part and acted the part, and they cut an impressive professional figure. Except for the fact that none of them were lawyers.

The dapper group consisted of six LCDS students and one teacher, and made up half of the school’s Mock Trial team. More likely than not, we looked less important and impressive than described. Still, narrative license aside, we walked with confidence.

“Mock Trial is performative,” said Jack K. ’19, an attorney for the LCDS Mock Trial team. “You need to look confident. The other team, the judge and the jury will think you know what you’re doing.”

Mock Trial is certainly a performance, and the preparation required to put on a good show is demanding. The class is a single-trimester elective course that begins in November. Students receive case materials shortly before Thanksgiving; by the end of the month, they have been assigned to either the Plaintiff (in a civil case), the Prosecution (in a criminal case), or the Defense, and they begin preparing for a trial.

Come early February, students compete against another team in front of a real judge and jury. They call witnesses, they make objections — they are in control. LCDS sends two groups to the courthouse on two days every year. This year, the Plaintiff team went first on February 13 and the Defense team followed a week later.

“It’s an incredible course. At the end of the day, we have to take a giant packet of course materials and condense them into a presentable, believable case that the jury can get behind,” said David D.T. ’19, a veteran of Mock Trial.

The case materials include jury instructions, a memorandum and opinion, witness affidavits, and around a dozen exhibits. The LCDS Mock Trial team must craft a legal argument around these papers. Each year, the Pennsylvania Bar Association provides the material for a civil case, giving three witness affidavits to both the Plaintiff and the Defense. On each side, three students play the role of witnesses and three others play the attorneys.

The class appeals to a diverse set of students with a variety of interests. Some take the class out of a passion for debate; others as a way of pursuing theater beyond the stage. Many share an interest in the law, and Mock Trial provides an excellent opportunity for students to explore both legal research and litigation.

However, the class is much more than Practical Lawyering 101; much of the curriculum is deeply rooted in philosophy and history. Students must have a basic understanding of common law in order to grasp more complex topics in the legal code.

To prepare for the final show, students comb through the affidavits and exhibits to gather evidence and draft questions for direct examination (in which an attorney asks questions of a friendly witness) and cross examination (in which an attorney demands answers from a hostile witness).

They read the Mock Trial Rules of Competition as well as the Rules of Evidence, which are taken nearly verbatim from federal evidentiary code. They research objections and prepare to defend their evidence at trial. The case is fiction, a contrivance of the PA Bar Association, but the process is very much real.

At trial, one attorney from each team makes an opening statement, followed by the Plaintiff beginning their case-in-chief. They call witnesses and ask direct questions. After direct, the Defense begins the cross-examination, using sharp logic and biting language to discredit the witness and undermine his or her testimony.

While a direct examination is more narrative, on cross-examination, the witness and the attorney fight for control. The lawyer backs the witness into a corner; the witness takes the question, spins it, and turns it back on the attorney. So it goes.

Throughout the entire process, opposing teams object to questions, evidence and procedure. The judge sustains or overrules every objection, and all the while the jury ranks the performances of witnesses and attorneys.

After the closing arguments, which are largely improvised and argumentative, the jury deliberates, tallies up the points, and announces a winner.

This year, LCDS Mock Trial posted its best performance in its decade-long history. After years of frustrations and learning experiences, the team has found its strength. “In past years, we spent a long time focusing on the substance of our argument. We’re still doing that, but this year, we rehearsed decorum and procedure. I think that’s what got us points with the jury,” said Matt Kelly, a local attorney who has run the Mock Trial program at LCDS since its inception.

“There’s a Mock Trial Council, complete with a Board of Directors and member students, that manages much of the class. I teach and advise, but the students have a lot of control over this operation.”

The competition culminates in a statewide championship trial in Harrisburg, with the winner advancing to national competition. Next year, David D.T. ’19 predicts, “We’re taking it to nationals. That’ll be our year.”

Artist in Residence Performs with LS Students

Prolific children’s musician Steven Courtney has been working with students in preschool-fifth grade to put on a unique performance for parents and other friends in the audience. The animated and eclectic show featured Courtney’s own compositions, such as “Banana the Rhino,” as well as Bob Marley’s laid back anthem “Three Little Birds.” Project Arts made the special event possible by underwriting the Artist in Residence program that allowed Courtney to work as closely with the students as he has.

001
011
022
023
032
033
038
046
049
062
065
066

A Week in the Life — Vol. 8

This special Spring Break edition of A Week in the Life features the spring musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Middle School vs. Faculty basketball action, preschoolers and their seventh grade buddies getting their Zumba on, and second grade’s Skype chat with astronaut Nick Hague. Hague is Dangeso M’s. uncle and answered student questions from Russia, where he’s training for his mission to the International Space Station in September.

002
003
007
010
017
023
Astro-Uncle — Audience
Astro-Uncle — Group
IMG_4640
IMG_4649
Lil Zumba-2
Lil Zumba-3
Lil Zumba
Mock Trial 2018 - 1
Mock Trial 2018 - 10
Mock Trial 2018 - 11
MS-Faculty B-ball-2
MS-Faculty B-ball-3
MS-Faculty B-ball-4
MS-Faculty B-ball-5
MS-Faculty B-ball-6
MS-Faculty B-ball-7
MS-Faculty B-ball
Career Day
Shape Safari-2
Shape Safari

Sondheim Meets Saturday Morning Cartoons in ‘Putnam County’

Of Director Kristin Wolanin’s myriad strengths, enthusiasm containment doesn’t rank toward the top.

“We’ve never done anything like this before, where the show is literally different every time, so the people who come to the Thursday night performance can come to the Friday night performance and come away with two unique experiences.

“It’s just such a fun show to do!” Wolanin said.

The curtain rises on the spring musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. Tickets are $7 in advance and available here, or $10 at the door.

“Putnam County” tells the story of six Middle Schoolers negotiating the minefield of adolescence and home-life baggage while keeping their eyes on the spelling bee prize. Running the bee are two adults whose shared history doesn’t stay in the past and one who hands out juice boxes to losing spellers in his role as “Official Comfort Counselor.” And, making a brief but meaningful cameo, is Jesus Christ.

“This has been freeing for the cast to go back to their Middle School roots,” said Wolanin. “There’s been a lot of self-discovery, a lot of personal growth and a lot of coming out of shells.”

The pushing themselves that Wolanin described happened both on and off the stage. Senior Clare J.had never sung on stage before. In the booth, Alex A. ’17 and Justin K. ’20 are in charge of sound and lights, respectively, both for the first time.

Like the troupe’s last play, “Almost, Maine,” this show features an ensemble of major characters rather than a protagonist or co-leads. This time around, there are nine principals and they all sing.

The New York Times described the songs as suggesting “a Saturday morning television cartoon set to music by Stephen Sondheim,” a characterization Wolanin agreed with.

“What these songs have in common with Sondheim’s is that from the outside, on first listen, they sound simple, but once you go in and spend some time with them you recognize how difficult they actually are.”

For this show, Heather Woodbridge is reprising her role as music director and Wolanin’s consigliere.

“Working with Heather is just so awesome,” Wolanin said. “There’s a mutual respect there and we balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m so grateful to work with her.”

“The show is a glimpse into Middle School life,” Wolanin said. “For how funny it is, it’s also serious and real.”


“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. Tickets are $7 in advance and available here, or $10 at the door. Music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin.