In my experience, the best educators are the ones who constantly seek ways to continue their own learning, thereby modeling a habit of mind that we want for our students. Those educators, lifelong learners, are also able to convey a passion for learning for a particular subject that is infectious for students and colleagues alike. I am proud of the desire for continued growth that I see among my St. Mark's colleagues, and I am proud of the love they convey for their work, both inside and outside the classroom. These educators do so much to make St. Mark's an intellectually vibrant school, energizing for adults and students alike.
One of the ways St. Mark's supports the continued growth of our faculty is through the offerings of The Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. Under the guidance of Colleen Worrell, director of the Center, faculty are able to access a variety of professional development opportunities. One recent, and impactful, addition to the suite of faculty professional development opportunities are the Patterson Innovation Grants. Funded by the generosity of Arthur Patterson '62, the Patterson Innovation Grants encourage faculty members to think big, to experiment, to dream.
Above: Dr. Colleen Worrell, director of the Center
The goal of the Patterson Grant Program is to support sustained exploration of an educational topic that is beyond, or outside, the scope of what other St. Mark's professional development funding makes possible. The grants promote the opportunity to think differently about educational practice and to transform that thinking into action in the classroom. In the spirit of venture capital investment, which is Arthur Patterson's profession, if the Patterson Grant project achieves its objectives, it can be scaled. If the project falls short (and some will), important learning takes place nonetheless which the grant recipient can profitably share with colleagues.
More generous than the average professional development opportunities, Patterson Grant recipients can receive up to $50,000 to fund equipment purchase, conference attendance, dedicated study time during the summer, or to fund coverage for a course to free up time for project work during the academic year. The one stipulation in the grant is that in some way the project needs to incorporate technology. Given that technology is a tool, that when used well, is integral to student learning, this stipulation makes sense.
Since its inception in 2014, six Patterson Grant projects have been funded and completed. The most recent grant awarded will begin in January 2020. Of the projects, three have been undertaken by individuals, two have been undertaken by pairs of faculty members, and two have been undertaken by larger groups of six and seven colleagues.
I recently sat with Colleen Worrell to review the status of the Patterson Grants and Colleen conveyed her characteristic enthusiasm when describing the program's work to date. Colleen noted that certain new trends in educational practice can be mere buzz words, receiving simple lip service at schools. However, the Patterson grants have allowed recipients to gain the deep understanding of educational trends necessary for powerful incorporation into practice. Two of these trends are blended learning and self-directed learning. Colleen also observed that Patterson Grants provide recipients the opportunity to become scholars engaged in cutting edge research. Their research invariably energizes them and enhances their professional reputation both at St. Mark's and beyond.
Conversations with some of the grant recipients confirmed Colleen's assertions. Through research and practice, the Blended Learning grant recipients and the Self-Directed Learning grant recipients have developed just the sort of understanding envisioned. They have also developed beneficial new teaching techniques and have shared their learning both at St. Mark's and at education conferences. I especially enjoyed observing the fervor participants in these projects conveyed as they described the positive difference the research and experimentation has made to their work.
Blended learning is an approach to education that integrates traditional teacher-student and student-student interaction with student use of online opportunities. As educational technology and online resources have developed, much research and experimentation has taken place in academia and in classrooms around the country to identify the ways technology can most positively impact student learning.
Learning about that research and experimentation and identifying what practices make the most sense for St. Mark's classrooms has proved to be a monumental undertaking. Therefore, two teacher consortiums, in successive years, employed Patterson Grants for this purpose, with some membership overlap. Classics teacher Heather Harwood, Computer Science teacher Chris Roche, and English teacher Jeniene Matthews told me recently about improvements in their teaching that have resulted from their grant work.
Heather explained how placing teaching materials online, that students can access during her Greek and Latin class meetings and during homework time, allows her to provide individualized instruction, supporting students' advancement in their mastery of material at their own pace. When I visited Heather's Greek II class recently, I witnessed the difference this approach has made. In class discussion, Heather's students reflected impressively about their own learning: which skills they were feeling most confident about and which skills still needed shoring up. They demonstrated a recognition of varying levels of skill development and a commitment to keep working on the areas of lesser strength.
Above: Heather Harwood, Classics faculty member
Chris told me how the presence of online materials has provided a much broader array of resources for him to draw upon when teaching students with varied abilities and skill sets. When students in an introduction to Computer Science class wanted to create iPhone apps, Chris enrolled the students in an online Swift programming class so students could practice Swift constructions in a structured environment before tackling a final project of their choosing. In the Advanced Topics in Computer Science class, Chris uses parts of the Algorithms text by Sedwick and Wayne, and he found a companion online course to give his students a "scaffolded" place to practice their own algorithm designs. In that course the students submit programs to an online site which robustly tests the student's programming ideas and shows them when their code "breaks" or has other issues (like using too much memory). "The ever-growing world of online CS materials," Chris explained, "gives me tools I can blend with classroom teaching to help my students learn more effectively with more of their control."
Above, right: Chris Roche, Computer Science faculty member
Jeniene knew that she wanted to give her students more agency about topics to explore in her English classes: "I needed sustained time, over the course of two years, to figure out how to do that." During those two years of the Patterson Grant project, Jeniene attended a blended learning conference, experimented in her classes, and conferred with other members of the consortium engaged in the blended learning project. Jeniene is particularly proud of the reading choice options her V Form American Literature students can find on Canvas, our online course management system, and of the ability she has developed to guide students to make choices and follow through on the initial commitments they identify about those choices.
Above: Jeniene Matthews, English faculty member
Members of the blended learning consortium have shared techniques they have developed with colleagues during faculty meetings. Some have also presented at an OESIS (Online Education Strategies for Independent Schools) Conference. And, for Jeniene, the project resulted in a new role and new work responsibility, that of digital learning coach. In this role Jeniene provides guidance to peers about how to maximize the potential of our course management system, Canvas, and how to incorporate other technologies into their teaching.
Self-directed learning is a formalized approach, developed through broad based research and practice in academia and in schools, whereby teachers guide students through individualized exploration of topics of interest. English teacher Casey Bates, along with science teacher Kim Berndt, received a Patterson Grant to learn more about this teaching methodology. Casey and Kim gained insight into a number of self-directed learning techniques and have implemented some in their classes.
A self-directed learning technique that Casey has made a particular focus with her students, as a result of the Patterson Grant, is project-based learning. This technique provides teachers with a systematic approach for guiding both individual students or teams of students from the first step of identifying a desired topic of study to the last step of presenting a final product that results from the study. "While I was already assigning projects to my students," Casey explained, "the Patterson Grant allowed me to become much more purposeful in guiding students through these projects." Casey has noticed a significant increase in student confidence—and competence—in tackling complicated topics because of the structure she learned and now employs.
Above: Casey Bates, English faculty member
The project-based learning approach that Casey and Kim learned about, through their own research, and through conference participation, includes a seven-step process that a teacher must use when designing a project. "For a teacher's approach to be considered an example of project-based learning," Casey explained, "it has to meet the seven gold standards."
Assessing the validity of online resources is one of the seven steps that is more relevant to student learning every year. The Patterson Grant gave Casey tools and knowledge to instruct her students in assessing online resources more effectively than before.
Receiving and offering critical feedback is another step that benefits from expert teacher guidance, guidance Casey learned through her grant work. "Truly listening, as opposed to simply hearing, is a skill that must be built," Casey observed. To build that skill in III Form English, Casey starts by asking her students to listen to peer feedback for 30 seconds and then report back what they learned from the peer. Gradually, Casey increases both the time of uninterrupted listening and the type of comments and questions the peer offers back.
Casey and Kim's explanation of their learning from the Patterson Grant work had just the sort of broader impact we hope for. Shelly Killeen was inspired to develop a project for the Global Seminar course, required of all III Formers, that includes this sort of intentional listening. Working in teams to research and then make presentations about how to allocate United Nations Development aid for a fictional country, the Global Citizenship students critique early versions of their teammates presentations so that the final product is as precise and informative as it can possibly be.
Science teacher Brady Loomer's Patterson Grant allows him to be a teacher-scholar. Possessing a longtime passion for astronomy, Brady became interested in the use of remote-controlled robotic telescopes that record space activities. He learned that this technology is utilized by many observatories, including Harvard University's, which provides access to the public for some of its robotic telescopes. Brady's Patterson Grant has allowed him to bring together both of these possibilities at St. Mark's and share that knowledge professionally.
Above, center: Brady Loomer, Science faculty member
Brady's Patterson Grant funding has allowed purchase and installation of a remote-controlled telescope on West Campus, an innovation in the field of amateur astronomy, which he hopes to have fully operational by the end of the 2018-2019 academic year. Brady has learned how to program this computer to record and analyze the data from the telescope. Brady "loves the idea," in his words, "of educators as researchers, and that is hard to do." Certainly Brady's project will provide concrete benefit to St. Mark's students and those beyond St. Mark's because Brady hopes the project will enable more educators to become teacher scholars. The project also provides an excellent model for our students of digging deep into a passion.
While over the program's first five years, Patterson Grants have provided a number of opportunities for impactful intellectual growth, I know that more opportunities lie ahead. Indeed, in 2020 Colleen Worrell (having recused herself from the Grant selection process), will use a Patterson Grant to develop a digital site that will document examples of innovative practice—from throughout the world of education—that St. Mark's teachers can access. While I am excited about this project because it is another example of the way Patterson Grants allow faculty to "think big," I am also excited about this project because it will surely provide information that fellow faculty members will want to learn more about through their own Patterson Grants.
We are especially fortunate that Arthur Patterson, and his brother David '66, have recently made an additional contribution to the fund which provides the Patterson Innovation Grants. This support will make possible more in-depth exploration and cutting edge research that will benefit our faculty, our students, and our School, helping us continue to grow as an intellectually vibrant community.