Upper School News

Syndicate content

Update from head search chair Peter Steinberger

Send by email

Dear parents and guardians,  Upper School students, board members, and faculty-staff,

I’m writing to let you know that the head of school search committee and our search consultants, working in close collaboration, have now completed the school profile. This is the document that the consultants will use – indeed are using already – to introduce Catlin Gabel to prospective candidates. The profile has been posted on the school website, and we invite you to take a look at it. This document was the product of a great deal of careful thought. We feel it provides an honest and comprehensive picture of our school, and believe it will indeed be helpful in producing a terrific pool of applicants. We hope you agree.

The preliminary stages of the search have now been completed. To remind you of the steps so far:

• In various settings, the search committee engaged in lengthy and serious discussions about our ambitions for Catlin Gabel and for a new head of school.
• On the basis of an intensive and very competitive process, we selected outstanding search consultants.
• We solicited opinions and recommendations from the entire community regarding the search process and possible candidates.
• The consultants formally surveyed the community and also conducted a series of meetings on campus with a wide range of constituents.
• On the basis of all this information, we were able to develop a systematic view of community-wide opinion on a large variety of issues that resulted in, among other things, the profile.

The search is now entering what might be called its silent stage. For the next several months we will build the applicant pool. Our consultants will evaluate recommendations from any number of sources, both from within and outside the Catlin Gabel community, and will work with potential candidates to ascertain and, in many cases, encourage their interest. Much of this is, of course, behind-the-scenes work. It will be conducted largely in confidence, which is why there will be little if anything to report for several months. During the summer the search committee will identify and meet in person with a small number of especially promising candidates from which we hope to select our finalists. The plan is to bring finalists – perhaps three in number – to campus for interviews in mid to late September. At that point the silent phase will suddenly end. On-campus interviews will be public, and we intend to make them as inclusive as possible.

All of this means that – barring the unforeseen – you will next hear from me in late August or early September, at which time I will inform the entire community of the identities of our finalists and provide detailed information about the interview process itself. The search committee has worked together closely, very effectively, and, I must say, in a spirit of wonderful collegiality. We remain extremely optimistic and excited, and are already aware of a number of highly qualified people who are likely to become active and very strong candidates. On behalf of the committee, I can say that expressions of support and enthusiasm from the community have been most encouraging, and we greatly look forward to your participation in September as the final stages of the search unfold. In the meantime, and as always, thoughts, suggestions, recommendations, and the like will always be welcome and can be communicated to me at searchchair@catlin.edu.

Sincerely,
Peter Steinberger, trustee, parent of alumna, search committee chair

Search committee members

Dave Cannard, Jr. ’76, trustee (1997-07), board chair (2004-07), current parent, parent of alumnus, alumnus

Li-Ling Cheng, Middle School Mandarin teacher, parent of alumna

Clint Darling, interim head of school (1982-83), Upper School head (1973-86), retired Upper School English and French teacher, parent of alumnae

Isaac Enloe, kindergarten teacher

Aline Garcia-Rubio ’93, Upper School assistant head, dean of students, science teacher, current parent, alumna

John Gilleland, trustee, board chair (2009-12), current parent

Alix Meier Goodman ’71, trustee, endowment committee member, board chair (2007-10), parent of alumni, alumna

Vicki Roscoe, assistant head of school and Lower School head

Eric Rosenfeld ’83, vice-chair and treasurer board of trustees, current parent, alumnus

Miranda Wellman ’91, director of advancement, alumna

Jim Wysocki, Upper School math teacher and department chair

Video: "Flying" Winterim

Send by email

During Catlin Gabel's Experiential Week, a group of students spent four days at Portland's AWOL (Aerial Without Limits) Dance Collective, learning to fly on trapeze, lyra, and cloth. They also became airborne during the week in other fun ways, including parkour and trampoline. Thanks to student leaders Riley and Adele, adult leaders Jessica and Joan, and the enthusiastic and generous teachers at AWOL.

Congratulations to Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson

Send by email

Adam Johnson has visited Catlin Gabel three times, twice as a visiting writer and once to deliver the commencement address. This photo was taken last spring in an English 11 class. During that visit, he gave a memorable reading from his novel The Orphan Master's Son at an Upper School assembly; this is the same novel that won the Pulitzer.

Tuition on the Track 2013 photo & video gallery

Send by email
Fundraiser for financial aid

Students and faculty-staff from every part of the school came down to the track on April 12 to walk, run, skip, and jump for the financial aid walkathon. This was year two for the student-run fundraiser. Bravo to Max and Mira for organizing and for arranging for dry weather. We raised $65,000!

Ron Sobel receives Model UN lifetime achievement award

Send by email
Bravo, Ron!

The Chris Allen Memorial Advisor’s Award was presented to Upper School Spanish teacher Ron Sobel at the closing ceremonies of the Oregon Model UN conference in Eugene. The award is given annually to an adult involved with MUN based on service to an individual club or the model as a whole. Ron has served as treasurer of the Oregon High School International Relations League and served as advisor to Catlin Gabel’s MUN program for many years. Every Catlin Gabel student participant at this year’s conference submitted a nominating letter in support of Ron. The letters spoke to Ron’s leadership, sense of humor, passion for cultivating a sense of global citizenship in youth, and the kind and loving way in which he has fostered relationships with his students and colleagues.

 

Sophomore Valerie Ding advances to International Science and Engineering Fair

Send by email

Valerie Ding took 1st place in physics and astronomy at the Regional Northwest Science Fair. Three other CG students competing at the regional competition placed 2nd in their categories: freshman Anirudh Jain in environmental management, freshman Lara Rakocevic in environmental analysis and effects, and senior Valerie Balog in cellular and molecular biology. Congratulations to all!

Poet Malena Mörling Visits Catlin Gabel

Video: Shoe design and leadership Winterim

Send by email
Student presentation to jury of notable shoe designers

Catlin Gabel students enrolled in this Winterim project designed shoes by interviewing Portlanders on the street and getting an idea of a need they could fulfill in shoe design. They worked in teams to figure out how to solve their problems. The project, powered by Catlin Gabel's Knight Family Scholars Program, used the techniques of design thinking to teach the students much more than shoe design: it taught them how to collaborate effectively, learn the many ways to solve problems, and what it takes be be a leader. After only three days to work together to figure out their strategy and design their shoe, they presented their prototypes to a jury of well-known shoe designers from the Portland area at Pensole Academy in downtown Portland. »Read more about the project on Edutopia

You can read a great article about this project on Edutopia, and KGW-TV also broadcast a story about it.

PFA parent community meeting rescheduled for Thursday, April 25

Send by email
8:15 – 9:40 a.m. in Gerlinger

This meeting, featuring CG seniors, was previously scheduled for April 18.

The newly scheduled meeting on the 25th starts and ends earlier than usual because the room is booked at 9:40 a.m. Coffee and tea will be served in Gerlinger instead of the Barn.

Come hear Catlin Gabel seniors reminice and answer questions about their Catlin Gabel experience. They will also talk about their post-CG plans. This is a favorite annual event.

 

 

Alumna Erica Berry ’10, now a junior at Bowdoin College, named a 2013 Udall Scholar

Send by email

Erica is one of just 50 college sophomores and juniors selected from 488 candidates nominated by 230 colleges and universities. One of the criteria for students receiving the $5,000 Udall scholarship is a commitment to the environment.

Erica is an English and environmental studies major who strives to “write narrative nonfiction about the intersections between the ever-shifting environment and humanity.” The Udall Foundation is an independent federal agency.

 

Alumnus Yale Fan ’10, now a junior at Harvard, named one of the nation’s top undergrads in math, science, and engineering

Send by email

Yale is among 271 college sophomores and juniors, from a field of 1,107, selected for a Goldwater Scholarship. Faculties of colleges and universities nominate Goldwater Scholars. The one and two year scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency that honors Senator Barry Goldwater and was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering.

Yale is a physics and mathematics major. He plans to earn a PhD in theoretical high-energy physics.

Senior Perla Alvarez quoted on OPB radio news

Send by email
Perla co-chairs the Multnomah County Youth Commission

Listen to the 45-second sound clip

Fantastic Voyage auction raises $450,000

Send by email
Letter from Lark Palma, head of school

From first fold to flight, and at every stage in between, the Catlin Gabel experience is one Fantastic Voyage. Thanks to enthusiastic bidders, donors, supporters, volunteers, and staff, we set some records this year! The sold out event at Nike's Tiger Woods Center and the online auction raised $450,000.

Auction contributions make it possible for the school to provide a low student-teacher ratio, exceptional teachers, outstanding academic programs, and a strong commitment to financial aid. The funds we raise are essential for the school to thrive and enrich the student experience.

Thank you to the many, many wonderful people who spent countless hours preparing for the event during the last eight months. Special gratitude to fantastic co-chairs Karen Hoke and Kirsten Brady. Their vision, commitment, and creative direction guided the entire voyage.

»Enjoy the Fantastic Voyage video and photo gallery. The video is about Catlin Gabel alumna Qiddist Hammerly's voyage from the Beginning School through the Upper School and her successful launch from our nest to Northwestern University. 

Thank you for making this year one to remember!

With appreciation,
Lark Palma, head of school

 

Fantastic Voyage video and photos

Send by email
2013 auction at Nike World Headquarters

Guests at the 2013 auction were treated to this video featuring Catlin Gabel lifer Qiddist Hammerly '13, a student at Northwestern University. Following the video, Qiddist, her first grade buddy from last year, and her senior buddy from when she was a first grader took the stage. There was not a dry eye in the house!

Scroll down to see the photo gallery.

Thank you to our co-chairs Kirsten Brady and Karen Hoke.
 
Click on any image in the gallery below to enlarge it, download it, or start the slide show.

Mathematics Teaching in the 21st Century

Send by email

 From the Winter 2012-13 Caller

By Courtney Nelson and Kenny Nguyen

“How should mathematics be taught in the 21st century?” This question affects every aspect of mathematics education discourse from conference topics, creation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) departments at universities, to the writing of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. To begin answering it, we need to examine “the grammar of mathematics education.”
 
David Tyack and Larry Cuban coined the phrase “the grammar of schooling” in their book Tinkering Toward Utopia, where they defined it as “the organizational forms that govern instruction.” It includes familiar schooling features such as age-grading of students and division of knowledge into separate subject areas. In essence, it delineates the acceptable rules and behaviors that a “real school” must follow. Tyack and Cuban argued that 20th-century educational reformers largely failed because they sought utopian change through large-scale systemic reform without regard for the grammar of schooling. Because those reforms did not work well in the classroom, assumed unrealistic resources, or increased teachers’ daily work routines without compensation, teachers modified the reformers’ original ideas. Hence, the history of educational reform is a story of “local, gradual, and piecemeal” change resulting from teachers acting as “tinkerers” who experimented with “practices that ripped through corners of the traditional pattern of schooling” implementing change that “preserves what is valuable and remedies what is not.”
 
What is the current grammar of mathematics education? The latest Trends in Mathematics and Science Study provides evidence that it is not different from that of the 19th century. Most mathematics classrooms in the U.S. still consist of students sitting in rows listening to a teacher explain, using rote procedures to solve specific problems while asking cognitively undemanding questions. If we want to answer the question “How should mathematics be taught in the 21st century?” we must change the grammar.
 
Two salient issues lie at the core of the current grammar. The first is K–5 mathematics. Once considered a place for “back to basics” teaching, research has shown that children are capable of more than arithmetic and that the foundation for advanced mathematics needs to be established here. The second is the question of what constitutes rigorous mathematical thinking and whether any one course, be it algebra or calculus, fulfills this need in the 21st century.

Mathematics Education in the Lower School

Lower school mathematics classes today should look and run differently than the ones we remember from our childhood. Just as health care facilities, government offices, and stock exchanges have evolved to meet the challenges of our society, so too has our understanding of the teaching and learning of mathematics. Preparing students to be confident participants in their communities and leaders in their fields requires mathematical literacy that involves more than getting correct test answers. Not only do all students need to grapple with the universal disciplines of the content of mathematics, but they and their teachers must also develop the skills and dispositions that will enable them to think flexibly, take risks, and work collaboratively in our modern global culture.
 
A recent piece on National Public Radio’s All Tech Considered highlighted five “movers and shakers” of the tech world. One of them, Babak Parviz, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington and project leader on Google’s Project Glass, pointed out at a recent TED talk, “I would hazard a guess that the era of the solo star scientist is probably over.” Reporter Steve Henn noted, “In fact, none of the men and women I just mentioned do much of anything alone. . . . Today’s big problems are so complex—so interdisciplinary—that all of these people make their marks working in teams.”
 
This echoes the work of Tony Wagner, the Harvard-based education expert. In his 2008 book The Global Achievement Gap, he explained that students need three basic skills if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: critical thinking and problem solving, effective communication, and collaboration. In his 2012 book Creative Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World, Wagner’s list grew into the “Seven Survival Skills.”
 
The teacher must, then, cultivate a classroom culture where students understand that autonomy and collaboration are equally important. If a teacher’s words and actions honor risk-taking, active investigation, and clear communication, students will sooner come to see themselves as competent mathematicians who thrive on cognitive challenges. However, if students are nurtured to believe that teachers are the keepers and distributers of mathematical knowledge, there is little evidence to suggest that students will rely on their own reasoning to solve future problems encountered inside and outside of the classroom.
 
Teachers are also working to promote effective mathematical discourse in the classroom, which requires students to organize their thoughts, formulate arguments, listen to and consider other students’ positions, and communicate their own positions. It is through discourse that the ideals of collaboration and autonomy intersect, are nurtured, and are celebrated. Today’s mathematics teachers must be willing to step out of the spotlight and think of themselves as “directors” rather than the “lead actors” in the classroom.
 
Some of the behaviors and metacognitive disciplines that teachers in the Lower School work to nurture are listed below. You might recognize some of the examples from students’ work, or witness them in action when visiting the classroom.
 

Mathematical Behaviors Fostered in the Classroom

Examples

Reflecting: Helping students learn to monitor and adjust their progress in problem solving. How does it help you? What should your solution look like? 
Conjecturing: Stating a mathematical hypothesis believed to be true but has not yet been proven or disproven. Dividing the fraction one-half by any whole number will always yield an even denominator.
Justifying: Convincing yourself and others that a conjecture is true. Students use multiple examples and assemble mathematical evidence to prove their conjecture is true, or to look for non-examples before generalizing.
Generalizing: Drawing attention to the mathematical relationships that hold true beyond specific cases. Will that always work? Is that true for all problems?
Analyzing: Examining the parts in order to understand the whole. What about these is similar, what is different?
Innovating: Applying a concept in a new or novel way. I started by using Catherine’s strategy but changed it to solve this new problem.
 
Our goal is not to insist that all students enter the fields of engineering, mathematics, or science, but to ensure that they are well prepared to have these choices available to them, and to be able to collaborate knowledgeably with people in various disciplines.

Rigorous Mathematics

The National Math Advisory Panel’s report Foundations for Success targeted algebra as the most critical mathematics topic and renewed the question, “Should all 8th graders take algebra?” The question originated in the 1980s, when policymakers and educators concluded that algebra was a gatekeeper to coursework needed for a middle-class income and was mathematical training all students needed. However, because of the current narrow definition of algebra as symbolic manipulation, the question is inadequate.
 
As experienced mathematics educators, we know that “algebraic thinking” (see Driscoll, 1999) involves acquiring the “habits of mind” of “doing-undoing, building rules to represent functions, and abstracting from computation.” Mathematician Lynn Steen recognizes algebra as the language of the information age not because of its symbolic rigor but because “it is the logical structure of algebra, not the solutions of its equations, that made algebra a central component of classical education.” Research shows that preparation for algebra requires developing algebraic habits of mind and strong proportional reasoning skills (see Harel & Confrey, 1994; Lamon, 2007). Therefore, the question should be: “How do we develop algebraic thinking throughout K–12 education, how do we know when students are cognitively ready for algebra, and how will algebra courses develop students’ flexibility in mathematical thinking?”
 
In short, we need to move beyond the notion that students need to pass an antiquated version of 20th-century algebra and toward the mathematical sciences. In a talk at the Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education Conference, Confrey defined the mathematical sciences as “An umbrella term embracing the techniques of mathematics, numeric analysis, visualizations, and statistics cast in an appropriate formalism. It recognizes the importance of mathematics and statistics in modeling and analyzing phenomena.” Students need these skills to be successful 21st-century citizens.
 
As for the question of “rigorous mathematics,” that debate has shifted from algebra to calculus. However, as Steen (2007) argues, calculus is not the only type of rigorous mathematics: “Aiming school mathematics for calculus is not an effective strategy to achieve the goal of improving all students’ mathematical competence. Good alternatives exist. They can be found by looking carefully at all ways in which mathematics appears in postsecondary contexts. Notwithstanding other purposes and pressures, secondary education does not respond to the demands of higher education. If colleges say that calculus is what everyone needs, or that good students are those who can quickly manipulate algebraically intricate expressions, then parents will demand, and schools will focus on, this type of mathematics. But programs with these mathematical requirements represent only the one-third of postsecondary education encompassed by STEM disciplines. Moreover, these kinds of courses, which rely on very specific skills, have the effect of filtering out many otherwise interested and able students.” Indeed, probability and statistics is more relevant in the current job market, where nearly every field uses data-driven decision-making.

What’s Next?

Developing 21st-century mathematics skills requires changing the extant grammar. Beyond fluency in symbolic manipulation, students must learn to think flexibly, take risks, develop algebraic habits of mind, engage in mathematical discourse, and connect various disciplines together to solve complex problems. At Catlin Gabel, we constantly “tinker” to achieve these goals. In the Lower School, teachers work on implementing best practices by studying current research, discussing, and planning in grade level teams on a weekly basis. They constantly weave innovative research more deeply into the study and discourse of their classrooms; this year, for example, the focus is on measurement. In the Middle School, a wide selection of mathematics courses prepare students for deep algebraic thinking based on their cognitive development level. And in the Upper School, problem-based courses develop students’ discourse abilities, authentic problems are embedded in the curriculum, and two statistics courses are offered as an alternative or in addition to calculus.
 
We are in a unique position at Catlin Gabel because, as a progressive school, we are privileged to define our own grammar of schooling. Working together as pioneering tinkerers, not naive agents who throw new pedagogy against the wall to see what sticks, let’s bring our knowledge and experiences to seek unconventional solutions to unique problems. We hope this edition of the Caller ignites discussion in the community, and we look forward to jointly defining a progressive Catlin Gabel grammar of schooling.
 
Courtney Nelson has been the Lower School math specialist since 2011. She holds a BS in landscape architecture from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and an MA in elementary education from Lewis & Clark College. Kenny Nguyen has been an Upper School math teacher since 2012. He holds a BA in mathematics from the University of Chicago, an MA in learning technologies from the University of Michigan, and a PhD in mathematics education from North Carolina State University.  

REFERENCES AND CITATIONS

Carpenter, Thomas P., Megan Loef Franke, and Linda Levi. Thinking Mathematically: Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in Elementary School. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003.
 
Confrey, Jere. “Steering a course for preparing students for the mathematical sciences in the 21st century.” Paper presented at the Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education Conference, Raleigh, NC, 2009.
 
Driscoll, Mark. Fostering Algebraic Thinking: A Guide for Teachers Grades 6–10. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999.
 
Harel, Guershon & Jere Confrey, eds. The Development of Multiplicative Reasoning in the Learning of Mathematics. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994.
 
Henn, Steve. "Tech Idea List: 5 Nerds To Watch In 2013." NPR, January 2, 2013. Accessed January 14, 2013.
 
Lamon, Susan J. “Rational Numbers and Proportional Reasoning: Toward a Theoretical Framework.” In Frank K. Lester, Jr., ed. Second Handbook of Research on Mathematics Teaching and Learning (pp. 629–668). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc., 2007.
 
Moses, Robert P. & Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Radical Equations: Math Literacy and Civil Rights. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001.
 
Steen, Lynn Arthur. “Algebra for All in Eighth Grade: What's the Rush?” Middle Matters, 8(1), 6–7, 1999.
 
Steen, Lynn Arthur. “Facing Facts: Achieving Balance in High School Mathematics.” Mathematics Teacher, 100, 86–95, 2007.
 
Tyack, David, & Larry Cuban. Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.
 
Wagner, Tony & Robert A. Compton. Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. New York: Scribner, 2012.
 
Wagner, Tony. The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need—and What We Can Do about It. New York: Basic Books, 2008.
 

 

The Rise of Online Teaching & Learning

Send by email
In what ways does it work best?

 From the Winter 2012-13 Caller

By Dan Griffiths

We adults tend to evaluate current classroom techniques through the lens of our own educational experience. None of us had access or exposure to the wide variety of technology that is commonplace in the 21st-century classroom, and attitudes toward educational innovation often tend to be conservative—if traditional teaching methods have been successfully educating our children for generations, why risk introducing distracting gadgets in place of “proper” teaching? Information technology also has its champions, who see the internet, social media, and ubiquitous access to the required hardware as tools that are capable of driving an educational revolution.
 
My feelings fall somewhere between these two extremes. In his book The Shallows Nicholas Carr cites TV and radio pioneer David Sarnoff: “We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determine their value.” This quote neatly encapsulates my thoughts about the role of technology and online learning in a 21st-century school. As a direct replacement for a classroom teacher, online learning is of limited value. But in the hands of a skilled educator, it is an incredible tool that can enhance the educational experience of our students.
 
One of the major concerns about online learning is the absence of interpersonal relationships that are crucial in both social and intellectual development. This fear arises from a vision of children downloading information into their brain and then demonstrating via some kind of automated test that this information has been saved on their mental “hard drive.” In this model, the computer is merely a substitute for a lecture-style class with a standardized test at the end of the course (which is a model that we accepted for many years both in schools and colleges, but when put in these terms it sounds sinister). This concern was more valid in the early years of online learning due to limitations in both software and hardware. With the advent of social media, Voicethread and Skype for example, it is much easier to develop a course that requires interaction between both student and teacher and groups of students. Online courses that are thoughtfully developed by skilled teachers are no longer a lonely pursuit of factual knowledge.
 
The central role of the teacher in an effective online course cannot be overstated. In his review of the integration of learning theories and technology, Norbert Pachler identified the need for teachers to “identify appropriate learning outcomes, choosing appropriate software and activities and structuring and sequencing the learning process.” To see online classes as simply a new way to deliver information limits its potential to just another transmission model of education, where the student is an empty vessel to be filled with information. If the full potential of online learning is met, it can be a highly progressive teaching method in which each student can have an individualized, discovery-based experience consisting of a wide variety of interactions with students and teachers from different backgrounds. Such an online experience can develop essential skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration as effectively as any physical classroom, arguably in a way more easily translated to the world outside academia.
 
Online learning is not a new concept, particularly in higher education. Providers such as the University of Phoenix have been operating an online program since 1989, and more recently the University of Texas launched an online and blended learning school, Western Governors University. Both of these seek to make education in high-demand fields more accessible and affordable to working adults. Many colleges now give access to their courses in a variety of formats such as podcast series and videos of lectures with accompanying course notes that allow public access to educational content. Massive open online courses (MOOCs), with offerings from providers such as Coursera, EdX, and Udacity (with content provided by professors at colleges such as Stanford, Princeton, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania) attract millions of users from hundreds of countries. The completion rate of their courses, however, is reported to be less than 10 percent. These MOOCs were founded with the noble goal of providing access to high-level education for all, with the only limitation being access to a computer and an internet connection. Peer reviews and assessments, discussion boards for posting questions, and enrollment in global study groups provide the social element of learning.
 
One of the most interesting outcomes of these courses is that they are challenging how we assess learning and raise questions about how we measure success. Critics point to the ease with which students can plagiarize and cheat on assessments, but for now the age-old adage of “you are only cheating yourself” holds true because completion of the course comes with a certificate that has limited currency in terms of gaining qualifications from established schools or an advantage in the job market. The stakes, however, will be raised if and when MOOCs gain credibility with employers and possibly even qualify for academic credit (the University of Washington is now giving credit for a Coursera course).
 
Most early online-only courses were aimed at students in higher education, but information technology has been integrated into the classroom since the turn of the century. Virtual learning environments (VLEs) have been widely used in schools, often making use of learning management systems such as Moodle and Haiku. They give students access to course notes, quizzes, and other resources and allow interactivity through discussion forums and wikis. As these platforms mature, they are becoming more intuitive and can take advantage of an increasing number of multimedia applications.
 
Catlin Gabel has been at the forefront of digital innovation in schools, adopting a one-to-one laptop program in the Upper School in 2002. Many courses use Moodle as a content management system, student and faculty laptops come preloaded with a wide variety of software, and our classrooms are well equipped with IT hardware. In 2011 Catlin Gabel was a founding member of a consortium of highly academic independent schools that formed the Global Online Academy (GOA).
 
Faculty from member schools teach all online GOA classes. A rigorous selection process requires applicant teachers to show that their class will be innovative and well structured, and will take full advantage of the tools made uniquely available by both an online environment and access to a diverse group of students. The classes are designed for collaboration, with a blend of individual and group assignments. Students are required to have regular Skype conversations with their teacher, and the workload is equivalent to a full class in a bricks-and-mortar school. GOA classes follow an asynchronous schedule, which means the students work in their own time and set up virtual meetings with teachers and classmates at mutually convenient times. GOA has plans to expand in number and geographical diversity over the next six years from its current 24 member schools in the U.S., Japan, China, Jordan, and Indonesia.
 
In the GOA’s first year, Catlin Gabel teacher George Zaninovich taught an urban studies class, and four CG students enrolled in a variety of classes. This year, three Catlin Gabel teachers offer GOA classes, and 19 students are enrolled in classes such as Medical Problem Solving, Bioethics, and Global Health.
 
The many benefits GOA offers our students include the ability to interact with students and teachers who bring a wide variety of perspectives to the class. For example, George’s urban studies class had students researching and discussing community issues in Jordan and in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Honolulu. It also allows them to take classes Catlin Gabel can’t offer due to staffing and scheduling limitations. Students enrolled in online classes are challenged in different ways than in a physical classroom. They need to learn efficient time management skills and take ownership of their learning in a more explicit way than at their home school (a skill that will be invaluable in college). Finally, asynchronous online classes allow those involved with activities such as high-level athletics, dance, or drama to balance classes with the time demands of training or rehearsal schedules that clash with the traditional school day.
 
Teachers also benefit from involvement with online education. In preparation for teaching her Hispanic Experience class for the GOA, Lauren Reggero-Toledano attended a weeklong workshop that she considers the best professional development experience of her career. She came back brimming with ideas not only for her online class but for her current Spanish courses at Catlin Gabel. Teachers who think about how to teach a class online must also reexamine how they teach in general. It exposes teachers to a whole other set of tools with which to engage their students.
 
The Global Online Academy is just one example of how online learning can enhance the educational experience of our students. “Flipping” the classroom, another idea, is receiving a great deal of attention, and this teaching technique certainly has its merits. The basic concept is that students read or listen to lectures and presentations at home, either prepared by the teacher or from online services such as the Khan Academy. Their time with the teacher is then spent discussing and analyzing what they learned. When reading about such innovations, I am always struck by how familiar they sound. Classes in the Upper School regularly involve students reading and researching, then presenting and discussing in a student-centered classroom environment. The chalk-and-talk delivery model of teaching is discouraged, and student engagement is a central theme in our classrooms, be it in a problem-based math class or a senior English elective where students often take the lead in teaching. The flipped classroom helps public schools with large classes by allowing students to control the pace of content delivery. It is a less novel concept at Catlin Gabel, where small class sizes, differentiated curricula, and availability of teachers to meet with students individually are commonplace.
 
Although information technology can be a highly effective tool in the hands of skilled educators and has the potential to enhance the experience of students at all levels, it is not a panacea for our educational challenges. Any ill-conceived and poorly executed use of technology in any field will lead to poor results—and online learning is no exception. When the Catlin Gabel faculty and staff discussed joining the GOA, some felt that “if we don’t get on this train, we will be left behind.” We can extend this metaphor by saying that it is foolish to get on a train that might be going somewhere you don’t want to go. I am confident, however, that in this case we are going in the right direction, and the journey will be an exciting one. My hope is that in the next few years all students at Catlin Gabel will take advantage of the opportunity to sample an online class, and that our faculty will blend the best of online learning with the exemplary methods already used in our physical classrooms.
 
Dan Griffiths, Upper School head, has been at CG since 2007. He holds an MA in biological sciences from the University of Oxford and a PhD in zoology from the University of Cambridge. He was formerly the IT director at St. Columba’s College in Ireland.   

REFERENCES AND CITATIONS

Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.
 
Lewin, Tamar. "One Course, 150,000 Students." New York Times online article. July 8, 2012. Accessed January 2013.
 
Long, Katherine. “UW to offer fee-based courses through Coursera.” Seattle Times online article. Accessed January 2013.
 
Pachler, Norbert. “Theories of Learning and ICT.” In Leask, Marilyn & Norbert Pachler, editors: Learning to Teach Using ICT in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience. London: Routledge, 1999.
 
Pereira. Eva. "Coursera: Opening Ivy League Universities to the Masses." Forbes online article. June 28, 2012. Accessed January 2013.
 
Sloan Consortium. Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States. Online survey report. Accessed January 2013.
 
Wukman, Alex. "Coursera Battered with Accusations of Plagiarism and High Drop-Out Rates." Online Colleges online article. August 22, 2012. Accessed January 2013.