Running Through the Finish Line
Aaron Cooper

As a lifelong runner who has competed in and coached countless races, I know one of the tenets of racing is to “run through the finish line.”  It is a reminder to runners that, despite the pain and the fatigue and the promise of the finish line ending the suffering, a good or great performance can be ruined (or at least diminished) by cruising the last few meters into the finish line and a decent performance can be improved by pushing just a bit harder in the final stretch.  Nearly every race includes at least one competitor coming from behind and passing another in the final few strides of the race as the leading runner backs off and the chasing runner digs deeper. Running “through the finish line” is an exhortation that the most meaningful accomplishments require effort throughout their entirety just as it is a recognition that the end of an effort is often among the most difficult and most important times.  

I often think of the “through the finish line” running mantra at this time of year, as we are close enough to the winter break to anticipate the relaxing breaths to come and yet there are still many important moments needing focus.  The clearest example is our eighth graders, who are finishing their first semester in each of their classes, as we will prepare and send their transcripts to their secondary schools soon. In addition, all but our youngest students are working towards culminating events that require their focus in these final days and weeks before the break.  It may be as simple as unit tests or writing assignments in some classes or concluding major units, such as the fourth graders and much of their study of Egypt.  Certainly, our music students will also finish off their fall studies with performances next week in the Winter Concerts in Morrow House (Thursday, December 21 at 7 p.m.) and Little School (Friday, December 22 at 10 a.m.).

The way our students approach these events will impact not only their experiences this semester but also their mindset about their future work.  Perhaps the individual who pushes just a bit harder and finds even a little more success in these final weeks will use that experience as a launching pad for even more growth in the future.  Similarly, maybe the student who eases off and has a poor performance or two will realize the need for pushing through the end and will do so the next time.  In this way, the rhythm of the school year with all its work, its inspiration, its opportunities, and its challenges is itself a challenge and also an opportunity for growth and learning.  

It is also great preparation for the demands that our students will face in the future, certainly in school and more importantly in their careers.  There will be many finish lines in their futures, and the sooner they learn how best to pace themselves (as a coach, I would often define the best pace as the fastest you can run and still finish) and how to run hard all the way through the finish line.  The satisfaction they will feel from a job well done will far outweigh the additional strain of the continued effort in the last few strides.  I look forward to celebrating many great efforts with the students once they have crossed the various finish lines that they will experience in the next ten days.
 

Building an Interconnected Intellectual Web
Aaron Cooper

Last Thursday and Friday, second grade families were invited to join their children in Innovation Alley for the first annual “spider museum.”  For those of you whose children have already experienced second grade at EMS, you may remember a spider research project students completed, along with spider poetry and math.  This year greatly expanded on this project and serves as an example of the value of an interdisciplinary curriculum.  

Students researched specific spiders, learned about predators and prey, discovered the geometry and the science of webs, and designed their own models of spiders both physically and digitally. During each of the segments of the unit, they learned from multiple teachers: art, science, math, library, technology, and their classroom teachers were all involved throughout their work on spiders.  In this way, not only did they learn about the disciplinary connections inherent in the study of spiders, but also they developed content-specific understandings.  

The combination of content skills and an intuitive understanding of disciplinary connections is extremely powerful and one on which we have focused for several years.  Content skills have always been an important part of school, as each new learning opens the doors to further opportunity: much of learning is cumulative, so many lessons serve as prerequisites for others.  Such lessons are made much stronger when they are combined with others from related disciplines, and that has been our focus in developing our STEAM program.  Contextualizing learning in terms of one’s overall understanding makes it that much stronger and more relevant.  Over time, one creates a “web” of understanding that transcends traditional disciplines.  

Developing a curriculum that affords children the opportunity to build an interconnected intellectual web from the earliest ages results in intuitive interdisciplinary thinking.  In a world where opportunity lies at the intersection of disciplines (one can hardly go a day through the news without reading about a bioethicist or an expert on the psychology of investing or the like), we do a great service to our students by cultivating an intuitive grasp on such a mindset.  They are likely to find careers that require them to facilely draw on themes from many disciplines, and the foundation in thinking that way from projects like the spider museum and so many others from EMS will impact their ability to do so.  

I encourage you to come see the museum.  It remains displayed throughout Innovation Alley, so please stop by when you are near Little School some morning this week if you have not yet had the chance to see the students’ work.
 

The Power of Collaboration
Aaron Cooper

Earlier this month, Adam Grant, the author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the World (which EMS faculty read this past summer) published a piece provocatively entitled Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting? After a long, holiday weekend filled for many with gatherings of family and friends, it seems appropriate today to reflect on the conclusions Grant draws in the piece.

He asserts that healthy arguments positively impact children’s creativity.  He cites several examples and studies, and, while I am not convinced that these are causal rather than simply correlative, the central connection he draws and the rules he gives for constructive arguments are worthwhile.  

Inherent in this piece is the importance of collaboration in innovation: rarely is one able to invent something or find a novel solution on one’s own.  Further, conflict will arise on some level anytime there is collaboration. At EMS, we believe the same - an essential component of education are lessons surrounding learning to work together in the pursuit of work that is better collectively than would have been possible individually.  

From the earliest ages, our students work together regularly in many ways, too numerous to individually highlight here.  In Chilton House students build block structures together.  With different ideas and visions for the end product and the inevitability of collapse during construction, arguments arise and compromise is inevitable.  In Little School fourth graders design prosthetic limbs in teams.  After learning the physiology, these groups need to determine the goals of their project, agree on a design, and then effectively build a prototype.  In Morrow House eighth graders lead assemblies as part of their Leadership Symposium course.  They need to determine the topic of the presentation as one that is important to them and then research, plan, and execute on the idea in an assembly in front of all of their peers.  

The process of learning to collaborate - and the benefits those lessons have on the products as students age - is easy to see as students progress through the course of their years at EMS.  This is very challenging work and requires practice.  Many of our students learn to naturally embrace the “rules” Mr. Grant posits at the end of his piece which also read as common “norms” for group work: Frame arguments as debate rather than conflict,  argue as if you are right but listen as if you are wrong,  make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective, and acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you have learned from them.

Whether your Thanksgiving table was filled with many such healthy arguments or not, perhaps the most valuable piece of insight in Mr. Grant’s piece was the assertion that how we argue as adults has a large impact on how effectively and healthily our children will be able to collaborate and create.  While we may all fail at that aim more than we succeed, endeavoring to set a better example for our children will certainly have a positive impact on them.


 

Giving Thanks for the Learning at EMS
Aaron Cooper

Happy Thanksgiving!  In this season of reflection, I feel gratitude for many aspects of my life:  family, friends, relative good health, etc.  I am also grateful for many components of EMS like the robust learning environment and the spirit of excitement that our faculty and students bring to their work every day.  This is evident throughout the school in so many ways.  

I discovered one such example last Friday afternoon in the Lower School science room.  As we straddle the transition from fall to winter and as Daylight Saving Time recently ended, science teacher Kara Makohon-Moore asked several classes why we have seasons and invited students to write their answers on a whiteboard.

The answers range significantly, from the matter-of-fact (because there are) to the self-focused (so we can feel hot and cold) to the scientifically accurate (because of the way the earth is tilted to the sun). The answers, in many ways, are to be expected. The older students had a unit on the earth’s orbit around the sun and the impact of its tilt on the weather we feel.  The younger students did not and resorted to answers that are predictable given their age.  

I share this because it reflects several values of learning that we hold at EMS and for which I am thankful due to the impact it has on our students.  Our teachers ask students to hypothesize or surmise an answer to the question ‘why?'  These guesses often lead to curiosity (‘wait, why do we have seasons?’) and then to the internal motivation to learn.  In a world with information at our fingertips, sometimes nothing more than a simple question can spark interest in a student that results in the student exploring and finding the answer.  Further, once the students had learned the concept, this simple question offered an opportunity, outside of a formal test and away from the time when they learned the material, to demonstrate their learning. It is clear that most of the older students retained the information and were able to synthesize it on a small chunk of whiteboard space.  Finally, by recording various answers and leaving them displayed in the room, Mrs. Makohon-Moore showed how important all student work is and gave us, as viewers, an insight into the process of learning.  

So, this holiday weekend, as we gather with family and friends, I will be thankful for many aspects of my personal and professional life, not least of which will be the way EMS approaches learning by sparking curiosity and intrinsic motivation, by testing retention and application of concepts, by valuing the process of learning more than the product, and by offering the same rich intellectual opportunities to every student.  I hope that you enjoy this brief respite, that you take time to reflect on those aspects of your lives - and of EMS - for which you and your family are thankful, and that you celebrate the hard work your children have shown these past three months. Sometimes it is hard to see growth on a daily basis, but it is easier upon reflection over a period of time like the three months since school began way back in September as summer was transitioning into fall.  See you next week!


   
 

Our Wonderful Community Events
Aaron Cooper

 

The 2017 EMS Book Fair and Storytelling Festival has been a resounding success! From perennial events such as the Kindergarten Flashlight Picnic, the alumni parents’ gathering, the Faculty Tea, and the raffle to new ones like the Poetry Slam, this year’s Book Fair touched every member of the community.  Catherine Ferreira and Judy Grossman, the event’s co-chairs, as well as their committee chairs and the PA executive board did a fantastic job. They were supported by Phyllis Kesslen, our director of parent relations, and our librarians Tricia Eickelberg, Cindy Cohrs-Brandt, and Claire Santoro. I would also like to recognize Phoebe Search, who organized the Poetry Slam, and thank EMS friend Alicia Keys and students Elaine, Tessa, Rani, Davor, Aidan, Isabelle, Paige, Teddy, Matthew, and Grace for sharing their poetry and their voices with us in the inaugural Poetry Slam.

This year’s Book Fair included several new facets.  For the first time, it started on a Sunday and it had a theme - Find Your Voice.  It began immediately following the enormously successful EMS Gives Back event directed by our Admissions Office and featured the Poetry Slam directly after it closed. I salute Catherine, Judy, Kathleen Visconti and our admissions team, and all those involved in these changes. The Book Fair has a long running, successful history, and with any change to a beloved event comes risk. EMS Gives Back had built momentum in its first three years and was tied more directly to the Thanksgiving holiday in years past.  A move to an earlier date was also risky for it also. 

Nevertheless, each change resulted in more attendance and stronger energy, and the Book Fair touched our community even more deeply this year.  This spirit of ingenuity, of vision, and of a mindset of continual improvement that we’ve seen with these two events dovetails with our faculty’s approach to the curriculum and their work with students.  Change can be challenging when it involves an already successful program and yet change is also what takes our efforts to the next level.  On behalf of everyone at EMS, I extend heartfelt thanks to Catherine and Judy for their vision, courage, leadership, and energy in putting on this year’s Book Fair.  They have raised the bar, and I cannot wait to see how it gets raised further next year!
 

Powered by Finalsite