Welcome

Welcome to the Headmaster's Blog where you'll find updates, thoughts, and events regarding Saint David's School, the education of boys, and other items of interest. This is by no means meant to be a complete account of all that happens at Saint David's. Please refer to the school's website for more complete details -- it's more a Headmaster's musings.



Friday, September 19, 2014

The Pulse of Electrons


Our third grade boys are in the midst of a new electronics STE(A)M unit, using Little Bits kits.

Yesterday, they experimented with using a pulse bit to change the speed of the electronic signals that cause an LED to blink. Using a power bit,  power source (battery), pulse bit, and vibration loader, the boys had great fun experimenting with their devices and collaborating with each other. They were delighted when, through successful connection, they heard the pulse beats and saw the light blink, indicating the flow of electrons and their speed of travel.

In units such as this, we are guiding our younger boys to be creative idea-generators and collaborators.

This year Saint David's has increased the number of science periods each week in Grades One through Three, and we are folding technology into the science curriculum through a new STE(A)M strand that allows us more opportunity to teach active, collaborative problem-solving skills.

A short video clip follows too.





video

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Inquiry Based Learning


 
On Lake Tana, Ethiopia, with three former student council presidents.

Inquiry-based learning abounds at Saint David’s. An active approach to education, it emphasizes investigation, collaborative and individual work, hypothesis generation and testing, and experiential-based problem solving, research, and analysis. This aspect of true learning has always been at the heart of a program rooted in rigorous academic pursuit and it is one very much encapsulated in this past year’s school-wide theme, Critical Analysis.

Examples of inquiry-based learning can be found in all disciplines at Saint David’s: in our new Fifth Grade DNA unit, taught in partnership with the DNALC of Cold Spring Harbor, and in the Sixth Grade’s research and exploration of primary source documents through our partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History; in the Seventh Grade Spanish immersion with the University of Salamanca in Spain; in the new “Critters” STEAM project that seventh graders participate in while on Cape Cod; in our multisensory approach to reading in the Lower School; and in the role-playing of fourth graders as they “travel” the Silk Road.

Throughout our program, Saint David’s boys learn in ways that are engaging and captivating; ways that require them to analyze the world around them critically, and to apply their findings thoughtfully in their lives.

On so many fronts, Saint David’s is deliberately reaching out and connecting with cultural, educational, and research institutions through formal, strategic partnerships that expand the boundary lines of a Saint David’s education.

It is rarely possible to solve problems or overcome challenges without the help and expertise of others—effective critical analysis requires an open mind, collaboration, and a multi-perspective view. The opening of the Saint David’s Kalina School in Ethiopia is a perfect example. It was the result of a critical reflection on the school’s mission, the identification of an important issue, the development of a strategic partnership and then, through dedicated hard work and perseverance, the achievement of the goal.

That’s teaching by example.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Is It Real?"

The following article by Upper School History Teacher Joe Shapiro, appears in the summer 2014 issue of Saint David's Magazine.

"Wait, this is real too?” asked another astonished Sixth Grade student as we examined Ulysses S. Grant’s presidential razor blade (complete with a permanent blemish from the President’s thumb).

“If this isn’t all real . . . I’m in big trouble,” responded one of the chief archivists of the Gilder Lehrman Collection.

In early March, the Sixth Grade had the rare opportunity to visit the vault of the impressive Gilder Lehrman Collection housed in the basement of the New-York Historical Society.  According to their website, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (GLI) is a “non-profit organization devoted to the improvement of history education.”

It was founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman who have spent the last two decades adding to the collection of American historical documents, which is now home to more than 60,000 “letters, diaries, maps, pamphlets, printed books, newspapers, photographs, ephemera” (and at least one razor blade).

Gilder and Lehrman have ensured that pieces of American history do not simply collect dust in a random assortment of nooks and attics, but rather that they come alive in classrooms where wide-eyed, budding historians are waiting to dust them off.

Saint David’s recent Curriculum Initiative sought to increase opportunities for boys to expand their learning outside the classroom. The Sixth Grade history curriculum, which is the culminating year in a two-year American history sequence that begins in Fifth Grade, offered the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the primary sources of the GLI collection. Primary sources—essential tools for all historians—are especially important to fostering a passion for history in our boys. Because their content can often be shrouded in difficult language, they offer an immediate challenge to students.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Meaningful Integration of Technology

Saint David's teachers are always on the lookout for ways to integrate technology with everything they do, when and where appropriate--and they are great about sharing best practices and other findings with each other!

At the end of the 2013-2014 academic school-year, several teachers participated in a technology showcase at Saint David's, where they shared the innovative ways in which they had integrated technology.

All faculty were invited to visit the showcase, where they observed and discussed the rationale, strategy, and results of integration with the showcase presenters. Among the many inventive ways technology was integrated, a few highlights included: the inclusion of Bee Bot robotic programming in the First Grade social studies mapping curriculum, an i-Pad “virtual reality” scavenger hunt used in Spanish classes, and 3D printing in Upper School math classes to investigate surface area and tackle urban planning challenges.



As this new school-year of “Ideas and Ideals” gets fully under way, our teachers will continue to fold technology into curriculum in meaningful ways. One way we are doing this is by increasing the number of science periods each week for our Lower School boys, allowing them the opportunity to generate ideas through collaborative problem solving in STEAM strands.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

In Abyssinia

The following article appears in the summer 2014 issue of Saint David's Magazine.


It was not anything like I expected. In the early morning hours of June 14, 2014, a Saint David’s contingent stepped out of the terminal building at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. Expedition Ethiopia had landed. It was cool. There was a light fog about, moisture hung gently in the air, and there was the crisp smell of eucalyptus—a pungent aroma intensified whenever the air is stretched to its extremes by either heat or moisture. I found myself immediately transported by this distinct scent to another place and another time. I felt young again. The feeling of placing an anxious foot in a foreign land was replaced with a nostalgic step back to a place I knew. Growing up in Australia, the aroma of fresh, wet eucalyptus at the dawn of a new day woke the heart from its nighttime slumber. It made the blood run.

What Australians colloquially refer to as the gum tree, the eucalyptus was brought to Addis in the early 1890s by the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II, the first king much loved by all the Ethiopians. A fast-growing tree, it would fuel his new capital. Even today we watched wide-eyed Ethiopian women, and sad-eyed donkeys haul the heavy loads of wood down the Entoto Mountains to sell at market. This daily collection and procession has defined the ‘new’ capital’s northern limits for more than 150 years. It was from the airport that we immediately ascended these mountains and surveyed the city below.

Addis is filthy but exhilarating. Bipedal locomotion dominates as the principal mode of transportation, but scattered about are tri-wheeled Fiats, leftover gifts of the imperial minded Italian conquerors of the early 1900s, lorries and VW combos stuffed full of people, and 50-year-old blue and white taxis that somehow, by the grace of God, still run. It is a thriving, bustling metropolis—frayed at the edges, a little tighter in the center, but chaotic throughout. There are traffic lights installed at some intersections, but they are not turned on. Every crossroad in Ethiopia, it would seem, is negotiated and negotiable. Addis Ababa is wild, edgy, dangerous, but remarkably, it all somehow functions. It was indicative of all that followed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ideas and Ideals



 
At the Saint David's Kalina School in Tigray.
The Kukufto Village chief elder, an old, wise, weather-worn faced Ethiopian said only one thing to me at the end of our formal ceremonies at the opening of Saint David’s Kalina School in June: “I only wish I was young again, so I could attend this school.” An illiterate man, he sees the promise and challenge of the future as clearly as the Abyssinian sun shines brightly in his sky. Trekking the Horn of Africa at the opening of my summer with three student council presidents, their dads, and teachers was nothing short of inspirational. Eucalyptus, frankincense, and myrrh invaded my senses while the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness consumed my thoughts.

Along unpaved, rut-filled roads to villages and towns with no running water, indoor plumbing or septic systems, the Ethiopians are laying high speed Internet cable to earthen floored huts that leak in the rain. Forget the whole Industrial Revolution; Ethiopia is moving from the Agrarian Age directly to the Information Age. Like enlightened parents in New York, enlightened parents in Ethiopia see a dramatically changing world. Their children’s future as well as our children’s depend on accepting and adapting to this reality.

Ideas will be the engines that drive the future. With technological advances unfolding at speeds that not long ago would have seemed unfathomable, those who generate the ideas now stand to reap a greater percentage of the rewards. In a provocative piece in a recent publication of Foreign Affairs, the authors argue that digital technology is reshaping our economy and, by extension, our work and world (1).

Friday, August 8, 2014

Horizons Year Three: Final Day

Accompanied by their teachers and their Saint David's alum counselors, Horizons' rising first grade class came to visit my office this morning to express their gratitude for a great summer.  They were so excited.

It's been a busy summer at Horizons.  A highlight in the rising second and third grade program has been the strong STEAM push.  In second grade the students studied insects.  They read about and researched different types.  Using what they had learned about the anatomy of insects, the boys then created their own in art class.  Rising second grade boys also learned computer programming skills, programming Bee Bot robots to navigate a grid. 

In the third grade, the STEAM theme was space.  Rising third grade boys studied the characteristics of different planets and used this knowledge to paint murals of the solar system in art class.  During their STEAM class, the boys designed and constructed rockets with an eye to maximizing speed, distance, and accuracy.  

To launch their rockets, the boys built stomp launchers using a soda bottle, portions of the inner tube of a bicycle tire, and a length of PVC pipe.  Boys learned how to create sufficient force to launch their rockets by quickly moving air from a large volume to a smaller volume.  Some boys enjoyed instant success with their rockets, while others needed to make multiple design changes. 

Another highlight of the summer included several trips to Marymount’s science and drama programs, including the opportunity to visit Marymount’s robotics lab, the “Fab Lab.”  Here, the boys built Lego robots of soccer goalies and strikers, then programmed them using advanced software.  By the end of their visit, the boys were playing tabletop games of soccer with their robotics creations.  

Horizons at Saint David's brings boys from low-income families in Harlem to Saint David's for a six-week academic focused program--a commitment to the greater common good informed by the school's mission.



Monday, July 14, 2014

Year Three of Horizons

Two of the boys at Swimming (Asphalt Green)
Horizons at Saint David's is part way through its third summer.  We have 50 rising First, Second, and Third Grade boys from four schools in Harlem participating in the program this year.  Two thirds of the boys are here for their second or third summer, with one third here for their first.  Following are some highlights to date:

The third graders are now receiving two hours of swim instruction per week (first and second continue to receive 1 hour).

Horizons has developed a strong STEM strand in the curriculum this year with first graders studying the weather and water cycle; second graders learning about computer programing through “Bee Bots"; and third graders constructing their own rockets with stomp launchers.  Through this process the boys are becoming familiar with the design cycle and how mistakes provide the perfect opportunity to redesign and adjust.

Horizons' boys reentering Saint David's
after a fire drill this morning.
Long-time Saint David's teacher and Horizons music teacher, David Bell, has written a new Horizons song to unite and celebrate the program.  The boys have been singing it with gusto.

This year, the program introduced a new morning meeting on Fridays where boys from each class receive the “Horizons All Star” Award.  The award recognizes and celebrates a specific contribution made by a few of the boys each week.

There are several field trips planned, including the Guggenheim, Met, Jewish Museum, and Museum of the City of New York.  The boys will also be visiting Marymount for their production of Peter Pan and Mulan, and to visit their “Fab Lab.”

A highlight of the program this summer includes the participation of six young alum volunteers, up from four last year.  One of the aims of the program is to bring young alums back to Saint David's in the summers to contribute to the greater common good by volunteering their services.  Nicholas, Justin, Cooper, James, Colin, and John are representing with distinction.

In addition to our great staff of teachers from the Saint David’s faculty, Horizons is pleased to welcome its first  teacher from PS112.  The program is also proud to welcome its first set of siblings, a first and second grader.

Saint David's is fully alive, even in the summer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Secrets of the Civil War


In partnership with The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Saint David’s School offered a one-week summer camp at the New-York Historical Society for rising Sixth and Seventh Grade boys.

Secrets of the Civil War is another of Saint David's new programs that expand and extend history and research skill exploration beyond the walls of the classroom through close partnerships with leading cultural and scientific institutions.

Through a wide range of activities, participants in the camp expanded their background knowledge of the Civil War. They observed and sketched Civil War objects and textiles on display at the New-York Historical Society. 

The boys learned how to carefully handle authentic Civil War objects from the Gilder Lehrman Collection, including daguerreotypes printed during the 1860s and the contents of a soldier’s footlocker, featuring a 150-year-old biscuit. 

Boys listened to a live presentation of music played during the Civil War, and they met with a re-enactor representing a Civil War soldier from the New York Colored Troops.
 
Boys read collections of letters that were written during the Civil War but never published. Before working with the originals, boys learned about the conservation and handling of documents.

Working in teams of two or three, boys decided on a Civil War topic or theme they wanted to explore. They learned to transcribe the Civil War letters, which involved decoding unfamiliar symbols and deciphering multiple pages of handwritten letters. 

Boys quickly became adept at skimming the letters for information related to their themes.

Acting as curators, boys decided on which excerpts of the letters to feature in the iBook stories they created. They included pictures of sketches and cartoons from original Harper's Weekly issues printed during the Civil War era as well as images of the objects and artifacts they observed from the collections of the Gilder Lehrman Institute and New-York Historical Society.

Throughout the process, boys worked closely with the Chief Curator of the Gilder Lehrman Collection and a Saint David’s teacher to grapple with questions historians ask: Whose voice? How does the source affect your understanding? Why do documents matter?

During the last day of the camp, boys presented the findings of their research to their parents, siblings, faculty and visitors from the Gilder Lehrman Institute and New-York Historical Society. Their presentations on Civil War camp life, prison camps, the leadership of General McClellan, and important battles were impressive.


World of Enzymes


As part of the school's partnership with The DNA Learning Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Saint David’s offered a one-week summer camp, World of Enzymes, for boys entering Grades Six and Seven.
 
During the third week of June, boys were immersed in an environment of hands on activities and laboratory experiments designed to increase genetic literacy, encourage critical and creative thinking and spark interest in the field of biotechnology. 

Working with a geneticist from the DNALC, boys learned basic concepts of biochemistry and molecular biology and utilized advanced techniques to manipulate DNA. Through direct observation and manipulation of enzymes, boys developed an understanding of the importance of proteins, not only in living things, but also in recombinant DNA technology, cloning, and industry.

World of Enzymes is another of Saint David's new programs that expand and extend math and science exploration beyond the walls of the classroom through close partnerships with leading cultural and scientific institutions.

 Boys built molecular models; observed enzymatic reactions that are used for food production and healthcare; used enzymes to cut and splice DNA; analyzed DNA with gel electrophoresis; and prepared a personal DNA fingerprint.
During one of their favorite activities “Bubbling Liver,” boys placed a piece of calf’s liver, which contains the enzyme catalase, into a cup of hydrogen peroxide. Boys observed the enzyme at work as it digested poisonous hydrogen peroxide molecules into simple, harmless molecules, causing the liquid in the cup to bubble over and the temperature to increase.

Boys combined the enzyme emporase with milk to observe how enzymes are used in cheese production. Boys also learned how to reduce the lactose in milk by filtering the milk through beads created by combing a lactase/alginate mixture with a calcium chloride solution.

Following a series of extended protocols, boys practiced using restriction enzymes, the molecular “scissors,” and ligase enzymes, the molecular “glue,” to cut and paste DNA fragments. Boys analyzed the DNA using gel electrophoresis.

On the final day of the camp, boys became teachers and explained the week’s activities to visiting parents, siblings, and members of the faculty and administration. As the boys discussed their work, their enthusiasm for the subject matter was palpable.  




Monday, June 23, 2014

Expedition Ethiopia: A School Built

On our last day in Ethiopia, the contingent from Saint David's School, New York City arrived at the Saint David's Kalina School.  Led by the three Student Council Presidents Colin '11, Jack '12 and Skakel '13, the contingent was met by an excited mass of children, family members and teachers.

It was a hot and dusty day, but none of it tempered the spirits of those visiting or those being visited.  This first clip is upon arrival:

video


At Kalina today and at Mimi's school yesterday we were greeted with traditional dance and song.  A few short clips follow to illustrate.  Ethiopian dance is all about the shoulders, neck and head:

video


Between the two visits, Colin, Jack, Skakel and I managed to catch lunch in Mek'ele where we reflected on the trip to date.

The boys each expressed feeling moved by the impact of their hard work and the work of their respective classes and the Saint David's students.

They were proud of their efforts and the obvious impact their efforts have had on the education of children in another part of the world--a part of the world that could not have achieved their dreams without the help of others.

At the schools, the boys took every opportunity to spend time interacting with the children.  Colin took some shots on goal with some of the boys.



Skakel drew a crowd that tried its best to share names.

Jack wrote with chalk on the board, showing a small group of 2nd graders just how it's done.

This last short chip shows the boys being introduced in the classroom.




video




Sunday, June 22, 2014

One Down, One to Go: The 7th in Salamanca,

This blog entry is adapted from a letter I just received from Tour Leader Dr. Gilbert:

The boys had a tremendous first week, capped off by a wonderful weekend. On Friday, the 7th graders played indoor soccer, or "futsal" with a group of local students and really enjoyed seeing how their skills compared to the faster paced play of the local Spaniards. One of their baseball catchers even volunteered to cover the net and made 2 out of 4 possible saves!

Yesterday and today were special days as the group traveled to Segovia, Avila, Ledesma, and Arribes del Duero in Portugal.

Early Saturday morning, some of the boys joined in for the classic churros & chocolate treat from Graci's around the corner from the residence. They then headed off to see the aqueduct and the Alcazar (castle) of Segovia. Their guide was so entranced by the boys' curiosity and great listening skills that she accompanied them into the castle to continue sharing her expertise on her own time.  


The group then split up in cohort groups to enjoy a Segovian lunch at different points in the city. This combined with some souvenir shopping made it possible for the boys to practice their burgeoning language skills with the locals. 

They capped off the end of the day with a walk around the town of Avila, visiting the reliquary of St. Teresa (boys especially enjoyed seeing her finger complete with ring). They finished by marching along a kilometer of the medieval wall that still surrounds the city. The boys imagined hot oil and archers beside them as the enemy approached and just what it would take to want to mount an attack on such a structure. 

By evening, the group had tasted cinnamon almond cookies typical of the area and stopped for their group photo at the four posts where it is said that St. Teresa kicked the dust of Avila off her sandals as she was leaving town, in disgust, because the locals refused to support her work in founding a new order.

Today, the group began its day with a tour of the medieval city of Ledesma, where tragic histories & black legends abound. It was fascinating for the boys to see the whole town on the outskirts celebrating the running of the bulls (many towns celebrate their own version of Pamplona's more well known one on the feast of their patron saint). 


After a tour of the different Christian, Jewish, and Muslim quarters, the boys paused for a classic "tortilla de patata" made by the local restaurant freshly for them!  Many of the boys are now converts to this delicious, ubiquitous Spanish food. 

The afternoon was spent picnicking in Miranda do Douro, Portugal which gave us a wonderful view of the gorge canyon we were about to travel on a boat. With a sports break and a newly discovered water ball game, the boys ended up having lots of fun. After their tour on the ferryboat, the boys were treated to a showcase of birds of prey including 3 different types of owls, a gyrfalcon, a bald eagle, a royal eagle, and 2 types of vultures. Many were able to hold the creatures and have their picture taken.
 

Some of the boys have been heard speaking to each other in Spanish in the dormitory and the teachers rejoice in how eagerly they share what they have learned in our ticket game--the group plays cultural Q & A with raffle tickets for a souvenir raffle on the last day. 

Tomorrow, the 7th graders will visit the market where they will be in charge of purchasing the ingredients for a paella we make at the school on Tuesday night.