NSW Premier’s Teacher Scholarship Study Tour: New York #2

“From its inception, a PDS education was founded on relationships and learning by doing; it valued play as creative cognitive growth and working together as a means of effective progress and the promotion of democratic values. It was about openness to opportunity and growth rather than right answers and closed minds.”

Visiting schools is always interesting but it is rare for me to find one that genuinely has achieved what I see as excellence. One of the key measures is that it doesn’t feel like a school but is a genuine community of learners. Poughkeepsie Day School is such a school.

The school has an admirable ethos evident from chatting with the students and staff even if one did not know anything else about the school’s values or approach to learning. PDS was established during the mid-1930s with the following ideals in mind:

“Our founding families wanted something distinctly different for their children. They wanted a school that honored childhood, took notice of emerging theories about learning and respected creativity while fostering democracy and intellectual effort….”

Josie Holford is head of school and spent a generous portion of her day showing me around. Josie honours childhood. You can sense it in everything she says and does. I really enjoyed her conversation and appreciated the opportunity to talk with so many of her colleagues.

I should mention that Josie has been a Twitter colleague for almost as long as I have had Twitter. Her tweetstream always impresses me as demonstrating her professional values and beliefs clearly. I love it!

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The school has very open learning spaces. Once can usually see out into nature and there are wall-sized windows everywhere. Assessment has been de-fetishised and there is no focus on state testing. Learning is everywhere. Learning and creativity and openness. I love how both a teacher and student are celebrated for having their poetry published.

I chatted with many teachers during the day. Brent Boscarino, a teacher focused on citizen science, is engaged with a range of projects that enthuse students. I could see that his passion for “learning by doing” from watching his class dissect a dogfish shark. Later that day he was heading out with students to collect samples for an ongoing citizen science project focused on aquatic invasive species investigations in the Finger Lakes and associated waterways. What a great opportunity for students to be deeply immersed in their learning.

Jonathan Heiles explained how he approached assessment using collaboration in science. Three students were given the open-ended question and 20-30 minutes to prepare through discussion. When the teacher returned to the room, the students do not know who would be asked to answer the question, or the various parts of the task.

I chatted with many other teachers at the school who spoke with great passion about a range of educational pursuits including engaging students with nature and their local community, the year-long approach to deep study of a topic, maker-spaces and technology. Everyone seemed very proud of their school and also acknowledged privilege.

I have had many enjoyable conversations already during this study tour and some of the best have been with students. This group below were talking to me about their interests and what they liked about their school. This photo, taken by the Josie, reminds me of their great conversation which ranged from writing and writers to art, computer games and ethics. I really admire what has been achieved educationally at this school when such fine young people, at the end of their schooling, are able to be so articulate, open and caring. Thank you particularly to Ben, Nicole, Ellie and Emily for their openness. Good luck with your future educational and career plans.

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New York City is famous for impressive museums, galleries, parks and gardens. These are national treasures and great assets to students and teachers. The American Museum of Natural History is an extraordinary space. Not only did I enjoy the exhibitions but found myself discovering the importance of John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt in the formation of the national parks. The 3D IMax video narrated by Robert Redford is excellent.

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I spent a long period of time at AMNH in The Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. It is a very impressive exhibition and certainly explores the use of DNA analysis in understanding human origins very thoroughly. I have not seen such a focus before in a museum.

The replicas of musical instruments and small carvings collected and assembled in such a way and dating back, in some cases over 30, 000 years, is a powerful reminder about what it is that makes us human. I also enjoyed the personal video messages from scientists about their beliefs.

This permanent exhibition also has very good online resources for educators who are interested in teaching human origins regardless of the age of their students.

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Dr Jamie Boyer, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation VP for Children’s Education at New York’s Botanic Gardens, kindly met and provided a guided tour while he explained how citizen science is encouraged. The team focuses on forest phenology and seasonal bird changes but students also collect data from their garden plots too.


flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Jamie says:

The Garden’s CitSci Program has many facets, but is primarily focused on plant phenology and water quality monitoring in our Bronx River. We solicit the help of adult volunteers and teen interns, and also provide educational programs for students and teachers to encourage field science and engagement with the environment.

You shouldn’t get the idea that the space is merely manicured gardens. There is a huge tract of old growth forest running along the Bronx River that cuts through the gardens. The river is a great resource for schools who visit. I could also tell that students really felt proud of their gardening and research.

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The buildings are almost as impressive as the gardens and wilder spaces. Thanks Jamie for showing me around.


flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Adobe apps*

I mentioned to many of the educators and students that I have met on this study tour that Adobe’s new range of mobile apps, particularly Adobe Post and Adobe Voice, are a great way for students to represent their ideas quickly and professionally. Students very rapidly, when I showed them on my phone, saw what they could do with their own images and words.

These tools will be very useful for citizen scientists endeavouring to represent their ideas and findings simply for sharing.

Featured image: Flickr photo by Darcy Moore https://flickr.com/photos/darcymoore/26315833284 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

*My scholarship is funded by Adobe but I have used their products happily for many years and happily recommend them to educators and students with no hesitation. I think this new wave of mobile apps really worth exploring.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Paul:

    You are clearly having a most marvellous time Darcy. Thanks for keeping us up to date (and quite jealous!). Given moves in the US, as elsewhere, I’d venture that the PDS is one of a kind. It does remind me of times past where education was an end, not a means. This is not to say that everything was marvellous but the idea of a more liberal education, of learning something for the sake of pure enjoyment, does seem to have gone now with NAPLAN and SATs etc.

    Your piece on citizen science took me back to my first college where I ran a wildlife conservation unit for almost 25 years. It was founded, as was the entire college philosophy, of doing something just to learn it and to ask questions of life and study. In those settings I rarely asked questions, students had enough! We were (and to an extent conservation still is) at the cutting edge of knowledge. It would be heartening were PDS still keeping such ideas alive – sounds like they are.

    Enjoy the rest of your travels and journey safely

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