In Harvard Ed's magazine last month, Karen Mapp, a senior lecturer of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, compared traditional back-to-school events to cattle drives. Parents “start in the cafeteria to hear rules for 20 minutes about bussing and about the cafeteria before being herded to classrooms to hear more rules by teachers.” Open houses, Mapp shares, should be more linked to learning.
It's almost as if Dr. Mapp sat in on Long-View's Big Picture Night the evening of September 15th. Long-View’s first annual Big Picture Night was far from a cattle drive. Rather than focusing on rules or low-level "housekeeping" items that communicate a culture of compliance or over-focus on procedures at the expense of emphasis on more important learning, our goal was to give parents “the big picture” of education at Long-View.
Lisa Zapalac started the evening by welcoming all the parents and explaining what parents should expect at Long-View: "Long-View is about learning and the learning process, knowing each child, and about independence and interdependence." In addition, Long-View's academics are focused on the long-term, transferrable skills of critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration. Lisa also added, “We don’t wait and give feedback on a test students take at the end of a unit. Instead, students receive constructive and critical feedback on their performance at Long-View daily.”
At Long-View, teaching is a highly complex activity. We consider what is known about learning and couple that with deep knowledge of each content area. From this idea, Kevin Moore and Cathy Lewis delved into mathematics at Long-View so that parents would have a clearer understanding about how we orient toward big ideas. We do not teach mathematics through a model focused on memorization and rote procedures. A unique proprietary matrix that connects arithmetic to algebra guides our rigorous program.
Cathy and Kevin used the concept of multiplication to highlight for parents how we teach this particular concept through big ideas. The big ideas of multiplication are distribution and association, and these big ideas connect the concept of multiplication across all number types (whole numbers, decimals, fractions, percents, integers, and algebraic expressions).
Because most adults learned a specific procedure for multiplying whole numbers, and then a different procedure for multiplying fractions, and yet still another procedure when they got to Algebra, Kevin and Cathy ran through several expressions to show parents the power of these big ideas of distribution and association and how that, when we orient toward these big ideas, kids do not have to learn multiple, disconnected procedures. When these big ideas are bundled into the initial learning of the concept of multiplication with whole numbers, kids did not need to learn a new procedure when they move to multiplying fractions or decimals or other number forms.
Elizabeth Bayer followed by explaining the “big picture” of Literacy: "We are working to grow readers and writers, and are daily doing the work of real readers and writers.” Because we use a workshop model, there is lots of time for independent reading and writing. Elizabeth also shared the units of study in both reading and writing that will structure the learning across the year. She then used one particular writing unit, Researched-based Argument Essay,” as a case study to help parents understand the thinking she takes into the planning process for a unit. Elizabeth described the goals of the Research-based Argument Essay unit, as well as the three "bends" that will provide a focus for the mini-lessons throughout the month-long unit: establishing supporting positions, building powerful arguments, and writing for real-life purposes and real-life audiences.
We then moved onto Science and Heather Swanson explained that, like literacy and math, we want students to think like scientists. Heather shared the practices of science and engineering with the parents. Science should involve “asking questions and defining problems, analyzing and interpreting data, constructing explanations and designing solutions. Not reading from a textbook and answering questions about science concepts." Heather then took the parents through a more detailed look at the current work the kids are doing in science, focused upon "force and motion." After talking about the inquiry-based method by which the kids come to understand the major concepts and ideas, she explained the way she will support the children learning about designing and running fair tests, as well as collecting and analyzing data. She also described the engineering challenge that will be the capstone to the unit.
Finally, Eric Mann gave parents an overview of what students would learn in Computer Science/Coding this year. Eric oriented the parents toward the big picture goals of CS/Coding: building habits of mind around algorithmic, iterative, and computational thinking, as well as supporting the development of the children as focused, curious, and courageous learners. He explained that the structure of the CS/Coding block would consist of challenges, presentations, a lesson, decoding work, unplugged activities and being introduced to past and present coders/developers. The coding platform the children will use is cloud-based, and the main language they will be exposed to is Python.