A coeducational day school serving students JK-12

 

TRANSCRIPT
Join Upper School Computer Science Department Chair and Teacher Ash Hansberry, Middle School Computer Science Teacher Bobby Oommen and Lower School Computer Science and Technology Integration Specialist Fiona Deeney for a discussion about CS as a liberal art.

Ash Hansberry: I’m Ash Hansberry and I am an upper school computer science teacher. I am also the Department Chair for the Computer Science Department. 

Bobby Oommen: I'm Bobby Oommen, middle school computer science teacher.

Fiona Deeney: I'm Fiona Deeney, the lower school computer science and technology integration specialist.

How do you teach computational thinking skills to lower school students?

Deeney: Well, I will start with my JK students when I talk about that. We do a unit at the beginning of the year when they start at Latin and it is completely unplugged. They're not using any technology when they do this unit. And we read a story called “Hello, Ruby.” And they're introduced to a character who goes through her day, solving different problems. She has a mystery to solve. And along the way, she's learning how to break down those problems again. She's doing decompositions, she's doing abstraction, she's noticing patterns. She's also thinking about sequencing in the story. Again, those words I try to use as I'm reading the story and then connecting those to an activity. We did one activity where the character needs a ladder and they need to build the ladder. Well, once they learned how to build one part of the ladder, then they could repeat that step over and over again. They didn't need to think about how to build it every time, the same as a computer–once it's programmed to do one, one type of task, it can do that task over and over again. 

Another example is when the third graders do a project where they are thinking about how you build a three-dimensional shape. How would you describe to somebody what's the algorithm for making a three-dimensional shape? Again, not using any technology as they're doing that. Initially they have to think about the steps it takes to build, say a cube that you don't just say, it's a square that they stretch it out. You really have to think about how it's built. And they record themselves talking about how they put the shape together, using some different tools and they go back and they listen to their descriptions and how one person may make something differently than another. But that if you start to think about the amount of different ways that you can make a cube, there's probably one way, that's the most efficient way. So they take those ideas and then they break that down, the steps that they take to build that cube or that pyramid. And then they record those and also take pictures along the way of how they're building each step. So there, it's making them really be conscious about how you put something together. And that it's not just done all in one. 

Oommen: So I don't know that the larger pieces differ from any of our divisions, but I would say that in the middle school, I have to think about this particular phase of their lives when they're really into themselves. And they're really discovering what they're into and what they're not into. And then formulating projects that allow them the maximum amount of self-direction. In six through eighth we're learning about web development. And so I have learned more as the final project being a design “your own webpage,” more about the “Gilmore Girls” and BTS and any sports team that I've ever known because they've got that agency. And so in the middle school, especially giving them more agency to do what they want to do. I would say that's one of the ways in particular in the middle school that the method may be a little bit different. 

Hansberry: And I would say in the upper school, it's really just continuing with this pattern that Fiona and Bobby laid out. We're really just circling back to all of the same skills that we've been teaching them, and then maybe doing it a little bit more complex and in a little bit more depth and with a little bit more sort of personal autonomy there. So, you know, where a student might learn about an algorithm on paper, get to explore an algorithm like Google's quick draw in the lower school. In the middle school they might get to think about, okay, what are actually the steps there and what are the applications. They can revisit it and take it one step further. And then by the time they get to the upper school, well, maybe they have the skills then to modify that algorithm or to write some code to change how it works or to write some code that adds on to what's already there. So we're really just using all of the same skills and coming back to it to get into a little bit more depth and a little bit more complexity each time we see those topics. 

Oommen: I know in the lower school, Fiona has different ways that she's teaching kids algorithms or even when they learn about the different steps and things. And then in the middle school, we talk about how would you sort something? And so the kids have to sort cards in order without being able to speak to one another. And then we talk about different sorting methods and how that might look, but then they're not at that point, they're not programming those in the upper school. They're actually writing the code to come up with a different sorting algorithm. And so seeing that trace out those teaching methods, again, just get deeper each time, 

Deeney: Hearing both of you say that I really try each time I teach something, I say, this is what this may look like when you get to middle school, this is what this may look like when you get to high school college in your life, everyday life. So even though it might be that simple tool of building a ladder or that we think about systems for planting a garden, like what that can look like in terms of that computer science application as they get older.

Why is it important to incorporate computational thinking skills into a liberal arts curriculum? 
Oommen: Okay, so this is my kind of waxing eloquently. If we define liberal arts as like studying the things that are most fundamental to the way that the world works. So you've got math and science and, you know, English, you got all these things that are, when you look around, they're the most fundamental to how this world around us is working. Then I would argue that studying technology and computer science is now fundamental to knowing how the world around you works. I mean, from the morning you wake up to when you go to bed, you are interacting with and using technology. And underneath that, computer science and computational thinking. It's essential to then understanding how the world around us works. There's a quote that's often used with policy and understanding. “Let's not produce just like consumers of technology, but let's produce creators of technology.” So moving from consuming to creating is essential. And so then should be incorporated in the liberal arts. 

Hansberry: I'm so glad that Bobby mentioned that quote because that's exactly what I was thinking to this question. This idea that liberal arts is really about teaching people to understand the world and then to change the world for better. I feel like that's the aspirational goal of a liberal arts education is that you can look at the world, you can understand it, and then you can see how do I improve it? What's my piece and improving it? And if we want students to be able to understand and improve our modern world, I think what Bobby said is exactly right. We need to teach them how to create the tools, how to use the tools for their own benefit. Use the tools for good. I think it's increasingly the case that computer science is yet another one of those skills that people need to use the tools to shape the world for good. 

Deeney: I'm thinking about some of the tools like the fun robots that we use in the lower school. There are different levels of the ways they can use the tool. It goes along with what you were just saying, Ash. They, of course, the first thing they want to do is to use the drive mode of all of these tools. Like where's the thing where I can just have it go. And I say, but there's, there's more to this tool. There's more to how this tool works like that when you push that forward button, that was programmed at one point to go forward. So let's look a little deeper and then we look at the block-based coding that can make that robot move forward a hundred centimeters and move backwards. So I think that sort of awareness when they're younger is that everything isn't just a drive mode, there's a creator behind it and that they can be those creators. So that it's not just the consumer of that toy or that robot, but they actually can have some control about how it works. And then hopefully that translates as they get older and be creators of different things. 

How do you explain computer science at Latin to parents who did not have CS as part of their school's curriculum growing up? 

Deeney: Well, that's a fun question because I love it when we have our tours come through our JK families interested in coming to Latin and they come through into the computer science classroom. And I would say, um, the way I explained it, is I let them see it in action. One way even our families at home can see as many explanations done by students using our Seesaw app, as they take a picture of something that they've done. And they can explain that. So their parents have that little window into their world of computer science. I think when I also have students do the explaining if if people are coming through and really have them think about why they are using that tool or why scratch works so well for making this project to have your characters move in a certain way and have the kids really think about the reason why we're using different tools in computer science. And really why for lower school students and I'm sure middle and upper school as well, why it's so fun to be a creator in something that I think as adults and probably many parents didn't feel that it may have been as fun if it was something that didn't feel comfortable when they were maybe learning about it in high school for the first time. So hopefully that sense of comfort and excitement when they are three and four and five, and going on up from there that, that continues as they move through school

Oommen: When we have those meetings in the middle school, I often say computer science is not just coding because parents will immediately associate CS and coding, which many of us, that was our first kind of experience into computer science is. Nowadays there's a lot of coding camps available. And so their kid goes into coding and one of the coding camps. And then they'll come and say, so-and-so knows a lot about CS. And that's when I get to again, just say like, well, it's not just about coding. It's about algorithms. It's about problem-solving. It's about networks. It's about so many things. I also like to tell them that it's collaborative. It's not just your child in a hoodie in their basement, drinking monster energy drinks on their own. Like this is a collaborative thing. It's meant to be that way. And, and then at the end of the day, it's like it allows you to be creative in so many different ways. And it's just another tool that we want to give to your child to have in their toolbox to express whatever gifts and talents they have. 

Hansberry: I think what Fiona and Bobby were both saying ties into this idea that we're trying to reshape for parents and for students, what computer science is. Some parents based on the offerings they had at school, some colleagues even used to have this idea. You know, that computer science is very limited to just coding and just apps. And I think what we have the power to do when we're teaching computer science to our youngest students, when we're sharing these interdisciplinary projects through all of our different subjects, I think we have the power to reshape what computer science is to make it this liberal arts, problem-solving, fun subject that we all know it to be. And I think when parents see it that way, they can see the power of it, that it is a fun subject, and it is helping my student to, you know, both solve problems in all of their classes now, but also solve problems when they go out into the world in the future.

Deeney: I was in a JK classroom today and their chicks are hatching. So they were very excited yesterday. I was in there and they were still in their egg form and they were very excited to show me and they said, maybe the next time we're in computer science, we can use scratch junior and we can show how the chick went from being inside the egg into being in the world. So they were just so excited about it. I was so excited to hear them make that connection between how they can show in a science experiment or they can tell a story using computer science. 

Hansberry: I love to hear things like that. I had a student come and tell me that they had figured out how to not do their math homework. I was like, oh no, what have you done? And they said, well, actually I did my math homework. And then I realized that I could make a program to do my math homework. And it's like, it's so exciting. Not that we should encourage them not to do their homework, but it's so exciting to see things like this, where our students are making the connections on their own. We don't have to point it out to them once they get used to this way of thinking, they're able to make all these connections on their own, which is really exciting. 

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  • Academics
  • lower school
  • middle school
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  • upper school
Computer Science at Latin: CS as a Liberal Art (Part 3)

 

TRANSCRIPT
Join Upper School Computer Science Department Chair and Teacher Ash Hansberry, Middle School Computer Science Teacher Bobby Oommen and Lower School Computer Science and Technology Integration Specialist Fiona Deeney for a discussion about CS as a liberal art.

Ash Hansberry: I’m Ash Hansberry and I am an upper school computer science teacher. I am also the Department Chair for the Computer Science Department. 

Bobby Oommen: I'm Bobby Oommen, middle school computer science teacher.

Fiona Deeney: I'm Fiona Deeney, the lower school computer science and technology integration specialist.

How do you teach computational thinking skills to lower school students?

Deeney: Well, I will start with my JK students when I talk about that. We do a unit at the beginning of the year when they start at Latin and it is completely unplugged. They're not using any technology when they do this unit. And we read a story called “Hello, Ruby.” And they're introduced to a character who goes through her day, solving different problems. She has a mystery to solve. And along the way, she's learning how to break down those problems again. She's doing decompositions, she's doing abstraction, she's noticing patterns. She's also thinking about sequencing in the story. Again, those words I try to use as I'm reading the story and then connecting those to an activity. We did one activity where the character needs a ladder and they need to build the ladder. Well, once they learned how to build one part of the ladder, then they could repeat that step over and over again. They didn't need to think about how to build it every time, the same as a computer–once it's programmed to do one, one type of task, it can do that task over and over again. 

Another example is when the third graders do a project where they are thinking about how you build a three-dimensional shape. How would you describe to somebody what's the algorithm for making a three-dimensional shape? Again, not using any technology as they're doing that. Initially they have to think about the steps it takes to build, say a cube that you don't just say, it's a square that they stretch it out. You really have to think about how it's built. And they record themselves talking about how they put the shape together, using some different tools and they go back and they listen to their descriptions and how one person may make something differently than another. But that if you start to think about the amount of different ways that you can make a cube, there's probably one way, that's the most efficient way. So they take those ideas and then they break that down, the steps that they take to build that cube or that pyramid. And then they record those and also take pictures along the way of how they're building each step. So there, it's making them really be conscious about how you put something together. And that it's not just done all in one. 

Oommen: So I don't know that the larger pieces differ from any of our divisions, but I would say that in the middle school, I have to think about this particular phase of their lives when they're really into themselves. And they're really discovering what they're into and what they're not into. And then formulating projects that allow them the maximum amount of self-direction. In six through eighth we're learning about web development. And so I have learned more as the final project being a design “your own webpage,” more about the “Gilmore Girls” and BTS and any sports team that I've ever known because they've got that agency. And so in the middle school, especially giving them more agency to do what they want to do. I would say that's one of the ways in particular in the middle school that the method may be a little bit different. 

Hansberry: And I would say in the upper school, it's really just continuing with this pattern that Fiona and Bobby laid out. We're really just circling back to all of the same skills that we've been teaching them, and then maybe doing it a little bit more complex and in a little bit more depth and with a little bit more sort of personal autonomy there. So, you know, where a student might learn about an algorithm on paper, get to explore an algorithm like Google's quick draw in the lower school. In the middle school they might get to think about, okay, what are actually the steps there and what are the applications. They can revisit it and take it one step further. And then by the time they get to the upper school, well, maybe they have the skills then to modify that algorithm or to write some code to change how it works or to write some code that adds on to what's already there. So we're really just using all of the same skills and coming back to it to get into a little bit more depth and a little bit more complexity each time we see those topics. 

Oommen: I know in the lower school, Fiona has different ways that she's teaching kids algorithms or even when they learn about the different steps and things. And then in the middle school, we talk about how would you sort something? And so the kids have to sort cards in order without being able to speak to one another. And then we talk about different sorting methods and how that might look, but then they're not at that point, they're not programming those in the upper school. They're actually writing the code to come up with a different sorting algorithm. And so seeing that trace out those teaching methods, again, just get deeper each time, 

Deeney: Hearing both of you say that I really try each time I teach something, I say, this is what this may look like when you get to middle school, this is what this may look like when you get to high school college in your life, everyday life. So even though it might be that simple tool of building a ladder or that we think about systems for planting a garden, like what that can look like in terms of that computer science application as they get older.

Why is it important to incorporate computational thinking skills into a liberal arts curriculum? 
Oommen: Okay, so this is my kind of waxing eloquently. If we define liberal arts as like studying the things that are most fundamental to the way that the world works. So you've got math and science and, you know, English, you got all these things that are, when you look around, they're the most fundamental to how this world around us is working. Then I would argue that studying technology and computer science is now fundamental to knowing how the world around you works. I mean, from the morning you wake up to when you go to bed, you are interacting with and using technology. And underneath that, computer science and computational thinking. It's essential to then understanding how the world around us works. There's a quote that's often used with policy and understanding. “Let's not produce just like consumers of technology, but let's produce creators of technology.” So moving from consuming to creating is essential. And so then should be incorporated in the liberal arts. 

Hansberry: I'm so glad that Bobby mentioned that quote because that's exactly what I was thinking to this question. This idea that liberal arts is really about teaching people to understand the world and then to change the world for better. I feel like that's the aspirational goal of a liberal arts education is that you can look at the world, you can understand it, and then you can see how do I improve it? What's my piece and improving it? And if we want students to be able to understand and improve our modern world, I think what Bobby said is exactly right. We need to teach them how to create the tools, how to use the tools for their own benefit. Use the tools for good. I think it's increasingly the case that computer science is yet another one of those skills that people need to use the tools to shape the world for good. 

Deeney: I'm thinking about some of the tools like the fun robots that we use in the lower school. There are different levels of the ways they can use the tool. It goes along with what you were just saying, Ash. They, of course, the first thing they want to do is to use the drive mode of all of these tools. Like where's the thing where I can just have it go. And I say, but there's, there's more to this tool. There's more to how this tool works like that when you push that forward button, that was programmed at one point to go forward. So let's look a little deeper and then we look at the block-based coding that can make that robot move forward a hundred centimeters and move backwards. So I think that sort of awareness when they're younger is that everything isn't just a drive mode, there's a creator behind it and that they can be those creators. So that it's not just the consumer of that toy or that robot, but they actually can have some control about how it works. And then hopefully that translates as they get older and be creators of different things. 

How do you explain computer science at Latin to parents who did not have CS as part of their school's curriculum growing up? 

Deeney: Well, that's a fun question because I love it when we have our tours come through our JK families interested in coming to Latin and they come through into the computer science classroom. And I would say, um, the way I explained it, is I let them see it in action. One way even our families at home can see as many explanations done by students using our Seesaw app, as they take a picture of something that they've done. And they can explain that. So their parents have that little window into their world of computer science. I think when I also have students do the explaining if if people are coming through and really have them think about why they are using that tool or why scratch works so well for making this project to have your characters move in a certain way and have the kids really think about the reason why we're using different tools in computer science. And really why for lower school students and I'm sure middle and upper school as well, why it's so fun to be a creator in something that I think as adults and probably many parents didn't feel that it may have been as fun if it was something that didn't feel comfortable when they were maybe learning about it in high school for the first time. So hopefully that sense of comfort and excitement when they are three and four and five, and going on up from there that, that continues as they move through school

Oommen: When we have those meetings in the middle school, I often say computer science is not just coding because parents will immediately associate CS and coding, which many of us, that was our first kind of experience into computer science is. Nowadays there's a lot of coding camps available. And so their kid goes into coding and one of the coding camps. And then they'll come and say, so-and-so knows a lot about CS. And that's when I get to again, just say like, well, it's not just about coding. It's about algorithms. It's about problem-solving. It's about networks. It's about so many things. I also like to tell them that it's collaborative. It's not just your child in a hoodie in their basement, drinking monster energy drinks on their own. Like this is a collaborative thing. It's meant to be that way. And, and then at the end of the day, it's like it allows you to be creative in so many different ways. And it's just another tool that we want to give to your child to have in their toolbox to express whatever gifts and talents they have. 

Hansberry: I think what Fiona and Bobby were both saying ties into this idea that we're trying to reshape for parents and for students, what computer science is. Some parents based on the offerings they had at school, some colleagues even used to have this idea. You know, that computer science is very limited to just coding and just apps. And I think what we have the power to do when we're teaching computer science to our youngest students, when we're sharing these interdisciplinary projects through all of our different subjects, I think we have the power to reshape what computer science is to make it this liberal arts, problem-solving, fun subject that we all know it to be. And I think when parents see it that way, they can see the power of it, that it is a fun subject, and it is helping my student to, you know, both solve problems in all of their classes now, but also solve problems when they go out into the world in the future.

Deeney: I was in a JK classroom today and their chicks are hatching. So they were very excited yesterday. I was in there and they were still in their egg form and they were very excited to show me and they said, maybe the next time we're in computer science, we can use scratch junior and we can show how the chick went from being inside the egg into being in the world. So they were just so excited about it. I was so excited to hear them make that connection between how they can show in a science experiment or they can tell a story using computer science. 

Hansberry: I love to hear things like that. I had a student come and tell me that they had figured out how to not do their math homework. I was like, oh no, what have you done? And they said, well, actually I did my math homework. And then I realized that I could make a program to do my math homework. And it's like, it's so exciting. Not that we should encourage them not to do their homework, but it's so exciting to see things like this, where our students are making the connections on their own. We don't have to point it out to them once they get used to this way of thinking, they're able to make all these connections on their own, which is really exciting. 

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Join director of college counseling Alexandra Fields to learn more about test-optional admissions to colleges and universities.

TRANSCRIPT

Intro - Alexandra Fields (00:14):
There's a lot of anxiety around the move away from standardized testing. This feels like a massive shift in our community. Students who have parents or guardians who went to college, the test scores meant a lot when those parents or guardians applied to college. And so to think about how schools are evaluating students, without that data point can be very overwhelming and mysterious and scary for students and families. Spending months and months preparing to try and bring that ACT score up a point versus really, you know, acing your way through second semester, Junior year, taking the time to write a really thoughtful essay when you're thinking about bang for your buck, it is easier for us now to say that the latter choice of focusing on academics and focusing on your writing is probably going to get you further in the college process. And that is a big relief for many of our students and families. A lot of research has also been done to explore the ways that standardized tests are quite biased. They are very racially biased. They were created for a white student population taking them. And there's an entire fascinating, very upsetting history of how the SAT actually historically has been used to keep underrepresented folks out of education.

Alexandra Fields (01:52):
I'm Alexandra Fields and I am director of college counseling at Latin. Test optional, it's something that has gotten much more press and has been in the news a lot and it has been on people's minds more during the pandemic, but it actually is something that has existed long before the pandemic. And the pandemic has just accelerated and popularized test-optional policies. So basically what a test-optional policy means is that a student does not need to submit standardized test scores to be considered for admission. And so that would be the ACT, the SAT, AP scores. And these don't exist anymore, but they used to, and you might have heard of SAT subject tests or SAT 2s. None of those are required for admission. And schools, there are schools who have been practicing test-optional admissions policies for years, and the reason that many schools have taken this move is because there's a lot of really great research out there that shows that the standardized tests are just simply not the best way of measuring a student's potential to be successful on a college campus.

(03:12):
The transcript is actually the best indicator of that. And a lot of research has also been done to explore the ways that standardized tests are quite biased. They are very racially biased. They were created for a white student population taking them, and there's an entire fascinating, very upsetting history of how the SAT actually historically has been used to keep underrepresented folks out of education. They're also biased in that when we think about resources, Latin is very lucky. We have a test prep course that students can just sign up for and take. And it's a part of their tuition here. Many students and families have the resources to engage in tutoring. Even if they don't, they have a college counselor who's counseling them on when to take the tests and how often to take the tests, and what scores they need for certain institutions.

(04:12):
And so all of this means that those scores aren't just representative of a student's, you know, intellectual capability, they're representative of a lot more than that. And so schools began to realize if we are genuinely interested in creating an equitable admissions process, if we are genuinely interested in building a diverse student body in all senses of that term, we can't rely heavily on the standardized test score. So Latin students are impacted by this change in a few ways. The first, we'll say is that the vast majority of Latin students still sit for the ACT or the SAT at least once. And we recommend that they do. And the reason that we advise this is because many students do very well. And even when a school is test-optional, a strong test score is only going to help them in the process. And so most students take a shot at it.

(05:13):
The difference is students tend to not take the ACT or the SAT quite as many times as they had in the past. Maybe a student who realizes, "This is just not where I shine. I get extremely anxious. I have a terrible time with test taking, and I know no matter what prep I do, this is never going to be the strongest part of my application." A lot of times those students will take it once or twice and say, "I'm done," because they realize that they don't need it necessarily. They realize that they can still be a compelling candidate for an admission without that testing. So we have seen students testing a bit less. We also, some of the pressure is removed because you only have something to gain, right? Yes. It can help you to have a great test score, but you don't have as much to lose, because if you aren't able to achieve that great test score, you don't need to include it in your application.

(06:15):
There's a lot anxiety around the move away from standardized testing. As I kind of spoke to before, this feels like a massive shift in our community. Students who have parents or guardians who went to college, the test scores meant a lot when those parents or guardians applied to college. And so to think about how schools are evaluating students, without that data point can be very overwhelming and mysterious and scary for students and families. I will also say that the testing can be a comfort to some students and families, because it is concrete. You know what a strong test score is. You know what a weaker test score is. You can study. You can retake it. And so I think it feels much more graspable and understandable than some of the other parts of the college application process, like writing a great essay, where you can't, you know, run it through something and say, yes, this is a "36" essay.

(07:24):
No, that is much, much more subjective. And so this has been very scary and alarming for students and families. We get a lot of questions on: What are they looking at? How is this, how is my student going to do in this process? Or how am I going to do in this process without the standardized test scores? So the thing that is really wonderful to see is that so many of the initiatives and, and the direction that Latin is moving in, actually aligns perfectly with this test-optional world. If a student is not submitting standardized test scores, what are colleges looking at? They are looking at the transcript, which includes the courses that a student has opted to take and how they've done in those courses. They're learning more about their academic performance from the recommendation letters, where teachers are speaking more in-depth about how they've done. And they're reading their writing.

(08:28):
And that is an essay that students write for colleges. And then some colleges also have some additional questions that they ask. Everything about standards-based assessment is actually working toward creating students who would thrive under that type of an assessment. Because it is not about just earning the score. It is not about showing up and having a great day and acing that test. It really is about on a more macro level, a depth of understanding and a mastery. In the simplest of terms, it's moving away from very clear-cut labels, Honors level, AP level, 36, A+, whatever it is, and it's moving toward: Is this student intellectually curious? Is this student having kind of deep probing thoughts about what it is that they're studying? Is this student making connections across disciplines? All of those types of things are much more compelling to colleges and universities, and they cannot be measured in a test score.

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  • Academics
  • College Counseling
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Join director of college counseling Alexandra Fields for an overview of college counseling at Latin.

TRANSCRIPT

Intro - Alexandra Fields (00:14):
When done right, our office really believes that the college process can be a process that mirrors a student making their first really major adult decision in their life. We believe in a very individualized process because no two students are alike and no two students are going to navigate this in the exact same way. So the things that one student finds challenging and stressful and overwhelming about this, another student finds really exciting and fun. It can get deep. I had a student say to me, "When I think back on the college process, I didn't realize that the biggest thing I was going to get from it would be learning how to tell my story." And that to me was a sign of success. That was such a wonderful thing to hear a student say.

Alexandra Fields (01:11):
I'm Alexandra Fields. And I am the director of college counseling at Latin. I often get asked about our philosophical approach to college counseling here at Latin. And this is one of my favorite questions actually to answer because it's one that we have put a lot of thought into in our office. First and foremost, I would say the thing that guides all of our work is an approach that recognizes that yes, college counseling is about finding a school for a student to attend and, you know, spend the next four years of their education. But it really is about so much more than that. And when done right our office really believes that the college process can be a process that mirrors a student making their first really major adult decision in their life. And that is a big deal. And so guiding students through that process teaching them how to reflect and think about who they are and who they want to be and what they've gotten from their high school experience or not gotten from their high school experience that hoping to get in college university and really kind of putting together a list of priorities and taking ownership over this next step in their life is what we are all about.

(02:36):
So for us, it's really just partnering with students and families and guiding them through that process. We believe in a very individualized process because no two students are alike and no two students are going to navigate this in the exact same way. So the things that one student finds challenging and stressful and overwhelming about this, another student finds really exciting and fun. And then the thing that they find stressful and overwhelming, the other student has no issue with. There are families who feel this is, you know, their third child going through the college process and they feel like they're masters and, and they can really take a backseat. And there are families who this might be the first child, or maybe even the first person in the family to go to college. And this all feels very new and can feel really scary.

(03:29):
And so our job in the office is to meet each student and family where they're at and figure out what they need to move through this process in a way that works for them. Another major priority of ours, and a big focus of the college counseling office, is to make sure that we are a place that feels accessible, that feels comfortable for all students and families, regardless of their knowledge about the college process, regardless of how long they've been at Latin to access us and ask their questions. And so that is something that I think we have a renewed focus and emphasis on. Student experience with the college counseling office while they will see us - I mean, first of all, just in the halls and walking around and at dance shows and, you know, at different things - they won't really start working with us until second semester of their Junior year.

(04:21):
And we get in front of students before then, but it's much more in a general way. They will actually be assigned their counselor in the second semester of their Junior year. Sometimes we get asked, "Isn't that late, (right)?" "You talk a lot about the college process being so complicated (which it is) so why wouldn't we start this earlier?" Which is a very valid question, but the thing to really understand about this is that the most important work that a student can be doing to be preparing themselves for secondary education is investing in their high school experience, is loving their classes, and figuring out what their passions are and exploring theater, and then realizing that they hate theater and getting really, really into model UN and making connections with faculty members. All of these things that students should be doing, whether or not they're thinking about their next step are actually the things that are going to best prepare them for the college process.

(05:28):
And so we don't need to be intervening. We don't need to be adding that on to students when they're 14 years old, 15 years old, and just getting their footing in, in the upper school here. So we begin with them second semester Junior year, and it starts with an initial meeting where we don't really even talk about college that much. You know, some of the questions that I ask students in that first meeting are like, when did you come to Latin? And if you were old enough to have a say in coming to Latin, why come to Latin? And who are your friends and what do you guys do on the weekends and what faculty do you feel connected to and what classes do you love and how do you spend your summer? And what do you think about, you know, the lunch options?

(06:15):
Like just whatever it is to just start to get to know our students. And that's what a lot of Junior year is, is just getting to know students establishing a relationship with them. It is very easy for us in the college counseling office, given our expertise to come up with a list of schools for a student. But that list is only going to be as good as the knowledge that we have of that student. And so we want to lay that groundwork to feel like we really understand who they are and what they're about. And then Senior year stuff becomes a little bit more tactical, practical. Students are working on writing. We work very closely with them on that. Students are preparing for interviews. Students are finalizing lists and making decisions about where they're going to apply. So there's kind of a natural shift that happens between Junior and Senior year, where it goes from more theoretical and reflective to active producing, you know, the, the things that need to be done to apply to college.

(07:15):
And we're really with students throughout the entire thing including the emotional piece of it. So yes, the college process is overwhelming because there's a lot of work to be done and decisions to be made, but it also can be really hard to reflect back on your high school experience and take a good hard look at what you've done and maybe what you didn't do that you hoped you had done. It can be very hard to think about leaving this community, your friends, your family. If you're going to be if you're considering, you know, leaving the Chicago area it can be very hard, hard to think about making that transition and starting all over. And so there's a lot of personal development that happens in this. And that is, I joke, that is why counselor is in our name.

(08:12):
That is why when you come into our offices, you'll see tissues and chocolate and stress balls because it gets deep. It can get deep. I had a student say to me "When I think back on the college process, I didn't realize that the biggest thing I was going to get from it would be learning how to tell my story." And that to me was a sign of success. That was such a wonderful thing. To hear a student say. We are all about fit. We are all about helping a student figure out what the right fit is for them. We are very lucky in that our students across the board are extremely prepared to take the next step into higher education. That is not a concern of ours. And we are very lucky in that our students have options.

(09:02):
And so it is not just figuring out where can I get in, because there are plenty of places where every single Latin student will be admitted with enthusiasm, but figuring out what is the right place for me, what environment do I want to be in? What is a place that is going to foster the type of growth that I'm looking to have in my college experience? And so success looks like students coming back, visit us, which we hope they do, you know, winter break of their freshman year and say, "Oh my goodness, Ms. Fields, Ms. Jones, Mr. Zotos, Ms. Taylor, Ms. Vela, this is the perfect place. You're never going to believe this class that I'm taking right now. You're never going to believe what this professor, you know, set me up with for the summer. I have the best friends that I've ever had." Whatever it is. That is how we know that we're doing a really great job.

Outro (09:59):
Next time on the Latin Learner podcast.

Alexandra Fields (10:02):
This feels like a massive shift in our community. Students who have parents or guardians who went to college, the test scores meant a lot when those parents or guardians applied to college. And so to think about how schools are evaluating students, without that data point can be very overwhelming and mysterious and scary for students and families. Spending months and months preparing to try and bring that ACT score up a point versus really, you know, acing your way through second semester, Junior year. Taking the time to write a really thoughtful essay when you're thinking about bang for your buck, it is easier for us now to say that the latter choice of focusing on academics and focusing on your writing is probably going to get you further in the college process. And that is a big relief for many of our students and family. A lot of research has also been done to explore the ways that standardized tests are quite biased. They are very racially biased. They were created for a white student population taking them. And there's an entire fascinating, very upsetting history of how the SAT actually historically has been used to keep underrepresented folks out of education.

Podcast
 

 

  • Academics
  • College Counseling
  • Podcast
  • upper school
decorative podcast cover art


Join Upper School English Teacher and Diversity Coordinator Brandon Woods, Middle School English Teacher and Diversity Coordinator Jennifer Nabers and Lower School Spanish Teacher and Diversity Coordinator Kasey Taylor for a discussion about Learning for Justice in action at Latin.

TRANSCRIPT

Jennifer Nabers (00:15):
How's this, like, changed something I've taught? So when I looked at the social justice standards, it was then really important for me to think, like, are there memoirs I can bring in where I can really implement these standards? And so this allowed me to really shape, like, some curriculum choices that I was making.

Kasey Taylor (00:34):
Exploring identity is like a foundational element in the lower school environment. And this happens in a number of ways, but again, scaffolding the opportunities year after year after year allows kids to see how identity development evolves over time.

Brandon Woods (00:53):
Our goal of inclusion and the word I would use along those lines is belonging. And how do you gain a sense of belonging into a community? And I would say there are two possible vectors. One is being able to identify your own identity and your own needs. And what do you need as a person in the community to feel included, to feel a sense of belonging. There's also an obligation towards others.

Kasey Taylor (01:22):
Hi everyone. I'm Kasey Taylor. I am lower school Spanish for junior kindergarten, senior kindergarten, first and second grade. So the "littles" in the lower school and also lower school diversity coordinator.

Brandon Woods (01:35):
My name is Brandon Woods. I am an upper school English teacher currently teaching ninth and tenth grade. And I am also a diversity coordinator and I focus on curriculum JK through 12.

Jennifer Nabers (01:48):
Hi everyone. I'm Jennifer Nabers. I teach seventh grade English and am one of the middle school diversity coordinators. What does a unit in class or a class exercise or activity look like using this framework? Let me talk really specifically about how this changed something I've taught. So for many years in seventh grade English, we read the diary of Anne Frank. But at some point, you know, I was really interested in bringing memoir into my classroom it's, like, a really popular genre. Kids really love it. You can do a lot of writing exercises with it. It lends itself really well to, like, middle school, the middle school experience. So when I looked at the social justice standards, it was then really important for me to think, like, are there memoirs I can bring in where I can really implement these standards?

So I ended up including two memoirs. In the past couple of years, I've added, "It's Trevor Noah," which is the young reader's version of "Born a Crime." And then the George Takei graphic novel, "They Called Us Enemy. "And so this allowed me to really shape, like, some curriculum choices that I was making, because then when I look at, for example - and these are, like, the student outcomes, like, if you look in the middle school band - things like, "I am curious and want to know about other people's histories and lived experiences," or "I can explain the way groups of people are treated today and the way they've been treated in the past, how that shapes their identity and culture." So by using the standards, I could, I could make sure that the text I, I was selecting would be a really good fit for the things that I would know I would want to talk about in my, in my classroom.

Brandon Woods (03:33):
So just to talk about the ways in which this system can look outside of a conventional classroom or conventional curriculum. My partner, Adam Apo, and I are doing a project on the history of the gay rights movement in Chicago. And the final project is they're going to do a collective action after talking to a number of historians and activists who have done collective actions in the past. And the goal for them is to less lead that action, but to listen to other groups and to listen to people who've been impacted and help them with the resources of Latin and the students come up with a collective action that will better the lives of particularly LGBTQIA+ youth in Chicago.

Kasey Taylor (04:28):
For lower school, exploring identity is like a foundational element in the lower school environment. And, this happens in a number of ways, but again, scaffolding the opportunities year after year after year, allows kids to see how identity development evolves over time it's ever, you know, ever-shifting, ever, ever being reshaped. It is not something that is fixed and that's really a key component to understanding identity development that we want the kids to really own that by the time they work their way through the lower school environment. So identity development shows up in a number of ways, like, in for example in JK, self portraits are something that are regularly done, creating "Me" paints, which the kids use a different combination of colors to create their just right paint that matches their skin color is another way that identity development happens.


In first grade, they do a project that's called identity bags where they get to bring home a little paper bag and fill it with a few objects that represent parts of their identity. And then they come back to school with their bag and, and share with their peers. Fourth grade, for example, they do family heritage projects. So, they choose an object that is special to their family and do a little bit of research to understand where did that object come from? What does it represent? How does it connect to their heritage? So those are just a few examples of how identity work lives in the lower school.

Brandon Woods (06:07):
How is this framework connected to the DEI work, DEI goals and the DEI action steps of the school? Well in every way, but I would try to be as specific as possible. I think one of the ways it connects is with our, our goal of inclusion and the word I would use along those lines is belonging. And how do you gain a sense of belonging into a community? And I would say there are two possible vectors. One is being able to identify your own identity and your own needs. And what do you need as a person in the community to feel included, to feel a sense of belonging, but there's also an obligation towards others. What do I have to do to recognize other people in the community? What is my obligation towards them in terms of my, my thought patterns, my actions. And so one of the wonderful things about the, the framework, whether it's identity or diversity or justice or action, is all getting students to think in both of those ways, who am I and what is my responsibility to others? And, and to myself.

Kasey Taylor (07:16):
One of the things you hear from anti-bias educators, social justice education, is that this work is, is not necessarily a curriculum per se. Rather, it's a way of being, it's a way of thinking. It's a way of communicating. It's a way of relating and behaving with the world around you. And it's about having certain dispositions and, and inclinations towards equity and justice and, and looking for those opportunities to create a fair world, a fair world for everyone. And so the social justice standards are just as much for adults in our community as they are for students. We're all on this learning journey together. And so we're paving the way with having this framework, helping us do that together as a community.

Podcast
 

 

  • Academics
  • DEI
  • lower school
  • middle school
  • Podcast
  • upper school
decorative podcast cover art


Join Upper School English Teacher and Diversity Coordinator Brandon Woods, Middle School English Teacher and Diversity Coordinator Jennifer Nabers and Lower School Spanish Teacher and Diversity Coordinator Kasey Taylor for a discussion about the Learning for Justice standards at Latin.

TRANSCRIPT

Brandon Woods (00:14): Making sure we all have a common set of standards. I would also just like to say, in terms of new families and new students in the school, having a common language and a common set of standards eases that introduction into the community.

Kasey Taylor (00:30): Well, I think the, the great thing about the framework the social justice standards are actually the same for all age groups and divisions. However, it's the manner in which students engage with the content that looks and sounds different.

Jennifer Nabers (00:48): The way the outcomes are written in the social justice standards, you know, it says things like "I relate to people as individuals and not representatives of a group." And so it's very empowering to students themselves if you know, and it, it also, as a teacher helps remind me like that this, this is for children, right? This is what I want kids to be able to do. And the way that these are written feels really revolutionary and visionary in that way, because you know, start as you mean to go on.

Kasey Taylor (01:23): Hi everyone. I'm Kasey Taylor. I am lower school Spanish for junior kindergarten, senior kindergarten, first and second grade. So the "littles" in the lower school and also lower school diversity coordinator.

Brandon Woods (01:37): My name is Brandon Woods. I am an upper school English teacher currently teaching ninth and tenth grade. And I am also a diversity coordinator and I focus on curriculum JK through 12.

Jennifer Nabers (01:48): Hi everyone. I'm Jennifer Nabers. I teach seventh grade English and am one of the middle school diversity coordinators.

Kasey Taylor (01:56): What are the social justice standards? They're based on the work of Louise Derman-Sparks who gave us the four goals of anti-bias education and they're centered around four domains: identity, diversity, justice and action. And these became the domains that the social justice framework was based around. And then they're broken down into a set of anchor standards, which includes five per domain.

Jennifer Nabers (02:27): One thing that's worth mentioning is that the name of the organization who hosts these standards has changed. It used to be called Teaching Tolerance, and now it's called Learning for Justice. And one of the things that I, I think a lot of us are excited about is, is we've talked a lot about how tolerance is a pretty low bar. And so when they kind of rebranded the standards as Learning for Justice, it felt like more, I don't know, like a really cool way to say, like, this is what we really care about and what we're working for, which should be more than just tolerance, tolerating each other.

Brandon Woods (03:05): The standards are an offshoot of a project started by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1991. And that was Teaching for Tolerance. And they had a goal of helping teachers in schools really teach students how to interact and be a part of a democracy - and a democracy that is anti-bias and anti-racist. So the standards came out of that initial project from the Southern Poverty Law Center. When did Latin adopt this framework and has it changed over time? So the first time Latin adapted the standards was in 2017, and initially, they were adapted in the lower school. And then the following year, they were adopted by the middle and upper school. And the standards themselves have not changed over time. What has changed over time is our implementation and the expectations of that implementation across all three divisions.

Jennifer Nabers (04:02): Why is it important for the standards to be incorporated into the curriculum? This is a great question. I think it actually goes to why are there standards anywhere in education, right? Because it's, you know, there's millions of teachers in the country at, you know, hundreds of thousands of schools doing this work. And so standards are just a really key way of communicating baseline assumptions about what we think is important for our, for kids at every grade level, right. So you can't really build a curriculum without standards. You can't have a scope and sequence of what you're trying to cover without those. So they're kind of, they kind all go together and create - one of the ways to think about it is like - a safety net almost, right? Like if we can name what it is, we are trying to teach kids in the classroom, if we can sort of, and then, so then we have a more like a higher likelihood of achieving it. And then I would also say if we can point to standards, this is what we're trying to achieve. And these are how these things are, you know, supported by best practices. It's sometimes easier to onboard new faculty to explain why these are important to like librarians or other kinds of support staff and to get parents and other parts of the school community on board.

Brandon Woods (05:21): In terms of new families and new students in the school, having a common language and a common set of standards, eases that introduction into the community and which they can see online - these are the goals we have, these are our aspirations. And sometimes new families, new students can get lost in the lingo. But this is a kind of, not necessarily universal lingo, but certainly a language that a lot of schools are adapting. So I'm always for making those transitions smoother.

Kasey Taylor (05:57): Thinking about the pluralistic world that we live in today, that students need to really know how to, to thrive in this world. They need to know how to connect with their place in the world, how they move through the world, and how their identity shapes the way they move through the world and how other people's identities are also impacting the way that they move through the world. So Jen had mentioned along the lines of, you know, one of the goals is prejudice reduction, but then also the standards help us move into taking that knowledge and moving into action. And which is a really important part of the social justice piece - that we're moving towards collective action and knowing what it sounds like, and looks like to be supportive of underrepresented and marginalized communities and, and moving to solution-oriented practices.

Brandon Woods (06:50): What do students take away from this framework of teaching? Well, there are a number of things they take away, but I would say one of the things that's most important is a sense of agency. It is hard to tackle a problem unless you can identify it. And one of the difficult things about this work is how do you identify the problem? And then how do you break it down in an age-appropriate way in a developmentally appropriate way where you can imagine these kind of targets that students can reach. And as we were talking about with the last question, really making sure they understand our expectations and how they should be acting towards themselves, cause this is about being kind to oneself, but also to one another. And so, in that way, I just wanted to echo what Kasey was saying in the last question about what does bias or prejudice reduction, and anti-bias actually look like on an institutional level. And I think that's one of the things that the students gain over the scope and sequence of the standards.

Kasey Taylor (07:56): How does the framework differ in each division? The great thing about the framework: the social justice standards are actually the same for all age groups and divisions. However, it's the manner in which students engage with the content that looks and sounds different. So this is due to, you know, cognitive and social-emotional development. The different ages that are represented at our schools, especially a K-12 school. There's quite a span there. Basically, the framework offers standards that are being achieved in all three divisions. The fundamental concepts are exactly the same as a matter of fact, but the scaffolding that's helping the kids learn how to interact with these standards - that's what looks and sounds different. So one of the great things about the social justice standards from Learning for Justice is that they also have included student outcomes and school-based scenarios that help teachers implement practices around this, that give them an idea of what this is going to look like and sound like at every age group. And there are four bands of age groups. The first band is K-2. The second band is 3 through 5, grades, three through five, and then we have the middle school years and then the high school years. So it really does sort of break it down and scaffold it in a way that helps teachers know how to implement the standards appropriately and in age-developmentally appropriate ways.

Jennifer Nabers (09:27): This is maybe like some inside baseball: one of the things I think is really cool about the way the standards are written is they're written from the student point of view. So if you look at, for example, like the Common Core Standards for English, right, they're sort of this, like they're very teacher-driven, you know, like you want kids to be able to do this. You want kids to be able to cite this and like, yes, it's like student outcomes, but the way the outcomes are written in, in the social justice standards, you know, it says things like, "I relate to people as individuals and not representatives of a group." And so it's very empowering to students themselves, if you know, and it, it also, as a teacher helps remind me like that this, this is for children, right? This is what I want kids to be able to do. And the way that these are written feels really revolutionary and visionary in that way, because, you know, start as you mean to go on.

Brandon Woods (10:22): One of the ways it can potentially look different in each division is the part that Kasey was talking about early in terms of action and what that action component looks like from lower school to middle school, to upper school. Right? So with upper school, the expectation is they're starting to internalize these standards and not only pushing back against us as an institution in the ways in which we may fall short of those standards, but their immediate communities, and if I may be so bold, the world. Right? So the idea is once they freely internalize these standards to look at the world in which they live in and see how they can apply them outside of our brick and mortar buildings.

Next Up (11:02): Next time on the Latin Learner Podcast...

Jennifer Nabers (11:06): How this like changed something I've taught: so when I looked at the social justice standards, it was then really important for me to think like, are there memoirs I can bring in where I can really implement these standards? And so this allowed me to really shape like some curriculum choices that I was making.

Kasey Taylor (11:26): Exploring identity is like a foundational element in the lower school environment. And this happens in a number of ways, but again, scaffolding the opportunities year after year after year allows kids to see how identity development evolves over time.

Brandon Woods (11:44): Our goal of inclusion and the word I would use along those lines is belonging. And how do you gain a sense of belonging into a community? And I would say there are two possible vectors. One is being able to identify your own identity and your own needs, and what do you need as a person in the community to feel included, to feel a sense of belonging? There's also an obligation towards others.

Podcast
 

 

  • Academics
  • DEI
  • lower school
  • middle school
  • Podcast
  • upper school