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Good to Go Blog

At St. John's, good knows no bounds. It's greater than great academics. Here are snapshots of what it means at the Prep. Something amazing happens when you're open to good!

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Chyanne SmithMiddle School science teacher Chyanne Smith is a big fan of her department’s curriculum, which takes its cues from the Smithsonian Institute’s Science and Technology Concepts program. The learning framework is designed to align with Next Generation Science Standards, whereby science and engineering practices, teachable core ideas, and crosscutting concepts are integrated in every lesson. Good stuff all around, to be sure.

As she wrapped up her first year of teaching at the Middle School last spring, however, Smith experienced a flash of insight: To take the student experience to higher heights, she and her colleagues would need three different textbooks to truly deliver upon the Smithsonian’s hands-on-execution foundation. Alternatively, she could write her own.

One semester (and one very busy summer later), Smith’s textbook—produced in iBooks Author with some advice from the EdTech staff at the Prep—is a core component of the grade six course of study.

“My vision of the end product was powerful enough to see that it would be worth it,” says Smith. “Having taught the class, I loved the flexibility of taking core content and enriching it to highlight the things that are really important.”

The result is a 36-page, interactive textbook complete with embedded video, clickable images and graphical interfaces that, for example, email students the results of a Google Forms quiz they take at the end of each section. Smith’s book encompasses the first of three units for students of her grade level. A customized text for unit two is in progress and the third will follow. Colleagues Tim Creamer and Louise Nelson, who also teach the class, offered input to the final edit.

The plan moving forward is to generate new editions before every school year. Tops on Smith’s wish list is to add interactive graphical labs as well as video instruction of lab setups.

POWERFUL EXAMPLES of a customized learning experience for Prep students are thriving at the High School as well.

PHYSICS: “One of the great joys of teaching here that we have the support and creative flexibility to meet the needs of our students in the most effective way we can,” says St. John’s Science Department Chair Gary Smith, who believes customized materials enhance the student experience in three important ways:

  • First, Prep teachers can produce original content that dovetails with students’ pencil-and-paper lab experience, amplifying their ability to acquire problem-solving skills.
  • Second, teachers can put the science that they’re teaching into a real-world context, using the connectivity of the iPad so students can work with key information, but also understand the methodology behind its collection.
  • Finally, customization enables teachers to address student misconceptions in a broadly supportive manner. “Over time, we’ve built up a library of tutorials called ‘helpful Eagles’ that outlines new material, coaches students in our methods, and maximizes actual lab time in the classroom,” says Smith. Adds junior Will Poulin, “I think the physics curriculum allows teachers to easily convey the material because they created it themselves, rather than just handing out a universal, online printed copy. The videos that go along with many of the digital worksheets are helpful because it’s your own teacher speaking in both the video and writing the questions."

COMPUTER SCIENCE: Since 2014, the St. John’s Computer Science Department has harvested online units from a course developed at the University of Texas, and augmented it with supplemental materials selected by Prep teachers. “Computer Science has a strong tradition as a discipline of open source instructional materials,” says Department Chair Bernie Gilmore. “As a department, we also use Apple's free, open-sourced curriculum for our iOS class, which uses Apple Swift language and a textbook and materials all provided free with rights to alter and use the material as teachers see fit.” Given the latitude to customize and adapt material from the people who know the most about programming in Swift for iOS, Prep computer science teachers have seen extraordinary benefits to the student experience.

LATIN: In order to complete the AP Latin syllabus, students at St. John’s must read and analyze large segments of Latin text at a rapid pace. To facilitate this task, Ms. Elizabeth Solomon has developed a customized digital text that she updates every year to provide students with the grammatical support and cues they need to read the words of Vergil and Caesar with fluency. “Although this digitized text does not provide easy answers, it’s formatted and color-coded in order to steer students away from common pitfalls that can hamper their ability to translate,” she says.

“Customization for the benefit of the students creates a more energized learning experience,” says Mark McManmon, the assistant principal for academics, grades 11 and 12. “This approach gives teachers every opportunity to revise and update their materials to reflect changes in the field of study as well as feedback from the students. It is teachers—not an inanimate commercial textbook—who know which topics should be paired together or scaffolded in the just the right way for the benefit of the students in front of them.”

Posted by Mr. Chad Konecky on Friday February 16 at 05:02PM
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Tips for February BreakAs students depart for more than a week off from school, just a dash of clever planning over vacation can help insure a smooth transition back to the books. Find out how...

Conor Dowley, School Counselor: Students should spend time over February break resting and re-calibrating their mind with some time off from their often busy schedules. During this time, students should involve themselves in pursuits that are enjoyable and productive. Building a routine that incorporates some form of exercise, reading what they enjoy, and a good night's sleep is a nice starting point. Spending some time reflecting on the current school year may inform decisions related to goals for the rest of the year (and course registration for next year) is also a good idea.

Dr. Nicole Zito, Middle School English: March can feel like a really long month, so use the break to rest and recharge. Reconnect with your town friends. Be with your family. Make a productive plan before the break starts. Then, savor each day. Try not to indulge in too much screen or get into those tough habits to break like staying up too late and sleeping through the next day. Before you head back into the classroom, take some time to get organized. Clean out your backpack and file any loose papers. Consider adding dates to your calendar for upcoming tests and projects or personal commitments that might impact the time you have to work on long assignments once you come back to campus.

Liz Liwo, Middle School Counselor: “Our department suggests students should use February vacation to relax and take some time to slow down. To keep your academic skills sharp, you should try to read for pleasure and get some extended sleep. Keep video/screen time to a reasonable minimum. Do your best to recharge your engines so you can be ready to finish the semester strong and keep away the late-winter blues.”

Mark Gafur, Middle School Counselor: “The most the most important thing is to recharge, so sleep well, get outside, and eat right. Even for students who are struggling, we suggest relaxing and recharging. However, you can keep skills up by using iXL for math practice as well as Khan Academy online. For English grammar practice, try the No Red Ink app. Don’t hesitate to pick up a book and read for pleasure as well.”

Lacey Allis, Center for Learning and Academic Success Coach: "Keep in mind: We’re still early in the quarter and there’s time to improve classroom effort and attention to detail on assignments. When you return to school, don’t hesitate to take advantage of the Writing Center, or meet with a Learning Coach through the “Ask a Coach” tab on the portal to ensure you’re headed in the right direction. Have confidence in yourself and remember that you have support of your peers, the Prep community and your family."

Dr. Mark McManmon, Assistant Principal for Academics Grades 11 and 12: One of the big challenges of going into February break is losing momentum gained during the weeks since Christmas. But the school year can be challenging and sometimes a tough grind. Sleep, exercise, hang out with friends. Having fun is a great way to stay sharp and prepared for the return to school. The brain loves novelty, so switching things up is good for you. That said, it’s probably worth spending a little bit of time thinking about the last five weeks of the third quarter. Is there a research paper on the horizon? Has a novel been assigned that your English class will be finishing up? Is there a project just around the corner? While you don't have dive into everything over the break, it’s worth your time to map out what the five weeks between the end of break and the end of the quarter will look like. Will there be a week where a number of assignments are all do at once? If so, knowing this when you come back to campus can help you better manage your time and ease stress.
Posted by Mr. Chad Konecky on Friday February 16
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Three Minutes to a More Positive School Day

Mark O'Connor and his family in Kyoto meditating with monks

When Mark O’Connor ’20 traveled to Kyoto less than a month ago to visit his brother, a U.S. Marine stationed at Camp Fuji, he found plenty to take in. Japan’s cultural epicenter for centuries, Kyoto boasts breathtaking ancient temples, vivid gardens, beloved shrines, and bustling streets. But when O’Connor and his family got the opportunity to meditate with a Zen Buddhist monk, the St. John’s Prep sophomore found a lot in common with the wellness practices he learned at St. John’s.

“I learned a lot from meditating in Ms. Kiley’s classes,” says O’Connor. “What we experienced in Japan was very similar to what we learned from Ms. Kiley.”

Mary Kiley’s Religious Studies class is by no means the only place on campus where students are encouraged to meditate. The Wellness Center hosts silent meditation every week from Monday through Thursday at 3 pm. At the Middle School, students are invited to meditate inside the Ford Family Student Center on Tuesdays and Fridays from 7:25 am to 7:50 am.

De-stress and refocus

“Students are always thinking, always engaged, and not necessarily on the task at hand,” says Steve Brown, director of the Wellness Center. “The act of stopping and taking the time to sit with only their breathing and their thoughts, or, especially, quieting the mind to the point of not having any particular thought, can be a huge challenge, but if they practice regularly, we find that they see improvements in focus, stress management, memory, and even experience an enhanced sense of compassion for others. The key is regular practice. Just like any other skill, it requires time, effort, and feedback.”

For his part, O’Connor is all-in.

“After learning more about the history of meditation and actually seeing monks that do it all day and how even keeled they are, it showed me even more how to calm myself in class and handle everyday stress,” he says. “Ms. Kiley does a great job of teaching her students how to meditate and you can definitely see the difference it makes for the students in her class. I love that the Prep offers students a chance to meditate and I think it’s  definitely helped many students deal with stress and anxiety.”

“Research suggests that just three minutes of meditation daily makes a positive difference, so all of my classes begin that way,” adds Ms. Kiley. “Since it settles us all down, it’s a great way to start a class. A little bit like the disciplined training of an athlete or musician, the repetitive nature of seated meditation also lowers stress, facilitates spiritual growth and increases focus. Because our campus embraces this concept and lives it like an action verb, I think Prep students are learning how to better ‘live in the present moment’ by experiencing the discipline of meditation.”

Posted by Mr. Chad Konecky on Monday January 29 at 02:53PM
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