Capturing the Journey: Seesaw Update!

As I entered Ms. Didden’s Team Design classroom, I felt like I was walking into IDEO: students were seated or standing around wooden work tables, playing with and modifying contraptions that I couldn’t at first identify (it turns out that they were assorted wire crank projects), and explaining to classmates–and to their computer screens–what they were trying to do.

I was witnessing a journaling exercise using Seesaw, a digital portfolio platform introduced earlier this year (and described in this post) designed to help students reflect upon and share the learning process.

As an integral part of the sixth grade Team Design class, students use digital portfolios to help set goals and to guide them in reflecting on their work: What did I hope to accomplish? How did it go? What might I do differently next time?

An added benefit of using the Seesaw tool is the ability to make this process visible to teachers, parents and classmates. Students are given guidance as to how to create an effective post, and that work can then be viewed by a select audience (in this case, teacher and parents only), as determined by the teacher administrating the class. (It is for this reason that I’m not sharing any student videos here–but I can tell you that they are AWESOME!)


As Sir Ken Robinson writes in The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Learning is all about the process: with each iteration and reflection, our Team Design students are building the habits that will support them in a lifetime of learning.

Welcoming the Rising 5th Grade Students to Middle School

On Monday, sixth grade students welcomed the fifth graders to the Paul Family Athletic Center during our community I Block for a mixed-grade tricycle competition, followed by Middle School faculty introductions and a pizza lunch at the Love of Learning Wall!

After the games–and some surprises hidden under some lucky students’ seats!–Middle School faculty and sixth grade students answered questions from the fifth graders about life in the Middle School, such as “Will I need a laptop?” (yes), “Is English fun, and do we get to do free writing?” (double yes), and “What do you do in your free time?” (too many answers to include here, but we know some middle schoolers who would be happy to share their choices!). Students and faculty enjoyed the chance to have fun and get acquainted with our rising students and future classmates.

Viewpoint fifth graders, we can’t wait to welcome you into our classes and clubs this fall!

Chinese New Year Assembly: The Year of the Dog

To celebrate the observance of Chinese New Year this Friday, February 16, the Middle School enjoyed a performance by the Immortals Lion Dance Troupe.

During this assembly, students were treated to an up-close interaction with two “lions” as they danced through the audience, followed by a martial arts presentation and, lastly, a conversation with the troupe.

The Immortals answered student questions ranging from how lion costumes are made and what training is required in order to perform the lion dance, to how the dancers know where they are going and how they coordinate with each other while in costume! Students also learned that these “lions” eat lettuce, which is considered to be a lucky food: the Chinese word for “lettuce” is a homonym for the word “prosperity”–and one lucky Viewpoint student got to “feed” lettuce to our guest lions as they wished us a prosperous new year!

Emotions and Learning

On January 4, I had the pleasure of introducing myself to Middle School parents and sharing  some information about my background, experience, and educational philosophy.  In discussing 21st century education and neuroscience research applied to teaching and learning, I specifically referenced the work of Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and her research on the role of emotion in learning.  Dr. Immordino-Yang’s influential book Emotions, Learning, and the Brain: Exploring the Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience outlines her ground-breaking work in the field and challenges some fundamental assumptions about traditional education.  An example of this is the traditional notion that we should consider emotion a distraction which should be eliminated to improve focus.  On the contrary, her research shows that effective learning involves skillfully cultivating an emotional state that is relevant and informative to the task at hand.

Dr. Immordino-Yang’s book is challenging in the places where she discusses details about the research process. Some of her findings challenge assumptions, while others affirm their validity. However, the key points in it are powerful and compelling, especially in their implications for education:

  • We only think deeply about the things we care about.
  • Play and quiet reflection are necessary both for social-emotional well-being and for a student’s ability to attend well to tasks.
  • The brain is a dynamic, plastic, experience-dependent, social, and affective organ.
  • When extrinsic rewards are given for activities that students previously found engaging, intrinsic motivation and overall interest in the activity decrease.
  • A central part of explaining how we do things lies in explaining why we do them.

At the January 4 meeting, I also recommended articles in two issues of Viewpoint’s award-winning magazine.  The Spring 2017 issue (linked) contains an interview with Dr. Immordino-Yang that I conducted at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute.  In the Spring 2016 edition of the magazine (linked), I wrote an article about experiential education.  These articles may be useful to you as you seek to gather more information about what we call, for lack of a better word, “21st century” education, as well as strategies that incorporate neuroscience research in teaching and learning.

Visiting “Stations” In Medieval China

It was a typical Wednesday afternoon when I stopped in for a visit to Ms. Levin-Katchinskiy’s 7th grade history class to find the students in rapt attention as “Ms. L-K” introduced the day’s activity: in pairs, they would visit “stations” posted around the classroom, each of which presented a discovery or invention originating in medieval China, the unit the class had just begun to explore.

Using their laptops and online textbooks–as well as Ms. L-K–as a reference, students progressed around the room through each station, identifying the items located there, as well as reflecting with their partners on their impact on the modern world.


As an observer able only to spend a short period of time visiting any single classroom, I found myself marveling, as I often do, at how much I had to learn about this topic (we have paper money and mechanical clocks thanks to medieval China), and also eager to see how students’ introductory understanding of Chinese history and culture would develop as they delved deeper into this unit. Students were eager to progress through each station, as the activity required both movement and reflection, and even stretched some new neural pathways, as students who had never studied Chinese were challenged to copy the Chinese characters representing each discovery into their notes. Until my next visit to Ms. L-K’s room, I will consider my afternoon tea a reminder of the fact that so many innovations from the past have become an integral (and, I dare say, a sometimes-taken-for-granted) part of our daily lives.