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Academics
Upper School
Curriculum

Transformative Learning

Lindley Shutz
Transformation occurs when students are challenged; when the work is meaningful; when students care about the people, the process, and the outcomes; and when students see that what they have learned has impact.   

Over the last three years, Derryfield teachers have recreated our academic program. In year one, the year of inquiry, we researched brain science and the best thinkers on 21st century learning, visited other schools, and talked with alumni to understand what skills and knowledge are critical. In year two, we redesigned our Academic Program. In year three, we developed a new schedule and facilities to implement the program.

Now, we are in year four, “The Year of Implementation and Practice.” As we develop new courses (Computer Science; Visual Foundations in Communication; Leadership, Ethics and Development; and Advanced Topic courses in all disciplines) and integrate new skills into all courses, our teachers are using innovative teaching strategies for 21st century learning.  

Deeper learning - a term coined by Harvard researchers Jal Mehta, professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (GSE), and GSE graduate Sarah Fine - occurs when students possess rich content knowledge in the disciplines, when they deploy higher order skills of critical and creative thinking, and when they apply their knowledge in new contexts, harnessing technology and effective communication. (Read more in this terrific article from The Harvard Gazette.)

Our new program sets students and teachers up for deep learning and transformation. We want students to be confident in their content knowledge, we want them to feel confident that they can apply it in new contexts, and we want them to feel that they are in a state of growth and discovery.  
Our Advanced Topic courses are an intriguing lens into transformative learning because they begin with a commitment to content knowledge.

In the AT Biology course, for example, students studied a unit in immunology on the role of B cells and antibodies. After a preliminary study of essential content, students chose a real world, currently unsolved problem (for example, on cancer treatments) and designed a novel application of antibodies. They immersed themselves in sustained research, examining causes and impacts of diseases as well as successes and limitations of current solutions. They then pitched their own solution - via “google meet” - to a panel of current professionals in a variety of biomedical fields, taking their questions and suggestions. One of the panelists commented that a Derryfield senior’s research was on a similar topic to her own Ph.D. work, and complimented the creative reasoning in answering a particularly challenging aspect of the research. Dr. Moon, who completed her own Ph.D. two years ago, designed the project to immerse students not only in the basics of immunology, but also the skills and habits of mind possessed by scientists pioneering discoveries in the field.  

Similarly, AT Public History integrates traditional assignments, such as tests that cultivate excellent reasoning and writing skills and quizzes that check on developing content knowledge of key terms and ideas, with creative application by asking students to design an exhibit. The test, Mr. Tanner Read explained, is “historiographical: the essay prompt says, 'Here are several historians who all disagree about the origin of slavery. Read these three, draw from materials in class, and tell me what you think.' The exhibit - the addition of public history and 2020 skills - says, 'How do you communicate and what do you communicate?' Not what is the right answer, but what is worth sharing?” Students develop an exhibit, including a detailed layout of the space and a true-to-life mockup of one portion of the design, to pitch to a real museum about one of the issues they have considered in class. For students, the act of creating the exhibit immerses them in content and creation in a way that transforms not only the learning of history but also their understanding of how and why to communicate that experience to contemporary audiences.  

Innovative teaching is happening in every classroom. Over the next few months, we will highlight exciting moments of teaching and learning that are transforming grades 6-12 at Derryfield.  

As mentioned above, if you would like to read more, “Searching for Deeper Learning” from The Harvard Gazette offers a good lens:  https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/08/a-recipe-for-how-high-schools-can-foster-deeper-learning/.
 
Lindley Shutz
Dean of Academic Programs
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The Derryfield School

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