Explore Week Adds New Meaning to the Term ‘Alternative Education’

Jimmy_FrickeyThis week at Eagle Rock School, we find ourselves once again immersed in Explore Week, a thrice annual offering of lectures, classroom experiences and events that have little to do with credits or curriculum leading to a high school diploma, and everything to do with engaging students in their own education.

This special week enables Eagle Rock School students the opportunity to look at different job choices, hobbies, art and music, trending exercise regimens and outdoor activities they may have never experienced in the past.

So, instead of wondering if you’d maybe like to take up rock climbing as a pastime, Explore Week gets you past the “future planning stage” and onto the mountainside, learning the ropes and helping each other reach the peak.

Explore Week is also an opportunity during this — an intentional week on the School’s schedule — for many of our instructors to catch up on future schoolwork. Meanwhile, students explore alternative learning options, with many of the instructors coming from outside the Eagle Rock faculty family.

Below is an offering of this week’s “classroom” opportunities that already have students doing everything from writing songs to creating their own robot:

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Instructors: Jacob Guggenheim and Daniela DiGiamcomo

Students in this Explore Week course create their own robot under the watchful eyes of MIT Engineer Jacob Guggenheim and University of Colorado Boulder Learning Scientist Daniela DiGiamcomo. Here, students are exploring the fascinating field of engineering by learning how to program and going on visits with local design experts. Taking a deep dive into the life cycle of design and iteration, they are constructing robots and navigating them through mazes and challenges that the class created and will showcase for the final day’s presentations.

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About the Instructors: Jacob is a first year masters student in mechanical engineering at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He originally became interested in engineering — and robotics in particular — when he joined his high school’s first robotics team. What really hooked Jacob into robotics was the ability to take a problem (how to kick a soccer ball) and build something that could do it. During college he sought out projects and research that would continue to allow him to tinker and play with new systems. Today he applies this same mindset —though backed with a significant amount of math and theory — to automating single cell micromanipulation.

Daniela is a third year doctoral candidate in educational psychology and learning sciences and ethnic studies. She is working as a research assistant for the MacArthur Foundation’s Connected Learning Research Network as well as for the Ford Foundation’s “More and Better Learning Time” national initiatives. Daniela is a graduate instructor for Continue reading…

Eagle Rock Instructors Work Together on Formative Assessment

JanetJohnsonJenFrickeyBy Janet Johnson and Jen Frickey

Each year, our school’s instructional team fine-tunes its collective classroom practice by learning together. Instructors submit ideas for possible topics of study and the director of curriculum, in conjunction with our Professional Development Critical Friends Group, chooses an area of focus for the year.

The Critical Friends Group then meets weekly to plan for four instructional meetings each trimester. The members of the group — both instructional specialists and Eagle Rock Public Allies fellows who are seeking Colorado state teaching licensure — volunteer to study an annual theme, design and deliver engaging adult learning, and facilitate our weekly planning meetings.

A hallmark of these meetings is using School Reform Initiative protocols to share our instructional meeting plans and get feedback about them. We commonly use The Charrette Protocol (note: link opens a PDF) and Tuning Protocols (note: link opens a PDF) to examine our works in progress. These protocols — as well as those that help us to learn from texts, investigate teaching, learning and assessment, and examine student work — are often the backbone of our instructional meetings.

This year’s annual theme is Formative Assessment. For assessment to be formative, teachers and students must ask themselves where they are going, have a realistic appraisal of where they are now, and make a plan together for how to get there. These questions are central to our formative assessment approach.

We attempt to develop our skills in four distinct areas:

  1. Communicate learning targets and criteria for success
  2. Provide effective feedback
  3. Foster strategic questioning among students and teachers
  4. Promote self-assessment and goal setting

Formative assessment is student centered and transparent, with students and teachers working together to set learning objectives and collect evidence of meeting goals. The explicit result, of course, is improving student achievement.

Since the Critical Friends Group had varying levels of understanding and experience with formative assessment, we decided to ground our work together using two texts: Continue reading…

Meet The Teachers Who Made An Impact On Eagle Rock’s Teachers

Eagle_Rock_Blog_ShieldsAlmost without exception, everyone who has ever stepped foot inside a school classroom — and that’s pretty much all of us — can name at least one teacher who became a positive force in their lives.

It could have been an instructor who inspired them to pursue a seemingly impossible career, or maybe helped them discover hidden talents they didn’t know they possessed. Someone who impressed them enough to tweak their thought process and introduce them to new way of acting or thinking, or who went above and beyond in encouraging and informing their interest in a particular topic or path.

A good example of this would certainly not be the relationship between Ralphie and Miss Shields in the 1983 holiday movie classic, A Christmas Story. In that cult film, Ralphie’s goal wasn’t to absorb knowledge or gain insight into a career.

Nope. Ralphie’s sole intent in giving his teacher a fruit basket was to receive an “A” on his paper espousing the wonderfulness of the coveted Red Ryder BB rifle. Instead, he receives a “C+” stamped across the top of the paper, along with the admonition that “you’ll shoot your eye out.”

And while that teacher-student experience most certainly affected the rest of his life, inspirational is not a good term to describe it.

However, most of us do recall a teacher who made a difference, so we’ve asked a few of our own instructors and staff here at Eagle Rock to think back to a time when an educator had an impact on their lives.

Here’s are some of the responses we received:

Meghan Tokunaga-Scanlon, Music Instructor

At Greeley Central High School in Greeley, Colorado, my senior year choir director, Jeremy Francisco was brand new to the school and helped inspire and cultivate my decision to become a music educator. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life until Francisco gave me a lot of responsibilities within the choir and pushed me to try new styles of music. I’ll always be grateful for the experiences he gave me.

Dan Hoffman, Literature & Literacy Instructor

At the Lab School in Chicago, Illinois, Chris Randle, my academic tutor, read poetry with me in between bouts of Continue reading…

Meet The Team: Eagle Rock’s Director of Curriculum, Jen Frickey

It was back in 2001 when Jen Frickey first made the trek down here to Colorado — and eventually Eagle Rock — from her home in Canada. She was barely unpacked before she got right to work, serving as an intern in our Human Performance Center (HPC) as well as a Ponderosa houseparent.

Jen Frickey & family

Jen Frickey & family

Jen was later promoted to instructional specialist for the HPC and transferred her newly acquired house-parenting skills to a stint at Lodgepole. Then she left us in 2008 to return to Canada.

In the ensuing years, Jen and her husband, Jimmy, worked at Family & Children’s Services of Renfrew County (Pembroke, Ontario). After helping that organization investigate and create alternative high school options for teens in their care, Jen spent another two years coordinating its education and training foster parents. She says she had the opportunity to “take advantage of the Canadian health care system” and enjoy some time off when each of her children were born.

Jen’s back at her Eagle Rock home now, and we thought we’d catch everybody up on her current happenings:

Eagle Rock: What do you do here at Eagle Rock?

Jen: As director of curriculum, I get to work with the leadership team and oversee the learning experience of our students. I work with the instructional team to develop innovative and engaging learning opportunities, and critically examine how our curriculum aligns with the five expectations. In my work, I strive to ensure that we’re graduating empowered and energized young people ready to make a difference in the world. I love that my job gives me the opportunity to work with both staff and students who are passionate about creating change.

Eagle Rock: Where did you receive your education?

Jen: I earned my master’s degree in educational leadership through Walden University in 2006, and did most of my previous studies through Queen’s University (Canada) where I received my B.Ed, B.P.H.E and B.A in 2000.

Eagle Rock: What attracted you to Eagle Rock?

Jen: After leading wilderness trips in Canada, I wanted to go into teaching, but I also wanted the deeper connection and meaningful interactions that outdoor experiences with teens offered. After I received my teaching degree, I came out to Colorado to get some ideas from schools in Denver. A subsequent two-hour tour of Eagle Rock turned into a two-day visit, which turned into eight years of working at Eagle Rock! I fell in love with the fact that every member of the community was choosing to be here. I respected that Honda had made this commitment to American society with local implications and national goals. It was really the conversations that made me want to be a part of a community that valued learning in a diversity of ways, growth for both staff and students, and a school that explicitly saw its role in creating a Continue reading…

Reflections on the Past Academic Year — A River Runs Through It

Imagine peering over the edge of a cliff and staring down on millions of gallons of raging water the color of chocolate milk and knowing you’re going to be in the midst of that turmoil in just a few moments. Thirty years of white water paddling experience suddenly feels inconsequential.

Lava Falls is the largest rapid on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. Sure, there are a couple safe routes, but finding them is certainly not easy. It demands a team effort and even then there are no guarantees. Even though you might pick what appears to be a solid route from shore, there’s much to be done once you enter the chaos.

A few years back — in 2009 — I found myself in just such a spot. Many questions ran through my head. Will the route I choose work? Will I have the skills to adjust to changing circumstances? Will I have the presence of mind to stay calm when a misplaced oar stroke could flip my raft — or worse?  Is risking my life a good idea?

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I remember looking at my 18-year old son Max sitting at the front of my raft. What would I say to his mom if things went wrong? I can’t explain the attraction to living life on the edge, but I know I’m drawn to that activity like a moth to flame. It’s a life where the course is unclear, where a lifetime of experience is called into question, where I must rely on others for safe passage. It’s a life where the spoils of defeat are not inconsequential, and where the victories are addicting. I always want more.

On Sept. 3, 2012 — the day I stepped into the role of Eagle Rock’s head of school — I remember experiencing the same feelings I did back at Lava Falls three years before. Truth is, just as I can’t run a river by myself, I require plenty of expert help to run a complex and meaningful organization like Eagle Rock.

Reflecting back on this past year, the biggest lesson I think I’ve learned is the vital importance of teamwork. I’ve worked here for 13 years and I understand the “path of the river” well. But it’s one thing to stand on the shore and talk about the right path, and quite another to be “at the oars” in the current.

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I have a great executive team in the form of Philbert Smith, Michael Soguero, Susan Luna, and Jen Frickey, as well as an amazingly dedicated and talented staff that keep this ship afloat and  on course. Our aspiration this past academic year was to “become more responsive to student needs, both locally and nationally.” We charted our course for the year by creating four overarching objectives to focus our work, which I shared in an earlier blog post, and in a moment I’ll share the results of that work.

But first, I want to acknowledge that we’ve accomplished a tremendous amount of work on campus and around the country that has been covered in previous posts and isn’t captured in our focused objectives. In addition to doing the “work” of Eagle Rock, we’ve also experienced the passing of two very dear on-campus members of the Eagle Rock community — Mary Strate and Rick Gaukel — and one graduate, Casey Whirl. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to Mary, Rick, and Casey’s families. You will always be remembered.

I won’t drag you through volumes of reflections from my year, but I do want to report out on how we’ve done with our four big objectives. Here’s a quick look at the highlights:

Objective No. 1: The Professional Development Center (PDC) /School relationship at Eagle Rock is inextricably interdependent.

  • Students are traveling with PDC staff externally and being used more intently on campus. In addition our staff has become more involved on campus and around the country, either traveling to work with networks of schools around the country or working much more intensively with schools visiting our campus. We’re connecting visiting educators in much more intentional ways to the experience of visiting Eagle Rock and we’re sharing more of our experience nationally.
  • Our two key PDC staffers, Michael Soguero and Dan Condon, have worked tirelessly this year to increase our professional development reach and have nearly maxed out their ability to work with other networks of schools. This capacity limitation was recognized by our board of directors and resulted in additional resources to add a new PDC position and some early brainstorming to increase our virtual support to schools via increasing Internet resources.
  • Our primary strategy — or “hedgehog” as Michael fondly calls it — is helping other progressive schools get better within their own context instead of exporting practices. This year we’ve found a hybrid where we integrate the goals of the organization with the knowledge and expertise we’ve gleaned from our own school experience. For example, if a school wants to implement proficiency-based graduation requirements, improve their internship program, or design curriculum to support teaching for understanding, we not only do an asset-based assessment in their context and help them carve out an agenda based on their desires, we also bring expertise in those particular areas of reform to the table. As a result, we’re able to listen attentively to specific needs of the networks in which we work, facilitate change process for them AND bring our own expertise from working on similar initiatives in our own school. We believe professional development should be forged in real schools with real students and this year we’ve made some good progress connecting the efforts of our school with the PDC and visa versa.