When people ask what I do, my response is that I’m a teacher. This is despite the fact that I teach far less than I used to and that most of my time is taken up doing Admissions now. But I love teaching. I love working with students and seeing the spark that comes when they discover something amazing about the world or about their own capabilities. I am particularly blessed to work in a place that prizes intellectual curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking as it has allowed me to shape my own classes over the years in ways that have been as fulfilling and interesting to me as they have hopefully been to my students. Because of this, I’m inspired every day by the work my colleagues and the students do here. So for this post, I thought I’d share some of the wonderful things I’ve seen happening on campus, many of which demonstrate how amazing school can be if not confined to the four walls of a classroom.
1) Our Solebury Builders Club (A STEM club) just built amazing paper airplanes that stayed up in the air for over a minute – it was AWESOME! Check this out to see some video of them in flight: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152290547845938&set=vb.191183385937&type=2&theater
2) Our Honors Environmental Science class is doing some very cool things! The teacher Jon Freer is having them blog for their assignments, so they can share their thoughts and reactions to the material, share links, video, or photos that encourages their classmates or others to investigate the topic further, and so they can learn how to effectively use this medium as an example of how to use technology well and how to communicate ones ideas maturely and effectively. Here is a link to one of the student’s blogs (I love reading this!): http://schuylerthes.blogspot.com/2014/10/steamboat-trip.html.
This class also went on a great trip recently. There are some Princeton professors who in their “spare time” run mini-courses using a steamboat on the Delaware River right near campus (yet another thing for me to feel inferior about as in my spare time I’m working on making the ultimate plate of nachos). They talked about the local fish population, the ecosystem, the health of the river, and lots of other things. One of the cool things about this trip was that our Middle School also went as they are studying Environmental Science as well. So while they were certainly getting different things out of it, and were tasked with asking different questions of the professors, it was a great moment where kids of different ages interacted and worked together which is one of the things I love most about the way things work at Solebury!
3) Our Honors History Theory course (a Senior elective) is doing some really high level work. They’ve been studying advanced sociological and psychological theory such as Durkheim’s anomie theory, the work of Milgram on authority and how we respond to it, Zimbardo’s work on the influence of social pressure on identity formation, Nisbett and Wilson’s work on the “halo effect”, and Festinger and Carlsmith’s work on “Cognitive Dissonance.” I was a history major and studied these things in college and would have LOVED not only to have found something this interesting and challenging during high school, but I would have loved the head start a familiarity with these ideas would have given me in college.
4) As impressive as anything was what our Astronomy Club did recently. The students decided they wanted to bring a speaker to campus. One of them emailed a physicist at NASA and simply asked him to come. He said he’d love to (how cool of him!). He came yesterday and spoke to a couple of classes, to the Astronomy Club, and to the school as a whole. And while all NASA Physicists are cool, this was Dr. John Mather who won a NOBEL PRIZE!!! He was awarded his prize for his work using the COBE satellite to measure the heat radiation from the Big Bang. Dr. Mather is a Senior Astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He is also a Senior Project Scientist on the James Webb Space Telescope.
There are so many things I loved about this event. Certainly the talk itself – Dr. Mather was just tremendous. He spoke in a way that we could understand (no easy feat when you’re talking about the cosmos), he was funny, he allowed ample time for the kids to ask questions, etc. I was so proud of the questions the students asked and what these questions say about their intellectualism and curiosity. They included “How do we know that the characteristics of life elsewhere in the universe are the same as we require – how do we know what to look for?” “How can we tell where one galaxy ends and another begins?” “What’s the difference between dark matter and dark energy?” Finally, I loved the fact that all this happened because of the efforts of STUDENTS! They formed this club (it was started by a couple of students last year); they emailed Dr. Mather; they made all this happen. Fantastic job Astronomy Club!!!
So thank you to all my colleagues here for doing such inspiring work and for helping our students’ minds develop in such amazing ways. And thank you to the students for being not only up for these challenges, but excited about them!