Posted by: scotteckstein | May 12, 2015

Way beyond Binomial Nomenclature!

While I’m a History teacher and could happily go on and on about the job my department does in terms of getting students to think deeply about the material we are studying and to be able to effectively articulate their ideas verbally and in writing, I’ve got to give some love to the Science department as they are doing all kinds of cool things right now that are giving our students a tremendous educational experience.

1) A couple of weeks ago it was National Science Week and the department made sure our students knew it.  There were public demonstrations and experiments all over campus exposing students (and faculty) to some awesome stuff from the various scientific disciplines. One of the science teachers made a video of some of the experiments so you too can enjoy the fun (and learn a couple of things as I did). Check it out:

2) This fall will see several significant additions to the department.  The installation of a 3D printer, a Maker Space, and of a couple of Engineering classes will all enrich students’ experiences here significantly and expand the opportunities they have.  I am incredibly excited to see what the classes and the Spartan Builders Club produce with these cool new additions, but I also am excited because I know that another result of this will be the neat ideas and projects that get produced because a group of students want to be creative and explore in the maker space during the weekends here – a long way from my days as a youth just sitting playing Atari!

3) The Science Department also has been at the forefront of the school in terms of exploring project based learning, cooperative teaching, etc.  They are having students do blogs, make films, have experimented with the Flipped Classroom model, use our educational garden and greenhouse as an educational tool (I ate a delicious salad in the dining hall the other day courtesy of our Honors Biology class!), etc.  I’m personally excited as one of our teachers approached me about doing a joint Science/Social Studies elective next year.  We’re going to look at some of the current issues where there is some dismissal in society about what many feel to be scientific fact.  Issues like global warming, fracking, etc. will be discussed and we’ll try to discover what the scientific facts are and to understand what societal or sociological forces are at work that keep whatever facts there are from being acknowledged and acted upon.  Should be a ton of fun!

To my colleagues in the Science Department – wonderful job!

To my students, I hope you know how lucky you are!  And if you don’t, remind me to tell you about my biology class with Ms. Gurevicz when I was in 9th grade.

Posted by: scotteckstein | April 20, 2015

Oh What a Night!

In the 22 years that I’ve been here, there have been 66 Coffee Houses. I don’t think I’ve quite made all of them (life comes up once in a while), but I think I’ve probably been to about 60 of them give or take.  And I tell you, it never gets old for me, and it never lets me down. The talent that we have here – incredible.  The comfort students have to put themselves out there – amazing.  The consistent supportiveness of the crowd – frankly, borders on the stuff of myths and legend. It’s crazy and it’s wonderful.  As I try to do every so often, I performed this time, using my usual strategy of finding a student who has amazing talent and is willing to let their gifts hide my mediocrity.  Thanks Stella for being that person this time!  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing to me exemplifies the Solebury culture I love more than Coffee House.  Thanks to the whole community for making it so!  Enjoy the video!

While the title of this post sounds like an odd alteration of the classic joke genre, it’s actually a description an event (that my son described as “epic”) that happened here recently.  Last Friday, Solebury School’s Rock Band class had a big concert. The set list had about ten songs, including some of my favorites.  There was “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5, “Rosanna” by Toto, and a couple of Tom Petty songs.  One of the coolest parts of the concert is that they played three songs by British punk pioneers The Buzzcocks with The Buzzcocks own bass guitarist Steve Garvey! This is just an example of the amazing things that happen because we have Cathy Block on the faculty.  Cathy has had a long musical career, performing with, and writing music for some amazing artists.  Her connections in the industry have brought experiences like this to our students for years. As another example, she recently held a contest here where a student band was selected to go record at Morning Star studios in Philadelphia with Glenn Barratt whose work has earned him over twelve gold and multi-platinum records and four Grammy awards. Most of the members of the band that was selected are in our Rock Band class so you’ll see them on the below video.

One of the songs they played was “Scenes from an Italian Restauarant” by Billy Joel.  I was walking around campus with a visiting student the week before the concert and stopped by their class and heard they were doing this song.  I’m a Jewish guy from Long Island who was born in 1971.  The first album I remember listening to regularly was Billy Joel’s The Stranger on 8 TRACK! This song is one of my all time favorites.  I heard this song and began a process through which I completely and shamelessly weaseled my way into performing with them.  Thank you so much to Jess and Izzy in particular for being so generous of spirit and letting me share the stage with them!  

While I was good for some comedic relief, the real stars of the show were the students, Cathy, and all around Solebury hero Anthony Porter who somehow always finds time to sing with the Rock Band despite everything else he does here.  Great job everyone!  Enjoy the video!

Let’s start this with a confession… I love musical theater. I was raised by parents who loved it and who made it a priority to take my sister and me to shows in NYC growing up. Growing up, I spent most of my time playing sports, so my participation in it was limited to a couple of plays at camp (both due to time and by my very limited talent). When I met my wife who along with her sister grew up doing lots of plays, my now sister-in-law was shocked when she discovered that I could sing along with lots of broadway songs when they would sing them (my wife’s family’s tendency to spontaneously break into show tunes is a topic for another time). So I was a bit embarrassed when our theater director announced that this year’s musical would be “Curtains” – a show I never heard of. My wife, my children, my mother, and I went to see the show on Friday evening, and it was fantastic! There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into putting together a show like this, so HUGE kudos to the faculty and students who were involved for all their efforts! This was the first show with the renovations that were done to the theater – my backside was so happy with the new comfortable seating – which made it especially exciting, and thank you to all the people whose support made these great renovations possible! The show itself was fantastic – funny, exciting, and suspenseful. I’m always awed by the amount of talent the students have – the wonderful voices, the graceful dancing, and the outstanding acting. In the video below, you can see a couple of the numbers from the show.

One of the things that is so much fun about working at schools is seeing the growth of the students. There are a bunch of upperclassmen who have been active in the theater program for years, and to see how they’ve developed as performers is incredible. At the same time, there were a bunch of younger students on the stage who have loads of talent and who are poised to take on larger roles going forward (and we’ve got tons more talent in our applicant pool for next year – hopefully they’ll be joining us!!!). Again, congratulations to all involved on a wonderful show, and many thanks for filling in an embarrassing gap in my musical theater knowledge!

Posted by: scotteckstein | February 26, 2015

Food as a creator of community

“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.” Michael Pollen

I love this quote by Michael Pollen as I think it rings so true. There is something about sharing a meal, about sitting down together, about taking some time (hopefully) without our phones and tablets and other distractions, about slowing down, and eating that brings people together and connects us. We had four events recently here at Solebury where groups of people ate together as part of our never ending goal to enhance the feeling of community here and to ensure that Solebury continues to be the place we all hold dear. There are some pictures of some of the events at the bottom of the post, but here is more about these four events:

1) Our International Student Association recently hosted an Asian New Year celebration. The students worked INCREDIBLY hard as they cooked all afternoon. There were more than a dozen delicious dishes, there was fun music, and there was mahjong played. The truly wonderful part of the evening though was seeing the pride the students felt about sharing their culture with their friends and teachers. It was a fantastic night!

2) Last week, a group of faculty and our chefs surprised the community with a Mardi Gras celebration during lunch. The chefs made a ridiculously good lunch – shrimp etouffee, jambalaya, biscuits and gravy, etc. There was king cake, there were beads and masks, there was jazz music being played. No one knew this was coming, so greeting them as they entered the dining hall made it even more fun. It was a great way to give everyone a little spark as we slug through the end of what’s been a cold winter.

3) This afternoon, we will have our Advisory lunch. We do this three times a year, and the goal is simply to have each advisory group spend a little extra time together. Each teacher at Solebury serves as an advisor to between 5 and 8 students. It’s a soup to nuts job covering everything from course selection, to supporting our college counselor’s work as the students go through the application process, to helping them stay organized during the busy times of the year, to helping our advisees get over a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, etc., etc., etc. This lunch is a great moment to slow down and have some time together – particularly right now at the end of the winter trimester when everyone is feeling a little weary. As good as the dining hall is, it’s nice to have a change of pace and on these days we get a special lunch for everyone. Today we’re bringing in sandwiches from a local gourmet shop -delicious!

4) This past weekend, Steve Buteux the Assistant Head Of School, hosted his sushi making night. It’s part of the weekend activity program here, is open to both boarding and day students, and is always a student (and staff) favorite. Steve buys a ton of fish and they cook a lot of rice. Everyone gathers and together they make a variety of sushi – it’s fantastic, fun, and delicious.

This has all been just in the past week (it’s been quite a filling week)! While I’ve been hungry since I was the age of 10 and love food more than almost anyone I know, for me the food is secondary in these moments (honest!). Seeing connections made and deepened, and knowing the way these connections enrich the school and the experience students and adults have here is what I really love.




Mardi Gras 1

Mardi gras 2

Sushi 1

Sushi 2

Posted by: scotteckstein | February 24, 2015

A Little Night Music

When I was in elementary school, I had a music teacher named Ms. Palumbo.  At the time, I remember not loving the class.  She drilled music terms into us, made us learn composers, and made us sing goofy songs (I can still sing “Five Foot Two”, “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey” and many other such songs word for word – although not in tune I’m sure).  As I’ve taught here and particularly as my own children have begun school, I’ve grown to revere Ms. Palumbo.  In hindsight, she was fantastic. I learned a tremendous amount in her class that I remember, and she gave me a pretty deep and broad appreciation of music particularly considering the fact that it was elementary school.  One of the things I learned from her was Mozart’s piece, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which as I learned in 1st grade, means “A Little Night Music.”  I encountered the piece in a history of music class again in college (it shows how enlightened a 20 year old I was that I didn’t realize then how good Ms. Palumbo was). It’s a beautiful piece of music.  This past Friday, our Ensemble and our Chorus gave us a little night music with their winter concert.  They didn’t play this Mozart piece, but they played several other pieces including the chorus doing a beautiful version of “Silent Night” (another of my favorites), the ensemble doing Pachelbel’s Canon, and others.  The Rock Band and Jazz Band will have their concerts on another night, so this was a lovely and short concert – a great way to end the week.  Check out the video below.

Mrs. Palumbo used to play this little riff on the piano as class ended and we walked out of the room.  I don’t know the name, but it’s imprinted in my memory and I’m hearing it as I finish typing this post.  Ms. Palumbo wherever you are, thanks – you did a terrific job.

Posted by: scotteckstein | February 20, 2015

There’s so much to learn and so many ways to do so

So often, I’m struck by how much there is to learn in life.  I wish I had more time where I could just delve into a variety of subjects full throttle. I’m envious of my students whose focus right now is the expanding of their minds, the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom, and the development of various skills.  Seeing the amazing projects and methodologies my colleagues employ makes me want to run back in time and scream at my parents until they understood that school could have been more than what I was exposed to (to be fair, I had no idea of this at the time either). One of the things I love most about the learning that goes on here is that it happens in different forums and different ways.  Certainly lots of it happens in class when there is a discussion going on, a project being worked on, etc. However, a lot of it happens outside of class – an endeavor taken on by a club, or a discussion between faculty and students in the dining hall, in the dorms, or on a van ride, or all the other moments that make up life at Solebury.  I wanted to highlight a few things that fall into one of these categories that I thought were especially cool.

1) The Honors Chemistry class recently took a trip to Rojo’s, a coffee shop in nearby Lambertville, NJ where they learned about how the same type of equipment they use in chemistry lab is used to analyze coffee blends from the water quality, to the bean, to the coffee “solution”.  Rojo’s made a blend of coffee roasted specifically for the class (using fresh coffee beans recently imported from Rwanda) that they’ll use for a lab on the chemistry of coffee brewing.

2) The Debate Club recently participated in the Liberty Bell Classic at The University of Pennsylvania.  This is a major debate tournament which featured a field of 706 students from 103 schools, from 17 states and four countries.  The Debate Club is a fledgling club here at Solebury having only begun this year; however, it has attracted great interest from the students.  While in many cases, they were going against debaters with many more years of training and experience in formal debate, our students more than held their own. Several of them won at least a round in their debates and one student almost advanced into the quarterfinals in her last round.

3) The Teach2Serve program (our Social Entrepreneurship Program) and our Environmental Club combined to organize a taste test for the community to see if people could actually taste the difference between tap water and bottled water (I’m a tap guy and I couldn’t – hopefully it’s not just that I don’t have a sophisticated enough palate).  The goal was to educate people so that bottled water use is minimized or eliminated. They’re also organizing a Water Fair next week (more on that in a coming post).

There are so many other things happening that I could write about, but despite my tendency to be long winded, I try to respect my readers’ time.  One of the things that’s so tremendous about a life at a school is the intellectual vibrancy you’re surrounded with.  Even as an adult who is not in the classroom nearly as much as the students, I am challenged all the time to learn new things and to be open to new ways of viewing things.  The students are particularly lucky…someday maybe I’ll forgive my mom and dad for not knowing places like Solebury were out there.

Posted by: scotteckstein | January 28, 2015

A Reminder of Why All the Work is Worth It

Like everyone, there are times where teachers wonder if all the work they are doing is worth it – the long nights writing comments on papers to help a student improve their writing, the long hours spent planning classes so that students learn as much as possible in them. And of course, you’re working with teenagers who by definition are works in progress (as am I frankly). There are moments all the time however, where we are reminded of the impact of what we do – you see the lightbulb go on as a student understands something you’ve been working on, you get a nice note from a student or an alum, a class just pops with energy as the students all engage the lesson you’ve prepared. A few times a year, there are structured events where the fact that this is more than just a job becomes especially clear. One of these happened this past Friday night with our annual Senior/Board of Trustee Dinner. This is a night where we have a wonderful dinner prepared by our incredible chefs for the Board of Trustees, the Seniors, and the Faculty. The Middle School students help serve the dinner (their earnestness is just adorable!). It’s a really great night where the seniors and the Trustees can get to know each other and share their love of the school. The highlight of the night is when the students speak. There are two students who give prepared speeches, and then there are toasts – any student can get up and give a toast to whoever or whatever they want. The students who spoke shared their memories and experiences. They thanked their classmates for their friendship and support. They thanked the school for the entirety of their experience. They thanked the faculty and staff for the inspiration, knowledge, and guidance they received. Hearing their sentiments is always one of my favorite moments of the year. Frankly, it brings tears to my eyes. To know that I am a part of a school that has given a group of young adults this experience and helped form them into these amazing people is a wonderful feeling. Below is a link where you can see the two prepared speeches. You’ll see why I am blessed to have the job and life my colleagues and I do.

Posted by: scotteckstein | January 21, 2015

Working on a Friday night isn’t supposed to be this much fun!

This past Friday night, we had our Winter Coffee House. For those of you new to my blog, Coffee House happens three times a year here at Solebury. It’s an open mike night of sorts where students and faculty can perform music, dance, read poetry, or show off any talent they possess. It’s always a wonderful night where I’m awed not just by the talent (although there’s TONS of it), but where I also am so proud of the spirit. Everyone is applauded for, appreciated, and supported. In this regard it has to be seen to be believed as it goes against every stereotype about teenagers that exists – there are no “mean girls” or “bullies”. There’s just cheering -it’s spectacular. I always try to put together a video showcasing a little clip from each act. You can check it out the link below.


Posted by: scotteckstein | December 17, 2014

Verbal Sparring

While this admissions thing takes up a majority of my time, I still think of myself first and foremost as a teacher.  One of the things that I prize about teaching at Solebury is the focus on discussion and discourse.  Students here learn to engage each other, to respectfully listen and to question, and to develop their ability to express their ideas.  These are invaluable skills and are a big part of why I believe our students are so well prepared for college and for their future careers.  Jared Levy, a terrific history teacher who has joined us this year, has taken this to the next level by creating a formal debate team here.

The club recently competed in their first competition at Princeton University’s High School Debate Tournament. Especially considering that it was their first tournament, they did a fantastic job.  Two students performed particularly well. The club’s President, Jenny Liang, made it to a “bubble round” for Novice LD (Lincoln Douglas). This means that in the sixth round of the debate tournament, Jenny was in contention to finish within the top 25 students of the field of 88 students who competed in the Novice LD category. Also, in her 3rd round, Jenny finished as the 2nd best speaker. Chloe Goolsby also competed in the Novice LD category and spoke very well for her first debate, finishing with a terrific average speaker score.
Good luck as you continue on Debate Club – I know great things are ahead for you!

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