Shoreline Christian High School Introduces Phenomenal Fridays

Education isn't a tree, it's a web.

About a year ago, I asked Mr. Visser where he thinks schooling will be in five years, ten years, fifteen years? At the time we were talking about technology, but what ensued was a much larger discussion about schooling in general -- one that I think holds great promise for SCS.

My observations: The promise of information at our fingertips has been made and fulfilled; we have information at our fingertips. Let’s face it, Google has more information than I do. I can now have my students fact check me. Sometimes I ask students to take out their phones and find information about this, that, or the other thing, and presto, the information is at our fingertips.

And this is a game changer. Traditionally, the teacher at the front of the classroom was the “sage on the stage” -- the one with all of the information, who knew the right information, who doled out that information in chunks of varying size and shape, and who checked for recall. This aspect of teaching, being the keeper of the information, is becoming obsolete, and this shift can be disconcerting to teachers, parents, and students alike.

Information is an essential, but not sufficient part of learning.

Simply absorbing information does not build or reveal character, wisdom, or discernment. In many ways, Google has flattened out learning and living. While it is true that the internet can bring the world’s best information to almost everyone, it seems like fewer and fewer people are interested in it. Or, they feel hopelessly adrift in a sea of endless information. Or, they are increasingly distracted by more and more retailers who want our attention. Or, they flit from topic to topic and page to page without pausing, considering, or digesting. The article “Is Google Making Us Stupid” published in The Atlantic suggests that today most people will stop reading an article after a page or two before they move on.

They found that people using the [web] sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site.

We are all learning to navigate a new landscape. I sometimes think the Apple store is as much an Ellis Island as it is a technology retailer: the help sessions there are almost always populated by people older than I am -- people entering a strange new world trying to learn a strange new language. In many ways they (we) are landed immigrants. I know my parents feel this way.

And so, in a winnowing-season of the meta-narrative, we once again work together to gauge what is truly important and to plot a course forward.

And the questions remain:

What is the mission of Shoreline Christian School?
How do we discern truth?
How do we build community in an age of consumption?
What happens when we set sail for a shore we can not see?

Introducing Phenomenal Fridays

Phenomenal Fridays are what we hope will be an ongoing inquiry-based learning experience that will augment our already strong curriculum. The first of these days will be Friday, November 6. Our goal is for students to follow their learning passions, to be in charge of their own learning, and to construct a body of evidence that demonstrates that learning. This evidence could include things such as movies, websites, photo journals, letters, lab reports, gardens, and solar power analysis reports. What we produce and build is limited only by our students’ and our community’s interest, passion, and commitment.

So, what will this look like?

Before I get to that, I want to recommend that you watch two TED talk videos (the links can be found at the bottom of the post). The first is by Ken Robinson. He speaks a great deal about educational reform. The part of his video that sticks with me contains his comments about linearity and conformity. These come near the end of his talk, and I think they inform our efforts to “developing students’ unique God-given gifts and abilities” (SCS Mission Statement).

The second video is a little less direct. In it Manuel Lima charts how we humans have organized information throughout history; mostly we have organized our world based upon the model of a tree. He asserts that a new organizational model is emerging: the network (or web). Lima’s talk serves as a metaphor for our learning experiment. Phenomenal Fridays is more like a web and less like a tree.

Expanding the tree vs web metaphor

If I were to teach/organize/plan a film class using the tree metaphor, I think the process would look something like this: I would write a proposal to the education committee asking if I can teach such a class; if approved, I would choose a textbook and materials and start writing the objectives for unit one; when the students arrive, I would assign chapter 1; quiz Friday. If we take a step back and imagine the hierarchy, we see something that resembles a tree. The school board is at the top, and the student at the bottom: the board hires an administrator who hires a teacher who chooses a book to teach a student. This is an oversimplification, to be sure, but I will wager that it not so far removed from what happens in many classes and classrooms around the country.

If we apply the “web” or “network” metaphor, the class might look something like this: a group of learners (students and teachers) gather together around a common interest; they set common learning goals (objectives) and discuss possible learning outcomes consistent with the standards the education committee has established; they discuss and evaluate the possibilities and limitations for learning; they identify resources; as they move toward their goals they evaluate and adjust target goals; they decide on and construct a product that demonstrates their learning; they submit their product for a finetuning protocol; they publish/share their work with the community.

Notice the change in pronouns: from sage on the stage to guide to community learner.

Benefits of the web

A student submitted to us a proposal for a film-making class. As I read it, I did a quick system check of resources that I could think of personally. My mind went directly to Scott Crozier, 2006 SCS grad and filmmaker. He is currently working in Southern California. That night I facebooked Scott. I explained what we are trying to do with Phenomenal Fridays and wondered if he could in anyway be a part of our learning community. He explained to me that as he lives in Southern California he would obviously not be able to come to SCS to show us filming or camera work in person, but he could recommend some resources; he very quickly direct me to 5 websites my students should visit. A short time later I received a follow-up message telling me that he thinks an alumna’s husband living in Seattle might be a resource to check out.

The image is simple: once a tree, now a web. We want Shoreline Christian School to be more than a collection of families who pay tuition; we want to use the tools of the digital age to build and nurture a community of faith and learning. It is likely that we will always have a mixture of trees and webs; some of us were born in the forest - venturing out onto a web is a dubious task. But for at least one day (and with a great hope, many more to follow) we want to expand the boundaries of the classroom.

I should take a moment here for clarification. It is very important that this begins with the kids. It is their curiosity we are trying to energize. We envision adults coming alongside students as co-learners, to be resources, and to model learning. We envision teenagers who are mature enough to contact you, know what it is you can offer, and invite you to our learning community. And we need your help to make this a valuable learning experience.

Where imagination meets mission

Phenomenal Fridays is a place where imagination meets mission. In his book, Engaging God’s World, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. describes God’s act of creation as an act of hospitality. He writes:

Supposing that hospitality means to make room for others and then to help them flourish in the room you have made, I think we could say that hospitality thrives within the triune life of God and then spreads wonderfully to the creatures of God…According to God’s intelligence, the way to thrive is to help others thrive; the way to flourish is to cause others to flourish; the way to fulfill yourself is to spend yourself…The idea is that if—in a band of disciples, in a family, in a college [and school]—people encourage each other with blessings customized to fit the other person’s need, what transpires is a lovely burst of Shalom. (Plantinga, 21 & 22)

Our school is an ecosystem of faith, and we are more than consumers of information. The last line of our school’s mission statement calls for us to be dynamic and transforming influences for the Glory of God. Please join us in this new adventure in learning as we continue to live out that mission.

Thank you so much for the work you already do and for the support you already give our school. I look forward to hearing from you and working with you as we continue to do the work of the kingdom.

With deep appreciation,
Joel Bratt

We are looking for a pool of resources. At this time I don’t have a specific list of the learning groups that will form, but If you have skills and expertise you can offer now, please email me with ways you would be willing to contribute to our learning project. Some time after the 6th I will write again with an update and a more specific list of resources we are looking for, and we would be grateful for any help you can offer then and in the future.

Video Resources

Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!

Manuel Lima: A Visual History of Human Knowledge

Kahn Academy: (look to the bottom of the page for “Growing Your Mind” and “A Growth Mindset”)