Where does beauty fit in?

As a member of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, Westtown is exploring what we value and how to assess it. Yesterday, the faculty team focused on these discussions had its first meeting. Towards the end, as we were discussing how one assesses skills and whether or not our own list of Global Competencies was the complete list of content, skills and habits of minds we want for our graduates, a colleague asked, “yes but where is the place for beauty?” Continue reading

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“The Real World”

peters projection south

South-up Peter’s Projection

Last week in a faculty meeting a colleague explained that our work was fundamentally to prepare our students for “the real world.”  We all have phrases that make us cringe. Along with “the real world,” a few others on my list include “getting outside my comfort zone” and “thinking outside the box.” If the work of education is to get kids ready for the “real world,” than what is the psychic space we and our students inhabit while they are in school? If its not the real world, then where are we? Where are our students? Furthermore, how do we value the place and space of our children’s education, if it is something other than “real?” Continue reading

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Award-winning Environmentalist and Triciclos founder visits Religion Class

Westtown faculty strive to bring the world to our students just as much as we work to send our students out into the world.

Kevin Eppler shared this report about a recent visitor to his Business and Society Class.

This morning, Westtown’s “Business and Society” (Adv), a course offered through Westtown’s Religion department,  hosted award-winning entrepreneur and environmentalist, Gonzalez Munoz to class.  Continue reading

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Librarian Nirvana: Or the Past Feeds the Future

By Lynn Clements

Spending a week in Oxford, England, as a participant in the summer Oxbridge Teachers’ Program, offered an opportunity for intellectual stimulation and professional development in a beautiful, historic setting. For a librarian, the opportunity to explore the riches of the Oxford libraries, under the leadership of the retired director of rare books at Oxford, was professional nirvana. Time was spent talking with Oxford University librarians about digitization of collections, and universal issues of concern to academic librarians, such as the balance between print and electronic resources, space utilization, and budget constraints. A look at rare children’s books was of particular interest to our group of school librarians, as well as many first editions by the likes of Chaucer, Austen, Carroll, Tolkien and Carroll.  Continue reading

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Violence Prevention: A Lower School teacher’s call to action

By Marion Dear, 5th grade teacher


What does sexual assault have to do with a Lower School teacher? My answer: just as institutionalized racism is a form of bullying, so is sexual assault. Bullying is defined as harm done repeatedly, when there is a discrepancy of power. In July, I trained at a Greendot Institute held in Arlington Virginia.  The Greendot Program is a method of community mobilization that addresses sexual assault and it is applicable to other forms of bullying.   This method fits directly into our Olweus anti-bullying program already in place in the Lower School. Our students already know that the main characters in a bullying scenario include the bully, who has most of the power, the victim, on the receiving end of the harm, and the bystanders, who are aware of the situation but are not actively participating in the harm. This last group is the largest group and where most people find themselves. The Greendot Program is a call to action for the bystander group.

Now for some color coding. Imagine a map of the U. S.. Every time someone inflicts harm on another person, we mark a red dot at that place. As more people are harmed, red dots increase, and eventually they start to cover the map. We often see this this type of visual dot scenario, when we are tracking outbreaks of illnesses or disease. Now, imagine that every time a harmed person receives help and recovers, we mark over the red dot with a green dot. As the instances of help increase, eventually all the red dots are covered up by green dots. Harm is eradicated. Our goal is to teach our students to take care of each other and fill their community with green dots.

There is two types of green dots, reactive and proactive.  A “reactive green dot”, is an action a bystander takes AFTER a harmful behavior. Imagine this. A student sees someone getting teased on the playground or not included in a game of Foursquare. Later at lunch, that student checks in on his/her classmate and says, “Are you OK?”  This simple action is a reactive green dot.  An even more effective type of behavior is a proactive green dot, intended to prevent the harm from occurring in the first place. An example of this, using our recess scenario, might involve recess duty teachers clarifying that games like Foursquare must include everyone who wants to play. Exclusion is not tolerated at recess. As a teacher I have posted the following proactive green dot statement in my classroom:

“No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something.”

I explain the poster to my class. It is a call to action, telling bystanders that they should not stand by, when they see harmful behavior. They must act. I am also telling any potential bullies that harmful behavior is not tolerated in my classroom community. At the end of this blog post, I will ask each of you as my readers to join me in creating proactive green dots throughout our community here at Westtown.

There are obstacles that prevent us from intervening when we see harm, and the Greendot Program gives us strategies for overcoming them. Many of us are simply afraid to intervene if we witness harmful behavior. We fear for our safety. We learned that, despite this understandable obstacle, we can still intervene with a green dot when we see harm. These strategies involve three different approaches, called direct, delegate, and distract, or the 3 D’s for short.  Direct intervention involves confronting the bully and  telling him/her to stop. This is the least common type of green dot, because it takes  some guts. If you are standing up to a bully, you probably need to be confident in your physical strength. I know I rarely am, and in all honesty, this strategy is the one I am least likely to employ. The second strategy involves delegating or finding help. We tell students to get a teacher when things heat up and get out of hand on the playground. They do. They are acting out a green dot by getting help. Calling 9-1-1 is another example of  delegating a green dot. Delegating works, because it stops the harm. The third type of green dot involves distraction. The bell ringing to signal that recess is over will stop a bully in his/her tracks. So will this, “Excuse me, can I borrow your cell phone? Or, “What is snack today?” This can interrupt the process of harm just enough to keep it from progressing. The favorite distraction for the college trainees at my conference involved spilling your drink on someone. Each of us had to reflect and determine which type of green dot intervention we might be most likely to use, direct, delegate, or distract. Practicing bystander intervention in our heads in hypothetical form prepares us for for situations when we must act out green dots in real life. Sometimes, a harmful situation calls for a combination of these three strategies. This is fine, as long the harm is stopped.

Now, dear reader, I will ask you for help. Remember the map with red dots and green dots? We want to cover our community with proactive green dots, before red dots have an opportunity to occur. Please, join me in making this happen at Westtown, with your very own proactivgreen_dote green dot.  If your answer is, “Yes, I am on board,”  then let me know and I will send you a copy of this green dot poster. Post it in your classroom, and explain it to your students. Know that many colleges are adopting the green dot program as part of their freshman orientation. We can, likewise, teach our students to stand up and strengthen this community by starting right here on campus. We have an opportunity to further define what we so often call “safe space” at Westtown. Thank you for considering my request.  I hope I hear from many of you!


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Computer Science in Lower School

By Colby Van Alen

Getting coffee one day I ran into a Westtown graduate and she asked what I’ve been doing since school let out. Computer science work at school was my response. “What, really? In First Grade? That is great since I didn’t take a computer science class until my first year of college. These kids will have such an advantage!” I agree!  

A group of Lower School teachers met this summer to better refine our computer science program. As a part of that work, we agreed that at Westtown computer science teaches students problem solving, collaboration, analytical and presentation skills, and fosters deeper thinking. Students learn these skills through device practice and programming, exploration of ethical and responsible behaviors, and problem solving opportunities across all content areas. Our computer science curriculum teaches students to consider the community, global, and ethical impacts of technology and supports Westtown’s mission to develop stewards and leaders of a better world.  

Computer science begins in PreK and is taught through Fifth Grade. But how it’s taught is what makes it such a seamless addition to our curriculum. Our students are eager to learn, we all know that; bringing computer science into the classroom allows them to have exciting experiences where they are making everyday connections. It is about so much more than coding! We began with Code.org and found it to be a valuable tool for teaching vocabulary and basic coding through videos and lessons. Now we have branched out to so much more – Dash and Dot robots and a variety of classroom games Q-Ba-Maze and Cool Circuits and the list is growing.  We are also teaching students to think algorithmic-ally.

Do you know the definition of an algorithm? Our first grade students will define it for you. They have discovered that almost every activity they perform is an algorithm as it’s “a series of steps to complete a given task.” When coding with Dash using Blockly they are learning the framework for future programming. Along the way, there are roadblocks that they need to navigate along with a variety of “life lessons.” Understanding compass points, for example. has always been a bit difficult for our youngest learner but this year when programming Dash to move around the world rug between North and South America the students made the connection and followed up with taking action –  “T. Colby, we need to move our rug now too as it’s not placed in the right position to face North.” And then an a-ha moment with the fact that Westtown is called Westtown for a reason. “We get it now! Westtown is West of the city of Philadelphia.”

Persistence is another key vocabulary word introduced this year and it’s one that I believe we always expect from students yet we don’t always name it such so that when an activity is complete the student knows they were persistent. Not all of our work with coding, algorithms and computational thinking even includes a computer. One task requiring persistence and algorithmic thinking was to design and build a structure, using 30 toothpicks and 30 spice drops, that was strong enough to hold a heavy book. Building a structure out of set materials with no given directions was a bit overwhelming at first and not unlike writing code. After much experimentation and failure, enthusiastic shouts could be heard as students figured out the steps necessary to complete the task. Success occurred! Persistence paid off!

And why are we teaching computer science as young as PreK? We have a responsibility to prepare our students with the necessary level of knowledge, skills, and experience to compete in a technologically advanced, globally competitive marketplace. Through computer science, we develop the confidence, persistence, and tolerance for ambiguity necessary to approach problems in a technologically sophisticated world.


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