I am going to write twice about St. Anne’s Episcopal in Denver, one today to review a truly fascinating class that I sat in on, and one later this week or this weekend. I need time to reflect on the very thoughtful discussions I had with Head of School Alan Smiley and others about how St. Anne’s views the balance between their extremely powerful traditions, and our need as educators to innovate some programs. I will have plenty of time to think about this on the seven-hour drive through flat cornfields tomorrow from Denver to Kansas City!
I sat in on a remarkable collaboration between the 8th grade science teacher and the middle school drama teacher who are piloting a revolutionary hybrid of the traditional science program. Joe Figlino has taught middle school science for 24 years, and had a schedule problem with one lab this year; he needed to teach one section outside of the wet lab. Jason Lemire has taught drama for three years at SA and wanted to contribute in academic classes if possible. Joe and Jason met for two hours over lunch and created their first hybrid lesson, which I watched. What a marvelous example of messy, loud, excited students! Jason stood in the middle of groups of students, sitting on a concrete floor in the drama department. He taught them the priceless “yes, and” technique of improvisation. Joe then put up a slide of cell structures and the students used the “yes, and” to brainstorm ideas about cell function. Rapid fire, they went trough a half-dozen cycles…questions, options, design, draw, compare, report out, compare, shift to a new concept, and repeat. Then, three minutes of debrief and reflection, and off to gym class. In the history of the world there has never been a similar 8th grade science class. The two teachers don’t know exactly what they will do when they meet next week, but they are scheduled to meet before the next session and they will design another robust trial. When Jason has to focus on the upcoming drama show, Joe will take the students to the art lab and design hearts out of clay.
The level of respect for what each teacher brings to this collaboration is key; both feel they are gaining new insights about 8th grade education for the first time; both have instantly become learner-teachers or First Learners. They have completely different backgrounds and strengths that are combining to create something uniquely balanced. Both see spin-offs within their own disciplines and perhaps with other disciplines or faculty. I can’t wait to come back three years from now and see what their students are cooking up.
After class as we debriefed, I was reminded of teaching Herman Hesse’s Glass Bead Game in my Falconer class. In the Glass Bead Game, the highest awards are given to those who can weave together strands of disparate knowledge and experience in the most elegant ways. Joe and Jason reminded me of that. They are talking about how other dramatic skills can enhance learning in science, and together we thought about how, perhaps, the students could create something visual for the stage based on a science theme.
I will revisit St. Anne’s later in the week. As I said, they are thinking deeply about the appropriate balance between tradition and innovation, and I think they have some very important ideas to contribute to this discussion.