Friday, June 2, 2000
A unique exchange between Carlisle and Concord School Committees
The Concord and Carlisle School Committees met in the Robbins Building Library for an exchange of ideas on May 23. Carlisle School representatives made presentations on their middle school advisor/advisee program and on the use of systems thinking in the curriculum.
Carlisle School principal Andy Goyer outlined the middle school advisor/advisee program for the Concord visitors. The eighth-graders meet in small "breakfast club" groups every other week. The eighth-grade teachers plus the guidance counselor and principals each have a group of about nine students. This provides students a place to discuss issues with each other and with an adult who gets to know them well. They have discussed learning styles, community, and the transition to high school, among other things, Goyer said. This year, the seventh grade has a similar program where the students meet in small groups with an adult advisor.
The sixth grade currently has been using a continuation of the elementary school's open circle program to work on a "Bill of Rights" and discuss how to get along with each other. Each sixth-grader has a teacher who is their advocate. For next year, Goyer said, they are planning a small groups like the seventh- and eighth-grade program. Carlisle Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson commented that students need a relationship with some adult to make sure that no one "falls through the cracks."
High school transition
After the presentation, questions focused on the transition from eighth grade to Concord-Carlisle High School. Concord member Nick Michael asked whether Carlisle students feel like a minority at CCHS. Goyer replied that when they are in eighth grade, they think they will be and they have concerns about it. Once they are at the high school, most students adjust quickly to the larger group, he said. Concord member Nancy McJennett added that eighth-graders from Concord also have the same concerns about the high school.
Carlisle tries to help reduce anxiety by having discussions about the transition in the breakfast clubs. Goyer added that Carlisle students now at the high school come to talk with the eighth-graders about their experiences. The eighth graders also take a tour of the high school and use the CCHS library for research.
Concord member Lauren Walters noted that there are not any mentoring relationships in place at the Concord middle school, although there are some at the high school. CCHS students have suggested student-to-student mentoring, and there is some interest in trying that at the middle schools, Concord member Fred Wersan added.
Walters thought it would be nice to get the Concord and Carlisle middle school students together for something during the school day to help establish relationships before the transition to the high school.
To begin the presentation on systems thinking, Fox-Melanson introduced former school committee member Deb Lyneis who, she said, "brought systems thinking to Carlisle" and who continues to help with its implementation. Lyneis explained that systems thinking started in the Carlisle School about six years ago with math teacher Rob Quaden. "It spreads like an infection," she said, because it is an engaging way for students to learn and teachers who see it want to do it too. Now, all the teachers in Carlisle use systems tools for some parts of their classes, she said. Quaden and former fourth-grade teacher Alan Ticotsky have held the positions of systems mentors for the past three years. These positions are made possible by a grant from the Waters Foundation.
Quaden and Ticotsky did a demonstration and presentation on systems thinking for the Concord visitors. In essence, systems thinking helps students to understand how complex systems work, Quaden said. They can see that a small change to the input can make a large change in the system. They use behavior-over-time graphs in many areas of the curriculum including science, math, history and literature. Computer models are used to support systems thinking when systems are so complex that mental models alone will not suffice, Quaden explained.
Ticotsky stressed that systems thinking is a tool that is used with the whole curriculum, not a separate curriculum. The mentors work with teachers and students until the teachers can take on the lessons themselves, without the need for the mentors. The children start using basic systems tools in kindergarten and continue through eighth grade.
Carlisle School Committee chair Paul Morrison summed up by saying that systems thinking leads kids to think in a more sophisticated way at a younger age. Noting that there is currently no continuation of systems thinking at CCHS, he asked whether Concord would be interested in implementing some systems thinking in their schools. Carlisle would be able to help them, he said. The Concord School Committee members and school administrators were generally interested and a lively discussion followed.
McJennett thought it would be worthwhile for Concord and Carlisle teachers and administrators to get together to discuss "best practices" for teaching. Walters agreed that information should be exchanged regularly. He said that using systems thinking sounded like a wonderful idea to him. He suggested using it at CCHS and also starting at an early age in the Concord Schools. He wanted to take advantage of the knowledge Carlisle has gained in how to best implement the program.
Concord middle school principal Connie Pawlak said that she had worked with Carlisle teachers on systems thinking when they were first starting. In Concord, the eighth-grade science teachers are now using systems thinking and she would like to spread its use to more grades and more subjects, she said.
CCHS principal Elaine DiCicco wanted to find a way for the three school systems to share information, best practices and teaching tools. She said that systems thinking is a way to develop higher-order thinking skills in students. However, she said, when systems thinking was presented to them in the past, many of the high school teachers had trouble understanding the flow diagrams and how they could use them. DiCicco said that she would like to look at using systems thinking at the high school.
CCHS chemistry teacher Al Powers spoke up as an advocate for systems thinking, having spent a sabbatical year learning about it. When he started trying to use it at CCHS, he said, he was alone and it didn't work. He felt that more teachers needed to do it together to reinforce each other. He estimated that it would take two full-time teachers to train the staff at CCHS to learn systems thinking. "It will take money for professional development for Concord and CCHS to go this way," he said.
Carlisle member David Dockterman acknowledged that it would take time to implement in Concord. "It did take years to take hold here," he said. "We are still working on it here too," he added. McJennett responded, "The sooner we start, the sooner we get the benefit."
Walters saw a need to build support for systems thinking among parents, teachers and administrators. Lyneis said that it usually begins with one teacher and then spreads. There are published lessons available now for all areas and grade levels, she added.
Wersan was concerned that a push to go ahead with systems thinking might require dropping some other initiatives the Concord Schools are working on. He wanted to get feedback from staff first.
In response to a question from Walters about how Carlisle made the decision to go ahead with systems thinking, Fox-Melanson said that she saw it as a useful tool across the curriculum and in life. It "resonated with me," she said, "and the Lyneises were here to support it."
DiCicco said that rather than talking about this or that specific program, educators need to discuss what the ultimate goals are for their students and what skills the students will need after high school. Then, programs can be chosen that best support those goals.
Powers said that he sees systems thinking coming into the high school through the kids, "Trojan horses" he calls them, who have learned how to use it already. He sees teachers asking them about it and learning about it that way. Next fall, 40 percent of the CCHS faculty will be in their first three years there, he said. This may be an opportunity -- a "leverage point" to start using systems thinking at the high school, he said.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito