Author Archives: Joel Bicknell

It’s Time to Consider Coding a Core Skill

While there has been much written on the purpose of schooling, it is hard to refute schools exist to prepare students for success in their next steps.  At St. Andrew’s, as Amarillo’s only Pre-School through 8th grade private, Christian, college preparatory school, we do not look at ourselves just as high school prep or even college prep.  Rather, we consider our mission through lens of being life prep.

 

Life prep is an exciting proposition in our rapidly changing world.  While the skill-sets our students need to succeed will continue to evolve, at the core will always be the ability to read for insight, communicate for impact in speech and writing, and to understand and apply mathematics in context.  The success of St. Andrew’s graduates clearly demonstrates the strength of our program in preparing them in these important areas.

 

A skill widely recognized as becoming core to our students’ success is coding.  Coding was elevated in the national conversation with President Obama’s initiative, Computer Science for All, in 2016.  We cannot ignore the trends in industry that have moved coding beyond just being a fad in education. Coding is clearly becoming a necessity for our students.  Consider the following…

 

  • In 2017, there were $21 billion of unfilled tech industry jobs in the U.S. (Business Insider).
  • 90% of parents want Computer Science taught in their schools (White House).
  • Coding is built into the 2016 International Society for Technology in Education Standards (ISTE).

 

For those of us committed to the holistic education of children, the value of coding resonates the same way learning Algebra resonates: it promotes a habit of mind, of thinking sequentially and analytically.  It’s also cross-curricular. Consider the following from iD Tech, a provider of summer STEM learning opportunities…

  • Programming helps kids better understand the world around them.
  • Coding is fun and satisfying.
  • Coding improves creativity.
  • Coding improves problem solving.
  • Coding instills persistence.
  • Coding improves collaboration.
  • Coding improves communication.

 

What I have witnessed in our students is that coding also helps our students learn to apply technology, not just consume it.  To teach our students how to be positive influencers and creators in the digital world is one of the most important roles we can play in our children’s lives.  We must stand counter-cultural in this manner.

 

St. Andrew’s is committed to leaning into this conversation and teaching our students the basics of coding.  Our students engage in dynamic learning activities on code.org and tynker.org, participate in the international Hour of Code program, compete in the FIRST Lego Robotics competition, and apply sequential thinking in hands-on, project-based activities in our Tinkering Lab.  Through the Middle School SOLE Project, we have students learning programming language to create video games. We also recently began receiving external feedback from our standardized test, the ACT Aspire, in the snapshot they provide of our students’ STEM related skills.

 

At St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, we empower students to strive together as learners, artists, athletes, dreamers, believers…and coders.  Are you ready for your child to experience what school can be?

Headmaster’s Blog

Over my past 20 years in education, I’ve seen the influence of technology on childhood and education increase exponentially.  As with most things in life, technology can be both a positive and negative influence. Certainly, we cannot deny the prevalence of technology in our lives and how it drives much of how we use our time.  

Say No to the Smart phone, Say Yes to Childhood.

Recently, I became aware of a movement called “Wait Until 8th.”  Founded by Austinite, Brooke Shannon and influenced by Dr. Natasha Burgert, a National Spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Dr. Richard Freed, a child/adolescent psychologist, “Wait Until 8th” promotes the idea of saying no to the smartphone until at least 14 years of age for our children.  You can learn more about this movement at www.waituntil8th.org.  

 

Consider the reasons they identify for taking this stance with our children…

 

  • Smartphones are changing childhood
  • Smartphones are addictive
  • Smartphones are an academic distraction
  • Smartphones impair sleep
  • Smartphones interfere with relationships
  • Smartphones increase the risk for anxiety and depression
  • Smartphones put your child at risk for cyber-bullying
  • Smartphones expose children to sexual content
  • Technology executives ban smartphones for their children

 

All of that is enough to make you pause.  

 

Recently, as a family, we embraced “No-screen Sundays.”  Well, to say embrace is a bit of an overstatement. For us as parents and for our children, it felt a bit like at first what I imagine a tooth extraction may feel like.  However, in a short period of time, it has become a day that we look forward to every week. We take more walks together. We play more ping-pong. We do more projects around the house.  We play more board games.

 

Initially, we thought we were doing this to reclaim childhood for our children.  As we continue this journey, it feels like we are reclaiming parenthood for us.

 

At St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, we encourage kids to be kids.  We value childhood as a most cherished time of life. Are you ready for your child to experience what school can be?

Love Does In Fact Do

During a recent meeting with a vendor-turned friend (that’s what happens when you work toward common goals with like-minded people), our conversation landed on the topic: what leads a mother and father to spend money on a St. Andrew’s education when they could go down the street to what everyone considers a good public school.  She brought me to tears as she shared her experience with a book you may have read…Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World.

I was flooded with memories of the birth of my children…in particular, Olivia, our oldest.  The birth of a child is a truly unique moment of immediate, unquestioned, selfless love. Certainly, my wife, Regina, and I had no idea what we were in for, but we were all in!  It’s that love found in unescapable human connection that I pray everyone experiences. The immenseness of God’s grace is felt in those moments.

In my time at St. Andrew’s, I have seen poignant examples of this love.  I’ve seen our faculty stunned by the likeness of God reflected on the faces of children in their care.  I’ve witnessed the selfless love of parents who have made sacrifices to prioritize a St. Andrew’s education for their children.  I’ve watched children experience overwhelming pride when they accomplish something they didn’t know they could do. This creates an ethos of being a part of something greater than ourselves.

It is breathtaking to be a part of students, parents, and faculty coming together because we value what happens when we believe children can do more.  This is not about impression. This is so much more than making an impact in the now. It’s about transforming a child’s belief in what’s possible for their future.  It’s about transforming life trajectories – one child at a time. In doing so, we aim to change the world for generations to come. Our aspiration is no less than this.

Indeed, at St. Andrew’s, Love Does.  Our story is made up of every one of our students, our parents, our faculty – all who do in their uniquely incredible ways.  In their diversity of perspective, opinion, strengths,  and hopes that we honor, we reflect the perspectives, opinions, strengths, and hopes of Amarillo.

In the divisiveness of our world, this school is an oasis for developing the capacity of children to not only do more, but to believe, and to love.  This is what we mean when we say we “empower children to strive together.”

Are you ready for your family to experience all that can happen when Love Does?

Finding a Preschool

Shortly after your child is born and you begin to regain some precious sleep, you realize that a mountain of decisions need to made in the upcoming years. When will your child start music and art lessons? What about sports? Most importantly, what preschool will your child attend, and how will it affect your child’s education in the years to come?

Here’s a quick guide that can help you identify what you need to look for in your child’s preschool and why it’s critical to your child’s formative years.

 

1. Identify Your Priorities

Location is critical when picking a preschool. Do you want a center that is close to your work, home or family members? Consider that you will be adding an extra stop in your commute every day. Also, you should look at the school’s educational philosophy to see how it aligns with you and your partner’s beliefs and goals. Different preschools focus on a variety of areas — from dance and music to language and culture immersion. You might even want to choose one with a Montessori philosophy.

2. Research Several Preschools

Word of mouth is a great way to ascertain which preschools are right for your family. However, you may want to check that the preschool is also licensed and accredited, which you can check through the Child Care Aware hotline (1-800-424-2246) or at the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s database.

3. Visit Then Check References

Asking questions over the phone is fine, but if you want to get a sense of how the teachers and directors really run their space, an in-person visit is a must. You’ll get a feeling for the overall mood and cleanliness of the space as well as the types of activities and lessons little learners are completing. Then, ask for a list of references that contains parents or community members. Follow through with phone calls.

4. Bring Your Child

You can do your due diligence with research, but if your child doesn’t feel comfortable or engaged, then it’s not the right place. Ask if you can accompany your child for a trial visit. Your child’s input is important, too!

5. Get On A Waiting List

Once you’ve found “the one,” get on the waiting list. It doesn’t hurt to also write a letter to the preschool explaining why you are excited for your child to attend.

By researching your options and identifying your child’s needs, you’ll be able to find a preschool that prepares your child for all the joys and challenges of K-12 education.

At St. Andrew’s, our mission is to nurture every student in an environment that welcomes families of any faith and varying backgrounds. Take a tour to experience St. Andrew’s firsthand: www.standrewsschool.org/schedule-a-tour/

Headmaster’s Blog

Headmaster’s Blog – Thoughts from the Head

What can parents do to encourage school readiness in their children?

 

Just this week, my family returned from a two-week whirlwind tour of colleges in the Boston and St. Louis areas with my daughter who will be a senior next year.  While that time is far away for many parents, I’m finding it arrives sooner than you think! In addition to marveling in what was to come for her, I found myself also thinking about her journey to this point – all of the milestones that seemed to be marked by “First Days…”  First Day of Kindergarten. First Day of Middle School, High School. First Day at her First Job…

 

These musings about beginnings lead me to look into available podcasts on early childhood education.  I ran into a wonderful podcast called “The Early Childhood Research Podcast.” Created by “Liz,” a veteran teacher overseas with a passion for early childhood research, the podcast’s episodes range from “Does Movement Improve learning Outcomes?” (the answer is a definitive “Yes!”) to “Dyslexia and Early Intervention.”

 

Fascinated, I made the logical decision (sort of) to start with Episode #13, “School Readiness for Children, Families, Teachers and Schools.”  I would encourage everyone to take a listen. While there are plenty of anecdotes, everything she shares is supported by research. One topic covered included suggestions for parents on how to encourage school readiness in their children.  Here they are…

 

  • Encourage language development – There’s tons of research on the positive effect of exposing our kiddos to lots of words – in conversation, in reading to them, in teaching them songs.
  • Develop fine and gross motor skills – At all ages, we need to get our kiddos outside to run and jump and fall down (and get back up again).  While inside, encourage them to draw or finger paint and build with different materials (and tear down so they can build again).  Not only does this create new connections in their developing brain, it also strengthens hand muscles.
  • Develop healthy emotional and social responses – Have friends over, let them play and to learn to deal with disappointment or arguments in constructive, independent ways.
  • Connect your child to your community – The great takeaway here was to broaden your child’s experiences with other adults – at pools, libraries, church, in volunteer opportunities.

 

“Liz” was spot-on throughout…she was probably most poignant in her message on supporting moms.  I picked up the phone immediately to thank my mom for all she did for me growing up. Certainly, I’m looking forward to listening to more of her podcasts.  If you are interested, you can find her on the web at www.lizs-early-learning-spot.com.  

 

Appropriate Technology

Today’s technology has created a very different learning environment than when most of us were young. Instead of hoping for your classroom’s turn in the computer lab to clack away on an old Commodore or Apple II playing “Oregon Trail”, today’s children have instant access to screen time right in their pockets or laps. Technology is no longer seen as a special privilege, but a must-have in order to keep up with the rigorous demands of today’s school standards and curriculum.

However, when it comes to children and technology, we also know that too much screen time can also be detrimental to a child’s social, linguistic and kinesthetic development. Today’s kids experience more than three times the amount of daily mobile screen time than just a few years ago, and those numbers look to rise as smartphones become increasingly affordable. This means that children are spending less of their precious free time playing outside or playing make-believe with their friends, and more time focused on technology.

Knowing that mobile devices and technology are increasingly pervasive in our daily lives, how can we ensure that we are exposing our children to developmentally-appropriate technology in early grades? The US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology has produced an excellent guide with four guiding principles, which we’ll explore here.

Guiding Principle #1: Appropriate Technology is a Learning Tool

Technology is a great starting point for young children to draw, explore new ideas and places, and use their imaginations to create digital projects. If you’re not sure where to begin, the Department of Education suggests that you examine the 3 “C’s” to see what’s right for your child:

  • Content: How does the program/app help a child learn, engage, and explore?
  • Context: Is the technology a natural continuation of the child’s dialogue and curiosity, or is it an interruption?
  • The Child: Does the technology match the child’s age, interests, and ability level?

This should help clarify your focus as to what is technologically-appropriate for your young child.

Guiding Principle #2: Technology Increases Access for Learning Opportunities

When we were children, the only way we could “see” a community that was very different from our own was to read about it in a book, watch a movie, or actually travel to that place. Today’s children can take virtual field trips and use apps like Google Earth to plan a virtual road trip to just about anywhere on earth. This broadening of a child’s horizons is another key consideration for incorporating technology in younger grades.

Guiding Principle #3: Technology Can Strengthen Relationships Between Children and Families

When distance prevents a face-to-face conversation, technology can bridge this gap through video chats. Even young children can begin to recognize facial and vocal cues over video chats with distant family members. While not a substitute for in-person connections, young children can participate in these digital chats.

Guiding Principle #4: Technology Should be Co-Viewed by Children and Families

Supervision and previewing material is key to determining the appropriateness of the technology being used. Not only does this also work hand-in-hand with guiding principle #3, it also gives families the option to tell their child when enough screen time is enough. By using the 3 “C’s” in guiding principle #1 as your technology guide, you’ll quickly begin to see when your child’s technology usage is veering off the developmentally-appropriate track.

We know that children today can’t be taught the same way we were taught as youngsters. As parents, teachers, and families, we are charting some new waters in regards to technology and its proper usage. However, with some parameters and guidance, technology can be educational and appropriate for a child’s age, ability, and maturity.

 

 

 

 

Ways to Spend Summer

Once the calendar flips, both students and parents look forward to warmer weather, sunny days, and the lack of school-based responsibilities. The constant shuttling between activities, packing lunches, and pouring over homework assignments takes a break for a blissful few weeks. However, this doesn’t mean that your child’s education also needs to take a break! There are plenty of ways to continue your child’s educational experience over the summer. Here are five fun (and educational!) ways to spend your summer vacation.

1. Museum Memberships

Museum membership prices tend to drop over the summer months, as museums look to bring in students and their families during times that they know will bring high attendance. If you are signed up for a science, history, or art museum membership, you will likely also receive bonus perks such as sneak peaks at new exhibits, free behind-the-scenes previews, or members-only events that are perfect for letting your child feel like a VIP for a day. A bonus? You’ll find most museums are air-conditioned, which is a perfect reprieve from sweltering summer days.

2. STEAM Projects

Summertime is the perfect opportunity for children to pursue STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and music) projects at their leisure. You can create an overnight crystal garden, a cloud in a jar, or straw rockets to look at propulsion and physics from a fun point of view. This is ideal when kids begin the plaintive whine of, “I’m bored!” With several STEAM projects ready to go, kids will learn while they keep themselves occupied.

3. Free Play

How is free play educational? Studies have shown that there is a tremendous benefit to a child’s prefrontal cortex when allowed to engage in unstructured free play. It also benefits a child’s independent decision-making skills, as well as their critical thinking. Take a peek next time you see your child playing in the backyard with their friends. Chances are this free play involves independent decision-making skills, creativity to invent rules and boundaries, as well as complex kinesthetic movements.

4. Outdoor Concerts

Summertime is the perfect venue for you and your child to take in an outdoor concert. From classical, to jazz, to country, to rock n’ roll, music takes on a new life during warmer months. Seeing live music teaches social skills, listening skills, and cultivates an appreciation for the arts. Studies have shown that kids who are actively involved in music perform better in reading and math, and are also able to better regulate their bodies and emotions.

5. Summer Nature Projects

Warmer months provide the perfect opportunity for children to examine our natural world. It can be as easy as collecting rocks and sand at the park and examining them under a microscope, or taking samples of the local creek water to test for PH levels with a litmus strip. You can even use nature as your canvas for art projects, such as using sidewalk chalk to paint tree bark, or using leaves to create canvas art.

Don’t let the summer “brain drain” affect your child during these months off from school. By participating in fun, family-centered activities, you’ll enjoy your child’s company while also enriching their academic progress.

How Free Play Influences Critical Thinking Skills

How Free Play Influences Critical Thinking Skills

For kids across the country, the pinnacle of playtime is about to be reached – summer vacation. One of the reasons kids love summer vacation (other than no homework!) is that they have more leisure time to play with their friends or on their own. What your child probably doesn’t know is that this unstructured free play is actually building their critical thinking skills, developing their muscle tone and coordination, and promoting their creativity by allowing their imaginations to run wild.

Many times our child’s day during the school year is scripted and scheduled. Every minute of their day is carefully calculated from one class to the next, one activity leading to a lesson leading to a practice. As parents, we believe that we are providing the most enriching opportunities for our child. However, recent studies have shown that one of the best ways for kids to develop critical thinking and brain development is to engage in free play.

The Brain Benefits of Free Play

Free play is both beneficial and crucial for the brain’s healthy development. A child’s frontal cortex, which is responsible for problem-solving and controlling emotions, is activated during free play. When a child is playing, the brain is making neurotransmitter connections that are directly related to the growth and stimulation of critical thinking and reasoning. Researcher Sergio Pellis states that the “experience of play changes the connections on the neurons in the front end of your brain.” When those changes occur, it prepares the brain for making plans, solving problems, and regulating emotions. For children who do not have these extended free play experiences, their brains are not wired to tackle the upcoming challenges of childhood and young adulthood with the same ease.

Free Play Encourages Independent Decision Making

Children have dozens of decisions made for them every day, whether it’s what to wear, what to eat, their mode of transportation, how they’ll structure their essay, or what chores they need to complete. Parents are often too eager to rush in and try to solve a child’s problem because they are used to setting these daily rules and functions. If a child forgets their beach toys, the parent might run to the store to grab new ones. However, free play is a perfect setting for children to exercise their independent decision-making skills. Has your child forgotten their beach toys? Encourage them to come up with a creative solution, such as utilizing the items that have been brought to their advantage. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that your child might be able to fashion a makeshift scooper out of a plastic drinking cup.

Free Play Allows Complex Problem Solving

If you were to watch a group of children in the park playing a made-up game, you would be surprised how intricate they often become. Kids can create mini-fiefdoms, complex rules and guidelines, and even hierarchies all based on the parameters they’ve set during this free play time. With limited structure or rules, kids are amazingly adept at solving complex problems and making critical thinking decisions based on what activity they are doing with their peers. Children need space and practice to perfect these complex problem-solving skills, and free play is the perfect opportunity to work on this.

The next time your child asks to go to the park, play outside, or hang out at the beach, don’t dismiss it as idle free time. Think of this free play time as a great way for their young brains to develop in a different capacity.

Cultivating Strivership-Empowering Children

Cultivating Strivership: Empowering Children to Strive Together

Our work with Jeff Moore, Leadership Consultant and creator of the Striver Quotient Assessment, informed our work as a school over the past school year as we defined our vision statement.  When we considered our purpose, our why, we identified “Empowering Children to Strive Together” as our throughline. It is this ideal that drives all that we do with each other as a school – in the classroom, the hallways, the athletic field.  And, we hope it extends into our families’ homes.

Mr. Moore defines strivership as an ethic of internal competition – a competition based on the Latin origins of the word “compete” meaning “to strive together.”  How can we cultivate this ideal of constantly searching for ways to get better everyday in our children.

First, consider what attributes strivers demonstrate in relationship to Self, Team, and Boss.  In relationship to self, striver’s demonstrate the willingness to:

  • Initiate moving out of one’s comfort zone
  • Solve problems unconventionally
  • Learn new skills
  • Embrace failure
  • Project the sense that “what you see is what you get.”

These are certainly qualities we would like to see in all of our children.  What about in relation to team when team could be classmates, family, or fellow athletes on a competitive team?  In relation to team, strivers demonstrate the willingness to:

  • Challenge teammates
  • Support teammates externally to all outside entities
  • Demonstrate empathy for teammates
  • Support teammates internally, communicating directly whenever issues arise

When teams focus on how to get better everyday, they compete together and develop not only a championship mentality, but championship behaviors.  And finally, in relationship to Boss (or dare we say, parent?), striver’s demonstrate the willingness to:

  • Be assertive by challenging the Boss with new ideas
  • Support the Boss to all outside entities at all times
  • Support the Boss internally, communicating directly whenever issues arise

We are excited about our partnership with Mr. Moore.  He will be joining us on campus in August to work with faculty, the Board of Trustees, and parents.  We hope you will be able to join us for his presentations.