Providence Day Magazine
FALL 2018 - ON THE COVER
Collaboratively taught activities are designed and supported through the Lower School TILT initiative. The Technology Information Literacy Team was created to foster integrated instruction between the special area teachers and classroom teachers to make the learning experience for students more impactful, multi-faceted, and connection-based.
Read the full edition by clicking here (PDF file), or read selected Highlights below:
- Leaning In to Help Each Other
- A Guide to Thrive
- Making Gains
- Q&A: The Long View with Chris Mullis '90
- The Philosophy of Physics
Lower School team creates learning partnerships
Before Tinder and Bumble and the rest of the online dating craze, speed dating was a thing, and believe it or not, Providence Day hosted one of the most productive speed dating sessions ever. (You know the drill: potential dates form something of an assembly line, spending just a few minutes chatting before a bell rings and you’re on to the next possible match.)
Last October, about 100 Lower School colleagues - special area teachers and classroom teachers - participated in a round of speed dating designed to make some new and not-so-obvious matches. The goal? To enhance the Lower School teaching and learning environment by connecting skills, lessons, and technology tools across subjects and even grades.
Pam Heacock, the Lower School technology specialist explains, “The grade level teachers were sitting at tables and the specialists circulated around and said ‘how can we help you?’ and ‘what can we integrate?’”
It was all part of the Technology Information Literacy Team (TILT) initiative – a team approach designed to foster collaboration and integrated instruction between the special area teachers and classroom teachers to make the learning experience for students more impactful, multi-faceted, and connection-based. In addition to Technology, Lower School special area classes include Library, World Language, Art, Music, Physical Education/Health, and Science.
Adrienne Johnson, one of the Lower School librarians, created TILT three years ago along with Heacock and Janna Miller, her Lower School librarian colleague. Johnson says the idea behind the speed dating session was to see where they would find authentic connections that they could build on.
“We work hard to connect the teaching and learning that’s happening in our spaces with what students are doing in the classrooms,” Johnson explains.
Heacock says TILT really grew out of a desire to brainstorm and work together. “I was new in my position and Adrienne was new to PD and new to her position. I didn’t know how to function without a team because I had always been on a grade level team as a teacher.”
The three decided to meet. And then decided to keep meeting, eventually officially forming what they decided to call the TILT team.
“I would describe this group of educators as creative thinkers who are transformative leaders in Lower School,” explains Erin Harper, Head of Lower School.
Johnson had been part of a similar team before coming to PDS and realized by working together, the specialists and the classroom teachers could create some dynamic learning experiences – a way for students to connect skills they learned with specialists to what they were studying in the classroom and beyond.
Johnson says, “Pam, Janna, and I have found that pooling our knowledge and skills, planning together, and co-teaching whenever possible has a positive impact on student learning as well as our own growth as educators.”
Miller added, “We work best when we support each other like a team. With a couple of people you can get different perspectives and find creative ways to help in the classroom.”
For example, when Kindergarten studied weather, Johnson partnered with classroom teachers to guide their research in the library about the topic. She then helped students produce music videos based on what they learned.
A collaboration of a different kind occured when Heacock partnered with PE teacher Kristie Oglesby as part of the Lower School PE/Health curriculum. Oglesby wanted to help her students learn how to monitor their heart rates, track them, and understand how heart rate can impact their life. She taught the wellness lessons and subsequently, Heacock helped implement the management of data collection and student reflection in Technology class.
“I taught the kids how to read the articles they were researching and how to respond in Google Classroom. Then we worked on turning their data into spreadsheets that helped them record their heart rate. It was really about all of us being able to collaborate as teachers.”
When Christina Fix was teaching second grade last year, she worked with the TILT team on a project related to a series of lessons on Australia and coral reefs.
“The team helped us teach the kids about researching animals you would find on a coral reef. So we talked about it in the classroom and then the students learned deep researching skills. They worked on it in the library as well and it helped them dive deeper into the subject.” Another benefit, she added, was that the collaborating students saw their teachers working together too.
Later in the year the second graders applied those newly-developed research skills to other units.
“It’s great,” Fix shared. “We have such a deep bench of talented teachers here. When we bring them into the classroom and use their talent and enthusiasm, the students have an experience we haven’t had before.”
Harper agrees that the TILT team has been a huge success. “Before, classroom curriculum and specials curriculum existed as two separate entities. With Pam’s teacher background and then the two specialist backgrounds, they combined the two worlds in a really powerful and productive way.”
In fact, Harper and Fix say the TILT team has fostered a number of unique learning partnerships throughout the entire Lower School, inspiring many of the teachers to innovate and find ways to connect different parts of the curriculum and the essential skills within the “PD Passport,” the school’s TK through 12 curricular framework.
Fix says, “We’ve now had the art teacher help us with math projects and incorporating shapes in art. In science, the specialists are supporting us in teaching measurement and really helping us to be hands-on in the science lab. TILT is spreading through classrooms; we’re working on spreading it throughout the entire school.”
“What I really like is that it’s more connection-based because where in life do you ever problem solve in isolation?” Harper says. “Having the kids pull from many different areas throughout their Lower School experience to become confident problem solvers is such an important life lesson.”
Johnson agrees. “When kids are learning these skills in the context of the classroom, that’s where the magic happens. They begin to understand that all these things they are learning are connected.”
Fix is now teaching Kindergarten and says she is always looking for ways to partner with the specialist teachers. “It’s just a smarter use of time. It’s great for the students and it’s also much more fun to work together.”
Johnson says that’s the whole point. “We are a team of teachers and our goal is to collaborate to improve student learning and improve our own growth as educators by working together. There are a lot of different ways to approach learning and this works really well.”
Popular new booklet offers practical advice for surviving middle school
“They are like a zombie horde,” jokes Michael Magno. “One middle schooler is fine, but if you get a bunch together… watch out!” Mango should know—he is the Head of Middle School.
“They are stronger in numbers and they’re always looking for food or their lost backpacks.”
Of course, Magno is kidding. Although middle school may not actually be part of the apocalypse, there are still certain skills every student needs to survive—and thrive—in these adolescent years. So Magno’s team took big steps this year to make sure the students were better equipped than ever before.
A small group of middle school faculty and staff worked together for months to create the Middle School Guide to Thrive—a bound book that includes everything from a daily planner to learning strategies, information on student life, technology and more. Some supporting content was sourced from The Learning Scientists, a cohort of cognitive psychological scientists who espouse “the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research,” according to its website.
Bobby Thompson, sixth grade History teacher and grade level Dean, was part of the team that put the guide together.
“We didn’t buy a resource made for sixth through twelfth graders,” he said. “We created this so that it’s specific to our kids from the experts who work with them every day.”
At the start of the school year, the Guide To Thrive was given to every incoming sixth grader, students new to PDS Middle School, and anyone else who asked for it.
Julie Hill, Middle School Learning Specialist, led the team that produced the guide, and explains the student experience transitioning from Lower School. “You go from having one teacher that plans everything for you and gives you a full script, and then you move to middle school and there’s a lot more flexibility and autonomy.”
All that freedom can be a little tough to navigate in the beginning—for students as well as their parents.
Sixth grade mom Rachel Spector says, “This was my first entrée into middle school and the unknown. It’s scary. It’s exciting too, but you just don’t know what to expect.”
Staff started to realize there was a bit of a learning curve and they wanted to help.
“We were receiving feedback that students needed help with study skills and organization,” Magno explains.
It wasn’t hard to figure out why.
Thompson added, “What we realized over the last few years is that students have gotten away from basic study and organizational skills; we recognized that the kids weren’t so great at managing themselves. They had so many things to keep track of with the transition to Middle School, so we decided to put this resource together.”
The first group of students received the guide in August, and it was such a big hit that even many seventh and eighth graders asked for it. Some parents did as well.
Sixth grader Eliana Spector says, “I’m pretty organized but memorizing my schedule and knowing where to be was a lot at first. The guide is really interesting and cool. It really helps keep me organized.”
The biggest section of the Guide To Thrive is the daily planner that offers room to write down assignments for every class, every day. The students are encouraged to always carry the guide in their backpacks so that they can take full advantage of the planner. Sixth grade teachers are reinforcing its use by starting each class with a reference to the planner and upcoming homework.
Eliana adds, “I know when things are due because it really helps to write it down. It’s kind of like our Google calendar and I still use that, but writing it down really helps me remember everything.”
Her mom Rachel agrees, admitting that even she needs help keeping track of everything and relies on a paper calendar to stay on top of her own schedule.
“Sometimes ‘old-school’ just works! I think with young kids who are just learning study techniques, visual writing really reinforces what they get from technology. There’s something to be said about the process and how kids remember things. It’s been a good tool for Eliana.”
It’s been a good tool for a lot of kids.
Thompson says, “I’ve already seen a big difference with the sixth grade students. It’s night and day to me; it’s been remarkable. The students have been more accountable for their work and keeping all their subjects organized. I’ve had a lot fewer kids who don’t have their homework when it’s due.”
Hill adds, “My goal is to empower students to help them learn how they learn. That’s what the guide is doing. It feels good to know what you need to do as a student— to have grades that reflect your ability, rather than your disorganization.”
Based on feedback, the team decided that next year all Middle School students will get a copy of an updated Guide to Thrive.
Zombie apocalypse officially avoided.
A rare combination of student-led investing and philanthropy
Sean Caldwell ’18 knew he only had a little time (just 90 seconds) and a lot to do. He had honed his speech, narrowed it down to the five notecards in his pocket, and somehow managed to calm his nerves—despite being on stage in the Mosack Athletic Center—in front of a room packed with more than 500 people at the Parents’ Association 2017 Annual Auction. Caldwell was there with fellow student Reed Baker ’17 to talk about that year’s Fund a Need item.
He needed the room to hear his passion. To believe in his mission. He needed their money to help kickstart the idea of a Student Investment Board—with a twist.
“Sean got in front of all the parents and bigwigs and gave a pitch about why this club would be great for students and asked for money. He said if we could have some real money we could really do something,” remembers Danny Mehigan, Upper School Math teacher and a faculty advisor to the Student Investment Board.
Caldwell remembers watching the giant screen that was tracking total donations. “It shot up right away! Within three minutes we had $25,000. It was pretty amazing.” Bank of America had contributed $10,000, and several other large gifts were contributed by community members in the audience. As the tally approached the $50,000 mark, the emcee announced that an anonymous donor would match it.
It took less than 10 minutes to raise that $100,000 because everyone in the room loved the idea. The money would go to a unique concept currently in play at only a handful of schools across the country.
Gains for Good
Caldwell had been working with school administrators to support an existing student investment club. He explains, “My idea was to start a student investment fund so that students could manage real money and build experience, and then when I pitched it to administration they added a twist.”
The school proposed establishing a student-run Investment Board that would give a portion of the money they earned to a student-run Foundation Board, which would in turn distribute funds as a grantmaking organization. It’s the creation of the foundation that school leaders believe make this a rare opportunity available nowhere else in the country.
Both Boards got underway last year and this year have started making real moves toward working with real money.
Michael Phipps ’00 is a the Managing Director at Red Ridge Investment Partners who is also serving as an advisor to the students.
“In part one reason why I wanted to make myself available is that I’m incredibly grateful to the parents in the PDS community for initially putting up the capital to get this going. I think it has the right supervision but also some bright minds who are getting a window into a career path that I think is unique at the high school level.”
Phipps meets with the students on a regular basis and says he has been struck by what they already know, and the questions they ask. “I’m quite impressed...they are many steps ahead of where I was at that age and they pick up concepts very quickly.”
Part of what he’s helping them manage is the level of risk they should take with the portfolio knowing that a percentage of the money they make will be given to the Student Foundation Board. The students on that board have also learned from industry leaders about charitable giving as they look to award the money to student-led philanthropic projects at PDS, in the Charlotte community, and beyond.
Giving for Good
Megan Dunbar ’19 serves on the nine-member Student Foundation Board and was excited to learn that she and the other students would decide where the money goes. “It’s a pretty cool feeling that I can actually do something. It’s been a real frustration—at such a young age I feel like I can’t make a difference—and Providence Day is now giving me the opportunity to be a part of this board. It really is amazing. Being given that responsibility at my age is awesome.”
She and the other Foundation board members visited with staffers at the Foundation For The Carolinas (FFTC). The Charlotte-based organization is the sixth-largest community foundation in the country with assets of $2.5 billion. Will Jones, program associate for community programs and civic leadership at the FFTC, talked with the students about the grant making process and the importance of long-term growth.
“I’m jealous of these students!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know anything about philanthropy until college. They’re a very impressive group. You could tell the questions they had really came from a passion to serve their community and make Charlotte and their school better.”
Upper School History and Social Studies teacher Dr. Jennifer Bratyanski is one of the PDS faculty advisors to the Student Foundation Board. She says the visit to the FFTC was all about helping the students understand how a foundation works.
“It was a real-life scenario of what they are going to be doing,” she explains. “These kids are often in a bubble here. When they saw how a foundation as large and respected as FFTC operates, it gave them a new perspective. Seeing the actual location and meeting with people who do this for a living really added a sense of credibility and legitimacy.”
In fact, Dunbar says the visit to the FFTC made her realize she wanted to study philanthropy in college and pursue it as a career path.
“It was such a cool meeting and they told us what they do and it helped me see it’s a real career plan and really rewarding. Before I thought I had to wait to give back until I made enough money. Now I realize there are other ways I can give back right away,” she explains.
Bratyanski isn’t surprised. “Young people understand fairness and inequality and they’re action-oriented. I think as we get older we become more reserved, more aware of the nuances and obstacles which may lead to apathy. But young people don’t have those obstacles. I think what’s great about the young people I get to work alongside is that they see the infinite possibility of change.”
Mehigan agrees. “It’s been eye opening to see how interested they are and how much they already know about investing strategies. They’re so busy and have so much going on at school...but they have this knowledge base and they’re using it for good.”
Caldwell says that’s the best part. He is now at UNC Chapel Hill and is committed to staying involved as much as he can. “Knowing that in 10, 20, 30 years that fund and the asset base will grow and the impact we’ll have will spread and grow exponentially as we distribute it to charities…that just feels amazing.”
PDS Board Chair Keeps an Eye on the Horizon
Providence Day has a proud history of alumni returning to campus for events, to work, and even to enroll their own children. For the first time, now, the school can also celebrate a Charger leading the Board of Trustees. Chris Mullis ’90 is a man of many talents. He holds a doctorate in astrophysics from the University of Hawai’i Institute for Astronomy, one of the world's leading astronomical research centers. In 2006, Mullis founded NorthStar Capital Advisors to serve clients in financial planning and investment management. A Charlotte native, Mullis is a passionate champion of Providence Day—both its history and its future.
What do you enjoy most about your role as Chair of the Board of Trustees?
Thanks to my PD education, I have lived and worked around the world, collaborated with Nobel Laureates, explored the farthest frontiers of the Universe, and helped great families live their best lives possible. But I’ll put my experience with the Board of Trustees right up there in that list. It is a profound privilege to work with, learn from, and serve our school together with the passionate, committed, and expert members of our Board and our school’s senior leadership team.
What is your goal for the work of the Board?
First and foremost: support our world-class Head of School, Dr. Glyn Cowlishaw, whose visionary leadership shapes the incredible experience imparted to the students of PD today and the students of tomorrow. Second: focus on strategic and generative leadership. Third: cultivate processes and structure of governance that promote a consistently high-performing Board.
What do you see as the Board’s role in advancing Providence Day’s mission and strategic vision?
The Board pursues engaged learning conversations with school leadership, industry thought leaders, and the community at large. This allows us to be properly equipped to provide vision, direction, and unique problem solving. To remain profoundly relevant and sustainable, the Board regularly revisits our mission and strategic vision and is ready to reshape and retool when necessary.
How has Providence Day changed since you were a student? How has it stayed the same?
The biggest change since my student days of the 70s and 80s is clearly the growth. Our student body, our faculty, and our campus have grown manyfold. The maturity and sophistication of execution have scaled such that our learning environment reflects many aspects of the universities for which we’re preparing our students. But what remains unwavering after all these years is our PD commitment to rigorous academics and helping our students succeed on their own unique pathways of learning and preparation for a fulfilling life.
What’s your fondest memory of being a student at PD?
It’s impossible to choose just one! I like to remember the heartfelt mentoring of Coach Gil Murdock and the countless miles we ran training in the Robinson Woods neighborhood on the cross country team. The guidance and support of science teachers like Bentha Johnson, Bobbie Hinson, and Peggy Dreher who nurtured my love for science. We went on some amazing trips together to compete in (and ultimately win!) the International Science Fair.
What is the biggest challenge/opportunity facing the school over the next 15 years?
As Chargers we’re accustomed to leading from the front. Not because we deserve it, but because we earn it through discipline and hard work. Think of the trifecta of excellence that we see across academics, athletics, and arts at PD. Nonetheless, one clear opportunity for self improvement is our endowment. We trail our peers by a far margin in this dimension, but we’re gaining ground thanks to the Charging Forward campaign and newfound focus on endowment growth. A strong and healthy endowment will protect the school from inevitable (but temporary) challenges of the economic cycle. Moreover, it will create new capacities to support and grow our school across all times.
What are you most proud of since becoming a PD alumnus?
Getting a Ph.D. in astrophysics and creating a mission-driven business of financial advice. The former equipped me to probe the origins and structure of the Universe. The latter empowers people to achieve lives of passion, purpose, and impact for their families and their communities.
As your alma mater approaches its 50th anniversary how would you describe the first 48 years? How is the Board and the administration planning for post 50 years?
Our first 48 years represent an incredible arc of growth and maturation. As we prepare to celebrate our anniversary, the Board and the administration are already diligently mapping out our second semicentennial. Our domains of planning range from the practicalities of continually improving our physical infrastructure, all the way to the “blue sky” challenge of creating innovative school models to sustain and enhance our educational mission.
How has the Charging Forward comprehensive campaign impacted the school?
The Charging Forward Campaign has transformed the way we teach and learn at PD. It has created a new center point for student life, and strengthened our Annual Fund. And it has launched the growth of our Endowment toward a place that will benefit students and faculty for generations to come.
What do you do for fun?
I love to hike, bike, camp, and travel with my wonderful wife and children. I also have a penchant for meteorology, “recreational” astronomy, and birdwatching.
What is your message to your fellow alumni?
Cultivate and cherish your relationships with fellow alums, teachers, and all of your Charger family. Our shared experiences as PD students define and bind us. The friendships that begin at 5800 Sardis Road can and should last a lifetime. Go Chargers!
A flair for teaching the mysteries of the universe
Some academic departments and clubs naturally exist in the spotlight - Theatre, Music, Athletics, Model UN, and Students of Service as examples. Others hum along in what may seem like the background creating awe-inspiring moments, award-winning ideas and wonder-filled revelations that influence students for the rest of their academic lives and perhaps their careers.
Chris Mullis ’90 was one such influenced student. The school’s first alumnus to serve as Chair of the Board of Trustees, Mullis attributes his pursuit of astrophysics and success as a member of the global scientific community to a field trip he participated in as a seventh grader. Led by Middle School science teacher Bentha Johnson, this field trip to the Observatory of the Charlotte Amateur Astronomers Club may have been an ordinary jaunt for some students, but for Mullis it was extraordinary - literally life changing.
Though today’s Physics Department team is different from the one on campus during Mullis’ time as a student, what fuels the underlying current among the faculty is the same: passion.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH PHYSICS
Providence Day’s Physics Department consists of John Makous, Ph.D., Brian Ludwig and Jennifer Haney. While none had an apple-on-the-head moment that propelled them into teaching Physics, each have had a lifelong love affair with science. When their academic or career paths collided head on with Physics, they were each hooked for life.
Makous was the first to envision a future in Physics. His AP Physics class in high school was taught by such a stellar teacher that he began pursuing the subject as a college freshman and went on to earn his BS from Penn State and his doctorate in Experimental Physics from University of Arizona. Makous is such a nationally-respected Physics authority that he not only reads AP exams but also writes questions for the College Board.
Ludwig’s path was a little less direct. In high school, it was English and Chemistry teachers who instilled his general love for learning. The nonfiction accounts as well as the fantastic stories from the likes of Carl Sagan, Jacques Cousteau, and Stephen Jay Gould, in concert with veritable courses in college, kept him locked in the science groove. Having earned his BS from Kent State and MS from Nova Southeastern, Ludwig pursued physics because it was intimidating. He enjoyed the challenge Physics presented and ultimately overcame his fear and turned it into passion.
Haney’s journey began on a Chemistry trajectory in high school and shifted to Engineering in college. After earning her BS from Georgia Tech and her MS from Georgia State, she taught high school Chemistry. It was fulfilling, but not nearly as much as the Physics course she was asked to substitute for during a faculty vacancy. Haney was so enamored that she pivoted completely, not only trading in her Chemistry curriculum but also switching schools in order to take on a full-time Physics position.
FINDING A HOME AT PDS
In 1992, Makous was invited to consider the opportunity to begin an AP Physics program at Providence Day. With his enthusiasm high and the demand for faculty at the college level low, he elected to try his hand at teaching high school. And he has never looked back. Twenty-seven years later, he is still bringing new energy, big ideas and exciting opportunities to campus.
After teaching in Honduras out of college and then private schools in New Jersey and Florida, Ludwig found a home at PDS 10 years ago. Now also in his 27th year of teaching, Ludwig cites Providence Day as being the most progressive and foresighted school of his career.
A testament to the quality of the School’s faculty, Haney’s 15 years in the classroom make her the department’s neophyte. A member of the PDS community since 2015, Haney was drawn to Providence Day after learning of the school’s small class sizes, consideration given for teacher planning time, and commitment to faculty professional development.
Together, they have nearly 70 years in combined time in the classroom, more than 40 at PDS alone. When individually asked what keeps them at Providence Day, they each respond in the same way: the people. The synergy between them, the professionalism of their science department peers, the support of school leadership, and the curiosity and enthusiasm of their students creates a learning environment like no other they have experienced.
IT’S NOT WHAT YOU KNOW, IT’S WHAT YOU KNOW NOT
Providence Day’s commitment to developing lifelong learners applies not only to the student body but also to the school’s faculty.
As a continually evolving subject, physics requires educators to be immersed in Physics Education Research, the study of how the field is best learned and how to improve the quality of its instruction.
Institutional support of their professional development has been enriching, energizing and empowering for all three educators. Each Summer, one, two or all three have attended various conferences or have sought opportunities to refine and advance skills and expertise in subject matter.
The Green Bank Observatory located in the National Radio Quiet Zone in West Virginia has been the backdrop of much of Makous’ professional development, and a tremendous learning environment for his AP Physics students, since 2003. After a multi-day excursion to the mountains spending every waking moment conducting research and interacting with a telescope 40 feet in diameter, the students returned to campus with a new appreciation for Astronomy and Physics. Several have pursued Radio Astronomy in college as a result of their Green Bank experience.
In 2016 and again in 2017, Makous spent six weeks in West Virginia as part of a Research Experience for Teachers initiative funded by the National Science Foundation called Digital Signal Processing in Radio Astronomy (DSPIRA). It was during these immersive experiences - which Makous refers to as the most beneficial professional development of his career - that he learned how to use a Horn Antenna Radio Telescope, saw that he could teach his students back home to build one, and how to embed the process into his AP Physics curriculum.
BRINGING BEST PRACTICES INTO THE CLASSROOM
Each of the Providence Day’s Physics teachers bring their own flair to the classroom. Makous is notorious for his use of puns; Ludwig has a penchant for making restaurant analogies to explain concepts; and Haney rocks her Physics shoes every Friday for Spirit Day. When it comes to pedagogy, though, they all prescribe to the same school of thought, and it creates incredible synergy between them.
Three particular philosophical approaches stand out:
Modeling. Makous, Ludwig and Haney are staunch believers of the modeling approach to not only teaching but also to learning. An approach that creates space for learning through minds-in observation and hands-on doing, modeling is a key strategy in each of their classrooms as well as in their own professional development.
Homework. Work done outside of the classroom should help students independently practice concepts and provide an opportunity for personal feedback. Homework should serve to shorten the learning curve and should not be assessed for a grade; grading should be reserved for tests and exams. To bolster self-efficacy, students need to grow and benefit from their effort.
Technology. Even in 2018, the most important tools in the Physics classroom are the stopwatch and measuring stick. There is an enormous amount of sophisticated tech that augments classroom instruction - high-speed cameras, robots, graphing apps (including one developed by Makous) - but there is also an overabundance of tech that is hindering concrete learning. Students are at a disservice if armed only with tools that will “magically” generate information. Most powerful of all is good old-fashioned critical thinking.
Something else that stands out about Makous, Ludwig and Haney is that they see themselves as students too. Their formal education, professional appointments and life experiences make them older and wiser than their students, but certainly not preeminent. They view their relationship with their students as reciprocal. Each has something to teach and a valuable contribution to share.