The Learning Curve

Welcome to The Learning Curve - insightful educational commentary from Dr. Bob Bowman, Assistant Head of School for Upper School.

This is Their World

Today (Jan. 29, 2019) I spoke to the entire Upper School in the PAC about the introduction of more realistic lockdown procedures in case of an intruder or school shooting. At about the same time, our Head of School, Andy Webster, shared some thoughts and details with the entire community. As I described our reasoning and reviewed the procedures of the move to unannounced lockdown drills (the same approach we use for fire drills), I was struck with an almost overwhelming sense of melancholy and a little déja vu. Let me address the latter first.

I remember sitting in my grade school auditorium almost five decades ago getting an explanation of why and how we perform duck and cover drills under our desk or in our hallways as a response to a nearby detonation of a nuclear device. I even remember Bert the Turtle as the star of the 1951 video of the same name: Duck and Cover, a short film that has been satirized and dismissed as wholly ineffective as a protective measure for an actual nuclear explosion. As an elementary school student in the late 1960s, the concept of nuclear bombs landing nearby was abstract and almost never on the minds of students. Not since World War II had …

Posted by bbowman on Thursday January 31 at 08:48AM
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Riddle Me This...

What is the beginning of eternity, the end of time and space, the beginning of every end and the end of every race? (From the Riddler on the Batman TV series, 1966 - 68)  

I have always loved riddles. The answer to the one above is the letter “E.” As a kid I would buy books and magazines filled with logic problems and puzzles, poring over them, trying to find the solutions. I was often rather impatient and would peek at the hints and answers but still took great joy in the process. Little did I know how important solving these riddles was for my intellectual development.  

One that I still remember and use with my students to this day goes like this:

You are walking on a path on an island inhabited by two tribes: one tribe always tells the truth, the other one always lies. Another peculiarity of this island is that each islander will only answer one question. You come to a fork in the road. One path leads to great fortune and the other to your demise, and you are running out of time. A person is standing at the fork; you do not know which tribe they are from. What one question do you ask to assure you find the road to great fortune in time?

This type …

Posted by bbowman on Thursday December 13, 2018 at 12:31PM
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The Wisdom of a Metal Shop Teacher

I read an intriguing article at the start of the summer, Resilience is the New Happiness by Ephrat Livni, on the Quartz website. This article has stayed with me, particularly the following quote: 

We can’t always be happy. Pleasure is a relative state, contrasted by discomfort and pain. In between fleeting, pleasing moments are many challenging ones that make happiness a relief. So, to be happy, you have to first learn how to be strong; to pick yourself up after a fall, detach from sadness when you don’t succeed, and find the will to persist instead of getting depressed when things go awry, which they often will.

I was struck by the wisdom and simplicity of this concept; I had never heard this stated so succinctly. Clearly, on some basic level, I understood this, but how had I become resilient (or was I just assuming I was)? Distant memories of my youth recall phrases we use in jest now, such as “rub some dirt on it” or “suck it up, buttercup.” I guess we now call that the tough love approach. This article resonated with an indelible memory from my high school years.

My 11th grade metal shop teacher, Mr. Ski - I …

Posted by bbowman on Thursday October 25, 2018 at 09:21AM
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Integrity: Our Bedrock Core Value

Upper School at The Wardlaw + Hartridge School is back in session and we are off to a wonderful start. Our new students and teachers are acclimating nicely, and everyone is settling into the rhythms of a new school year. As always, we begin with a great deal of joy and optimism. That is the magic of school: new beginnings for our children every September and an opportunity for each student to learn more in the academic realm and, as importantly, about themselves personally. 

While the summer is often a time away from the rigors of school, those of us who remain spend a great deal of our time reviewing and planning for the upcoming academic year. One of the areas we try to better understand is what determines whether a student thrives in school. Much effort, quantitative and qualitative, has been put forth by academic scholars to understand which student characteristics are the best measure of future success. During the past decade or so, researchers have posited that grit, resilience, adaptability, empathy, creativity and others are the most important indicators. One that does not seem to be mentioned as often is integrity, our bedrock core value at …

Posted by bbowman on Wednesday September 26, 2018 at 01:12PM
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W+H Mission Comes to Life in China

The first line of our Mission Statement is “The Wardlaw+Hartridge School prepares students to lead and succeed in a world of global interconnection.” My overarching understanding of global interconnection focused mostly on the instantaneity of technology. Cell phones (or any connected devices) allow us to interact, react and transact, in real time, with a large portion of people and institutions around the world without leaving our own communities.

As an Upper School we also live this aspect of our mission. W+H faculty often bring unfamiliar aspects of the world to our students by expanding the canon to include works from writers with unique global perspectives in required and elective courses across departments. We provide the opportunity for motivated students to dig deeper by becoming a Global Scholar culminating with a comprehensive project in our Capstone course. Every day our students come to school and share their experiences in one of the most diverse independent day schools in New Jersey. And for the more adventurous, W+H has travel programs where our students stay with families in villages in Peru and Guatemala (with emphasis on service learning and …

Posted by bbowman on Friday August 10, 2018 at 10:18AM
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Four Cs Stimulate Student Engagement at W+H

One of the great privileges of my job is getting to walk the hallways while classes are meeting. Surreptitiously listening and watching our students and teachers in action is one the highlights of my day. I am often only privy to a snippet of each class, without a great deal of context, but it affords me the opportunity to have a lens on our educational process at Wardlaw + Hartridge, to see how our teachers teach and how our students learn. I am struck by how much instruction and pedagogy has evolved from my high school days from four decades ago.

The fundamental designs of our classrooms are not that much different from my old high school (which is still in use): there are whiteboards (instead of blackboards); there are chairs and writing surfaces for the students; and the walls and benches are frequently covered with student work. There is a paradigm-shifting fundamental difference: the addition of powerful technology such as Smart Boards, wifi and laptops, which have dramatically changed education. We have evolved from the three Rs of my youth: reading, writing and arithmetic (really only one R; this always bothered me as a child!), to the 4 Cs of the 21st century …

Posted by bbowman on Wednesday May 9, 2018 at 01:31PM
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W+H Storytellers

What makes an independent school unique? Extraordinary? Desirable?

Independent schools lay claim to these and other superlatives in an effort to encourage parents to trust our schools with their most precious children. In the end, the choice often comes down to the feeling a family gets when they visit a particular school. They listen to the members of the community as they share their stories of why and how and what makes their school the place that it is. I posit that it is these stories that are the most important measures of a place of learning; these conversations, classes and collaborations range from small moments to serendipitous encounters to transformative lessons. If you walk the halls you will hear these stories, the bits and pieces of exchange that resemble, in some small way, the oral tradition on which education first began. These shared experiences between community members create the unseen but palpable ethos of learning: frustration, discovery, then joy... start again. These stories permeate through every part of the school. We try our best to share these stories through our written comments, website, social media and direct engagement, but they are …

Posted by bbowman on Wednesday April 11, 2018 at 02:16PM
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Keeping Our Students Ahead of the Times

The story of Steven Sasson is an oft-told cautionary tale.  In 1975, Sasson, a young engineer at Kodak, invented the first digital camera.  Sasson’s initial camera was absurdly slow, made of disparate parts, and the image resolution was orders of magnitude worse than any traditional film camera.  While not impressed, his bosses allowed him to continue the development of the digital camera.  In 1987, Sasson developed a fully functioning digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera; one that was very similar to today’s digital cameras.  A quick Google search in 2018 of the top 50 selling digital cameras on Amazon reveals exactly zero from Kodak.  How is this possible?  Kodak was years ahead of its competitors in digital photographic technology and held the 1977 patent on which all future digital cameras were based.  In digital cameras, Kodak saw a business that would compete with their dominance in traditional film photography; they did not see the virtual explosion of the digital world.  In 2012, four years after their patent expired, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. 

It would be a mistake to assume that the leaders of Kodak were…

Posted by bbowman on Thursday February 15, 2018 at 12:35PM
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Pass with FLYing Colors - STEM Research at W+H

Saturday mornings and early afternoons were my television times growing up.  It was the sole opportunity that I, the youngest member of our family, had control of what was playing on the only TV set in our home.  I would turn to UHF channel 48 – WKBS – adjust the rabbit ears, and watch the WWWF (now the WWE) hoping to see my favorite wrestlers such as Bruno Sammartino, Chief Jay Strongbow and Bob Backlund.  My friends and I would spend countless hours debating whether it was real or not (I was convinced it was!).  After wrestling ended, there would often be a movie.  I would often pay little attention to the movies, splitting my time between my large collections of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars and the flickering images (I mean this literally because a lot of time was spent adjusting the vertical and horizontal hold). 

Yet I remember with great clarity two movies because they scared the pants off me: The Phantom of the Opera (1943) and The Fly (1958, the Vincent Price film - not the 1986 David Cronenberg version).  Even as a young teenager, I was already attracted to things science and science fiction, so The Fly was particularly …

Posted by bbowman on Thursday January 11, 2018 at 10:53AM
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Ethics is Everyday

“Ethics is everyday – telling the truth and doing the right thing never go out of style.”  This was the mantra of my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Crock.  Yes, I know there is a joke in there somewhere.  He was the first instructor I had whose discussions on ethics went beyond, “keep your eyes on your own paper (insert name here),” or the recitation of the Boy Scout law –  A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful….  Mr. Crock talked reverently about trust and integrity and honesty; he elevated these words to hallowed principles to live by.  Primary school was a place to learn from your mistakes, not suffer a severe penalty, especially on the first offense.  Through conversation and example, Mr. Crock created a class culture of wanting to tell the truth – 26 children striving to do the right thing. 

As Lower School students mature and become Upper Schoolers, the need for an ethical framework expands beyond the academic realm.  Dilemmas in social, emotional and practical situations occur more frequently, and the consequences for straying from cultural norms – giving into temptation – …

Posted by bbowman on Wednesday December 6, 2017 at 09:09AM
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1295 Inman Ave,
Edison, NJ 08820
(908) 754-1882
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