The Learning Curve

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

Inclusion: Belonging at Wardlaw+Hartridge

Over the last couple of decades or so, the words diversity and inclusion frequently appear together. Yet I am not sure many of us have taken the time to parse their meanings and understand the important distinction between the two. My colleagues in the English Department will not be pleased that I am starting my blog with a definition, but in this case I will throw best writing practices to the wind and give you definitions presented by Amanda Hagley from the Verb website in an article entitled Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace. These definitions are similar to those found across platforms.

Diversity: The range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs. 

Inclusion: Involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. An inclusive workplace promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; it values and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of living of its members.

In our case we replace the word …

Posted by bbowman on Thursday February 20 at 10:55AM
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Can They Be Architects?

I have always loved science and for more than a decade I was a card-carrying scientist and enjoyed all the accompanying fame and riches… or maybe it was the fun and adventure? I’ll get back to you. Unsurprisingly, I have always followed the progress researchers are making in many disparate fields. Recently, I came across an article about dark matter and how the universe continues to bewilder even the most learned of physicists. (Wait! Do not stop reading. This blog is not about dark matter or anything scientific.) As with a lot of my reading, I was using my phone more for convenience; squinting at tiny fonts on a little screen is not one of my favorite things. (Wait again! This blog is also not about the evils of smartphones.) Dark matter is a subject about which I am fascinated, so I began reading with great anticipation. The article was well-written, yet I found myself drifting; the information I wanted was not in the first few paragraphs: What was the controversy provoked by the latest dark matter experiments? I scanned ahead but lost focus completely. So, I stopped reading it, bookmarked it for later, and searched for more enticing clickbait.

As my …

Posted by bbowman on Thursday January 23 at 09:58AM
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In Honor of World Children's Day

My blog this month does not support or oppose any particular political viewpoints, but it will address the realities experienced by children in our world which is a result of choices made by powerful leaders around the globe.

Can one child change the world?

On January 25, 2017, Bana al-Abed, a 7-year-old Syrian girl, tweeted an image of a letter along with the following statement to President Donald Trump: “I beg you, can you do something for the children of Syria? If you can, I will be your best friend.” This past Tuesday, Nov. 19, now 10 years old, Miss al-Abed, presented a talk entitled The Power of... Hope (link here) at the Reykjavik Global Forum - Women Leaders 2019. In this talk she speaks of the terror and desperation children experience in wars that they do not understand and in which they have no voice. She makes a passionate case for peace and education for the youth still remaining in war zones in Syria and displaced in refugee camps. UNICEF estimates that there are 2.6 million children displaced in Syria and an additional 2.5 million living as refugees in neighboring countries. Bana al-Abed speaks of her hope that the leaders around the …

Posted by bbowman on Thursday November 21, 2019 at 10:56AM
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Learning In and Outside of the Box

I have to admit that I am tired of hearing, and yes saying, “you need to think outside the box.” I just used this exact phrase in my engineering class recently during a brainstorming session (more on this later). I get it; we want our students to move beyond the binary of right and wrong and to embrace the challenge and messiness of finding novel solutions to complicated issues. For some time now, educational innovators have been promoting the 4 Cs of the 21st century: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Sprinkle entrepreneurship, STEAM-based approaches, sustainability, hacking your learning, and real-world problem solving into the mix to get a sense of where many folks (occasionally referred to as disruptors) believe learning is headed. Entire school infrastructure and curricula have been developed around these ideas, e.g., see Brightworks in San Francisco and Green School in Bali. 

I greatly admire the amount of innovation that extremely intelligent, creative and dedicated teachers and administrators are displaying as they rethink what school is and what it should be. We need to be challenging old (and sometimes tired …

Posted by bbowman on Thursday October 17, 2019 at 07:46AM
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Connection Inspires Learning

Several days before the start of the 2019-20 school year, two of my closest high school friends (who am I kidding, my only high school friends) and their spouses got together with me and my wife. By reasonable measures, all six of us have met with some success in our adult lives. I am not talking billion-dollar hedge fund or Kardashian-level Instagram influencer success, but we parlayed our privileged upbringings and made a decent go of it as adults. Our careers include orthopedic surgeon, CFO, television executive producer, etc… and, of course, the most highly esteemed and enviable of positions: Upper School Head. 

As with many evening gatherings with lifelong friends, the spirits were flowing and the conversation found its way back to the good old days: high school. My buddies and I regaled each other with stories of our banal shenanigans (complete with almost continuous spousal eye-rolling and exasperation) and replete with embellishments that are expected when the events in question took place a great distance back in life’s rear view mirror.  

During the dessert course, after a bite of some strangely named decadent chocolate concoction, I asked a …

Posted by bbowman on Thursday September 19, 2019 at 08:14AM
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Sky's the Limit for our Graduating Seniors

Forty years ago, give or take a few weeks, I graduated from high school in Delaware. The only reason this is on my radar is because I got a call recently from an old classmate who had “found” me, no small feat given that I have no real presence on social media. This is not any sort of statement by me on the evils of the internet; I just never got around to doing it. My fellow Bulldog (my high school mascot, although I am unaware of any bulldogs native to Wilmington) informed me that in the fall of 2019 we will be having our 40th reunion. She shared that I could register on Facebook and see who will be attending and reconnect with old friends… oh yeah, you’re not on Facebook. Long pause. Well I hope you can make it. Long pause. Bye now. Click. Wow, I still had that old high school charm and magnetism. Refrains of Cat Steven’s Another Saturday Night echoed through my head. Sometimes I wonder if we ever truly leave our high school selves behind. 

Intrigued, I looked on Facebook, but I had to join to get access; I’m confident most folks would have known that. Undaunted, I used Google and found a site that had a list of some of the …

Posted by bbowman on Thursday June 6, 2019 at 01:46PM
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This One Time, at Band Camp

In the summer between 9th and 10th grades, I went to band camp. For some of you of a certain age, feel free to insert your American Pie jokes here. My friend Randy convinced me that it would be fun to spend a week on the campus of the College of William and Mary playing music with other high school students. All you had to do was apply and acknowledge that you had five or more years of experience, which we both did. So, after acceptance into the program, Randy and I, instruments and suitcases in tow, piled into the backwards facing seats of his family’s station wagon and headed south on I-95. Little did I know what I was getting myself into; I should have read the brochure more closely.

Two hours after arriving at W&M the auditions began. I had brushed up on a couple of pieces a few days before we left, so I was feeling reasonably confident. Randy and I went different directions, each instrument going to separate locations. The 40 or so trumpet players were told to go into a lecture hall and take a seat. There was no playing of prepared pieces; it was all sight reading. If only I had read that darn brochure. My pulse began to race. Sight reading consists …

Posted by bbowman on Wednesday May 8, 2019 at 09:39AM
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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, 2019 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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The Wardlaw-Hartridge School
1295 Inman Ave,
Edison, NJ 08820
(908) 754-1882
The Wardlaw + Hartridge School is a top private and college prep school in Edison, New Jersey, which provides an independent, pioneering educational experience at the early childhood, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school levels.
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