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Lakeside Middle School 13510 1st Avenue NE Seattle, WA 98125-3099
Lakeside Upper School 14050 1st Avenue NE Seattle, WA 98125-3099
A curriculum for the future

By Peter Polson ’91, Board chair

Each fall the Board of Trustees conducts an annual retreat—a two-day gathering that allows us to dive into strategic discussions that don’t easily fit into a standard two-hour trustee meeting.

This year’s retreat, which was also attended by the school’s directors, gave us hands-on, provocative grounding that will be essential to our role in a major initiative on the horizon. Lakeside will soon embark on a comprehensive review of its curriculum, with the goal of enhancing educational excellence. We are using this year to study how global economic and cultural trends are shaping changes in education. Next year trustees will join the faculty, administration, and representatives of the larger school community in mapping out the shape of Lakeside's curriculum for the next decade.

One of the questions trustees ask as we look toward the future is how technology will redefine the ingredients of a good education. At our retreat, two speakers presented fascinating looks into this question.

Mark Milliron described “swirl and blend,” the mixing of traditional and online education that he believes represents the future of learning. Milliron is chancellor at Western Governors University Texas and a board member of Global Online Academy, and was formerly deputy director for higher education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He believes good schools won't get stuck on either/or; they will incorporate the best of both approaches. He cites a Carnegie Mellon University study of how online and brick-and-mortar educational models mix (detailed in his October 2010 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education). The study showed that average and above-average students who used a combination of online and traditional learning were able to learn a statistics-class module in half the time as they did in a teacher-led classroom.

The Rev. Stephen Sundborg, president of Seattle University and a Lakeside trustee, brought another perspective, describing the enduring relevance of “contact” in an educational world that is increasingly online. He cautioned that the challenge for educators isn't to chase technology. Instead, technology should chase quality and engagement. He referred to a recent piece by New York Times columnist David Brooks that references research showing that people learn from those they love and remember the things that arouse emotions. Campus-based schools, and particularly independent schools, are in the best position to provide both of those essential factors for effective learning. In Sundborg’s vision, successful future schools will:
  • Emphasize social development. He cautions against an overemphasis on how course content is delivered, when the real challenge is to help students mature socially and develop as thinkers and leaders.
  • Support lateral peer-to-peer learning. “The lecture is dead.”
  • Help students do something with what they've learned—apply imagination, persuade others, solve real-world problems.
We also heard from a panel of recent Lakeside graduates. These alumni from the Classes of 1999 to 2004 described what they gained from their Lakeside experiences; overall, their views were amazingly positive. Then we broke into small teams—with both trustees and directors on each team—to brainstorm what should or could be essential graduation requirements in the future. Outcomes from this exercise echoed themes we'd heard earlier about participation, service, and action. Several teams imagined how seniors could synthesize their four years of learning in a culminating project that they would lead; this capstone experience would emphasize engagement and initiative rather than tests, quizzes, and papers.

As I reflect on the retreat’s discussion, I believe that this attention to action dovetails with Lakeside’s mission. We want to graduate students who can “contribute wisdom, compassion, and leadership to a global society.” Words like “contribute,” “compassion,” and “leadership” are active and imply students should be prepared to engage fully with the world. We are looking at the ways in which our curriculum and programs serve this end and how we might do better.

You will hear more from the school, especially next year, as we dive into this important curriculum review. The ultimate goal is to make sure that we are continuing to raise the bar with the work we do with our students.

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