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CA Curious

Innovation on Vacation

August 24, 2023

Have you ever wondered what our teachers are up to during their summer breaks? Each year, many CA faculty spend their well-deserved summer vacation on professional development opportunities that translate their interests into incredible learning opportunities for our students—in the classroom and beyond. 

Cary Academy offers two major grant programs to support the professional development of our faculty during the summer months: the Friday Fellowship and the Innovative Curriculum Grant.

So, what exactly did our tireless teachers work on this summer through these grant programs?

Kendall Bell, Heidi Maloy, and Charlotte Kelly, Upper School science teachers, received a collaborative fellowship to interweave DEI work into the chemistry curriculum, incorporating a broader range of scientific, cultural, and professional examples of who contributes to our understanding of chemical concepts, with the goal of giving all students the opportunity to see themselves doing chemistry.


Lauren Bullock, Middle School language arts and social studies teacher, received fellowship funding to participate in the Kundiman summer retreat for Asian American writers.   Participation in the retreat not only helped to sharpen Lauren’s own skills as a writer, but also enabled Lauren to foster connections to the writing world as the language arts team searches for more diverse voices to add to the Cary Academy literary canon and even invite onto campus.


Tamara Friend and Danae Shipp, Middle School science teachers, received a collaborative fellowship to research and develop a plan for creating a dedicated STEM space in the Middle School building.  Tamara and Danae attended the 2023 ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference with a focus on sessions and exhibitions related to Makerspace development, and also conducted site visits to local schools and public libraries with Makerspaces. They used the information they gathered to produce a layout and equipment acquisition plan for a pilot STEM space to be housed in a first-floor science classroom, with the goal of having the space outfitted and ready to use late in the first semester or early in the second semester of the 2023-24 school year.

David Kaufmann, Middle School math teacher, received a fellowship to participate in the 2023 ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference to learn more about supporting student learning through gamification, coding, and technology-enhanced projects that encourage both application and creative expression. David used the conference experience to design three new digital projects for his math classes.


Ty van de Zande, digital arts and coding teacher, received fellowship funding to undertake a visualization project using hand-made glass objects to model fundamental concepts and principles of computer science. Ty produced a set of models built from glass, photos of the glass models, photo documentation of the building process, and a write-up describing the models and how they represent the fundamental processes. Through the photography process, the glass models can be combined and arranged with other glass models to represent a real computer code program. 


Crystal Bozeman, Middle School learning specialist, and Katie Taylor, Middle School language arts teacher, received a collaborative grant to create a “Leaders in Literacy” program to support Middle School students in developing their literacy skills, especially reading and writing. The new program focuses on teaching the science of reading and writing and strategies that will work across texts, emphasizing hands-on activities that give students active and engaging ways to build their literacy skills.

  
Kara Caccuitto, Upper School English teacher, received grant funding to develop a new English elective for juniors and seniors on Magical Realism. The majority of anchor texts in the new course are of Latin American origin, giving students a chance to explore the art, history, and culture of this part of the world.  Students also have ample opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the characteristics of magical realism through a variety of creative self-expression activities, including producing a podcast, compiling an electronic cookbook, and developing a poetry or song anthology.

Sam Krieg, Upper School Spanish teacher, received a grant to develop a new Spanish elective focused on Spanish for business use. The course provides opportunities for students to communicate with professionals from throughout the Spanish-speaking world representing a range of commercial endeavors, including hospitality, banking, agriculture, and education. Students also have the chance to learn about, and reflect on, the (in)equalities of business relationships at different levels and to explore the essential roles of immigrants in different commercial contexts.


Kristi Ramey, Upper School math teacher, received grant funding to create a new model for Calculus 1 that expands access to the course content by creating both a regular and an advanced pathway within the same class. Kristi’s work focused on creating appropriately differentiated assignments and assessments to meet the needs of both groups of students, as well as appropriate supplemental materials for those students opting to pursue the AP exam.


Erick Crepsac, Middle School math teacher, was selected to participate in the Teachers Across Borders Program in Southern Africa (TAB-SA). Erick was part of a team of American math and science teachers who traveled to South Africa during the summer to conduct curriculum-specific workshops with their South African colleagues from rural schools, sharing methodology, techniques, and pedagogy in STEM content areas.

Written by Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty

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CA Curious

Technology and Neurodiversity

October 20, 2022

Each year the technology services department is asked to provide training for new employees, new students, and those returning community members who may need a bit of a refresher after the summer break. While this isn’t the only professional development or training the department offers, it tends to be similar each time. How do I get to my OneDrive? How can I distribute pages to my students in OneNote? What is my Blackbaud ID, and why am I being asked to change it again?  

This year, however, offered a welcome change. As part of a faculty professional development day, I had the privilege of joining Kathy Sullivan, Director of Professional Development at the Hill Learning Center, to co-host a Supporting Neurodiverse Learners Workshop. Together, we leveraged our shared expertise in child development and educational technology to connect how CA can better leverage our on-campus technology to reflect and respond to the latest research on best practices in supporting neurodiverse learners. 

During the presentation, Kathy addressed the various ways that neurodiversity might shape executive functioning—influencing organizational skills, time management, and even the very ways in which neurodiverse students might process information in ways different from their peers.  

In turn, I walked our faculty through the student and parent Blackbaud user experience, highlighting some of the functionality that will be crucial in helping to bolster executive functioning and address the specific and varying needs of our neurodiverse community members.  

For example, in the Blackbaud Assignment Center, I demonstrated how to break down multi-step assignments into discrete tasks and how to change the overall Assignment Center view to be more streamlined and less visually overwhelming. Kathy was able to showcase a few apps that aid with time management.  

While most of these tricks may not have been new to faculty, considering them in the context of neurodiversity was a new and needed intervention. In developing a more nuanced understanding of the information processing needs of our neurodiverse students, what might have been just another feature became something more—a  powerful way to support the learning needs of all our community members. 

Since the faculty workshop, I’ve presented similar information to all the 7th graders during their advisory period and to the 9th graders during their Community Day program. Both programs have walked students through Blackbaud, demonstrating ways they can reverse engineer multi-step assignments and use task creation for more than just their homework. In the 9th-grade program, students were quick to ask questions, sharing tips and tricks they had learned along the way with their classmates.  

There are ways that parents can support their students with this technology at home. In the coming month, I will share a new training video to guide parents through some of the tips and tricks I have discussed in these programs. Parents will learn how to aid their students in tweaking Blackbaud to meet their unique learning style and needs best. Stay tuned! 

The opportunity to work closely with students, faculty, and families has been something that I have sorely missed since the start of the COVID pandemic. I look forward to working more closely with you all on the practical and developmental use of technology both in and out of the classroom, and not just the nuts and bolts of it all.  

Written by Karen McKenzie, Director of Technology & Innovation

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Pitch Perfect

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CA Curious

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CA Curious

If at first you don’t succeed…

February 17, 2022

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value of a good design challenge—one that taps into students’ intrinsic motivation, encourages experimentation and problem-solving and treats failure as an essential part of the path to success.

The wheels started turning for me (literally) at the recent ISEEN Winter Institute in Arizona, where I had the opportunity to step out of the teacher role and experience a design challenge as a learner. The project:  to build a rocket car that would be launched at high velocity directly into a wall but allow its passenger, a raw egg, to survive the impact. Judging from the scorch marks on the chassis my partner and I were given to begin the task, there were going to be actual flames shooting out the back of this vehicle.  And judging from the yellowish goo dried to the wall that was our target, there were going to be some spectacular fails in this process. I was hooked!

My partner and I took about an hour to design and build our first prototype, and with our aerodynamic egg basket secured to our chassis, we hoped that we had that ideal combination of speed, aim, and cushioning to protect our egg and win the race.

Alas, we did not. 

The speed was good, the aim was decent, but poor little Eggbert suffered a serious shell fracture. No yolk splattered on the wall, but still, not the outcome we wanted for our fragile passenger.

If this had been a one-and-done type project, we might have earned a C+ for the vehicle we created. But because this was framed as a design challenge, we were instead encouraged to reflect upon our results, make changes, and try again. And that’s where the learning process really took off.

My partner and I began our reflection by reviewing a video of our launch, using the hash marks on the ground and the video’s frame rate to calculate our average speed and our acceleration, and from there, we were able to approximate our speed at impact. This led to conversations about air friction, kinetic energy, potential spring energy, and heat. In short, all kinds of concepts from math and physics were coming to life as we considered ways to maintain our speed, improve our aim, and perhaps most importantly, better protect our little albumen friend.  Not only was I totally engaged by this activity, but I find that I am still able to recall most of what I learned that day precisely because it was anchored in such a memorable hands-on experience.

A couple of weeks after the rocket car challenge, I came to campus on a Saturday to help out with the USA Young Physicists Tournament. It was a busy weekend at CA, not only for our USAYPT group but also for our Science Olympiad and robotics teams in both Middle and Upper School. Everywhere I looked in the CMS, there were kids building and testing, calculating and troubleshooting, rebuilding, and refining, much the same way I had done in the rocket car challenge.  These students could not have been more engaged in what they were doing as they designed to learn.   

The USAYPT group spent the day on the NCSU campus, presenting and defending their results in four college-level physics challenges.  The biggest surprise for me, though, came not during the tournament itself, but at the end of the day, when I arrived in a Charger bus to transport one of the visiting teams from the tournament venue back to the hotel.   As the students boarded the bus for “home,” they were still excitedly talking about the relative merits of the solutions that had been shared and batting around ideas for improvements.  I actually had to interrupt them when we pulled up to the hotel to tell them that we had arrived and that it was time to get off the bus.   Riding in a vehicle covered with question marks, these students just couldn’t stop iterating, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

Yet another opportunity to observe the magic of a design challenge came my way last Wednesday, when I had a chance to watch some of our 8th-grade science students tackle a problem related to our current supply chain woes–a topic that the students could certainly relate to after the long delay in receiving their new computers.   Their challenge:  to design a floating storage device (barge) that might help relieve some of the congestion at our ports.   The 8th graders built prototypes of their devices from designs they had sketched, and then tested those prototypes in large tubs of water, making design changes as they discovered through a process of trial and error which barge shapes could hold the most weight and what materials would be most buoyant.  It was wonderful to hear the language of discovery, innovation, and collaboration in action as the students constructed, tested and refined:   “What if we…?” | “Why did it..?”  | “How could we…?” | “Do you think…?” | “I wonder…”  | “Oops!”  | “Let’s try ….”    As with the rocket car challenge, the physics tournament, the Science Olympiad projects, and the robots, here, too, the emphasis was on doing, reflecting, and trying again.

I feel lucky to work at a school where teachers embrace design thinking and enthusiastically engage students in all kinds of design challenges, not only in classes but also through extracurricular and X-Day activities. Design challenges reflect our belief that learning is an iterative and interdependent process, and they have become a key ingredient in the mission recipe that makes Cary Academy such an exciting place to learn and grow.

Written by Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty

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Glimpsing the future

February 10, 2022

Every year with great anticipation, I count down the days to one of the big educational technology conferences that I have the privilege of attending. Not only do I look forward to connecting with my brethren at other schools, but to sharing and learning from others all over the world.  A sneak peek at all the fun and cool technologies on the edtech horizon is gravy.

Held last month, the annual Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) is one of my favorites. The Goldilocks of conferences—half the size of the largest one but still large enough to draw in over ten thousand people—it takes place shortly after the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The energy is always palpable, with participants abuzz with the insights and promises of great tech to come. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it takes place in January in Florida (need I say more?).

Last month, FETC offered a welcome and rejuvenating experience, an opportunity away from the day-to-day tasks and distractions, an invitation to bask in the big picture. As I walked the aisles of the exhibit hall taking in the over 400 vendors showcasing the latest and greatest edtech, I reveled in discovery and innovation. It’s an experience that invites big, outside-of-the-box thinking, an opportunity to consider just where CA sits in the edtech landscape and where we want to go. And it is a welcome opportunity to share with my peers at other schools some of the amazing things our community is doing in this space and to hear their wins and lessons learned in return.

Big takeaways? Unsurprisingly, developments in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality loomed large (and not just from an integration standpoint, but from logistical ones as well—a 2022 conference would not be complete without a pandemic-informed consideration of device sanitation, after all). The emergence of products and ideas specifically targetting Middle School programs was noteworthy, whether it was more robust robotics programming, gamification platforms that appeal to younger students, or the creation of traditional maker tools that are designed for young hands. Perhaps most notable, was the progress regarding eSports and its growing popularity both in and out of the classroom. As athletic associations are starting to recognize eSports as a credited activity, competitive leagues are forming at the high school, collegiate, and pro-levels. It’s exciting to see it unfold and to consider what the future might hold.

While there was no set theme for this year’s conference, I was pleasantly surprised to see many topics closely aligned with CA’s own commitments and experiences. Conversations surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and wellness were in abundance, top-of-mind throughout presentation sessions and the vendor expo.

Emergent themes that punctuated conversations—how the move to virtual learning has brought to light whether existing resources are flexible enough to make the pivot at the drop of a hat; the crucial role that professional development and training play in maximizing existing resources—were deeply familiar . . . and also reassuring.

Like all schools, the pandemic has been a struggle, but our commitment to our mission and the groundwork—both technological and philosophical—that has been laid over the last twenty-five years, allowed us to pivot and persevere in ways that other schools could not. That is not to say that I didn’t come back with lots of ideas and things to consider or try; my gears are definitely turning.

As for the future of educational technology, there are a lot of great things coming down the pike that may or may not make their way to CA. Regardless, I am excited at the prospects and can’t wait to share with our students and the rest of the CA community. For now, I will leave you with one of the showstoppers from the event . . . just picture it . . . holographic rooms. <mic drop>

Written by Karen McKenzie, Director of Technology and Innovation

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mission accomplished

Magazine of CA

Mission Accomplished

September 14, 2020

When reflecting on events of the last academic year, many well-worn phrases spring to mind. Unprecedented challenges. Uncharted territories. Unpredictable futures. Amidst so much uncertainty, however, an unwavering absolute: CA’s enduring resiliency, creativity, and commitment to our mission—to discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence—to each other, and our broader community.

Discovery

At CA, we teach our students to lean into discomfort. To look for the learning opportunities. To own and leverage their strengths. And to embrace challenge and adversity as an opportunity for further discovery, growth, and positive change. It is through this same introspective lens that we—as an institution and community—have approached the challenges presented by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Success in the face of the crisis—with its requisite shift to virtual teaching, learning, and working; a decrease in face-to-face instructional time; loss of in-person social interactions; and a heightened focus on wellness in all its forms—demanded new perspectives and insights into our traditional programming and curriculum. It led us more quickly down the path to creating the competency-based learning environment envisioned in our strategic plan.

“The need to pare down our curriculum to essential learning goals jump-started the process of establishing core competencies for our students in each content area. And the challenge of securely testing in a virtual environment led many teachers to experiment with more project-oriented ways for students to apply their learning and demonstrate their mastery,” points out Dean of Faculty Martina Greene. “Both represent major strides toward our strategic goal of transitioning from a content-driven to a skills-based approach, and that makes room for a lot more student voice and choice.”

Sheer necessity helped to cultivate an increased sense of flexibility, openness, and tolerance of change that would prove remarkably productive. Guided by our mission, we made fruitful discoveries—uncovering unique opportunities to advance our strategic plan further and benefit our students and community. What could have been a stagnant period became, instead, one of creative and lucrative experimentation, showing us new—perhaps even better—ways that we could teach, work and learn together.

“Change is only as difficult as you want it to be,” offers math department chair Craig Lazarski, reflecting on one of his key takeaways from the last year. “Often, we are paralyzed when thinking about what possible changes may do to our existing paradigm. This has taught us that we can try new things, to not be afraid of the unknown.”

Unfettered by conventional constraints and open to change, a laser-focused discovery process lent momentum and new urgency to a host of forward-thinking ideas—many of which had been long under consideration as part of our larger strategic plan. The later start times and new hybrid schedule that will debut in the fall are just two such examples of pivotal and promising changes on the horizon.

Designed to maximize student wellness, the new schedule reflects lessons learned from our pandemic experience and is informed by research around stress reduction and student wellness—including the importance of sleep and the need to ease cognitive load by reducing transitions and task switching throughout the day. Blending synchronous on-campus learning with asynchronous and synchronous off-campus virtual and experiential learning opportunities, the new schedule also offers a full “flex day” to provide students and teachers alike unscripted, dedicated time to pursue various projects.

“Our new weekly schedules in both divisions actually improve on our prior schedule and enhance opportunities for experiential learning,” enthuses Experiential Learning Director Michael McElreath. “The flex day and what it can do for teaching and learning at CA is huge—I can’t wait to see how we use it!”

zoom classroom

Innovation and collaboration

Innovation has always been at the heart of CA, denoting the vital role that technology plays in our learning community. Without question, our existing technological infrastructure and fluency played an integral part in our successful virtual pivot.

Information Services agilely launched a new institutional platform for teleconferencing—Zoom—that would be instrumental in our virtual learning efforts, while simultaneously grappling with heightened demands around online security and access. Students and faculty alike experimented with transformative new digital tools like Flipgrid. And faculty delved into the advanced features of OneNote and Microsoft Teams to find the best ways to engage students, foster personal interaction and connection, and provide feedback online.

While crucial, CA’s pandemic innovation did not start and end with technological implementation, however. Rather, it was the driving force behind a highly collaborative effort to create an engaging curriculum that sought to translate all aspects of a well-rounded CA experience into an engaging virtual one.

Recreating advisory programming and student club experiences. Organizing virtual field trips, guest speakers, and online cultural exchanges with students from across the world. Improvising makeshift sporting equipment to create agility and obstacle courses at home for PE classes. Figuring out how to design art projects around the unconventional and natural materials students might have at home. Devising socially-distant ways to support student emotional and physical health (Zoom yoga, anyone?). Honoring important milestones with meaningful and heartfelt digital celebrations. And countless other examples—far too many to list here—illustrate the many ways our community rose to the occasion with bold, outside-of-the-box thinking and adjusted on the fly with remarkable resilience and good humor.

Despite these numerous virtual “wins,” we developed a more profound appreciation of the in-person relationships that form the heart of our community—and which ultimately grounded and facilitated our virtual efforts. However, the crisis also demonstrated that our bonds are strong enough to sustain us while we are physically apart.

“The bonds we formed with our students allow us not just to persevere, but to flourish when we are only together on computer screens,” offers Upper School science department chair, Heidi Maloy.

innovation and collaboration

Whether Zooming in for community lunches with leadership, participating in a virtual alumni meetup, getting the family out for the first-ever virtual 5K, or donning Charger gear for online Spirit Week, innovative virtual community-building efforts helped to nurture that important sense of connection.

And, as is the CA way, our innovative and collaborative energies did not end at our virtual campus. They were also channeled into helping others, particularly as the virus lay bare the stark inequities, heightened needs, and challenges facing our broader community.

Prohibited from in-person service-learning opportunities, Delta Service Club—the Upper School’s service-learning club—collaborated to compile a list of socially-distant ways to make a difference (https://bit.ly/DeltaServiceClub). Using CA’s 3D printers, Middle School math teacher Leslie Williams partnered with North Carolina State University to print much-needed, FDA-approved personal protective equipment (with many others in the CA community following suit). And stories shared by alums highlighted the many ways Chargers collaborate and innovate for the greater good even after they leave campus—from working on the frontlines of the crisis to launching fundraising campaigns to support their community to developing new technologies that address COVID-related challenges.

Excellence

While we can say that our experimental virtual pivot was a success, our enduring commitment to excellence demands that we not rest on our laurels. Instead, we continue to push the envelope, to strive for improvement and growth, and to flex further to meet our students’ needs.

That’s why, this summer, our hard-working faculty dedicated three weeks of their well-deserved vacation to intensively redesign their curricula for a hybrid approach to course delivery, building a strong digital core that serves as a virtual home base for learning, whether students are on-campus or off. Developed using the same design thinking approach we teach our students, the digital core incorporates lessons learned and newly-discovered best practices gleaned from recent months. It is designed to offer all CA students a high-quality virtual learning environment that complements our physical learning environment and reflects the academic rigor, innovation, and holistic, personalized, relevant learning for which CA is known.

Earth Day Week art project

Our commitment to excellence also demands ongoing efforts to evolve into the best versions of ourselves individually, as well as the best version of our community. In the face of adversity and undeniable evidence of the division and inequities within our broader community—it demands we find ways to work across differences, to work for equity, and to support each other and our broader community with inclusivity, empathy, and kindness.

To that end, over the next year, we will also be actively engaging in ongoing anti-racist and equity work as a community. Together, we will work to ensure all members of our community feel valued and known for who they are, and can fully participate, lend their voice, and be heard with respect and compassion.

As we prepare to welcome students back to campus and attempt to plan for the unknowns of the next year, we rest assured not only in the lessons learned from recent months, but in those reaped from a twenty-four-year tradition of discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence. We are well-prepared for the challenging opportunities that lie ahead. And, with clarity of vision, mission, and values, we will continue to learn, grow, persevere, and thrive, together, no matter what 2020-2021 brings.


CA FUND KEEPS D.I.C.E. ROLLING DURING T3

Our commitment to discovery, innovation, and collaboration in the pursuit of excellence never wavered during the spring trimester. Our ability to lean productively into our mission and find success was made possible, in large part, by the generosity of our community and the unrestricted resources of the CA Fund.

Flexible CA Fund dollars granted us the freedom to think creatively and outside of the box while still preserving CA’s fiscal health during these unforeseen circumstances. It allowed us to seek out, unhindered, the most innovative and student-centric solutions to challenges wrought by the pandemic.

As a result, we were able to seek out the best technological and digital tools to foster secure, easy collaboration—whether advancing group projects, sketching out curriculum, hearing from the Head of School, or participating in a virtual variety show. And support a technological upgrade for Berger Hall that allowed us to better live stream events, such as Baccalaureate and the Upper School End-of-Year Awards, to your phones, laptops, and tablets.

The CA Fund supported our community by protecting our faculty and staff’s job security, alleviating stress, and allowing for unwavering focus. It allowed us to launch a new program—the CA Emergency Tuition Assistance Program— to provide financial support to those families that were negatively impacted by the crisis.

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Cary Academy homepage on a laptop

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Design thinking: the story behind our new digital home

April 23, 2020

A little over a year after we officially kicked-off our website redesign project, last week the communications team was proud to announce the launch of the new caryacademy.org.  

A long time in the making, this monumental project is more than just a visual upgrade. It represents a complete reconceptualization of the site—from function to architecture, content to design.   

Throughout this process, every new objective presented its own set of design and content challenges. And I thought I would take this opportunity to walk you through how we have approached a few of them. 

At the top of the list? The decision to shift our digital presence to serve primarily prospective students and their families, and prospective employees. (This, of course, was undertaken alongside a concurrent effort to shift communication for current families to Blackbaud).  

This new strategy begged the question: how do we appeal, specifically, to those potential students, families, and employees that would embrace our mission, learning philosophies, and community values? Those that would be excited to contribute their unique voices and perspectives to our community? How can we help them to really “get” CA? To see themselves here? 

Our answer lies, in part, in our how we tell our story.  

You might notice that the new site is written in a singular voice that addresses our prospective students directly. This was a purposeful, strategic choice. 

Community is important here. Personalized learning is important here. Student choice and agency are important here. We wanted to start that relationship-building and model that personalized interaction—that we see and treat each student as an individual—from the very first digital interaction.  

We wanted to underscore that students at CA “own their learning.” And what better way to start than by putting prospective students in the driver’s seat to make their school choice?  

The tone of the content is markedly different from our old site. It is meant to be more informal, playful, at times unexpected, even provocative.  

Heavy use of photography throughout aims to make an emotional connection and helps to visualize a CA experience—one that extends outside of the classroom to include ample experiential, community, and extracurricular offerings.  

Our aim with all these changes is to empower, inspire curiosity, invite discovery, and to underscore that we are an inclusive, accessible, and approachable community. One where there is joy, playfulness, and camaraderie. Yes, we work hard and are committed to excellence, but we have fun doing it. CA is not, in fact, where fun goes to die.  

On the visual design front, it was important to bring the site’s visual identity in line with our core values. To balance “serious, respected educational institution” with “ground-breaking, envelope-pushing, risk-taking learning visionaries.”  

We’ve walked this line with a traditional navigational structure and site architecture juxtaposed against clean page designs, hero imagery, layered animations, and video integrations that are in line with contemporary, future-oriented design trends that are more suggestive of a start-up aesthetic than a school. And we’ve designed the site from a mobile-first perspective. Entirely responsive, it was designed to be useable and appear beautiful first on your cell phone, then on your tablet, and finally on your laptop or desktop.   

In a landscape where some of our key mission words are often bandied about as education buzzwords, it was important to illustrate our mission and strategic plan through robust storytelling efforts. To demonstrate just what we mean when we talk about discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence. We wanted to be clear that, at CA, our commitment to our mission isn’t just lip service but something that our employees and students live and breathe daily.  

To that end, on key pages throughout the site you will find filtered news and stories feeds that put the “proof of concept”—those stories that illustrate out mission and values in real terms—next to higher-level descriptive text. This dovetails with a broader storytelling strategy that will keep this content fresh and relevant week after week, encouraging return visits and demonstrating the dynamism of our community. 

In addition, we’ve also developed a more robust news and stories section that allows you to explore CA through our various storytelling efforts. This section can be filtered and searched based on your interests. Over time, it will only continue to grow, becoming a rich community resource.   

As a relative newcomer to CA, this process has afforded me a wonderful opportunity to get to know our community in a multitude of ways and on a deeper level. And I’m grateful for it.  

I’ve learned more about our academic departments as I’ve crafted new text for each of them. I’ve had to dig into our learning philosophy and the principles that guide our mission to be able to accurately capture and reflect them. And I’ve had the opportunity throughout this process to get to know many of you through various formal and informal conversations that have informed the work you see now.  

As with all things CA, this was a highly collaborative effort. And I’d like to extend a special thanks to everyone that helped to contribute to this project, from those that participated in early stakeholder groups, to those that reviewed text, to those that provided their quotes and photos, to my team, your contributions were instrumental in laying the foundation for the project and helping to advance it.  

Thank you! 

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Leslie Williams teaches EdTech to Middle School students

Faculty Reflections

Teaching with tech

April 20, 2020

Though innovation and technology are often used interchangeably when talking about education, at CA, educational technology—EdTech, for short—is one of many tools that our faculty use to create personalized learning opportunities that are flexible and relevant.

In the Middle School, Technology Facilitator Chair and math teacher Leslie Williams works hand-in-hand with Information Services to help lead the charge to bring innovative tools to our Middle School classrooms—teaching students and colleagues alike. Be it Minecraft, augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR), or computer-aided design and 3D printing, this technology lends itself to deeper learning and retention, while encouraging students to develop crucial skills that they will use throughout their lives.

We recently had an opportunity to sit down with Ms. Williams to talk about the role and impact of EdTech at CA.

How does EdTech help CA deliver on its mission?

Technology allows me to tailor the way I teach to the different ways my students learn. And it gives me some much-needed flexibility in their assessment, a different approach to see if and how they are mastering the material.

I’m always amazed to see those kids—the ones who are a little bit quiet—come out of their shells when they are designing in TinkerCad, learning in Minecraft, or exploring with augmented reality. EdTech allows them to tap into their tech interests and skills to really show off what they can do—what they are learning—in ways that play to their strengths.

It allows them to show me that they’ve attained mastery of a subject in a way that would likely be overlooked if I were to just say, ‘tell me the answer out of the book,’ ‘do a problem on the board,’ or ‘write out the essay.’ In CA-speak, it empowers them to “own their learning” in transformative ways.

What’s one of your favorite EdTech approaches?

In my classroom, I like to use gaming. It engages kids and gives them instant positive reinforcement. Each time they demonstrate mastery of a topic, they earn virtual currency that they can use to buy prizes. All of this gets them very excited about learning.

Many of us use actual video games catered to education in their classrooms—Minecraft and Prodigy are fantastic examples. With Minecraft for education, kids build entire worlds from books they are reading; it lets them visualize geometry and even study chemistry. Prodigy allows students to review and learn math in a collaborative gaming environment much like Pokemon, which is familiar to students.

What sort of skills are you promoting via EdTech in the classroom?

I think EdTech gives us more robust, immersive ways to increase student mastery and nurture crucial soft skills. As a math teacher, I can use it to hone spatial skills in a way that working geometry problems on paper or the board simply can’t.

Take, for example, our implementation of TinkerCad. In sixth grade, students learn about spatial thinking and the ins and outs of using TinkerCAD; in seventh grade, they use these skills to solve problems by creating virtual objects that they then print. That’s a real-world application of mathematical concepts—and it leads to a deeper understanding.

Leslie Williams
Leslie Williams

EdTech also allows us to incorporate design-thinking into the classroom in meaningful ways. Students design products to solve real-world challenges, print them, test them, refine them, and try again. They have to keep working toward a better solution, rather than simply completing a project and moving onto the next without really learning whether it worked or not. And that nurtures crucial skills like risk-taking, resilience, and perseverance. These lessons are echoed not only in my classroom but throughout the Middle School.

Beyond improving spatial and design-thinking skills, our students are also developing an important digital literacy: the ability to use a CAD program. And that will serve them in the Upper School and beyond. It’s a win on multiple fronts.

How are you using virtual reality (VR) in the classroom?

We’ve been using virtual reality in the Middle School for some time now, across the curriculum and disciplines, and we’re widening its use.

In the sixth grade, social studies teachers Katie Levinthal and Matthew Ripley-Moffitt use VR to help students explore the Indian subcontinent in their world history classes. That’s one of the most common uses of VR—going somewhere that’s difficult to visit. Lucy Dawson and Alicia Morris use it similarly, for the seventh grade’s world history of empires. They visit places like Machu Picchu, France, Spain, and England.

The eighth-grade science classes use VR and AR to study human anatomy; both allow students to move around inside the body, study the different parts of the heart, and even simulate surgery.

All of this allows us to take textbook information and make it come to life in a way that’s exciting, fun, and memorable for the kids.

What is something on the horizon that excites you?

I’m currently working with language arts teachers Katie Taylor and Katie Levinthal to use augmented reality (AR) to teach the sixth grade’s new book, The Wizard of Earthsea.

AR uses “triggers”—real-world objects, images, or QR codes that serve as links to virtual content when viewed through an app—to augment, rather than replace, the real world. I’m really excited. The students will build a map of the world in the story and then utilize triggers on the map to pull up additional materials that they develop. It might be pictures they create to tell parts of the story, narrative videos, or even locations and scenes that they recreate in storytelling platforms like Minecraft and Animaker.

There’s also a new tool called a MERGEcube that I’m particularly excited about. It is a six-sided QR code that allows you to interact with a virtual object in 3D space. These virtual objects could be anything from a model of the human heart to the Apollo Lunar Module. Because the cube has orientation—that is, each side of the cube has a unique QR code, so the app knows which way is up—students can move the modeled object in the real world, just as if they were holding the real thing. They can interact with the virtual model through their phone.

All of this enables our students to become hands-on with something that either doesn’t exist or that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to in the real world. It allows them to brainstorm, to think creatively, and creates opportunities for them to use storytelling to show us what they know.

EdTech Leadership Club

Thanks to a newly-formed club, students that are interested in technology will soon have an opportunity to step up as tech leaders within the Middle School. The EdTech Leadership Club (ETL) will provide additional leadership and technology training to students interested in EdTech.

Middle School students with Merge Cubes

Working at their own pace, club members will be tasked with mastering all the EdTech that CA has to offer and sharing that expertise back out to the community. As they master skills, students will earn micro-credentials that can be proudly displayed on student-designed wrist bands, necklaces, etc.. These signal to the community what tools club members can support, what skills they carry in their “virtual backpack.”

“As we so often to do at CA, with the ETL, we’re putting kids in the driver’s seat,” explains Williams. “The students will be responsible for learning all these different pieces of software and hardware­—truly playing to learn. Once credentialed, they will take those skills to the classroom, assisting with the deployment of technology and offering tech support services to their peers and teachers alike.”

By empowering students, Williams thinks the entire Middle School EdTech program will be strengthened, even expanded. “While I have a basic understanding of each software tool in their toolkit—I may not be an expert in all the finer intricacies of each of them. The kids, however, they live and breathe these new technologies. They become true experts—and they can also get their friends excited and engaged. By supporting their passions and empowering them as leaders, we increase the number of students that we can reach, the number of projects that we can support in the classroom.”

One of Williams’ priorities with the ETL is to ensure that its member composition reflects that of CA’s diverse student body. She hopes the club might spark interests in those students that might not typically consider themselves suited for STEM-related fields or those students, particularly girls, who often feel social pressure in Middle School to do things other than spend time on STEM activities.
At the end of the day, Williams’ goal with the ETL is to create savvy tech users—perhaps even tomorrow’s tech leaders—that are well-prepared to succeed in today’s technology-driven world. As she notes enthusiastically, “this sort of flexible learning gives those kids that might not otherwise have the opportunity in a more traditional setting, to step-up and thrive as leaders. It gives them meaningful opportunities to hone their leadership, technology, and communication skills to the benefit of our entire community.”

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Together… at a Distance

April 2, 2020

While weather conditions have provided the occasional opportunity to experiment with virtual learning days, those brief interludes of remote learning pale in comparison to the scope of our current enterprise.  It’s one thing to be closed for a few days during a snowstorm, and quite another to be shut down for weeks at a time in the midst of a global health crisis.

Cary Academy is fortunate to be entering into this unprecedented period of nationwide school closures with a distinct advantage when it comes to access to and comfort with technology.   Whether it’s working in a OneNote notebook, editing a shared document, contributing to a discussion board, using an online interface to practice a musical instrument or a second language, exploring a math concept with a digital visualization tool, generating an infographic, recording a podcast, producing a video, creating a digital slideshow, Skyping with an outside expert, or doing 10 minutes of Membean, our faculty and our students are already quite accustomed to using technology in many and varied ways to support learning and growth.

Normally, however, the robust program of technology-infused learning that is business-as-usual at Cary Academy would be embedded in a strong framework of daily in-person interactions.  How can we maintain that sense of human connection that is so critical to learning and wellbeing when everyone is suddenly working in isolation from home?    The challenge facing our school with the closure of our campus is arguably less about a shift to digital learning than a shift to distance learning.

Our first two weeks of virtual learning have been all about figuring out how best to bridge the distance that has become our new normal (at least for now) and continue to provide mission-centered learning experiences that include opportunities for social interaction and feedback.  Our general approach to virtual learning in this start-up phase has been to begin with the familiar, and then gradually phase in new procedures and tools, trying hard not to overwhelm anyone in the process.

As part of the transition to virtual learning, faculty and students have been learning to use two new platforms that support live communication in an online setting:  Microsoft Teams and Zoom Meetings.  The video conferencing, screensharing and chat features of these platforms are helping us to recreate the sense of in-person connection that is vital to student engagement.

While video conferencing is certainly an important new tool in our virtual learning toolkit, we are in no way looking to replicate our normal daily schedule as a series of video meetings.   Expecting teachers and students to stare at their screens in that way is neither healthy nor representative of the kind of active learning that students enjoy when school is in regular session.  Our virtual learning schedule is instead designed to provide time for a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities, with individual teachers balancing these two modes from week to week in a way that makes sense for the specific learning goals they have identified for their students.

Understandably, the main focus during our first two weeks of virtual learning has been upon getting our academic classes up and running.  The way faculty have jumped into the difficult work of relaunching their classes in the digital environment and creating a sense of connection for students, and the positive way students and parents have responded to these efforts, have been remarkable and inspiring.

The shift to online learning has, of course, required us to pare down our curriculum–focusing on our most essential learning objectives for students and adjusting our time and product expectations accordingly.  This is one of those occasions where less is more, and honing in on key concepts and skills will take us further than trying to pack everything we had planned for a regular trimester into our necessarily condensed virtual school schedule.

Happily, we have now reached a point in our virtual learning journey where we are ready to begin layering in additional opportunities for students to engage with their teachers and their peers.  We have built time into the schedule for advisory and for club meetings, and we are looking at other ways we might work with students and families to recapture a feeling of connectedness in the virtual realm.

At the same time, we are keenly aware that there is a learning curve for faculty in redesigning their classes for a virtual learning environment, and we have to give them the time they need to rethink their curricula and reshape their instructional strategies for the online setting.  We are equally mindful of the fact that we are all caught in a difficult situation right now, and there are limits to what we can reasonably ask of our employees and our families in the current climate of uncertainty and disruption.  Our virtual learning schedule reflects these considerations, as well.

Distance is a tough hurdle, made even tougher by the physical, emotional and financial stress that is all around us.  That said, if we all continue to approach our current situation with creativity, flexibility, and compassion for one another, we will have a spring trimester of virtual learning that we can all be proud of.

Written by Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty

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Putting the pieces together

February 20, 2020

I love putting things together; jigsaw puzzles and LEGO are some of my favorites. Seeing what the end should look like, following the directions, putting it together piece by piece – it always feels like a small accomplishment 

I find comfort in the process; there is a clearly labeled set path to follow and, barring any missing pieces, all should work out as expected. But others, like the Master Builder characters in the LEGO movies, see the possibilities beyond the prescribed plan, the possibilities in disruptive innovation. They use their imagination throughout, even quite purposefully breaking from an intended path. I envy those who live in the happy medium between the two 

The reality is, I grapple with this tension—the desire to create and adhere to a beautifully crafted plan and the reality of the flexibility and creativity required to successfully implement one in an imperfect world. To embrace disruptive innovation for a better result.  

As I have written in a previous post, the nature of technology alone forces me to be malleable in my daytoday work. I can envision a big picture, create a plan to achieve it, but I’m fully aware that there are going to be design revisions, change orders, and mistakes (learning opportunities?) made.  

Like the Master Builder, I have to be willing to break free of the directions, of a prescribed plan—to add elements, to shift course on the fly to fit my needs, to see a project through. (And, of course, that perseverance, flexibility, and resiliency are exactly the skills we hope to impart to our students.) 

Over the past few years, Cary Academy has been working to achieve the four main goals set forth by our current strategic plan: institutional flexibility, authentic engagement, strong connections, and appropriate resources.  

It is a large puzzle. And one that I’ve been thinking about a lot—about how best to support it and how to make it come to life in our spaces and systems.  And, like a puzzle, the whole picture is sometimes hard to envision as you are working it, but, any one piece, when newly put into place, might be the one that starts to bring it into clearer view. 

When Dr. Ehrhardt talks about making learning visible or creating institutional flexibility, I can imagine some of the things he describes – glass walls, moveable furniture, and the like. What I also imagine, though, are the more obscure pieces to the bigger puzzle. 

Some pieces are straightforward and tangible: where should a display and electrical power go if all the walls are glass? Does the network have a strong enough Wi-Fi signal for all the flexible learning spaces?  

Other puzzle pieces are not quite as easy to imagine.   

Institutional flexibility isn’t just about having different types of spaces or a new class schedule. It’s also about having the correct systems in place to support learning initiatives, to allow for as much flexibility as possible.  

Our continued integration of the Blackbaud Education Management System is just one example of a system that allows for institutional flexibility. It represents several pieces of the strategic puzzle. And, while not perfect at this stage, I see how when it is fully implemented it will connect many of our goals together.  

The renovation of the Library and Information Services department are two newly connected pieces to the puzzle that have started to bring the full picture more clearly into view.  

Creating more workspaces for students to work collaboratively or quietly. Relocating the school store Converting the second-floor classroom into another flex space. These are obvious ties back to the strategic plan. The renovation of the Information Services department was an equally thoughtful operationalization of the strategic plan, but it is perhaps a less obvious one 

In addition to renovating the offices, the entire department has been reconfigured with the strategic plan in mind.  

A flexible and visible classroom space was created to house computer science classes, host small events, and provide a space for professional development and training opportunities. A space has been created for future Computer and Network Essentials (CANE) students to provide walk-in support to other students and members of our community allowing for authentic engagement. Right-sizing the data center allowed the department to reclaim much-needed space that houses a flexible workroom for the department to host meetings with vendors, configure new equipment, and potentially be used as another learning space.  

Collectively these projects have been our Master Builder project, creating a set of flexible spaces that meet the needs of a support center, a classroom, and department offices. More importantly, it’s a new, open, visible space that allows for my department members and I to model aspects of the strategic plan with the hope of helping others see the overall plan a little clearer.  

Written by Karen McKenzie, Director of Technology and Innovation

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