About C. Aiden Downey

Author Archive | C. Aiden Downey

Rewriting the Script of Schooling

Today I spent an hour at my daughter’s school watching five 5th grade classes do their orignal performances at an event titled “Expressions.”  For the last several weeks the students in each class have been spending their “specials” (meaning physical education, Spanish, music and art) on creating an original performance that incorporates these classes, which I think are called specials because they are not tested, which means they are nonessential.…

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Who We Are

Last week I was able to witness the students presenting their “Who Am I” Projects to their teachers and peers.   Students had been working on creating a past map and future map, and tasked with narrating the trajectory of their lives.  Standing in front of their new classmates, they told their stories, told who they are, who helped them get to where they are, and who they still hope to be.…

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How to Create Reform-Proof Schools

I have a friend who teaches AP Math courses at a good public high school here in Atlanta.   He has about fifteen years in the system and is, hands down, a good teacher.   I was talking to him last week about what has changed in his school over his time there, and he told me that it is getting harder to teach.…

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School > Learning

After a dramatically successful first year, the million-dollar question for the Sustainability Workshop is how to scale “up.”  Scale is something I have always struggled with as an educator, probably because I believe schools can scale their way right out of real learning.  Somewhere on the way up ‘school’ surpasses learning, with the result being an institution focused more on meeting its own needs instead of those of the students.…

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Oil Pans and Education

In a previous post, Simon Hauger summed up the first year of the Sustainability Workshop by telling the story of his adventures of changing an oil pan on Michael Clapper’s 2001 Jetta Wagon.  The whole project ended up being anything but straightforward, as Micael and Simon struggled to remove the bolts and then, after learning that there was a special tool for this, ended up making their own tool to put the bolts back in.…

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“I can’t ______________”

My 4-year old daughter can do anything.  She can fly, turn into a cat, sing, write a book, you name it she can do it.  Just ask her.  While she will admit to be working on a few things-she has put off poddy training until she is 5- she is quite forthcoming about being able to do just about everything.…

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Training Wheels

Last week my four year old daughter Maeve approached me about putting pedals on her run bike.  For those of you unfamiliar with run bikes, they are little bikes missing pedals that toddlers can push with their legs and learn to balance on.  When they get good, they can almost run on them.…

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If You Build It (With Them) They Will Come

I know I can speak for all of us in saying that starting a new school is a dream come true.  The idea that we could imagine a different kind of school and then make it a reality has still not fully sunk in.  Seeing students who were in elementary school when we first started thinking and working on the ideas behind the Sustainability Workshop walking through its doors sent shivers down my spine.  Here were twenty-nine young persons willing to take a chance on their senior year of high school and try our brand new program.  That takes courage.  It is also puts the pressure on us- and more specifically on Micheal and Simon, our two talented teachers- to “deliver.”

Here is where things get interesting.  Setting up a new school is a ton of work.  I am saying this mostly from the sidelines, from watching Simon and Micheal (along with Matt, Ann and others) log long hours dealing with the avalanche of things that must get done to set up and run a school.  I get lost in the logistics alone.  As they have told me more than once, one could spend one’s whole day and night on just the details, on just keeping the whole enterprise going.  When does one have time to teach?…

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I love to learn __________? (Fill in the blank)

Just the other day I heard it again- “I love to learn.”  Variations on it pepper my recent past, as students love to profess their love of learning to those tasked with teaching them.  Love of learning has become a personal trait of sorts, one that schools try to cultivate in students because it serves them well in school.…

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Making Brownies as High Stakes Testing

Reading the recent NY Times Editorial by Sol Garfinkel and David Mumford about how to fix math education, I was struck by the following line:

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