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  • May

    Faculty Pets & Their Humans: Life Lessons We Can Learn

    Abby adams
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  • April

    Navigating the Test Prep Landscape

    Rachel Petrella, Director of College Guidance
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  • 5 ways summer camp can keep your child learning

    Ellen Wright, Communications Associate
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  • March

    College Wise: How to be the best college applicant you can be - starting well before you apply

    Rachel Petrella, Director of College Guidance
    The concept of a ”best fit” college search is one that most families are familiar with, but what that really means can often be difficult for them to define. Based on our experience guiding students through the college process, we have come to learn that understanding fit is a deep and iterative enterprise that not only yields a good list of colleges to apply to, but more importantly, creates a strong and compelling candidate who will thrive in college. In a nutshell, understanding fit depends on understanding yourself.
    At Pacific Ridge, we guide students toward this objective starting in 9th grade, because self-discovery happens over time. The most successful students we see in our office are those who have focused on understanding themselves and exploring what high school has to offer, rather than worrying about what colleges want from them. Our advice to students can be summed up in three maxims: Know Yourself, Challenge Yourself and Trust Yourself.
    Know yourself.
    Most parents can agree that their 9th grader doesn’t have the self-knowledge to discern which colleges would be right for them. The primary message we give freshmen when we meet with them is to engage in the high school years as a way to learn about themselves.
    Building self-knowledge is an incremental process and is not work someone else can do for you. You might not even realize when it is happening. Knowing yourself takes time, but is essential to developing the personal priorities that eventually guide a healthy college search.
    We encourage students to explore classes and programs, listen to what other students are doing and talk to their teachers. In a small environment like Pacific Ridge, teachers know their students well and notice what topics interest them. Active participation in service learning, signature projects and clubs can also help students learn what they enjoy, such as entrepreneurship, research or public service.
    Colleges are looking for qualified applicants for their programs who show true intellectual curiosity and are pursuing true interests. The irony is that many of the things students are persuaded they should focus on to get into a good college  – specializing in one thing or being a Jack of all trades -- can make their application look like everyone else’s. Rather, colleges are looking for students who can speak authentically about meaningful and impactful experiences,which inform their interests and future goals.
    Challenge Yourself.
    Colleges like to see candidates who challenge themselves. As we tell our students however, challenge is most meaningful when it is personal.
    What challenges you should be different from what challenges the person next to you, and doesn’t mean taking the hardest classes no matter what. Challenging yourself to rigor is important, but showing an authentic love of learning is what makes students stand out beyond what can be tallied in APs or specific kinds of courses. Build yourself as a student as if nobody’s keeping score. It’s about YOU. What interests you?
    As for co-curriculars, Pacific Ridge gives you almost endless opportunities to develop your interests and challenge yourself outside of class. Your emerging interests can guide the challenges you choose. Be willing to explore – it’s not a failure if you peel off from things. Learning you don’t like something is just as valuable as discovering something you like. Once you find something that resonates with you, consider digging deeper by starting a service project or forming a new club around that interest.

    Trust Yourself.
    Becoming self-aware and building a personal filter helps you figure out the information you need vs. the information you don’t need. The challenge for students and parents is: How to turn down the “noise” of the college universe? Misguided messages of “to get into a good college you need to do this, or you are behind if you haven’t done that,” are so pervasive, the noise can be convincing.
    Trusting their children to lead the process can also be difficult for parents. In keeping with the “purposeful life” pillar of Pacific Ridge’s mission, students who take the lead in building their high school experience are equipped to lead their college process with parents in an important supporting role. We rely on our partnership with parents, who obviously know their children best, to encourage an ongoing conversation at home like we have at school. Understanding what they are thinking and routinely checking in to keep things moving along are ways to buffer the outside noise.  
    In addition, parents can keep children on the path of self-discovery and avoid undue anxiety by focusing on some important questions. What do they really want from the college experience? What would make college a personally satisfying and enriching journey? It might be that the answers to these questions won’t align with the schools you see as desirable according to external college rankings; listen to that difference. It is your inner work as a family, not the outside noise, that will lead your child to the right place.
    The most important part of the college process happens after parents deliver their child to campus, help set up their dorm room and say goodbye. Students who understand that preparing for college is a holistic and introspective experience will be off to an excellent start, no matter where they earn their degree.
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  • Scientific Progress: Envisioning a Dream Curriculum

    Abby Adams, Communications Manager
    Science teachers are a passionate bunch. They are also curious and persistent problem solvers.

    So, when Dr. Ogle challenged the science department last year to bring more computer science into the curriculum, teachers jumped at the chance to reimagine the science program.

    “We’ve had programming and engineering in our curriculum for some time through middle school and upper school STEAM classes, upper school electives and activities teachers build into their lessons,” noted Science Department Coordinator Todd Burckin.

    “However, Dr. Ogle’s request prompted us think bigger and re-envision our whole science program, especially in regard to the interconnectedness of science disciplines, which is very exciting.”

    Like good scientists, they immediately rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

    “Our program has plenty of opportunities for engineering and computer science, but in large part they are classes students opt into,” said Brooks Park, who teaches physics and coordinates the school’s Instructional Technology program.

    “We observed that this structure has mostly drawn students who already know they have an interest. Since coding is becoming a basic literacy and the problem-solving skills promoted by engineering are equally valuable, we want all of our students to get a foundational experience with them,” he added.

    Initial research introduced the teachers to Project GUTS (Growing Up Thinking Scientifically). Developed by MIT and Code.org, Project GUTS integrates computer science into classrooms through computer modeling and simulation. Among its stable of terrific tools is Starlogo Nova, which combines a programming language with a powerful simulation engine and 3D renderer. Teachers immediately saw Starlogo’s potential as a multi-grade teaching device starting in 7th grade.  

    Further explorations included an in-depth analysis of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Launched by the National Academy of Sciences, NGSS focuses on science and engineering practices and emphasizes the interrelationships between the four domains of science: Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering Design. Pacific Ridge’s existing science program shares the NGSS philosophy, and teachers were eager to see how the best parts of the NGSS framework could augment the new curriculum.

    Plans include expanding the inquiry and project-based parts of the program and shifting to a more interdisciplinary form of study. This means that students will encounter multiple science disciplines in each grade, 7-10, rather than just one each year, as is typically taught. This interdisciplinary approach to science allows students to analyze and design solutions for complex, real-world problems while building a more robust appreciation for and understanding of the interconnectedness of science.

    When asked to speculate upon the increased benefits the redesigned curriculum, Dr. Burckin’s team reels off an impressive list: solid exposure to computer science as a problem-solving tool, increased familiarity with science and engineering practices, understanding the interdisciplinary nature of real-life science, increased design and problem-solving skills, and better-equipped to make choices about higher-level science classes and future college and career paths.

    “One of the best aspects of the new curriculum is how iterative it is,” said Mr. Park. ”Since the computer science and engineering concepts are embedded in the curriculum, students will get continuous exposure to them, rather than learning them in an isolated environment.”

    After considerable planning over the spring and summer, the 7th-grade science teachers rolled out the new curriculum, replacing the Life Science syllabus with more interdisciplinary content. Eighth-grade science is transitioning from Conceptual Physics to Phenomenon-Based Science this year, with the fully adjusted, interdisciplinary curriculum launching next year. Plans for 9th and 10th-grade are underway.

    Some examples of new curricular projects include:

    • Seventh graders started their year building solar cars. The hands-on project involved researching, designing and constructing prototypes, racing them, analyzing their performance and making improvements.

    • Seventh graders also deepened their understanding of epidemic disease outbreaks using Starlogo to simulate the spread of SARS, malaria and other contagious illnesses by programming varied conditions into Starlogo’s simulator.

    • Eighth graders brought new learning to their annual Rube Goldberg projects by initially designing and troubleshooting them in a CAD program called Algodoo. The finished machines were tasked with running a marble through several physics-based chain reactions timed to hit a moving target.

    Students are taking to the new curriculum enthusiastically, and teachers have noticed an increased interest in programming already.

    “It has surprised me who has latched onto Algodoo and really run with it,” noted Mr. Park about the Rube Goldberg project.

    According to Dr. Burckin, the program is already showing value in another way.

    “Creating more room for students to practice pushing themselves, to imagine, design, try and fail, and take risks has benefits beyond the science lab. It makes them better problem solvers and less afraid to try something new even though it might not work. That's real science.”
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  • How your teen can stay productive during the summer months

    Emily Moscol, Associate Director of College Guidance
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  • February

    Be Bold: Fostering Intellectual Courage in Today's Students

    Dr. Bob Ogle
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  • Exercise and Adolescents: 5 Reasons Why It’s So Important

    Erik Johnson, Nakoa Performance Coaching Director, Pacific Ridge Head Strength Coach
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  • January

    Myth Busting with College Guidance

    College Guidance Team
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  • Quiet Students in the Harkness Classroom

    Liz Grossman
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