by Elizabeth F. Cleary, Dean of Academics and FacultyThis article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of Columns. Read the full issue here.
One of my favorite words, a word that I come back to often, is “metacognition,” or thinking about thinking. Since I arrived at MHS in July, I have been doing a lot of that, and, in the end, thinking about thinking is thinking about education.
During the last twenty years, deep shifts in education have asked educators to rethink not only how they teach, but also how students learn. Educators have been asked to reexamine once-standard pedagogy to explore new standards and new skills students need as they enter a rapidly changing landscape in higher education and in the workplace. These tectonic plate movements have been felt in schools across the country, and independent schools, in particular, are addressing these shifts by establishing new departments, teaching new types of courses, redefining skills for the 21st century, and reimagining the definition of the word “classroom” to include experiential and online learning. Departments now exist in Environmental Science and Sustainability, Academic Technology, and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics), and the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic have been expanded to include skills that address not only experiential and digital skills, but also interdisciplinary and student-centered learning. Even the traditional roles of “teacher” and “student” are being redefined as teachers curate material and collaborate with students and guide them to gain the skills to educate their teams. In a recent article on the education blog Mindshift, Katrina Schwartz addresses these new skills, claiming that forward-thinking educators now believe that, “A successful student should be able to manage massive amounts of information, a crucial skill as life becomes more digital. Students should learn to build and manipulate computers, not just use them. Perhaps most importantly, students should be taught how to learn, especially since the content or specific skills needed in the future are as yet unknown.”  Again, metacognition comes to mind.
What we know is that students at Miss Hall’s are already benefitting from these changes as the extraordinary faculty maintain the high standards of learning described in our mission
statement and launch new courses that challenge students in new ways. This year girls are enrolled in courses such as Digital Storytelling, Digital History, Be the Historian, Song Writing and Production, and independent studies in Physics and Greek (see the course catalog here
). Students are also reaping the benefits of faculty who have established interdisciplinary collaborations in History and Science, English and Horizons, and Horizons and Expressive Arts. Each of these courses asks students not only to delve deeply into a single subject, but also to explore the intersections between the disciplines. Other initiatives have begun as well, with twelve students taking online courses through the Online School for Girls
and the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth
, and nine students participating with our first Robotics Team. These initiatives encourage our students to think about thinking and learning in new ways and, in the case of Robotics, also bring skills from many disciplines into collaborative tasks. However, even as we consider changes in the landscape of our teaching, our physical landscape is changing as well, as the new academic building, Linn Hall, takes shape. This state-of-the-art building
will house our Math and Science departments and Horizons program and include an innovation lab to allow girls to integrate their learning into projects of their own design.
Even as our long-held traditions of Convocation, Ring Dinner, and others continue here at MHS, teaching and learning continue to evolve. As a new academic building is built, and as faculty explore new modes of teaching and learning, MHS is moving into a new era in its history, providing the essential skills it has instilled in students since 1898, while expanding its program to prepare Miss Hall’s students to navigate learning in the 21st century. At MHS these are exciting times to think about thinking.
 Schwartz, Katrina. “What Would Be a Radically Different Vision of School?” Mindshift. KQED, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2015