Tuesday, November 15, 2016

One in three women. One in four men.

Last month, several Peddie students and faculty traveled to the New York Jets Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park, N.J. to attend the One Love Escalation Workshop. The One Love Foundation works with young people across the country to raise awareness about relationship violence. The group met hosts Mike Maccagnan ’85, general manager of the New York Jets, and his wife, Betty. Here, Elle Grant ’18 shares her experience.

Going into this experience I had few expectations and truthfully no idea what was really going to happen. I figured visiting the New York Jets business and practice facility for this One Love event would be an interesting story to tell my football fan brother (the football part) and give myself a little more awareness (the foundation part). I in no way expected to be presented with the incredible opportunity I received that evening.

I was part of a group of several Peddie students who were invited to view the film “Escalation” created by the One Love Foundation and then partake in discussions with other student athletes. The One Love Foundation was founded in memory of Yeardley Love, a victim of domestic violence who was beaten to death by her boyfriend just three weeks shy of her graduation. The foundation helps students recognize the warning signs of abuse.

The One Love Foundation was founded in memory of Yeardley Love. Photo: joinonelove.org
I’ll be honest, viewing the 38-minute film was hard at times, and there are moments that were undoubtedly difficult to watch, perhaps because of their undeniable realness. Ms. Maccagnan informed us before we started watching that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 4-7 boys are faced with symptoms of an abusive relationship in their lifetimes. The age group of 16-24 is the most at risk for an abusive relationship. We wondered: could anyone we know be affected?

At the incredible workshop after the film, students and a college-aged moderator got to go through the film and asked the harder questions about consent, the impact of alcohol and other relationship gray areas. Lots of different people asked questions and contributed to the discussion, and the participation of boys and girls was equal. There is such a stigma about boys and relationship violence and I felt it was really great to see how seriously they took the workshop, giving insight and asking questions.

The program was excellent with a message that truly has life or death implications. As someone who has witnessed relationship violence in friends and family, I can testify firsthand what this kind of manipulation and violence can do to a person. One Love Foundation also emphasizes healthy relationships and their message left us all feeling positive and hopeful about the change we can impact. Not sad about the lives we’ve lost, but empowered by the ones we know we can help, which is really powerful.

I know that the other five students and I who attended the workshop are incredibly motivated and moved to help raise awareness about why this program is so important. All of us will be touched by violence in some way and helping students to know ways and strategies to deal with it when they do is vital.

I am so grateful for this opportunity, to the One Love Foundation and to Mr. and Mrs. Maccagnan for giving all of us the chance to see their facility and be exposed to a great cause. Six of our students have been changed; I feel that the rest of the student body deserves that chance as well.

For more information on how Mike '85 and Betty Maccagnan became involved with the One Love Foundation, read here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"I just ran."

Elizabeth "Scout" Zabinski '16 placed first in the 18-19 year-old age category in the New York City Marathon. Her training began at Peddie over a year ago, she said, and the result was "pure ecstasy." She shared her motivation, her strategy and her emotions with us.

I went into the marathon without any goal time in mind. Instead of attempting to run the race in under four hours, I truly just had my heart set on finishing. This would be my first marathon and my father's last.

I had been running constantly since the spring of 2015 without rest, including cross country and both winter and spring track. However, my official marathon training began in June of 2016. Each week I ran one long run, which began at about 9 or 10 miles. Then, I would run the remaining 5 days and cross train one day. I was not one to take a day off. In August the long runs began to grow. By the end of my summer, my longest run was 12 miles. My mom would often ride her bike along side me to entertain me and keep me company as I ran throughout my beach town.

When I got to NYU, I was on my own with training. I continued to run one long run per week. This took up a lot of my time. I ran two 13 miles runs, then 14, 15, and so on until I finally made it to 20 miles. After my 20 mile run, I began to taper because the race was only two and a half weeks away. The training was, without a doubt, the hardest part. I had no one to push me and make me run faster, so I often ran 10 minute mile splits.

Somehow, the day came and I did something I didn't think possible. I pushed myself the entire race but did not keep track of my time or wear a watch. I just ran. For the last 3 miles I put everything into it and just wanted to finish as fast as possible. It was the best day of my life. The crowd gave me more adrenaline than I could ever put into words. In Brooklyn, people gave me candies and fruit and the volunteers supplied us with sugary gatorade at every mile. I never stopped, not once.

I broke into tears once I finished, from pure ecstasy. It was an unimaginable accomplishment for me and I had exceeded any expectations I could have dreamt of for myself. I really love running, not for the competition, but for the joy that it brings when you complete a feat you never think your body is capable of. 

I truly can not comprehend how I won my age group. I am blessed to have trained with Mr. Bright and Mr. Gartner who taught me grit and determination. Remembering their words and lessons, I reminded myself the entire race not to slow down but to just deal with the pain and exhaustion when it comes. I knew that at that moment I would have the spectators and my endurance to help me finish.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Choose your costume well - always be a Falcon

Mike Cummins ’04 has devoted his professional life to supporting children in underserved communities. Following graduation from Brown University in 2008, Cummins spent five years in the Mississippi Delta with Teach For America and the KIPP Foundation. Most recently, he served as principal at Coney Island Prep High School in Brooklyn. At present, Cummins is a teacher at Brownsville Collegiate, an urban public charter school in New York City managed by Uncommon Schools.

At Peddie, Cummins was a standout on the lacrosse team. He was a rising freshman star on the undefeated 2001 team, which was inducted into the Peddie Sports Hall of Fame in June. Cummins continued his lacrosse career at Brown, where he was recognized for his passion and commitment on the practice field and on game day.

He returned to Peddie to deliver this Chapel talk and to pose three challenges to students.

Implicit….is the understanding that we are not masters of our fate, and the seasons and movements of life are often beyond us. Those close to nature, like that fast disappearing breed – the farmer – have always known that winds and storms, droughts and plagues, visit us – but also depart. It is for the farmers to cope with nature by understanding it as best they can, by cooperating with its seasons and forces. They do not make their crops grow; they understand and cooperate with the natural life that enables them to grow.
Problems with ourselves and with our children that appear unsolvable will not be solved by us alone – if, indeed they are solved. Rather they must be seen as being a part of a rhythm, a movement, and inscrutable order of life. Some problems we can help to solve, but only if we have the love, wisdom, and humility to cooperate with nature and its seasons, if we do not try to play God. Let us lay aside our frenetic worries and anxieties; let us relax and seek to cooperate with forces beyond our understanding.

This reading was originally delivered to a school community in the year 1970 by a man named Charles Martin. Charles Martin replaced Peter Quinn’s father as Headmaster of St. Albans.

Like Peddie, St. Albans is a community near to my heart. During my lacrosse-playing days at Brown University, I had five teammates who hailed from the all-boys school in Washington DC. If we are to judge schools by the quality of their alumni, St. Albans shines as a paragon of integrity, effort and accomplishment. I am sure your future classmates, teammates and colleagues will be left with an equally favorable impression of Peddie based on their time working alongside you.

I want to begin by telling you about a man named Steve Collis. I was blessed to play four years of varsity soccer for Steve.

Steve was about as un-Prep School looking as it gets. He had a personal uniform of sorts  a grey Peddie t-shirt beneath a whistle and plain, cotton gym shorts atop mid-calf white socks and black Reebok low-tops. While occasionally he’d slip a Peddie issued jacket overtop his t-shirt, he wore those cotton gym shorts in even the coldest of weather.
He spent his days working "in the cage" at the Athletic Center, and at the halftime of home soccer games he’d ride his yellow Falcon golf cart the 50 or so yards from our sideline to what was then the science center, all so he could sneak behind the fence for a cigarette and to relieve himself. Somehow my mom never failed to noticed that trip!

It would be easy for a newcomer or an outsider to question Steve’s place as a pillar of our community. They would be wrong to do so.

Like so many of our faculty, Steve poured out love, and wisdom, and humility to the kids in his care. Day in and day out, year after year.

Every Blair Week, Steve would share his love, and wisdom, and humility with us in the form of a "Falcon Talk." After a fall of cajoling and begging and pleading, Steve would finally prepare one of his grand oratories for our team. His "Falcon Talks" often featured his players as birds, took the form of fables, and always left us doubled over in laughter. Nobody could take a dig at his guys quite like Steve.

I wasn’t a party to Steve’s ultimate "Falcon Talk" – it took place four years after I graduated – but I have had the story passed to me second hand from those who were there, and I’d like to share it with you now.

It was November of 2007 and Blair Day was taking place up north, in those barren hinterlands known as Blairstown.

At the final practice on Friday, Steve brought his guys together. Steve’s friend – a longtime Falcon supporter – would be making the trip to Blairstown with the team. Steve told his players that his buddy was dying of cancer and that he was was hoping to see one last Falcon victory as he fought the disease.

Steve’s buddy rode up with the squad that Saturday morning and twenty or so boys felt the pressure to produce.

The game close was close and hard fought – an overtime contest that we would squeak out two to one. In the jubilant celebration that followed, the players ran up to Steve shouting, "We did it! We won the game for your friend!"

Steve cracked a sly grin and laughed, "Ha, made it all up. He’s just my buddy from Nottingham Tavern."

In Charles Martin’s words, "Those close to nature, like that fast disappearing breed – the farmer – have always known that winds and storms, droughts and plagues visit us – but also depart."

Thankfully for you – like for me – it is not just the work of farmers that produces such wisdom and perspective, but also the work of teachers, coaches, and advisors. As they know best, “We finish our labors to begin them anew."

Steve is not around for me thank today, but many of my former teachers are. When I think of Peddie, it is these superheroes who come to mind first.

Some wield the superpower of irreverent humor, as Steve Collis did and I’m sure Doc Martin still does – a humor so potent and applicable you couldn’t help but forget about your troubles when in their presence.

Amongst the Peddie faculty, these superpowers have always been as diverse as they are awesome. Think of Harry Holcomb’s generosity of spirit (even brighter than his shirt) or the way you can catch intellectual curiosity simply walking by Mr. Clements.

You are blessed to have such a caring, committed, and talented group of adults to shepherd you through your high school years. But you know this. You also know that you are blessed to be amongst a student body that has been so carefully culled for talent, ambition, empathy, tolerance, and the like. If you are like me, you are already in awe of the Peddie community, and you will remain that way throughout your adult life.

And so… I’d like to close here today with three challenges for your remaining time at Peddie.

  1. Squeeze it. Make the most of it. Add one habit to your weekly routine that will have you more deeply participating in this community than you already do. Want some ideas? If you board, start waking up at 6 a.m. and take advantage of these world class athletic facilities a bit more than you already do. If you’re a day student, make plans to join a family style table. There are countless ways for you to engage more with our community. Squeeze as many as you can. You will never regret your decision.
    Cummins shared lunch and conversation with students
    following his Chapel talk.
  2. Share your gratitude. This does not have to come in the form of a Chapel Talk. We know how much you appreciate being here and all of the great people that you surrounded by. Set aside more time and energy to tell these people why you are thankful for them. You will fill your own heart with love even quicker than you fill the hearts of those around you.
  3. Lastly – you are surrounded by a vibrant community. There is such a diverse set of experiences, cultures, and beliefs within this room. Embrace them all, try a few new ones on for yourself. Since it is Halloween – I will phrase my final challenge like this: Choose your costume well – always be a Falcon. 
Ala Viva!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

TEDx Tuesday: Baher Azmy

In the spring of 2016, Peddie launched its inaugural TEDx Peddie event. TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to ideas worth spreading. In this spirit, TED has created TEDx, a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. Organized by students, and with the help of the Alumni & Development office, TEDx Peddie brought to campus six industry leaders, some of whom are Peddie alumni, to speak on the theme "The future as we know it."

Baher Azmy was the third civilian lawyer to enter the inner sanctum of Guantanamo Bay's Camp Echo to meet with a client. His story of that meeting explains both the principles that led Azmy to Guantanamo, and the profound humanity that inspires those principles.

Speaker biography: Baher Azmy is the Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, where he directs all litigation and advocacy around issues related to the promotion of civil and human rights. At CCR, he has litigated landmark cases related to discriminatory policing practices (stop and frisk), unlawful government surveillance, the rights of Guantanamo detainees, and accountability for victims of torture. Baher is currently on leave from his faculty position at Seton Hall University School of Law, where he taught Constitutional Law.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

TEDx Tuesday: Aarti Kapoor '03

In the spring of 2016, Peddie launched its inaugural TEDx Peddie event. TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to ideas worth spreading. In this spirit, TED has createdTEDx, a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. Organized by students, and with the help of the Alumni & Development office, TEDx Peddie brought to campus six industry leaders, some of whom are Peddie alumni, to speak on the theme "The future as we know it."

Aarti Kapoor '03 speaks about the evolution of the consumer. In recent years, Kapoor says, "Consumers have shifted away from big box, generic concepts where brand doesn't really matter, to premium, boutique concepts, where brand and experience are everything." Opportunities abound for high-end specialty brands across the consumer landscape like never before, and many of them are health and wellness focused. 

Speaker biography: Aarti Kapoor '03 founded and currently leads the Health and Wellness industry platform at Moelis & Company, a New York based investment bank, covering companies and financial sponsors across fitness services, active wear, VMS, healthy food and beverage and various other categories in healthy and active living. Aarti was named to Forbes "30 Under 30" for Finance in 2015. Prior to joining Moelis, Aarti worked in the investment banking division at Citigroup in New York. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Harvard University.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

TEDx Tuesday: Ralph Izzo P'15

In the spring of 2016, Peddie launched its inaugural TEDx Peddie event. TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to ideas worth spreading. In this spirit, TED has createdTEDx, a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. Organized by students, and with the help of the Alumni & Development office, TEDx Peddie brought to campus six industry leaders, some of whom are Peddie alumni, to speak on the theme "The future as we know it."

Reflecting on the impact of superstorm Sandy in 2012, Izzo discusses our ever-increasing energy needs and efforts to move toward a future that relies on carbon-free sources like nuclear, wind and especially solar energy. In addition a primary goal in the industry is a movement toward the "nega-watt," or increased energy efficiency by producing the same output through devices that use less electricity. Finally, advances in physics and large data acquisition will ensure the grid is smarter than ever before so that problems can be detected even before they take place.

Speaker biography: Mr. Izzo is a well-known leader within the utility industry, as well as the public policy arena. Since joining PSE&G in 1992 Mr. Izzo was elected to several executive positions within PSEG’s family of companies. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of Peddie School, Columbia University School of Engineering Board of Visitors and the Princeton University Adlinger Center for Energy and the Environment Advisory Council, as well as a member of the Visiting Committee for the Department of Nuclear Engineering at MIT.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"I want to make THAT." The promise of creative coding

Mark Sawula has been a member of Peddie's math department since 2006. Last summer, he was the recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) mini-grant to continue to explore the teaching of creative coding as a way to broaden the appeal and accessibility of computer science. 

Background: Sawula submitted a proposal to adopt a CS1 course with Creative Computation in Processing and was awarded $3,000 to support his course development and evaluation efforts. The mini-grant, one of only four awarded to high school teachers, was part of a larger NSF grant. The principal investigators of the larger grant, affiliated with Bryn Mawr College and Southern Methodist University, sought to present the design and development of a new approach to teaching the introductory computing course (CS1) at both the college and high school levels using the context of digital art and creative computation. 

The following is an excerpt from Sawula's report to the grant committee:
This spring, Sawula invited Diana Xu, a principal investigator
of the grant and chair of the department of computer science
at Bryn Mawr College, to visit Peddie and have lunch
with female students interested in STEM fields.

In September 2011, before the initial meeting of my first course built around creative coding, a female student walked into the room, picked up a copy of Casey Reas and Ben Fry’s Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists, and started flipping through its pages. Her eyes seemed to grow bigger and bigger, moment by moment, page by page. About two-thirds of the way through the book, she smiled, pointed to an abstract pattern, and declared “I want to make that.” 

As an educator who had spent most of his time teaching math, this was a jaw-dropping event. I don’t remember a student ever doing anything remotely like this with a math textbook. This young woman had no prior interest in programming and the course hadn’t even started yet. This was the promise of creative coding at its purest. At times, the work seemed intrinsically motivating.

This and other similar episodes led me to believe that I could create an introductory programming course driven by engagement. I tried to design assignments that had nearly universal emotional appeal. I added elements of “borrowed interest” wherever I could and swallowed any pride I had about pandering. The first sketch, which developed mastery of basic Processing drawing commands, became an invitation to recreate with code a drawing you might have made in kindergarten. The introduction to iteration began with a reminiscence of string-art-style doodles popular in middle school notebooks. Loops were married with conditionals in an assignment to mash-up a favorite cartoon or logo with another image using a variation of a green-screen technique. Those interested could make stickers of their images and affix them to their laptops. On another assignment students took an mp3 of a favorite song and created a music visualization. They made proportional symbol and choropleth maps of either personal data or data of interest to them. Often students felt that we weren’t doing much work because most of the assignments were so playful, and the progression of concepts so natural.

When I learned of the creative coding project by Bryn Mawr College and Southern Methodist University, I thought I was a natural fit. I had been pursuing what I regarded as creative coding for about five years. I was curious to meet other educators committed to this approach. I was also interested to learn how academics described creative coding in the language suitable to formal, federally-funded research.

The vision of creative computation
The principal investigators of this research, Dianna Xu (Bryn Mawr College), Ira Greenberg (Southern Methodist University), and Deepak Kumar (Bryn Mawr College) envision a new kind of introductory computer science course (CS1) with activities which seem more at home in the arts than in applied math. Quotations are from Xu, Greenberg, Kumar, and Wolz (2016), “Creative Computation for CS1 and K9-12.”

“The ultimate goal is to radically recontextualize computer code – from an applied math notation to a creative medium, on par with charcoal, paint, clay, etc. Creative coding is an exploratory and aesthetically driven approach, where students build visual designs and artworks iteratively as they expand their programs.”

The primary rationale behind this move is to broaden the appeal and accessibility of computer science. It engages students who do not identify with traditional STEM subjects. So far the courses are successful at making CS1 more popular with female students as well. Students seem to understand computing concepts on a deeper level and are more likely to pursue further study in computer science.

Clearly this focus on engagement resonated with my efforts over the past five years. I also had a conviction that creative coding not only broadened the appeal of computer science, but also made it possible to reach all students. I wanted to help develop a high school curriculum infused throughout with computational thinking. 

"I envisioned a near future in which students would be as adept at writing code to create an image for art class, a map for history class, or a simulation for physics class, as they were at writing essays for any of those subjects."
Three edifying missteps
My quest to extend the applicability of coding to other high school subjects led me to make three missteps through reflection upon which I gained deeper understanding of the benefits of creative computation.

1. My initial creative coding course was ostensibly a Statistics course designed to provide a math option for our weakest math students in their Senior year. I tried to build the curriculum by weaving strands from data science with those from creative coding, but adding statistics to the programming sequence seemed to overwhelm most students.

2. Liberated from the requirement to integrate statistical and computational concepts, I thought that I could finally teach a creative coding course that treated code as a creative medium. I would take my cue from the AP Art Studio course and students would use code to create pieces exploring elements of artistic composition like unity/variety, balance, emphasis, rhythm, repetition, proportion/scale, figure / ground relationships. However, many of my students had little experience in the arts and found the combination of these two subject areas overwhelming.

3. At the summer workshop associated with this grant, Darby Thompson of Sidwell Friends School shared that she begins her introductory programming course by asking students to program personal robots using Python. They then transition seamlessly to the Java flavor of Processing. Darby’s success inspired me to try a similar switch between Python and Javascript, though at a different place in the curriculum The allure of p5js for me was the potential for students to easily share their work on the web. While students loved being able to make programs that could be run in browsers on their friends’ phones, many of my weaker students found the transition from Python to an environment with HTML, CSS, and Javascript more than they could handle.

What all of these examples have in common is the sense that I overloaded my students to the point where the easy and natural sequence of CS1 topics was disrupted. In each case, students struggled to learn computing concepts if they had to learn something else concurrently, whether that was statistics, aesthetics, or new syntax.

A framework: Fast and slow thinking
As I was reflecting on these teaching experiments, I was reminded of Daniel Kahneman's 2011 book: Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman is a cognitive psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics for his foundational contributions to the field of behavioral economics. He and Amos Tversky conducted a series of psychological studies exposing biases people have in making rational judgments (especially those involving statistics). The assumption of rationality is key to classical economics and so their research was of great significance to the field.

Thinking, Fast and Slow is Kahneman’s overview of his work for a general audience. Key to his thinking is a distinction between thinking that is automatic, fast, easy, and intuitive (System 1) and thinking that effortful, slow, and precise (System 2). People have limited reserves of “mental energy” and prefer to get as much done with System 1 as they can, only engaging System 2 as needed. System 1 is better at recognizing superficial patterns and relationships; System 2 is better at deeper, analytical thinking. System 1 is notoriously bad at statistical thinking.

I laughed out loud when I read about the challenges of statistical thinking. This explained the sense I had that asking students to learn statistics at the same time they were learning to program was too much. I was asking them to engage System 2 on two fronts.

Apart from the insight about the challenges of statistical thinking, at this point System 1 and System 2 seem to be adding only a bit of jargon to the notion that I had overloaded my students. I believe there is a much deeper insight to be gleaned about creative coding from use of this framework.

You may recall that the principal investigators reported “a deeper understanding of foundational computer science concepts” among their students and attributed this to higher motivation connected with “personal interests and creative expertise.” I think that this creative expertise is actually cognitive expertise. Two of the mainstays of System 1 thinking, are perception and pattern matching. Creative coding tasks allow students to engage in fairly sophisticated thinking about patterns while mostly engaging their Systems 1. They can understand the programming assignment, they can set goals for themselves, they can improvise and iterate, all without taxing System 2. 

"According to this viewpoint, creative computation is the perfect way to manage cognitive workload at the start of a student’s programming odyssey when every line of code requires effortful thought."
The framework also argues for the utility of mapping out the outline of a program (or at least a high-level description of its requirements) so that working memory does not need to keep track of it. I was at a Computer Science Teachers of New York meetup recently and Meredith Towne, a drama teacher at the Academy for Software Engineering (AFSE), presented on the use of Scratch in her 9th grade drama classes to animate a blocking scheme for a scene in a play. Her students had already mastered the fundamentals of Scratch necessary to the task and enjoyed applying their skills to a new domain. In order to make the blocking task clearer, she first had her students create Post-It flipbooks animating the scene. Eric Allatta, a computer science teacher at AFSE, commented that the flipbooks would be wonderful in his computer science classes to help students plan out animations. He remarked “we’re always trying to get things out of their heads.” For me this is equivalent to converting a possibly high-load System 2 task of keeping a model of the animation in mind to a low-load System 1 task of perceiving what’s in the flipbook. It enables the students apply more of the focus where it is needed in thinking about the animation in a procedural way.

You can probably tell that I’m finding this lens for looking at computational tasks new and exciting. I’m thankful to this research project for exposing me to new ideas, connecting me to new people, encouraging me to conduct new experiments, and forcing me to reflect on all of these with greater acuity. It was a great experience!