Student Reflections on Lessons from Birmingham


Last Thursday, the fifth graders took their study of the Civil Rights to Birmingham.  After learning about the girls who were killed in the 1963 church bombing (via viewing and discussion of Spike Lee’s “Four Little Girls”), the students visited the actual church and toured the Civil Rights Museum.  Their day also consisted of a visit to a synagogue and the McWane Science Center.  The reflections below are samples from the many great reflections shared by our fifth grade students, and they represent their thoughts and wisdom from this field trip.

D: Yesterday, the 5th grade traveled to the marvelous “Magic City.” Personally, the experience was one to remember. It is so amazing how education and fun can blend together so perfectly. My emotions were filtered with joy, sorrow, and hope. It is incredible to have the opportunity to embark on a journey to the Civil Rights Movement with other Davis Academy students, or “my other family.” Over the trip, I made many connections to how Jewish citizens, like me, were treated and how African Americans lived life in despair. I saw death threats to Jewish people that brought me a feeling I had never had before. Hearing this tightened my throat; I was crying, but my eyes could not produce any tears. On a lighter note, the Temple Emanuel made me feel comfortable, like I was at home. I learned new things on a deeper level that I then taught my parents and my brother. The remarkable architecture in the temple made my jaw drop down to the floor; it was truly astonishing. Also, the McWayne Science Center was one of those places that had me thinking “too much stuff, not enough time.” From cool rides to man-made tornadoes, there is only one way to describe the place: pure awesomeness. Overall, the trip was great, thought provoking, and made me look at life with a new, fresh view. Birmingham, Alabama, is certainly a place I would want to travel to again with my family to show them the Civil Rights Museum and all of freedom signs on the streets.

K: Imagine hearing an explosion noise and then everything turning pitch black. That is what many people experienced Sunday morning September 15, 1963, at the 16th Street Baptist Church. That day four little girls were killed. When I was in Birmingham, each step I took towards the 16th Street Baptist Church felt as if the girl’s spirits were still in there. Before we went to the church, we went to the Civil Rights Museum. I saw many things that changed my views on Civil Rights. For example, I saw a model of the freedom riders bus and how so many people risked their lives for others.  Also, Denise, one of the four little girls, was honored with the outfit she wore and the stone that was embedded in her skull. I thought that it was very kind of Denise’s family to donate some of her belongings. The museum should have lots of gratitude. The trip to Birmingham was a life changing experience.

G: Yesterday in Birmingham I felt a slap of reality.  I realized that I was extremely lucky; lucky to go to any school I want, to have all of my rights, and to be free to dream of whatever I want.  Going to Davis is awesome. We never face bullies or have anyone tell us that who we are is wrong.  This struck me when I was sitting in a pew at the 16th Street Baptist Church. After learning about the four little girls, I looked down at my seat and realized they could have sat where I was sitting. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of those beautiful, innocent little girls.  They lost their lives because they wanted their rights.  They dreamed of the day when nothing was separated.  I love my life and would never change anything, but I wish I had been there to help those four little girls.  It was truly befuddling to me to think about our “free” country as it was then.

F: The Thursday I went to Birmingham is a day I will definitely not forget. When we first arrived, our grade went to Temple Emanu-El. I felt that it was a spectacular way to have started the day. My favorite part about the temple was getting to speak at the bimah where Rabbi Graffman once stood. It was an honor for me because he was very involved in civil rights, and despite all the threats he received, he stayed strong. Going to the 16th Street Baptist Church was very emotional. To me sitting in the church where the four little girls were was sad. My favorite part of the Civil Rights Museum was the model of the black and white classrooms. To conclude the trip to Birmingham, we went to the Mcwane Science Center, which was very hands-on and a lot of fun. Overall, I had a splendid time on the trip to Birmingham.

A Special Friday Message


Dear Davis Academy Community:

On Tuesday morning The Davis Academy 8th grade joined with their counterparts at The Marist School for the culmination of a series of meetings focused on interfaith dialogue, understanding, and community service. Blissfully unaware of what Tuesday afternoon would bring to the greater Atlanta area, students from the two schools spent the morning volunteering at Books for Africa, The Atlanta Community Food Bank, Medshare, as well as at The Davis Academy. In a few short hours they processed more than 6,000 pounds of food, 16,000 pounds of books, and 2,500 pounds of medical supplies. They prepared more than 700 sandwiches for Project Open Hand, wrote more than 500 get well, holiday, and birthday cards for area nursing homes, and jointly painted a prayer canvas with both schools’ logos that will help line the route of the upcoming Boston Marathon. It was a typically atypical morning at Davis. A day that engaged students in the kind of learning that, to paraphrase Haim Ginott, makes us ‘more human.’ Or as we put it at Davis, a day of menschlichkeit.

As students and teachers boarded their busses to return from their various service project locations, the first flurries of snow were falling. Regarding the subsequent hours, each of us has a story. To the best of our knowledge all members of The Davis Academy community found safe haven by Tuesday evening, even if they weren’t in their own homes. Over the last couple of days, members of The Davis Academy administration have been privileged to hear some of the many stories of our community members. We have heard about students helping to warm stranded motorists with cups of tea. Families opening their homes to strangers who simply needed to make a phone call or use the restroom. Alumni who provided emergency medical services to individuals who were cut off from emergency vehicles. Teachers who spent the evening pushing cars up hills. From every corner of our community we have heard tales of selflessness, compassion, and bravery. We have been sacred witnesses to indescribable acts of menschlichkeit.

To be sure Davis Academy students, families, alumni, and teachers weren’t the only heroes on the streets in recent days. But upon reflection, it cannot be denied that our kehilah instinctively knew that action was required and responded in kind. We knew that the extraordinary circumstances required us to think not only of ourselves, but also of others. We answered Rabbi Hillel’s two thousand year old question, “If I am only for myself, what I am?”

A recent survey of Davis Academy alumni confirms something we are very proud of here at Davis—that our graduates thrive at the high school of their choice and that they leave Davis ready for the next step. The stories you’ve shared, and the stories we hope that you will share in response to this note, help us understand what the “Davis Journey” is all about. We are helping children become mensches. It’s not just smart people, not just well-prepared people, not just well-rounded people, all of which might lead us to say ‘dayeinu’ . We are helping our children become more fully human, to become mensches. We are helping them to become leaders and mensches who see in their fellow human beings an ethical obligation—to care, to help, and to honor.

Help us understand the story of The Davis Academy in response to this week’s snowstorm by hitting reply and sharing your story. Please let us know if we have your permission to use your name in subsequent communications.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Micah Lapidus

Impact of Mindset on Teaching and Learning


Guest post via Rebecca Cater (@caterclass). Rebecca is a teacher, student, knitter, gardener, bird watcher, and science lover. She is the Coordinator of Curriculum and Innovative Learning at The Davis Academy


I LOVE teaching math.  I’m honored that I teach an accelerated third grade math class.  I think math is simple and fun and I believe with hard work and practice anyone can become a successful math student.

Some would describe me as a strict teacher.  Kids worry before they meet me that I’m too hard. That’s ok, because I am a tough teacher.  I insist upon excellent handwriting. I want students to communicate clearly.  I take off full points when work is partially complete.  The work is challenging as I push my students in ways they have not experienced before. Secretly, however, I’m a big softy, and I’m always willing to negotiate. Once kids meet me, they realize they don’t have to worry too much.  I’m there to talk through their issues. However, every year, I have students who can’t manage their frustration.  They break down and cry.

Last year was particularly difficult with one student  who struggled at every turn.  Her mother and I supported her throughout the year to help her manage her frustration.  We helped her realize this feeling she was having, while new, was perfectly normal.  She successfully finished third grade and is confident and highly successful in fourth grade.

I spent the summer reflecting on how this child experienced my class.  After reading and meditating on Carol Dweck’s Mindset  and Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed,  I knew I needed to make a change.  I had to explicitly present a safe, but frustrating experience.  Then teach how to identify that feeling of frustration and how to manage it.  I turned to Tangrams.

The first week of school I decided to SLOW DOWN.  I didn’t need to dive into my curriculum right away, I needed to give my kids some resiliency.  I presented a Tangrams puzzle over multiple lessons.  We explored the shapes and began to solve some puzzles.  With the seven Tangram pieces you can makes squares of different sizes.  You can use one piece, two pieces, three pieces, all the way to seven pieces to make The Big Square.  I told my class to use one piece to make a square.  Easy, they hold up a square.  Use two pieces.  Easy-ish, use two triangles.  Three pieces.  Huh? What? Now the frustration began.  Students started looking around to see what their peers were doing.

“Don’t peek,” I said, “try it on your own.”

You could hear the excitement in the air as students discovered the solution on their own.  I checked in with the kids by asking how it felt to solve the puzzle.  They loved the feeling of personal accomplishment! It didn’t take long for the students to solve the three piece square, but the four piece square was more of a challenge.

The next day we repeated the one, two, and three piece square to have immediate success.  I stopped the class and asked how it felt to have success.  Again, they LOVED the feeling of accomplishment.  They felt happy and good about themselves.  Then came the four piece square.

“Impossible,” they commented.

“You can do it,” I said, “try something else.”

The minutes that passed felt like hours. I talked while they worked.  I defined the feeling of frustration and asked them to keep working, they would figure it out.  Finally, a student shouted, “I got it!”

Most of the kids jumped up to see the answer but some diverted their eyes and said, “Don’t tell me, I want to do it on my own.”  I covered up the answer and asked the students to continue to work on their own.  The student who solved it first moved on to solve five piece puzzle.  The class worked through a frustrating five minutes or so. Those that couldn’t stand the wait caved and got the answer from someone else.  I asked that everyone get the answer for the four piece puzzle to see how to solve.

Then, it was time to bring the kids together to reflect on the Tangrams activity.  We sat together on the carpet.  I asked them how it felt to solve the puzzles on their own.  Their answers varied from good to great.  Students said they felt proud of themselves.  Students reported feeling happy.  Then I asked, “How did it feel to solve the puzzle after someone told you the answer.” One student stood out when he said, “It felt good, but not as good as solving it on my own.”


I explained that this year they would have moments where the work was easy and they would have immediate and satisfying success.  There would also be moments where they felt extreme frustration, but that feeling! That frustration! THAT is learning.  I wanted them to remember this feeling and use it over the course of the year.

Did that change my class?  It’s January.  We are in the throes of multiplication by 2-digit numbers and long division.  We’ve learned order of operations and exponents.  Problem solving boggles their minds.  How do they handle their frustration?  They come to me before and after class to ask for help, they ask me to slow down, they ask me to reteach.  They share their mistakes with the class and laugh at themselves for making the same mistakes over and over.

And how’s the crying this year?

Zero crying.

Another PD Gem Mined from My PLN




This past weekend I listened and participated live in my first Techlandia podcast:

Techlandia Podcast is amazing hour of sharing, discussion and humor led by Jon Samuelson (@ipadsammy), Alison Anderson (@tedrosececi), and Curt Rees (@CurtRees). Each week they are joined by a guest to highlight apps, twitter users, and educational ideas that “Can make an immediate impact in your classroom,” (from

The guest for this past podcast was Karl Lindgren-Streicher (@ls_karl) who shared his recent experiences at EdcampSac and EdcampHOME.  One of the sessions he spoke of was the “Things That Suck” session that Bill Selak (@billselak) was introduced to via Dan Callahan (@dancallahan)

“Things That Suck is a staple session at most EdCamps (an EdCamp is a participant-driven professional development gathering). I was introduced to Things That Suck at EdCampOC by Dan Callahan. I was in a different session, but read so many tweets about Things That Suck, that I ran over to that room. It turns out, Things That Suck is a debate, a discussion, a conversation. Dan announced a controversial educational topic, and people moved to one side of the room if that topic sucks or to the other side of the room if that topic rocks,” Things That Suck: an Epic #EdCamp Session.

I was quickly intrigued by the idea and decided to run a “Things That Suck” session at our middle school faculty meeting.

Faculty Meeting

All of our faculty meetings begin with faculty members offering “kudos” (usually in the form of a toast, roast, and/or poem format) to fellow colleagues as a token of appreciation for their kindness, support, and dedication.  After our “kudos” session, is our “21st Century Learning, Teaching, and Sharing” in which faculty members share apps, web resources, instructional strategies, and/or ideas that they are currently using and/or exploring in their classroom.  This week teachers shared PowToon (@PowToon), PhET Interactive Sims, and Gone Google Story Builder. All three of these applications were well received and could be integrated in a myriad of ways to enhance student learning.

At the completion of Kudos and Sharing (there are certain months, often surrounding conferences, that kudos and sharing last the whole hour and are therefore the content of our meeting), we move on to specified content.  I was anxious and excited to share a brief history of the Edcamp movement and talk about my own experiences with EdcampHOME (@edcamphome) and EdcampOnline.  Next I explained the “Things That Suck” session and we dove in.

Over the course of 30 minutes we declared our “Suck” or “Rock” opinion of homework, BYOD, midterms, and twitter.  Each topic segregated our faculty which facilitated some fabulous discussion.  While none of these discussions produced resolution (this is not the goal of these sessions and I would caution use of this protocol if that is your aim) the safe space created for dissenting opinions, sharing one’s own perspective, and accessing and hopefully understanding a perspective different than your own contributed to great learning and a great shared experience.

A few great thought provocations that came out of our session:

  1. (Midterms) At what point does the focus on preparing students for what they will encounter the following year or years impede our focus on teaching the student what they are developmentally appropriate for and need to know in the current year?
  2. (BYOD) Does a BYOD policy in a middle school further foster social concerns of the haves and have nots based on the brand, capabilities, and newness of each student’s devices?
  3. (Homework) Does the inability to provide all the learning that is necessary for students to engage in during an 8 hour period, represent a failure or problem on the schools part?
  4. (Twitter) How do we model for our students the appropriate balance of living in the present, while understanding and respecting the power and potential of connection through social media?



Forever Learning


Twain’s quote is unfortunately not only speaking to the students in our schools, but also for many teachers. It speaks to the professional development programs that are not yielding deep and meaningful growth?  For many years I have shared my belief with my team:

I believe amongst my team there is immense expertise in a myriad of topics that we all could benefit from.  We have faculty that are gifted in collaborative project facilitation, classroom management, parent communication, enrichment activities, classroom culture building…etc. If there we some way to down load all of this expertise on to a “shared drive” so that all of us had access to both our own areas of strength and our areas of growth, there would be almost no need for PD.

At Davis

Perhaps it is this belief that has shaped the professional development program at Davis which is all faculty initiated (teachers come to me with topics they are interested in learning about), faculty facilitated (all of our strands are led by teachers who work with me to decide on content {texts, articles, blogs…} and delivery model {cohorts, Edmodo, text & message board}, and faculty selected (teachers choose which of the offerings they would like to participate in).   Perhaps more important than the content strands that we are running (link) is the opportunity for shared learning, growth, and discussion.  I believe that is in these discussions and connections that we share pieces of ourselves and our own perspectives which emulate the “shared drive.”


I am admittedly novice to the world of Edcamps, having only attended two virtual sessions (EdcampOnline and Edcamphome 2.0). That being said, I immediately felt the immense transformative power that this model offered as a tool for learning.  Gathering diverse educators together to engage in meaningful discussions and sharing in groups that are formed based on common areas of interest has amazing implications for improving student learning.  In the two experiences I have had, I have been fortunate to learn with and from passionate educators who shared their challenges, successes, resources, and perhaps must exciting, the opportunity for further connection and learning after the experiences. If you have not attend an Edcamp, I would certainly encourage it (If you are interested in finding one near you, check out

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ― Mahatma Gandhi



PLN Blogging Challenge


I am honored to have received the recognition to participate in the PLN blogging challenge.  This challenge, similar to the sunshine award and homework club, highlights the incredible learning network of amazing educators that are eager to collaborate, learn, and grow from and with each other.  It has been a great pleasure to dive in to this connected world in 21013 and I look forward to greater learning and connections in 2014. I was nominated for the PLN challenge by Chris Hubbuch (@ChrisHubbuch) who like many of my PLN I have never met in person.  That being said, in addition to being a Middle School Principal, Chris is an avid tweeter who shares his own thoughts as well as great resources routinely.  If you are not already following him, I would certainly suggest it.

The PLN blogging Challenge:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

11 Random Facts about me…

  1. I love playing video games with my kids (or without them)
  2. I love playing any game with cards, die or tiles.
  3. I am a huge Calvin and Hobbes fan.
  4. I am an insatiable reader who loves reading pedagogy, leadership, philosophy, and humor books.
  5. I enjoy fiction novels that are a part of series so as to allow a longer investment. (a few of my favorites are The Courtney Series by Wilbur Smith, W.E.B. Griffin’s The Corp Series, and unashamedly a huge fan of the Potter and Artemis Fowl Series).
  6. I am a huge fan of George Carlin’s humor and books.
  7. I am a compulsive computationalist.
  8. I have great admiration for the power and impact of inspirational videos and I love to find and share these with friends, parents and colleagues.
  9. I love improv and musical theatre.
  10. Cowboy boots are my greatest vanity.
  11. I believe Sriracha sauce is a great condiment for everything from breakfast through desert.

Questions from Chris

1. What is one skill that you acquired in 2013?

Mutli-chatting: As if learning to engage in twitter chats was not enough of a test of one’s ability to wade the stream, engaging in multiple chats at one time is a challenge but allows for even greater learning, sharing and connecting,

2. If you weren’t in education, what would you do instead?

Wow, tough one.  I was originally an actuary, but did not like the cubical.  Then a bartender, but did not like the industry.  Finding a place where I could engage with math and be with people…I may give professional card player a try.

3. Who was your favorite teacher growing up and why? How did they inspire you?

I had a number of wonderful teachers who shaped the educator and person that I am today, but I believe Dr. Alice Terry, impacted me most. In addition to opening my eyes to service learning, gifted education, and divergent thinking, she challenged me to be better each tomorrow.

4. What do you see as the most pressing issue for educators in 2014?

I think we need to be continually reflecting on the systems we have in place to assess whether we are preparing students to be successful in the world they will inherit or the one we are currently in.

5. What characteristic do you value most in a team member or colleague?

Another great question as there are many key traits I look for, but I value most a colleague’s passion.  I believe passionate educators connect with their students, strive to continue to grow both for themselves and for their professional effectiveness, and are advocates for students and causes tat they believe in.

6. What is the best book that you’ve read lately?

I love to read and have enjoyed a great year of reading.  I am therefore going to go with my most current read that I enjoyed.  I am currently sharing Great Ways to Sabotage a Good Conversation by Paul W. Schenk with my teacher and admin team.

7. What is one thing you tried last year that you learned about from your PLN?

Way too many to detail.  My PLN has shared so many amazing tools this year.  Biblionasium, TodaysMeet, Socrative, GHOs…etc are all regular tools at our school that came from the amazing educators I am connected with.

8. What is your best piece of advice for educators at the start of the second semester?

After 5 months of active participation on twitter, my first piece of advice would be to get a twitter account and begin connecting.  I truly believe that I have learned more in the past 5 months than in many year of PD and independent reading.

9. What is your favorite TV show or movie?

I love Field of Dreams for many reasons (sports, history, father-son relationship, having faith, determination).

10. Are you planning to attend any conferences or Edcamps before summer?

Always looking to learn and attend conferences.  I am planning on attending the RAVSAK conference in January and Martin Institute and ISTE this summer.

11. What is your proudest moment as a professional?

I think I am most proud of the culture of learning and growing that I see amongst all members of my school community.

My turn to nominate…

Now it’s time for me to nominate 11 bloggers who deserve the recognition.  I read and appreciate so many great bloggers, but I am going to bend the rules on this a little.  I have been joined by a host of great bloggers who are committing to the #blogamonth challenge where we commit to blogging and commenting at least once a month.  It has been dubbed by one of the participants as “some quality edu-couragement to blog.” Here are there names of the current participants, and we would love for you to look and join our learning community here



Twitter Handel

Blog Address

Allison Petersen @alcp

Barry Saude @barrykid1  

Brian Hunter @BHunterMusic  

Doug Leisenring @eskyprincipal

Heather Theijsmeijer @HTheijsmeijer

Jason Reinecke @reinecke20

Jasper Fox Sr. @jsprfox

Jeannette Lee @jeannettemelee

Jim Cordery @jcordery

Joe Devine @JosephADevine

Katie Farr @katiefarr5

Kirsten Wilson @teachkiwi

Lisa Kincer @KincerLisa  

Lisa Pagano @edu_ms_pagano  

Matt Renwick @readbyexample

Matt Wachel @mattwachel


Megan Stamer @MeganStamer  

Mike Lubelfeld @mikelubelfeld

Nathan Cameron @BestSubEver17

Rik Rowe @WHSRowe

Scott Jones @escott818

Shawn Davids @sdavids51  

Shawn McCusker @shawnmccusker  

Sue Fitzgerald @sue_fitz  

Tristan P @mmehibou

Finally, according to the rules, it’s my turn to ask 11 questions of my nominees:

  1. What is your favorite movie of all time?
  2. If you could go to have attended any concert anytime in history, what would it have been?
  3. What do you do for fun?  Hobby?
  4. What two guests would make the best comedic pair as co-hosts for the Oscars?
  5. Cat, Dog or Goldfish? Why…
  6. How do you caffeinate?
  7. Favorite twitter chat?
  8. Best place you ever vacationed?
  9. Best book you’ve read in 2013?
  10. Favorite television shows?
  11. What is one thing you never/rarely share that you are exceptionally proud of?

Life, Learning, and Laughter Enthusiast

Skip to toolbar