Drew is a community of learners

    • Molly T. MacKean, Ph.D.

      Molly T. MacKean, Ph.D.

      Academic Dean

"If we’re going to challenge students to engage in meaningful learning every day, in every aspect of their lives, we must be sure that they are learning well."
What is it to learn something? When an adult looks back upon what it was like to be a student, they remember that learning—this thing we’re asking students to do all day, every day—is a really big ask. Real and meaningful learning happens in those moments when we feel the productive discomfort of changing how we understand the world.
If we’re going to challenge students to engage in such meaningful learning every day, in every aspect of their lives, we must be sure that they are learning well. The things we teach need to be alive; our students must be able to use what they learn in new situations, unprompted, to solve problems and make sense of the world years down the road. And, as the world shifts around all of us, we need to be sure our students are prepared to navigate that changing landscape with confidence, thoughtfulness, and nimbleness.
To think about learning and what we teach even more deliberately than we already do, Drew is engaging in a curricular review. Drew is partnering with the experts at Understanding by Design (UBD), global leaders in school innovation, to guide us through this process.
At Drew, we believe in our students—both who they are now and who they wish to become. Thus, we believe that the things we teach them must have meaning and purpose in their lives as they grow. We are proud of the work we do at Drew, and we’re excited to build on our long history of meeting students where they are and coaching them along to their next best selves.

Please read below for the timeline of this work in addition to an exploration of the many nuances of Drew's curricular review.


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  • Autumn 2018

    Faculty develop transfer goals and indicators.
    Transfer Goals & Indicators: To be able to transfer knowledge means that you can apply the things you have learned to new situations -- an act of doing that demonstrates a deeper sense of understanding than simply repeating back information on command. Transfer goals are an articulation of the things each department wants its students to be able to transfer from the learning they do in its classrooms or programs.

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  • Winter 2018 - Spring 2019

    Faculty develop understandings and essential questions.
    Understandings & Essential Questions: Understandings are an articulation of the key take-aways that we hope that students will achieve in our courses, and essential questions are those meaty questions that help them to make connections between the things they learn so that their learning will be theirs to keep. As Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe explain, “To understand is to make connections and bind together our knowledge into something that makes sense of things . . . whereas without understanding we might see only unclear, isolated, or unhelpful facts” (Wiggins and McTighe, 6-7).

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  • Spring 2019

    Faculty develop vertically aligned curriculum.
    Vertically Aligned Curriculum: This is where individual departments and divisions map out how they get toward their end-game transfer goals and understandings over the arc of a student’s four-year career.  As they do so, departments and divisions also collaborate to ensure that all of Drew’s different programs work together so as to move each student toward our desired Student Learning Outcomes.

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  • Summer 2019

    Faculty develop performance tasks.
    Performance Tasks: These are the moments when we ask students to perform transfer of the things they’ve learned and understood. These moments help provide critical feedback to both teacher and student about the growth that has occurred, and from which future growth can be planned. David Perkins helps us understand what performance of understanding might look like, writing, “Even if a student ‘knows’ Newtonian physics to the extent he or she can apply certain equations to routine textbook problems, we would not necessarily be convinced that the student understands it. But suppose the student can find examples of Newtonian physics at work in everyday experience. (Why do football linemen need to be so big? So that they will have high inertia.) Suppose the student can make predictions that illustrate Newtonian principles. (Imagine a bunch of astronauts in space having a snowball fight. What happens as they throw and get hit by snowballs?) The better the student can handle a variety of thought-provoking tasks concerning Newton’s theories, the readier we would be to say that they student has developed an understanding of them” (Perkins, Guide, 12-13).

Curriculum in Action

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All News

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  • Understanding By Design

    Good learning requires good coaching. As we engage in this process of curriculum review, we’re working with the experts at Understanding By Design (UBD), foremost experts on curriculum review who coach schools worldwide.  Read more about the Understanding By Design team and their work here.

    Drew is partnering with Sandy Kleinman of the UBD team, who is guiding us through this process of reflection through campus visits and close collaboration with Drew’s Academic Dean Molly MacKean.

    It is important to note is that the UBD team does not tell a school what to teach; instead, the UBD team provides a lens through which a school brings into focus what it wants to teach. UBD will not shape Drew’s curriculum or encourage us to teach students any particular thing. As our coach Sandy Kleinman tells Drew’s teachers, her team’s goal is only “understanding, by design”. Entirely up to Drew is what exactly Drew's students will understand.

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  • Understanding "Understanding"

    "To be worth knowing, knowledge has to go somewhere." - David Perkins

    What do we mean when we talk about ‘understanding?’ 
    The concept of understanding is at the heart of Drew's curricular review. We believe understanding is what education should facilitate. Information delivered to a student that doesn’t seem to have relevance in the life of that student becomes quickly forgotten. To understand something is much more lasting and useful than simply knowing it. We want our students to apply understandings developed at Drew years later, in a variety of situations—including situations we cannot anticipate.

    As David Perkins writes in FutureWise, “The hard fact is that our minds hold on only to knowledge we have occasion to use in some corner of our lives . . . .Overwhelmingly knowledge unused is forgotten. It’s gone. Whatever its intrinsic value, it can’t be lifeworthy unless it’s there. [Thus m]aybe we need to get beyond a presumptive ‘good to know’ . . . . To be worth knowing, knowledge has to go somewhere” (Perkins, FutureWise, 10).

    As Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe of the Understanding by Design team explain, educators must work toward giving students knowledge that is alive: “To understand is to make connections and bind together our knowledge into something that makes sense of things (whereas without understanding we might see only unclear, isolated, or unhelpful facts). But the word also implies doing, not just a mental act… To understand is to be able to wisely and effectively use—transfer—what we know, in context; to apply knowledge and skill effectively, in realistic tasks and settings” (Wiggins and McTighe, 6-7). This, then, is the goal of an education here at Drew: knowledge that is alive for our students, that they will use as they carve their paths through this world.

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  • Our Outcomes

    Our students will navigate and shape a world dramatically different than the one their teachers entered.

    With the world changing quickly, education must also adapt so that our graduates are well-prepared to thrive in a future we cannot anticipate.

    During the 2017-2018 school year, a committee of Drew faculty and staff spent significant time thinking through the skills and mindsets we believe will prepare our students to carve their own paths through a changing world.

    When we really got to the core of it, we could agree that a good education isn’t really about any particular content; it’s about who we are as people by the end of it—and about what we do with what we know. Along with our Mission Statement, these Student Learning Outcomes have become the compass point that governs the work of our curriculum review.
    Intellectual Engagement: A Drew graduate actively engages in the pursuit of knowledge in order to fulfill a deep commitment to learning about the world, themself, and their place within it.

    Creative and Critical Thinking: A Drew graduate explores, questions assumptions, applies an investigative lens, and utilizes a rich imagination in order to envision and express innovative approaches to challenges.

    A Drew graduate cultivates effective written, spoken, and visual expression, and understands the power of quiet and listening, in order to engage in open and substantive exchange with those around them.

    Global Perspective: 
    A Drew graduate demonstrates curiosity about the diversity of the human experience in order to pursue an egalitarian, multicultural perspective that values interconnectedness, justice, and peace.

    A Drew graduate displays honesty and compassion for fellow humans in order to approach each encounter with self-knowledge, kindness, and empathy.

     A Drew graduate practices mental, physical, social, and emotional wellness in order to maintain a productive and fulfilling life of learning, growth, and meaning.

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  • Our Process

    The curriculum review process at Drew is rooted in eight working teams:
    • English
    • Social Studies
    • Science
    • Mathematics
    • World Languages
    • Visual Arts
    • Performing Arts
    • Socio-Emotional Learning

    The chair of each team will collaborate closely with Academic Dean Molly MacKean, as well as UBD coach Sandy Kleinman, who will visit Drew four times throughout the 2018-2019 calendar year. Driving all of this work is the conviction that students need deep understandings for their knowledge to belong to them, to be alive for them, long after they graduate.

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  • Embracing a Spirit of Learning

    As adult members of a learning community, we take seriously the obligation to keep learning ourselves. Educators need to challenge ourselves to grow constantly, both to remember what it is to live on that edge of productive discomfort and to work toward constant improvement in our craft. Here at Drew, this learning about learning has taken substantive form through our curricular review process, as well as light-hearted form in our modeling of the learning process.

    Over the 2018 summer, Drew faculty engaged in the summer growth challenge in order to learn something new, something they believed they would struggle to learn. Head of School David Frankenberg was an Argentine who didn’t know how to tango, for instance, so he took on that challenge, taking dance lessons with his wife Florencia. Mandarin teacher Caitlin Jackson learned a new language, Assistant Athletic Director and Admissions Associate Free Gary worked on learning to play the piano, and Director of Equity & Social Impact Jules Greene took swim lessons. 

    As all remembered vividly: learning something new is exhilarating. But, it is not a linear process, and it is an exhausting one. If we are going to challenge our students to learn in this way, we should feel very sure to explain to them the "why" of what we’re doing—and to know ourselves precisely how to face that challenge of learning with resilience and humor.

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