I can’t say enough good things about our afternoon at Marin Country Day School. MCDS is a compound of low-slung older buildings and ultra-modern buildings outfitted with solar panels and LEED certified steel-and-glass walls. Deer roam across the soccer fields, and chickens wander through the two gardens that provide vegetables for daily school lunches. It’s just a few miles out of the city and somehow a world away: I could feel myself visibly relax as I walked around. There’s something about that serene view of Mount Tamalpais that lowers the blood pressure and makes you breathe a little more deeply.
MCDS’s iPad program is new, like ours, and it’s necessarily a little different from the CSH program since the students are all in middle school. We had a chance to speak with faculty teams from different disciplines about the use of the iPad in their departments; we talked to students who have grown up with the program from sixth through eight grades; and we visited classrooms to see the iPads in action. My biggest takeaway from MCDS’s program was their commitment to giving their students lots of options: the iPad isn’t the be-all, end-all on their campus; instead, it is one way of doing things. For example, they haven’t insisted on using just paper planners or just iPad organization apps: in a Spanish class we visited, the teacher encouraged students to take out their planners, and each eighth grader pulled out something a little different: a Moleskine like mine (hooray!), a bright-colored journal, and the Calendar, myHomework, and iHomework apps on the iPads. That spirit of differentiation also showed up in the school’s Maker Lab, which struck me as a sort of twenty-first century version of shop class–but on steroids. There is a welding shop, there are computers, there’s an ongoing “aquaponics” project that aims to create a sustainable way of recycling clean water while raising fish, and there is a giant wall of wood pieces that could be built into absolutely anything. This place was full of tools for learning (quite literally; we talked about kids using jigsaws and arc welders) and it was truly exciting to watch the students and teachers: it was creativity lived out loud.
Overall, I was struck by MCDS’s commitment to innovation with many tools. The iPad is just one of the tools in their arsenal, just like their welding shop, their gardens, and their aquaponics project. I liked that their focus was more timeless than rigidly dialed into the cool tech toy of the moment. (I laugh as a I type that into my very own iPad, of course.) The goal of their iPad program is to find ways to make these tools support long-proven best practices about engaging students that are not new at all, and they seem to be doing so thoughtfully and with great success.