Purpose In Learning

I have been doing a lot of work over the past two years at World Leadership School to define what Purpose Learning is and what it can look like in schools. Clearly, the idea of purpose identification and clarification is not new and something that people struggle with seemingly as they get older and more settled into their lives and careers. What we have been considering is how can we help students begin to clarify their own sense of purpose at a younger age. This generation is under immense pressure to perform. They are put onto the conveyor belt of education as soon as they enter formal schooling with one goal in mind…COLLEGE. They are pushed along and encouraged to take this class but not that one for fear they might not get an ‘A’ in that one, to play this sport but not do that play, to not get a job because it would distract from their school work, to volunteer a prescribed number of hours to boost their resumes, and to focus 100% on themselves all the time so that the can achieve “their” goal. If this is so satisfying and clear for students, then why does the data suggest that students have never been more dissatisfied? Depression is at an all time high, disordered eating and self harm are sky-rocketing, (attempted) suicide rates are astronomical, and our kids are stressed out to the max. Bill Damon, of Stanford’s d.School, has said that “the biggest problem growing up today is not actually stress, it’s meaninglessness”. Our kids don’t know what they are doing or why they are doing it. College is a goal thrust upon them rather than one they identify for themselves and we, as the adults in their lives, need to reconsider what we are presenting as important to students. Hence, this deep dive into Purpose Learning. So, the more I thought about this the more it became clear that we need a framework that we can use as supportive measures to our curriculum that will provide tools for deep engagement and opportunities for purpose exploration WHILE we teach our content.

Purpose Matrix This matrix presents the WHY of Purpose Learning, which is to develop the whole child, the head (which we do an incredible job of already in schools), the heart (connection to the world outside of self), and the hands (taking action). The HOW component was taken from Andrea Savari’s Redefining Readiness Report (2017) focused on core social emotional skills. The HOW component of each are the tools that teachers can use to get at these skills through their curriculum and their teaching. My hope is that this framework will provide ideas for teachers to shift from content centered classes to more skill development and purpose exploration classes through the lens of the content.  Let me know your thoughts on this and if you think it would be useful for teachers.

Shocked By Charlottesville

Dear World Leadership School Friends,

We, at World Leadership School, were shocked and saddened by the news that came out of Charlottesville, VA on Aug. 12th. It is hard to wrap our minds around this display of oppression and hate. We stand in solidarity with those who are working to fight against bigotry, racism, and all forms of hate. We know that our strength comes from our diversity. The acts on Aug. 12th remind us clearly that we have not come as far as we had hoped as a country with regards to race and religion. We find ourselves asking, how do we collectively move forward from here? The only foreseeable answer is education.

The community of educators in this country is strong and when trying times arise, we are ready to rely on and assist one another. We have learned time and again that when teachable moments arise, we act. Less than 24 hours after the violence in Charlottesville occurred, there was already a place created for teachers everywhere to share content on how to address these issues and use the classroom as a place for safe discovery and discussion. The twitter hashtag, #Charlottesvillecurriculum, was created and is full of important and pertinent resources that teachers can immediately bring into their classroom in the coming days to help shed light on the questions that students are going to inevitably have. NPR and EdWeek’s Teaching Now blog also compiled their own collections of resources to address racism and bigotry in school and in the community. Education experts from the American Federation of Teachers, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project, the Anti-Defamation League and Facing History and Ourselves have come together to create a webinar, When Hate Is In The Headlines, focused on Charlottesville. This webinar includes important information about related issues such as the “alt-right”, the history of hate and white supremacy in the United States, and strategies for talking about race and religion with our students.

I have often found that the most meaningful pieces of education happen in the unplanned moments, during open and honest discussions with students. Talking about race and race relations is difficult for anyone, but more so for white teachers in predominately white institutions; it is hard to know what to say and how to say it well. Angela Watson’s podcast, Truth For Teachers, provides some insight on how to effectively have these conversations in Ten Things Every White Teacher Should Know When Talking About Race. Finally, if students or teachers are looking for action steps to take in response to the Charlottesville riot, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a guide entitled Ten Ways To Fight Hate: A Community Response, which will empower anyone to take action against racism and hate within their own communities.

Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples”, which I believe is a clear representation of the power of teachers and the extent to which our influence can travel. This blog post is my action step, my small stone that will hopefully create ripples far and wide by providing useful tools for all the great teachers out there faced with the awesome responsibility of shedding light into the darkness in our country right now. The White Nationalists will never win in a country full of educators who have committed their lives to the betterment our country through the greatest tool of all, education. Thank you for your commitment and dedication to the young people in this country, they need you more than ever right now. We all do.

Teach well, my friends

#everybodypoops: Exploring Affordable Sanitation in Developing Countries


The most effective use of Project Based Learning that I have ever been a part of occurred in my Biology II, The Great Diseases course where the students were studying inadequate access to sanitation around the world. The students were asked to acknowledge World Toilet Day put forth by the World Health Organization in February of last year. The purpose of this day is to bring awareness to the 2.6 billion people around the world who do not have access to adequate sanitation methods. The students were asked to observe this day by only using one toilet facility on campus, and this facility happened to be a 5 – 7 minute walk from the majority of their classrooms. The other stipulation was that the timing of the use of this facility could not be disruptive to any of their classes or their teachers. They needed to plan out when they would be able to go to the bathroom so that it was convenient for them without being obtrusive. The students commented that they originally thought that the day was going to be amusing or even fun, until it became a nuisance. This simple activity allowed the students to develop empathy for the many people in the developing world that also have to plan out the proper time to find and use the bathroom facilities so that it is convenient and more importantly, safe, for them.

In reflection of the toilet awareness activity in the following class, a discussion ensued about the injustice of the inadequate sanitation issues around the world and the students indicated at that time that they wanted to learn more about this issue. It was at this point that I could see the beginnings of a project that I had not planned. I asked the students to do some preliminary and independent research on areas around the world that suffered most significantly from inadequate access to sanitation and to be prepared to report out on that research in the following class period. The students discussed their findings and decided that they were most interested in learning more about inadequate access to sanitation of the squatting communities in urban India. The students were moved by a recent reporting of two young girls in Uttar Pradesh, India who had gone into a field at night to relieve themselves and were followed by two men who proceeded to rape and murder these young girls. It was a devastating and tragic story and the students were outraged and decided that they wanted to help.

In my own preliminary research about toilets in developing nations, I came across a TedTalk, Innovation to Sanitation Through Empathic Design, by Jasmine Burton. Burton, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia, majored in Empathic Design. I felt that Jasmine would be an interesting connection for my students because of her geographic location and her age. So, I found her email address on her web page and reached out to Ms. Burton to see if she would be willing to respond with some information about her toilet design and the implementation of her design in Africa. Ms. Burton replied that she would be very excited to speak to my students and asked to Skype with them if possible.


The Skype session took place the following week with Ms. Burton, who, unbeknownst to us, was currently living in Zambia and working on the implementation of her own empathically designed toilet into rural villages there. Prior to the Skype session, the students read about Ms. Burton, her business Wish For Wash, and her toilet design. The session lasted approximately 50 minutes with the students leading the discussion through their questions.

After the Skype session with Ms. Burton, the students told me that they were very interested in moving forward with their research and wanted to design a toilet for the squatting communities in India. The students used the next few weeks to research existing designs, created their own toilet designs, and then made prototypes of their design in the Maker Space of their school out of cardboard and plastic materials. Ms. Burton had asked to Skype with the students again after they created their prototypes so that she could offer suggestions for modifications that would help make the design of their toilets more functional.

During the second Skype session, Ms. Burton told the students that she thought that their designs were creative but that they would not know if they were feasible until they created them out of corrugated cardboard (which many life-size prototypes are made from, apparently) and made the toilets true to size. At this point, I just looked up Corrugated Cardboard in Richmond, VA and reached out to a local corrugated cardboard company, Richmond Corrugated Box, that agreed to allow my students and me to come to the factory for a tour. While there, the students were able to work with Richmond Corrugated Box’s Graphic Designer to import their prototype designs onto the software and print them on corrugated cardboard.

The experience was beneficial to students as they were able to see their designs in real time, make modifications in the moment, and then have them printed so that they designs were an adequate representation of what they wanted for their field toilets.

The final aspect of this project was a Skype session with Ms. Burton to show her the student designs and discuss the pros and cons of each design. Ms. Burton suggested reaching out to various NGOs to discuss the possibility of adopting the toilet design to have them mass-produced and shipped to India. The students were not ready for this step however because there were many unanswered questions that needed to be addressed before the designs felt sufficient and useful enough for the students to move forward with production.

This project was extremely in-depth and the students were exposed to multiple facets of learning that they would not have if they did not take on this project. They were tasked with designing a toilet that would be light enough to move, sturdy enough to withstand multiple uses, to weigh the pros and cons of a sitting vs. squatting toilet, the financial burden of mass-producing a product such as this, the logistics of finding a way to deliver the design to India, the environmental impacts of the dumping of these toilets which would inevitably happen on the streets and in the drainage run-off areas. The list is endless and though this project took longer than expected, the depth and breadth of learning was also more comprehensive than expected which lead to a feeling of successful learning of the students and myself. A number of the students went on to write their college entrance essays about this project, entitled #everybodypoops (which you can follow on Twitter).

Project-based learning is a tool used to develop 21st-century skills and to put content knowledge into practice in an authentic way. PBL is not a new tool but it is the only tool that this career educator has found that can accomplish these goals of skill development, content knowledge enhancement, and problem-solving prowess.

The Great Necktie Debate!

My students have been doing research and data collection of microbial populations on neckties worn by their faculty. The project is described below in detail. We are currently still collecting and analyzing data. I imagine this phase will take approximately one more week before we transition into the actual analysis of findings and writing up the report. This is one of those awesome projects that will never be able to be replicated, unfortunately, but it has really required true meaningful work on the part of my students and I have been so impressed with their abilities and developed techniques when dealing with microbiology.

If you are interested in the process or the findings, please contact me.

Project-Based Learning Title: The Great Necktie Debate

Grade: 10th

Project idea: Students have been charged by a male faculty, who happens to dislike wearing ties on a daily basis, to see if there is a “health risk” to wearing ties as they contain a lot of microbes. This research spans all three sections of regular biology and these students have taken this charge and decided that they will research it.

The students in all three sections used the collective Google platform for uniform access to information. The students researched the historical purpose of the necktie, they have researched different career paths that have done away with idea of wearing a tie because of health concerns (dentists, doctors, etc…), the students designed the experiment and performed the experiment over the course of multiple weeks, students analyzed the data, and, students reported out the data in the form of a formal journal article.

(My students are working on their scientific understanding and writing. Therefore, this DQ was formulated in the spirit of a hypothesis) If neck ties are swabbed for bacterial growth then large quantities of bacteria will be observed because neckties are worn for many years and rarely cleaned and therefore contain an excessive amount of microbes.

microbial growth (microbiology), bacterial plating techniques (microbiology), bacterial species identification (microbiology)

Major Products:

  1. Swabbed ties of all Upper School male faculty and administrators
  2. Plate all tie bacteria on nutrient agar
  3. analyze plate growth and re-plate a colony for a pure culture
  4. Use excel to analyze data and create meaningful infographics
  5. Write a formal scientific paper describing research and explaining results
  6. Publish paper in Collegiate School Journal of Microbiology

Public Audience: US faculty; US Administrators; Alaina Campbell – Department of Biology, VCU; Dr. Berry Jacques – Tufts Medical University





The Great Necktie Debate

It is difficult to determine exactly when the necktie first made its appearance, and exactly where. Some sources state that the necktie first appeared in the Chinese army, over 1000 years ago (Ashley, O., 2013). Other historians agree that the necktie appeared in the 17th century, during the 30-year war in France (Hendrick, 2013). Whatever the origin, the fact is that neckties have been a fundamental accessory for predominantly male fashion for centuries.

Though adding to the air of professionalism, there is potential for the necktie to be harboring potentially dangerous pathogens, especially in professions that have excessive contact with children or the sick. A study performed by researchers at the New York Medical Center of Queens found that nearly 50% of neckties worn by physicians harbored bacteria that can cause disease (Science Daily, 2004).

If neckties do harbor abnormal amounts of potentially pathogenic microbes, should faculty members in a school be required to wear them?

You have been hired by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Microbiology to determine if neckties worn in a 9-12 school setting have an excessive amount of microbes contained on them. The results of your findings will be published in the Collegiate School’s Journal of Microbiology and you will be asked to present these findings at a national high school science conference.



The students are wrapping up their scientific method and process of science units, as well as moving quite quickly through their microbial pathogenesis unit. Prior lab work for these classes included: pouring agar plates, streaking plates with populations of E. coli, looking at antibiotic resistance of E.coli, looking at antimicrobial properties of E. coli and B. cereus with respect to common household cleaners, analyzing CFU (colony-forming units) growth on Petri dishes, practice using an incubator and practice using an autoclave.


I introduced this unit by playing this video, found in the beginning of this PowerPoint. On the video, a well-respected male faculty member in the upper school was interviewed and addressed his concerns about the potentially hazardous nature of wearing a necktie every day and he asked the students to gather data to support his hypothesis.


Students started by creating a google document shared between all three classes. The students volunteered themselves for various duties throughout the research. The students split into the following teams: Research & Problem, Hypothesis, Materials & Methods, Survey Team, Tie Swabbers, Petri Dish Inoculators, Petri Dish analyzers, Data analysts, Excel Professionals, and each student would contribute to the Conclusion and the formal writing process.

  • Research & Problem – students began by doing extensive research on the necktie and it’s historical purpose in male dress
  • Hypothesis – students created a working hypothesis in an If, then, because format (it should be noted that this took quite a long time for the students to agree on a workable hypothesis – good collaboration and communication of ideas)
  • Materials & Methods: determined how they were going to sample tie microbial growth and what materials they would need to do so. Students decided to sample all US male faculty and all administrators and compare the tie growth between the two divisions. Students decided that each tie swabber would need to sample with a partner who’s job was to gather data for the survey that correlated with the sampling work.
  • Tie Swabbers: students met in the teacher’s classroom each morning before school to gather materials, determine which teachers needed to be sampled, and would go out and sample as many ties as possible. The sampling process took two weeks of morning time.
  • Survey Team: students created a survey to correlate with the microbial data collected. The students asked faculty members how old their tie was, how often it was cleaned or dry cleaned, whether they liked wearing ties and whether they believed ties should be mandatory or not.
  • Petri Dish Team: this team was responsible for removing the petri dishes from the incubator, analyzing and recording the growth on the collective google sheet. After analyzing growth, these students were responsible for re-plating an original strain onto a new petri dish to isolate pure cultures of bacteria. The re-plate would go back into the incubator for 24 hours, the original plate would be sealed and placed in the fridge. After 24 hours, the re-plate was taken out of the incubator, analyzed and recorded, sealed and placed in the refrigerator.

Before beginning the research, the students composed an email to the senior administrative team requesting permission to perform the study. After receiving permission from the administrative team, the students then created an email for the faculty explaining what their purpose was, the research needed and asked the faculty for their help by allowing the students to swab their ties.

After collecting the data students worked collectively to write the formal laboratory report and literature review to present their results to the faculty and administrative team.


Collective Google Doc

Tie Survey

Tie Data

Petri Dish Pictures

Photos of Student Work: