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

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:

Global Education Benchmark Group

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.24.44 PMI had the distinct pleasure of presenting at GEBG’s annual national conference in New Orleans this past weekend. I was so nervous because it was my first national presentation and I wasn’t sure what to expect, however, the presentation was received so well by so many attendees and I have since received some great feedback about my presentation.

My presentation was entitled Globalizing Your Curriculum: Promoting Global Citizenship by Bringing the World Into Our ClassroomsThe purpose of this presentation was to address teaching global competencies to students and how they are an essential part of being an educator in the 21st century. The benefits of teaching these skills to students and, in turn, future generations are immeasurable. Global education develops a skill of being able to view the world from different lenses; to develop a sense of empathy that is essential as part of the human spirit. The question is, how do we do that? Where do we start? This presentation will give tips on how to incorporate global issues into curriculums with specific examples that have worked in a science classroom. From weekly “hot topics” to in-depth Project-Based Learning initiatives, globalizing your curriculum is a way to expose your students to life outside the walls of their schools and helps to foster curiosity of other cultures and countries. We live in a world that grows smaller every day, as advances in technology have shortened the distance between “us and them”. It’s important for our students to develop the perception that there is unity within diversity and give them a sense of belonging to a larger world community.

As educators, we need to make a commitment to real world learning for our students. We need to provide opportunities for our students that encompass authentic and meaningful learning experiences that will encourage our students to become the solution-seekers and problem-solvers of the 21st century. The development of students as global citizens is a monumental task turned over to the teachers that guide them through the learning process. There is no specific place within our curriculum that speaks specifically to “global education” because it is a fluid and all-encompassing focus that should be interwoven throughout. The question is then, how do I bring the world into my classroom in an authentic and meaningful way?

The secret to globalizing the curriculum is that it can be done in small pieces, one at a time, that add up to a comprehensive world-view by the end of the year. In my curriculum, I set aside time each week for my students to present their “hot topics”. Hot Topics involve any topic pertaining to biology that is new and exciting around the world. The student researches and plans their mini-presentation (as a homework assignment) and is prepared to take questions after they present. Each presentation takes 2 – 3 minutes and inevitably leads to in-depth discussion about a region or the research that was presented.

I also use Project-Based Learning (PBL) activities to incorporate intensive global study. PBL is the tool that allows me to cultivate these essential skills with my students: collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and empathy. These skills are what will be useful to our students as they enter the global workforce. It is clear that they will be called upon in the near future to solve immense global challenges, and in preparation for these challenges, I ask them to solve real world problems in a very authentic manner. From designing a cell-based sensor for early detection of an Ebola infection, to creating recipes for the World Food Bank to aide the global food crisis, to using cellular respiration/photosynthesis as a platform to research and propose solutions to our energy problems, my students are thinking, designing, researching, and intelligently proposing solutions to very real world issues.

Because I teach biology and infectious diseases, the entire world has a place in my classroom. When we are talking about Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration, I can ask my students why deforestation in Brazil is negatively affecting Greenland; which allows for discussion of these regions and their ecosystems, the different environmental concerns for each region, global climate change and how much humans are contributing to it, and I can then ask my students to propose a solution to this problem. The Ebola outbreak has been a fantastic case study for my Infectious Diseases class in terms of immunology, epidemiology, socio-economic status and the relationship that has with access to appropriate medical care, medicine, ethics, the geography of Africa and specifically the “malaria belt” and why this area is so prevalent with disease. I ask my students to propose a solution to the late identification of an Ebola sickness or a solution that address the reintroduction of survivors back into their communities. The possibilities are endless when using strategies of project-based learning with students and these projects require a level of critical thinking, empathy, and collaboration from our students that other learning tools simply do not.

I have a number of specific examples that can be modified for immediate use in classrooms across division and subject area. This presentation will cover various strategies for incorporating global awareness into the curriculum that will be beneficial to students but will not be overwhelming for the educator. As with all things, this kind of teaching takes practice but, the difference in the classroom once it is implemented is incredible. The discussions that evolve from this globalization of the curriculum are so valuable to the student and to the educator.

Specific examples that this session addressed:
“Hot Topics” – these are a 2 – 3 minute presentations by the students, on a weekly basis, that discuss a hot topic in science. This is not limited to global issues or research but generally revolves around both

Project-Based Learning Experiences – These projects provide authentic learning experiences for students that require in depth research and understanding of larger global problems that need solutions. PBL examples are:

  • The Ebola Pandemic
  • “Feed My Starving Children” Campaign
  • Human Genetics Disorder Project
  • Photosynthesis: How does deforestation in Brazil affect the poles?
  • Microbial Pathogenesis Paper
  • History of HIV
  • The Malaria Belt in Africa
  • The Flu of 1918 – how an epidemic becomes a pandemic
  • Invasive Species Pop Up Books

Weekly podcasts and discussions – stitcher
Case Studies
Guest Speakers

This presentation also listed a plethora of ideas for educators to use to globalize their classrooms throughout the year.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.20.56 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.21.06 PM

Before I had even left the room, I was already getting supportive tweets from people that attended the session and found it helpful. I had one Head of School from North Carolina ask if his Department Head could contact me to talk about globalizing the curriculum and project based learning. I had another teacher ask if she and some of her colleagues could come observe me teach. And, I had one amazing non-profit group from California ask if I would be willing to consult with them on science curriculum for international trips. All in all, it was a great presentation!

Simon Sinek – Start With Your Why

Retrieved from: https://www.startwithwhy.com/portals/0/Skins/SWW/images/SimonSinek_bio.png


 Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, Start With The Why, was pretty inspiring to me. This is the second time that I have viewed this particular talk and in both instances, It struck a chord with me. I think he is correct in his assessment that everyone knows what it is that they do and that most people know how they do it, but few people actually know why they do what they do. In order to know why we do what we do, we need to take the time to be reflective enough to our purpose to identify our whys so that we can be inspiring to those around us. I don’t believe that most people don’t care about why they do what they do, I think that most people are so darn busy that they can’t take the time to reflect on what it is that they actually do and why they are passionate about that.

Retrieved from: http://quinncurtis.co/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/remember-you-why2.jpg

I like Sinek’s graphic of the Golden Circle. Though simplistic in design, I liked how it addressed, quite specifically, the same concepts addressed above. In working through his ideas pertaining to the Golden Circle, Sinek introduced some powerful examples of individuals and organizations that lead from within the circle. These individuals lead from their whys, versus the organizations that lead from the outside in, from their what. The example that he used that spoke to me most readily was Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I Have A Dream” speech. He talked about how thousands of people traveled hundreds of miles to march on Washington DC on this day and that this was all organized before the internet. Trying to fathom how something like this could be organized before the internet is tough to even imagine. Sinek remarked that the people that showed up on this day did not do it for MLK, they did it because they believed in his why, in his mission. As an aside, Sinek made the distinction that MLK gave the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” speech and that made a huge difference. He is so right about that.

I also liked how Sinek said, over and over again, that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. This really stuck with me this time and the last time that I watched this Ted Talk. After watching this Ted Talk last time, I immediately implemented the “What & Why” moment into my classroom. At any given time during any class period, I will stop what I am doing or what the students are doing and ask them, “can you tell me what we are doing and why we are doing it?”. At first, this really caught them off-guard and I think they believed I was trying to catch them at not paying attention but after this conversation one day I had a student ask, “Mrs. Cooke, we were talking about this with students from your other classes and they said you ask them the same thing. Why do you ask this all the time?”. I told him that I believe that if they, as the students, don’t know why they are learning what they are learning, and they are just going through the motions in the class, then being in the class is a total waste of time. They agreed that they feel like they are just going through the motions most of the time in most of their classes. I told them that they need to take the time to reflect on what they are doing in life to make sure they understand why they are doing it. We all need to take this time for reflection and repurposing our energies as our own whys change and evolve over time. I really liked Sinek’s talk but I think he needed to take his speech one step further and give some tips on how to understand your why; things that people can do on a daily basis to reinvest in their professional and personal lives to help them stay attached to and focused on their whys.