Real-World Impact: Guest Post @TylerThigpen #MVPSchool #MVIFI #MVImpact

Today, the Upper School parents at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (where I work, learn, serve, and play) received a letter from Head of Upper School Tyler Thigpen, and I am quoting a significant section of the letter below, with his permission, as something like a guest blog post.

To give just a bit of context, the Upper School students at Mount Vernon experience (and share voice in the iterative implementation of) a very purposefully researched, designed and orchestrated transdisciplinary program. Using MVPS’s developed model of design thinking – DEEP (Discover, Empathize, Experiment, and Produce) – faculty and students focused on discovery and empathy phases in September, October, and November. Then, in the first week of school in January, students engaged in a mixture of content/context workshopping, vigorous presentation production, and iterative pitching to convince expert panels to approve further work on the projects into the experiment and produce phases. Pitches were evaluated on ten comprehensive criteria, and projects were also rated by degree of difficulty.

Okay, now onto the guest-blogging-by-way-of-parent-letter…

Dear Upper School Family,

Happy New Year!

I have been itching to share with you the deep learning, college preparation, and marketplace training that have already occurred this year.

Last week, thanks to an innovative plan crafted collaboratively by both students and teachers, Upper School students positioned themselves to leverage content and skills from their classes to design and pitch capstone projects aimed at real-world impact.

They developed creative solutions, honed their presentation abilities, and used constructive criticism to correct previous knowledge and improve ideas. Examples of diving deep in search of learning outcomes in some of their classes included: students writing algorithms, researching flora and fauna, learning profit maximization, understanding search engine optimization, and performing comparative analyses.

Students received pointers from visiting professionals such as the SVP of Business Operations at Turner Broadcasting, SVP of Communications & Investor Relations at First Data, VP of Marketing at Popeye’s, VP of Financial Planning & Analysis at Manheim, Chief Development Officer at Metro Atlanta YMCA, Councilman at City of Sandy Springs, and numerous others.

The learning that is taking place is truly remarkable.

Colleges appreciate when students come equipped to learn how disciplines overlap and how humanistic and scientific approaches can be applied to real-world issues and challenges. Both emphases were front and center last week. About this approach, a Wake Forest University faculty leader writes:

“Mount Vernon’s innovative move, allowing students and curriculum to cohabit in a learning environment, should serve as a model for all schools. The difference between knowing about and knowing is profound. When students engage the realities of their study–the good, bad, and the ugly– the result is ownership; students become actors who come to believe they can act. The point of education is to sanction agency for students to win their future. Hats off to Mount Vernon.”

– Dr. Allan Louden, Communication Studies Department Chair, Wake Forest University, and Director of United States Grant for the Ben Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Institute

From the private sector, another professional comments,

“Mount Vernon’s transdisciplinary approach focuses on building strong critical thinking and problem solving skills that will better prepare students to compete in a global marketplace.”

– Joanne Burke, Banker, Goldman Sachs; and Member of Board of Overseers, Boston Symphony Orchestra

Lastly, one of last week’s panelists remarks,

“Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of such an exciting experience! Not only was it meaningful to me because I witnessed tremendous growth in the students…but it was also incredible to see students tackling problems that exist in the world outside MVPS, offering significant and relevant solutions. I am impressed with the level of thoughtfulness and detail students put into their projects. Thank you again for allowing me to join!”

In my career I cannot remember seniors, during their final semester of high school, spontaneously celebrating success by running down a hallway and high-fiving classmates because of a school project. But that is what happened.

Levels of engagement, relevance, and challenge are high, and I look forward to sharing more updates as the process evolves.

Tyler S Thigpen

Head of Upper School

Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

“If you would like to help us design school…” #MVPSchool #MVIFI

I love my school for so many reasons. Just this morning, I received an email that provided me with yet another reason. The email was sent to the entire Upper School student body, and I was copied. It was an email rich in design thinking. It was an email full of trust that honors the wisdom of the “student.” It was an email full of promise for the depths of design – at the intersection of creativity and functionality.

Design thinking is people-centered problem solving. It is fundamentally concerned with and connected to the users of the things being designed. It is full of empathy and creative, critical thinking applied to real-world issues and challenges.

The most ambitious school leaders are serious about the design of “school.” How could one not be in our current era – to continuously think, design, and act for the best learning experiences for our learners. To give anything less than such critical attention would be unthinkable. Even if one determined to leave school “as is,” it would be superb if such decision making stemmed from thoughtful research and design, rather than status quo or de facto operations.

So, here’s the email. What a glorious invitation. How grateful I am that such is commonplace where I work and learn!


I hope you all had a great weekend.

If you would like to help us design school for the “Experiment” and “Produce” phases of the projects, we need your ideas and help.

I invite you to join me either for lunch Wednesday or for breakfast Friday (on me) to discuss how we might best design the school day to position you for success.

Click here to sign up. [active link in original email]

There are only 50 available slots this week, and there will [be] more opportunities in the near future.

Enjoy your day,

Tyler S. Thigpen


Head of Upper School

Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

#FSBL, #YesAnd, #DTk12, #MVPSchool

#FSBL –> #YesAnd –> #DTk12 –> #MVPSchool

HOW MIGHT WE weave together: 1) a blog post about student-driven learning, 2) explorations by a father and two sons, and 3) two incredible educators working to blur the lines between “school” and “real life?”

  1. For me, a wonderful convergence happened today. First, while reading this morning, I benefitted mightily from “Start with Why: The power of student-driven learning” by Shelley Wright.
  2. Start with Why: The power of student-driven learning… via @plpnetwork & @wrightsroom #MustRead
  3. Then, my two sons and I embarked on a Father-Son-Based-Learning journey to Sope Creek Park. Near the end of that trip, I highlighted one of the posts from our adventure for @SciTechyEdu. In exemplary improv and design-thinking form, she “yes-and’ed” me. Beautifully, another extraordinary team member of mine from Mount Vernon chimed in with more “yes-and’s.” Now, we have the nucleus of a pretty amazing opportunity for unifying and integrating curriculum and instruction around a core idea of natural area surrounding our school and the water-based challenges we face as a community.
  4. Here’s the #FSBL – in 9 quick auto-posts that are generated when my sons and I create an #FSBL observation-journal entry.
  5. Exploring Sope Creek Park #FSBL
  6. Learning to navigate & map read #FSBL
  7. Sibley Pond, Sope Creek Park, #FSBL
  8. Info board. Natl Park Service. #FSBL, @scitechyedu
  9. And here’s where Mary joins in our learning journey and expands the potential of a future project/challenge exploration…
  10. Yes plant & animal id, geocaching, trail maint. &… RT @boadams1: Info board Natl Park Service #FSBL, @scitechyedu
  11. And here’s where Chris jumps in and expands the opportunity and potential even further…
  12. @boadams1 @scitechyEDU YES and include water table info; explore h2o rights, too
  13. @chrisandres003 Yes! And could write to Upper Hooch River Keepers, apply for grant, etc. @scitechyEDU
  14. @boadams1 @scitechyEDU YES and design water usage/conservation plan for MVPS, S. Spings, etc.
  15. Mary connects our ideating to a resource from Stanford…
  16. @chrisandres003 @boadams1 look at this H20 design thinking challenge…
  17. And she moves to implementation by moving us to “WHEN & WHERE.” This moves ideas to action.
  18. @boadams1 @chrisandres003 I will b in i.Design lab all next week workin’ & strategizing on the ZBoards… Swing by…
  19. And Chris commits to joining such implementation and #ActionEd…
  20. @scitechyEDU @boadams1 love where this is going! I’ll try and swing by Monday. Name a time
  21. For me, this is an incredible example of how a simple commitment to community exploration and discovery (#FSBL) can connect with other ideas and possibilities for reimagining and recreating school. Together, I believe Mary, Chris, and I (and others) will make something happen from this ideation. It is this openness and exuberance and design-mindedness that makes me so excited to work with #MVPSchool faculty and leadership. For me, Mary and Chris translated ideation into innovation. Thanks, you two!