Rosie Revere, Engineer Inspires Club

By Matt Murray, Director of Technology

The Girl Engineers Club debuted last Tuesday, led by our technology integration specialist, Stephanie Johnson. Started in 2015, Girl Engineers was an idea inspired by a Primary Unit classroom reading of Andrea Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer and aims to address the underrepresentation of women in the STEM workforce.

The National Girls Collaborative Project, which works toward this same aim, cites data from the National Science Foundation 2016 study to support their urgency in this drive for equality. The study revealed that only 17.5% of civil, architectural, and sanitary engineers, 17.1% of industrial engineers, 10.7% of electrical or computer hardware engineers, and 7.9% of mechanical engineers are women.

This fall our young engineers will explore three specific types of engineering – electrical, structural, and environmental – as they build upon their prior knowledge of machines and tools in the framework of the design process. Each club member will ask questions about real-world problems, assess available supplies, research the problem at hand, imagine a solution to the problem, develop a plan for the promising solution, create prototypes, test/evaluate their solutions, and redesign or improve on their initial design.

Tuesday’s first meeting challenged the students to prototype a straw tower, then build that tower with finite supplies (just tape and the least amount of straws possible), and iterate until the tower was as tall as possible, supporting an optimal vertical structure. Following their individual work, our engineers came together to look at one another’s designs, acknowledge how they all could improve upon their own originals, and eventually, collaborate on an even taller, more geometrically sound design structure by using the strengths of each solo project.

Beautiful Questions

By David D’Altorio, 8th grade cultural studies teacher

What if questions are more important than answers?

As any parent or early childhood educator knows, young children are natural and incessant questioners. It makes sense – for much of our early lives, every day holds previously unknown objects, sensations, and experiences. We must ask questions simply to understand what’s happening around us.

But as we become more ontologically secure, we become less curious; according to a 2009 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, only about 50% of middle school students ask questions about their knowledge and experiences on any given day.

As a middle school teacher, that statistic is troubling to me. Some of the most powerful moments in my classroom have been when students were able to ask a question that opened the door to a body of knowledge or a line of thinking that they never knew existed before. It was perhaps even more troubling as a citizen of the 21st century. These days, our ability to sift through mountains of irrelevant, inaccurate, or intentionally deceptive information is being tested like never before. In all this informational static, I know that great questions serve as antennae that help us find the signals in the noise.

For these reasons, I decided to try a new tool in my cultural studies classroom this fall. I learned about it through our faculty and staff summer reading book, Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question. Berger explores how entrepreneurs, artists, activists, and educators have improved their businesses, schools, and lives by consciously asking more – and more novel – questions. It’s called the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), and it’s deceptively simple. In essence, the teacher presents the students with a claim about which they must then develop as many questions as they can. Afterwards, the class examines and discusses their questions, chooses which ones are most interesting or important, and uses them to focus further reading and inquiry.

So, to kick off our study of the American Revolution, I presented to my eighth graders the following claim: If people are unhappy with their government, they should be allowed to get rid of that government. After five minutes of furious question generation, every one of my students had developed deep, complex, and fundamental questions about the nature of political revolutions generally. For example:

  • “Would the government be replaced with a new one? What kind?”

  • “Is everyone unhappy, or just some of them?”

  • “What would happen to people who liked the government?”

  • “Would the place just become chaos?”

  • “Would there be violence?”

Such questions provide students an opportunity to think through the momentous challenges and decisions facing such revolutionaries as Britain’s North American colonists in the 1770s. They also enable students to focus their efforts during our class readings and discussions on questions they have framed for themselves, giving them additional incentive and investment in finding an answer.

We’ve just started experimenting with this tool, but I’m already encouraged and excited to see how far it can take us. I know that teaching students to ask better, “more beautiful” questions will help them succeed in school. I hope it will also help them succeed as thoughtful citizens.

Why I Teach

Each in-service before of the start of the school year, teachers and staff prepare a “Why I Teach” speech to present to their colleagues. This year athletic director and PE teacher Bart Jeannoute was one of three “Why I Teach” presenters. Here is a transcript of his talk.

Bart 2.jpg

If you were to ask my mother, she would affirm that, yes, Bartley has always been a on the hunt for food. Evidently, not much has changed since childhood as I can usually be found close to the back table during faculty meetings. The only thing that rivaled my quest for food was my insatiable hunger for knowledge. ‘

As a child, I lived within walking distance to my public library, and I quickly became a fixture there. I would often borrow the maximum allotment of books each visit, and whatever I couldn’t take with me, I reserved for later. I would take countless notes about my reading in my notebook.

I learned to use the dictionary and other resources to unpack the complex words I encountered. The greatest resource, of course, was my mother. She would challenge me to not only learn new words and concepts but to put them to practice. She gave me a new word daily and tasked me with the job of using it in a sentence at least three times that day. One word per day kept me at bay for only so long. Soon it was two – and then three – words.

Eventually, instead of simply supplying me with additional words to study, my mother instructed me to seek out the new words on my own. She challenged me to work my way through the English dictionary from start to finish.  (I got about a third of the way through in a month’s time before abandoning the venture.)

My ability to self-motivate and to remain engaged with text provided a solid foundation when I began my high school career at Seton Hall Prep. I excelled in my honors English courses and found great satisfaction in being recognized as a strong writer. Yet I felt like there was something missing. All the great authors we studied shared one common thread: They were all old white men with perspectives and experiences that were very different than my own. I became increasingly frustrated by the lack of diverse cultural representation in the assigned readings. So I started my own curriculum. I immersed myself in the works of W.E.B DuBois, Assata Shakur, and Malcolm X.  The more I read, the more motivated I became to write. I began to recognize the importance of telling my story. The importance of having a voice and agency of my educational experience.

I began to interrogate some of my teachers about the absence of black faces from their lists of “great authors.” My questions were often met with a practiced dismissiveness or fell short of what I felt to be satisfactory response. After a few weeks of my badgering, a letter was sent home to my mother. The letter described a radical shift in my classroom behavior. I was suddenly being labeled as hostile, accusatory, and aggressive.

My mother was in disbelief. She called me into the kitchen and sat me down at the table. I looked into her tired eyes and saw not anger, or even disappointment, but panic. Without speaking a word she reached into her purse and removed two envelopes. The first envelope was a bill from the my school for that term. The second was her biweekly pay stub. She asked me to calculate the difference between the two. I ran the the numbers and quickly realized her point. She spent every penny she earned to send me to Seton Hall Prep. Countless hours of labor went into funding my private school education. Innumerable sacrifices on my behalf. And here I was causing trouble in the white man’s school with my ranting about appropriate cultural representation and inquiring about author’s intent.

That experience still resonates with me today.  Here was a single mother who was doing everything she could to provide for her child and encourage him in his educational pursuits. But she was also responsible for reminding him about the risk of being too vocal, too dynamic, too black. Subdued into silence out of fear of squandering my mother’s money, I returned to school the next day completely disillusioned and questioning the integrity of my high school.

These feelings persisted until I arrived at Temple University. It was not until I enrolled in my first African American Literature course that I saw authors of color celebrated and recognized as contributing members of the literary world. I was finally in a place where I felt seen and heard – for the first time I actually felt welcomed and accepted in an academic setting.

At the end of the semester I sought out my professor –Professor Roland Williams – to thank him for facilitating such a positive learning environment. I explained to him the struggles I endured as a black student in a predominantly white high school. And I mentioned the challenges I faced in college as the only male or person of color in many of my education courses. Professor Williams assured me of two things that I will remember forever:

#1 I have the right, the same as any other student, to speak my truth.
#2 I also have the obligation to uplift and encourage others in my community to do the same.

That was my “aha moment.” That is when I knew I had made the right decision to be an educator. I teach because I have always loved to learn. I teach to honor the sacrifices my mother made when investing in my education. I teach because writing and literature have also been my vehicles for self-exploration and expression. I teach because I want every student I encounter to know that their stories matter. Their experiences matter.  They should know that they alone are the authors of their own destinies.

I teach because education set me free, and it is my turn to hold the gate open for others.

PA's Copy of the Bill of Rights: Where Is It?

Today – the day after Constitution Day – marked the first of the year's Monthly Constitutionals.

Monthly Constitutionals are presentations by scholars, attorneys, activists, and civic leaders about topics related to our 8th graders’ year-long study of the U.S. Constitution.

TPS parent and attorney Josh Wolson kicked off our 2018-19 series with a presentation that was not about the survival of the rights included in the Bill of Rights (we will do that later!) but rather about the actual survival of velum copies of the historic document itself.  

Each state was sent a copy of the Bill of Rights in order to ratify it. Students learned about an FBI sting operation right here in Philadelphia in 2003 that led to the recovery of North Carolina's original copy of the Bill of Rights. Josh also described Pennsylvania's attempt to recover its allegedly stolen copy and the eventual agreement between the New York Public Library and our Commonwealth to share the document in question.

High School Fair Draws 20+ Schools

Monday’s TPS High School Fair officially kicked off the high school selection process for our Class of 2019!

While Middle School Director Tanya Salewski had already met with most 8th grade families to talk about choosing their “next school,” the High School Fair set the tone for the next few exciting months when our students discover which schools fit their interests and learning styles.

Not only did high school admissions representatives attend – the fair attracted many TPS alumni who are students at some of these high schools. Below is a list of the schools that attended the fair.

  • Abington Friends School

  • Agnes Irwin School

  • Baldwin School

  • Blair Academy

  • Central High School

  • The City School

  • Crefeld School

  • Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School

  • Friends’ Central School

  • Friends Select School

  • Germantown Friends School

  • Madeira School

  • Penn Charter School

  • Quadrat Academy

  • Revolution School

  • St. Andrew’s School

  • St. Josephs Preparatory School

  • St. Timothy’s School

  • Science Leadership Academy

  • Shipley School

  • Springside Chestnut Hill Academy

  • West Nottingham Academy

  • Westtown School

The Evolution of TPS Space

 By Carlye Nelson-Major, Associate Head

The physical space at TPS has evolved and expanded over time. Our Lombard Street building was not built as a school. TPS purchased the property, originally the New York Pie Baking Company and later Global Security, in 1989 after renting spaces in parts of the 2501 Lombard building beginning in 1976 (four years after our founding).

Over the years we did our best to retrofit spaces to meet the needs of our students and our program. It’s been a hodgepodge of transitions, with increasing intentionality around achieving a thoughtful master design. We have updated mechanical systems, added a gym, expanded into the 2503 Lombard building, renovated the 3rd floor and Middle School areas – more than once! - and tweaking small spaces in between those major renovations.

TPS took on another renovation this summer to further enhance our Lombard Street classroom spaces. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classrooms on the second floor were gutted down to the studs and reconfigured to redistribute and optimize the spaces. This project took two years of careful planning, designing, and execution to create child-centered spaces that will withstand the test of time.

A small building project team met weekly over the past year to bring this renovation to fruition. Our process was rooted in the understanding that best practice school design keeps pace with research on how students learn best. We wanted to ensure that our design reflected the flexible needs of a progressive approach to teaching and learning and allowed our classrooms to be places that fostered curiosity, connections, exploration, and collaboration. Ideas, concerns, and hopes were solicited from teachers early and often by the architect and project team. Acoustics, lightening, storage, and flexibility were key concerns discussed.


The outcome includes evenly sized teaching spaces. Each classroom has a folding partition wall to divide the room into two acoustically separated teaching spaces. Storage has been maximized, and adjacencies improved. The design followed the aesthetics of our earlier Middle School renovations – simple, flexible, functional, and beautiful.

It was a Herculean effort on the part of many people to get this project designed, approved, and executed. The architect, project managers, and construction company communicated well and problem solved throughout the process in order to bring the renovation in on time and under budget. Yes, on time and under budget!!  Special thanks to the Building Committee and to Director of Finance and Operations Carol Lerner and Plant Manager Brian Harrity for their daily tending of the project; we could not have done this without them.

Please pop up to the Lombard 2nd floor at the end of any day to take a look at this remarkable transformation. It’s a space that will beautifully support our student’s learning for years to come. At the same time as we savor the results of this project, our Building Committee is beginning the process of taking a close look at the building’s remaining unrenovated spaces and updating the master plan so it closely aligns with our strategic plan.  Learn here. Go anywhere.