Posts in Blog

Being Creative vs. Being Original

This post was written by Laura Warmke, 7th-12th grade Technology Coach and originally posted in 21st Century GRACE on January 31, 2017. 

More and more, we’re asking our students to be creative.  It’s one of the 4Cs, it’s the top of the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, and it’s a major goal of MakerSpaces, Project-Based Learning, and Design Thinking.

This is, overall, a very good thing.  We’re asking students to apply their knowledge in useful ways, and on any account, that has to be a major goal of education.

However, for some–or maybe even all–of our students, that’s a lot of pressure. I feel it too. Will I be able to come up with something new and better?  What if I can be creative today, but not tomorrow? Creativity can see elusive.

That’s why this quote struck me today:

It’s a reminder that I don’t have to be original to be creative. My ideas don’t have to be entirely new to be worthy.  I can edit, combine, remix (and cite along the way, of course), and this is still creative.  
It also reminds me that learning the basics is a prerequisite for creativity, a point that a book I’m reading (Making Learning Stick) drives home too.  Creativity builds on past knowledge.  It’s hard to be creative in any subject if you don’t know the basics. 
This kind of creativity feels like a much more obtainable goal to me.  I hope that as we all continue to advocate for more creativity we remember: being creative doesn’t have to mean being completely original. We can all take a big sigh of relief for that!
P.S. It appears that the author of the quote is a high school student who just completed AP Physics. This is another example of why students should be blogging: their thoughts can inspire–and not just their fellow students. Original article: “13 Ways Design Thinking is like Physics”

MLK Day and Education

“Intelligence plus character, that is the true goal of education.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

As educators, we invest in our students to develop their intelligence; however, our prayer for all students at GRACE Christian School is that they will develop a faith in Christ that will equip them with the character necessary to successfully navigate and persevere through life’s challenges.

In the nearly half century since his passing, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has taken his place alongside great figures of American History including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. As often happens with historical figures, it is easy to forget that Dr. King was a living, breathing person who felt fear, pain, and joy. It is important to remember that he was not always a larger-than-life figure. In one of his sermons, Dr. King speaks of sitting alone in his kitchen late one night, terrified of what the days ahead held for him and his family. His description is not of the iconic quotable figure speaking to the masses on the National Mall, but rather of a new father and young pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama. As he sat at his kitchen table, shaken by death threats and considering his future, he prayed. According to Dr. King, he was comforted by a sense that God would never leave him. Three days later, a bomb destroyed his front porch. In the coming years, death threats came daily. Dr. King was beaten and arrested on multiple occasions, but continued his mission of peaceful protest, emboldened by the knowledge that his Lord would not forsake him. In multiple sermons, Dr. King cited the prayer in his kitchen as a defining moment that prepared him for the trials ahead.

As followers of Christ, it is important for us to remember that salvation does not come with a promise of an easy life. Rather, the decision to follow Christ brings a promise of great difficulties. However, our foundation in Christ enables us to persevere, a theme found in Dr. King’s life and throughout the New Testament. We do well to remember the words Paul shared with the believers suffering in Rome:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5


Diversity & Educational Technology

As we begin the second semester, I thought you might be interested in reading about one of the many ways our team seeks to use technology as a tool to teach our students. Quite often, the most important lessons taught in the classroom relate to those life skills that go beyond the lesson at hand: collaboration, respect for others, analytical skills, etc. Please continue reading to see how GRACE’s use of educational technology can help students better appreciate the value of diversity.

This post is written by Laura Warmke, our 7th-12th grade Technology Coach and originally appeared in the 21st Century GRACE blog.

Ok, that title is bit misleading because this is not a blog post about the usual educational technology (edtech) diversity topic: how we need more girls and minorities in computer science (although of course we do). This is a post about how diversity–in race, in gender, in socioeconomic class–is valuable and what edtech can do about it.

I just finished reading this fabulous article: How Diversity Makes Us Smarter. Katherine W. Phillips presents fascinating research showing not only correlation but causation between diverse groups and innovation. One study found that “being with similar others leads us to think we all hold the same information and share the same perspective. This perspective…is what hinders creativity and innovation.” Diversity shakes our assumptions that others think like us, which makes us work harder and more creatively to come up with solutions. That, in turn, leads to more innovation and better problem-solving.

At GRACE, we are moving towards doing more and more open learning (e.g. 20% time, design thinking, project-based learning) where student innovation is a major goal. So how does this research affect us?

There are many non-tech ways to answer that question, but considering that I’m the Technology Coach, I’m going to think about it from an edtech perspective:

  • Random groups: If students are left to themselves to choose their own groups, they most likely will choose people who are like them and minimize diversity. Perhaps teachers should consider doing more projects with truly random groups. It’s hard to be completely random, so using something like an online random group generator could help.
  • Brainstorming: Making groups diverse does no good if certain group members’ ideas are always shot down. This can be fixed by good brainstorming rules, but it can also be helped by edtech tools. Dotstorming allows anonymous group voting on ideas. This way students feel more comfortable voting on the best idea, not just the one presented by the most popular student.
  • Mentors, part I: Educational technology can be wonderful for getting mentors’ diverse perspectives into the classroom. Even if it’s just having sophomores mentored by seniors, that’s increasing diversity (age diversity) in a project and should lead to greater innovation. However, it’s hard to get a senior and a sophomore physically together, so that’s where technology comes in. Perhaps mentors build a Padlet or Google Doc to document their interactions.
  • Mentors, part II: This is a strong argument for collaborating with other classrooms outside GRACE.  The best place I’ve found for finding people who want to collaborate is the Google+ Connected Classrooms group. It’s an all grades, all subjects group where people seek out U.S. or worldwide connections. [Hint: If you join, you can turn off the notifications if you want so you aren’t overwhelmed by then.  It can be a bit much.] Then, of course, you’ll run your collaboration through edtech: emails, Skype/Google Hangouts, Google Drive, Kahoot, Popplet, Twitter, Stormboard, Voicethread.  The important things here is not the edtech tool you use; it’s exposing your students to people who are different than them.
  • Blogs: If you have access to a computer and the internet, you have access to an astonishing number of people who post their opinions online. For free. Sometimes those opinions are derogatory, hateful, or wrong, but other times they are just different or (I’m going there) diverse. One way to get students the benefits of diversity without having to set up a connection with another classroom is to have students read blogs and leave helpful comments on a post. Hopefully, this process of interacting with people who don’t think like them forces students to think more and results in more creativity.
  • Real-world exhibitions and launches: a major part of project-based learning is exhibiting your work, whether that work is a drawing, a presentation, or a digital artifact. If there is some way to do this where students anticipate a diverse audience reacting their product–say, if the artwork is going to be displayed in NC State’s art department–this should prompt students to consider more deeply their product’s design and execution. Bonus points for allowing viewers to leave feedback for students (perhaps via Twitter?) and then having students take those into account on the next iteration of their product.

A final note: actively seeking out diversity in the classroom probably won’t be easy, on you or your students. As Phillips notes, there are positives and negatives to diversity: “people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.” Be prepared for some push back from students who find it easier to be with others who think like them. But also be prepared for diversity to push students to new ideas they never would have developed before.

2016 Christmas Message

Over the past several weeks, the word JOY has repeatedly entered into my life. I believe it began when my wife, Amy, brought home a five-foot tall white sign with JOY written in large red letters to use in our Christmas decorating. At GRACE, we have “JOY” written in large red letters in the main hallway of our TK-6th grade campus. Additionally, the word resounds through the stream of Christmas songs playing on our radios and the dialogue in every Hallmark channel movie. “JOY” is probably one of the most used words during the Christmas season, even though we may not hear it too often the other eleven months of the year.

The word “JOY” showed up as part of the devotion Assistant Principal Isaiah Whelpley shared at the December Donuts for Dads meeting. Isaiah read from John 15 and shared the importance of abiding in Christ. This is the passage where Jesus shares that He “is the vine and [His] Father is the vinedresser.” The illustration that follows in verses 2-10 discuss the importance of abiding in Christ. Abide has several meanings, including to remain with, to wait for, to accept without opposition, to act in accord with, and to remain faithful to. As part of the devotion, Isaiah did a fantastic job of sharing the need for all of us to abide in Christ at all times, and emphasized the need to do this amidst the busyness of our daily lives, and especially at Christmas. When we abide in Christ, it shows through our actions, especially to those who are closest to us. When we abide in Christ, people notice. When we abide in Christ, we become more like Christ in our thoughts.

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:9-11)

As Isaiah wrapped up his devotion that morning, I couldn’t help but get caught up in verse 11 — “These things I have spoken to you, that My JOY may remain in you, and that your JOY may be full.” So as you experience this hectic present-shopping, package-wrapping, parade-walking, carol-singing, midterm-grading, Hallmark movie-watching, college football-bowling, family-visiting, and sweet-eating time, remember that the key to finding JOY amidst all of this is to abide in Christ. Phillips Brooks, the author of O Little Town of Bethlehem, must have understood this when he wrote the line, “O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.”

“O holy Child of Bethlehem | Descend to us, we pray | Cast out our sin and enter in | Be born to us today | We hear the Christmas angels | The great glad tidings tell | O come to us, abide with us | Our Lord Emmanuel | O come to us, abide with us | Our Lord Emmanuel” (O Little Town of Bethlehem)

We are thankful for every GRACE family and hope your JOY is full this December as you abide in Him, and throughout the new year. Please enjoy this 2016 Christmas Video that was filmed and edited by our 6th grade Multimedia Elective class.

Project Based Learning

Laura’s Favorite Projects of the Year (so Far)

This post was written by Laura Warmke, our 7th-12th grade Technology Coach and originally appeared on November 17, 2016 in the 21st Century GRACE Blog

A lot of what I do is help teachers think through innovative projects–projects that spark curiosity, require real student innovation, and allow teachers to do less lecturing and more facilitating. This is called Project-Based Learning, and it’s a growing pedagogical strategy.

I think it’s enjoyable and inspiring to see what other teachers and students are doing, so here are a few of my favorite GRACE projects so far this year. As you can see, the GRACE family is doing some pretty amazing things.

Injustice Awareness (8th grade English with Kellie Petty):

Kelly said,

“I chose to do this project because after our summer reading, Bamboo People, students are suddenly aware of the horrors of forced child soldiers and ethnic warfare. As a response to the frustration resulting from that new knowledge, I hoped we could answer the question, ‘What can an 8th grade Christian do?'”

Students used Maslow’s heirarchy of needs to identify an unmet need in the world, learned and used research skills, and did something with their knowledge. Some students created posters, made t-shirts, or wrote letters to US Senators or Representatives. Others volunteered with an organization or had fund-raising campaigns.

Time Hop (10th grade Bible with Daniel Fairchild):

10th grade Bible is focused on the life of Christ, and that begins with knowing where and when Jesus lived: Ancient Israel. Before school started, Daniel approached me with an idea for a project to make this material more engaging: what if students had to prepare a modern day person to travel back in time to ancient Israel? Students would learn about ancient Israel, but it would be much more exciting than listening to lectures.

Working in groups, students 3D-printed maps of Israel, made timelines of Jesus’s life complete with Aurasma Auras, and produced videos about the political structure of Israel, among other things. My favorite product was a 3D-printed replica of a coin used in Jesus’s time.

Demystifying Nuclear (8th grade Science with Beth Hawks):

I asked Beth why she did this project, and she said,

“Nuclear is becoming an increasing part of all of our lives, from cancer treatment to power production to consumer products, and yet it is still very misunderstood. There isn’t time to add a unit specifically about nuclear to the curriculum, so this is a way that they can understand an important concept without taking up a ton of class time.”

In this project, 8th graders are tackling one group of nuclear uses (e.g. fusion as an energy source) and, as a class, choosing how to present: a live forum with invited guests, building a website, or curating a YouTube playlist with videos they’ve made and some they’ve found.

That’s three examples from many. I could have talked about 20% time/passion projects for sophomores and juniors in English, PE/Health 9th graders running their own leagues during their football unit, Seniors mentoring 7th-grade students, or Chemistry students creating their own labs using inquiry principles. As I am writing this, our 7th-12 grade Media Specialist, Daniel O’Brien, tweeted a picture of spinning tops that physics students designed and 3D-printed to learn about rotation.

In all of this, GRACE teachers are focused on creating the most meaningful, impactful, engaging learning possible. That’s one of the things I love about projects at GRACE: they aren’t just to be cute or different; they exist to make learning richer. It’s all part of our Open Learning initiative.

I do want to note that not every product on every project is mind-blowing. Sometimes students want to do something great and run out of time, technology seems to be fighting them, or the project needs to be tweaked to produce better outcomes. GRACE hasn’t figured out how to do everything perfectly on the first try. That said, what we do have is a “Let’s try it!” attitude, and that’s a great thing to model to our students.

And if you thought that was it, there are some really exciting projects beginning or upcoming:

  • Growing plants to maximize yield in Biology
  • Spreading Kindness at GRACE project in Health
  • Designing (and hopefully building) Tiny Houses in Geometry
  • Designing and engineering for missionaries in Physics
  • Creating Digital history pieces in History
  • Making positive propaganda in English
  • Creating Spanish tutorials for GRACE students going on missions trips

There’s so much going on, look for more project recap blog posts in the spring!

Our Trying Times

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in the crisis, shrink from that service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”  Thomas Paine, December, 1776

When Thomas Paine penned The Crisis two-hundred-and-forty years ago, the United States of America was little more than an audacious idea. Independence from Great Britain had not been won. The Constitution and Bill of Rights had not been written. Paine could not have envisioned a Civil War that would end slavery or the struggle for equality that would follow. He had no idea that the very loosely connected confederation of states would eventually become the greatest economic and military power the world would ever know. However, what he did see with uncanny clarity was that he was in the midst of an event of historic importance. He grasped the magnitude of the moment.  Specifically, he understood that if the colonists failed to respond to this moment with action — tangible, impassioned, purposeful action — the moment would be lost.

I feel we have reached another crisis point in American history that requires action, albeit a very different type. The 2016 election results revealed empirically what we already knew emotionally — our nation is deeply divided. We are challenged by passionately held economic and philosophical differences, as well as racial divisions dating back generations, that reach well beyond political party ideologies. Disappointingly, there is an inability or unwillingness among our population to acknowledge that reasonable, well-intentioned people can have differing viewpoints. It is important for us to think back to Paine’s words. We may be guilty of esteeming our freedom too lightly, forgetting that it was paid for dearly by those who did not shrink from serving their country, the very veterans we honored last week in the days following the election.  At Gettysburg, Lincoln poetically acknowledged the sacrifice of the men who “gave the last full measure of devotion” so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The sacrifices of those men, as well as the men and women who both preceded and followed them, must not be in vain. Those individuals sacrificed for our right to worship as we please, to protest peacefully when we feel the need to do so, and to elect our leaders through democratic means. Today, billions of men and women around the world dream of the freedoms that we too often take for granted. As Americans, we owe a debt that cannot be fully repaid. We honor the sacrifices made by demonstrating the proper respect for and practice of those freedoms that have been so dearly won.

Furthermore, as ambassadors for Christ on foreign soil (2 Corinthians 5:20), we have an even greater responsibility in service to our eternal King. As was the case in 1776, this moment requires action. There are people throughout our nation who are wounded, angry, and frightened. We have the great responsibility and awesome opportunity to demonstrate to these individuals the love of Christ, whether we find common ground over political ideologies or not. In his book Serious Times, Dr. James Emery White writes, “The heart of Jesus’ strategy for transforming the world was unleashing a force of transformed lives…This is how the world will be changed: individuals who have had their lives touched by Christ turning around and touching the lives of others.” In the midst of this volatile season of American history, I encourage you to be counter-cultural by demonstrating a love and respect for your neighbor that sets you apart from others. Allow the joy of Christ to shine through you in such a manner that others cannot help but be drawn to it. Seek to be the difference-maker in your community through acts of servant-leadership. Speak truth, but do so in love. Demonstrate compassion under challenging circumstances. In so doing, we will play our part in healing the wounds of our nation, but, more importantly, we will live out our calling from Romans 12 to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.”

Contributing Author:

  • Eric Bradley, Head of School

Open Learning

As GRACE grows and takes fuller advantage of our technology resources, you may hear the term Open Learning. Open Learning does not mean GRACE is getting rid of curriculum, standards or teachers. Open Learning means that teachers provide students with real life problems or questions and students work on possible solutions. In the process of grappling with these questions, students learn the curriculum while sharpening their collaboration, divergent thinking, and inquiry skills. Teachers may use pedagogical techniques like design thinking, project-based learning, gamification or flipped learning to facilitate this process.  At the end of the unit, the students will produce a result that demonstrates understanding of the information as well as creativity and innovation in the solution.

Open Learning is built upon the foundations of technology and the 21st Century learning skills of collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. GRACE wants our students to be “lifelong learners who know how to research, analyze, and synthesize new information and present it professionally.”  Open Learning helps us achieve and advance this goal with an emphasis on student choice, inquiry, and creation for real world audiences.  All of this will help students gain skills they need for college and the workforce as well as prepare them to impact their world for Christ.

In the process of working on bigger picture projects, teachers impart the skills needed for students to succeed at all levels. There will always be times when the best way for students to learn is a teacher sharing their knowledge. Additionally, teachers are actively involved with students designing questions and guiding projects, mentoring, monitoring, and coming alongside students to enable them to get the most out of the experience.

GRACE teachers are focusing on building collaboration across subjects.  For example, students may be working on a project that achieves curricular goals in history, English, and Bible simultaneously. This approach ensures that students are not overloaded with projects in multiple classes within a span of time. This cross-curricular collaboration also helps students see the relevance of their studies in multiple areas and the real-life relationships between subjects. Our students are poised to be leaders in their generation. GRACE is preparing them for this role into the future.

Contributing Authors:

  • Mandy Gill, Principal, Grades 7-12
  • Laura Warmke, Technology Coach, Grades 7-12
  • Daniel O’Brien, Media Specialist, Grades 7-12

How Star Wars Impacted Courses at GRACE

This post is by Carol Gehringer, the TK-6th Grade Media Coordinator and originally was published on the 21st Century GRACE Blog on June 15, 2016.


It all started when I [Carol] saw the latest Star Wars movie over Christmas break 2015. In addition to the famous C3PO & R2D2, there was a new robot companion, Bb-8. Of course, it was an endearing droid, and a new “toy” for Christmas.

When I logged onto the Barnes and Noble website to order some books for our library. I saw this Ozobot, tagged as “one of the world’s smallest programmable robots, measuring just over 1 inch in height & diameter.” The description claimed it was a learning tool to teach children the basics of coding and programming.

That got me to thinking . . . what if we went beyond the Hour of Code?

During the 2014-2015 school year, our technology teacher introduced Hour of Code to our 3rd-5th graders. We repeated it for our 3rd-6th graders during the 2015-2016 school year, adding an unpluggable lesson to the Hour of Code lesson, during the 4th quarter. During the current school year, we plan to observe National Computer Science Week/Hour of Code in December.

Those events led me to a discussion with our principals, our technology teacher, and our 6th-grade team. Where previously we offered only a multimedia elective in 6th grade, now we are planning an introduction to computer science (focusing on coding) as the new elective — in addition to our multimedia curriculum.

This additional class will build more interest in our new computer science classes in middle & high school. Plus, we are planning a tech club next year for 5th and 6th graders. That way if a 6th grader couldn’t take the new elective, the student would still be introduced to coding and some fun tech stuff in the club.

We are especially excited that the tech club and coding elective class will be taught by women, and a number of girls are signing up for the elective!

Greetings from the Head of School

Welcome to GRACE!

Welcome to GRACE Christian School, “a loving community that spiritually and academically equips, challenges, and inspires students to impact their world for Jesus Christ.” Our mission provides us with more than words on a wall or a nice byline for our stationary. Our entire community is committed to making these words a reality in the lives of our students.

We talk about community a lot at GRACE  because we understand the importance and value of a Christ-centered community. As a Christian community we are unapologetic in our commitment to place Christ first in all things. These are interesting times for families as technology has created a culture that has the power to unite people across the world, but also to isolate us as individuals become increasingly focused on their digital lives. Our loving community seeks to help young people engage in healthy relationships built upon a reliance on Jesus Christ, understanding that their value is not based on the number of likes or followers they receive, but on the fact that they are children of a loving God.

We commit to engage our students both spiritually and academically, striving to develop well-rounded individuals equipped to take on the challenges of the twenty-first century marketplace. Our goal is for each student to maximize his or her talents, whether academic, athletic, artistic, or spiritual, to God’s ultimate glory. We accomplish this through the work of our teachers, lifelong learners committed to engaging in best practices in the classrooms and beyond. Author Henry Adams famously wrote, “A teacher impacts eternity; he never knows where his influence stops.”  Our teachers are eternally minded, teaching from a Christian worldview and incorporating biblical truth into their instruction. Our commitment to best practices includes integrating technology throughout the curriculum. At the earliest elementary levels our students are introduced to the basics of coding, keyboarding, and digital citizenship through the use of Smartboards and laptop computers. In fourth grade, each student learns to use a laptop for daily work. From fifth grade through graduation, every student receives a laptop computer as part of our 1:1 laptop program. Significantly, every teacher receives personalized training and support in utilizing the computers as an instructional tool.

We are excited about what God is doing here and look forward to sharing the news with others.


Eric Bradley, Head of School

Media Specialists in a 1:1 World

This post is written by Carol Gehringer, Media Coordinator and originally appeared in the GRACE IT Department Technology Blog on March 18, 2016.

What happens when a school implements a 1:1 technology initiative? How does that affect the media specialist (aka school librarian)? Well, the answer is: it varies.

In our school, we have 3 library media specialists. Both campuses have traditional school library collections (books, DVDs, and so on). One media specialist (Carol) has both a master’s degree and teacher’s certification and decades of experience. The other is still working on the master’s degree but also has teaching experience. Our former media specialist is now a part-time technology coach for our upper school and does her work remotely, using technology tools to interact with our teachers.

Our responsibilities involve more than helping teachers and students to find materials and do research; we also teach library classes, run book clubs, and do research & evaluate library purchases.

After the 1:1 initiative at our school, they were expanded to include:

  • teach digital citizenship lessons, esp. on ethical use of information
  • help troubleshoot technology problems as part of the IT team
  • teach students to use the laptops to effectively use online resources
  • research tools to help teachers integrate technology into their lessons
  • provide technology professional development for teachers
  • apply own research skills to finding & evaluating new/better online resources

Are these responsibilities beyond the boundaries for library media specialists? I think not. Our profession is focused on evaluating and organizing information, regardless of the container (book, ebook, website, or app).

Today’s library media specialist is a teacher, instructional partner, program administrator, and information specialist. We must be lifelong learners and lifelong readers, to set the example for our students.

There are new tools to discover, new teachers to equip, to students to teach, and new horizons to conquer. It’s a great time to be a school librarian (aka library media specialist)!