January 11, 21017
Active Learning at T. Benton Gale Middle School
I recently visited three classes at T. Benton Gayle Middle School where the level of active student engagement was palpable. First up was Mrs. Brenda James, last year’s teacher of the year at Gale. Mrs. James used an experiential immersion lesson to help students understand different aspects of industrialization by exploring the shift from cottage industries to the assembly line. We were shirt makers, who transitioned from designing and constructing an entire shirt (on paper) to being responsible for one small shirt component on an assembly line – I ended up being responsible for just two buttons. We were not well compensated and the working conditions were less than ideal. I complained about not having any breaks and was informed that if I continued to complain, I would be fired. The workers at my end of the line decided to walk out (to the other side of the room), eventually followed by the remaining workers. We left, demonstrating the power of union. A debrief, led by Mrs. James, followed. Mrs. James did an exceptional job, from framing the exercise at the beginning of the lesson to checking for understanding at the end!
Second up was an exploratory class in guitar, interdisciplinary in nature – art (as in performance) and science (as in physics) -- taught by Mr. Juan Chaves, who, not surprisingly, plays the guitar, but also teaches science with endorsements in chemistry and biology – endorsements that I share! So, how could I not bring my guitar?! It was a great lesson that made wonderful connections between the arts and sciences with opportunities for students to explore both in a meaningful way.
My final visit of the day was to Mrs. Jaime Moncur’s health and physical education class. After a little running and some warm-up exercises, students were divided into teams to shoot baskets. The catch, each successful basket earned a bone (laminated paper) from a human skeleton. The challenge, students had to successfully assemble a human skeleton (The bones were grouped so that success would not require 206 baskets!). Kudos to Mrs. Moncur for creating a great lesson that focused on wellness and content at the same time!
And, many thanks to Principal Lloyd for coordinating my visit – great day!
December 20, 2016
Native American Shelters: Engineering Design Challenge at Garrisonville
Students in Ms. Erin Lopes’ 5th grade class at Garrisonville Elementary School recently participated in an engineering design challenge related to the study of Native Americans, more specifically the structures they used for shelter: wigwams, tipis, longhouses, pueblos, and igloos. Students worked in collaborative teams using only limited resources provided using critical thinking, creativity, and communication to construct shelter models. Students compared shelters and functionality based on Native American life styles and available resources. I participated on the tipi team. One of our challenges was related to our struggle in preventing the collapsing of our pole structure. Ultimately, we determined collapsibility was a good thing given the mobile nature of the Lakota. Kudos to Ms. Lopes for putting together such an engaging, student-centered challenge that was rich in grade-level content.
December 19, 2016
…gravitationally speaking! I had the pleasure of spending some time in Mr. Seth Thompson’s honor’s physics class at Mountain View High School last week. The focus of the lesson was an introduction of gravity to include Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation and gravitational field strength, in other words, attractive forces, between us and anything else with mass. Student prior understanding of gravity was assessed using a scenario where two students were discussing gravity, one asserting the gravity needs an atmosphere and the other asserting that it does not. Students had to select which they agreed with and then provide an explanation. Approximately two thirds of the class agreed with the later.
Uncovering student understanding, as well as any misconceptions when introducing new concepts, is an important part the teaching and learning process. Failure to do so may leave students competent in computational and procedural fluency, but at a loss from a conceptual perspective. Have you seen the video of the Harvard graduates responding to the question: What causes the seasons on Earth? Their response: distance from the sun.
Mr. Thompson was teacher of the year at MVHS last year, and with good reason. He is an exceptional teacher of … young people (I bet you thought I was going to say physics, right?). Mr. Thompson’s focus is clearly about inspiring and empowering young people. As he explained to me at the end of the lesson, the study of physics is simply the vehicle.
December 1, 2016
Reconnecting with the Recorder
While I have dropped in on a number of music classes across the division, I had the opportunity to participate in one in a unique way this week. I visited one of Ms. Sydney Kimbrough’s 4th grade music classes at Park Ridge Elementary School and got to participate in the learning experience as a student.
Like many elementary students across the county, I first learned to read and play music on a recorder – a long time ago, mind you. I had the pleasure of reconnecting with the recorder in midst of a delightful group of budding 4th grade musicians at Park Ridge under the expert tutelage of Ms. Kimbrough. During the main portion of the lesson, Ms. Kimbrough divided the class into 4 groups and rotated the groups through four stations: Note bean bag toss (tossing bean bags onto a staff rug and identifying the note), symbol bean bag toss (tossing bean bags onto a circle with musical symbols and identifying the symbol), a recorder-labeling station where fingerings were labeled, and a recorder station where Ms. Kimbrough taught fingerings for B, A, and G, and note reading.
Music is such an important part of the growth opportunities we provide our students. Thank goodness for incredible music teachers like Ms. Kimbrough who engage our young musicians in meaningful, enriching experiences which, I am certain, will transcend their time with us.
P.S. Many thanks to the incredibly helpful, supportive students in my group. And, Ms. Kimbrough, I've been practicing – evidence below.
November 30, 2016
Support for English Language Learners
I am bit behind in sharing observations from my school visits this month – actually, a lot behind. I intend to catch up in the next few days.
We shared some information with the Board regarding an increase in number of English language students in the division at a recent work session. There are more than 2,045 students identified for ESOL services in our schools. The number of English language students in SCPS has increased by an average of two hundred students per year for the past four years.
We are fortunate to have incredible teachers who provide exceptional support for our English language students within the context of regular classroom instruction. Their challenge is to provide student support for language development and grade-level content acquisition at the same time. Early in the month, I had the opportunity to participate in one of Ms. Sarah Taylor’s English classes at North Stafford High School. She is masterful in accomplishing both. Through a variety of engaging small-group classroom activities, Ms. Taylor helped students develop competency in the English language while also learning to identify and explain the relationships between and among elements of literature including character, setting, tone, point of view, and theme – content specified in Virginia’s SOL.
October 18, 2016
I think most would agree that it would good to have them – original thoughts – every now and again. We need to ensure that our students have them as well. Sixth grade students in Mrs. Proudfoot’s health and physical education class at Drew Middle School certainly do, as I observed this past week. Working with collaboratively with Mr. Brooks, Mrs. Proudfoot challenged teams of students to find a way to cross the river(basketball court) without putting their feet in the water – doing so meant return to start. The goal was to get all team members to the other side using only the materials provided – a jump rope, scooter, 2 poly spots, a cone, and pillow polo stick, and the bag containing the supplies. Three hula hoop islands provided refuge in the crossing. That was it, end of directions. Original thought time!
P.S. Congrats to Jada Williams and Lukas Clatterbuck who were among the first team to make it across.
October 17, 2016
Prepared for Life
On-time graduation is one measure of success for our schools. However, graduation, in and of itself, is not our end goal. Ensuring our students have the knowledge and skills to be successful in what they want to do next is our goal – prepared for further education, work, and citizenship – for life after Stafford County Public Schools.
I had the pleasure of visiting Ms. Erin Dowd’s Learning Support class at Stafford High School last week and saw firsthand our commitment to ensuring all students are prepared for life. Students in Ms. Dowd’s class (as well as in Melissa Coleman’s class with support from Vanessa Colins, Ursula Brown
Brenden Cole) are running a small business of sorts from their classroom, selling bagels (taking, tallying , preparing , packaging, and delivering orders) in support of skill development with proceeds going to a class trip in the spring. Students worked in teams on the various tasks at hand, checking and supporting each other’s work to ensure accuracy.
The students did an exceptional job as they worked together to complete the task at hand. Kudos to our teachers and staff for creating such a positive, supportive, and productive classroom environment!
October 7, 2016
Citizenship Focus in Our Classrooms
We want our students to make a positive impact in our community and the world through acts of service and by demonstrating compassion, empathy, respect, and integrity. In other words, we want our students to be good citizens – something we need to expect, model, and practice in our classrooms. I visited two extraordinary teachers today who do exactly that in their classrooms.
I started my day today by participating in Mrs. Lori Lerner’s morning meeting, a key component of Responsive Classroom. We started with a puzzle greeting, finding and then greeting the classmate who had the matching, fall-related puzzle piece (It is important to imbed relevant content in the process.). My red, bottom-half leaf matched Justin’s red, top-half leaf. We extended greetings to each other, shaking hands and saying each other’s name. We then sat in a big circle at the front of the room and partner shared what we liked (or did not like) about fall – Halloween, cooler temperatures, fewer daylight hours, falling leaves and pumpkin pie were mentioned a number of times. We discussed why it is OK to have a different opinion. We wrapped up using a smart board activity to review key seasonal concepts that involved some dancing – fortunately for me, no video available! Thanks to Mrs. Lerner for ensuring her students begin their day in a positive way and for promoting good citizenship. Oh, I forget to mention – this is a first grade class at Widewater Elementary School!
Working together to achieve a shared goal in a manner that models good citizenship is no small feat, but a goal clearly accomplished by eighth grade students in Mrs. Liz Rechkemmer’s Family and Consumer Science class at Shirley Heim Middle School. Students were divided into groups and charged with meal prep – breakfast for four to be precise. Teams picked a kitchen manager and assigned specific tasks in the preparation of pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and cinnamon apples. I followed the efforts of Jenna, Jose’, Meena, and Thomas (who, by the way, is quite accomplished in egg preparation). Students were assessed using a detailed rubric that included prep, cooking, time management, safety, cooperation, final product, and cleanup. Thanks to Mrs. Rechkemmer, whose professional culinary training and world experiences, coupled with boundless energy, have positively impacted her students and the greater school community at SHMS!
P.S. On a personal note, I learned the importance of the cat’s paw grip in knife use, something I wish I learned long ago!
September 26, 2016
Fifth grade students at Hartwood Elementary School have been trying to figure out what is going on inside a black box – literally. Student teams were presented with sealed black boxes containing objects free to move within the confines of the box, the interiors of which were altered with various fixed objects, including pieces of foam cut in various shapes. The task at hand – recreate the inside of the sealed black box inside an identical box using a variety of objects made available to each team. Students listened carefully to their sealed boxes as they moved them into different positions, assessing the mobility of the contained object. Students then built test boxes, listening to their boxes as they moved them into similar positions to determine how closely the sounds resembled those of the sealed box.
Observing the behavior of something we cannot see and then building a model that explains the behavior – atomic theory? Not quite, but conceptually on the path.
September 19, 2016
At the core of our new strategic plan is C5W, skills and abilities our graduates will possess to succeed in further education, work and citizenship. I think it is remarkable (or not, given the incredibly talented folks we have working here) that our development team – teachers and administrators -- landed on the same 5 skills subsequently identified by the Commonwealth of Virginia to be included in the portrait of a Virginia graduate (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Citizenship).
However, seeking balance in life is also important skill, which is where our ‘W’ comes into our picture of a Stafford graduate. We believe it is just as important to seek balance, in a safe environment, by attending to physical, emotional and intellectual needs, as it is to think critically. As learners in Stafford County Public Schools, we strive to be resilient and self-aware, to make healthy, conscious choices in the best interest of ourselves and others.
May 19, 2016
Probable or not?
I visited Mrs. Karen Maziarski’s fifth grade math class at Park Ridge Elementary School this week for a lesson in probability. Students were divided into four groups and rotated through four different stations. I was the facilitator at the Probability Wheel, a large, vertically-mounted pegged wheel divided into 16 sections with various colors and numbers.
To start the lesson, we discussed probability in weather forecasts – more specifically, the chance of snow and what call to make regarding school being open or closed. We used terms such as impossible, certain, 50/50, unlikely, and likely. I asked students about what call they would make if the evening news predicted a 100% chance of 12 inches or more of snow in the morning – make the call to close that night, let us know as early as possible. If the chance is 75% of 1-2 inches beginning at 7:00 a.m. – two-hour delay.
We discussed independent events and the difference between predicted outcomes and experimental outcomes. Students predicted the probability of landing on each of the colors on the color wheel. Students then tested their prediction by spinning the wheel 16 times and tallying the results, most of which varied somewhat from the predicted results. We talked about how our experimental results might more closely approximate the predicted outcome – more spins.
Probability of students in Mrs. Maziarski’s class having an incredible 5th grade experience – 100%!
May 16, 2016
Good Communication in Any Century
There is more to good communication than simply expressing our thoughts and ideas. It also important that we engage in discussion and debate, ask thoughtful, respectful questions, and listen actively to others. Mrs. Amy Limerick’s English students at Dixon Smith Middle School understand this as evidenced by their analyses of Quoyle, the protagonist, in The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx.
Mrs. Limerick used a variety of grouping, movement, and questioning strategies to engage students in the analysis of how complex characters develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot. I listened while the students at my table, Taylor, Jimmy, Jenni, and Aiden, discussed how Quoyle’s relationships impacted choices he made. Taylor stated that Quoyle’s failed relationships kept him down and lowered his expectations. Jenni commented that Quoyle was beat emotionally and physically. All agreed that Quoyle does not believe in himself. A discussion ensued regarding free will and how our choices are impacted by life events.
Respectful discussion, debate, and active listening are good communication skills for any century. Kudos to Mrs. Limerick for designing lessons to prepare our students for success – next year and beyond!
May 9, 2016
Students at Gayle Middle School do, and the plants are for sale! In a collaborative effort between and librarian Nathan Sekinger and sixth grade science teacher William Bruno, students grew hundreds of plants in a multifaceted lesson that involved Standards of Learning from both science and English.
Students were divided into teams that included Community Outreach, Financial Planners, and Growers. The Community Outreach team conducted community surveys regarding desirable plants, the Financial Planners determined price points and profit margins, and the Plant Growers … well, you know. Students also developed instructional manuals to be distributed at sale time which included recipes and access to a web page with additional information.
During the process, students learned how to work effectively as a group, conduct and use research, make decisions based on data, and generate something of value for the community.
Authentic project-based learning at its best!
April 28, 2016
Making it Personal: Co-teaching at Rodney Thompson Middle School
I had the pleasure of observing one of the best co-teaching lessons I have seen of late yesterday at Rodney Thompson Middle School. Mrs. McClung and Mrs. Johnson executed a highly individualized lesson in mathematics focused on algebraic properties, utilizing a variety of instructional strategies including the use of manipulatives and Google apps.
I sat at a table with McKinley, who explained in great detail the purpose of the lesson and why the day’s topic was important. I was happy to hear something other than “because it will be on the SOL test.” McKinley spoke to the importance of understanding the mathematical concepts and application to the real world.
Students made their thinking visible to teachers, outlining the steps taken to solve problems by writing on their desktops – with dry erase markers. When students arrived at a solution, they entered it in into a Google form on a computer at their table. Their responses were immediately visible to Mrs. McClung on her computer. Mrs. Johnson moved around the room, supporting students who had questions and checking written work while Mrs. McClung called individual students up to review their responses entered into the Google form, providing timely, relevant feedback.
Making it personal -- meeting students where there are in their understanding of the work and helping them advance on an individual level – another example of the outstanding job our teachers do.
April 26, 2016
Guided Reading at Rocky Run: The Big Wave
I had the pleasure of working with a small group of third graders in Mrs. Wendi Urbanic’s class at Rocky Run Elementary School last week. My responsibility was to facilitate a guiding reading group, introducing students to The Big Wave by Pearl S. Buck. First of all, let me just say, Mia, Lyla, Ryleigh, and Nathan did an exceptional job. Our first task was to make predictions about what the book might be about based on the title and picture on the cover. Students shared their predictions and supporting evidence with a partner. Students then read the paragraph on the back of the book to confirm or revise their predictions.
In order to access background knowledge, we discussed tsunamis and I read Tsunami by Kimiko Kajikawa to the group. We located Japan in an atlas and talked about the Pacific Ring of Fire. Students then read the first page of The Big Wave and drew pictorial visualizations, followed by silent reading of the first few pages of the book. During silent reading, I conducted fluency checks by asking students to read a couple of paragraphs aloud.
Thanks to Mrs. Urbanic -- great lesson plan prepared by a great teacher who excels at connecting students to curriculum!
April 18, 2016
Beyond Traditional: Health and Physical Education at Hartwood Elementary School
The title of this post doesn’t come close to describing the incredible experiences students in Mr. Lausten’s Health and Physical education classes have at Hartwood Elementary. Opportunities to create, collaborate, and problem-solve are regularly integrated into class. During my visit, students were challenged to modify the traditional game of bowling by incorporating obstacles and changing the rules of the game. Students were divided into teams of four students, each team having their own bowling lane, bowling pins and balls (soccer balls rather than bowling balls). Teams had access to all sorts of materials to integrate into their take on the game including hula hoops, cones, foam noodles, flying disks, and catapults.
Students started by designing game modifications in order to identify materials needed. Some materials had limited availability (For example, there were only three catapults and eight teams.). Students did an excellent job negotiating access to the most wanted materials. Students gathered their materials and constructed their versions of the game. They played (tested) their games – which typically led to modifications – the engineering design process at work in health and physical education.
Mr. Lausten was Hartwood’s Teacher of the Year for 2014-15. We are fortunate to have him at Hartwood and as a member of the larger SCPS family!
March 31, 2016
Kahoot! is a free online game-based learning platform that be used in any subject. I have visited a couple of classrooms lately in which Kahoot! was used in a couple of different contexts – in Ms. Erin Shybunko’s history class at Brooke Point High School for review; and in Mrs. Rebecca Richey’s math class at Stafford Middle School as a check for understanding before an exercise in student exploration using a Gizmo at Explorelearning, an online site that uses simulations that allow students to investigate key concepts in math and science.
Kahoot! is a good fit for our Bring-Your-Own-Device initiative as it works on any device. I used my phone to participate in Mrs. Richey’s class. In both classes, teachers preloaded questions with up to four responses each. Students log into Kahoot! using a code provided by the teacher. Once everyone is logged in, students respond to the questions, presented one at a time, by selecting the best answer on their device. Once everyone has responded, individuals find out if they selected correctly on their personal devices and the class results are projected on the whiteboard for all to see, providing an opportunity for class discussion regarding correct and incorrect selections. The last of which is of importance as it is an opportunity for teachers to identify and discuss misconceptions that may lead to incorrect answers. Both Ms. Shybunko and Mrs. Richey did an exceptional job in follow-up discussions with students, creating a supportive classroom community to discuss why some might have selected an incorrect response.
Used correctly, Kahoot! is a great learning tool, with opportunity for providing both individual and class-level results. However, there is an element of the game that might be counterproductive to encouraging a deeper level of thinking – the faster you respond, the more points you score. This may not be an issue with basic recall questions, but questions requiring greater cognitive demand – say, application or analysis – require students to think though a solution.
Our teachers understand the importance of that higher level of thinking in posing questions and assessing student responses.
March 30, 2016
Prepared for Work
As a parent, I am thankful for children who are gainfully employed. As a superintendent, I understand the importance of preparing our students for further education and the workforce. As a school system, we have a responsibility to ensure students are prepared and have a choice. Our Career and Technical Educational opportunities are an important part in meeting that responsibility.
I recently spent some time in Mrs. Margaret Susan Baitis’ Health and Medical Sciences class at Brooke Point High School.
Mrs. Baitis is the embodiment of commitment, passion, and dedication needed to inspire and empower the next generation of health care providers. Students in Mrs. Baitis’ class are divided into health care teams. The day’s lesson focused on vital signs: temperature, pulse rate, and respiratory rate (TPR). Upon completion of the lesson, students were expected to be able to identify normal and abnormal TPR measurements, measure oral temperature using two types of thermometers, measure pulse, measure respirations, assess a peer patient, and analyze patient TPR to determine whether normal or abnormal.
I was a patient. My oral temperature was 98.1, within the normal range of 97.6 to 99.6 (Fahrenheit, of course!). My respirations were 12 breaths per minute, within the normal range for an adult of 12-20 breaths per minute. My pulse rate was 56 beats per minute, slightly below the normal range of 60-100. Students discussed factors that might result in a lower pulse rate which included sleep (I wasn’t at the time.), coma (not that I was aware.), and physical training (I do run a little.). Other possible factors would have required additional testing, so my assessment team went with physical training.
I asked my assessment team about future paths – most are thinking about careers in the health field. That is something to feel good about!
March 25, 2016
Leadership and the Art of Problem Solving
You might look at the title of this post and think that I might be writing about any number of issues that make their way onto the pages of The Free Lance-Star. You would be wrong. However, what I learned at Rockhill Elementary School (RES) this week might be helpful in the bigger picture of problem resolution.
I had the pleasure of having lunch with class officers of the 4th and 5th grade classes at RES – John, Rhyn, Tyler, Catherine, and Sarah. They shared what they enjoy about their classes, what makes great teachers, and their collective love of reading – including their current reads. They also talked about what leadership means to them and why it is important. They talked about taking care of their school community – recycling to protect the environment, raising funds for medical research, and collecting donated goods for those in need in their school. John made the point that it is important to volunteer to do that type of work – otherwise it just does not get done. I am thankful for civic-minded, conscientious, compassionate kids who understand the importance of leadership and taking care of each other. I told them that our conversation affirmed to me that the future of our community is in good hands. And, yes Tyler, I would be happy to come back and do some chemistry demonstrations – provided you will sing a chemistry song or two with me!
Mrs. Linda Glaeser, school counselor extraordinaire (and RES Teacher of the Year for 2014-15), and I then co-taught a lesson (that she designed) on conflict resolution with a class of 1st graders. The focus of the lesson was to be a ‘Cool Thinker’ when confronted with a problem or conflict -- to calm down and use problem-solving ideas to resolve issues. We presented our groups with pictures. Students had to identify the problem or conflict and then suggest ways to resolve the issue. One of my pictures included two children trying to get the last cookie on a plate. Students suggested splitting the cookie. We talked about how to determine a fair share. One of the students suggested that a mom or dad might decide who got which part of the split cookie (third party mediator – pretty sophisticated for 1st grade).
Mrs. Glaeser then worked with the whole group to explore ways to take turns, decide who goes first, and how to divide and share fairly, including the use of playdough cookies. Mrs. Glaeser was incredible – full of energy, interacting with all in the class, and focused on helping our students to be good members of our school community and beyond. We are lucky to have her.
Kudos to Principal Rivero (our Assistant Principal of the Year for 2014-15) for helping arrange, and participate in, an incredible afternoon of learning!
P.S. Linda - I called my nephew that night. I told him I am proud to be his uncle.
March 22, 2016
The States of Matter – Kindergarten Style
I have said it before, and I am saying it again – the experience our elementary students are having is a game-changer for what needs to come next for them in our schools. My experience in Mrs. Debbie Judd’s kindergarten class at Stafford Elementary School last week was another example of the incredible work our teachers are doing with students across the division.
Students in Mrs. Judd’s class are studying the states of matter. Their challenge for the day was to identify at least two solids, liquids, or gases in the classroom; take a picture of substance; record a voice description including identification of the state of the substance as well as at least two properties; embellish the picture with available tools; and share their work with the class – all on an application called Chatterpix on an iPad. Did I mention this is kindergarten?!
Thank goodness for my 5-year-old partner (really, my teacher), Sarah! She was masterful in the use of the iPad and patient with her student. She demonstrated how to get a good picture including resizing and editing the image, as well as how to remove mistakes, several of which I made. She taught me how to record and save audio. Sarah also helped me identify a sufficient number of properties for my narrative.
In addition, Mrs. Judd led students through an investigation involving student prediction in the generation of a gas from a solution (acetic acid - vinegar) and a solid (sodium bicarbonate – baking soda) that had students on the edge of the carpet (and some hiding behind me in the event their prediction was correct -- a popped balloon).
Kudos to Principal Foreman for cultivating a school culture that supports and embraces this type of student experience.
P.S. Sarah – If you decide teaching is in your future, please keep Stafford County Public Schools in mind! We would be lucky to have you, just as we are to have your incredible teacher, Mrs. Judd!!
February 29, 2016
One Type Seldom Fits All
What is your picture of school? How does it compare to the reality of today’s classroom? How do we engage every student academically and developmentally and help them reach the next level of achievement and preparedness? No need to answer -- rhetorical questions -- as I think most would agree that what occurs in (and outside of) classrooms of successful teachers has changed much in the last 20 years.
Our teachers are charged with helping students with increasingly diverse needs excel in and outside of the classroom. The manner in which teachers do that requires flexibility and support in lesson design and execution, things evident in my visit to Anne E. Moncure Elementary School last week. From working in a blended lesson small group format in the hallway, to a themed lesson centered on the book, The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, to an engaging inquiry-centered science lesson on bird beak adaptations, our teachers clearly understand how to meet individual student needs.
Mr. Greg Machi (SCPS Principal of the Year for 2014-15) explained how teachers use blended learning in small group settings in order to address individual student needs in mathematics. Using tables in the hallway, students use computers to access lessons aligned to Virginia SOL, with individual support provided by the school’s math specialist.
Working with small groups of students is an important aspect of instruction, particularly in elementary school. Mrs. Sharon Hayward, SCPS First Class Teacher of the Year for 2014-15, is exceptional in this area. I had the opportunity to participate in a lesson built around The Snowy Day. After reading the book, students rotated through three stations involving measuring, counting, and comparing – including making snowballs and a snow globe along the way.
In Mrs. Trina Rodriguez’s (Anne E. Moncure Elementary’s 2014-15 Teacher of the Year) third grade class, students explored the relationship between bird beak adaptation and food through a simulation exercise. Students were provided various bird beaks: scooping beak (spoon), probing beak (chop sticks), shovel beak (craft stick), and grasping beak (clothespin).
Students were also provided with worms (pieces of yarn), snails (marbles), bugs (dried beans), and seeds (actual sunflower seeds). Students made predictions regarding which food sources would be easier to pick up using which beak, and then tested their predictions using timed trials with the various beak types (one hand behind their backs). All of which led to a great discussion as to why birds have different types of beaks – one type seldom fits all.
February 22, 2016
Family life (as in curriculum) can be a challenging topic, particularly for middle school students. Thank goodness for teachers like Mr. Mark Walker, Health and Physical Education Teacher at Rodney Thompson Middle School. I sat in on a gender-separated class this past week. Mr. Walker’s matter-of-fact approach and outstanding rapport with students makes for the perfect classroom environment for dealing with what might be difficult content. Throughout the lesson, Mr. Walker stressed the importance of understanding the human body, how it works and to take care of it, in order to make good life decisions and remain safe.
We are fortunate to have incredible teachers like Mr. Walker who consistently exhibit a high degree of professional and ethical standards in all interactions.
And, speaking of family life (as in immediate family), Mr. Walker’s wife, Deidre, teaches chemistry at Colonial Forge High School, another outstanding teacher I wrote about last year.
February 17, 2016
Heads Up Kindergarten!
I visited some future health care providers, astronauts, and paleontologists in Ms. Kirsten Sandberg-DaSilva’s Head Start class this past week. Students were exploring career opportunities through active play – well, actually work – but you would not know it. The paleontologists were excavating (freeing chocolate chips from cookies), digging for bones (using a sieve in a sandbox), and identifying fossils (matching imprints to plastic dinosaurs). The astronauts were in their space suits (paper bag helmets and rubber gloves) working together to build a space station (paper box and plastic tubes). The doctors were assessing (using stethoscopes and x-ray cards – skeleton on one side, picture on the other) and treating (bandages for the most part) their patients (baby dolls and stuffed animals). All the while using grown-up vocabulary representative of each field – amazing! Heads up Kindergarten!
And, speaking of Kindergarten, we are ready. I also spent some time with Mrs. Jennifer Wolfenbarger, the Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) at Ferry Farm Elementary. As ITRT, Mrs. Wolfenbarger is responsible for helping classroom teachers integrate technology in powerful ways to improve teaching and learning. In this visit, I had the opportunity to participate in a Kindergarten classroom being introduced to blended learning. After reading The Collaborative Raccoon by Efrat Haddi, students were assigned to teams of two. Using classroom technology, students accessed a playlist customized to where they were on a numeracy learning continuum. Working as a team, students accessed a variety of mini-lessons and interactive activities aligned with Virginia’s SOL. Learning in the 21st century, using 21st century tools to enhance and differentiate lessons, engaging students in media-rich resources, interacting with content, encouraging collaborative effort and critical thinking – priceless!
February 10, 2016
Designing Minds Want to Know
Designing minds (at Anthony Burns Elementary School) want to know how to “build a home for an empty lot at 21 degrees north latitude and 158 degrees west longitude” that is appropriate for the climate and will stand up to storms typical of the area. Facilitated by Ms. Jacinda Patishnock, students were presented with a design challenge the had to meet specific criteria including being able to withstand fan-simulated wind, fit within a designated size range, and be appropriate for the climate at the designated coordinates (Hawaii, if you do not have access to a world map). Students were also limited to a list of available materials and tools.
Students started their work by stating the problem in their own words, conducting research, and sketching out possible solutions. Working with their teams, they selected what they determined to be the best solutions. Construction would begin next class, to be followed by testing and revisions – carefully following the engineering design process.
Critical thinking and collaboration rolled into an engaging classroom experience rooted in the engineering design process – an exceptional lesson and one of the many reasons Ms. Patishnock was ABES 2014-15 Teacher of the Year.
Bonus: Before leaving school, 5 graders sang two songs for me: There are 5 Kingdoms in the Classification System and The Rock Cycle, song-in-motion included! Outstanding!!
February 7, 2016
English at H. H. Poole Middle School
I had the pleasure of visiting Ms. Mary Beth Salinas and her incredible students at H.H. Poole MIddle School this past Friday. After a physical warm-up, students engaged in an intellectual warm-up where they were required to correct grammatically incorrect sentences, identify analogies and analyze word relationships, and identify and analyze figurative language before moving on to the day’s new content.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to interact with three incredible young men with interests ranging from monster trucks to Marvel comics to Minecraft. Ms. Salinas used Minecraft’s Creeper as a framework for the main portion of the day’s lesson, recognizing signal words and analyzing passages to determine elements from five non-fiction text types. Ms. Salinas’ students used a variety of strategies including individual and group work, interactive white board, graphic organizers, and manipulatives to practice and demonstrate understanding.
What a great class! Wonderful, student-centered lesson -- great use of resources, engaging content – no wonder Ms. Salinas was H. H. Poole’s 2014-15 Teacher of the Year!!
January 20, 2016
Shape Seekers at Hampton Oaks Elementary School
I love my job – every aspect of it. But the thing that I most look forward to is spending time in classrooms throughout the division on Fridays. This past Friday I had the pleasure of helping out in Mrs. Honeycutt’s kindergarten class at Hampton Oaks Elementary School. Mrs. Honeycutt (Hampton Oaks' 2015 Teacher of the Year) shared her lesson plan with me in advance and encouraged me to participate on whatever level I was comfortable. Enough said.
The lesson focused on shape recognition – finding common shapes in everyday objects. We started with a story, The Shape of Things by Dayle Ann Dodds. I brought along a bag of objects from home with various embedded shapes including my favorite coffee cup, a race bib, and a running hat. I also brought the guitar from my office so that we could sing a shape song – sing a verse, pull out an object from the bag, identify the shape in the object. Great job singing along boys and girls (no reservations at all – a topic for a future post)!
With the assistance of Ms. Sellers (the best teacher assistant), Ms. Rhoads (extraordinary math specialist), and Mr. Jarski (technically masterful instructional technology resource teacher), the class was divided into teams. With iPads in hand to document our finds, we headed out into the school in search of shapes in everyday objects. Each student in a team pulled a shape from a bag that would be their responsibility to find.
And find we did, circles on fire extinguishers, squares in windows, rectangles in room signs, and triangles in student art hung in the hallway. More than simple identification, students were required to explain why and how the selected object represented the shape sought. Mrs. Honeycutt assembled pictures into a slideshow and students had the opportunity to share their finds with the entire class.
Great job shape seekers! And kudos to Mrs. Honeycutt and her team – incredible lesson!
December 21, 2015
Trojan War at Colonial Forge
The Trojan War is one of the most important events in Greek mythology. The war originated from a quarrel among goddeses – Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite and a quest to be judged the fairest – a mythological soap opera if you will – the study of which is very much alive and well in Mrs. Lori Hinkley’s 9th grade English class at Colonial Forge High School.
Upon arrival to Mrs. Hinkley’s class, I joined Team Werks (Shannon, Izzie, and Keresa) for a quiz-bowl style round of relevant questions on Kahoot. Students used personal devices (phones for the most part – one per team) to log into the web-based Kahoot and answer questions – the faster the correct response, the more points. We had some technical difficulties during the first two questions, but recovered nicely and ended up on the leader board despite not having our first two answers logged (which were correct by the way!).
Mrs. Hinkley then asked students to place their devices (phones for the most part) screen down on their desks for the next part of the lesson. Student teams were assigned sections of text to visually represent in a meaningful way, the result of which would be used to present to the entire class. Team Werks was assigned The Judgement of Paris. Students went to work using paper, markers, and other materials to create their visual representations. Students asked permission to use their personal devices to research additional material. Permission granted.
Students working collaboratively, using personal electronic devices when needed, asking permission to do so when optional, thinking critically, and creating materials for class presentations – all within the span of a single class period – it is no wonder that Mrs. Hinkley was the 2015 CFHS teacher of the year!
December 15, 2015
Mastering Non-fiction Text at Grafton Village Elementary School
Reading strategies for non-fiction text are not the same as those for fiction. Understanding non-fiction text requires students to preview using text features, make and confirm predictions, activate and use background knowledge, and locate information to answer questions – and everything on the page is important including titles, subtitles, graphs, pictures, and captions -- something that my high school science students did not always understand.
Mrs. Andrea Swank’s second graders at Grafton Elementary School know this. More importantly, they practice it – and I had the opportunity to observe this first hand during my visit yesterday. Mrs. Swank helped students activate prior knowledge about evergreens by sharing evergreen samples and cones she collected before school. Students then viewed a short video about evergreens before reading the assigned text and breaking up into small groups. My group used the interactive white board to respond to questions about evergreens – responses that students had to support with appropriate text (which they highlighted with a marker), using features on the page to zero in on the supporting information.
We ended the lesson by reading The Busy Tree by Jennifer Ward.
While I enjoy reading for pleasure, I also understand how important it is to read for purpose within content areas. Mrs. Swank’s second grade students are well on the road to becoming exceptional readers – for pleasure and purpose. Kudos to Mrs. Swank – another exceptional Stafford County teacher!
December 7, 2015
Inspiration at MVHS: The Art and Science of Audubon
Is it art? Is it science? Oh, the tyranny of the ‘or ‘! Thank goodness for the genius of the ‘and’!! Students in Mr. Mark Hughes' IB Art Class at Mountain View High School are just beginning their individual journeys in the study of watercolor. Mr. Hughes asked if I would participate as a guest artist, sharing some of my work and why I am drawn to the medium. Mr. Hughes cued up the afternoon by introducing students to the work of John James Audubon, The Birds of America. In the spirit of risk-taking, Audubon took a significant one in choosing format -- hand-colored, life-size prints of 497 bird species. The result is a book bigger than most coffee tables. Audubon’s work is incredible – both artistic and scientific -- 25 new bird species were identified through Audubon’s work.
Art is like most everything worth doing in life – you must learn, practice, and be disciplined in action. Don’t underestimate your potential based on early efforts. Highly regarded works of art are not first takes. I think that might be why some believe the ability to create art is somehow an innate ability.
We are incredibly fortunate to have teachers like Mr. Hughes who are passionate about working with young people, love art, and understand importance of art in the big picture – the genius of ‘and’.
December 6, 2015
In·fer·ence (in-f(ə-)rən(t)s, -fərn(t)s) n. the act or process of reaching a conclusion about something from known facts or evidence
I had the pleasure of visiting Mrs. Michelle Porter’s second grade class at Margaret Brent Elementary school last Friday. My task: help with a lesson on making inferences. Upon arrival at school, I picked up a bag containing a number of objects that Mrs. Porter left for me in the office. Once in class, I told students that I had heard that Mrs. Porter’s Clue Crew was good at figuring things out. I explained to them that I had found a bag and needed their help in trying to figure out to whom the bag might belong. The bag contained plastic test tubes, a book about light, a bottle of lotion, a West Virginia University keepsake, and a shopping list. Students divided up into teams to observe and discuss each item and then returned to large group to share their inferences, and more importantly, their supporting evidence. Inferences included that the bag might belong to a girl (lotion), scientist (test tubes), college student and/or West Virginia resident (WVU keepsake), a hungry person (shopping list), and an older person (lotion – more specifically, a wrinkle cream). Students then went on to make inferences related to written passages provided to them.
Many thanks to the Clue Crew for their help! And, a special thanks to Mrs. Porter allowing me to participate, but more importantly, for creating a classroom environment that fosters self-esteem and provides a sense of safety for student risk-taking and inquiry!!
November 15, 2015
Elementary Design Challenges and Problem-solving: Working Together
I had the opportunity to meet some local business owners and members of our Stafford County Economic Development Authority this past week. One of the things we discussed was the importance of soft skills for those entering the workforce – good communication, ability to work with others, critical thinking, willingness to learn, responsibility, and a general desire to just do a good job – not things reflected in a GPA or a SOL test score.
I am pleased to share that I observed all of these skills being developed in classrooms I visited last Friday.
In Mrs. Laura Dunneback’s kindergarten class at Conway Elementary School, students were charged with designing and building boats using only the materials provided: paper plates, cardboard, aluminum foil, index cards, straws, tape, pennies, and keys. Students worked in pairs to develop plans and construct their boats which would be tested in a tub of water in the class – a real sink or float challenge. After designing and constructing their boats, student teams took turns presenting their designs to the class (exceptional job kindergarteners!!) and then tested their boats ability to float. Not only did all boats float, but Mrs. Dunneback helped develop confident, competent learners in the process – in kindergarten. The Power of Yet is alive and well in Mrs. Dunneback’s class at Conway.
Students in Mrs. Sara Frazier’s fourth grade class at Falmouth Elementary School have been studying the relationships among the Earth, moon, and sun. As a culminating project, Mrs. Frazier challenged her class to build a moon habitat in which an astronaut might stay if he or she were to live on the moon. After discussing the potential to use 3-D printing to construct a real lunar habitat, students were presented with the challenge of building a model habitat for humans on the moon using only paper, staples, and tape. Working in teams of four, students went about working together to build their lunar habitats. Upon completion, students reflected on their work, what they learned, and what they might do differently if given the opportunity.
Like Mrs. Dunneback’s students, Mrs. Frazier’s students demonstrated good communication, ability to work with others, critical thinking, willingness to learn, responsibility, and a general desire to just do a good job – and clearly enjoyed the process.
While local businesses will have to wait a few years for these students to enter the workforce, I am certain they will not be disappointed. Many thanks to Mrs. Dunneback and Mrs. Frazier – we are so fortunate to have you in our schools!!
November 2, 2015
Fractions and an Instant Challenge
Ms. Jabay’s math class at A. G. Wright Middle School was immersed in the study of fractions last Friday. After reading Crows Share a Pie by Robert Charles, students tested their understanding of fractions using their own personal whiteboards, as well as the classroom’s electronic whiteboard. Ms. Jabay did an exceptional job checking for understanding from each student as they responded to questions. A couple of Ms. Jabay’s students are new to Stafford County Public Schools this year. I asked them how we measure up – much better according to reliable sources. Students let me know that they would be continuing their fraction lesson by making waffles. I told them I would drop back by their classroom after visiting Garrisonville Elementary.
I joined a fourth grade (gator) team at Garrisonville Elementary to participate in an instant challenge in Ms. Mayott’s library. Our challenge – build and disguise a gator (you had to know, right?!) in 12 minutes using colored cups, pipe cleaners, construction paper, noodles, sticky labels, and egg cartons. Prior to starting the challenge, students discussed the importance of communication, creativity, critical thinking, citizenship, and collaboration. At the end of the challenge, students reflected on the challenge and their response – and shared their products with the whole class. After the students left the library, Ms. Mayott shared more about how she helps support students and staff at Garrisonville including maintaining a 12,000+ collection with highly popular Virginia Readers’ Choice selections and a super cool series shelf. However, my favorite -- puppet-assisted story time!
P.S. Stopped back by Ms. Jabay’s to check on the student waffle makers – the waffles were great, but the company was the real star!
October 25, 2015
Houston, We Have a Problem.
Well, not exactly. But I did get to play the role of a NASA lead geologist for a problem-based lesson in Mrs. Kristen Sander’s fifth grade class at Winding Creek Elementary School this past Friday. I picked up the rock samples that Mrs. Sanders left for me in the office upon arrival and proceeded to her classroom. Upon arrival, I informed the students of my role and the need for their assistance – the identification of six rock samples. Students had reviewed a ‘playlist’ of background information regarding rock classification prior to the lesson, but had no direct instruction as to how to go about classification. Students instead used the engineering design process, working in teams, to develop their own testing procedures – to include hardness, luster, and other key characteristic determination. Students then organized their data and presented their findings to me and their peers – and what an incredible job they did! Confident and knowledgeable, using charts, technology, and visual aids to make their case – Mrs. Sander’s future scientists did NASA (and Stafford County Public Schools) proud! Kudos to Mrs. Sanders and her fifth grade class – exceptional experience, incredible learning!!
October 19, 2015
Prepared for work, celebrating achievement
The end game? Go to work, make a difference – at least that was my hope as my children went through school. Graduation is not the end game. Being prepared to enter the workforce is. Mrs. MacIssac’s health, medicine, and nurse aide students at North Stafford will be prepared. And that is not just my opinion, as her students consistently have the highest pass rates on the state nursing aide exam. Being prepared to enter the workforce is about more than being prepared technically, it is also about being prepared to represent your self – appropriate dress, personal care, wellness, and confidence – which was the focus of last Friday’s lesson.
It is important to take time to recognize and celebrate success. I had the opportunity to join Mrs. Pollock’s fourth graders at Kate Waller Barrett Elementary School for their Reader’s Luncheon where students were recognized for being “lean, mean reading machines,” and, yes, I got a certificate as well. Mrs. Pollock’s energy and enthusiasm are contagious, as is the support students provide for each other – a palpable sense of community and responsibility that transcends the classroom – all while developing readers for life. Oh…and Mrs. Pollock’s fourth graders…you are AWESOME!
October 12, 2015
Day at Drew
I spent a good part of the day last Friday at Drew Middle School. Upon arrival I was informed that it was hat day, a fund raising project sponsored by the Money, Money, Money enrichment class. Alas, I did not bring a hat. But thanks to the 8th grade teachers, I did not have to go hatless, as they provided me with several to choose from – a red Drew baseball cap was my pick.
First up was time spent with Mrs. Bates (2014-15 Finalist – First Class Teacher of the Year) and Mr. Utt (new to Stafford County and National Board Certified) in their collaboratively-taught math class. Students tackled a warm-up problem while Mrs. Bates and Mr. Utt checked student agendas. The primary lesson focused on the conceptual idea of combining like terms in expressions. Students used the smartboard, manipulatives, and cloze notes to transition from concrete to abstract thinking while working individually and in small groups. Extension opportunities were provided for students who finished early and an exit slip was used to check for individual student understanding at the end of class. Mrs. Bates and Mr. Utt worked together, moving in and out of instructional lead and individual student support mode – an exceptional example of team teaching. Kudos to both!
Intervention and enrichment time was next. I had the opportunity to speak with students in a number of classes including the student managers of Money, Money, Money, boat builders constructing a cardboard boat, and podcast authors putting the finishing touches on their broadcasts.
I finished the day in Mrs. Clarke’s (Drew’s 2014-15 Teacher of the Year) art class where we learned about watercolor techniques. I brought a couple of pieces to share as well as my watercolor field kit. We talked about the importance of creativity. I shared some reflection on my own work – things that could be improved in quality (SOL 8.3). We also talked about the organic nature of the medium and that the watercolor artist is not in complete control – a life lesson in many ways. Mrs. Clarke demonstrated 8 different techniques: oil pastel resist, watercolor pencil use, blotting, blending, salt, wet-on-wet application, rubbing alcohol, and thick and thin lines.
Then it was our turn. Mrs. Clarke emphasized that this lesson was not about product but rather practice of the techniques. My favorite was the rubbing alcohol as it produced a polished agate-like effect.
Mrs. Clarke’s class is not only about art. It is about fostering creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and community. Drew and Stafford County Schools are better places for our young people because of her efforts.
October 1, 2015
Visiting 2014-15 Teachers-of-the-Year Classrooms
I had the pleasure of visiting the classrooms of two of our 2014-15 Teachers-of-the-Year today. First up was Natalie Walden’s classroom at Shirley Heim Middle School. Mrs. Walden is a Technology-Computers & Keyboarding teacher. And, let me just say – what is going on in her classroom is nothing like what I experienced in keyboarding – you know, the all together now, “fff jjj fff jjj.” Instruction is highly individualized through a software application with immediate feedback on correct form and technique provided by Mrs. Walden. Students practice with music playing in the background. But the class is so much more than just learning to keyboard. Students also spent time developing a publication focused on what type of career they would like to pursue -- to include what type of education they would need and what their earning potential might be. Students shared their plans with me including the pursuit of careers in criminal justice, engineering, software design, and dance. Students commented how much they like their time in Mrs. Walden’s class – working hard and enjoying every minute!
Note to self: Want to end the week on a positive note? Visit a kindergarten classroom – or more specifically, visit Emalee Owens and her kindergarten class at Widewater Elementary School. If you have not read Not a Box by Antoinette Portis, I highly recommend you do. Mrs. Owens used the story to help her students think about the 3 R’s of environmental stewardship – reduce, reuse, and recycle. Students then each got their own boxes and turned them into ‘not boxes’ like trains, robots, and cars – highly creative, engaging work with an embedded lifelong message.
I am so thankful that incredible teachers like Mrs. Owens and Mrs. Walden make Stafford County Public Schools their professional home.
September 25, 2015
Brooke Point High School got a new college-quality track this summer (with a 10-year warranty). I had the opportunity to test it out yesterday with the Brooke Point Cross Country teams at the invitation of Coach Pina.
I met Coach Pina and the team members at the track after school. The plan for the afternoon included a 2-mile warm up, active stretching, and mile repeats with individual time goals. The warm-up was somewhat faster than I anticipated – just over 7 minute miles and had me wondering what discomfort I might experience post workout. As we knocked off the miles, I cannot say enough about how supportive team members were of each other (and me) as we rounded the track. You might think cross country running is an individual sport. You would not think so watching these young people. Kudos to Coach Pina and Brooke Point’s Cross Country runners!
I am pleased to report no aches or pains this morning. I attribute this to the quality of the track – pure pleasure to run on and incredibly forgiving to 55-year old knees.
September 23, 2015
Opportunities to grow professionally play an important role in the retention of high quality staff. As a part of the 2015-16 budget, the School Board identified funds to begin to restore financial support in this area.
Employees working on initial or additional certifications or endorsements are eligible for as much as $1,200.00 in Praxis and/or tuition expense reimbursements during the 2015-2016 school year. Priority consideration will be given to staff successfully completing a Praxis test and/or course(s) qualifying them for initial, supporting, or additional certifications or endorsements in critical shortage areas, including:
- Special Education
- Mathematics Grades K-5 and 6-12 (including Algebra I), Mathematics Specialist
- English and Reading Specialist K-12
- ESOL and World Languages (dual World Language endorsements preferred)
- Natural Sciences (6-12)
- Middle Education Grades 6-8
- Elementary Education PreK-6
- Career and Technical Education
- School Counselor PreK-12
- Health and Physical Education PreK-12
Approvals will be based on evidence of completion and in consideration order of available funding, critical shortage area priorities, National Board Certifications, and degree advancement course work. A Review Team will convene the first week of October, January, and April to consider reimbursements. If you have questions, please contact the Human Resources Office at (540) 658-6560.
September 15, 2015
Back in School
You are probably thinking I should have posted something with this title last week. But it just didn’t feel right at the time, as we were missing the majority of our Stafford High School students. As you are all probably all aware, school for most Stafford High School students started yesterday as a result of construction delays in the Stafford High School rebuild. While we were able to welcome Stafford High School teachers back a little more than a week ago, we did not gain full access to the new building until this past weekend.
The new Stafford High School is an incredible facility – innovative learning spaces, state of the art technology, tons of natural light, and energy efficient. However, as great as the teaching and learning spaces are in the new facility, our work is really about people – and our folks are the best – students, parents, teachers, support staff, and administrators have remained positive and focused on getting the new Stafford High School open.
I am thankful we are ‘Back in School’ in full force.
May 8, 2015
Thank you. As the end of Teacher Appreciation Week nears, I want to share a few last thank you's. Thank you for sharing your talents with our students and your colleagues. Thank you for the caring support you provide to all of our students. Thank you for having high expectations for all of students. Thank you for giving of your time outside of the regular school day in support of athletics and extra-curricular opportunities for our students. And, thank you for welcoming me into your classrooms this year and allowing me to share in what you experience on a daily basis. You are amazing. It is an honor to be your superintendent.
And, one final thank you, to Stafford Education Association President Theresa Thompson, not only for her work with students at Brooke Point, but for her efforts in working to improve our workplace for all in what has been, from my perspective, a wonderful, productive partnership this past year.
May 8, 2015
The Manner in Which We Disagree: Ms. Velardi’s Students Get It Right
I spent some time this morning in Ms. Velardi’s class at Ferry Farm Elementary School. Students were wrapping up their morning social studies work when I arrived. Students used personal response clickers to select correct answers. Each student answered independently and the results were shown to the class on an interactive white board. But this was more than about just getting the correct answer. It was about defending the correct answer and providing reasons why the other possible responses were not correct. One of my table mates was kind enough to get a ‘clicker’ for me so that I could participate.
The class then moved on to reading comprehension where small groups of students worked together to respond to comprehension questions related short passages. Once again, the objective was not just about getting the correct answer. It was about finding proof in the text to support the answer. I was impressed by the work of my table mates.
There is something else in the way these exercises played out, and it might be the most important part of the lesson. Students learned how to support their answers, offering more than just their opinions. Students disagreed with each at times, but in a respectful, this-is-not-personal, matter-of-fact manner – a lesson for all of us.
Kudos to Ms. Velardi and her exceptional students!
P.S. I wish I could have stayed until recess – big fan of yo-yos!
May 6, 2015
Power Yoga at Brooke Point
Last week I received an invitation from a Brooke Point football player to participate in a power yoga class with team members held on Wednesday mornings at 6:45 a.m. at the school. My schedule last week did not allow participation, but I did commit to participating today. I mentioned the opportunity in our weekly cabinet meeting. Dr. Sue Clark, Executive Director for Student Services, said that she is a fan of power yoga. I asked her to consider participating (thinking it likely that I might need a proxy). She agreed.
I was greeted by Principal McClellan upon arrival, who indicated that he would be participating as well. I was pleased to see a large number of participants in the gym, student-athletes and faculty members. Coach Buzzo was there as well. Dr. Clark was there in yoga-specific attire carrying her personal mat – clearly experienced in yoga and not doing much to improve my comfort level.
Our instructor was great – leading us through a variety of stretches, poses and power yoga moves. I feel like I really excelled at the corpse pose (if you are not familiar, Google it.). I definitely need to incorporate some of these elements into my training routine – which is mostly running.
Walk, run, bike, swim, do yoga – just be active. Do whatever it is with others. It is more enjoyable and you will feel part of something larger than self.
My wife and I ran the George Washington Parkway Classic Ten Miler a couple of weeks ago and are looking forward to the Historic Half where we will be joined by my youngest daughter, son, and one of our son-in-laws. I hope to see many of you as well.
April 24, 2015
Los estudiantes en la clase de la señora Benson hacen! Not only do students in Señora Benson’s class speak Spanish, but they also read and write it – in context that is personally meaningful to students. I recently had the opportunity to visit Señora Benson’s first year Spanish class at Dixon-Smith Middle School. My travel Spanish did not serve me well as I had to frequently respond ‘no entiendo.’ I did get to share a bit about a recent visit to Costa Rica and my search for a Quetzal in the Monteverde Cloud Forest -- albeit in English. Ninety minutes flew by as students transitioned seamlessly from one classroom experience to another. Highly enthusiastic students engaged in meaningful work in a non-native language. Kudos to Señora Benson – exceptional work!
April 21, 2015
Grafton Village Scientists
On many of my classroom visits, I have had the pleasure of having members of the School Board and Board of Supervisors share the experience with me. This past Friday, our County Administrator, Mr. Anthony Romanello, participated in a visit to Mrs. Roland's Third Grade Class at Grafton Village Elementary School. He shared his thoughts regarding the visit with me and I asked if I might post his reflection on my blog. With Mr. Romanello's permission --
This past Friday morning I had a meeting with 27 scientists.
Some of these scientists have Minecraft t-shirts, and others wear pigtails. Their laboratory is Room 208 at Grafton Village Elementary School under the supervision of Mrs. Roland, chief of research for the third grade. Our subject was surface tension. Living in a house with three teenagers and working in public service, I claimed to be an expert in surface tension. But our charge last Friday was not the metaphorical surface tension of daily life, it was real science.
Five desks were pushed together to make a table, and I squeezed into a little blue plastic chair next to my four fellow researchers. Our experiment was to use water from a medicine dropper and place it on a paper towel, copy paper, aluminum foil, and wax paper. Once the drop of water fell on the surface, we were tasked to observe the changes to the water and the surfaces on which it landed. Each table had a “materials manager” responsible for handling the supplies and a “reporter” to share the collected observations of each group.
Mrs. Roland gave us instructions on how to use the medicine dropper. I was reminded by the children’s marveling that the medicine dropper is a fascinating device. Squeeze the top and water comes in? Squeeze it again and water goes out? How does that work? It works with no batteries or Wi-Fi!
The first three tests were with the copy paper, the paper towel, and the foil. The kids were interested but not surprised by what happened with the water and these surfaces. They were astounded, however, at the results from the wax paper. A drop of water remained intact on the wax paper, and with the tip of the medicine dropper, you could move the water droplet around the wax paper and leave no moisture in its path. We all agreed that was really cool. In fact, if I had learned about water and wax paper at Bon Air Elementary School in the 1970s, I have long since forgotten.
Like they were defending new science in front of the Nobel committee, each reporter presented the experimentation of his or her group. We applauded them, and the scientists headed to lunch. The sign on the wall said it was cheeseburger day at the Grizzlies’ cafeteria, and I was hoping for a lunch invitation but the scientists eat alone. Disappointed, I was consoled when three scientists gave me a farewell hug and two complimented my choice of necktie.
The beaded water on the wax paper flooded my brain with a river of memories from school. How I love to learn and to wonder. When my daydream ended, I thought how infrequently we say, “I never knew that before.” It takes courage as an adult to admit ignorance and to show wonder. Sometimes, it’s hard enough to face up to what we know we’ve learned and forgotten. What our world could be if adults were measured not so much by what we know but by how much we wonder and imagine.
The scientists of the Grafton Village Elementary School Room 208 Laboratory are at work again today. I wonder what they’ll discover.
Thanks for all you do.
I am thankful that county leaders -- in schools and local government -- embrace the big picture regarding what our young people should experience in our schools. I am also thankful to have a colleague across Route 1 who wants to work together to meet the needs of our community.
April 3, 2015
Best Way to Start the Day?
Spent some time in a preschool class at Head Start! I started my day off today in Ms. Preston’s class. The lesson focused on the water cycle. After assessing background knowledge, Ms. Preston assigned students to table groups. With adult assistance, a small amount of hot water was poured into a mason jar. Students put the lid of the jar upside down on top of the jar and put ice in it. Students made observations and drew pictures in their science notebooks – evaporation, condensation, precipitation. Then we all sang the song, Water Cycle. I am glad I brought my guitar!
Water travels in a cycle, yes it does,
Water travels in a cycle, yes it does,
It goes up as evaporation,
Forms clouds as condensation,
Then comes down as precipitation,
Yes it does!
(Sung to She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain – just in case you want to give it a try – which I highly recommend!)
March 31, 2015
Closing in on One Year
Last week’s class visits were nothing less than incredible. The visits remind me of how thankful I am to be a part of this community, professional and otherwise, as I approach one year as your superintendent.
At Drew Middle School, I was able to spend some time with two high-energy, student-centered teachers, Ms. Robinson and Ms. Rollins. In Ms. Robinson’s class, 8th grade science, I had the opportunity to help with a unit on electricity, more specifically, comparing and contrasting series and parallel circuits. Students worked in pairs to build and observe a variety of series and parallel circuits using switches, light bulbs, dry cells, wire, and potentiometers. Students then used large Venn diagrams to compare similarities and differences between series and parallel circuits, including practical applications. Would you prefer your holiday lights to be wired in series or parallel? What are the pros and cons of each type? Ms. Robinson’s students each keep science notebooks filled with sketches, notes, and observations – just like real scientists!
In Ms. Rollins 7th grade English class, students were using Edmodo to write about what they are reading. Edmodo is a cloud-based application that provides a safe place for students to share their thinking and work collaboratively. Ms. Rollins does an exceptional job encouraging students to be active readers through the use of thinking stems such as “This story is really about…”, “This reminds me of …”, “I predict…”, and “I think the author wrote this book because…”. Students used laptops to post their writing to Edmodo as well as provide feedback to others. I had the opportunity to post a question or two on Edmodo and shared a bit about my current read, Duel in the Sun.
At Falmouth Elementary, I helped out in Dr. Repass’ 3rd grade classroom. My responsibility was to help groups of students as they rotated through a center where they played a game to compare fractions called Spin to Win. Students compared selected fractions to determine which one is closer to 0, closer to ½, or closer to 1 based on the outcome of a spin on a spinner. Students used number lines on dry mark erase boards to evaluate given fractions. I really appreciate Dr. Repass’ focus on problem-solving. More specifically, I appreciated her work to help students understand that there are likely many ways to solve a given problem and still arrive at the correct answer, giving students the opportunity to explain their individual approaches. And to the 3rd Graders in Dr. Repass’ class: Thanks so much for creative cards you sent me – chemistry and bow ties just seem to go together!
My final visit last week was to Conway Elementary School. Before heading to my primary assignment, I stopped by Mrs. Robert’s 4th grade class, Mrs. Perry’s 4th grade class, and Mrs. Passmore’s 2nd grade class – all of which were blended learning environments rich in student-centered inquiry. I was particularly impressed by the Conway Student Ambassadors who did an exceptional job sharing with me the work going on in their classrooms. All of the students clearly demonstrated a personal level of responsibility for their learning.
On to my primary assignment, helping out in Mrs. Hunt’s 4th grade class where students were presented with a design brief. Their challenge was to design and build a structure for a playground. The design had to meet certain criteria and use only provided materials (Think Apollo 13 “fit this, using nothing but that.”). Students had to state the problem in their own words, brainstorm solutions, make drawings of their designs, identify needed materials, and build, test and evaluate their solutions.
The work at Conway represents a school-wide focus on classroom-embedded student responsibility, leadership, and collaboration – all of which were clearly evident in each classroom -- resulting in authentically engaged learners.
Thanks much to our principals and teachers for all they do to provide student experiences like these.
March 26, 2015
Feeling the Pressure?
Are you feeling the pressure? You know – the pressure all around us. It can be crushing.
Students in Ms. Rossi’s chemistry class have been observing the effects of pressure – air pressure that is – on soda cans, balloons, and water. Rather than simply telling students about the gas laws and related equations, students had the opportunity to make first hand observations regarding pressure, volume, and temperature through a series of investigations at their lab stations – as well as the underlying kinetic theory of matter. Students discovered that changing the temperature, volume, or number of particles changes the pressure, to the point where the air pressure in the room crushes a soda can.
So here’s something to consider. A plane is flying at an altitude of 30,000 ft. A passenger window breaks. Items go out the window as the cabin decompresses. Are the items sucked out or pushed out?
Ms. Rossi’s students know the correct answer. More importantly, they know why. As a division, we are so very lucky we have teachers like Ms. Rossi who ensures our students know more than just the correct answer.
March 26, 2015
Ms. Kavina’s science class at Gayle Middle School has been learning about genetics including how to use a Punnett square to determine the theoretical probability of traits in offspring. During my visit, students were presented with two heterozygous bunnies to breed to determine if actual results matched predicted probability. Students identified the genotypes and phenotypes of the parent bunnies and completed a Punnett square in order to predict the likelihood of the newborn bunnies having brown or white fur. Students then proceeded to breed their bunnies and observe the fur color of their offspring.
Before you fire off an email to me regarding how you might feel about such an activity, let me share some additional information – the bunnies were dice in a plastic container. The exercise was a simulation. Each shake of the container resulted in an additional offspring, two even numbers=brown fur, an even number and an odd number=brown fur, two odd numbers=white fur.
Students made predictions, collected data, and analyzed their results. Along the way, they learned the importance of repeated trials in science.
Kudos to Ms. Kavina – great lesson!
March 20, 2015
Moving from Concrete to Abstract: Bridge to Conceptual Understanding
It is important for students to develop conceptual understanding – understanding rooted in why things work the way they do in our world. Without this type of understanding, it is doubtful much innovation would occur, as our understanding of most things would likely remain at factual and procedural levels. So how do we help students deepen their conceptual understanding, moving from concrete to abstract? I recently visited three elementary classrooms where teachers were helping students build this bridge.
At Hartwood Elementary School, Ms. Lausten’s 4th graders were learning about properties of basic circuits – series and parallel – by building them. After morning meeting and group sharing, students got into their science groups and made some predictions and diagramed possible circuit configurations in their science notebooks (very Leonardo da Vinci like!). Students then started building, testing, observing, and drawing conclusions. Along the way, students demonstrated some great communication skills – contributing to group discussion, seeking ideas and opinions of others, and using evidence to support opinions (my colleagues in the division can likely attest to my appreciation for the last).
In Ms. Kordich’s 5th grade class at Rocky Run Elementary School, students were challenged to make as many different shapes that have the same given perimeter using math cubes. Students drew their shapes on graph paper, labeled the length of each side, checked the perimeter, and named the shape (e.g., triangle, square, rectangle, etc.). At the end of the lesson, students shared what they discovered about perimeter with the class.
At Widewater Elementary School, students in Ms. West’s 2nd grade class used coins and a virtual piggy bank to identify which coins would be in the bank knowing the number of coins and total value. This approach gave Ms. West’s students an opportunity to analyze, evaluate, and create – far more challenging than simply adding coin values (incredible, remember – 2nd grade). Students used what was known about one problem to solve another and applied different problem-solving strategies. Students were challenged to answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions throughout the lesson. On a side note, Ms. West’s classroom is full of all kinds of creative manipulatives to help students move from concrete to abstract, including cookie sheet ten frames and an oil drip pan magnet board – ordinary objectives used in extraordinary ways.
Concrete to abstract – manipulatives to critical thinking -- conceptual understanding
March 18, 2015
Divergent Thinking at Brooke Point High School
So I have gotten a little behind in posting about my classroom experiences. I plan to catch up before next week’s visits.
I had the pleasure of co-teaching a psychology class at Brooke Point High School with Mr. John Montez. Let me start out by saying what an incredibly positive relationship Mr. Montez has with his students. Teacher-student relationships are critically important in fostering high levels of achievement, drawing students into the teaching and learning process and helping to promote a desire to learn. In Mr. Montez’s class, a respectful give-and-take through Socratic-like inquiry creates a classroom environment that encourages risk-taking and fosters critical thinking.
As such, how appropriate was it that the focus for the day was just that -- thinking: convergent, divergent, and metacognitive. My contribution was how traditional school may or may not encourage certain types of thinking, as well as types of metacognition, with special focus on strategic metacognition. It is unfortunate that many of the assessments for which students and teachers are held accountable seem to be focused on a single correct answer (convergent), particularly given life’s most interesting questions do not typically have a single correct answer (divergent).
February 12, 2015
Special Educators Making a Difference at ABES
I spent some time in two very special multi-grade classrooms at Anthony Burns Elementary School with two incredibly talented, caring teachers -- Ms. Johnson and Ms. Webb. Upon arrival, I received a quick tutorial on the non-verbal communication strategies, individual student schedules and routines used in the classes. Support for students includes individual student binders with behavioral supports, various levels of prompting, visual cues, and clearly defined spatial barriers.
Students began their day with morning work, differentiated to individual needs. Preparing for the day as a class included a little yoga and morning meeting time. Students engaged in a calendar-centered lesson that provided application opportunities for both academic and functional skills, including assessment of the day’s weather, appropriate clothing choices, counting, and graphing – most of which involved student work on an interactive white board. After a review of behavioral charts, students moved to a choice activity followed by word study.
The level of commitment and emotional investment of Ms. Johnson and Ms. Webb is palpable. More so, it is clearly evident in the celebration of achievement as students acquire and apply new knowledge and functional skills.
And for the record, yoga might not be a bad way for all of us to start the day – I clearly need to work on flexibility.
February 9, 2015
Hands-on, Minds-on: Inquiry in Elementary Classrooms
Three recent elementary classroom visits remind me of the power of inquiry as a teaching and learning experience -- more specifically, the joy of discovery and the ‘aha’ moment when students grasp a new idea or knowledge through exploration. Inquiry in the classroom provides students with an opportunity to do some very real world, valuable things like verify, extend or discard ideas. Teachers using open-ended classroom experiences encourage inquiry, as well as observation and critical thinking. The role of teacher transforms into one of modeling behaviors and skills, supporting content acquisition and application, and assessing individual student understanding.
Such was the case when Ms. Warren’s 5th grade class at Margaret Brent Elementary School explored the concept of density as they tried to adjust the salinity of a salt water solution in order to suspend an object mid-depth in a container. Along the way, students demonstrated an understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science. At one point, students realized that at a given temperature, no matter how hard you stir, a given volume of water can only dissolve a certain amount of salt – saturated.
In Ms. Mumpower’s 4th grade math class at Stafford Elementary School, students set out to explore quadrilaterals. Each student was given a sheet with a quadrilateral drawn on it. Students discussed with their table mates how the shapes were same and how they were different (similarity and differences, a high yield instructional strategy on its own). Students then grabbed a clipboard to make observations about different types of quadrilaterals at poster stations around the room. Their job was to determine what different names their shape could have based on observable characteristics. Students then created posters of their shapes that told which names the shapes could go by and why. I had my own to do, and I am proud to say it is hanging in the class Quadrilateral Museum.
I also had the opportunity to visit Ms. McCabe’s class of future engineer’s while at Stafford Elementary. Students were presented with a number design challenges including designing a crumple zone (using straws and tape), building a marble delivery system to move a marble from one location to another, creating an egg safety system that would protect an egg in a 4ft drop, and maximizing hang-time for paper helicopters.
Kudos to all for helping shift our focus to hands-on, minds-on inquiry in our classrooms!
February 5, 2015
I recently visited Mrs. Womack’s class at Rodney Thompson Middle School. As an introduction to service learning, students were challenged to think about something they would like to change (in a positive way) at the school, community, or global level. Students spent time thinking about bullying, individuality, conflict, health, endangered species, and the environment. Students discussed the need to move beyond self. I asked them to consider that the art of leadership, in many ways, is the art of influence – being able to convince others to think differently about an issue. We discussed the work of King, Lennon, Jobs, and Einstein, all of whom thought differently about something – the human condition, music, personal technology, and the universe. These leaders (influencers) did more than just think differently about something, they did something about it, positively impacting the thinking of others and moving others to action – a lesson for all of us.
February 3, 2015
Chemistry at Colonial Forge
One of my classroom visits last week provided an opportunity to return to where I started as an educator, a chemistry classroom. I spent first block on Friday morning with Deidre Walker and her chemistry class at Colonial Forge. Mrs. Walker and I met earlier in the week to talk about what the class would be learning leading up to Friday, and what she hoped students would take away from Friday’s lesson which I would co-teach with her – predicting whether or not a reaction would occur given the relative reactivity of reactants, predicting the products of reactions in aqueous solutions, and writing complete and net ionic equations.
I have to say I was a bit nervous, particularly given Mrs. Walker’s reputation as a talented, highly regarded, student-centered science teacher – which was clearly reinforced through first hand observation.
I had some prep work to do to return to a teaching laboratory, including a tutorial on our SCPS Chemical Hygiene Plan (Thank you, Mike Pratt!) and a quick review of solubility rules. I put the finishing touches on a Prezi that would be included as part of the lesson early Friday morning (4:00 a.m. early – early mornings and late nights are part and parcel of teaching for many).
What a great group of young people! I asked the class if they were familiar with television’s Mr. Wizard, as he was an earlier influencer in my choice of study. Unfortunately, there was no recognition – although students were familiar with Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mr. Wizard’s successor on many levels.
Mrs. Walker and I used video and a number of lab demonstrations as students made observations and predicted outcomes – and then used the results to write balanced complete and net ionic equations. An exit ticket with a few key questions helped us determine if we were successful.
Many thanks to Mrs. Walker and Principal Daniel for arranging!
January 12, 2015
Technology (or Not), Great Teachers Make the Difference!
There’s the right time (and the right way) to use technology to help deepen student understanding, and then there are times when technology plays (and should play) a minor role. I had the opportunity to participate in two classrooms last week that demonstrated the best of both ends of the technology spectrum.
First up was a visit to Ms. Papas’ Algebra class at H.H. Poole Middle School where students were learning to solve systems of linear inequalities with two variables. After a reading-and-writing-across-the-curriculum exercise about Carl Gauss and a review of homework solutions, Ms. Papas used a web-based application called Nearpod to personalize the lesson for all students in the class. Students could use one of the iPad minis in the classroom, or their personal devices. After a check for understanding, students were able to engage with content (and each other) as new material was introduced, submitting their responses for teacher review and feedback on an individual basis. Quite honestly, this is one of the more engaging device independent applications of BYOT that I have observed in our schools. Ms. Papas used the application to support individual engagement and understanding that could be discussed at the student and class level as she examined individual responses as well as patterns in student responses on her iPad. Kudos to Ms. Papas and thanks to Mr. Bingham for arranging!
Later that same day, I visited Mrs. Barney’s and Ms. Ramsey’s 4th grade class at Hampton Oaks Elementary School. Students were learning about the importance of the charters of the Virginia Company of London in establishing the Jamestown settlement and the first representative legislative body in English America. Mrs. Barney and Ms. Ramsey provided a content- and vocabulary-rich experience for students rooted in Virginia Standards of Learning. Mrs. Barney and Ms. Ramsey engaged students through role playing and the power of story. On hand were representatives of the Virginia Company, settlers, a governor, burgesses, and the King of England on hand to share their journeys and perspectives (and I have to say, I had a hard time giving up that crown at the end of class!).
In the process, students learned much more than SOL VS.3. Students learned to work collaboratively and defend their positions regarding the content. They used an interactive notes strategy to check for understanding at the end of the lesson. Students shared their excitement about learning together and how it is important to understand the past and its impact on us today. Students commented about how much they liked answering questions for themselves, both individually and as a team. Thanks to Mrs. Groover and Mr. Hicks for arranging.
Great teachers, super students, powerful teaching and learning – technology or not.
December 15, 2014
Last Week’s Classroom Visits: Partie Deux – Moncure and Park Ridge
Design briefs are becoming part of our instructional landscape as evidenced by my visits to Park Ridge and Moncure Elementary Schools. In a design brief, students are presented with a design challenge with specific outcome requirements. Students work together to solve the challenge which typically requires creative, innovative problem-solving, good communication, and learning from mistakes. Challenges typically require students to apply what they have learned in an authentic context.
Students in Ms. Leaman’s class at Moncure were presented with such a challenge on Friday last week. Students were challenged to create a floor plan for a house that had to include at least 3 bedrooms, at least 1 bathroom, a kitchen, a living room, one room with a perimeter of 24 units, one room with an area of 100 square units, with a total area of not more than 2400 units. Students used laptops, a blueprint website, notebook paper, grid paper, pencils, and calculators to meet the challenge – all along applying what they had learned about perimeter and area. I observed more than a few future architects hard at work in Leaman Land (where by the way, it is always “Good Morning!”)!
Also at Moncure, I visited a fourth grade class where Ms. Hynden and Mr. Newton presented students with a design challenge in circuit design. Students were challenged to design circuits that would play various musical notes using an electronic device called a Makey Makey. Students learned that different type of conductors could be used to complete circuits resulting in different musical notes. Students were surprised to learn that human body could be used to complete a circuit by holding hands. One student commented that it was “creepy and cool at the same time.”
At Park Ridge, I visited Mrs. I’s class where students were learning about matter, the states of matter (including differences at the molecular level), and the differences between physical and chemical properties. Students explained to me the difference between weight and mass. I was impressed with their depth of understanding – and that as 3 graders that might be ready to move on to high school chemistry next. The design challenge in Mrs. I’s class was to create a boat made from clay that would carry as much weight as possible. Their materials consisted of balls of waterproof clay, bowls of water, objects of varying weight, and an electronic balance.
I also had the opportunity to spend some time in Ms. Whittle’s 4th grade math class where students were working in small groups on the concepts of factor, multiple, product, sum, and difference. My group played a game where the divide button on their calculators was broken and they had to determine the result of a series of division problems by other means.
Incredible teachers, incredible students, high quality teaching and learning -- we are clearly preparing our students to be successful well beyond what we measure with standardized assessments. Kudos to all!
December 12, 2014
Question: How to end the week on an incredibly positive note? Answer: Spend time in an incredible art classroom.
It is important to me to not lose sight about what we are all about as a school system – preparing our students for their futures by engaging them in authentic, meaningful work. My classroom visits this week did that and more!
I had the opportunity to spend time in one of Ms. Sweeney’s art classes at North Stafford High School. Ms. Sweeney was preparing students to transition from two-dimensional art to three-dimensional art (more specifically, sculpture). I was fortunate to be able to help with that transition by discussing the relationship between nature and art, which included introducing the work of Antoni Gaudi. I shared a couple of my own pieces from field studies as well as some natural objects with interesting patterns (a pine cone, whelk shells – knobbed and channeled, and a couple of ammonites).
I talked with a couple of students about their career plans which included medicine and forensic science. My time in Ms. Sweeney’s class reminded me about how important it is that we all learn to express ourselves in multiple ways through many mediums, regardless of career path. Art is important.
It is clear that Ms. Sweeney cares deeply about her students and is passionate about art – a winning combination.
My visit ended with a wonderful surprise, a piece of sculpture I have coveted since last spring’s art show is on loan to me for display in my office!
I will post more about my visits to Park Ridge and Moncure on Monday.
November 17, 2014
American Education Week
November 17-21, 2014, is American Education Week, an opportunity to celebrate what is right about public education (actually, this is something we should do every week.). Strong public schools are the foundation of the strong communities. Strong public schools are connected to the economic vitality of a region. In fact, I believe the road to economic prosperity runs right though public education. And, who makes a difference to our students on that journey? Our staff does. That is why it is critically important that we recruit and retain the best for our county’s students.
There are a number of factors that impact an organization’s ability to attract, and perhaps more importantly, retain quality staff. Compensation and benefits are certainly two of the factors, but so are recognition and opportunities to learn and grow in your chosen field. However, there is another factor to consider, work life. In other words, how you feel about doing your job and the support you receive from the organization has a significant impact on our ability to retain you.
With that in mind, division staff, working with the Stafford Education Association, has developed a workplace climate survey that we are administering this week. The survey is anonymous. The baseline data we collect will be used to help us improve. Please take the time to complete the survey this week. We appreciate all you do and we want to do all we can to keep you with us.
November 14, 2014
IB Calculus and Problem-based Learning at the Elementary Level
I had a couple of great classroom visits this week – Mrs. Crosswell’s IB Calculus class at Mountain View High School and Ms. Anthony’s fifth grade class at Winding Creek Elementary.
I was a bit nervous about revisiting Calculus. I told the students it had been 35+ years since a took dual enrollment calculus as a high school senior. Mine was not a great experience. I did OK in the class, but my professor seemed to enjoy finding mistakes in one’s work while at the blackboard. Things have changed in lots of ways today. Blackboards have been replaced with interactive white boards. I told the class that my high school was the only high school with computers (four to be precise, tied into a mainframe downtown).
One of the things I really appreciate about Mrs. Crosswell’s class is strong sense of classroom community. It was OK for someone to get it wrong, which I did in identifying the function of a first derivative. I was reassured by one of the students who stated that we all get it wrong at one time or another. Another thing I appreciate is the use of inquiry as an instructional model. Students were not told, they discovered. Students’ prior knowledge of kinematics and applications of derivatives lead them to discover the relationships between graphs of functions and their first and second derivatives.
Ms. Anthony's students were presented with an interesting problem to solve this week. The president (me) of a communication company (Wire-it) asked them to come up with a new way to charge for text messaging. Letters used in texting must fall into one of three pricing categories. Ten letters of the alphabet would be free. Ten letters must fall into a mid-level pricing category. And finally, six letters would be priced at a maximum charge.
Which letters fall into which categories? That decision is up to members of each of the teams, with a goal of developing a pricing structure that results in the lowest charges. Students discussed strategies, conducted research, analyzed data, and developed pricing structures. Students will present their recommendations to the president of the company next week. After their pitches, I plan to test their proposals with some sample text messages. Kudos to Ms. Anthony and Principal Wardlow for this problem-based approach to teaching and learning.
October 24, 2015
Design Challenge and Word Problems
I had the pleasure of visiting several classrooms this week with Mrs. Kidby and Mrs. Healy, including Ms. Baxter’s 5th grade class at Garrisonville Elementary. Students were presented with a timed design challenge that included some interesting construction materials – various pieces of pasta, 12 inches of tape, and three rubber bands. Working in teams, students were tasked with designing and constructing a structure that would support ping pong balls as high off the table as possible.
Students worked collaboratively as they planned and executed their designs. They communicated their ideas and shared responsibility in accomplishing the goal. They problem-solved, were flexible in their thinking, and adapted their strategies as needed. Six teams, six different designs – a class full of innovative thinkers. Many thanks to my team members -- Travis, Ella, Emma, and Abdul. Go Gators!
I also had the opportunity to sharpen my math skills with Mrs. Cobb’s 5th grade class at Rockhill Elementary. Students were tasked with solving multi-step word problems using multiple strategies. Kudos to Mrs. Cobb for her work in creating such a high-energy, student-centered, authentically-engaged classroom. Students worked in small groups and used technology to communicate their understanding as they solved some interesting word problems. Thanks to Emily and Natalee for keeping me on the right track!
October 10, 2015
What v. Why
I had the pleasure of visiting a couple more classrooms this week. First up was Ms. Cavanaugh’s and Ms. Porter’s 7th math grade class at Shirley Heim Middle School. Students were learning how to complete operations with positive and negative integers and were introduced to the concept of absolute value. Students demonstrated their understanding by writing, explaining, and using manipulatives and technology – not satisfied with simply answering the “what” question (as in “What is the correct answer?”), but the more important “why” question (as in “Why is this the correct answer?”). Ms. Cavanaugh and Ms. Porter demonstrated highly effective team teaching, pushing students well beyond computational fluency, requiring students to predict answers and provide evidence in support of their solutions. Clearly a class of mathematical thinkers excited about their futures and the role mathematics might play in helping them reach their goals. Thanks to Principal McGraw for setting up the visit (and to Priscilla for sharing her thinking!)!!
Second up was Mr. Nunnally’s 5th grade science class at Widewater Elementary School. Students were learning the importance of biological classification based on similar structures and the relationship between form and function. Mr. Nunnally used a short clip from the Lion King to have students generate a list of animals to classify based on categories of their choosing. Mr. Nunnally then introduced students to a dichotomous key used to identify “aliens” based on form and function. Students worked collaboratively in pairs and small groups on their identifications. Thanks to Principal McKinney-Nash for arranging the visit to this high-energy, excited-to-be-learning class.
October 3, 2014
Math, It’s Elementary!
I had the pleasure of visiting Mr. Reichard’s 5th grade class, along with School Board member Dana Reinboldt, at Kate Waller Barrett Elementary School today. Students were engaged in mathematics teaching and learning from the moment they arrived in class – literally. Mr. Reichard supports a very student-centered classroom experience, as students take responsibility for leading the class, working together, and supporting each other in deepening their understanding.
The morning started with a problem of the day to be included in student math notebooks as follows:
Dr. Benson ran 43 miles on Monday, 87 miles on Tuesday, 13 miles on Wednesday, and 112 miles on Thursday. His goal was to run a total of 350 miles in this 4-day time frame. Did he reach his goal? Explain.
Afterwards, the students reviewed the distributive property, factors, and multiples. They then moved on to estimation and reasonableness of estimates. I told them that I would have to step up my running game considerably in order to meet the goal in their problem of the day. I told them my annual goal is to run about 1,000 miles a year and asked them to estimate the number of miles I needed to run per week. We discussed what made this problem a bit more challenging.
Students then moved on to 3 additional bakery-based estimation problems. Here is one of the problems:
Mrs. Austin is making cookie trays. She has 5,678 snicker doodles and 1,522 chocolate chip cookies. She would like to fill plates with both types of cookies. She will fill each tray with 93 cookies. About how many trays will Mrs. Austin be able to fill?
Students worked with their partners and teams to problem solve, estimate solutions, and discuss the reasonableness of their estimates. They remained on target “like a laser.” Each reasonable estimate resulted in one number of a combination lock to unlock an additional problem contained in a tool box (also giving next year’s 6th graders an opportunity to learn to open a locker lock, an important skill to middle schoolers).
Thanks to Principal Austin for reaching out to Mr. Reichard to set up the visit. And, many thanks to Mr. Reichard’s students for making us feel so welcome. You are … (wait for it) … AWESOME!
September 24, 2014
Superintendent Advisory Committees
While it is important to me to have opportunities to hear from all stakeholders, there are two groups I believe it is particularly important to hear from on a regular basis in order to ensure we are making informed decisions and heading in the right direction -- parents and teachers. As such, I will be establishing two Superintendent advisory committees, a teacher advisory committee and a parent advisory committee. Each committee will meet on a monthly basis beginning in October. I will be asking principals to work with their PTAs/PTOs to identify a parent representative and alternate for each school. However, I would like to use a different approach for identifying teacher representatives.
I would like to hear directly from teachers interested in serving on the teacher advisory committee. As such, let me provide a little more information. My hope is to provide a forum for teachers to share ideas, provide advice, and exchange information to further advance the quality of our schools with several general goals in mind:
- provide a forum for advising and sharing ideas on educational issues;
- create opportunity to "litmus test" emerging administrative, operational, and instructional initiatives;
- provide opportunity for sharing broad concerns directly with the Superintendent;
- serve as a central point for sharing information; and,
- promote an open and supportive relationship among teachers, administration, and the School Board.
We are planning to have the first meeting on Thursday, October 30, from 4:30 - 6:00 p.m., England Run Library. If you are interested, please complete an interest form available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/teacher_advisory. Thanks for considering!
August 28, 2014
21st Century Skills?
Skills for the 21st Century were a topic for discussion and exploration at our Summer Leadership Academy this month, as well as focus in our Welcome Back sessions for staff. Many school divisions have reset their sights on ensuring students graduate with 21st Century skills. We are no exception as evidenced by our Strategic Plan. Organizations like The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) and change leadership authors like Tony Wagner (The Global Achievement Gap) have made their lists of skills necessary for survival in the 21st Century. Most lists include things like creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and information and technology literacy. Note the focus on technology literacy, rather than the technology. There is a difference.
I recently finished reading Soundings by Hali Felt. It is the story of Marie Tharp, the woman who mapped the ocean floor. With an interdisciplinary background in mathematics, geology, and art, Ms. Tharp turned scientific data into physiographic maps of the ocean floor. Quite remarkable, given that at the time (1950’s) we knew more about outer space than we knew about our oceans. Her discovery of the Mid-Atlantic Rift through data analysis provided support for the theories of continental drift and plate tectonics. Ms. Tharp was creative. She solved problems, thought critically, and collaborated with others in her effort. In fact, she was dependent on data from other scientists. She made use of the information and technology available at the time.
My point? It is not about the technology and the skills are not unique to the 21st Century. It is about what we ask our students to do (or think about) in our classrooms (with and without technology). Do not misunderstand me, knowing how to use today’s tools is important. However, the skills (creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and information and technology literacy) have been needed to be successful in most centuries. Yes, our capability to interact with others and access information has changed significantly. It is important we use the technology available to us to improve our efforts, but the core skills needed to be successful in work and life have not really changed all that much. We seem to have lost sight of that recently.