Saturday, July 26, 2008

They are all FREE...Yes, Free!

On July 24th and 25th, I had the opportunity to attend the Mid-Atlantic Handheld and Emerging Technology Conference, fondly known as MAHETC, with several other colleagues and friends from my school district. Thanks Carol for inviting me to attend.

During the conference I had the opportunity to meet Tony Vincent who was the keynote presenter and who also taught several interactive workshops during the two-day seminar. The information he shared on how to use IPOD in the classroom and how to find and use free web-based applications was great. He has a very user-friendly website During one of his sessions, he shared the following FREE web-based applications that are great for use in schools.

Simple Spark, a directory for web applications, has over 9,600 web apps listed. Here are some popular web apps for education:

St. Thomas Video

A short, but fun music video of my recent trip to St. Thomas.
Click this link to view it:

Animoto is a FREE way to create 30 second music videos very easily. All you do is upload pictures, choose from the music provided and create! Check it out!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Working with the Media, Mon!

For a second year in a row, I was invited to attend the Washington Post’s Distinguished Educational Leadership Seminar in St. Thomas. Wow, what a wonderful learning experience and a spectacular location! The Washington Post, who has had a long tradition of supporting public education, has provided selected principals with media training for the past 21 years. The training concentrates on providing school leaders with the skills to communicate effectively during crisis situations by utilizing the media as one way to provide information to stakeholders. The training was provided by consultants from the Pincus Group They shared the technique of making sure your communication has considered the following points: Audience, Intent, Message (AIM).

During the 5-day conference, I had the opportunity to interact with members from both the print and TV media to gain a better understanding of their role in covering schools. I enjoyed listening to Bob McCartney, the editor of the Metropolitan section of the Washington Post, as he shared his mission to help his readers understand educational trends, current issues and the need to hold educational authorities accountable. He gave the following advice to school leaders at the conference:


1. Tell the Truth
2. Put your message out there
3. You can decline to comment, but provide a reason.
4. Be clear about "off the record"
5. Get to know reporters
6. When pitching a story, consider the reporter's perspective
7. Let your staff talk to the media, but arrange with the reporter a chance to respond or comment afterward.
8. Return calls in a timely way, even if just to say you'll comment later
9. Seek correction if an error is made.
10. Give all your best stories to the Washington Post, exclusively

I also learned a lot about the meaning of Live, Local and Late Breaking from ABC-7’s Horace Holmes. He jokingly said, “If I show up on your campus, it is probably not a good thing. You better have a plan to deal with me and all of the other TV people who typically travel with me.” Horace’s words were very powerful and helpful as I begin to review our emergency plans for the coming year.

I want to thank the Washington Post for providing this very useful training and their support of educational leaders.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Meet the Millennials is a Big Hit!

"The Elkridge Landing Middle School Leadership Team is a big hit!" "Awesome, spellbinding!" "Specatular!" Critics are unanimous in their praise for the presentation given by the ELMS Leadership Team to teachers and administrators during the HCPSS Summer Institute in June. Well, okay...maybe I got a little carried away about the critics' quotes. However, all of our session feedback forms were very positive!

Our team shared how we are infusing the use of technology into all areas of our school to meet the needs of our students who are members of the millennial generation.

Did you know?
Nearly 30% of our middle schoolers report spending more than 4 hours a day using technology.

Did you know?
Nearly 90% of our middle schoolers report spending more than an hour using technology each day.

Did you know?
Nearly 95% of our middle schoolers have access to a computer at home.

Did you know?
Well over 80% of our middle schoolers use an Ipod/mp3 player on a regular basis

Did you know?
Well over 70% use a cell phone a regular basis.

Helping All Students Pass and Succeed!

The ELMS intervention model is based on the premise that some students are not served well by just receiving the general curriculum (i.e. students who are marked below grade level in math and/or reading and those students who are performing two or more years above grade level). Consequently, teachers have created specialized academic intervention programming to address the needs of these students.

It is critical that schools have programming not only for those students who are below grade level, but also for those who are excelling. I would argue that our economic power in the world depends on having our above grade level students able to compete with the student across the aisle from them as well as the students who are across the oceans.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

21st Century Skills Framework

Recently, a teacher I know suggested that I look at a website she had discovered. The website is entitled the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. According to the website "Every child in America needs 21st century knowledge and skills to succeed as effective citizens, workers and leaders in the 21st century." While this comment is stating the obvious, their framework for transforming schools to meet the ever-changing needs of our current students is very interesting.

I especially like the conceptual Framework for 21st Century Learning they have created. I believe it illustrates the various layers of knowledge and skills middle schoolers will need to be successful. It has been said that students who are currently in k-12 will have at least 5 different careers in their lifetime. In addition, the jobs that some of them will do have not been created yet. Consequently, there are serious implications for educators and the schools where students attend. We must continue to provide each child with a solid foundation of the "basics", but also teach skills that will allow them to continue to learn and adapt for a lifetime of change.

It is sobering to think that the students I have in my school today will be the doctors, lawyers, politicians, nurses, teachers and entrepreneurs when I retire from education in 15 years.

This coming year, our school will be infusing parts of this conceptual framework into our daily practices. I am looking forward to seeing how our staff will use this information to help our students meet the wonderful opportunities and challenges of the 21st Century.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Great Books for Middle School Parents

Recommended Books for Middle School Parents

Positive Words, Powerful Results by Hal Urban.

The Good Enough Child - How to Have an Imperfect Family and Be Perfectly Satisfied by Dr. Brad Sachs, Ph.D (a Howard County resident).

Get Out of My Life But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager by Anthony Wolf, Ph.D.

You Can't Scare Me... I have a Teenager! A Parent's Basic Survival Guide - by two local pychologists: Thomas W. Stacy, Ph.D, and David A. Gold, Ph.D.

Fighting Invisible Tigers - A Stress Management Guide for Teens by Earle Hipp - Great for perfectionists

For Parents of Girls
Odd Girl Out - The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons

Surviving Ophelia by Charisse Nixon.

Girl War - 12 Strategies that Will End Female Bullying by Cheryl Dellasega, Ph.D. and Charisse Nixon

6th grade Misfits – by Amy Goldman

For Parents of Boys
Rescuing our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood - by William Pollack (Says that although lots of attention is on girls, our boys are struggling, too.)

Compiled by Tom Saunders and Julie Prince

ISTE/NECC Conference in San Antonio

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a national conference on the use of technology in education. I really enjoyed traveling to the great state of Texas to attend this wonderful conference. The keynotes, sessions and the spectacular displays by the national vendors was very impressive. It was the right mix of good ideas, new innovations and an enjoyable location to visit - San Antonio!

I especially enjoyed learning about Illinois' Technology Institute for Principals and the Levels of Technology Innovation presented by Chris Moersch.

During the conference, I had the chance to meet Lester Holt of NBC News. I have been a fan of Mr. Holt since his early days on MSNBC. Meeting him last week and meeting him last week was a pleasure. He was friendly and quite witty.

As result of the conference, I have two new books that I am interested in reading: Alan Deutschman's Change or Die and James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds.

Finally, I had a lot of fun hanging out with two of my staff members and other educators from my county. I also want to thank my wife and best friend for letting me go on this trip.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Finding Middle Ground

Finding Middle Ground

By Jennifer Broadwater
Maryland Family Magazine

When Tom Saunders first tells acquaintances that he's principal of a middle school, he often gets the same responses: "God bless you" or "Oh, I'm so sorry."

He shrugs off the comments because he considers his job at Elkridge Landing Middle School a "badge of honor."

"I think I understand it's such a vulnerable age," he says. "It's so interesting to see a student come in as a child and transform into a young adult."

Middle school is a time of hormones, cliques, pimples and insecurity.

Hammond Middle School teacher Cecilia Haley says you couldn't pay her enough to be a middle schooler again, while Glenwood Middle School teacher George Lovera calls it the "worst three years" of his life.

But these teachers and many others choose to spend their careers back in middle school. Why? Veteran teachers like Haley and Lovera say middle school students are easy to love. They wouldn't trade their jobs for any other.

"There's so much change going on and it's rewarding to help them go through that," explains Saunders. "This is the time period when their wings start to flutter. Sometimes it's beautiful to see, other times it's really awkward while they figure it out."

Harper's Choice Middle School teacher Joe Fisher's trials in middle school motivated him to teach that age. He remembers being terrorized on his way home from middle school -- older kids would bully him for money and tempt him to engage in petty crime. And although it was more than 40 years ago, he knows that his students today aren't immune to the same type of bullying -- one of the many bumps that make middle school a time so memorable that many adults wish they could forget it.

"It was a time when I wasn't really sure about myself," says Fisher, who teaches social studies. "It's a really challenging period of life."

Most of these veteran teachers would agree that it takes a little empathy to walk the halls of a middle school every day. Early adolescence is a period of immense developmental change -- second only to the first years o f life, according to a compilation of research posted on the Web site of the National Middle School Association.

Chief among early adolescents' transformation are physical growth and puberty. Not only are these 10- to 15-year-olds sprouting, but they are also maturing intellectually and developing greater reasoning abilities -- a trait middle school educators notice in their students' strong sense of justice and focus on fairness, according to Saunders.

Middle schoolers are also more likely to seek independence from their parents and approval from peers. This makes them vulnerable to high-risk behaviors such as experimenting with alcohol, drugs and sexual activity, according to research posted on the National Middle School Association's Web site. (The research includes C. Stevenson's "Teaching Ten to Fourteen Year Olds," T. Knowles' and D.F. Brown's "What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know" and R.D. Kellough's and N.G. Kellough's "Teaching Young Adolescents: Methods and Resources for Middle Grades T eaching.")

In order to not only survive but thrive in a middle school, Windsor Mill Middle School teacher Johnna Alexander often reminds herself that, "The child who's the most difficult to love often needs it the most."

"I think the middle school child comes with an invisible sign that says, 'Make me feel important.' If teachers can remember that, then they've won half the battle," says Alexander, who began teaching science eight years ago as a second career, after having been a blues drummer.

"They're about as ornery as I am, so we get along," she jokes. "I think what happens is their focus really changes from being fascinated with the world around them to a fascination with self."

Lovera, a social studies teacher at Glenwood Middle, agrees. In his words, middle school-age children temporarily lose their "peripheral vision."

"You could be the most popular, with-it person in the world -- you could be Jesus, Buddah, Moses incarnate coming back to Earth and you wouldn't be able to change their perc eption of the world," says Lovera. "The challenge is to figure out how to get them to understand how they fit in -- not just in (their community) or Maryland, but the world."

In order to make his lessons relevant to his charges, Lovera is a keen observer of his students. He foregoes the teacher's lounge in favor spending his lunch break in the cafeteria. He builds relationships with his students outside the formal classroom environment and soaks in their behavior, interactions and trends.

"To really understand a middle school student, go to the lunch room. You'll see everything you need to know," he says.

Middle-schoolers are compelled to be accepted and included by their peers.

"It's all about the big group," says Haley, a reading teacher at Hammond Middle, in North Laurel. "They're spending so much time wondering what other people think, whether they're wearing the right clothes or listening to the right music. ... These are great kids, but they get caught up so much in wanting to be accepted that they can become mean to others."

With all of these physical, social and emotional distractions, it's no wonder there's a documented slump in academic achievement during the middle school years, according to research and evidence in local test scores. Results of Maryland's state-mandated exams in math and reading have shown general dips in students' pass rates during middle school since the tests were introduced in 2003.

For instance, during the most recent testing in 2007, the percentage of students statewide who passed the math test rose by each grade level in elementary school, but dropped from a roughly 78 percent pass rate in fifth grade to a 72 percent pass rate in sixth grade, then steadily decreased to a 57 percent pass rate by eighth grade. The pass rate then rose to 64 percent once students were tested in algebra in high school. Pass rates in reading followed a similar trend.

Keleigh Kongkraphun, a guidance counselor at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School near Pikesville, says middle schoolers can b e distracted from learning for a variety of reasons. They might lack organization skills and be inexperienced in handling responsibilities or be distracted by events that occurred at home or between classmates.

"If they come in upset about something, before they can go off and concentrate, they need to get that off their chest," she says.

The challenges of working in middle schools nationally led educators to launch online chat rooms and listservs, such as one called MiddleWeb, where teachers share ideas, ask for advice and commiserate.

One common discussion is finding outlets for middle-schoolers' abundant energy and advice includes keeping them engaged in hands-on activities in the classroom as well as clubs, sports and lessons after school.

At Windsor Mill, staff members have organized a popular after-school Wolfpack Discovery Program in which students may remain at school until 6 p.m. two days a week to participate in homework help, clubs or recreational programs. Teachers volunteer their time to oversee the activities and students pay just $3 for the bus ride home.

Fisher, of Harper's Choice Middle, hopes to keep middle school-age teens engaged in their education by providing them with adult mentors and a homework club. He says teaching middle school and keeping tabs on the participants in his mentoring program keeps him feeling young and gives him hope.

"At the end of the day, you are smiling," Fisher says. "These kids have lots of energy, and it takes lots of energy to keep up. They're a lot of fun, and I have really enjoyed listening to their ideas. It helps me realize the future looks good."