Saturday, October 31, 2009

Quotes by famous Creators

Photo Credit: Laffy4k at Flickr

Creativity is allowing
yourself to make mistakes.
Art is knowing which ones
to keep.

Scott Adams
creator of the
Dilbert comic strip

When I write music, I don’t ask people to tell me what they want to hear. They don’t really know what moves them until it moves them.

Miles Davis (1926-1991)
jazz composer, musician,
& bandleader

Friday, October 30, 2009

First in Math - Solving 1,000,000 Math Problems by Winter Break Challenge

This year, thanks to the HCPSS Secondary Math Office and the generous support of Suntex Corporation, Wilde Lake Middle School is piloting the use of First In Math® by all of our students. Since beginning the use of this online math resource this month (October), WLMS students have solved more than 300,000 math problems. Today, I challenged our students to solve more than 1,000,000 math problems by Winter Break.

What is
First in Math? First In Math® is an online program that is aligned with National Mathematics Standards and features eight distinct skill set® groups, each of which focuses students on select objectives:
  • Skill Sets One and Two are designed to help students learn to add and subtract with accuracy, speed and confidence.
  • Skill Sets Three and Four are designed to help student learn to multiply and divide with accuracy, speed and confidence; as well as to develop pattern-sensing and pre-algebra problem solving skills.
  • Skill Sets Five and Six are designed to promote algebra readiness, as well as proficiency with fractions and decimals.
  • Skill Sets Seven and Eight are designed to continue preparation for and practice with Algebra by focusing on integers, exponents and algebra skills such as evaluating, factoring and simplifying algebraic expressions.

The program also includes the following modules which further improve numerical fluency:

  • Add/Subtract Gym, where students demonstrate mastery of addition and subtraction facts.
  • Multiply/Divide Gym, where students demonstrate mastery of multiplication and division facts.
  • Integers Gym, where students demonstrate mastery of all four operations with positive and negative numbers.
  • Know & Show, where students practice answering problems similar to those on standardized tests. K&S covers all strands of national and state mathematics standards including geometry, statistics and probability, graphs and charts, mathematical reasoning, pre-trigonometry, and measurement.

Problem solving is an integral part of all mathematical learning and is emphasized throughout the National standards. Therefore, each activity in First in Math® is designed to strengthen problem-solving, as well as reasoning and communication skills.

Barbara Asteak, Vice President of Suntex Corporation (First in Math), visits with students at our school

Here at WLMS, each math class has become a team that is competing against the other math classes here in our school. They are competing to see which class/team earns the most electronic stickers each week (on average, solving three math problems correctly earns one electronic sticker). Our math team is using this program as a supplement to our regular curriculum and encouraging students to play at home during their free time.

In addition to our in-school competition, our students are competing against all of the other schools in the state and across the country who have First in Math. Our students are reporting that they really love the "computer game" format and the competition.

Source: First in Math

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Getting in the Game - WLMS Prepares to Compete in Lego Robotics League

Imagine if you could program a vehicle to take you places, or even go by itself…

Imagine if each vehicle knew where all the other ones were…

Imagine if vehicles could avoid each other and the things around them…

Imagine if vehicles could be programmed to avoid causing or driving into traffic jams…

  • Would traffic signals be needed any more?

If these vehicles did hit each other…

  • How might they be built to really keep passengers safe?
  • How might they be built to avoid getting stuck or damaged?

Have you noticed that most vehicles near where you live are only used part of the day?

  • How might the number of vehicles in your area be reduced?

What new technologies could sometimes eliminate your need to travel?

Now in addition to imagining and wondering… Try some of this yourself!

Source: First Lego League Competition

For the first time this year, 52 students at WLMS are beginning to explore how to design a robot that can possibly do all of the challenges discussed above. Thanks to Atholton High School teacher, Mr. Fox and WLMS GT teacher, Ms. Motaung. our students will enter the First Lego League to compete with other teams from around the central Maryland region to see who's ideas reign supreme in the 2009 First Lego League (FLL) Mission Challenge.

We have opportunities for students to work on robotics during school and after school here at the Lake. The excitement being generated is amazing!

Watch this exciting video below to find out more about the FLL:

Friday, October 23, 2009

It Is Time to Vaccinate Late Work Policies

Here at WLMS, we have been experiencing a large number of absences - both students and staff. This past week, WLMS had an average student absentee rate of more than 10% and almost 5% of staff. I have heard from other Principals that their schools are experiencing even greater numbers of absences. This flu season is the worst I have ever seen in my career as a principal. Absences are having an impact on "business as usual".

On average, students and staff who report having flu like symptoms are out of school for 4-5 days and even upon returning they are not back to peek performance. This represents hours of instructional time lost. Students face the challenge of catching-up on the work they missed, while at the same time, completing all of the new work assigned. As you might imagine, this is daunting for all 11-14 year-old's.

Recently, a teacher shared with me that she gave a test and only 80 of her 120 students were present to take the exam. She expressed frustration and was trying to figure out how she would be able to have her students who were ill make-up her exam. I asked her why she was trying to do "business as usual" in the face of a pandemic? While I think academic rigor is important, I also believe we have to be reasonable during unusual times. As professionals, our use of discretion, is critical to helping our students recover both mentally and physically. It is time to vaccinate our late work policies to avoid making our children sick of school.

When reviewing your policies on make-up work this year, here are some suggestions:

1. Be flexible and consider each child on a case by case basis.

2. Send home only essential information to be completed. Less is so much more when a child is at home recuperating.

3. Send home well-wishes. Along with any work that needs to be completed, it is always a nice to send along a personal note to wish your student a speedy recovery.

4. Extend deadlines.

5. Remember the whole picture. Your class is not the only work that has been missed and needs to be made-up.

6. Prioritize what is important. When your student returns to school, help them understand what work is most important to complete first. Most middle school students have not mastered this skill yet.

What do you think? Any other suggestions?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

40th Anniversary Celebration Pics

Thanks to everyone who was able to attend our 40th Anniversary Celebration this past Thursday evening. It was a great to see so many friends, families, alumni and supporters of our school. We had a lot of fun reminiscing about the proud history of WLMS. I especially want to congratulate all of our current student musicians who helped make this celebration so memorable.

Thanks to Joanna Tanner and all of the 40th Anniversary Celebration committee members who did such a great job organizing this event. I also want to thank Mr. Hrico for directing the WLMS chorus and Mr. Messick for directing the WLMS Jazz Band.

Click here to read the Columbia Flier article about the celebration:

40th Anniversary Video

Wilde Lake Middle School
40th Anniversary Video
Created by Joanna Tanner
6th Grade Social Studies Teacher

This video was shown at the WLMS 40th Anniversary Celebration held on October 15, 2009.

Thanks Joanna for doing such a great job organizing and hosting this special event.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Adopted Turtle Arrives at WLMS

Thanks to Ms. Musgrave, WLMS was selected by the National Aquarium to raise a Diamondback turtle hatchling this year. Some of our students will have the opportunity to study this turtle for 7-8 months. In the spring of next year, the turtle will be returned to the National Aquarium so that they can release the turtle into the wild. Our students have named the hatchling "Skittles".

Skittles arrived last Monday. As you might imagine, Skittles has been quite the aquatic celebrity and the subject of many visits to Ms. Musgrave's science classroom. One of our students said, "It is so cool to see such a small baby turtle!"

The National Aquarium has asked our students to study the hatchling to try and discover when the sex of the reptile can be determined and at what water temperature. Our students will track various data points each day and provide food and shelter for this wonderful little creature. As the turtle begins to grow, I will provide periodic updates.

Some facts about Diamondback Terrapins

This strong-jawed turtle is well suited for eating periwinkles, mussels, and crabs. In the past, it was heavily used in soups because of its sweet meat. Today terrapins are threatened by pollution and coastal development. They often drown in pots people set out to catch crabs.

Where they can be found: A small turtle in coastal waters with ringlike grooves and ridges on the scutes of its upper shell. Its skin is light-colored with dark markings.

Length : Female 6-9"; male 4-5 1/2".

Habitat : Coastal marshes, coves, tidal creeks, bays.

Range : Along Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Serves as the mascot for the University of Maryland.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Read @ WLMS!

Thanks to Emily Warner, the WLMS Reading Team Leader, for helping to kick-off our campaign to increase the amount reading done by our learning community. Here are members of the WLMS staff reading their favorite books.

I Love Wordle! Do You?

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. Here is the Wordle link:

Below is a Wordle that I created in seconds highlighting some of the text from my blog. In the near future, I am planning to create a poster from the words that the WLMS staff use to describe our school. I will use the poster as art for our newly upgraded conference room.

What are some other ways to use Wordle?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Advice About Chasing Your Dreams!

She believed in dreams, all right,
but she also believed in doing something about them.

When Prince Charming didn’t come along,
she went over to the palace and got him!

Walt Disney
(explaining how Cinderella was different from Snow White)

If you have a brain in your head
and feet in your shoes,
you can steer yourself
in any direction you choose.

Theodor Seuss (1904-1991)
American writer & cartoonist

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.
The most certain way to succeed
is always to try just one more time.

Thomas Edison (1847-1931)
one of the world’s greatest inventors

Friday, October 9, 2009

40th Anniversary Celebration is Almost Here!

This coming Thursday, October 15th, Wilde Lake Middle will celebrate 40 years of service to the Wilde Lake, Running Brook, Bryant Woods and Clemens Crossing communities. Based on some simple calculations, our school has:

Served over 20,000 middle level students

Helped over 40,000 parents and/or guardians

Been the home of more than 2000 staff members

Prepared more than 7000 school lunches

Provided more than 80,000 report cards

If you would like to help us celebrate, we will have an open house starting at 6:30 P.M. The WLMS school band will perform and other festivities are planned to celebrate WLMS's anniversary.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Addressing the Middle School Organizational Skills Conundrum

Susan Mulcaire

Aman is in seventh grade. It’s mid-semester and he has a D in Math. Ask Aman why he has a D, and he’ll shrug his shoulders and tell you, quite earnestly, that he’s not good at math, he doesn’t understand it, he never will. It’s pretty clear he’s given up.

Mr. Summaker, Aman’s math teacher, paints a different picture of this struggling student. “Aman’s plenty bright. He can do math. But, he forgets to bring his homework to school. He has four missing assignments, and he failed to make up a quiz he missed when he was absent. He also turned in a project late. Organizationally, he’s all over the place. If he could just pull it together, he’d probably end up with a B in my class. He’s so far behind now, he doesn’t study, he isn’t engaged in class -- he’s checked out.” Thus, at the tender age of 12, this bright and capable student may already have closed the door to a career in engineering, architecture, medicine or any other math-based profession. Why? Not because of his math skills -- because of his poor organizational skills.

Does Aman understand the connection between his academic performance, and his organizational skills? Probably not. A typical middle school student is not terribly inclined toward self-reflection, particularly on matters such as grades and organization. To borrow a notion from Gertrude Stein, to a middle school student, “a D, is a D is a D.” However, for students like Aman who, but for their poor organizational skills, would be performing on a satisfactory level, making the connection is critical. If Aman truly understood that his organizational habits, not his intellectual ability are driving his performance, he might not be so quick to throw in the towel and label himself a failure.

In an effort to help Aman make the connection, Mr. Summaker takes him aside and demonstrates what his grade would be, had he turned his homework, made up the missed quiz, and submitted his project on time. He assures Aman that, but for these problems, he is a capable math student, and can do well in his class. By the end of the meeting, Aman has made the connection. He understands that his organizational skills are the primary culprit dragging down his grade.

Will this be enough to get Aman back on track? Not likely. It may be enough to get his head back in the game, and to restore some of his confidence, but Aman still needs help. To abandon him now would be like providing a diagnosis and withholding the cure. He hasn’t the slightest idea what good organizational skills are, or how to learn them. He needs to be taught. Without instruction in these essential skills, Aman will continue to underachieve, carrying with him into high school, the bad habits and practices that caused him to underachieve in middle school.

What can be done to help students, like Aman, learn good organizational skills? A lot! Start with teaching students to use -- and to use correctly -- the organizational tools they have right at their fingertips. Among the many tools that middle school students have for being organized are binders, planners, study buds, class notes and self-advocacy skills. These tools and skills can help students manage their time and their workloads. Here are some tips:

Binders: A binder is an important organizational tool. It should be organized so that the student is able to file, find and retrieve papers and information quickly. Papers should be separated by class, and long term handouts stored in sheet protectors, in the correct binder section. Each subject section should contain a “send/receive” sub-section for homework and papers that go to and from school to home. Remember, binders need maintenance! Once a month, invite your organizationally-challenged students to a lunch time, advisory or after school Clutter Bust, where they can enjoy music and a treat as they clean out and organize their binders.

Planners: Prior to class dismissal, allow students a couple of minutes to record homework, class assignments and other responsibilities. Encourage students to incorporate into their planner school wide dates and events, such as bell schedule changes, picture days and exam weeks, as well as personal obligations and appointments. All of this information, not just the class schedule, is important for proper time management.
Study Bud: Pair students up with a study bud in each class. Study buds act as back up for one another in the event of confusion about a homework assignment, a lost worksheet, sick days or forgotten handout. They can also study together or pair up on projects. Study buds exchange contact information, including email address, phone numbers and addresses. Study buds work together on in-class assignments or team activities, to get to know each other and become comfortable working together.

Class Notes: Take time to carefully explain to students that, in middle school, dates, deadlines and directions are important. Failure to follow directions, or missing a deadline or due date, can result in a drop of a full letter grade on a project, essay or assignment! Train your students to tune in, listen for, and take notes on information regarding due dates, deadlines and directions. A day or two after assigning a project, give the class a short quiz about the project’s due date, deadline and directions. The results will identify the students who are not tuning into these important matters and are likely to miss the due date, or fail to follow the directions.

Self-advocacy skills. Knowing when and how to speak up is an important organizational tool, not just for middle school, but for high school and beyond. Self-advocacy skills do not come easily to many young students. Whether it’s as simple as tracking down a teacher to reschedule a missed lab, or asking a teacher to correct a scoring error on a grading sheet -- shyness, limited English skills, or fear of being chastised, can put a student in avoidance (or denial) mode, and keep them from following up on important organizational matters. Practice self-advocacy skills! Have students create hypothetical middle school dilemmas, such as a lost text book, a failed grade on a paper, or a friend who is distracting them in class, and explain what he or she would do to follow up on the matter. Then role play -- actually verbalize -- talking to the teacher to resolve the dilemma.

Good basic organizational skills are essential for success in middle school. Like Aman, most middle school students are not capable of identifying and self-correcting poor and unproductive organizational habits. Start students on the road to success by teaching them to correctly use the organizational tools available to them. Good organizational skills will serve your students well through middle school, high school and into college. No student should underachieve because of poor organizational skills!

Susan Mulcaire is a teacher, lawyer and mother of three. She is the author
of The Middle School Student’s Guide to Ruling the World! (Tween Publishing, 2006). She created the popular S.O.S. Student Organizational Skills Program
and podcasts, and teaches organizational skills in Orange County, California.
She can be reached at 949-723-5131, or through

How To Be A GREAT Student?

1. Show up.
2. Pay attention
3. Ask questions
4. Ask for help.
5. Help others.
6. Take great notes.
7. Do more than expected.
8. Do NOT cheat.
9. No matter what – DON’T QUIT!
10. Read How to Have Fun Without Failing Out.

Rob Gilbert, Ph.D.
How to Have Fun Without Failing Out

Back to School Night Was A Big Success!

On the evening of September 23rd, WLMS held its annual Back to School Night for parents and guardians. We had over 350 people in attendance including Howard County Board of Education Member Ms. Gordon. I want to thank all of those parents and other important stakeholders who were in attendance. It is inspiriing to witness the Wilde Lake Middle School community's commitment and support of their children's education. I feel very fortunate to work here at WLMS!

It is always an exciting night when our staff gets to meet the parents of their students. I heard many positive comments about WLMS and our wonderful staff. Some of the comments included:

Your staff is so enthusiastic and upbeat.

What a great group of teachers WLMS has!

The building looks clean!

My child is loving school...please thank all of your staff for all that they are doing!

If you didn't have a chance to attend our back to school night, I encourage you to visit the WLMS website often and sign-up for our weekly newsletter. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me -