Saturday, November 28, 2009


Congratulations to Cassie and Lauren!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

During these tumultuous times, it is easy to forget our many blessings. It is easy to count our deficits and not appreciate our many gifts.

Over this long weekend, I plan to take time to tell as many of my loved ones as I see how much I appreciate them. It is time for me to take stock in all that is right with my world.

When I sit down this afternoon to eat dinner, I will be thankful for the following: my wonderful family(my wife, my two healthy kids, my parents, my sisters and my in-laws) my friends and a great place to work.

My Thanksgiving Challenge:

I challenge each of you to remember a teacher/mentor who has meant a lot to you and reconnect with them to say "thanks!" You could call, visit, email or send a card. Believe me, this would really mean a lot to the person you select.

What are you thankful for?

Overparenting? What Do You Thnk?

The insanity crept up on us slowly; we just wanted what was best for our kids. We bought macrobiotic cupcakes and hypoallergenic socks, hired tutors to correct a 5-year-old's "pencil-holding deficiency," hooked up broadband connections in the treehouse but took down the swing set after the second skinned knee. We hovered over every school, playground and practice field — "helicopter parents," teachers christened us, a phenomenon that spread to parents of all ages, races and regions. Stores began marketing stove-knob covers and "Kinderkords" (also known as leashes; they allow "three full feet of freedom for both you and your child") and Baby Kneepads (as if babies don't come prepadded). The mayor of a Connecticut town agreed to chop down three hickory trees on one block after a woman worried that a stray nut might drop into her new swimming pool, where her nut-allergic grandson occasionally swam. A Texas school required parents wanting to help with the second-grade holiday party to have a background check first. Schools auctioned off the right to cut the carpool line and drop a child directly in front of the building — a spot that in other settings is known as handicapped parking.

We were so obsessed with our kids' success that parenting turned into a form of product development. Parents demanded that nursery schools offer Mandarin, since it's never too soon to prepare for the competition of a global economy. High school teachers received irate text messages from parents protesting an exam grade before class was even over; college deans described freshmen as "crispies," who arrived at college already burned out, and "teacups," who seemed ready to break at the tiniest stress. (See pictures of the college dorm's evolution.)

This is what parenting had come to look like at the dawn of the 21st century — just one more extravagance, the Bubble Wrap waiting to burst.

All great rebellions are born of private acts of civil disobedience that inspire rebel bands to plot together. And so there is now a new revolution under way, one aimed at rolling back the almost comical overprotectiveness and overinvestment of moms and dads. The insurgency goes by many names — slow parenting, simplicity parenting, free-range parenting — but the message is the same: Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful. You really want your children to succeed? Learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they'll fly higher. We're often the ones who hold them down.

A backlash against overparenting had been building for years, but now it reflects a new reality. Since the onset of the Great Recession, according to a CBS News poll, a third of parents have cut their kids' extracurricular activities. They downsized, downshifted and simplified because they had to — and often found, much to their surprise, that they liked it. When a TIME poll last spring asked how the recession had affected people's relationships with their kids, nearly four times as many people said relationships had gotten better as said they'd gotten worse. "This is one of those moments when everything is on the table, up for grabs," says Carl HonorĂ©, whose book Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting is a gospel of the slow-parenting movement. He likens the sudden awareness to the feeling you get when you wake up after a long night carousing, the lights go on, and you realize you're a mess. "That horrible moment of self-recognition is where we are culturally. I wanted parents to realize they are not alone in thinking this is insanity, and show there's another way." (See the 25 best back-to-school gadgets.)

How We Got Here

Overparenting had been around long before Douglas MacArthur's mom Pinky moved with him to West Point in 1899 and took an apartment near the campus, supposedly so she could watch him with a telescope to be sure he was studying. But in the 1990s something dramatic happened, and the needle went way past the red line. From peace and prosperity, there arose fear and anxiety; crime went down, yet parents stopped letting kids out of their sight; the percentage of kids walking or biking to school dropped from 41% in 1969 to 13% in 2001. Death by injury has dropped more than 50% since 1980, yet parents lobbied to take the jungle gyms out of playgrounds, and strollers suddenly needed the warning label "Remove Child Before Folding." Among 6-to-8-year-olds, free playtime dropped 25% from 1981 to '97, and homework more than doubled. Bookstores offered Brain Foods for Kids: Over 100 Recipes to Boost Your Child's Intelligence. The state of Georgia sent every newborn home with the CD Build Your Baby's Brain Through the Power of Music, after researchers claimed to have discovered that listening to Mozart could temporarily help raise IQ scores by as many as 9 points. By the time the frenzy had reached its peak, colleges were installing "Hi, Mom!" webcams in common areas, and employers like Ernst & Young were creating "parent packs" for recruits to give Mom and Dad, since they were involved in negotiating salary and benefits.

Read more:,8599,1940395-1,00.html#ixzz0XvjhpKSE

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Wake-Up Call About the Importance of Sleep

Adolescents, Sleep and Learning

Written By: Mary M. Alward

Recently, adolescent's sleep habits have been in the news. Research has shown that adolescents need more sleep now then children and parents are worried. Teenagers especially seem to need more sleep. Are they really tired when you can't budge them out of bed on the weekend, or are they just lazy?

When puberty is winding down, teenagers get a rush of the hormone melatonin. This changes their wake/sleep patterns immensely. Teens who go to bed early find themselves still awake in the wee hours of the morning. It seems that though adults begin to unwind between 7 and 8 pm, teens tend to wind down between 10 and 11 pm and some even later.

Body Changes

Between the ages of 11 and 22 years, changes occur in the body that cause humans to need more sleep. This means adolescents will face a physical challenge if they have to get up early each morning. Researchers believe that they body's biological clock slows during the adolescent years. This is why your child or teen may still be wide-eyed at 3 am, yet very tired at 7 am. Many parents feel that a child who has always been up by 5 am, is being rebellious when they want to sleep in during their adolescent years. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Adolescents between the ages of 11 and 22 years need more sleep than young children.

How Much Sleep?

Adults require 8.25 hours of sleep to function well during the day. Children require 10 hours. Adolescents require at least 9.25 hours of sleep per night, which is almost impossible for them to get. Here's why:

  • Adolescents tend to have an inability to get to sleep at night. Many times they can't wind down and are still awake in the wee hours of the morning.
  • Many adolescents work after school and then have homework and social obligations in the evening. As parents, we must adjust the sleep schedule of our adolescent children to fit their needs if we want them to learn and to remain in optimum health. Most adolescents suffer from chronic sleep deprivation and try to sleep in on weekends to allow their bodies to catch up.
  • It is necessary for adolescents to practice good sleep hygiene, which means going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day.

The Affect of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation has a huge impact on adolescents. It affects them by:

  • Inhibiting creativity.
  • Impairing memory.
  • Impairing their ability to learn.
  • Causing irritability and mood swings.
  • Causing a lack of self-confidence.
  • Causing a lack of control over their emotions.
  • Causing depression.
  • Causing low self-esteem.
  • Impairing the immune system.
  • Impairing judgment.
  • Causing safety issues.

How Parents Can Help

Parents can help their adolescent children by monitoring their activities. If your adolescent child is involved in too many activities, ask him to choose his favorites and stick to a schedule that allows time for homework, a part time job, socialization with his peers and an adequate amount of sleep.

As a rule, high school kids get only 6.5 hours of sleep per night, which is far less than is necessary. Research shows that adolescents often doze off in morning classes. If your child's high school rings the bell to start classes before 9 am, request that your teenager's schedule be adjusted to suit his specific needs. If adolescents get the proper amount of sleep, their learning ability will be at its peak. This will result in a feeling of pride and achievement, inspire much higher grades and result in fewer discipline problems.

Sleep Hygiene

Good sleep hygiene is just as important and good physical hygiene. It is imperative your adolescent get enough sleep in order to function at his peak potential. Good sleep hygiene includes:

  • 9.25 hours of sleep per night.
  • Sleeping in a dark room.
  • Sleeping in a quiet room with no computer or TV screen flashing light across the room.
  • Avoiding bright light in the evening hours.
  • Opening blinds or curtains as soon as they wake.
  • No arguments or other disturbing activity in the evening hours.
  • No alcohol, caffeine or nicotine. These act as a stimulant to the brain and prevent adolescents from falling asleep. They can also disrupt sleep.
  • Studying should be done in the early evening, not just before going to bed.
  • Allow adolescents to sleep in for a couple or three hours on the weekend. Sleeping longer than that will cause their body's biological clock to be out of synch.

Sleep is an important part of your adolescent child's life. It incites optimum health, creativity and learning. Help your child get the sleep that he needs in order for him to be the best that he can be everyday of his adolescent life.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rick Wormeli: Late Work:A Constructive Response

Late Work:A Constructive Response
By Rick Wormeli
(from Because You Teach)

It’s Friday. Your arms are fully extended, carting heavy crates full of projects to grade over the weekend that in all likelihood will be carted back to school on Monday untouched—a teacher can dream. It’s been a long week of multiple distractions from the intended lesson plans, but you’ve finally come out the other end of it ready to be with your family and catch up on sleep and the larger world.

Just as you’re about to step into the fading afternoon sun outside the front doors of your school, your principal appears from behind the main office doorway and calls, “Hey, how about that paperwork that was due today? Any chance that I could get you to do it before you leave? It should only take 20 minutes or so.”

You grind to a halt, heart sinking, and turn to face your administrator. “Oh, wow,” you begin. “I’m really sorry I didn’t finish that. We had the field trip this week, and testing meetings the last couple of afternoons. I completely forgot, but I really need to get home to my family. Is there any way I can work on it over the weekend and get it to you first thing Monday morning?”

If the principal is worth her salt she’ll respond with, “I understand. There’s plenty for me to work with over the weekend, and if I get your information on Monday, I will still be able to use it. Thanks for working on it. Have a good weekend.”

The principal’s compassionate response is easy for her because you have been diligent in the past about completing paperwork on time. Your request for a deadline extension is occasional, not chronic.

Matters would be different if you were chronically late, however. The principal would be within her rights to remind you of your professional duties, express disappointment and frustration, and even put a letter of reprimand in your file. She might also take time to investigate and help you reprioritize your time.

Many middle school teachers fear that a compassionate response to late student work will teach students that it’s okay for them not to be punctual or heed deadlines. The ensuing anarchy would engulf us all, they fear, and in the real world, they tell their students, you would never get away with such behaviors.

These are wrong on all accounts. In the real world, airplanes take off minutes and hours late every day. Dentists run late, people request permission for filing tax forms late, new building construction often takes longer than we think, and car repairs are frequently not finished by the designated time. This is not to disparage any of these industries; it recognizes that humans are organic and messy, subject to more than the dictates of the clock.

We teach self-discipline and the importance of punctuality in more effective ways than blindly punishing students. For instance, we share stories of individuals who were and were not on time with their tasks and the consequences in each case. We show students the high achievement that can be reached by on-time completions. We provide students with individual feedback regarding their punctuality, we emphasize formative assessment and feedback over summative versions so students stay on course, and we structure our lessons so students want to keep up with work in order to fully participate in compelling experiences and to not be overwhelmed by playing catch-up with too many tasks at one time.

We also must realize that we are not teaching full-grown adults with adult level competencies. We are teaching young adolescents who are learning those competencies for the first time. To demand consistent, adult-level competence of middle schoolers is inappropriate. We have to walk students through mature decision making and action-taking regarding their time.

We can occasionally put content curriculum to one side and bring unspoken curriculum to the forefront: We ask students to identify what’s important versus what’s urgent in their lives, and we show them how to refocus on the important. We ask students to list activities they have after school each day, the time it takes to do each one, and to take a step back and look at their schedule for the whole week to see if any of it can be rearranged or reprioritized.

We help students set up Calendars of Completion with which we break down large tasks into daily smaller tasks. We help them record what they need to do on Thursday before a big project is due on Friday, then what they need to do on Wednesday so they can do those tasks on Thursday, then what they should do on Tuesday so they can do the tasks on Wednesday so they can do the tasks on Thursday so they can turn in the project on Friday. We work backwards with students until the present day. The time spent doing this is invaluable to middle school students— where and when else might they learn this? There are even some of us adults who
could benefit from someone guiding our time management.

When a student submits a project late, we don’t take off a whole letter grade for each day it’s late. After two or three days, even if the project would earn an “A” normally, the student reasons, why bother? Some of us tell the student to do it anyway because the subject is worth learning, but this requirement doesn’t result in the learning we think it does. Doing the project after it’s already earned a “D” or an “F” breeds resentment, not maturity, and the grade recorded for the project is false—any decision or feedback predicated on it is also false.

If you have to, take a few points off the overall grade, but not whole letter grades. A whole grade lower is punitive, a few points off is instructive. The student will still learn, and we keep the experience from becoming a vicious black hole to both parties. Even better, the student learns and the grade stays close to being an accurate rendering of mastery.

Consider: If the student is late with the work only occasionally (i.e., once or twice a grading period), then it’s easy to be merciful. Let him turn it in late for full credit. Just as in the opening example, teachers and others turn things in late all the time. The student has earned our goodwill and flexibility with weeks or months of on time performance, so we can extend him civility.

Is this fair to those students who turned their work in on time? Sure. We’d extend the same civility to them if they needed it, emphasizing the positive impact of punctuality on a person’s reputation and what he can achieve. We’d also point out that on time students will be able to move on with their lives and work while the extended-deadline students have to do that in addition to finishing up the earlier work. It’s a burden the on- time students don’t have to bear.

If the student is chronically late turning in work, it’s time to investigate and teach the student about the power of being on time. We don’t simply admonish the student and record the “F.” There is something wrong. It could be the level of instruction, the student’s home schedule, an emotional issue, lack of resources, cultural insensitivity, miscommunication, auditory processing issues, or something else. We help students advocate for themselves, not just hold them accountable. Student accountability without purpose is one reason why students drop out and schools fail.

Because your colleagues may lower grades by a full letter grade and you want to keep the peace, you may have to do it as well. The problem, of course, is that this new grade is tainted and is no longer useful. In these situations, record two grades for the student: one that represents his level of mastery or performance regarding the material, and one that reflects the late penalties. For example, a student could earn an “A/D.” When it comes time to document progress and make informed instructional decisions, use the accurate rendering of mastery, not the grade decreased by tardy response.

Let’s deal with late work in ways that lead to students’ personal investment in learning. Driving an assignment into the ground doesn’t serve anyone. While there should be consequences for not meeting deadlines, we can still spend time investigating the situation before arbitrarily lowering the grade. In addition, keeping up hope that hard work even after the deadline will deliver a positive response in the grade, works. Very few students learn from experiences in which there is no hope for positive academic recognition for mastery obtained. The factor that causes such consternation is the time constraint, which is arbitrary and very fixable.

Successful middle-level teachers don’t see teaching as a “Gotcha”enterprise, thinking their job is done when they catch young adolescents doing wrong and point it out to them. They know that students don’t learn purely by being punished. It takes concentrated investigation and constructive action to get them to the point where punctuality matters. It’s tougher to do, and automatically lowering grades when papers and projects are late is a cop-out. In most interactions on this planet, we’re here to look out for one another, not document each other’s fall. Young adolescents are watching us, hoping the world really is compassionate, fearing that it’s not and they are alone. We can assure them that the world is demanding yet compassionate, and more importantly, that they have the tools to deal with it.

Portions of this article are paraphrased from Rick’s book Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom (2006) available at the NMSA online bookstore ( and Stenhouse Publications (
  • With what did you agree?
  • With what did you disagree?
  • What are your school’s late-work policies?
  • Are your responses to late work meant to punish students, teach students, or both?
  • Identify the elements of your late-work policies that demonstrate your expertise in what is developmentally appropriate for the students you teach.
  • What evidence do you have that your late-work policies are effective in teaching students how to grow in maturity so as not to be late with work?
  • Besides placing marks in a grade book, how do we best teach students in your grade level to be self-disciplined and to take responsibility for themselves?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quote of the day

My favorite basketball player
once said...

A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.

Larry Bird

WLMS Receives Citation from Maryland General Assembly

From left to right: Tom Saunders, Delegate Bobo and PTSA President Dr. Kafami

This past Tuesday evening, State Delegate Liz Bobo came to the WLMS PTSA Executive Board Meeting and presented a Citation from the Maryland General Assembly honoring Wilde Lake Middle for 40 years of service to our PTSA Executive Board on behalf of our school community. The Citation reads:

Be it hereby known to all that sincerest congratulations are offered to Wilde Lake Middle School in recognition of celebrating their 40th Anniversary. Congratulations to the past and present principals, teachers, students, and parents on this great achievement and their contribution to our Columbia community. Delegate Elizabeth Bobo

In the near future, this citation will be displayed proudly in our school’s lobby.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Famous Shark Diver Sends Tiger Shark Pictures

Recently, diver and underwater photographer, Wolfgang Leander read my blog and sent the following pictures to me for our students to view.

Dear Tom,

I am also attaching a few pics of me interacting with a beautiful tiger girl. Contrary to their bad image I have found tiger sharks to be one of the most gentle sharks.

Best wishes,


DARING diver Wolfgang Leander swims with a school of man-eating tiger sharks - at the age of 67.

Banker Wolfgang has spent 50 years pursuing his dangerous hobby of swimming with sharks.

He dives alone and doesn't even use an air tank, preferring to free-dive and rely on his own lung power.

The barmy Bolivian has been bitten countless times, and needed 42 stitches to save his arm after one attack.

Wolfgang, pictured above diving at Aliwal Shoal, South Africa, admitted: "I am nuts. Wisdom doesn't come automatically with age."

Read more:

I want to thank Wolfgang Leander for reading my blog and sharing his amazing pictures and talents.

Friday, November 6, 2009

WLMS Helps to Conduct Research on Poplar Island Terrapins

Dr. Willem M. Roosenburg, Professor and Researcher from Ohio University's Department of Biological Sciences is studying the habitat of Terrapins who make their home on Poplar Island, Maryland.

Poplar Island is a large scale ecological restoration project where dredged material is being used to reconstruct an eroded island in Middle Chesapeake Bay. During the past 100
years the island has eroded and only three small (4 hectares) islands remained. The Army
Corps of Engineers has built a stone-covered dike perimeter that will be filled with dredged
material from the Baltimore Harbor approach to rebuild the island. The goal is to restore the
habitat and its associated wildlife that existed on Poplar Island.


As mentioned in a previous entry, our students here at WLMS have adopted Skittles, a terrapin hatchling. Over the course of the year, our students will study the turtle and provide data to the National Aquarium and Dr. Roosenburg's research network. At the end of May, Skittles will be released on Poplar Island to hopefully have a long and productive life.

Below is a video featuring Dr. Roosenburg and his research being conducted on Poplar Island.