Saturday, October 23, 2010

Feng Shui Tips for Classrooms

During my memorable trip to Korea this past summer, I noticed that the Korean educators I met paid close attention to many details of education including the arrangement of each classroom environment. Paint colors were carefully chosen and the placement of items in each classroom was purposeful and standardized. I did not see a lot individual teacher creativity on display as I see here in the states.

When I spoke to the Principal of Bucheon Middle School in Iksan, he said that he emphasized the importance of balance, order, cleanliness and making conscious decisions about the school's aesthetics to ensure a positive learning environment for his students. As you probably know, this process could be described as Feng Shui. Feng Shui, an anciet Chinese tradition used a lot in Asia, is the intentional practice to create living spaces that are ideal for receiving the positive energies of both heaven and earth that promote harmony.

If you are interested in reviewing ideas for increasing harmony in your classroom, I would recommend Michael Erins' article Feng Shui Tips for Classrooms:

Here are just a few tips he provides:

Feng Shui for Classrooms

Create a warm atmosphere for students with these easy feng shui tips.

Pay attention to the elements. It is important you pay attention to the five elements (water, wood, metal, earth and fire) when organizing your classroom and placing furniture. Dictation of where these elements belong will be in the bagua map.

Place desks in an octagon shape. According to the baqua this promotes harmony in the classroom. You will likely need to leave an open space so you are able to access students and serve as the focal point of the room, so organize desks as an octagon with the “bottom” missing.

Work with what you have. You may not have the space to organize desks in an octagon shape. Rows are suitable and should all face one way, preferably towards the doorway.

Utilize other elements of feng shui. If you are not able to meet feng shui requirements with the furniture arrangement of your desks, you will still be able to utilize the other fundamentals of feng shui to promote harmony in the space.

Make comfort a priority. If you or your students are uncomfortable, it will create distress. Always place the comfort of the people who will work in the space before any feng shui rules. This itself is also a rule of feng shui.

Incorporate water. Feng shui says the flow of water promotes knowledge. Bring in a small aquarium or even a gold fish in a small bowl to bring a serene feeling to your classroom.

This Made My Day!

At times, all educators ponder whether they are making a difference or not. This past week, I received the following email from a former student that made my day! Thanks Alina for taking time to write to me. If you are reading this blog, and you remember a teacher or mentor fondly, please drop them an email or letter and let them know they made a difference in your life. It will make their day!

Mr. Saunders,
I'm not sure if you remember me, my name is Alina. I was in your 8th grade social studies class at Patuxent Valley '90-'91. That year we had a field trip to Gettysburg to reenact Pickett's charge. I just wanted to let you know that I remembered all you taught me and I got that question correct on Jeopardy last night. My 8 year old daughter asked me how I knew the answer. I told her about you and the class. She asked if you could be her teacher so she can learn a lot too.
Thank you for everything. Hope you are having a great school year, so far.


No comments on how old I am based on this email. ; )

2010 8th Grade Honor Society Induction Ceremony

Congratulations to all of our newest members of the National Junior Honor Society. This year WLMS inducted 48 students, up from 32 last school year. I want to thank Ms. Deforge and Ms. Baldwin for organizing this wonderful ceremony and serving as the sponsors for this wonderful group of students. In addition, I want to thank all of the staff members and parents who were able to attend the ceremony this past Thursday evening. We are very proud of these students and their accomplishments.

What is the National Junior Honor Society?

The National Honor Society (NHS) and National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) are the nation's premier organizations established to recognize outstanding high school and middle level students. More than just an honor roll, NHS and NJHS serve to honor those students who have demonstrated excellence in the areas of Scholarship, Leadership, Service, and Character (and Citizenship for NJHS). These characteristics have been associated with membership in the organization since their beginnings in 1921 and 1929. Today, it is estimated that more than one million students participate in activities of the NHS and NJHS. NHS and NJHS chapters are found in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, many U.S. Territories, and Canada. Chapter membership not only recognizes students for their accomplishments, but challenges them to develop further through active involvement in school activities and community service. (source:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Congressman Cummings Addresses Award Ceremony

Yesterday, Julie and I had the honor of meeting Congressman Elijah Cummings, who represents Maryland's 7th District in the U.S. House of Representative, at the award luncheon. He was the keynote speaker for the event.

Maryland Counselor of the Year Award Ceremony

Yesterday, I had the privilege of escorting my wife to the Maryland's Outstanding School Counselor Award Ceremony held in Timonium, Maryland. Congratulations to my wife (a former WLMS grad!) on being awarded this honor. I am very proud of you. Here are some pics from the celebration.

WLMS Pilots New Advance Reader Options

This year, WLMS and Mount View Middle School are offering to our seventh and eighth grade above grade level readers the option of taking either the Advance Reader course (formally known as Challenge Reading) or the newly created Advanced Inquiry and Innovation (AII) course.

The course consists of four modules that our completed through out the school year. The course compacts the Maryland School Assessment reading objectives and focuses on providing opportunities for students to experience simulation-based learning, while applying reading skills for a variety of purposes. The four modules are designed to have students’ practice critical thinking, communication skills, problem-solving strategies and gain increased content knowledge in environmental science, media, civic literacy and engineering. I like to think of this pilot as the application of reading to perform a task with the opportunity to solve real-life problems in the world of science, engineering and technology.

The modules are:

a. Environmental Science: Students will develop a depth of knowledge on one or more local environmental issues and apply this knowledge to effect positive environmental change in their school or community.

b. Media and Communications: Students will develop their ability to analyze, evaluate, and communicate information in a variety of media; they will then apply these skills to address an authentic problem or need.

c. Civic Literacy: Students will explore the components of the American political system and apply the public policy process to a school or community relevant problem.

d. Engineering Design: Students will explore the nature, history and impact of technology through hands-on experiences with the principles of engineering design and development.

Interestingly enough, all of our above grade level readers in 8th grade chose to take the AII

course and all but 15 students in the seventh grade made the same selection.

To date the pilot is going very well. Students are reporting that they are enjoying the new approach and the rigor they are experiencing. I want to thank Ms. Warner, Ms. Gadziala and Mr. Spicher for agreeing to pilot this new course here at WLMS.

This past week, Howard County Council Member Sigaty came to WLMS and shared her expertise about the legislative process and her responsibilities as an elected council member with our AII students. Our students are currently trying to understand how decisions are made here in Howard County. Thanks Ms. Sigaty!!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Will NBC’s new Friday night series, “School Pride,” spark a tidal wave of support for public education?

ATLANTA, GA October 14, 2010 -- Many advocates of public education are eagerly looking forward to Friday, October 15. On this night, the prime-time series “School Pride” will premier on NBC (Fridays 8/7c). This new fall show tells inspiring stories of communities coming together with public-minded companies like Logical Choice Technologies and many others to renovate aging and broken public schools. Cameras follow students, teachers, parents and community members as they roll up their sleeves and rebuild their own schools, concluding with the unveiling of a brand-new, completely transformed school. Cheryl Hines, the Emmy nominated star of HBO’s "Curb Your Enthusiasm," is executive producer of "School Pride," along with Emmy nominated executive producer Denise Cramsey ("Extreme Makeover: Home Edition").

The TV series, which tugs on the heartstrings of viewers, may well spark a tidal wave of community support for public education. “My hope is to inspire people to reach out to a school and see what they can do,” said executive producer, Cheryl Hines. “Some people have money they can contribute. Some people have time. Go in and paint a classroom. Be a guest speaker. There are lots of things we could be doing that we’re not doing.” With the recent spotlight on the ills afflicting many traditional public schools, “School Pride” focuses squarely on the impact volunteerism can make in local communities to improve schools and help kids.

“Teaming up with NBC’s ‘School Pride’ was such a natural fit for us,” said Cynthia Kaye, founder and CEO of Logical Choice Technologies, “because transforming classrooms into 21st Century learning environments is our company’s expertise. Those schools needed our help and we were thrilled to give it. Our people are very passionate about making a difference in education. It’s part of our DNA. So, we were really honored to be invited to participate in the first season of School Pride. We hope everyone involved with public education will encourage their friends, neighbors and fellow educators to watch all seven episodes."

Source: Logical Choice Technologies Press Release

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Published Online: October 11, 2010
Published in Print: October 12, 2010, as How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

The term "21st-century skills" is generally used to refer to certain core competencies such as collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving that advocates believe schools need to teach to help students thrive in today's world. In a broader sense, however, the idea of what learning in the 21st century should look like is open to interpretation—and controversy.

To get a sense of how views on the subject align—and differ—we recently asked a range of education experts to define 21st-century learning from their own perspectives.

Richard Allington
Professor of Education, University of Tennessee; Early-Reading Expert

Richard Allington

I’m an old guy. I’ve never Tweeted, Skyped, Facebooked, or YouTubed. Oddly, I don’t feel the least bit disenfranchised by technology. I am preparing this response on my laptop, I use (though not much) my Blackberry every day, and I will e-mail this response. But I’m still stuck on fostering 18th-century literacy in citizens. As far as I can tell, illiterates rarely use 21st-century literacies if only because they never developed the 18th-century kind of literacy. I think we actually could teach everyone to read (the old way) and for the life of me I cannot understand why schools would spend funds on computers when their libraries are almost empty of things students might want to read. I cannot understand why classrooms have whiteboards but no classroom libraries. The research, to date, has provided no evidence that having either computers or whiteboards in schools has any positive effect on students’ reading and writing proficiencies. But school and classroom libraries are well established as essential if we plan to develop a literate citizenry. However, there is no buzz about books.

Barnett Berry
Founder and CEO, Center for Teaching Quality

Barnett Berry

Twenty-first-century learning means that students master content while producing, synthesizing, and evaluating information from a wide variety of subjects and sources with an understanding of and respect for diverse cultures. Students demonstrate the three Rs, but also the three Cs: creativity, communication, and collaboration. They demonstrate digital literacy as well as civic responsibility. Virtual tools and open-source software create borderless learning territories for students of all ages, anytime and anywhere.

Powerful learning of this nature demands well-prepared teachers who draw on advances in cognitive science and are strategically organized in teams, in and out of cyberspace. Many will emerge as teacherpreneurs who work closely with students in their local communities while also serving as learning concierges, virtual network guides, gaming experts, community organizers, and policy researchers.

Sarah Brown Wessling
2010 National Teacher of the Year

Sarah Brown Wessling

Twenty-first-century learning embodies an approach to teaching that marries content to skill. Without skills, students are left to memorize facts, recall details for worksheets, and relegate their educational experience to passivity. Without content, students may engage in problem-solving or team-working experiences that fall into triviality, into relevance without rigor. Instead, the 21st-century learning paradigm offers an opportunity to synergize the margins of the content vs. skills debate and bring it into a framework that dispels these dichotomies. Twenty-first-century learning means hearkening to cornerstones of the past to help us navigate our future. Embracing a 21st-century learning model requires consideration of those elements that could comprise such a shift: creating learners who take intellectual risks, fostering learning dispositions, and nurturing school communities where everyone is a learner.

Karen Cator
Director, Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education

Karen Cator

Success in the 21st century requires knowing how to learn. Students today will likely have several careers in their lifetime. They must develop strong critical thinking and interpersonal communication skills in order to be successful in an increasingly fluid, interconnected, and complex world. Technology allows for 24/7 access to information, constant social interaction, and easily created and shared digital content. In this setting, educators can leverage technology to create an engaging and personalized environment to meet the emerging educational needs of this generation. No longer does learning have to be one-size-fits-all or confined to the classroom. The opportunities afforded by technology should be used to re-imagine 21st-century education, focusing on preparing students to be learners for life.

Milton Chen
Senior Fellow & Executive Director, Emeritus, The George Lucas Educational Foundation; author of Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools

Milton Chen

Twenty-first-century learning shouldn’t be controversial. It is simply an effort to define modern learning using modern tools. (The problem is that what’s modern in 2010 has accelerated far beyond 2000, a year which now seems “so last century.”)

Twenty-first-century learning builds upon such past conceptions of learning as “core knowledge in subject areas” and recasts them for today’s world, where a global perspective and collaboration skills are critical. It’s no longer enough to “know things.” It’s even more important to stay curious about finding out things.

The Internet, which has enabled instant global communication and access to information, likewise holds the key to enacting a new educational system, where students use information at their fingertips and work in teams to accomplish more than what one individual can alone, mirroring the 21st-century workplace. If 10 years from now we are still debating 21st-century learning, it would be a clear sign that a permanent myopia has clouded what should be 20/20 vision.

Steven Farr
Chief Knowledge Officer, Teach For America; author of Teaching as Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap

Steven Farr

Twenty-first-century learning must include the 20th-century ideals of Brown v. Board of Education. Sadly, we have failed to deliver on that promise. Our system perpetuates a racial and socioeconomic achievement gap that undermines our ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity.

As we study what distinguishes highly effective teachers in our nation’s most challenging contexts, we see that education reform requires much more than lists of skills. We need classroom leaders setting an ambitious vision, rallying others to work hard to achieve it, planning and executing to ensure student learning, and defining the very notion of teaching as changing the life paths of students. What will make America a global leader in the 21st century is acting on what we know to educate all children, regardless of socioeconomic background.

Steve Hargadon
Founder, Classroom 2.0; Social Learning Consultant, Elluminate

Steve Hargadon

Twenty-first-century learning will ultimately be “learner-driven.” Our old stories of education (factory-model, top-down, compliance-driven) are breaking down or broken, and this is because the Internet is releasing intellectual energy that comes from our latent desires as human beings to have a voice, to create, and to participate. The knowledge-based results look a lot like free-market economies or democratic governments (think: Wikipedia). Loosely governed and highly self-directed, these teaching and learning activities exist beyond the sanction or control of formal educational institutions. I believe the political and institutional responses will be to continue to promote stories about education that are highly-structured and defined from above, like national standards or (ironically) the teaching of 21st-century skills. These will, however, seem increasingly out-of-sync not just with parents, educators, and administrators watching the Internet Revolution, but with students, who themselves are largely prepared to drive their own educations.

Lynne Munson
President and Executive Director, Common Core

Lynne Munson

I define 21st-century learning as 20th- (or even 19th!-) century learning but with better tools. Today’s students are fortunate to have powerful learning tools at their disposal that allow them to locate, acquire, and even create knowledge much more quickly than their predecessors. But being able to Google is no substitute for true understanding. Students still need to know and deeply understand the history that brought them and our nation to where we are today. They need to be able to enjoy man’s greatest artistic and scientific achievements and to speak a language besides their mother tongue. According to most 21st-century skills’ advocates, students needn’t actually walk around with such knowledge in their heads, they need only to have the skills to find it. I disagree. Twenty-first-century technology should be seen as an opportunity to acquire more knowledge, not an excuse to know less.

Keith Moore
Director, Bureau of Indian Education, Department of Interior

Keith Moore

Students in the 21st century learn in a global classroom and it’s not necessarily within four walls. They are more inclined to find information by accessing the Internet through cellphones and computers, or chatting with friends on a social networking site. Similarly, many teachers are monitoring and issuing assignments via virtual classrooms.

Many of our Bureau of Indian Education schools are located in disadvantaged rural and remote areas. The BIE is working with various stakeholders to ensure that our schools have a Common Operating Environment so that students and teachers can access information beyond the classroom.

Within the federal BIE school system, we must rely upon the vision and the ability of our tribal leadership, parents, teachers, and students to work with the federal leadership to keep education a top priority.

Diane Ravitch
Education Historian; author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Diane Ravitch

To be prepared for the 21st century, our children require the following skills and knowledge: an understanding of history, civics, geography, mathematics, and science, so they may comprehend unforeseen events and act wisely; the ability to speak, write, and read English well; mastery of a foreign language; engagement in the arts, to enrich their lives; close encounters with great literature, to gain insight into timeless dilemmas and the human condition; a love of learning, so they continue to develop their minds when their formal schooling ends; self-discipline, to pursue their goals to completion; ethical and moral character; the social skills to collaborate fruitfully with others; the ability to use technology wisely; the ability to make and repair useful objects, for personal independence; and the ability to play a musical instrument, for personal satisfaction.

Susan Rundell Singer
Laurence McKinley Gould Professor of Natural Sciences, Carleton College

Susan Singer

Adaptability, complex communication skills, non-routine problem solving, self-management, and systems-thinking are essential skills in the 21st-century workforce. From my perspective as a scientist and science educator, the most effective way to prepare students for the workforce and college is to implement and scale what is already known about effective learning and teaching. Content vs. process wars should be ancient history, based on the evidence from the learning sciences. Integrating core concepts with key skills will prepare students for the workplace and college. We need to move past mile-wide and inch-deep coverage of ever-expanding content in the classroom. Developing skills in the context of core concepts is simply good practice. It’s time to let go of polarizing debates, consider the evidence, and get to work.

Vol. 04, Issue 01, Page 32

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Florida Teacher’s Essay Becomes Rallying Cry for Educators Seeking Respect

By Cynthia McCabe
NEA Today

When people were attacking her and her fellow dedicated public school teachers, Florida fourth-grade teacher Jamee Miller got mad. And then she got to typing.

The result? An essay called “I Am a Teacher” which caught fire in recent weeks on Facebook and blogs as supporters of teachers attacked by budget-slashing lawmakers and critics trying to score political points took it to heart and then took it online. (Full essay text appears at bottom.)

Shawna Christenson, a teacher in West Palm Beach, Fla., wrote on Facebook after posting it to her own profile last week: “Some folks need to be reminded that we do so much more than leave and enter when the bell rings when they think achievement is the only way to measure us.”

Miller, a National Education Association and Florida Education Association member who has been teaching for seven years, wrote the essay a year ago largely for herself and then put it away. But when the controversial Senate Bill 6 was recently careening through the GOP-controlled legislature, she dusted it off and posted it on Facebook. Education experts said SB6, which Gov. Charlie Crist ultimately vetoed last week to support teachers, would have made Florida one of the most teacher-hostile states in the country. Even though it was vetoed, similar anti-teacher efforts are cropping up in other states from like-minded opponents.

“I was just getting so enraged because there was such ignorance from the people attacking teachers,” says Miller. “Especially these misconceptions about what it is we can actually control as educators.”

Her essay, which in recent weeks was referenced on the Florida House floor, reprinted by several Florida newspapers and went viral online, has taken on a life of its own, Miller says. ”What I’m saying isn’t unique. It’s just that the heart of that message resonates with everyone in our world.”

That’s because in the past year they’ve been slammed by a troubling development: political opportunists attacking public education professionals.

“I feel more than ever I have to be on the defensive to prove I’m not a bad teacher,” she says. “It’s really unfortunate. Even five years ago it was assumed a teacher was great until a teacher wasn’t doing their job.”

And when critics broadly paint today’s teachers as ineffective, there’s no better way to show how wrong they are than pointing to Miller’s own resume. She was Seminole County Teacher of the Year in 2008. Each year she spends $1,000 of her own money on classroom supplies and her students. Last year, she and her husband donated $30,000 to create a fellowship at the University of Florida that helps elementary education majors working toward a master’s degree in education technology.

One of the more noxious provisions of SB6 that upset Miller and her colleagues was a mandate that standardized testing be the primary basis for teachers’ employment, certification and salary. In Florida, students are subjected to a high-stakes test called the FCAT. The law would have further reduced children to a test score and ignored that their lives and their achievements are more complex and nuanced than that.

“To have all that I pour into my students every year come down to just one test is so frustrating,” Miller says. “I have zero problems with accountability. But come into my classroom. I’m eager to show you the realities.”

For instance, this past year, Miller’s realities included having a student who missed 30 days of school, a student whose parents were arrested right before the standardized test day, and a third student who vomitted on her test booklet and was unable to retake it.

What teachers who contact her with their heartfelt thanks want to convey is that they’re just as concerned about the state of public education as anyone else.

“We all want education to be fixed, we just want to be in on that problem solving,” Miller says.

Full text of Jamee Miller’s “I Am a Teacher” essay:

I am a teacher in Florida.

I rise before dawn each day and find myself nestled in my classroom hours before the morning commute is in full swing in downtown Orlando. I scour the web along with countless other resources to create meaningful learning experiences for my 24 students each day. I reflect on the successes of lessons taught and re-work ideas until I feel confident that they will meet the needs of my diverse learners. I have finished my third cup of coffee in my classroom before the business world has stirred. My contracted hours begin at 7:30 and end at 3:00. As the sun sets around me and people are beginning to enjoy their dinner, I lock my classroom door, having worked 4 hours unpaid.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I greet the smiling faces of my students and am reminded anew of their challenges, struggles, successes, failures, quirks, and needs. I review their 504s, their IEPs, their PMPs, their histories trying to reach them from every angle possible. They come in hungry—I feed them. They come in angry—I counsel them. They come in defeated—I encourage them. And this is all before the bell rings.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am told that every student in my realm must score on or above grade level on the FCAT each year. Never mind their learning discrepancies, their unstable home lives, their prior learning experiences. In the spring, they are all assessed with one measure and if they don’t fit, I have failed. Students walk through my doors reading at a second grade level and by year’s end can independently read and comprehend early 4th grade texts, but this is no matter. One of my students has already missed 30 school days this year, but that is overlooked. If they don’t perform well on this ONE test in early March, their learning gains are irrelevant. They didn’t learn enough. They didn’t grow enough. I failed them. In the three months that remain in the school year after this test, I am expected to begin teaching 5th grade curriculum to my 4th grade students so that they are prepared for next year’s test.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am expected to create a culture of students who will go on to become the leaders of our world. When they exit my classroom, they should be fully equipped to compete academically on a global scale. They must be exposed to different worldviews and diverse perspectives, and yet, most of my students have never left Sanford, Florida. Field trips are now frivolous. I must provide new learning opportunities for them without leaving the four walls of our classroom. So I plan. I generate new ways to expose them to life beyond their neighborhoods through online exploration and digital field trips. I stay up past The Tonight Show to put together a unit that will allow them to experience St. Augustine without getting on a bus. I spend weekends taking pictures and creating a virtual world for them to experience, since the State has determined it is no longer worthwhile for them to explore reality. Yes. My students must be prepared to work within diverse communities, and yet they are not afforded the right to ever experience life beyond their own town.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I accepted a lower salary with the promise of a small increase for every year taught. I watched my friends with less education than me sign on for six figure jobs while I embraced my $28k starting salary. I was assured as I signed my contract that although it was meager to start, my salary would consistently grow each year. That promise has been broken. I’m still working with a meager salary, and the steps that were contracted to me when I accepted a lower salary are now deemed “unnecessary.”

I am a teacher in Florida.

I spent $2500 in my first year alone to outfit an empty room so that it would promote creative thinking and a desire to learn and explore. I now average between $1000-2000 that I pay personally to supplement the learning experiences that take place in my classroom. I print at home on my personal printer and have burned through 12 ink cartridges this school year alone. I purchase the school supplies my students do not have. I buy authentic literature so my students can be exposed to authors and worlds beyond their textbooks. I am required to teach Social Studies and Writing without any curriculum/materials provided, so I purchase them myself. I am required to conduct Science lab without Science materials, so I buy those, too. The budgeting process has determined that copies of classroom materials are too costly, so I resort to paying for my copies at Staples, refusing to compromise my students’ education because high-ranking officials are making inappropriate cuts. It is February, and my entire class is out of glue sticks. Since I have already spent the $74 allotted to me for warehouse supplies, if I don’t buy more, we will not have glue for the remainder of the year. The projects I dream up are limited by the incomprehensible lack of financial support. I am expected to inspire my students to become lifelong learners, and yet we don’t have the resources needed to nurture their natural sense of wonder if I don’t purchase them myself. My meager earning is now pathetic after the expenses that come with teaching effectively.

I am a teacher in Florida.

The government has scolded me for failing to prepare my students to compete in this

technologically driven world. Students in Japan are much more equipped to think progressively with regards to technology. Each day, I turn on the two computers afforded me and pray for a miracle. I apply for grants to gain new access to technology and compete with thousands of other teachers who are hoping for the same opportunity. I battle for the right to use the computer lab and feel fortunate if my students get to see it once a week. Why don’t they know how to use technology? The system’s budget refuses to include adequate technology in classrooms; instead, we are continually told that dry erase boards and overhead projectors are more than enough.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am expected to differentiate my instruction to meet the needs of my 24 learners. Their IQs span 65 points, and I must account for every shade of gray. I must challenge those above grade level, and I must remediate those below. I am but one person within the classroom, but I must meet the needs of every learner. I generate alternate assessments to accommodate for these differences. My higher math students receive challenge work, and my lower math students receive one-on-one instruction. I create most of these resources myself, after-hours and on weekends. I print these resources so that every child in my room has access to the same knowledge, delivered at their specific level. Yesterday, the school printer that I share with another teacher ran out of ink. Now I must either purchase a new ink cartridge for $120, or I cannot print anything from my computer for the remainder of the year. What choice am I left with?

I am a teacher in Florida.

I went to school at one of the best universities in the country and completed undergraduate and graduate programs in Education. I am a master of my craft. I know what effective teaching entails, and I know how to manage the curriculum and needs of the diverse learners in my full inclusion classroom. I graduated at the top of my class and entered my first year of teaching confident and equipped to teach effectively. Sadly, I am now being micro-managed, with my instruction dictated to me. I am expected to mold “out-of-the-box” thinkers while I am forced to stay within the lines of the instructional plans mandated by policy-makers. I am told what I am to teach and when, regardless of the makeup of my students, by decision-makers far away from my classroom or even my school. The message comes in loud and clear that a group of people in business suits can more effectively determine how to provide exemplary instruction than I can. My expertise is waved away, disregarded, and overlooked. I am treated like a day-laborer, required to follow the steps mapped out for me, rather than blaze a trail that I deem more appropriate and effective for my students—students these decision-makers have never met.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated by most. I spend my weekends, my vacations, and my summers preparing for school, and I constantly work to improve my teaching to meet the needs of my students. I am being required to do more and more, and I’m being compensated less and less.

I am a teacher in Florida, not for the pay or the hardships, the disregard or the disrespect; I am a teacher in Florida because I am given the chance to change lives for the good, to educate and elevate the minds and hearts of my students, and to show them that success comes in all shapes and sizes, both in the classroom and in the community.

I am a teacher in Florida today, but as I watch many of my incredible, devoted coworkers being forced out of the profession as a matter of survival, I wonder: How long will I be able to remain a teacher in Florida?

World's Farthest Basketball Shot: Real or Fake?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

WLMS Pride: Simpson Named Howard County Art Teacher of the Year

I am happy to announce that our very own, April Simpson, has been named Howard County Art Teacher of the Year. Please join me in congratulating this very talented teacher! Way to go Mrs. Simpson!!!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Maryland Middle School Counselor of the Year is Announced!

I want to congratulate Julie Prince, Clarksville Middle School Counselor, for being selected as the 2010 Maryland School Counselor of the Year. I know from personal experience how much she loves her job and especially helping students, parents and staff reach their personal and professional goals. She is so deserving of this award. Way to go Julie...I am very proud of you!

Blogger's Note: Julie happens to be my wife!

Teachers Talk About Increasing Rigor

Last week, I asked WLMS teachers to answer the question below. Here is what they had to say...

I am curious about what you have been doing to bring more RIGOR into your lessons as we discussed during our first week back? I would appreciate you taking a moment or two to share some of the ideas you have implemented to bump-up your expectations and increase rigor for all of our students?
Thanks, Tom

How you may ask? I frequently video tape my students as a reflection tool in order to analyze skill development and acquisition. On Friday, I taped my students during our "Fitness Friday" lesson and today, they analyzed the video from Friday. Using the Daily Participation rubric that I attached to the back of their papers, they completed a self assessment and had to identify specific reasons (and convincing too) why they either earned or deserved that grade. Holding students accountable for their actions and efforts, plus they love seeing themselves on video!

Physical Education Teacher

Laura and I were just discussing how much of a difference the "Right is Right" and "No Opt Out" strategies from Teach Like A Champion have made in our classrooms. These have helped me hold every student accountable for the information, as well as elevate the level of discussion.

8th Grade Reading Teacher

The first unit in the 6th grade Advanced Reader curriculum is on "Human Impact on the Environment" and the first unit in my on-grade level 6th grade Reading is Informational Texts. I decided that the topic of the environment would still be a great theme for my on-grade level kids when we are focusing on Informational Texts.

I've used a few of the tougher articles that I initially found for my Advanced Readers with my on-grade level classes. I just had to make sure I did more scaffolding, vocabulary, and reading aloud. And I think the students are more engaged by the complex ideas in the articles, so long as I'm taking the time to ensure their comprehension.

6th Grade Reading Teacher
6th & 7th Advanced Reader

I've also started incorporating the no opt out strategy with my students and I agree with Emily that I like the accountability that I am seeing as I require more students to participate.
Additionally, I've been making students more accountable for their homework by giving points for accuracy in addition to work completion. As I've walked around to check that they've had their homework, if they did not show their work, they've lost points. Students are getting the message that homework is to be taken seriously.

My on-grade level students have also had to complete a BCR on their first quiz after a day of review of expectations for BCR completion. This is coming soon with my alg and geo students.

8th Grade PreAlgebra, Algebra, & Geometry

I have changed my first quarter project from what used to be a poster project on a scientist to interpreting weather maps, gathering weather data, analyzing it, then making predictions for the future forecast. This is relevant to their everyday lives, incorporates technology (if they gather data using a weather website) and makes them think!

6th Grade Science

Emily, I have employed those same strategies in my room. The kids always look surprised when I tell them "I'm coming back to you with that question again in a minute, so be ready." I've also had kids say to me in response, "Oh yeah, you're training us to be a scholar." Haha. Last week, we gave a kid a 5 second applause for a good answer. The kids did it perfectly, stopping right when I told them to. Realize this isn't exactly "rigor" but it is reinforcing praise for elevated thought...

I've also done a lot of vocabulary prepping and have required the kids to use those words to describe geographic concepts properly. Granted it has taken me dancing around the classroom like an idiot to make it happen, but my students are using "distortion" "revolution" and "rotation" like champs.

Next week I'm starting a "Geo Race" where kids incorporate the map skills I am supposed to teach them (very basic compared to the rest of my curriculum) into creating their own countries. We will use these countries as a springboard for looking at how civilizations and cultures develop throughout the rest of the year. (A lot of "what would your country do in this scenario" type stuff that I hope will personalize the historical situations).

6th Grade Social Studies

I try to review my objectives to make sure I'm considering Bloom's taxonomy. I have the students do a great deal of analyzing and evaluating texts rather than just identifying. I still do identifying skills, but I make sure that I incorporate more critical thinking skills as well.

Lately I have been asking the students why they think I'm teaching them whatever skill we are working on in class and how they might use the skill later in life. I think this really forces them to think about why I'm teaching them the material.

6th Grade English and Advanced Reader

When we met at the first faculty meeting of the year I tried to think of what my definition for rigor was. I didn't really know so I did some research and found a definition that put into words what I was thinking about rigor:
Rigor is the goal of helping students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, ambiguous,
provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging.

I know I want my kids to be active thinkers, not passive learners. So (even though in the past this has been my weakness) I have been trying a lot more discussion models like fishbowl and jigsaw and holding each student accountable for adding to a discussion. I have also been really challenging my on-level classes to think like a scholar and like Danielle said they have been doing a whole lot of analyzing and evaluating. They have really been rising to the challenge and love it when I tell them that we are doing high school and college level work:) They smile and give one another high fives - it is so cute.

The funny thing is when I looked rigor up in the dictionary these are the definitions: (none of which I feel exactly fit the way education uses it)

From Merrian-Webster:
1 a (1): harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment : severity (2): the quality of being unyielding or inflexible : strictness (3): severity of life : austerity b: an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty2: a tremor caused by a chill3: a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable ; especially : extremity of cold4: strict precision : exactness5 aobsolete : rigidity , stiffness b: rigidness or torpor of organs or tissue that prevents response to stimuli

7th grade English

1. Attempting to perform more data based labs that are student designed and discussing data collected.
2. I look forward to working with Amy on her awesome weather project for the remainder of the quarter.
3. I definitely have to employ the "holding all accountable" strategy more....I still need to work on that. Too often, I'm just pleased when one of my students is able to give me the correct answer.
4. Definitely utilizing web based technology much more such as -,, brainpop, gizmo, etc. Students love it and they tend to work harder I find

Science Teacher: 6th and 8th grade

Like Jeanette I had to look up the definition of rigor at the beginning of the year too!

I have been incorporating cooperative learning into the classroom where students become the teachers. Also, I have been holding the students accountable for their learning by pulling students out of lunch who are falling behind in their work.

7th Grade Science

Recently, Brett and I did a small group discussion assignment. Afterwards, instead of having students raise their hands to answer, we assigned each person in each group a number. Then we rolled a die, and the assigned person had to stand up to answer the question. This forced the student who would normally sit back and let the rest of the group do the work to participate. It also meant everyone had to be actively paying attention to the discussion. It was great hearing a few of the "lost" voices in the classroom. Overall, the students loved using the die!

Special Educator

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lessons Learned from Tiger Sharks

Wilde Lake Middle School

Home of the Tiger Sharks

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Increasing Rigor: An Edutopia Video

Mission Impossible: A Squirrel's Quest


Back to School Night Brings Our Community Together!

I want to thank all of the parents and guardians who were able to attend our Back to School Night this past Thursday evening. I especially appreciate the extraordinary effort it took to attend because of the stormy weather and over 5 inches of rain that evening caused by Tropical Storm Nicole.

According to all of the comments I heard, the event was a huge success. We had over 300 people in attendance! It is great when our community comes together and demonstrates how much they care about education.