Thursday, September 29, 2011

WLMS Pride! Teachers Take Flight!

Across the country, there is a growing concern regarding the number of students entering science, technology, engineering and mathematical careers. We know that one way to reverse that trend is to make science and math fascinating and applicable for students. 

To achieve this goal, the Northrop Grumman Foundation launched the Weightless Flights of Discovery program in 2006. This unique, nationwide teacher professional development program is designed to inspire today’s students to pursue science and technical careers by inspiring their teachers first.

The program was developed in cooperation with the Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G), Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., a company that specializes in bringing the exhilaration of weightlessness to the general public. As part of the program, practicing classroom middle school teachers and future middle school teachers have the opportunity to participate in hands-on science workshops, and perform and experiment in a parabolic or "zero-gravity" aircraft flight that creates temporary weightlessness comparable to what humans would experience during space travel to the moon or Mars. It also mimics how astronauts train for space flights.  (An excerpt from Northrop Grumman's website -

On September 12, our very own, WLMS teachers, Karen Stiller and Lauren Rathmann participated in this amazing program. I am so proud that these talented teachers were selected and were able to take flight and experience weightlessness! I am looking forward to see how both of these fantastic teachers use their new found knowledge to inspire their students this year and in the future.

If you are interested in seeing more pictures and learning more about Ms. Stiller's experience, please visit her blog at



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

QFT: Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions

One small change can yield big results

Students in Hayley Dupuy’s sixth-grade science class at the Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto, Calif., are beginning a unit on plate tectonics. In small groups, they are producing their own questions, quickly, one after another: What are plate tectonics? How fast do plates move? Why do plates move? Do plates affect temperature? What animals can sense the plates moving? They raise questions “that we never would have thought of if we started to answer the first question we asked,” says one of the students. “And just when you think you already know the question you want to focus on, you realize: ‘Oh, wow, here’s this other question that is so much better, and that’s really what you need to think about.’”

Far from Palo Alto, in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Mass., Sharif Muhammad’s students at the Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) have a strikingly similar experience. Many of them had transferred to BDEA for various reasons from other schools and had not always experienced much success as students. But working individually, they find that formulating their own questions engages them in a new way. One of the students observes: “When you ask the question, you feel like it’s your job to get the answer, and you want to figure it out.”

These two students—one in Palo Alto, the other in Roxbury—are discovering something that may seem obvious: When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own. However, this skill is rarely, if ever, deliberately taught to students from kindergarten through high school. Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity or engage them more effectively. We have found that teaching students to ask their own questions can accomplish these same goals while teaching a critical lifelong skill.

The Question Formulation Technique
Dupuy, Muhammad, and many other teachers are using a step-by-step process that we and our colleagues at the Right Question Institute have developed called the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). This technique helps students learn how to produce their own questions, improve them, and strategize on how to use them 
(see sidebar “Question Formulation Technique”).

The origins of the QFT can be traced back 20 years to a dropout prevention program for the city of Lawrence, Mass., that was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. As we worked together to increase parent involvement in education, we heard parents state the same problem over and over again: “We’re not going to the schools because we don’t even know what to ask.” Eventually, this problem led us to create a simple but powerful process that has been used effectively in a wide range of fields across the country and beyond. In health care, for example, research funded by the National Institutes of Health has shown that the QFT produces dramatic increases in levels of patient activation and improved patient-provider communication. In the classroom, teachers have seen how the same process manages to develop students’ divergent (brainstorming), convergent (categorizing and prioritizing), and metacognitive (reflective) thinking abilities in a very short period of time.

Teachers can use the QFT at different points: to introduce students to a new unit, to assess students’ knowledge to see what they need to understand better, and even to conclude a unit to see how students can, with new knowledge, set a fresh learning agenda for themselves. The technique can be used for all ages.

Students have used the QFT to develop science experiments, create their own research projects, begin research on a teacher-assigned topic, prepare to write an essay, analyze a word problem, think more deeply about a challenging reading assignment, prepare an interview, or simply get themselves “unstuck.”
To read more about QFT, click here:

Thanks to MiddleWeb for bringing my attention to this article.

The Education Our Economy Needs

We lag in science, but students' historical illiteracy hurts our politics and our businesses.  

An OP-ED in the Wall Street Journal

In the spirit of the new school year, here's a quiz for readers: In which of the following subjects is the performance of American 12th-graders the worst? a) science, b) economics, c) history, or d) math?

With all the talk of America's very real weaknesses in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), you might be surprised to learn that the answer-according to the federal government's National Assessment of Educational Progress-is neither science nor math. And despite what might be suggested by the number of underwater home loans, high-school seniors actually fare best in economics.

Which leaves history as the answer, the subject in which students perform the most poorly. It's a result that puts American employers and America's freedoms in a worrisome spot.

But why should a C grade in history matter to the C-suite? After all, if a leader can make the numbers, does it really matter if he or she can recite the birthdates of all the presidents?

Well, it's not primarily the memorized facts that have current and former CEOs like me concerned. It's the other things that subjects like history impart: critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and cogently. Such skills are certainly important for those at the top, but in today's economy they are fundamental to performance at nearly every level. A failing grade in history suggests that students are not only failing to comprehend our nation's story and that of our world, but also failing to develop skills that are crucial to employment across sectors. Having traveled in 109 countries in this global economy, I have developed a considerable appreciation for the importance of knowing a country's history and politics.

The good news is that a candidate who demonstrates capabilities in critical thinking, creative problem-solving and communication has a far greater chance of being employed today than his or her counterpart without those skills. The better news is these are not skills that only a graduate education or a stint at McKinsey can confer. They are competencies that our public elementary and high schools can and should be developing through subjects like history.

Far more than simply conveying the story of a country or civilization, an education in history can create critical thinkers who can digest, analyze and synthesize information and articulate their findings. These are skills needed across a broad range of subjects and disciplines.

In fact, students who are exposed to more modern methods of history education-where critical thinking and research are emphasized-tend to perform better in math and science. As a case in point, students who participate in National History Day-actually a year-long program that gets students in grades 6-12 doing historical research-consistently outperform their peers on state standardized tests, not only in social studies but in science and math as well.

In my position as CEO of a firm employing over 80,000 engineers, I can testify that most were excellent engineers-but the factor that most distinguished those who advanced in the organization was the ability to think broadly and read and write clearly.

Now is a time to re-establish history's importance in American education. We need to take this opportunity to ensure that today's history teachers are teaching in a more enlightened fashion, going beyond rote memorization and requiring students to conduct original research, develop a viewpoint and defend it.

If the American economy is to recover from the Great Recession-and I believe it can-it will be because of a ready supply of workers with the critical thinking, creative problem-solving, technological and communications skills needed to fuel productivity and growth. The subject of history is an important part of that foundation.

Mr. Augustine, a former under secretary of the Army, is the retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin. 

Thanks Laura for sharing this with me!

Ten Steps to Better Student Engagement

Project-learning teaching strategies can also improve your everyday classroom experience.

As a teacher, my goal was to go home at the end of each day with more energy than I had at the beginning of the day. Seriously.

Now, as I travel the country coaching teachers on how to successfully use project learning, my goal remains the same. And I try to teach educators the strategies they need to achieve this goal in their own classrooms.
A teacher in one of my workshops said, "When my students and I are in the flow, then I don't feel like I have to work as hard." I heartily agree. When 90 to 100 percent of my students are excitedly engaged in their tasks and asking deep and interesting questions, I experience joy, and joy is a lot less tiring than the frustration that comes with student apathy.

Project-based classrooms with an active-learning environment make such in-the-flow moments more common. Yet these same classrooms require many teacher and student skills to work well. As teachers, we can feel overwhelmed when we try something new and experience chaos instead of flow.
The good news is that the strategies for creating and managing high-quality project-learning environments are productive in any classroom, whether project learning is a central part of the curriculum or not. Here are ten ideas that you can start practicing in your classroom today to help you create more moments of flow.

Create an Emotionally Safe Classroom

Students who have been shamed or belittled by the teacher or another student will not effectively engage in challenging tasks. Consider having a rule such as "We do not put others downs, tell others to shut up, or laugh at people." Apply it to yourself as well as your students. This is the foundation of a supportive, collaborative learning environment. To learn and grow, one must take risks, but most people will not take risks in an emotionally unsafe environment.

Create an Intellectually Safe Classroom

Begin every activity with a task that 95 percent of the class can do without your help. Get your students used to the fact that when you say, "Please begin," they should pick up a pencil and start working successfully. This gets everyone on the bus. Then make sure your students know that these initial easy tasks will always be followed by increasingly challenging ones. Create rich and complex tasks so that various students have a chance to excel and take on the role of helping others.

Cultivate Your Engagement Meter

Be acutely aware of when your students are paying strong attention or are deeply engaged in their tasks. Master teachers create an active-learning environment in which students are on task in their thinking and speaking or are collaboratively working close to 100 percent of the time. Such teachers notice and measure not only when students are on task but also the quality of their engagement.
Although it may take years to develop the repertoire of skills and lessons that enable you to permanently create this active-learning environment, you can begin by discerning which activities truly engage your students. The more brutally honest you are with yourself, the faster you will get there.

Create Appropriate Intermediate Steps

The first question I ask educators when I coach them on project learning is how many of their students say, "We can't wait to do another project," versus "Oh, no! Not another project." Teachers tend to get the first response when they scaffold challenging tasks so that all students are successful.
For example, take the typical task of interviewing an adult outside the classroom. Some teachers assign the task on Monday and expect it to be done the following Monday, confident that by including the weekend, they are providing sufficient support. Other teachers realize that finding, cold calling, and interviewing an adult are challenging tasks for most young people, so they create intermediate steps -- such as brainstorming, searching online for phone numbers, crafting high-quality interview questions, and role-playing the interview -- that train all students for success.

To read more of Tristan's ideas visit Edutopia at
Tristan de Frondeville, a former teacher who has also coached educators and written curriculum, heads PBL Associates, a consulting company dedicated to project learning and school redesign.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dance-a-thon Is a BIG Success!

Yesterday, WLMS hosted our first-ever dance-a-thon to raise money for our 6th grade Outdoor Education program that takes place in April. Over 100 students attended the event and we were able to raise over $1,600.00 that will go a long way to pay for the buses that will transport our 6th grade students to NorthBay.

Thanks so much to all of our student dancers, parent volunteers and our staff who made this event possible. Also, I want to thank Ms. Tanner and Mr. Fieglis for organizing this event.

Here are some pictures from yesterday:


By Tween Tribune Publisher - Posted on September 23rd, 2011

Decrying the state of American education, President Barack Obama on Friday said states will get unprecedented freedom to waive basic elements of the sweeping Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, calling it an admirable but flawed effort that has hurt students instead of helping them.

Obama's announcement allows states to scrap the requirement that all children must show they are proficient in reading and math by 2014 — a cornerstone of the law — if states meet conditions designed to better prepare and test students.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that 82 percent of schools next year could fail to reach proficiency requirements and thus be labeled failures, although some experts questioned the figure. Critics say the law placed too much emphasis on standardized tests, raising the stakes so high for school districts that it may have driven some school officials to cheat.

Despite allowing states to do away with the approaching 2014 deadline, Obama insisted he was not weakening the law but rather helping states set higher standards. He said that the current law was forcing educators to teach to the test, give short shrift to subjects such as history and science and lower standards as a way of avoiding penalties and stigmas.
Kids will still have to take yearly tests in math and reading, although the administration says the emphasis will be more on measuring growth over time.

Officials from Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Colorado were among those expressing support for the president's plan on Friday. Click to read how other states reacted.

"I look forward to the federal government narrowing its role in education and allowing Tennessee the flexibility to abide by its own rigorous standards," Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, said at the White House event.

The impact on school kids could vary greatly depending on how states choose to reward or punish individual schools. Under No Child Left Behind, children who attend schools deemed failures after a set period of time are eligible for extra tutoring and school choice. Under the president's plan, it's up to states granted waivers to decide if they will use those same remedies.
A majority of states are expected to apply for waivers, which would be given to those that qualify early next year.

In delivering his remarks, the president took a shot at Congress, saying his executive action was needed only because lawmakers have not stepped in to improve the law.
"Congress hasn't been able to do it. So I will," Obama said. "Our kids only get one shot at a decent education."

The law has been due for a rewrite since 2007. Obama and Duncan had asked Congress to overhaul it by the start of this school year but a growing ideological divide in Congress has complicated efforts to do so.
The GOP-led House Education Committee has forwarded three bills that would revamp aspects of the law but has yet to fully tackle some of the more contentious issues such as teacher effectiveness and accountability.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Search Professional Dev. Articles... Top 12 New School Year Resolutions for Teachers

By: Annie Condron

It's time for that yearly tradition of reflection and resolutions for the upcoming school year.

Get inspired with our list of the Top 12 New School Year Resolution for Teachers.

1.  Stay Positive
Coming off a much-needed break, it’s time to figure out how to make your classroom a happy place for you and your students in the long stretch to summer. Try these 5 Powerfully Positive Teaching Practices to get started.

2.  Spice Up Your Classroom Routine
Try one new technology or instructional technique each month to keep things new and challenging for you and your students. Making a list and assigning one new thing to each month will help you actually stick to this resolution.

3.  Build Fitness into Your Curriculum
It wouldn’t be a resolution list without some mention of better health. Make it a classroom affair with healthy eating lessons, integrating movement into your day-to-day activities and just encouraging you and your students to take care of your bodies.

4.  Get Your Work/Life Balance in Order
As best you can, keep school work at school and enjoy your time at home. Making yourself happy will be better for you AND your students.

5.  Give Individual Time & Attention to Students
It doesn’t have to be formal one-on-ones, tutoring or meetings, but try to integrate a rotating classroom job in which your students help you do something. You can check in with him/her individually and see how everything is going (whether they’re the best , worst, loudest or quietest student in class).

6.  Get Organized – Work Smarter, Not Harder
With the fresh start, it’s a great opportunity to get your classroom organization back on track. Here are some 6 Back to School Tips to Organize Your Classroom and 12 Time-Saving Assessment Strategies to get your school life back in order.

7.  Don’t Let Admin & School Policies Get You Down
There is nothing you can do to change those annoying policies, unnecessary meetings or mounds of paperwork, so try to take a Zen about the situation rather than letting that sour mood infest you and your classroom.

8.  Plan Your Move Up the Payscale
Whether you need to add professional development hours or graduate credits or change positions, consider what your careers goals are and get a move on them!
Explore Graduate Programs in your area or online
Get professional development training in your school

9.  Set Goals & Avoid Autopilot Mode
Now, I don’t mean your school and official achievement goals, I mean your own personal classroom goals. What is one or two things you think are important but forget as soon as the flurry of the teaching gets in the way? Write one achievable goal a month on your calendar and make it a priority.

10.  Get Students Involved/Empowered
By giving students more control over their assignments and activities, they will hopefully take ownership of their education and use their talents and interests in a positive way.

11.  Make Better Use of Planning
Time Resolve to bust it out during your planning time so you can take less (or hopefully no) work home with you. It’s tempting to take the much-needed break during your day, but it’ll feel even better to walk away with an empty bag at the end of the day.

12.  Dress to Impress Yourself
Don’t underestimate how felling good in your clothes and wearing something you love can lift your mood and start your day on a positive note. Grab a few new, fun pieces to add to your typical work outfits and turn those hallways into your own personal runway!

Learn more ways to keep you and the teachers in your school motivated all year long with in-service professional development.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forgotten

It struck me this week, that most of my current students were only between the ages of 1-3 when the terrorist attacks took place in NYC, Pa and D.C. ten years ago today. Wow, this is just another indication of how time moves on so quickly.

I am sure like many of you, I remember the morning of September 11, 2001 very clearly. I was a brand-new principal starting my third week of school. Along with all of the other principals in my district, I was attending a county-wide principals meeting. Ironically, we were in the middle of a discussion about emergency preparedness centered around storms. Suddenly, the Assistant Superintendent came into the room and told all of us that we needed to return to our school because it appeared we were under attack. At first, most of us thought they were putting us through a drill to see how we would respond. Tragically, this wasn't a drill.

When I arrived back at Elkridge Landing Middle (the school is about 45 minutes from Washington, D.C.), I was so impressed that the staff was doing such an amazing job responding to this unprecedented event. We made sure TV's were off (the first time I had ever made this request) and that parents had a process to get their students quickly. We also made plans for those students who couldn't be picked-up because their parents had trouble getting back home from their jobs in D.C.

As I reflect back on that day, I feel so fortunate that I did not lose any family or friends. I also feel incredibly grateful to all of the first responders and military personnel who acted so bravely on that day and the days that followed. It is their spirit, good will, selfless acts of heroism and hard work that truly exemplify to me what it means to be an American!

If you haven't had a chance to see what is being planned in NYC, here is a great video that shows the 9/11 memorial and the new skyline that will be created. A fitting tribute and memorial.

Re-Thinking School Improvement:The CFIP Way!

This past Thursday and Friday, I had the opportunity to attend a two-day training session about the Classroom-Focused Improvement Process (CFIP) developed by Dr. Hickey and Dr. Thomas.

Along with several members of the WLMS staff, we learned about how we can use this process to improve data conversations, use common formative and summative assessments to determine the strengths and weaknesses of all students and develop enrichments and interventions based on collaborative analysis and dialogue. Teachers are asked to rethink their use of collaborative planning time to ensure conversations are centered around the review of common formative and summative assessments and that teachers reflect on their own teaching strategies to ensure that best practices are shared and intentionally used in every classroom.This is hard work, but the type of work that has the potential to transform a school from being good to being truly great!

What is CFIP? It is a six-step process for increasing student achievement that is planned and carried out by teachers meeting in grade level, content, or vertical teams as a part of their regular lesson planning cycle.

The flow of the model is intuitive and responds to the overall question, "What do we know from available data about current levels of student performance and how will we respond to these data?" The CFIP model has six steps, each one based on one or more focus questions to direct the team's inquiry. In these steps, team members identify the:

Source: website. Here is a link to an online introduction: 

Over the next few months, we will begin the implementation of this process and study its impact on student achievement and the improvement of instructional practices that result from more focused data dialogues between teachers.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wilde Lake Middle School’s Ms. Stiller and Ms. Rathmann Will Take Flight Next Monday, September 12th!

30 Current and Future Teachers Selected for 
Microgravity Flight in Washington, D.C.

LOS ANGELES, (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Northrop Grumman Foundation is pleased to announce this year's Weightless Flights of Discovery "Class of 2011." Thirty educators, 28 math and science teachers from Arizona, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., along with two college students studying to become teachers, have been selected to participate in this year's teacher development program. These educators will participate in a unique initiative that places them on micro-gravity flights to test Newton's Laws of Motion and in turn energize their students, most of whom are in their formative middle school years. The flight will take place in the Washington, D.C. area on Sept.12, 2011.

The Northrop Grumman Foundation is partnering with the Zero Gravity Corporation to offer the Weightless Flights of Discovery program, one of several initiatives the Northrop Grumman Foundation sponsors to promote education and stimulate student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The Northrop Grumman Foundation Weightless Flights of Discovery program was created in response to a
shortage of college graduates in the STEM disciplines within the United States, a development that bodes
ill for the nation's industries that depend on talented scientists and mathematicians. The program targets
middle-school math and science teachers primarily because studies have indicated that a child's interest in
pursuing a certain career in the areas of science and math is sparked at the middle school level. Northrop
Grumman developed the Weightless Flights of Discovery to engage teachers, because they serve as key
influencers in the lives of students during these crucial years.

Teachers participating in the Washington, D.C. flight include:

To learn more about the Northrop Grumman Foundation Weightless Flights of Discovery, visit

Ms. Stiller and Ms. Rathmann will be using what they learn to enhance their Mathematics and Science
lessons this year and in the future! Congratulations to both teachers for being selected to participate in this “out of this world” experience!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Parent prep for a productive school year

From: eGenio
By Tom Miller, Community Technology Executive - OneCommunity 
August 30, 2011 

It’s the first day of school and time for parents to do some homework to get ready for the coming school year.  A few minutes of prep now will alleviate a great deal of stress when it comes to homework, projects, school communications and snow days. Follow this three-step process to ensure a happy, safe and productive school year:
Step One – What’s not in the backpack
Schools, libraries and even state boards of education have invested heavily in online instructional resources.  Spend a few minutes on your school’s website (check your local library and state education websites, as well) and bookmark their online resources.  Some sites may require a special code or login that is specific to the school.  If you’re having trouble locating the info, shoot an email to the school’s librarian/media specialist or tech teacher. 
Over the years, I’ve worked in multiple districts that have provided amazing online tools for parents to assist with their child’s learning, and sadly almost all of the resources were extremely underutilized.  Keep an eye out in your child’s backpack or take-home folder or the school’s newsletter for information on what online resources your school provides.
It would also be a good idea to take a quick look at your child’s textbooks to note the publisher’s website.  Many publishing companies are providing online supplemental resources for their textbooks that include simulations, review/test prep and interactive learning resources. 
Step Two – Keep in touch
Schools continue to develop strategies for improving home/school communication.  As a parent, it’s important that you identify the means and methods by which the school will communicate and develop a respectful rapport with your child’s teacher(s) to ensure good communication. 
Email is the most common form of parent/teacher contact.  It’s quick and efficient and should be used for general communication.  If you have sensitive issues, they are best addressed with a phone call or a scheduled personal visit.  Also, keep in mind that teachers are in class all day. A respectful 24 hours should be factored into any expectation for a teacher email reply. 
Many schools are launching parent portals or interactive learning environments in which parents, students, and teachers can communicate about all aspects of the learning and school process.  If your school is employing one of these systems, spend a few minutes on the site’s tutorial so you know how to use it properly and review the goals and purposes that the school has for providing the portal. If you have a smart phone, you might want to visit its “app” store to see if the portal has a mobile version.
Schools have also jumped on the social media bandwagon. Check to see if your school or child’s teacher has a Facebook page or Twitter feed.  Schools are also publishing their news and updates as RSS feeds, allowing you to keep up-to-date with all of their info through a simple RSS reader. 
Step Three – Prep for that snow day
Schools are utilizing a variety of notification technologies to communicate school closings, changes in schedules and other events and notices.  Your school may have an IVR (Interactive Voice Response system) that can make phone calls and send text messages to notify parents about school closings, special events and other info.  Some schools have email distribution lists to provide alerts and other information.  I also find it helpful to visit a trusted local TV or radio station’s website and sign up for their “school closing” alerts.” Practice accessing the site a few times before that first big storm to avoid that blurry-eyed, 5 a.m., fumbling-in-the-dark web search to see if the kids will get to sleep in…. 
Of course, it goes without saying that if you have problems with any of these technologies, ask your child for some technical assistance.  Have a great school year!
These are great tips. I encourage all WLMS parents, guardians and friends to check-out our website for resources and support for our students. Here is the link to our site:  
Also check out egenio for other blog posts about the use of technology in educational settings:
Blogger Note: Tom is the former Technology Officer of the Howard County Public Schools and a wonderful educator that I had the pleasure to work with in the past.