Monday, October 31, 2011

Should Middle School Students Wear Costumes to School on Halloween?

This past Friday, I sent the following message to my wonderful school community via our school's newsletter:

We are very excited that Halloween is almost here! Please be aware that we will be conducting a normal school day on Monday, October 31st and students should dress accordingly. As usual, we do not expect to see students wearing costumes or other distracting items associated with Halloween. While we want our students to enjoy the traditions of Halloween, we don’t want them to begin their celebration until after school hours. Also, we ask your help in monitoring the amount of candy your student brings to school the days following Halloween. In the past, some students have brought large quantities of candy to school and it became a huge distraction. It would certainly be a shame (especially if it is chocolate and peanut butter ; ) ) if I had to confiscate large amounts of candy from any students.

What do you think? Should middle schoolers be allowed to wear costumes to school on Halloween?

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shocktober! Snow in October?

Excuse me Mr. Weatherman...I am not ready for snow...especially not on October 29th!

A great day to be a kid!

FIT's Family Fun Night Was Tons of Fun!

Last night, the WLMS's Family Involvement Team hosted our annual Family Fun Night. We had a great turn-out!

Parents were given the opportunity to work out with a professional trainer and learn more about the HCPSS Family Portal. Mr. Spicher and Ms. Smithson ran workshops to help parents sign-up and use the various tools on the online portal.

Students participated in various activities including arts and crafts, the math game 24, spelling and a chicken race challenge.

At the end of the evening, families were invited to dance together in a series of fun line dances. It was tons of fun!

Thanks to our FIT, staff, students and family members who helped make last night such a huge success!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Some Quotes to Ponder

It is not the biggest, the brightest or the best that will survive, but those who adapt the quickest.
Charles Darwin

I have learned to say the word impossible with great caution.

                 Verner von Braun

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Differentiate Teaching and Learning with Web 2.0 Tools

Middle Ground Logo

 February 2011 • Volume 14 • Number 3 • Pages 8-9
By Kimberly Lightle

How do you differentiate instruction? We asked the Middle School Portal 2: Math and Science Pathways project ( 21st Century Teacher Leaders about their favorite tech tools for differentiating instruction. Here's what they had to say:

Todd Williamson is a National Board Certified teacher (early adolescent science) at Broad Creek Middle School in Newport, North Carolina. He teaches seventh grade science.

A key to differentiating instruction is having a multitude of strategies to use with students on different learning paths. The strategy that works brilliantly with a few students might self-destruct with another group.

Jumping from one strategy to another on our laundry list of differentiation practices is time-consuming and frequently inefficient. When working with middle grades students, it's important to recognize that they are developing the ability to advocate for themselves and can have some level of input into the strategies that best help them learn.

The Internet offers students a plethora of tools to use according to the situation. Just as a carpenter uses a broad range of tools in the construction of a house, our students should have a broad range of options for demonstrating their learning. Here are few that I especially like. allows students to create a short comic strip. There are many characters to choose from, each featuring four different expressions. Students can add speech or thought bubbles, resize characters, add items to each frame, and e-mail their finished comics to their teacher. Alternatively, students can print out the comic strips and color in background objects to get their point across. This is a great entry point for students who claim they "can't draw." encourages group conversations around images. Students or teachers can post images to the thread and other users can add text, spoken, or videoed comments about the images. This way students can discuss a topic asynchronously and perhaps even across multiple classes. and provide for video creation and editing, respectively. Using Animoto, students create professional-looking video slideshows set to music in a short amount of time. Students can upload images, add text slides, and select music, then let Animoto do the rest. With JayCut, students work with short video segments and edit them online, much like Windows MovieMaker but without the platform issues, since it's a web-based tool.

Rather than giving students a couple of options, the Internet and technology tools offer infinite potential if we just take the time to explore and let our students discover what works best for them.

To read more:

This is a great middle level publication...I recommend getting it! 

Source: Middle Ground Magazine

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wilde Lake Pride! Karen Stiller is Honored with a MCMT Award!

Congratulations to Wilde Lake Middle School's Karen Stiller for being honored with the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics Excellence in Teaching Award
I had the privilege of attending the award ceremony, this past Thursday evening, where Ms. Stiller was presented the Excellence in Teaching Award by the MCTM Past President, Bill Barnes and current President, Susan Vohrer. 

Karen is so deserving of this honor. Her classroom is always full of excitement and motivation. She uses math manipulatives, technology, videos and other tools to capture the interest of her students. Her interactive approach to both the teaching and learning process are extremely effective with middle school learners. She prides herself on teaching all children. She especially gets a lot of satisfaction from helping those students who have difficulties with learning. She has a keen understanding of the importance of identifying individual student needs, encouraging talent development and fostering self-esteem within her classroom.

I also want to congratulate Ms. Holly Cheung who also was an award recipient at this same banquet. She is also an amazing math teacher and friend. I had the good fortune of working with Ms. Cheung at Elkridge Landing Middle. 

Way to go Karen and Holly! 

For more information about the Maryland Council of Mathematics Teachers, click here

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dear Math:

Thanks Laura for sharing this with me!

Ravitch: Why Finland’s schools are great (by doing what we don’t)

This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch for her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website. Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement.

Dear Deborah,

I recently returned from a trip to Europe. In Berlin, I spoke at an international education research conference. Researchers from Europe, Asia, and Latin America were very alarmed by the current “reform” movement in the United States, fearful that the same trends — the same overemphasis of standardized testing, the same push for privatization and markets, and the same pressure to lower standards for entry into teaching — might come to their own countries.
The highlight of my trip was visiting schools in Finland. Of course, Finland is much in the news these days because of its success on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) examinations.

For the past decade, 15-year-old Finnish students have consistently been at or near the top of all the nations tested in reading, mathematics, and science. And just as consistently, the variance in quality among Finnish schools is the least of all nations tested, meaning that Finnish students can get a good education in virtually any school in the nation. That’s equality of educational opportunity, a good public school in every neighborhood.

What makes the Finnish school system so amazing is that Finnish students never take a standardized test until their last year of high school, when they take a matriculation examination for college admission.

Their own teachers design their tests, so teachers know how their students are doing and what they need. There is a national curriculum — broad guidelines to assure that all students have a full education — but it is not prescriptive. Teachers have extensive responsibility for designing curriculum and pedagogy in their school. They have a large degree of autonomy, because they are professionals.

Admission to teacher education programs at the end of high school is highly competitive; only one in 10 — or even fewer — qualify for teacher preparation programs. All Finnish teachers spend five years in a rigorous program of study, research, and practice, and all of them finish with a masters’ degree. Teachers are prepared for all eventualities, including students with disabilities, students with language difficulties, and students with other kinds of learning issues.

The schools I visited reminded me of our best private progressive schools. They are rich in the arts, in play, and in activity. I saw beautiful campuses, including some with outstanding architecture, filled with light. I saw small classes; although the official class size for elementary school is 24, I never saw a class with more than 19 children (and that one had two assistant teachers to help children with special needs).

Teachers and principals repeatedly told me that the secret of Finnish success is trust. Parents trust teachers because they are professionals. Teachers trust one another and collaborate to solve mutual problems because they are professionals. Teachers and principals trust one another because all the principals have been teachers and have deep experience. When I asked about teacher attrition, I was told that teachers seldom leave teaching; it’s a great job, and they are highly respected.

And by the way, the Finnish teachers I saw — those heaped with laurels as outstanding professionals — didn’t look or act differently from many, many teachers I have seen in the United States, even in so-called “failing schools.”

Finland has one other significant advantage over the United States. The child-poverty rate in Finland is under 4 percent. Here it is 22 percent and rising. It’s a well-known fact that family income is the most reliable predictor of academic performance. Finland has a strong social welfare system; we don’t. It is not a “Socialist” nation, by the way. It is egalitarian and capitalist.

I was asked about current trends in U.S. education, and Finnish educators were astonished by the idea that our governments intend to evaluate teachers by their students’ test scores; that made no sense to them. They were also surprised that we turn children over to “teachers” who have only a few weeks of training and no masters’ degree. They did not understand the idea of “merit pay.” They are paid more if they do more work for the community, but they can’t understand why teachers should get a bonus to compete with one another for test scores. Since they don’t have comparative test scores for their students, our practices don’t make sense to them. Nor do they understand the benefits of competition among teachers who ought to be collaborating.

The current crop of corporate reformers get very upset by any mention of the Finnish model. They refuse to believe that a nation can have great schools without relying on high-stakes testing. They insist that Finland cannot serve as a model because it lacks racial diversity; but they fall silent when one points out that Finland has the same demographics as Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and Norway, yet gets superior results. I am troubled by this “lacks diversity” argument, because it implies that African-American and Hispanic children cannot benefit by having highly experienced teachers, small classes, and a curriculum rich in the arts and activities.

Here’s an interesting contrast: We claim to be preparing students for global competitiveness, and we reward mastery of basic skills. Our guiding principles: Competition, accountability, and choice. Finland has this singular goal: to develop the humanity of each child. Isn’t that a shocking goal? Their guiding principles: equity, creativity, and prosperity.

Finland rightly deserves attention today as a nation that treats its children as a precious resource and that honors the adults who make education their passion and their career.

Someday, I hope, we will recognize the failure of the behaviorist approach now in vogue; someday we will see that our current “reforms” are appropriate for the industrial era of the early 20th century, not for the needs of the 21st century. When that day arrives, we will understand the deep wisdom of Finland, with its love for children and its respect for educators, and we will be grateful that there is a successful alternative to our own failed model.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Although, Charles Hazelwood talks about the changing role of the conductor, it is easy to make connections to other leadership roles including mine as a principal. Trust and collaboration are critical components to creativity and the creation of successful schools. What are your thoughts?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

HCPSS Makes AYP! Surpasses Graduation Target!

HCPSS is the only District in the State to Make AYP!

Superintendent Sydney Cousin announced today that the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) met AYP for 2011 and that Howard County's graduation rate remains well above the state target.
"I am extremely pleased to report that our schools are rising to the challenge as targets and expectations are raised," said Dr. Cousin.

"It is also encouraging to see that 90 percent of our students are graduating within four years, which is approaching our local target of 95 percent," he added. "Our goal is for all our students to graduate well prepared for college and career. Thanks to the combined efforts of our students, staff, teachers, parents and community, that goal is within reach."

Beginning this year, Maryland is using cohort rate methodology to calculate the graduation rate for federal reporting purposes. As a result, 2011 data establishes a new baseline and cannot be compared to those from previous years, which were calculated using the leaver rate method. Additionally, school systems may now meet the graduation target in one of three ways: 1) by meeting the target for a 4-year cohort, 2) by meeting the target for a 5-year cohort, or 3) by demonstrating growth.

The HCPSS exceeded the 4-year cohort target of 81.5 percent with an 89.5 percent 4-year graduation rate. The school system also exceeded the 5-year cohort target of 84.4 percent with a 90.9 percent 5-year graduation rate.

Preliminary results also indicate that all but one of Howard County's high schools met AYP, by meeting the targets for participation and proficiency on the Algebra/Data Analysis and English High School Assessments and the target for graduation rate. Mt. Hebron High School did not make AYP by failing to meet the reading proficiency target for students receiving special education services.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

Paula Kluth Visits WLMS

On Thursday, Dr. Paula Kluth, a nationally known expert on inclusive education, came to WLMS and visited classes, observed inclusive practices here at our school and shared her expertise with our staff about the latest research on inclusion and differentiation.

During her time here at the Lake on Thursday, she met with several of our staff in small groups and then she conducted an inspiring presentation for our entire faculty at the end of the school day. During this presentation, we were joined by several members of the Harpers Choice Middle School special education team and Department of Special Education staffers.

During her hour-long presentation, she discussed her philosophy of presumed competency and the 7 Tenets of Successful Inclusive Schools. In addition, she shared the inspiring story of Kacie who is an example of what can be achieved when educators, parents and communities strive to make classrooms welcoming and empowering for all students. To learn more about Kacie, click here

Dr. Kluth's visit was made possible by the HCPSS's Office of Special Education. For the past several years, Dr. Kluth has been consulting with our district to help all of the HCPSS staff to look for ways to ensure all of our students have access to meaningful and rewarding educational experiences. I am proud that our school is doing a lot of great things with regards to inclusive practices and thanks to Paula's visit we have been inspired to do even more.  

Who is Dr. Kluth? She is a consultant, author, advocate, and independent scholar who works with teachers and families to provide inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities and to create more responsive and engaging schooling experiences for all learners. Paula is a former special educator who has served as a classroom teacher and inclusion facilitator. Her professional interests include differentiating instruction and inclusive schooling. (Source:

Thanks Dr. Kluth for coming to WLMS and sharing your vision of what could be...

To learn more about Dr. Kluth, click here

6th Annual YES Conference a HUGE Success!

This past Wednesday, nearly 200 middle school student leaders from all 19 Howard County middle schools came together to hone their leadership skills and learn more about the county's ongoing community-wide initiative, Choose Civility, that promotes respect, empathy, consideration and tolerance in Howard County.

Again this year, I had the privilege of serving as the MC of this outstanding program. I had fun warming up the students by doing a group energizer called the Boom-Bang Orchestra, introducing the keynote speakers Marcy Leonard (Hammond High School Principal) and Courtney Macavinta (Respect Institute President) and sharing some thoughts about the Fun Theory. The Keynote speakers did an outstanding job helping our middle school students think about their own "brand" responsibility and the meaning of respect as it applies to their development as leaders.

Six years ago, a dedicated group of middle school educators from three Howard County middle schools (Clarksville, Elkridge Landing and Murray Hill) and Lisa Boarman began the Youth Empowerment Summit bringing together nearly 100 students to learn leadership skills and develop plans to help improve their schools. It is so exciting to see how this program has expanded and is now an important leadership training program for all 19 middle schools.

As you know, providing middle school students with the skills necessary to identify and solve real-life problems is a very important task. It helps to focus their abundant energy in a positive direction. In addition, leadership skills are useful skills for success that can be adapted to most situations our students will face in the future.

After talking to several of my WLMS students who attended the YES event this week, I know the day was a huge success and they are motivated to help improve our school in the coming months. YES!

I want to thank my wife, Julie, for helping to start the first YES program and continuing her behind the scenes organization to make this event possible. I also want to thank Lisa Boarman for her support of this program and all of the other middle school counselors for inviting me to be apart of YES again this year. Also, thanks to Ron Nicodemus and the other county partners that supported our summit this year.


The amazing reaction to the death of Steve Jobs

Chicago Tribune, October 7, 2011

For many Americans, the years 2001-2010 were the roughest decade in memory. Our nation endured terrorism and war, temporary boom and lasting bust. Too many have been left feeling powerless in the recession's dismal aftermath.

By one measure, though, Americans have become much more powerful. One of the nation's corporate chief executives — a group suffering from a serious image problem these days — did more than anyone to transform our lives with the power of computers. With iPods in 2001, iPhones in 2007 and iPads in 2010, he made the hard years of the recent past easier, more productive, more beautiful to behold.

Thanks, Steve. We needed that.

History will remember Steve Jobs as an innovator, fortune builder and technology genius. His legacy holds an important lesson for dealing with economic adversity today.
Jobs was, in his words, "a very public failure." In 1985, he got kicked out of the company he co-founded, Apple Inc.

The focus of his adult life disappeared. He awkwardly apologized to people he thought he had let down. He felt rejected. He didn't know what to do next.

Those same hopeless feelings probably sound familiar to the millions targeted in brutal layoffs over the last four years.

Like so many others today, Jobs started over.

In the 10 years that followed, he kept innovating, making something from nothing, and not always succeeding. He unveiled the $6,500 NeXT personal computer, which didn't sell. Through his Pixar animation studios, he also gave us Woody and Buzz from the beloved film "Toy Story," which sold tickets by the millions.

Everybody fails. It's what comes next that counts.

Jobs wormed his way back into Apple, first as an adviser, then as interim chief executive, then by dropping the "interim." What followed must be among the greatest comebacks in business.

He proved himself to be the Thomas Edison of our age: prickly, yes, but adept at combining technology and business to change peoples' lives.

Edison has the more impressive portfolio — you can get by without your iPod more easily than you can without lightbulbs. No, really, you can.

But Jobs has the more impressive following.

For many people who heard the news of Jobs' death, there was an immediate lurch of sadness.
On the sidewalk beside the Apple Store along Chicago's North Michigan Avenue, Jobs' fans on Thursday created a shrine to his memory. They left flowers, lit candles and placed fresh apples on the concrete. The same spontaneous tributes occurred at Apple Stores in London, Paris, Tokyo and elsewhere around the world.

"I promise to always take the next big step," said one message left for Jobs in Chicago.
"Let's go invent tomorrow," said another, invoking a Jobs quote.

One scribbled post-it asked if the iPhone's GPS could be used to locate its originator in heaven. Definitely a question for the store's Genius Bar.

Facebook and Twitter lit up with people reminiscing about their first iPod or Macintosh. "Before I could walk, I was playing and learning on an Apple computer," one fan began.
"It's strange, realizing how much someone you never knew changed your life," another wrote. "Of course I'm typing this on my beloved MacBook Pro."

Author Martin Lindstrom wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed that brain scans of people reacting to a vibrating iPhone showed they "responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member. In short, the subject didn't demonstrate the classic brain-based signs of addiction. Instead, they loved their iPhones."

In 2005, Jobs gave the commencement speech at Stanford University that makes his most fitting eulogy. Even though he told the graduating students that his cancer had been cured, he shared his thoughts about facing death since his diagnosis about a year earlier. Thinking about death every day helped him overcome the natural fear of failure, he told them.

Drawing on his 1970s California hippie roots, Jobs invoked The Whole Earth Catalog, a hodgepodge of photos, articles and neat ideas — "one of the bibles of my generation," as Jobs put it. He remembered its slogan: "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." As Jobs said, "I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you."

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

Thanks Steve for making my life more creative and enjoyable!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

TriColumbia Leads The Way In Triathlon Instruction Partnership With Wilde Lake Middle School

The first program of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic, triathlon courses offered to selected elementary, middle and high school P.E. programs in Howard County, Md. 

TriColumbia, the Mid-Atlantic’s premier endurance event production company, today announced a partnership with the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) to implement elementary, middle and high school triathlon instruction during physical education courses in an effort to educate students on the experience and lifestyle benefits of triathlon. The partnership was formalized with an official signing on September 28 at Wilde Lake Middle School in Columbia, Md.

The first program of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic, TriColumbia will collaborate with physical education instructors to pilot a triathlon (swim, bike, run) program for fourth grade students at Hammond and Talbott Springs elementary schools, sixth grade students at Burleigh Manor and Wilde Lake middle schools, and ninth grade students at Glenelg and Long Reach high schools. HCPSS will provide instructional assistance in swimming, cycling and running, as well as necessary equipment and transportation.

“The HCPSS partnership with TriColumbia provides a new opportunity for our students to be active in a fun and exciting way,” said Mary Schiller of the HCPSS Partnerships Office. “Students will learn that the sport of triathlon welcomes athletes of all abilities; that it is as much about embracing a healthy lifestyle and having a can-do attitude as it is about the finish line.”

“Our goal is for students to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to carry on when they leave Howard County Public Schools,” said Jackie French, Instructional Facilitator of Physical Education for HCPS. “This unique program further contributes to that goal by providing a foundation for youth to build an active lifestyle that will last a lifetime.”

Each program will be designed appropriately for the students’ ages and fitness levels, and modifications will be made as needed to ensure that all students, including those with disabilities, are able to participate successfully. TriColumbia will also sponsor 25 scholarships for age-appropriate triathlons, to be awarded by P.E. instructors to students at each participating school.

“Having the opportunity to work with the Howard County Public School System to educate students on the benefits of healthy lifestyles through triathlon is a tremendous honor for TriColumbia,” said Robert Vigorito, President and founder of TriColumbia. “It has always been a dream of mine to give back to the community and to educate our youth and I would like to thank HCPSS as well as our sponsors for making this possible.”

Sponsors of the pilot program include Howard County General Hospital, The Horizon Foundation and McDonalds Family Restaurants of Greater Baltimore. (Source: TriColumbia

Thanks to TriColumbia and your corporate sponsors! 
We are excited to be working with you!