Learning Mathematics Well = Confidence, Competence, and Positive Attitude

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Confident and competent and positive in math? Why not?

doargraphWhy do Americans stink at mathematics? Why do from 30-40% of people who respond to attitudinal questions about math use language describing that they “hate”  it? Why do many parents and educators believe that being good at math is about ability, not capability?

At a recent School Board work session, Board members, along with parents, teachers, principals and community professionals, tackled the question of what it take to educate all young people well in mathematics as they move from pre-Kindergarten to graduation. They explored research relevant to learning mathematics, parental and educator attitudes about mathematics, and effective mathematics curricula, assessment, and pedagogy. They learned that mathematical performance in higher level courses in high school is a gatekeeper to college, particularly for children living in poverty. They learned that as children age up in schools, they perceive themselves as less and less capable in math, particularly females. They discussed that regardless of a child’s potential career path, reports abound of mixed performance and lack of confidence among young people in school, more so in mathematics than other curricular areas. Most importantly, they discussed what we need to do to address the concerns we share with UVA Curry math education professors, engineers, community members, parents, and educators about mathematics performance and attitude among our students.

using data Many people have opinions about the root cause of America’s problem with math. In Albemarle, we are embarking upon a deeper dive into understanding the problem from a research-driven, not opinion-based, perspective.

If we believe that:

  • mathematical concepts, problem-solving skills, and procedures are all critical to learning so all students can apply mathematical thinking in unique situations, we need to make sure that our professionals from PK through post-calculus develop and hone expertise in math content, assessment, and instruction,
  • a vigorous curricula matters, we must make it accessible through sound instruction and tool resources for all students beginning in our early childhood classrooms and continuing through graduation,
  • time and effort matter, we must support students through trial and error and expect mastery of mathematics to be the goal, not finishing a unit of study in a specific time
  • confidence is important, we adults must behave in ways that help young people build success, see themselves as capable, and stay motivated to learn despite the challenging work we put in front of them
  • meaningfulness is important, we must create learning connections from math to other disciplines and to the real world so that kids use mathematics in contexts that make sense to them.

"Measure Twice - cut once" Why focus on mathematics?

Every lifelong learning competency that we desire young people acquire before adulthood represents mathematical thinking, language, and skills – in one way or another. Adults use math in homes, community activities, work, and play. Mathematical thinking grounds our capability to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create across disciplines. As the Dean of UVA Engineering once said to parents contemplating the impact of their child entering our MESA Academy: “If your child decides to major in studio art, s/he will be a better artist because of learning basic principles of engineering.”

Not every child we educate will go into a career that demands the use of the most sophisticated of mathematical thinking even though some will do so. However, if we want to open more doors of opportunity and ensure our young people can process a world of math in their daily lives, we have to do better to support their performance, attitude, and capability in mathematics while we are teaching them in our schools.

Using Math to CAD program

Using Math        in CAD programming

That’s why our School Board is studying mathematics as a strategic focus. It’s not about test scores, it’s about children becoming confident, competent learners who actually like math.

 

 

 

 

Top Performance Doesn’t Happen By Chance

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IMG_4639 I am always proud of the accomplishments of our students and staff in Albemarle County Public Schools. It seems as if each week brings an example of their top performance across arts, academics, athletics, community service and leadership.  Top performance doesn’t happen by chance. It comes from the hard work and dedication of staff to provide opportunities for young people that sustain their curiosity, persistence, enthusiasm and willingness to rise to challenges as young learners.

  • Five of the top six spellers at the central Virginia regional Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee were from Albemarle County and fourth, third, and second place were earned by elementary students from our schools.

  • Young musicians from all three of our comprehensive high schools have been admitted into the elite Commonwealth of Virginia orchestra, band, and choral programs based upon their stellar performance tryouts.

  • Teams from elementary, middle and high schools will compete in the regional Destination Imagination Tournament held at Western Albemarle High School.

  • Crozet Elementary has been selected as one of four schools in Virginia who are finalists for the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Award for environmentally friendly and energy-efficient schools.

  • Robotics Teams from all three high comprehensive schools and Henley Middle School have competed at the state level and both Team Vertigo from AHS and the Nerd Herd from Henley will advance to the super regional in Pennsylvania.

  • Maeve Winter, WAHS student, is a distinguished state finalist in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

  • Both the Western Albemarle (five-time state winner) and Albemarle Girls Swim Teams won 2015 state championships in their respective group classification.

  • Albemarle High again has received the prestigious National Music Education and Virginia Music Education Associations’ Blue Ribbon Award for its performing arts achievements and programming.

  • 2014 Albemarle County Schools graduates again exceeded state and national SAT and Advanced Placement scores, placing the division among top performing school divisions nationally.

Please join me in congratulating our staff and students on these accomplishments – just a few of many that represent the quality of educational performance exhibited by members of our school communities.

robotics

 

 

The Funding Challenge: Sustaining Our Portfolio of Educational Excellence

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Funding from the Commonwealth for K-12 education has dropped over the past seven years. This drop has shifted the burden of responsibility for education in Albemarle and other localities to local taxpayers’ property taxes. If per pupil revenues from the state had remained flat over this time period, Albemarle County Public Schools would have no funding gap in the 2015-16 funding request because we would receive $3.8 million in additional state revenues for FY16. This is not the case. The current revenue gap for the school division is $2.7 million. This creates a challenge for the Board to sustain commitments to quality programming, growth needs, and excellent staff to serve the 13,500 students enrolled in our schools.

Past Board investments in a Portfolio of Educational Excellence have allowed us to sustain commitments to programs, staff, and students so that we didn’t fall behind either market-competitive compensation or program services to students. Today, Pk-12 programs serve young people well because of past investments to recruit and retain a top-notch workforce.

However, the current FY16 funding request challenges our capability to both keep up with market-driven staff compensation while continuing to sustain and enhance the educational services that our community values and supports. This means that past cuts and reductions in funding allocations impact to such an extent that we are faced with the need to catch up in these areas :

  • salary compensation and benefits coverage,

  • purchase of learning resources,

  • facilities and classroom modernization in areas such as science labs,

  • professional development and training to develop and extend content and teaching expertise.

It’s important to realize that we cannot keep up current services when revenues do not move apace with the costs of inflation, compensation and benefit expenses, growth, and directed/mandated services.

Sustaining the Board’s market-compensation commitment to staff is the top priority expressed by every demographic group surveyed earlier in the school year. Due to revenue gaps, staff likely will not receive Human Resources’ recommended market-competitive salary increase – unless more funding becomes available. Instead, a phased-in raise during the 2015-16 School Year is the likely action.

Take home pay is less today than it was five years ago for teachers and other staff including those working in local government. Like others experiencing wage stagnation, our educators are finding it difficult to make ends meet as health insurance costs rise, Virginia Retirement System changes have taken a big bite out of paychecks, and cost of living adjustments remain nonexistent. This isn’t just a problem here. It’s occurring all over the United States. The recession has impacted education. Today, fewer college students are choosing to major in education, practitioners are switching to more lucrative careers, and the boomers are exiting the profession to retirement. While this might not impact today or tomorrow, this trend has deep implications for the future of a strong educational workforce here in our community.

Why should we ALL care about sustaining commitment to excellent schools, to supporting breadth of programs that serve young people, and hiring the best educators we can find?

Our Portfolio of Educational Excellence represents the core values of a premier community with one of the overall highest educational levels in the United States. The capability of higher education and the business community to attract top employees and develop the local economy is dependent upon excellent public schools. The quality of our schools impacts Albemarle real estate values. However, the most important reason why we need to sustain our programs, services, class sizes, and competitive market walks through our school doors every day.

Our children.

What have past Boards and our community considered as valuable investments in our Portfolio of Educational Excellence over the last two decades?

  • We have implemented a competitive market strategy to recruit and retain excellent Albemarle teachers by paying at the bottom of the top quartile of a competitive market which includes contiguous counties and selected counties in northern, Tidewater, Richmond area, and southwest Virginia.
  • Our schools have some of the smallest average class sizes in Virginia – ranking us in the top tier of small class sizes among the elite northern Virginia divisions and the Charlottesville City Schools that represent the highest per pupil expenses in the state. For comparison, Albemarle County Schools rank 1st in elementary, fourth in middle school, and third in high school class sizes despite per pupil expenses that are the third lowest in this cohort performance benchmark group.

IMG_0682Students take advantage of a comprehensive K-12 arts program that is recognized at the local, state and national level as one of the best, including the addition of a new secondary summer fine arts academy in 2014. While many divisions have reduced arts commitments, Albemarle’s School Board has sustained visual and performing programs.

 

  • The K-12 physical education program taught by licensed PE staff represents both the time and activities necessary for young people to build lifelong wellness and fitness knowledge and skills.

IMG_41006-12 AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) services supports over 300 students who will be first generation college students, providing courses to build skills, knowledge and strategies essential to performing at high levels in college preparatory classes with mentoring support typical among college-educated families.

wahsDifferentiated high school academy options allow young people to pursue specific interests such as health and medical sciences, engineering, and environmental studies during the regular year and visual/fine arts, computer programming, and leadership during the summer.

  • Comprehensive college curricula includes a broad offering of advanced placement and dual enrollment courses open to students who wish to pursue college credits in high school.

DI robotsNumerous gifted and talented and general enrichment options include robotics, Destination Imagination, National History Day, Westinghouse Science Fair, UVA Writers’ Eye, Governors’ Schools, VHSL competitive activities from drama to athletics, and so much more.

 

  • Nationally recognized K-12 library programs and facilities offer contemporary access to research, communication resources, and activities that allow libraries to be open and accessible to students and staff to search, connect, communicate and make learning.

IMG_9532A  6-12 contemporary Career and Technical Education lab program addresses both the interests and needs of students who will enter future workforces – with focus on developing transportable life skills that are important in school, at home, and at work. A lab school partnership with UVa, the Smithsonian, and Charlottesville City Schools offers middle school students an interdisciplinary STEM curricula.

  • The division’s nationally recognized instructional coaching model provides pedagogical and content development support directly to teachers with particular focus on mentoring and assisting novice teachers. This program is part of a package of strategies to help recruit, develop and retain excellent teachers, a return on investment.

  • The Board’s commitment sustains a value for community schools so children are educated as close to where they live as possible.
  • The Division values its partnership with local government as we together capture efficiencies through shared services and activities in Human Resources, Finance, Transportation, Technology, Pre-Kindergarten, the Comprehensive Services Act for special education, and Legal Services to the Board.

CATEC buildersSustained community partnerships offer extended learning opportunities for students through Piedmont Virginia Community College, the University of Virginia, the Charlottesville- Albemarle Tech Ed Center (Charlottesville Schools), private sector businesses and corporations, and community agencies.

 

  • A pilot elementary world languages program at Cale Elementary adds depth to the opportunities for young children to learn a second language when their brains are most receptive to developing language competencies.
  • Pk-12 intervention and prevention services address economically disadvantaged children who may enter school with learning gaps, English as Second Language Learners, handicapped learners, potential dropouts, and students with mental health and emotional needs.

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

Top performance by Albemarle students in arts, academics, and athletics has led to a graduates who excel by any measure. The total drop out rate for students in the class of 2014 of 2.3% represents a total of just twenty-three students who dropped out of school between ninth and twelfth grade. Our recent graduates were accepted at close to 300 different colleges and universities including 20 of the 25 top private and 21 of the top 25 public colleges and universities in the nation.

Excellence is a hallmark of our community’s public schools, representing the investments of generations who have lived here in Albemarle County. Public education is a heritage for our community going back to its roots in the earliest decades of United States history. Mr. Jefferson saw the need for public education and he influenced the state and nation to embrace public schooling. Why? He knew that public education was essential to a strong and thriving citizenry.

Here in a county that set in motion the birth of the United States of America, it seems only appropriate that today we should be a model for educating all of our young people well – boys, girls, children of color, the handicapped, the immigrants.

Monticello Jan. 14. 18.

“A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens, from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest, of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.”  Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C, Cabell

 

 

A Season to Remember: The Gift of Teachers

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103This moment in time, with our shortest days, important holidays, and the changing of seasons, brings us to memory and reflection. It has been a bittersweet year in Albemarle County with the ongoing successes of our children mixed with tragedies in our schools and in our community. This has been very difficult for those in our very human-centered occupations. I have been remembering and reflecting, especially on the lives and passing of two of our beloved educators this month, teachers who touched the lives of children, parents and peers over their teaching careers.

At our recent School Board meeting, I described Robin Aldridge, Hollymead teacher, as a “Child Whisperer.” She was the teacher every parent wanted in their child’s corner and every teacher valued as a colleague. Board Chair Ned Galloway shared a few words about Sue Pasternack, Agnor-Hurt teacher, who leaves all who knew her with an imprint on our hearts as we remember her humor, passion, dedication and compassion for everyone she encountered. Both of these educators were warm and loving toward each child whom they served so faithfully.

Prior to a moment of silence for both of these remarkable educators, the best way I can explain their impact upon so many children and families over many years is to say that they personified our values for respect, community, excellence, and young people. They epitomized the master teacher I hope every young teacher aspires to become one day.

It was not Robin or Sue who chose their careers; it was the profession that chose them. They had a gift to offer to children and families in our community that could never have been purchased. It was a gift priced not in numbers, but in faces—the faces of children with excitement in their eyes, smiles in their voices, and the unbridled confidence that comes with making new friends and new discoveries.

What truly is special about our Albemarle community is that our students reach their welcomed destinations with the support and encouragement of not just the professionals who educate them, but also, through the efforts of those who transport them, feed them, keep them safe and healthy, and provide them with learning environments that are anything but ordinary.

You serve as a model for our nation, and what a gift that is. We receive accolades every week for the exemplary performance of learners, employees, departments and schools. Our students distinguish our community through arts, athletics, academics, community service, and leadership. This does not happen by chance; it happens because of each of you. No matter your role in working with children, you all are teachers, and our children learn from the words you use, the smiles you share, and the care you provide.

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In the past two weeks, more than one of you has said to me that a casualty of our hugely productive but overcrowded professional lives is that we do not sufficiently take the time to tell those with whom we work how much we value and appreciate each other. So as we prepare for a much-deserved winter break, I want you to know how much I admire your selfless devotion to our students and to our colleagues, and most of all, your contributions to making our community and nation a better place.

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Thank you for your commitment to the young people we serve together, and please have a safe, enjoyable and restful holiday season with family and friends.

Mathematical Thinking Matters

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IMG_5496Whether buying a new car, working in a research lab, applying the Pythagorean theorem on a construction site, or using spreadsheet formulas to plan how to pay off student loans most efficiently, mathematical thinking is a basic for graduates of our schools. What students must learn today goes well beyond the work of yesteryear’s arithmetic textbooks when members of earlier generations used to memorize rote fact families, repeat procedural recipes from long division to geometry theorems, and solve basic word problems.

It’s an expectation in Virginia that contemporary students take three or more years of high school math – a requirement far beyond the “just” Algebra I requirement of thirty years ago. That’s why developing critical reasoning skills in math is a key focus for today’s educators to make sure young people acquire the competencies they need for a lifetime of mathematical thinking.

This kind of mathematical learning does not happen by chance in schools. It demands teachers who deeply understand a range of mathematical disciplines and who skillfully use multiple teaching strategies to help learners of different competency levels learn to think mathematically as they solve complex math problems.

A high school principal recently shared that learners who once struggled with math are having significant success this year in Algebra I – by any measure. If a student can’t pass Algebra I and then take two more math courses beyond Algebra, they won’t graduate with a standard Virginia diploma. For an advanced diploma, the college admissions gold standard, four math courses are required.

When I met the lead teacher for the successful high school algebra team (a course in which parents and students routinely ask teachers, “when will I ever use algebra in life?”), she said three things which stood out to me: algebra problems must be real, multiple problem-solving strategies must be learned, and positive relationships between the teacher and learner are vital.

My conversation with her reminded me of a recent blog post by Walton Middle School math teacher Bill Doar who works to make sure every student in his class learns math concepts and competencies well. Teachers such as Mr. Doar create learning experiences so students learn math well and find themselves actually liking math.

Here’s a post from Mr. Doar on how he teaches middle school students to see math as a positive part of their day as they learn Virginia’s more rigorous standards.

Teaching for Perplexity by Mr. Bill Doar,
seventh grade math teacher

Walton MIddle School

The past two months have flown by.  On October 11th, my wife and I welcomed our first child – Will into the world.  It feels like September was just a short while ago and we were in Virginia Beach enjoying Labor Day.  Will is starting to smile, make cute baby ‘coo-ing’ and sleep for solid four-hour chunks at a time.  Those luxurious four-hour segments were not always the norm.  Sleep during the first month was scarce and I would often find myself watching Sportscenter or listening to sermons at 3 a.m. to pass the time while Will fell asleep.
One night several weeks ago I stumbled across a YouTube channel run by a math teacher I admire greatly – Dan Meyer.  I initially heard of Dan during my first year teaching in the Mississippi Delta and watched one of his more famous videos – ‘Math Class Needs a Makeover’.  I could immediately relate to his struggle of making math engaging.  In it he describes the math teacher – student relationship as follows:
“I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it but is forced by law to buy it…”
I distinctly remember the moment during that first year when I realized, many of my students don’t like math, believe they can’t do it and don’t see any practical application of the workbook problems tdoarpic2hey’ve encountered since kindergarten. In the past five years of teaching I’ve worked hard to make math standards meaningful, engaging and applicable to real life. Through technology infusion in the classroom, the ‘maker curriculum’ and the push to make teaching more than just preparing for the SOL, I’ve tried to make my classroom one where the work we do has application that reaches beyond the annual standardized test.
A recent challenge posed while watching one of Dan Meyer’s videos at 3 a.m. holding Will was to change the progression of each lesson.  About 98% of the time I would start with a standard, students would take notes, work out problems, ask questions then try an enrichment/application level activity.  In Dan’s video ‘Teaching for Perplexity’ he challenges educators to start with a real life, engaging, thought-provoking question and embed the standards in the question.
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Today in class, I handed my Core + students the 7th grade VDOE formula sheet when they walked in and told them to create the six shapes on the formula sheet and record the dimensions on a graphic organizer I created.  It’s been amazing to see the change in student engagement transitioning from the traditional ‘sage on stage’ teaching model to challenging students to create and ask probing questions along the way.  I’ve found that with this new model students can learn at their own pace and they genuinely want to ‘complete the challenge’ set before them. It also allows me to circulate the room and give more individualized attention.

The most astonishing aspect to this change though was that during our 40 minudoarpic1te activity today we were able to discuss evaluating expressions, order of operations, exponents, nets of 3D shapes, area, perimeter, volume and surface area.  When I am teaching in front of the class and students are working on a worksheet, it is incredibly difficult to teach more than one or two skills at a time.  This may prove to be the most important benefit to the change in classroom model.

In all honesty, I do not use this model everyday but am trying to implement it more and more each week.  I will leave you with a challenge Mr. Meyer posed during a recent TED talk.  Study the graph below that shows water consumption during the Olympic Gold Medal Hockey Game.

doargraph What caused the highs and lows?  Where is the math in this graph?  What standards could this graph be used to teach?

You can follow Bill Doar on twitter @MrDoarAtWalton

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As you can see from his post, Bill Doar works on students’ attitudes toward math, not just their math competencies. He knows students need both confidence and competence to advance their math knowledge and skills.

In the United States we tend to project a belief that some students are “good” in math –  but most aren’t. Boys are better at math. Girls aren’t. These beliefs play out at home and in school. We know from research families and educators around the world have a different mindset about the capability of children to learn to think mathematically. Adult beliefs about learners impact children’s beliefs about themselves as learners. Negative beliefs about some children’s potential to learn can become their destiny.

Math is a case in point. Let’s change that.

 

Thanksgiving 2014 Reflections

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While watching flakes fall yesterday, I spent some time in the morning cleaning up meeting rooms in the office area where I work. IMG_1103I was thankful our schools were closed for Thanksgiving. Based on prior weather reports, we superintendents in the area knew it would have been one of those iffy “five o’clock in the morning” school closing calls that could have been a good one – or not.

Three Stories

In the afternoon, I ran a few errands and, as often happens, ran into people connected to my work in schools, past and present. It’s a time to chat, catch up on family news, and reminisce about educators who have touched young people’s lives. It’s a time to share our thankfulness for moving through hard times and our good fortune in better times.

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Jamestown still life by 4th grader

On this afternoon in Thanksgiving week, I listen to a father grateful his young son is home for the holiday after being deployed in aerial missions over Iraq. I remember his child’s big brown eyes and quiet demeanor from early days in elementary school, a child with a seriousness about him that belied his age. I’m not surprised to hear that he has chosen to serve his country. His family has always been a family with an ethos of service to others from their work in a local church to volunteerism with local youth.

I admire a sleeping puppy lounging in a store cart under the watchful eye of its new five-year-old owner. Her mom, who I also knew as a student a long time ago, tells me that school is just wonderful and that her daughter comes home every day talking about how much she loves her teacher. Her mother and I reconnected on the first day of school this year when I recognized her and offered to take a phone picture of her daughter and her together in front of school. She tells me this week how grateful she is that her daughter has had such a wonderful kindergarten experience in our elementary school. I look into the face of this young mother and can’t help but remember the day her father died as the result of a tragic car accident.  Our rural school community rallied around her family, devastated at the loss of a good man, a wonderful father, and a faithful volunteer at our school and in the community. Now she reminds me of him – active, positive, and engaged with her children.

Walking across a parking lot in front of a 29 N store, a pickup truck horn honks and I stop, worried that I’m in his way. Instead, the driver rolls down his window and says, “How are you doing, Pam?” It’s the dad of another Albemarle county graduate, a young man who works in management in a local sports arena. His dad speaks with pride of his son’s accomplishments and his delight at his son’s success just shines from the pickup truck. He shares how much his son loved a particular teacher who kindled his passion for learning long ago.

Not every conversation I have in stores, parking lots or a local fitness center goes this way. Schools are a reflection of what it means to be human. Humans make mistakes. Adults don’t always get it right. Kids don’t always get it right. Educators don’t always get it right. When we don’t, it’s our job to figure out how to fix the problem so we can make our community a better place for all concerned.

My Gratitude

However, this Thanksgiving week, I am privileged to hear a series of stories about young people with overall excellent experiences in our schools. This is truly more of the norm than exception in my work. In fact, I think it’s more of the norm than exception in my life. So, I write today about my gratitude for living in a great nation and wonderful community, being a part of the most important profession in the world, and routinely hearing stories of how educators make a difference in the lives of families and children.

The Power of Thank you

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Finally, I end with a story about visiting school as students were winding down for this break. Nothing makes me more grateful than spending time in schools with educators and children. On this day, I listen to a teacher reading a Thanksgiving story to second graders. I chat with parents and children finishing a feast in another room. I hear about a community service project in another.

Thanksgiving is uniquely American as a remembrance of what it means to overcome adversity and achieve success as a community. However, we don’t just share the history of Thanksgiving in our work with children that leads up to the break. We also share something with our children that’s incredibly important to happiness and success in life – taking the time every day to help others, share, pause and say thank you.

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Veterans’ Day 2014

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On Veterans’ Day, I am reminded to be thankful for the many citizens, mostly while still young adults, who have chosen to serve in U.S. military service over eight generations spanning the centuries since the American Revolution. I grew up in a family of “citizen soldiers” who served our nation on behalf of us all. My mother, ninety-three years and counting, served in Naval Intelligence in World War II. She once commented that it was the best work of her life, a time when she felt a sense of mission that was bigger than her or any other person who served with her.

In our school division, veterans serve as teachers, bus drivers, assistants, and administrators. They often go quietly through the days and years of their work in education without drawing any attention to their prior service. They may have served decades ago or in recent times. Many of us also have taught young people who joined the service and served our country well. Some of us have family members and friends who once were in the military and now are veterans.

Honoring our veterans transcends our day-to-day lives. Our veterans notice when we say thank you. They notice when our young people learn about Veterans’ Day from you. They notice when we take the time to explain what it means to be a service veteran.

http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/history-of-veterans-day/videos/history-says-thanks

No matter the time in peace or in war, our veterans deserve our appreciation for serving our nation on our behalf. Thank you for taking the time to pause and reflect on the meaning of Veterans’ Day.

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Why Arts? A Learning Commitment to Our Young People

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balloons2I had an opportunity to spend time in Stephanie Helvin’s room recently at Stone-Robinson Elementary. Stephanie teaches art. Watching her second graders as they began work on creating line drawings of hot air balloons, I noted that she introduced them to science, math, and new vocabulary as she shared with them how to turn overlapping circles into dimensional drawings.

Why arts education? In a day and age when conversations about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in pK-16 curricula and workforce preparation dominate education, what makes the arts still relevant? In many public schools across the United States, art room doors have closed, teachers have been let go, and art time has shifted to academic time.

Why then have we worked in Albemarle Schools to purposefully sustain a budget commitment to the arts despite current trends across the United States to slash arts from schools’ offerings?

As Kai Kight, Stanford graduate, says, “Innovation happens at intersections.” The capability to innovate directly affects our potential to ensure a thriving economy and culture across our communities. Arts education builds innovative thinking.

Our division has a critical commitment to educating young people well so they will be ready for their future as citizens, lifelong learners, and employers and employees. We believe this  comes from a well-rounded education to sustain learners’ creativity as well as to build their analytical skills across the curricula. Arts do both.

For example, a recent video shared with me by Albemarle High orchestra teacher Carrie Finnegan captured the neuroscience underpinnings of how playing a musical instrument benefits your brain and impacts both linguistic and mathematical functions:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/R0JKCYZ8hng]

We also understand that learning through arts will build deep cognitive learning in young students:

“The arts are not just expressive and affective, they are deeply cognitive. They develop essential thinking tools — pattern recognition and development; mental representations of what is observed or imagined; symbolic, allegorical and metaphorical representations; careful observation of the world; and abstraction from complexity.” (How the Arts Develop the Young Brain, Sousa)

Our fabulous arts teachers across the county’s schools understand the importance of their role to build this deep learning among children by keeping creativity alive as our learners move through school. Andrew Sherogan, Meriwether Lewis Elementary, and Molly Foster, Hollymead Elementary, are two of our visual arts teachers who routinely share that message in their blogs as they profile children engaging in our arts programs through project-based learning.

stem2We are not alone in our commitment to putting the A from arts into our contemporary focus on STEM.  We see the value in STEAM just as top universities do, including our own University of Virginia.

President Teresa Sullivan and actor Kevin Spacey described this  at the recent UVA President’s Speaker Series for the Arts:

“The University’s arts curriculum inspires creativity, innovation and discovery, while giving our students across all disciplines opportunities to integrate the arts into their U.Va. experience.” (Sullivan)

“We have this system that we call STEM, to teach sciences and technologies. Now there are a lot of schools who are adding an ‘A’ and calling it ‘STEAM.’ ‘A’ is for arts,” Spacey said. “I think it’s incredibly important because while math, science and technology are hugely important, if we leave behind a young person’s imagination or creativity, I think they won’t have as full a life.” (Spacey)

We realize in Albemarle that young people draw upon arts skills to help them design, build, engineer, produce as well as use math, science, engineering and technology competencies – whether creating an electric guitar or 3-D printing a prosthetic hand. The renowned WAHS robotics teams use a multitude of integrated skills essential to their design process. It’s not just their engineering minds at work. There’s a wealth of creativity embedded throughout their design decisions.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/OQ1gR21i-Qc]

Kai Kight, graduate of of Stanford University, certainly understands the value of integrating the arts across the curricula while sustaining a passion for “arts for arts sake.” So do engineering professors. One said to me recently on a tour of our schools that a keen grasp .. of “spatial thinking helps our young people excel as they enter higher levels of math from trigonometry to advanced calculus.”

Arts are as important today as they have ever been in human history. Arts opportunities engage learners’ interests and inspire careers as well as a lifetime of personal enjoyment. It’s why I’m committed to arts education for all students we serve in our schools.

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3-D Printing: a Contemporary Learning Tool in #ACPS

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I like to feature educators and students from across Albemarle County Public Schools to illustrate the innovative work in which our teachers and learners engage. 3-D printing is becoming a workforce tool in ways that I would never have envisioned four years ago. From printing “one-hour” crowns for teeth in dental offices to orthopedic implants, this tool of advanced manufacturing is changing the world of work, medicine, and even homes. Just google 3-D printing!Our middle and high schools all have 3-D printers that teachers are using with students for a variety of design purposes in STEM+ activities. Students with access to 3-D printers use math, engineering, tech, and science skills but also content and competencies from the arts, history, and language arts. I’ve seen mouthpieces for band instruments, a working telegraph, parts for a Sailbot, pulleys, and geometric equations printed in 3-D. Young people use 3-D printers in our schools as tools for learning how to design, engineer, create, and build. As children and teens use these tools, they practicing and develop contemporary workforce competencies of collaboration, creative problem-solving, critical reasoning and communication, not just learning content. They are becoming more capable because of excellent teachers who support them as learners. And, we know this learning can’t be captured on a multiple choice test. Instead, the work our learners produce in 3-D fits well with both traditional projects and performance assessments.

Chris Shedd, Burley sixth grade teacher, represents the cutting edge of STEM + social studies work that’s possible because of access to a 3-D printer. Here’s a post Mr. Shedd wrote to share his sixth graders’ projects.

3D Printing in Social Studies by Chris Shedd, Burley Middle

photo6photo7 photo8 Burley students are mastering 3D printing technology. They are researching and creating 3D models to enhance their learning, collaborate with another local middle school, and even to help a group of college students. The 3D printer offers a great opportunity for students to develop new technology skills and to use their creativity.

Last semester students began using a 3D printer in my social studies class. Students researched and created 3D models of structures including Jamestown, Monticello, the Rotunda, the Mayflower, and Burley. One student created an almost exact replica of a specific Civil War bullet. Nine Burley students attended the Tom Tom festival to show off their work to the public. Many students made 3D models for their Creative Projects and researched their historical significance.

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This semester we have an exciting partnership with an 8th grade class at Sutherland Middle School. Burley students are going to research and recreate spy gear from the American Revolution. Sutherland students are going to look at modern spy gear and some of the science behind it. We are hoping to have our classes Skype with each other, share what we have learned, and discuss how spy gear has changed over time.

Burley students are also creating models from natural history for Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA. Randolph’s Natural History Collection is considering buying a 3D printer and scanner. They want to scan items from their collection and paint them. They have asked Burley students to create 3D examples to test their paints. So far students have created a snail, a trilobite, fossilized dragonfly, a crab, and a lobster. Three copies of the snail have already made it to Randolph College, and they liked it so much they have requested more copies. Mrs. Schoppa, Burley design and engineering class teacher, has been helping us keep up with the printing of objects. I am hoping some of her students will create models for Randolph as well.

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All students have modeling software on their computers. I encourage students who are interested to download Autodesk 123 D. It is a free, basic CAD program. Give it a try!

 

An Inside View from a Student Teacher: Starting the School Year

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How do new professionals learn a set of skills, routines, and knowledge necessary to success? 

Whether it’s the field of medicine, banking, automotive maintenance or teaching, students in those fields learn as much or more on the job in intern or residency experiences with experts as they do sitting in classrooms. The apprenticeship always has been a key way that expertise is transmitted forward from one generation to the next.

Student teachers learn on the job as apprentices with Albemarle’s top teachers. Here’s one example of many.

Yarden Batson, student teacher at Meriwether Lewis Elementary with master teacher Anne Straume, shares her perspective on what she learned as she watched and assisted Mrs. Straume in the first week of school.

First Week of School

by Yarden Batson, University of Virginia student teacher

This week of school was one in which I learned how to set-up the classroom, h“>ow to become a part of a professional learning community (PLC), how to start establishing a community of   learners, and how to create authentic lessons that motivate students to have high expectations for themselves.community (PLC), how to start establishing a community of learners, and how to create authentic lessons that motivate students to have high expectations for themselves.

After almost a week of planning I was excited to meet the students. They walked in on the first day of school ready to learn. Many of the students were excited to see friends they haven’t seen in a while as well as meet students who are new to the school.These first few days of school required a lot of planning and creativity. My teacher and I want to design authentic learning experiences for the students as well as create a community in which all students’ strengths are used. We want to motivate all of our students to work their hardest and learn that they have the power to achieve great things and make positive changes in the world around them.I taught my first few lessons this week as well as observed as the teacher encouraged struggling students, went over expectations, and modeled appropriate classroom behavior. I feel so lucky to have a teacher, who is so well-loved and so enthusiastic about her students, model and guide me through this experience.I am looking forward to a wonderful semester of student teaching!

Below are some pictures from “Open House” and a sneak peek into what we are planning for the semester.