Why Arts? A Learning Commitment to Our Young People

Featured

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.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/jDpg_l5Y89w]

 

 

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

Featured

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.

photo3photo4  photo5

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.

photo2 photo1photo

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!

 

Why We Are Here: Albemarle Schools 2014-15

Featured

This summer I had the opportunity to observe young learners and teachers working in a variety of settings across our community. From teens exploring what it means to be an “everyday” leader through community service to elementary engineers and programmers, I noticed learners who engaged and excelled in their work.

Staff in our schools understand that achievement gaps often begin with opportunity gaps. We are committed to providing year-round programs and pathways that close opportunity gaps for students. Whether it’s the work we are doing to revamp Career and Technical Education, extend customized options such as our academy model and charter schools, add fine arts pathways that provide more in-depth exploration of creative potential, or offer accelerated options such as the M-Cubed program, we believe that we need to keep working on as many ways as possible to reach every child so that gaps in educational opportunities do not limit their potential.

It’s why we are here.

avid AVID is one such program, In Albemarle, our AVID program has grown in 8 years from serving a handful of students to serving several hundred. Today, teachers with AVID training are in all middle and high schools aiming to make sure that our young people, especially those who are the first generation in their families to go to college, are well prepared to do so. We aim to beat the odds that a student will drop out of college or spend too many years attempting to graduate. It’s an issue of concern for our nation and  state.   

Why AVID Makes a Difference ….   By:

Kathryn Baylor, principal
Peter Henning, asst principal

For years, educators and education reformers have cited the achievement gap as the greatest challenge facing public education in America.  Some have gone so far as to refer to the achievement gap as the greatest civil rights issue of our time.  As the years have passed, closing the achievement gap appeared increasingly impossible.  There were too many contributing factors, from poverty to violent neighborhoods to fractured homes.

avid

AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) offers a real solution to the achievement gap.  AVID is a worldwide college and workforce readiness system that serves close to 700,000 students across the globe.  With an instructional focus on writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading, AVID helps prepare students for success in high school, college, and beyond.  The AVID elective class provides an additional layer of support for students, largely from low-income and minority backgrounds, who show the potential to become first generation college students.

Slide1

AVID is a phenomenal investment for a school.  The national network of AVID schools and staff offers some of the best professional development available in public education.  The AVID system also serves as a no-frills, no-nonsense model with proven success for schools and school divisions committed to closing the achievement gap.

 

AVID students gain acceptance to four-year colleges at a rate that is nearly 3 times greater than their peers across the nation.  This holds true for students across all demographics, from African American to White to Latino.  AVID students are succeeding, and at an astounding rate.

AVID is not magic.  AVID is great teaching, and hard work, and commitment.  AVID works.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year of Extraordinary Learning

Featured

It has been an extraordinary year of learning for the more than 13,200 students who attended our schools in 2013-14!

14collageWhen I visited classrooms this year, I saw young people building and sustaining creativity, engaging in critical thinking, working collaboratively and communicating effectively, acquiring learning competencies that will serve them for a lifetime.  The breadth of these student experiences is beyond remarkable.  This only was possible through the contributions of people who believe that our young people deserve our best work–in every department, at every grade level and within every work area that serves young people.

Every adult counted.

It’s not a coincidence that when our County Student Council solicited “We Notice” recognition nominations, we received hundreds of responses from students. They celebrated teachers and cafeteria staff, custodians and teaching assistants, nurses, and office staff, bus drivers, coaches and administrators.

14bus

They reminded us of something we already knew.  Our “behind the scenes” professionals clearly made a difference every day in the lives of our students and families and deserved to be spotlighted.

Technology and building services staff members often worked long after everyone left our buildings – making sure repairs were made, upgrades occurred, and the power worked. Cafeteria workers were in place early, accepting deliveries, sanitizing work areas and preparing food for the day.  In transportation, staff members serviced buses, ordered parts, scheduled routes, and updated parents about buses unavoidably late.  They also retrieved “lost” items, reassured parents about school being opened– or school being closed – on bad weather days. IMG_0883In the classroom, it was inspiring to see young people engaged in the practical application of their learning, moving far beyond simply memorizing information for state tests.  Across content areas and grade levels, I saw young people eagerly demonstrating that when teachers engage and empower them, learning accelerates. Students experienced learning at its highest levels because teachers created multiple pathways to knowledge and discovery.

During the year, students:

  • constructed and launched rockets and engineered robots, 
  • choreographed dance routines, wrote lyrics, and produced songs,
  • kicked, tossed, ran, and jumped their way to a fit lifestyle,
  • learned Japanese, French, Spanish, German, and English too,
  • scripted and created award-winning videos,
  • programmed and printed innovative technology 3-D solutions to support handicapped classmates,
  • researched, designed and secured funding and built outdoor learning gardens, a wetlands discovery area and a wildlife center,
  • recycled cardboard into marble roller coasters and demonstrated how changing slope changes speed,
  • participated in mock United Nations and Model Congress activities,
  • performed complex musical pieces, dramatic performances, scientific and historical research, competing at the top level of state and national championships,
  • volunteered thousands of community service hours to support schools, community organizations and service facilities and,
  • so much more it’s impossible to begin to share it all.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/LZWtf4Cjmz0]

We know success in life demands far more than a proficient score on an SOL test, a high SAT or AP score or even a superior grade point average. It also requires the ability to solve problems, create products, debate answers to challenging questions, work effectively with diverse peers and persuasively communicate face-to-face and in multiple media. This road to success opens as soon as children enter our doors, some coming with all the resources a family might dream of providing their children and others with far less.

14magnificent

Yet, every one of our learners from our high school graduates to pre-schoolers were the beneficiaries of the work of an extraordinarily dedicated and skilled team of professionals……professionals with many different titles and responsibilities, work locations and backgrounds.  

 

 

 

Because of the unity of our educational communities – all twenty-six schools, operational departments, and instructional support – we are able to offer our young people our very best.

Thank you, Albemarle educators, for doing such an important job and doing it so incredibly well.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/HFQTDMBD7nY]


Educational Excellence: A Community Commitment to Our Future

Featured

Excellence in education is how any society prepares for a successful future. Whether we look near – the Virginia public education ideas pioneered by Thomas Jefferson – or further – the economic success in the 1950s and 1960s of states with large investments in education – or much further – nations such as Ireland which transformed their economies through education – we understand that great schools, and a commitment to education for all, are the pathway to both prosperity and democracy.

1688

Fifth Graders Raise the U.S. Flag Each Morning

Here in Albemarle County we have always known this as true, and we have consistently chosen to make such a community commitment to our future. That’s found in decisions to build new regional high schools in the 1970s and 1990s, to the aggressive replacement of aging elementary schools over past decades, to the wide support for our top quality programs including gifted programs, special education, English-language education, art, music, library services, physical education, world languages, and career-technical education. It’s also represented in a community belief in our customized programs such as our two charter schools, 3 STEM academies, CATEC, AVID (a program to prepare first generation college students), and Bright Stars pre-kindergarten programs.

IMG_6878

400 Student Musicians Now Play Strings in Albemarle County Schools

These commitments, joined to our promise of the kind of individualized support possible because of small class sizes and community schools, and linked to the continuous innovation which provides our students with contemporary skills, have led Albemarle County into a position of educational leadership which has supported this area becoming the most economically successful community in all of Central Virginia.

Albemarle County parents, educators, and our business community share a high standard of excellence in our educational aspirations for all Albemarle’s children, just as we share high expectations for our community’s future. That expected educational excellence means not just all those programs already mentioned, but also a broad range of top-notch extracurricular opportunities across athletics, arts, academics and clubs.

IMG_2193

Analytical Thinkers   At Work

It means keeping elementary and secondary students on separate buses and on separate start and end schedules in our schools. It means teachers being highly competent in not just their content areas but also in their expertise to work with every learner who enters our schools. It means competitive market compensation and professional training to recruit and retain top-notch employees. It means availability of the best learning resources in every classroom and library, both traditional and contemporary. It means maintaining our buildings and grounds so that we avert the high cost of maintenance when repairs are deferred and so that when people enter our schools they know that our taxpayers’ investments in infrastructure are valued through our care.

Excellence means that our educators work with our young people every day to meet community expectations for high performance benchmarked not just against Virginia’s standards but also compared to the top performing schools across the United States – the schools that graduate the young people our children will compete with for college admissions and for jobs as they move through their adult lives. And, excellence means that we support our educators so that they are sure to meet those performance benchmarks year after year in arts, academics, athletics, community service, and leadership.

The success of our schools – on every measure – is well documented. The honors for our work come continuously. But of most importance, we know that our commitment to excellence represents our community’s values – values which have been held dear despite a long season of recession over the past five years.

We know this because our community and business leaders have made it clear.

Our realtors know our Division adds value to real estate portfolios.  Just go to their websites.

“Add the gorgeous environment, more commercial development…, fabulous public school reputations at all three levels, and lack of development elsewhere in the county, Crozet became attractive to even folks commuting up 29N for NGIC and DIA positions.”

“Do better schools increase house prices? From my perspective as a Realtor in the Charlottesville area, the answer is yes. I have never had buyers tell me that they wanted to live in a bad school district; but virtually every single one – whether they have kids or not – wants to be in a good school district. Frankly, I don’t need metrics or analysis or data to support my conclusion; I know that people buying homes in Charlottesville and Albemarle want good schools.”

Our growing BioTech community and Charlottesville Business Innovation Council members support school programs and value our educators’ work that helps a regional tech economy grow.

Solution Finding

Solution Finding

Our local higher education and business community in general want to sustain public school excellence because great schools are an asset to the entire community, whether in recruiting employees or ensuring that families have access to excellent educational opportunities for their children.

“At the University of Virginia, it’s important to our faculty and staff to have strong local schools for their families. The University is also engaged in various partnership programs with local schools, and these partnerships have had a long-standing, mutually beneficial effect in our community.”   

                                 -President Teresa Sullivan, University of Virginia                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Our citizens, including the growing number of retirees locating here, want to sustain a highly successful and crime free community, one that provides a rich and vibrant culture in Mr. Jefferson’s home county. Rather than adding to a community’s social services and criminal justice costs, they know a well-educated workforce benefits a community’s quality of life. Because of our community’s commitment to educational excellence, rather than aspiring to average, the school division is touted as significant to why this county ranks as one of the best places to live, work, raise families, and retire in the United States.   
Educational excellence is the gold standard for top communities in the United States. Albemarle’s citizens know that. It’s why they support devoting resources to provide quality learning opportunities for all our children. And, that’s a legacy from Mr. Jefferson that still resonates today. 
 survey

T’is the Season for Endless Possibilities: Respect, Community, Excellence, Young People

Featured

Yancey1

For the SPCA

Yancey2

Kids making to support community service

In this season, our thoughts often turn to giving.

When I visit schools, I observe our children and their teachers offering their services in support of those who are less fortunate or whose circumstances prevent them from accessing community activities. This week while at B.F. Yancey Elementary, children were conducting a fundraiser for the SPCA by marketing handmade products to the school community.  Their hard-earned eighty-eight dollars goes to supporting animals in need at the shelter. Learning in our schools extends well beyond working on Virginia Standards of Learning content. We also are committed to realizing our values in the work of young people as they acquire the competencies of lifelong learning – regardless of the season.

Teachers work year-round with children to learn what it means to take care of each other in the community. We want the community norm to be that our children show positive care and concern for each other, take responsibility to keep each other safe, and be kind. After listening to a radio show on this topic, Mimi Fitzpatrick at Brownsville Elementary decided to introduce her children to the Newtown Kindness Organization and engage them in creating and producing their own video to the tune Nothing More, challenging them to bring positive energy to their own sense of community responsibility.

Ms. Fitzpatrick teaches her children to use contemporary communication tools as a part of developing literary. Her classroom functions using the Responsive Classroom approach which is implemented across the division in elementary schools.

Her reflective post on what her third graders learned from this project follows:

Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s Classroom Blog

Endless Possibilities

A few weeks ago, while listening to the radio on my morning drive to school, I heard an incredible song. Not only does it have a good tune, but its message is also inspiring and simple which makes it that much more powerful. The first line that really stuck with me says, “We are how we treat each other when the day is done.”  This line is repeated in the refrain, and combined with so many other great tidbits, that by the time the song was over I knew I had to do something to pass this song on to my kiddos, and in turn the rest of the world.  My first thoughts involved an auditorium full of 700+ melodic students and even more joyful, yet sobbing parents.  While I still think this is a great idea, I gave it a little more thought, and started trying to find a little more information on the song.

 As it turns out, the band called The Alternate Routes created their song Nothing More in an effort to support the Newtown Kindness Organization. This organization has taken on the mission of fostering and spreading kindness throughout the world by starting with children.  The Alternate Routes put out a request for people to sync their own home videos to the song, and pass it on to spread the message.  Once I saw this it helped me figure out what our work with this song might look like in the classroom.

The kids’ first exposure to the song was during our morning meeting.  We thought about what the lines might mean and visualized what they could look like in our lives at school and at home, and in the world around us.

I also typed up the lyrics and put them into our reading centers this week.  Students worked on reading the lyrics fluently, paying attention to phrases and reading with emphasis and expression.  They also worked on an educational art project at another reading center, in which they chose their favorite line, and drew what they visualized when they thought about that line.  Our readers are constantly working on improving their fluency and comprehension, so these activities fit in seamlessly. We are also lucky to have an amazing resource at our school called the Innovation Lounge, where the kids were able to collaborate and create short video clips using iPods. While they worked together to act out and record what they visualized, I got to stand back and record the real thing– kids working together, and solving problems together!  Wooohooo!!


When we thought more about the song and what different lyrics meant, it seemed that opportunities continued to pop up for teachable moments.  We all started noticing small things we do each day to keep the cycle of kindness going, like holding the door for the person behind us, helping someone when they fall over, or asking someone new to play.

We were also able to use it to help us solve problems in better ways. After a touchdown celebration was taken too far at recess, we were able to say, “It’s like that line: To be humble, to be kind. Let’s see if we can think of a better way to do that.” Also, after feelings were hurt in the lunchroom, the line “to be bold, to be brave,” came to mind when the boys decided to stand up for their friend.  The possibilities are endless!

With all of the contributions from the kids, and the candid videos I shot throughout the week, I was able to slap together a video that we have all been quite proud of.  It can be seen here. We hope you enjoy it!

You can find out more about the Newtown Kindness Organization and The Alternate Routes’ song on their website or on YouTube.

To read more from Ms. Fitzpatrick’s blog, you can find her writing here.

A New Year Begins

Featured

The opening of a new school year always brings joy, passion, and excitement to our educators’ work with young people. As I visit each school across Albemarle County, I see brightness captured in our children’s eyes, a quickness to their step as they enter new classrooms, and enthusiasm in their voices as they embrace interesting ideas and questions that challenge them to think. Albemarle educators value our children acquiring the competencies of lifelong learning readiness. When our current pre-schoolers graduate in 2027, we want them to be ready for a world that will be different than the one we know today.

spanishlesson

Kindergarten Spanish Lesson

If any one variable has changed the world over the last decade, most people would say it is technological advances. Whether considering the workforce, the home and community, politics, the economy, or communication media, technology advances have changed the way we cook, drive, work, communicate, entertain, vote, travel, purchase, pay, and learn. From agri-business to engineering, no sector is unchanged.

Slide1

Parents and educators alike want our children to be well educated for their century.  We know that despite the advances of technology as learning tools, the quality of teaching remains a vital factor to achieving our dream to unleash the learning potential of every child enrolled in our schools. This means investing in the training educators need to continue to advance and develop skills and expertise.  This summer and on work days before school started, teachers participated in professional training to deepen content knowledge, focus on new curricular standards, and refine performance assessments for use with students during the year.

agnorhurt

Agnor-Hurt Educators Welcome Back Young Learners

This year, four schools – Monticello High and Walton, Burley and Jouett Middle Schools – are using 1:1 learning technologies with certain grade levels. Elementary school educators in every school are working to incorporate “hands-on” learning experiences across the curricula so that young learners have opportunities to create, build, design, and make using traditional and contemporary learning tools.  Cale Elementary continues to pilot bilingual language learning as a pilot in anticipation of expanding second language learning in more elementary schools in the future. Four middle schools – Henley, Sutherland, Walton, and Jouett –  have new learning labs where students will explore topics including advanced manufacturing and project based learning in math. Western Albemarle staff are working this year to design and develop a third academy to be made available to our county high school learners next year – an environmental studies center. Every school has renovated spaces – libraries, cafeterias, art rooms, inquiry labs, technical education, project areas – designed for contemporary learners and learning. At Albemarle High a new writing studio was created as part of the library suite, a space where students can work with peers to improve writing skills and pursue interests in personal writing.

CATEC builders

CATEC Design/Builders

This renewed focus on active learning by our students emerges from the Board’s revised strategic plan, Horizon 2020, which sets in place the Division’s next steps in determining the optimal use of resources, implementation of balanced assessments, expansion of partnerships, and improvement of opportunity and achievement among all learners.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/6ykaemEp6nM]

 

In identifying new strategic objectives, the Board, educators, parents and community partners who participated in development of Horizon 2020 believe that our young people must graduate from our schools capable and competent to embrace learning across a lifetime, unleashing their potential to pursue career options, post-secondary education, and adult citizenship with all the enthusiasm and excitement they brought with them when they first entered our schools.

lifelonglearning

A Summer of Learning in Albemarle Schools

Featured

“… Design and thinking is … idea of making creative leaps to come up with  a solution… allows people to not just be problem solvers with explicit, but also tacit knowledge… they are learning by doing… coming up with solutions by making things.”

Bill Moggridge, former Director (deceased)                  Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum                  Design and Thinking, the Movie

Coder Dojo Maker

Coder Dojo Tech Girl and Mentor

Public educators and young people have lived in a world defined by standardized test results for well over a decade. We now see millennial educators entering our profession, having grown up in what I sometimes refer to as the “test prep” generation. They, in many cases, never experienced some of the learning opportunities that older generation teachers remember or experienced themselves as children.  In many public schools, field trips, school plays, guest speakers, in-depth discussions, inquiry projects and hands-on activities no longer exist.  In others, professional positions from art teachers to librarians have disappeared from America’s school staffs. Remember the recess play that once was the norm in elementary schools, but now often is the exception.

Albemarle educators and students are fortunate our School Board values and supports engaging and enriching work for our young people.

Consider time. Consider resources. Consider children.

A Summer for Young Makers

[youtube=http://youtu.be/GL68JrXQLQ4]

This summer, I’ve had a unique opportunity to watch children of all ages across my division engage in a different kind of “summer school” curricula,  Our students have created, designed, built, engineered, produced, played, marketed, and contributed as they have worked to make, take apart, problem-solve, and understand what it means to learn through your hands and mind. In doing so, they’ve used math, science, writing, reading, social studies, movement and the arts in their learning – whether measuring boards down to the fraction or following recipes. I’ve walked spaces where children are improvising jazz for the first time, learning how to use a drill, making soap, constructing squishy LED circuits, designing cardboard buildings and arcades, building robots in every form and material imaginable, and programming in computer code from Scratch to Python.

Maker Corps and Maker KidsMaker Corps and Maker Kids

Four elementary summer programs were fueled by our Maker Corps affiliation with MakerEdOrg. In  another elementary school, children both made and marketed their wares to raise funds to donate to the SPCA. A group of high school students participated in a Leadership Academy designed to infuse a cadre of diverse teen leaders into their schools. They created leadership teams and designed a project to wash cars, earning money for Habitat for Humanity. Over 800 learners ages 5-18, worked in multi-age Coder Dojos to develop and extend coding skills; making games, websites, and tech programs. Middle school summer schoolers participated in cooking classes, learning all sorts of key math and reading skills along the way. In our award-winning M-cubed program, middle school boys built and tested their gravity-powered roller coasters, experimenting with energy, force, motion, and slope. And, the jazz makers – kids who came together for two weeks in beginning to advanced jazz camps – culminated their summer learning with a free concert at the downtown pavilion.

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

A Spark that Inspires Teachers and Learners

The educators who worked with our young people this summer say “these kids have been so engaged, fun, excited, curious, hardworking, and collaborative. And, some are kids who really struggle with ‘doing school behaviors’ during the regular year.” Rather than a summer school experience centered in tutorials and repetitive practice work designed around standardized tests, our kids have built complex language through experiential learning in rich environments, as they’ve been challenged to use math, science, history, and the language arts as they’ve designed and created – everything from jazz to video games.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/iC9Gf1Ujjig]

Why are we focusing on teachers using make to learn and learn to make strategies as a pathway to lifelong learning rather than the current test prep mania? Because educators everywhere know that children who are bored by school work, turned off by worksheets, tired of listening to mostly teacher talk, and stripped of opportunities to stretch their hands and minds are kids who struggle to sustain attention and value learning. Some master effective “doing school behaviors” and obtain decent grades but may also often feel disconnected from joy and passion as they work.

Boredom in school is the number one reason listed by dropouts for dropping out. It’s even felt by our top students – not because of content lacking rigor. Rather, it’s because teachers today feel compelled to fly through a scope and sequence of standards so their students acquire information paced to cover what they need for a test one spring day. Teachers often feel compelled, if not required, to subtract from their teaching the very things that engage and entice children as learners – field trips, special guests, extended discussion of interesting topics, hands-on projects, inquiry activities, and interdisciplinary opportunities.  In subtracting school experiences that enrich and extend learning, opportunity gaps between middle class children and children living in economically disadvantaged homes only grow wider.

Leadership Academy

Leadership Academy

Why is it that big, huge corporations get beat by kids in garages? … because they’re inventing the future.”

Roger Martin, Dean                                                   Rotman School of Management                                        Design and Thinking, the Movie
                                                                                                                              

[youtube=http://youtu.be/vJxckkiPf6Y]

Making is a process, not a “one-right answer” end in mind. It’s a process of learning,  developing knowledge, pursuing interests, and developing the confidence and resilience that comes with making mistakes, too. It’s not a bottom line of just measuring what students know through standardized test results. Rather, it’s a bottom line in which lifelong learning is assessed when kids show what they can do with what they know on performance tasks that are far more demanding of both skill and knowledge.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/vWEiY81Qw58]

Making is the fuel of America’s inventive spirit; its citizen-thinkers, workforce, entrepreneurs, artists, and solution-finders. It always has been. However, we are concerned about data indicated that the creativity of our nation’s youth is at an all time low. We are concerned that America has a three-year decline in patents filed at the US Patent Office and for the first time in history fewer patents filed than the rest of the world.

That’s why we value our kids spending time as active makers of their own learning – a competency built for a lifetime.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/oC-uqFmPKY0]

Irene is a graduate of AHS, a Duke University student, and a member of the first U.S. Maker Corps.

Swinging Open the Door to Opportunity for Each Learner: 2012-13 Budget Process

Awaken the Possibilities

In our elementary school classes, children often write down what their “hopes and dreams” are for learning at the beginning of the school year. Dreams are not just about the distant future, but also about the here and now. While walking with a principal in the fall, this “dream” for learning posted by a fourth grader caught our attention:

I want to be a computer creator when I grow up. I want to learn how to draw, and use technology, and do long division really well.

young mathematicians

As educators, we want our young people to graduate ready for any opportunity they choose to pursue. We also want our graduates to enter adult citizenship with a commitment to contributing to their communities.

While visiting Brownsville Elementary, I ran into a Western Albemarle junior who shared his dreams for his future with me. Already a committed community volunteer, he has assisted teachers at Brownsville weekly since sixth grade. He said to me, “I’ve wanted to be a teacher for as long as I remember.” This young man can describe choices of excellent teaching programs in Virginia’s colleges and the path he intends to take to become a teacher.

Musician at Play

Every dollar of our budget should help each child get closer to making his or her learning dreams become reality whether it is to become a “computer creator” or a teacher.

Our young people’s stories remind us to keep their faces in front of the numbers in the division’s budget. Educators own the key responsibility of public education in America: to keep doors open as wide as possible for learners to pursue and realize their dreams. By making learning accessible, we help each young person develop the knowledge and skills needed to optimize a range of opportunities available after graduation.

Education Opens Doors to Opportunities

Continue reading

On Being Thankful

As we head into Thanksgiving week, I am reminded as I visit with educators and learners that we have much for which to be thankful in Albemarle County.

“Reading is expensive. When your family can’t afford books or they don’t live near a  library, it’s a lot harder to learn to read.“ Recently, a senior shared with me the significant challenges that she has faced in living below the poverty line in our community. As she shared her aspirations to attend an Ivy League school, I listened to her describe growing up in an isolated area of the county, “The first time I remember going to Charlottesville was on a field trip when I was nine years old.” It’s hard to imagine given the many resources available to most of us living in our community that this could be true.

The young woman described teachers from elementary through high school who saw and nurtured potential in her. As she expressed her thanks for the enriching opportunities that she’s had, she shared that she now tutors younger children so that they might have the same chance she’s received to find a pathway to college. I know this young woman is banking on a full scholarship to make her college dreams come true, but she has many committed educators and a caring mom in her corner to help her.  I am thankful for those who saw this young woman’s potential – not simply a child living in poverty who came to school with little of the background knowledge and experiences of her middle class peers who are in advanced courses with her today.

“I like science this year.” The student carefully dropped food coloring into two beakers, one filled with cold water and one with warm water.  A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to visit the class of a young teacher who is new to our school division. He had set up lab activities so his students could explore three critical concepts related to heat transfer. Without the lab activities, the students could have memorized definitions, cited examples of the concepts, and taken a test to demonstrate their recall of the information. With the lab activities, they experienced first-hand the meaning of conduction, convection, and radiation.

The teacher emailed me afterwards with thoughts of what he would like to do next to add even more science project work to his teaching so that students will be actively engaged in science.  I hope an energetic generation of young educators will move into our schools as the Baby Boomer generation retires from classrooms across the United States and in our community, too. I am thankful that this young teacher chose our community as a place to live and work.

lab work

“I disagree with _____ because I think there’s too much pressure on young athletes to practice all the time. I know several friends who have quit soccer because of it.” The middle school students, seated in chairs facing each other, were engaged in an AVID (Acceleration Via Individual Determination) activity called philosophical chairs. In this activity, students read a selection and prepare their own responses so that they can engage in discussion and debate with peers. In this case, the article came from Scholastic Magazine, a report of student polling data regarding the impact of intense sports programming. The students took apart the selection, agreeing and disagreeing with each other for almost an hour. Afterwards, they wrote individually about what they learned from the discussion in response to questions posed by the teacher.

I later attend a session of staff meeting with AVID program supervisors who visited our schools to check on the success of the program. The visiting educators gave the two programs they observe at Jack Jouett Middle and Albemarle High a “two-thumbs up.” They recommended to principals that teachers prominently display diplomas and other memorabilia from their own colleges to encourage AVID students to see college as a viable option in their own lives. I am thankful that learners in our schools with the potential to be the first in their family to attend college both have the chance to pursue that dream and to receive the support they need to do so.

Analysis of a Reading Selection

Every school in Albemarle County has success stories of students and educators who engage in making the Mission of our school division more than words in a document or on a poster.

“The core purpose of Albemarle County Public Schools is to establish a community of learners and learning, through relationships, rigor, and relevance, one student at a time.”

These words are backed up with data about the performance of our young people in academic programs, the visual and performing arts, career and technical education, leadership and community service, and athletic activities.  From the four-year olds we serve in Pre-kindergarten to seniors poised to walk across the graduation stage in June, the young people of Albemarle County Public Schools are served well by educators in our schools.

Everyone in this community should be proud of the accomplishments of young people and the investment we make in them and those who teach. Our children represent America’s future and, in this season, I am reminded that we should give thanks for all our learners and their accomplishments.