A Year of Extraordinary Learning

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The World Is at Our Learners’ Fingertips

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Bookless Libraries: A Skyping Session with Texas

contributed by Mr. Keith Ellen, 7th grade language arts, Burley Middle School

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Recently, our Media Specialist, Sarah Severs approached me with an offer to Skype with a librarian in San Antonio, Texas.  The new public library there, Bibliotech, has the distinction of being the country’s first public library to go “book-less.”  The idea was that I would include my 7th grade advanced/honors language arts class would be part of the cross-country conversation.

A Natural Connection to Research

I immediately realized that in order for my students to be active participants in the conversation, they needed to develop a sense of ownership and truly believe their input to be valuable, they needed to become knowledgeable.  This allowed me to make the research process they worked on earlier in the year much more real and practical now.  Using their internet searching skills, students easily found information on the specific library as well as other places who were considering going the same route as Bibliotech.  As they read, they developed questions that were leading and higher order.  At first, they simply recorded any and all questions with little regard to wording.  Students then got in groups and chose the ones they felt were best.  Then, as a class, we worked on editing the best questions and students volunteered to ask the questions during the interview.

Fieldtrip To Texas

Catarina Velasquez, Community Relations Liaison for the library, first lead us on a guided, virtual fieldtrip of the facilities.  We immediately noticed the enormous amount of open space (obviously due to the lack of bookshelves).  We were all very impressed with this immaculate facility.  It was apparent San Antonio spared little expense as everything seemed to be done on a much grander scale.  It’s certainly not your mother’s library!  From the interactive 40 inch touchscreen monitors that are set up for younger children to the gaming area complete with multiple x-box consoles to the computer lab boasting 28 inch monitors attached to 48 Macs that allow the user to switch between Apple’s operating system and Windows.  Of course, as Ms. Velasquez continued her tour, many students were still stuck on the idea of being able to play video games at the library!

A Look Into the Future

As we were debriefing, students and teachers alike began to toss around the ways in which we could incorporate some of the amenities into our school media centers.  One thing getting lots of attention was the ability to “check out” books without an actual trip to the library, something our local public library now incorporates.  Overwhelmingly, the conclusion was reached that whatever path we follow, much thought and consideration should be placed on remember that not everyone learns in the same way.  Many students shared they still enjoy the “comfort” of reading a book the traditional way and they would not want that option to be completely taken away.  I have to agree, although there are many benefits of going partially digital as well.

Skyping Session with BiblioTech

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Weeks before, we were told that we would be given the opportunity to Skype a public library in San Antanio, Texas. Our class was told that it wasn’t just some library, it was an all digital library! Days before, we wrote facts and information on the white board and did tons of research. Seeing pictures, I personally thought it wasn’t real because it seemed too good to be true! Just before the Skype call, we set up two computers at our school library. One was broadcasting while the other was Skyping. Our class was anxious to see what the library would be like and who would be on the other side.

Before the call, my thoughts at first were that it was impossible, too many problems. That’s why, before we went to go talk to them, we wrote a lot of questions that we curious for answers for . As we Skyped, I wanted to go there because it seemed so new and high tech! They even had moving tables there! I think the modern look and furniture would work for Burley!

A while ago, my class had a conversation with the librarian of Bibliotech, a library in Texas that has gone completely digital.  Instead of checking out physical books, you download them onto your e-reader for a short period of time. If you don’t have an e-reader, you can check one out. But the library isn’t just for checking out books- there is a large study area with computers if you have a school project to work on, or something else. They have interactive tablets with educational games for small children, and an x-box for older kids. They even have a cafe in the library! They are one of the first libraries to go all digital, but I doubt the last. I would prefer an old-fashioned book over an e-book, but I would be fine either way. As for our school library, I don’t think it would work. It would take a lot of time and money to change over, and for a school, I don’t think it would work as well. Students take their books into class and read all the time, but you can’t do that with an e-reader, because the teacher doesn’t know if you’re actually reading or not. So for a school library, I don’t think it would be very practical, but for a public library like Bibliotech, it might just work.

 

Thanks for visiting!

 

 

 

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

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For the SPCA

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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.

Learning by Doing for Students and Teachers Alike: Education for this Century

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May is one of the busiest school months in the year. It’s a time when the learning that has been growing all year comes together for young people and they have opportunities to show what they know, understand, and can do. Recently, I heard a medical professor who teaches at the University of Virginia comment that students need to “show what they can do – the know should be embedded in that.”  What this professor describes as learning represents far more than what can be measured in the new, more difficult multiple choice SOL tests being rolled out by the Virginia Department of Education.

IMG_3561Instead of focus upon standardized tests with limited response choices provided by outside “test examiners”, teachers across Albemarle are using more contextual opportunities for young people to show what they’ve learned through performance tasks, projects, portfolios and analytical writing and problem-solving that integrate content from curricula. This kind of deep learning represents competencies essential for young people to be successful after graduation, even though such learning can’t be easily or efficiently tabulated and converted into test score data.

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Educators and parents know that children are not “test scores,” and that traditional tests only capture a slice of what young people need to become adults who can draw upon lifelong learning competencies associated with excellent communication, sustained creativity, critical thought and actions, and collaboration within diverse teams – all of which are important in the contemporary workforce, communities, homes, and post-secondary education.

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 Young people create videos, blog, and build “livebinders” to share and show learning. They complete performance tasks and teachers use rubrics to assess their specific skills and knowledge. Learners ask questions, conduct research, and develop projects individually and collaboratively, using both creative and critical thought processes. Parents and teachers see evidence of students’ learning at Quest Fests, Inquiry and STEAM Fairs, History Expositions and Arts Festivals. Learning jumps out from musical and drama performances by elementary singers, middle school orchestra musicians, and thespians. They are not just performers, but also producers.

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

Young people who are inspired learners will search, connect, make, and communicate with passion and interest, not because of school compliance. It’s why educators in Albemarle County Public Schools believe that learning in this century must represent what students can do, not just remember. However, it takes time for teachers to redesign spaces, shift teaching, and learn to use technologies to promote interactive and engaged learning. That’s why educators at Red Hill Elementary are working in teams this year to collaboratively learn from each other. Principal Art Stow has flipped faculty meetings so that teachers have time to do the important work necessary to educate young people for their century, not the past.He sees this as an important shift for the teachers and for him. Here’s what he wrote in a recent post.

Red Hill Elementary – Principal’s Blog

How Teachers and Students Learn Alike

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Teachers and students learn and work using similar strategies. Principals are lucky people. We get to visit classrooms any time we want, so we get to see great things happening everyday we are at work! As a principal, I learn so much when I enter a classroom. I see the effective strategies that teachers use when grouping and creating work stations for students to develop skills, collaborate on projects and work through problem solving activities. So I’ve learned, if this approach works with kids, then it can certainly work with adults. As a result, at our faculty meetings, like today, there will be time for discussion and group input, but there will also be time set aside, in “work stations” for teachers to collaborate, choose, and check some things off that mile long to do list. It’s a great place to be when working together means learning together. Three cheers for SCHOOL!

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Just the Facts: The 2013-14 School Board Funding Request

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If it’s February, it must be … Albemarle County’s budget development season.

The School Board has approved its funding request for 2013-14 and moved it forward to the Board of Supervisors for consideration. This “maintenance of effort” proposal, based on input and feedback from advisory groups and staff represents continued division work to meet the School Board’s Vision, Mission, Goals and Core Values for our young people.

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The School Board funding request includes a commitment to increasing staff so that class sizes remain low – despite the trending growth in the numbers of children enrolled in our schools.

It also represents the cost of doing business to address increased costs such as health insurance. 

Finally, it represents unfunded mandates from DC and Richmond such as the Governor’s mandated salary increase of 5% last year that offsets the pass-on cost to localities of the state-mandated public employee 5% contribution to the Virginia Retirement System. Such mandates add costs to the overall budget to implement federal and state initiatives, ones that often wouldn’t be the highest priorities of the community, educators, or the School Board.

Other facts associated with the 2013-14 School Board funding request

1. We are allocating less revenue per student now than five years ago, despite inflation in the cost of doing business. In the 2008-09 budget, we allocated $11,819. For 2013-14, we estimate allocating $11,691. 

2. Current projected revenues for 2013-14 are $154,077,551. The current projected expenses are $155,444,689. The funding gap is $ (1,367,138.)

3. Student enrollment is expected to grow by 203 students from 2012 to 2013-14. The  budget includes staffing needed to address increases in student population. This includes staffing to address:

  • increased staffing needed for programs such as elementary arts in larger elementary schools such as Brownsville and Cale to maintain parity of service
  • administrative staffing to account for growth at Henley Middle School
  • special education staff to support increased service needs across schools
  • ESOL staffing to support increased service needs across schools to second language learners
  • intervention staffing to restore at-risk tutoring services needed in middle and high schools due to increased numbers of at-risk students.

4.  We also match funds with the Police Dept. to restore a middle school resource officer.

5.  The only instructional initiative that is new also represents a mandate from the General Assembly that the ninth grade class of 2013-14 will be required to complete a virtual learning course before graduation. To implement this initiative, we will need to add instructional resources, train teachers, and support program development. The cost is estimated at $248,135. This initiative also represents how technologies will transform learning in the next five years through blended face-to-face and virtual learning.

6. Both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board have proposed a 2% raise for employees. This addresses both the Governor’s 2% salary initiative for educators and competitive market strategy adopted within joint Board personnel policy.

The Future

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We live in a time in which the increasing shifts in how technologies are used in every business sector and in homes and communities has more and more influence upon learning opportunities for young people. The quality of teaching, however, remains the most important factor that we can control inside our schools. Teaching quality is directly related to educators who develop and hone expertise in using new learning tools, teaching strategies, and use of space to create opportunities for contemporary learners to excel and embrace learning. Just as with employees in other business sectors, educators must be learning all the time to stay abreast of new tools and strategies for accomplishing their daily work.

In another five years, “one to one” technologies will be more ubiquitous across school districts nationally as textbooks and other paper print resources are eliminated, just as Encyclopedia Britannica no longer is for sale in a paper print version. The workforce our children will enter likely will be fueled by a new generation of American manufacturing advanced through the emerging technologies of 3-D printers and digital fabrication. There will be future changes we can’t even imagine today just as many of us couldn’t imagine just a few years ago the virtual shift to today’s online purchases and banking, social media communication, and vehicular navigation systems.

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Programming 3-D printers

Redesigning existing school facilities and designing new facilities is necessary along with creation of the infrastructure to support the technology applications that advance annually. A comprehensive professional development program for educators must be well-funded to ensure that teaching quality is sustained as the skills and competencies of teachers are critical for sustaining the best learning available to our students. Programs such as elementary world languages are important to ensure that our young people bring high level of competencies to sustain American competitiveness in a global economy.

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The current funding request under consideration in this budget cycle maintains the costs of doing business, meeting mandates, and addressing growth. However, it does not address the transition of today’s schools from a model for learning more suitable to the needs of 20th century learners to a model for children attending our schools in 2013. And, that’s a fact.

Learning Beyond the Walls: Skype Comes to Band Class

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At Henley Middle School, band director Kate Meier has worked with band director Andrew LaPrade at Burley Middle School to use Skype to “live” broadcast young musicians’ practice of concert pieces –  with the purpose of sharing music feedback with each other. It’s professional learning for the band directors but also a learning opportunity for their middle school students.

In his most recent blog post, Henley principal Dr. Pat McLaughlin describes an administrative observation of how Ms. Meier has taken her young musicians’ practice sessions beyond the band room walls – virtually.

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Lessons We Loved from Henley Middle School 

 Each week in our internal staff newsletter, Jason Crutchfield, our assistant principal, and I try to highlight a staff member who we observed teaching a great lesson.  I think it’s important to begin sharing those lessons out with the community via this blog so that all of you can help us celebrate our incredible staff.  We’ll be starting that this week and hopefully continuing it quite often in the coming year.

Today’s lesson write up comes from Mr. Crutchfield:

“Smile, We See You”

No more poor behavior in band class; students are being watched. That is because Kate Meier and Richard Baritaud have been collaborating in their district wide PLCs’ (Professional Learning Communities) to “broadcast” their performances for each other.

This work began in CAI (the division’s Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction professional development institute) with the development of performance tasks for music groups. Music directors in Albemarle thought it would be a good idea to have their groups perform pieces for each other using sites like SKYPE to observe performances. Students would have a selection to play that they haven’t seen before while another band/orchestra watches remotely from their own school.  The plan is to have students observe and document their assessments of each other using the precise terminology the judges will use during district band assessments.

I was able to observe the trial run in Mrs. Meier’s classroom this past month. She collaborated with the band director at Burley Middle and their symphonic band. Our students were highly energized by the prospects of this lesson. They waited patiently as Mrs. Meier worked out technicalities of the hardware. As they experienced minor tech delays, Mrs. Meier’s patience was the hero of this lesson. Once SKYPE was up and running, Henley’s Symphonic band played their piece. Once complete, Burley’s band members were able to come to the microphone and give feedback using the precise language that their district judges will be using next semester. The process was reciprocated and our students were able to provide accurate and constructive feedback as well.

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… And now more on Virginia’s and Albemarle’s focus on virtual learning development

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Virtual learning often is thought of as a student sitting in front of a computer working through screen pages to read and respond to course content. This may have been true ten years ago, but Albemarle’s contemporary educators are using a variety of virtual learning tools to extend learning connectivity with other educators as well as other young learners inside and outside the school division.

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Skyping with an educational purpose in mind offers such opportunities for learning and our pioneering teachers are trying out these tools.

Last year, students in a Modern Issues in the World course at AHS Skyped with an Egyptologist to engage in dialogue about the push there to democratize Egypt. They compared and contrasted his reactions to how early American revolutionaries might have felt as the American Revolution unfolded. Kindergarteners at Greer, Broadus Wood, and Meriwether Lewis Elementary Schools routinely Skype with each other to share their work in class – their artwork, building structures, math, favorite picture books, and writing.

A New Virtual Requirement: Va High School Students

The Commonwealth of Virginia will require all students entering ninth grade in 2013-14 to graduate with at least one virtual, or online, course on their transcript. Most of our young people already live in a world of virtual social communication and entertainment. Shifting students’ to see and value purposeful learning uses of technologies means educators have to learn to use such technologies for learning as well. This requirement means our Division must training for teachers, tools and access for students, and information to help parents support their children to be successful in such courses, a budget initiative for 2013-14.

Using virtual technologies and tools for learning may challenge some of today’s educators, particularly given the rapid evolution of such technologies. We here in Albemarle County Public Schools are fortunate to have teachers such as Ms. Meiers and Mr. LaPrade helping to lead the way.

In Students’ Voices: the Power of Student Led Conferences

This year in my blog I am featuring writers from across our schools  – educators and learners alike. I recently was perusing the Sutherland Middle School Blog site, one that is run by students for students as well as the greater community. In fact, in one blog post this fall, the student bloggers, Sydney, Lauren, Sara, Kathryn, and Nan, documented the global hits on their blog page to show their audience isn’t just our local community, but an international community. In an earlier post this fall, they interviewed and videotaped comments from students in Mrs. Harris’ classes about their participation in student led conferences.

Teachers in a number of our schools have actively involved students in conferences with parents so that our learners have the opportunity to share their successes and areas for improvement with parents. Greer Elementary is one such school and in past years, all children from pre-kindergarteners to fifth graders have had the chance to show their portfolios to parents  and describe what they know, understand and can do as learners.

I selected this sample post from the Sutherland Middle School October blog about Mrs. Harris’ effort to engage young people in assessing their progress in school. I particularly appreciate that middle school students learn from the experience that they have important information to share about what and how well they are learning as well as to share learning goals with parents. In the student led conference format, they are not just listeners to their parents and their teacher talking about them. As active participants they have planned what they intend to say and share. In doing so, they must reflect on choices they’ve made, work ethic, challenges they’ve faced, successes they’ve experienced, and why their own commitment to learning is key to their effort. Here’s the student bloggers’ post and video:

 About Us

This blog is run by a group of Sutherland students. Its purpose is to share with the community what is going on at school.

If you have any compliments, concerns, or complaints please email us at sharkyearbook@gmail.com. Thanks.

 

Parent Conferences

 
The second night of parent / teacher conferences is tonight from. 4:30 -7:30 and teachers along with some students are getting prepared.  One teacher, Ms. Harris, does her conferences a little differently than the other teachers.  Ms.Harris’ students participate in student lead conferences where the kids not the teacher leads the conference to tell the parents how they are doing in class.  We interviewed some students to explain how this works and it’s effectiveness.
 
 
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Making the World’s History Real: China Past, Present, Future

Ms. Mulcahy

Elizabeth Mulcahy, Western Albemarle teacher, is one of those great educators and teacher leaders working in Albemarle County Public Schools who looks for ways to make the World History curriculum she teaches as relevant, interesting and challenging as possible for her students. She believes in project-based learning and is a supporter of the National History Day program as a tool for building great research and presentation skills in the young people she serves as a teacher. As a colleague says about Ms Mulcahy, “she brings history alive.” In a day and age when we hear media complaints about children not knowing their own nation’s or world history, teachers such as Ms. Mulcahy work daily to make our history/social studies program one that engages and interests our learners.

learning relevance and challenge is key

I heard a high school student who attended the Albemarle Leadership Academy this past summer comment recently to teachers in a Making Connections professional learning session that “It’s teachers who are passionate about their work and love what they are doing who create passion for learning in us.” Such teachers, as this young woman describes, build strong teaching relationships with students, learning relationships among students, and  a connection between the content they teach and the students in the class.

I had the chance to hear Ms. Mulcahy speak to regional superintendents recently about an educational trip she took over the summer to visit the People’s Republic of China through the University of Virginia School-University Partnership. She applied for and was awarded a merit scholarship to cover her expenses. In the session with superintendents, she noted that Chinese educators were asking our U.S. educators how to enhance creativity and thinking in their classes, rather than continuing the low-level test prep curricula that has dominated their instruction for decades. The Chinese understand it’s the inventors, idea-generators, designers, researchers, engineers, and builders who will own the future of the 21st century, not those who simply can do the factory work of present-day China. We educators know from Shift Happens that the top 15% of students in China or India exceeds the number of students in the entire United States. This is why we believe that every student in our schools has to graduate with the competitive competencies of lifelong learners and are ready to enter the workforce, post-secondary education, and adult citizenship; Goal I of our strategic planning.

Ms. Mulcahy also spoke about how she is both adding more relevant exploration and understanding of China topics into her world history program as the result of her trip.  At the November 8 School Board meeting, Ms. Mulcahy was “spotlighted” for her professional work and had the chance to share her experiences and expertise with the School Board.  Here’s a short  post at her blog about her trip and a video showing what the educators saw in China:

A Husband’s Dream

After returning from my first trip to Asia, I realized that one of my husband’s greatest dreams can be achieved in China.  He could have Kentucky Fried Chicken delivered to him at pretty much any time of day.  As I quickly took a picture of the KFC bike delivery guy I realized what a small world we really do live in.  For seven years I have been attempting to teach world history to high school students who have never seen the world.  US history is easier.  Students can pronounce the name George and they can walk on a Civil War battlefield with just a small drive.  By making their backyards the classroom they can experience history for themselves and are naturally more connected.  The same is not true for World History, especially when trying to describe the Sahara Desert or pronounce Qin ShiHuang.  It is up to the teacher to try and make the world small enough for students to create one history for them to experience and find their place within.  My goal as an educator is to help my students realize their dreams and passions even if it is a KFC delivery bike on the streets of Shanghai.

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Thank you Ms. Mulcahy for sharing your perspectives!

Moving, Math and Literacy: Brownsville Physical Educators Lead the Way

Educators in Albemarle County Public Schools create learning opportunities for children to acquire Lifelong Learning Competencies. We believe that physical education offers a pathway for children to engage in movement activities that support development of math and literacy skills, while providing healthy exercise which we know is a critical aspect of both academic learning and sustaining a healthy lifestyle over a lifetime. The Physical Education program at Brownsville Elementary offers wonderful examples of how the physical education teachers engage children in challenging, interesting and interactive learning. I know you will enjoy reading this narrative they constructed about their work with children.

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Integrating PE with language arts and math supports our mission at Brownsville Elementary School to create lifelong learners who realize that learning is interdisciplinary.

One of the ways we integrate math in the early grades is to play a well-known P.E. game called “Clean up the Backyard.”  This game happens at the end of an activity when we have the students place the balls on a line on their side.  Initially we just have them count the balls.  Then we might have them place them in groups and we count by twos, threes, fours etc.  Eventually we just say we have 5 sets of 3 balls, or 5 x 3.

How many do we have below? Can children think like mathematicians even when they’re in PE class? We think so.

 This year in PE we are measuring everything as we integrate Lifelong Learning Skills of estimation and measurement into our lessons and activities.  We estimate the length and width of various PE equipment and objects, and we have the kids vote on the closest and most reasonable estimations. Then we measure a space or something like a volleyball net. In doing this we are creating reference points so that hopefully the students will later be able to look at a distance or space and have some idea what unit of measurement they will want to use when measuring.

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Another thing the students enjoy doing is trying to jump their height.  First students measure their height, and then they try to jump that distance. They come up with lots of different ways of doing this!

                           

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In one of our students’ favorite games, “Builders and Destroyers”, the students earn bricks by doing exercises and running laps.  They then work with their team mates to build towers.  In the final stage of the game, the students get to throw a ball to try to knock over their opponents’ towers.  The students then measure the surviving towers’ dimensions to determine a winner.  It is always interesting to see them work to build the tallest, yet sturdiest, tower, and then to measure it afterwards.  In the picture below, this team designed their tower so that the smallest side of the tower faced the throwers; it ended up being the winning tower.

Here at Brownsville our little Bees love playing “Butter Battle,” which is one of the ways that we incorporate Language Arts and Reading into PE.  “Butter Battle” is a game created by Mr. Bragg, who taught at Brownsville for many years.  Mr. Bragg got the idea from the “Butter Battle” book, written by Dr. Seuss, to craft a game which involves throwing and giving hugs. When Ms. Witt joined the team here at BES she added the element of reading part of the book by Dr. Seuss, “The Butter Battle Book,” and you can see Ms. Yeatman reading the book in the picture below.

While reading only the first four pages of the book, the stage is set for the game and the kids are overflowing with excitement.  In the game the students practice throwing yellow balls (“butter balls”) across a line as they recreate parts of the “Butter Battle Book.”

At Brownsville Elementary School we are proud of the interdisciplinary way that our students learn and how our PE teachers integrate math and reading into their classes.

Learning about Scratch by Eileen – and Albemarle’s Coder Dojos

The following post contains background on the Coder Dojo program underway in Albemarle County Public Schools and a guest post by Scratch programming enthusiast Eileen who attends Broadus Wood Elementary. If you would like to know more about our plans for our new round of Coder Dojo sessions or to volunteer to help, click here. Eileen’s page also has a link where you can download Scratch for free and see her original post as well.

By Eileen- a Broadus Wood student:

If you want to make your creations come to life, then Scratch is the website for you. You can make hundreds of different characters, and make them walk, talk and move in any kind of way. You don’t have to make characters, you can also make Movies,animated pictures,games, and puzzles! Scratch is an around-the-globe website, so anybody can play it! The cool thing about it is, if you like your creation, you can publish it online so the whole world can see it. You have to download this site, but its free, so there’s really nothing to it. It only takes a few seconds to download this site, so don’t plan anything ahead of time. I highly recommend Scratch, it is a fun, educational website. I am excited to hear about your creations, and if you can, post your creations on this blog, so I can see what you have created! Scratch is a fun website, and I hope you can get it.

Coder Dojos of Albemarle County Public Schools

summer Coder Dojo

This summer, Albemarle learners, ages 7 – 18, participated in our four-day Coder Dojo Academy where they learned basic to advanced programming skills.  The Coder Dojo movement began in Ireland and rapidly spread around the world. Albemarle County Public Schools is one of the first divisions in the United States to sponsor Coder Dojos for our young people.

We were surprised at the significant interest this summer from our families because we rolled the invite out towards the end of the summer and knew many children were already in activities or on vacation. We hoped to attract interest from 40-50 kids, but ended up with 900 on a waiting list, and expanded up our AHS program and served 200. The kids were amazing, coming in with little to no programming knowledge to knowing more than some of our teacher-facilitators. The Dojo is designed so that kids learn from the teachers as they have questions and often from each other in this multi-age setting. I watched elementary children teaching middle schoolers how to make Scratch games and high schoolers taking the time to help younger children with HTML so they could design, create, and publish web pages.

The purpose of the Coder Dojo movement is to provide young people with opportunities to experience computer programming as fun and something they can learn to do. Kids at the camp used a variety of languages to build more and less sophisticated projects. One parent of a high schooler said to me recently, “his participation in the Coder Dojo changed his life. He’s really interested in continuing to pursue computer programming now that he’s back in school and he spends time teaching himself what he needs to do.”  Some elementary children felt the same way, too.

Melissa Techman, librarian at Broadus Elementary, sent me the link to the blog post written by Eileen, which I’ve guest-posted with her parents’ and her permission. Thank you, Eileen, for helping me share how Scratch which was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) can turn kids who like to play computer games into kids who make computer games!