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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Teacher leaders and teacher planning time

Today, just a few thoughts having to do with teachers...

First, there's a nice piece in my in-box today from Education Week about how to recognize if you are becoming a teacher leader. Author and National Board-certified teacher Marsha Ratzel lists these five tell-tale signs: 1) You wish you had an impact beyond your classroom; 2) Colleagues often ask you for advice; 3) You "think big" about problems; 4) You want to take new teachers under your wing; and 5) You always want to know more.

I imagine most teachers will say they need support from their school districts to pursue a path of teacher leadership. In that regard, the changes proposed for middle school teachers in the Little Rock School District will do just that by instituting three planning periods per day for teachers: one for individual preparation; another for team planning, supported by the use of data, to coordiate and plan lessons across subjects for a set of students; and the third to confer with teachers in the same subject area.

This additional focus on planning and teamwork no doubt offers lots of benefits for students and teachers alike.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Engineers, doctors and eighth-grade girls

Having a career focus in mind can make those high school courses like physics, Algebra II and biology seem a lot more important. The Women's Foundation of Arkansas offers an opportunity through its statewide Girls of Promise programs for girls in the eighth grade to sample a variety of careers, especially those in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Here's the date (each is a Saturday) and location for each of the upcoming events:
March 3, Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville
March 10, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
March 31, Arkansas State University in Jonesboro
March 31, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia
April 14, Harding University in Searcy
April 14, Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia
Go the Women's Foundation of Arkansas Web site for more information and to register for any of the above conferences.
In addition, the El Dorado Education Foundation will offer GLAMS (Girls Learning About Math and Science), which is a similar program for eighth-grade girls going to school in El Dorado and nearby school districts, later this spring. Contact the Foundation for more information at (870) 862-0962.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tune in to PBS Tonight

If you're not able to watch "Slavery by Another Name," based on Doug Blackmon's   thoroughly researched history with the same title, be sure to set your DVRs. It's on from 8 to 10 p.m. tonight on PBS.
History teachers and their students especially should watch the show, not just for the story it tells but for the scholarship and meticulous research behind its telling. Every line uttered by an actor in the film is documented in one of the countless journals, letters or other records that Doug scoured during his years of investigation. While the history is painful to accept, a healing touch in the documentary is the present-day reaction from descendants of the both the victims and victimizers.
Doug, now an editor with the Wall Street Journal, grew up in Mississippi and Arkansas and graduated from Hendrix College.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Airports and Middle School

Two announcements this week highlight smart uses of data.
The federal government announced that it would pilot at certain airports the use of passengers' background information to determine which ones must go through the ultra-security line. I think that means that those of us without even a speeding ticket muddying up our records will soon be able to board planes without the hassle of removing shoes, belts, jewelry, jackets, etc. Even laptops get to stay in their own bags. Woo hoo!
And then today, according to a story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Little Rock School District announced plans to use Benchmark test score data to determine which students need to spend more time on task in math and/or literacy. Recently, double-blocking in those subjects has been the norm for students. Under the new plan (which must be approved by the district's teachers as part of a new school schedule for next year) those whose test scores show a mastery of the subjects will get to single block and use the extra time enroll in more elective courses, such as arts and languages.
Dr. Daniel Whitehorn (one of LRSD's best) was quoted as saying, "Some of our students don't need that over-focus we have sometimes on math and literacy." Yet, those who do will continue to receive it -- a great example of differing levels of support to meet the same high expectations.
All from the smart use of data.

Monday, February 6, 2012

More proof for the value of hands-on learning

The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism shares this good-news story that underscores the value of hands-on learning.
Determined to find a way to increase the scores of fifth graders on the state's science Benchmark exam, Maribel Childress, principal of Springdale's Monitor Elementary School, arranged to have fifth-grade students visit Hobbs State Park Conservation Area once a month last school year.
Childress and science teachers worked with the park's interpreters to integrate the science curriculum into field trip activities at the park. Things like fossils, decomposition and life cycles of insects became much more than words in a book for the fifth graders. They became objects and events to experience, learn about and really understand. Students loved it.
And as for Benchmark performance? Scores increased significantly last year. The school now has expanded the Hobbs State Park field trips to younger grades.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Trusting Students...Now That's a Concept

Often, school rules are developed to curb the bad behaviors of a few kids. That model has been turned on its head at Cross County High School.
David M. Clark
It's an integral aspect of the New Tech High design, which is built around project-based learning and that the school has incorporated this year.
"Trying to create a culture of trust, respect and responsibility -- that's probably one of the most challenging pieces there is," according to Cross County High principal David M. Clark.
"We're trying to restructure how we do things based on the assumption that we can trust our kids rather than based on the assumption that we can't," he said.
So when students are wearing "trust cards," hung around their necks like ID cards, they are able enjoy such freedoms as listening  to their iPods while completing class assignments or going to the school parking lot to retrieve items from their cars without adult escorts.
So far, behavior issues have decreased at the school, Clark says, a good sign that trust works.
More Arkansas students will experience the benefits of this culture of trust next year when a total of 11 Arkansas school districts will be operating under the New Tech High model.