Learning Beyond the Walls: Skype Comes to Band Class

January 19, 2013

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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.


Learning for Today and Tomorrow: Space, Technologies and Teachers Matter

January 4, 2013

Recently, an Albemarle staff team visited the engineering school at the University of Virginia.  It was an eye-opening experience, similar in many ways to what we learned on a similar visit to the Claude Moore Medical Education facility, just a few blocks away. We toured labs in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and chatted with students, faculty, and the chair of the department who also is a parent of students in our schools. During the visit, we had a chance to observe the process of 3-D printing of a wrench from ABS plastic, representative of the future of advanced manufacturing.

We also spoke with two engineering students who have recently designed, printed, and constructed a small, working drone plane which they’ve taken on multiple test flights this fall. We heard about the collaborative efforts with faculty in other School of Engineering departments, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the School of Medicine. When we saw orthopedic body parts printed in 3-D, we realized that the possibilities of what can be designed and made through advanced manufacturing likely will be America’s next wave of innovation.

What we also heard very clearly from the engineering professors was that this field of engineering demands technicians and engineers who are comfortable with a kind of mathematical thinking that’s different from the way that pre-college students typically learn math. Instead of learning what one professor referred to as “pattern” math from formulaic teaching and textbooks, students need to have deep conceptual understanding of how math applies to the real world. Designing and making things – whether constructing with Legos or bridge building – is one way to develop mathematical thinkers, not arithmetic users. It’s why our schools are exploring how to provide space for those kinds of activities within instructional programming.

Educators in our schools work to provide more opportunities for students to design, create, engineer, and construct projects consistent with both the Virginia standards and local curricula, projects similar to the kind of work going on in the School of Engineering.

We know space matters. The tools that learners need to construct matter, too. However, teachers matter the most. They are key to supporting learners to acquire both the knowledge and competencies to think critically and creatively. It’s why we invest in professional training, not just school renovations and technologies. The National Academies Press recently released a report on Education for Life and the Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills for the 21st Century.  Researchers identified competencies that young people need to be able to transfer learning to new situations in the report. These competencies overlap with what we in Albemarle refer to as lifelong learner competencies.

Stony Point Elementary staff have been working to consistently craft learning experiences that deepen the knowledge and competencies that students need for success in life and work.  In a recent post, principal Carrie Neeley described this ongoing work by staff, parents, and volunteers to redesign space inside and outside the school for staff to use with students to develop the kind of competencies needed by young people to pursue any career they desire, including ones emerging from new economies such as advanced manufacturing. Mrs. Neeley’s post follows:

Stony Point Elementary School

By Carrie Neeley, Principal


This year, Stony Point will be doing some research around the theme of “learning spaces.”  If you have not had a chance to visit our new i-space (formerly known as the computer lab), we hope you can check it out on your next visit.  As I mentioned in our State of the School Address, one of the things I look for as I do learning walks in our classrooms is, “To what extent are students engaged in learning?”  Are students engaged in a lesson to the point where they would continue working even if they thought no adult was watching?  Hopefully, all of us can think of a time when we were so involved in learning a new concept or subject that learning in and of itself, was its own reward.  Providing a learning space that allows students to experience choice and provides students with a variety of technology to assist in the learning process can greatly increase student engagement, which in turn makes learning fun (even/especially when it is challenging)!

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In addition to the i-space, our United Way Day of Caring Volunteer Group (a UVA Technology Team) worked to clear our “Sculpture Garden,” which had become overgrown and unavailable for learning.  We are looking forward to creating another outdoor space (in addition to our Japanese Garden and our Nature Trail) for learning, possibly with a math theme.  If you are interested in working with us on this project, please contact Allison Mitchell at mitchellmimi@gmail.com.  We are looking forward to this new endeavor in our learning community!

When the attention to the learning environment pairs with the attention to a carefully crafted learning experience, great things happen for students.  We know that our children will go on to engage in careers we can’t even imagine at this point in time.  Our goal is to prepare learners to take on any challenge their passions inspire!

As always, THANK YOU for the incredible support you provide for Stony Point Elementary!


Sustaining Hopes and Dreams While Coping withTragedy

December 16, 2012

Our children don’t just write down their own hopes and dreams for the future at the beginning of each school year in our schools. Our children are our hopes and dreams.

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That’s why we take actions to ensure our schools are safe places.

When a tragedy occurs in any educational community in America, it touches every educational community. It rips at the heart and soul of everyone who chooses to work in a profession that serves young learners: bus drivers, cafeteria staff, teaching assistants, teachers, principals, central leaders, custodians, and support services staff. It creates fear among families and community members who cherish their children and entrust them to our care every day.

We all look for answers when a tragedy strikes; ones that will tell us that it can’t happen in our own school communities. Often, there are no answers.

Educators go to work every day knowing that a tragedy can occur. Regardless of the position we hold, we know we have to be ready for that. We also know that, statistically, children are less likely to be victims of violence or accidents at school or on school buses than in other places, and yet, in times such as this, the statistics do little to calm fears based in our children’s distance from our physical protection and the nature of public places.

We know that a tragedy can occur anywhere, whether it occurs as a the result of the weather, an accident or a purposeful act. We often wonder what we might say first to children when a tragedy occurs that affects them, even if it’s far away from our own community.

Mr. Rogers once shared that his mother told him:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Albemarle educators feel the pain of the Newtown community as we think about the children and adolescents we serve here and the losses suffered there. It will be difficult for educators to return to our schools on Monday, and look into the eyes of their students, after a tragedy as horrific as that which occurred in Connecticut on Friday. However, these same educational caretakers will rush to work Monday to do just that, to look into those eyes and share a sense of safety, and to share our communal commitment to all of our children.

I know that our educators have spent a long weekend thinking and reflecting and working to be sure that they are ready for the needs our students may bring to their classrooms on Monday. They will do what they do well on Monday morning and throughout the school year – they will listen to what our young people need and they will know what to say and how to say it in ways appropriate to each child’s needs.

They will use professional resources and guidance to help children who may have questions. The American Association of School Pyschologists, one of our resources for addressing the worries that children may bring to school with them after a school tragedy, notes that:

“Parents and school personnel can help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears.”

I trust in our staff as dedicated, caring and capable professionals who will be there for our children, especially those who may bring their worries to school with them this week. Teachers and principals are heroes for so many reasons. Educators take the role of “in loco parentis” very seriously, whether as a first-year teacher or a forty-year veteran.

Every day I hear stories of educators who have performed heroic acts of kindness, caring, and protection in support of children, with no intention of anyone ever knowing about their actions. Sometimes those actions become larger than the lives of those educators. When we hear the stories of tragedies such as this recent one in Connecticut we are all reminded of the strong character of America’s educators and their dedication to serving children.

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We are fortunate to have people willing to become educators, to dedicate their lives to children, and to even give those lives when called to do so in these most unspeakable tragedies. That’s why I value this profession and those who serve in it.

As we celebrate and cherish our children this week and this season let us also celebrate and be thankful to our educators  for being willing every day to do whatever it takes to protect, care for, and to help our children become all that they can possibly hope and dream to be.

What I will accomplish by the time

I am 100 years old: by a fifth grader

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In Students’ Voices: the Power of Student Led Conferences

December 8, 2012

]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.

On Being Thankful for Arts Education in our Schools

November 20, 2012

Albemarle County Public Schools has sustained a commitment to arts programming despite the economic challenges over the last four years that have impacted school funding. Across the United States, arts education has been a casualty of budget reductions in school district after school district – but not in Albemarle.

In our school division, we have chosen to sustain funding support for the arts. Why? We believe that fine arts education is critical to developing learners who use their imagination to generate unique ideas and solutions, engage in creative thought, and express themselves artistically. Regardless of the career a child chooses to pursue as an adult, participation in arts instruction builds a set of competencies that enhance and support academic skills and knowledge. Arts education is part of a well-rounded education. A compilation of studies put together by the School Of Education at the John Hopkins University offers insight into why arts are important to learning.

Locally, arts educators understand that what they do with children adds value to their learning across the curricula. Molly Foster, art teacher at Hollymead Elementary, creates a weekly blog in which she documents projects that engage children in visual arts. Here is a sample of her work with young children. To find out more about Ms. Foster’s work with children at Hollymead, click here.

Learning through Art

Our world of art at Hollymead. Take a look at all of our beautiful creations and inspirations. This blog was created to showcase student work, ideas and creations throughout the year. Hopefully some of their work will inspire you!

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Look who’s in our room?  It’s pre-school!  We stamped letters onto paper to make the letters falling all around.  Then we made a palm tree with coconuts falling!  Pre-school has fun in art!  Here is the video for Chick Chicka Boom Boom.


Making the World’s History Real: China Past, Present, Future

November 10, 2012

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

October 31, 2012

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.


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