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.


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.

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.


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

October 2, 2012

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!


Welcome to the 2012-13 School Year!

August 1, 2012

Welcome to the 2012-13 School Year. The first week in August can be bittersweet for educators and families as summer turns to the start of school. The first week in August, our Leadership Team of principals and department heads will meet together to ensure that all the“i’s are dotted and t’s crossed” as we finalize bus transportation plans, complete maintenance work so that facilities are ready for students, and prepare to welcome new educators to our schools during the New Teacher Academy.  As Assistant Superintendent Matt Haas wrote recently in our Leadership Blog, summer vacation isn’t always a long vacation for many educators – or our learners.

Educators at EDCampCville

I’ve had the good fortune to observe and connect with educators and students throughout the summer as learning opportunities continue in June, July, and August from the last day of school to this week. Teacher leaders from every school gathered for three days in June at the annual Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction (CAI) Institute to work on performance assessment tasks for each curricular area. As a lead-in activity to the CAI Institute,educators from across Central Virginia came to Sutherland Middle School for a day of sharing learning strategies and contemporary tech tools.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a similar activity occurred at Stone-Robinson Elementary, an edtech boot camp attended by about one hundred teachers teaching and learning with each other. Walking around, I noticed teachers learning to use interactive white board technologies, communication tools such as Skype, and specific applications to support math problem-solving, visible thinking, and writing.  Last week, I visited the University of Virginia Young Writers’ Workshop being held at Sweet Briar College and had the chance to observe a fourth grade teacher from one of our schools teaching writing to high school students from all over the world. At the end of this week, four of our middle schools will be fielding Science- Technology- Engineering- Mathematics teams to participate in the University of Virginia’s Can-Lead STEM grant to develop stronger instructional competencies in inquiry and project based learning at the middle school level. I also look forward to the Shannon Foundation Awards Ceremony where a number of local teachers will receive funding for innovative projects that will benefit children in our schools.

Our young people have also been busy this summer. We’ve had summer enrichment and summer tutoring programs occurring across schools from a middle school jazz band camp to a high school leadership academy that’s featured leaders from a variety of fields speaking to participants about beliefs, competencies, and dispositions demonstrated by successful leaders. Next week, about 200 learners across all levels will come together in our first summer Coding Academy an opportunity to learn computational thinking with teachers and community volunteers from the programming community. Earlier in the summer, artistically talented middle school students participated in the regional Governor’s Reflections Academy for the Visual Arts. The Office of Community Engagement co-sponsored with State Farm Insurance and the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia a math readiness  Academy, M-cubed. We are especially proud of the ten high school graduates from our summer program for students pursuing a high school diploma.

M-Cubed Program at Burley Middle

The 2012-13 school year will begin later in August with about 100 new teachers moving into classrooms across our schools. We will open our second high school academy at Monticello High. The Health and Medical Sciences Academy will offer its participants the chance to pursue a high school program of studies that can lead to post-secondary programs in a variety of fields in health and medicine including but not limited to biomedical engineering, nursing, or technical work. This new companion to the MESA academy at Albemarle High adds to our suite of customized options for secondary learners including CATEC, Murray High, and the Community Charter Middle School based at Burley.

We also have minor renovations to the Walton, Jouett, and Brownsville school libraries as we refurbish older facilities and create contemporary learning spaces. As with public libraries, the use of technologies that enhance and extend accessibility to library resources is critical in school libraries, too. Our librarians will be more important than ever in the coming decades as a result of the explosion of Internet and electronic resources available for use by learners. Teaching students how to find appropriate and credible resources presents the need for a different kind and level of curation by librarians.

Because of the success of pilot programs at Crozet and Cale Elementary Schools, we are expanding our digital fabrication technologies to reach more students through the elementary gifted program, allowing access to engineering processes and projects as learners design and create using software and 3-D printers.

Digital fabrication blueprints

Finally, we will open a new addition at Greer Elementary for preschool, kindergarten, and visual arts students. This new addition offers space for multi-age learning opportunities, inside and outside of the school. It’s exciting to see a facility that was designed with contemporary learners in mind, but at a reasonable cost to our community.

Quest Fest: Children sharing their research

Thank you to everyone who helps us offer our local young people the best educators we can find to work in our well-maintained school facilities. Nothing is more important to sustaining the future of the United States than a well-educated citizenry. While educators face challenges every day, I know from my experiences in our schools during winter, spring, summer, and fall that young people obtain an excellent education in this county from top-notch teachers. It was true for my son as he moved through elementary, middle, and high school here and I believe it’s true for the young people we serve today.

Quality doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because of the community support offered to our public schools from the business community, senior citizens, parent volunteers, and our School Board members. Thank you and we hope you will visit with us and consider volunteering in our great schools!


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

January 20, 2012

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

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