Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Lesson I Loved

I spent many years working in high schools prior to coming to Henley. Something that I noticed right away both as a teacher and an administrator was how much a solid art program and a caring art teacher meant to the school.  There were kids who lived for every moment they could spend in the art room--they were there before school, after school , during lunch--anytime they could find.  While our schedule is a little bit different in middle school, we still have kids whose lives would revolve around the art room if possible.  That’s why it warmed my heart so much to see Maureen Russell’s art students get started on a mural in the hallway outside of her room.  Maureen and I have spoken a few times about how much this project means to her kids.  They are showing up before school to work, wanting to complete their in class art assignments early to continue their work, and are incredibly proud of the addition they are making to the school.  And talk about talent--these kids have it!  I never caught the art bug myself, but was always amazed by the kids I knew who had those incredible talents that we’ve all seen in so many who have passed through our classes.  The kids who are working on this mural have great talent and great passion for art, but without a teacher like Maureen to fan the flames of that passion, they may have never gotten this amazing chance to express themselves.  I try to stop by the art hallway multiple times a day now, and each time I see a little more progress.  I hope that this is the first of many projects that will help us beautify the school through the talent of our students.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What we can learn form The Lego Movie

My kids love Legos.  Every year at birthdays and Christmastime I can guarantee that a new Lego set will be at the top of their list.  The sets that they like are getting more and more intricate as the years go on.  Typically they come with one or more instruction books with piece-by-piece instructions of how to build the Dolphin Cruiser or the Lion Chi Temple.  When my kids open them up, they diligently follow the directions and eventually come out with a product that looks exactly like the one on the box.  They get a great sense of accomplishment, but they definitely didn’t tap into their imagination in the way that I think a toy like Legos were originally designed to do.  When they seem to enjoy their Legos the most, however, is when they just sit down with their giant bins of bricks and begin to build the things that they have dreamed up on their own. 

Herein lies the premise of The Lego Movie which I took the kids to this past weekend.  It was a great movie on a number of levels, even the surprisingly catchy song that played over and over and over-“Everything is Awesome.”  The premise of the movie is that the evil President Business wants to use the Kragle—the most powerful weapon ever created, to freeze every Lego in the world into the scene that came with the directions.  President Business has cultivated a society in which rules are paramount and the day to day life of everyone in Bricksburg is extremely regimented.  Enter our everyday hero Emmet who through dumb luck finds the “Piece of Resistance”—the only object in the world that can stop the Kragle.  This leads to an adventure straight out of the imaginative mind of an elementary school student.  One if which Batman can show up to save the day in an Old West Scene or where Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon can show up on demand when needed.   It was an absolutely wonderful show.

I think there is so much we can take away from a movie like this one as educators.  The parallels between the battles between the conformity of the SOLs and the power of the 4C’s are eerily similar.  Kids are intuitively creative and want to use their imaginations to build, to experiment, to fail, and to learn.  I was thinking throughout the movie of the work we are focusing on this year, and it just reaffirmed for me again that we are doing the right thing for our kids.  By allowing them opportunities to be creative, to think through problems and to work together, we are building the skills they need to se successful in life and to defeat President Business and the evil Kragle.

A lesson I loved

I had the chancea few weeks ago to see one topic taught in two very different and equally engaging ways.  Eric Strzepek and Katie Bledsoe’s seventh grade social studies students are studying the causes of World War I and the decision for the United States to enter the conflict.  Eric’s students are demonstrating their understanding of this concept through the creation of an iMovie trailer about what they believe was the most significant cause of the conflict.  When I visited his class and spoke with his kids, they were able to not only explain the work they were doing on their trailers, but also showed clear understanding of such things as increased militarization in Europe and the dangers of entangling alliances.  The kids clearly understood what they were doing and had some very creative ways they were planning on defending their arguments.  Over in Katie’s class a different situation was playing out.  Katie and Teresa Goodin had taken on the roll of President Wilson and had split their class into several small groups, each of which was assigned to take on the persona of a different state senator whose states had very different reasons for entering or staying out of the war.  Students heard year by year accountings of the escalating world tensions, decided how these tensions impacted their home-state constituents, and then voted on whether or not to enter the war.  If a two-thirds majority was not reached, the US would stay neutral.  It was great to hear the students’ conversations as situations in the world and in their states changed and to hear how they were thinking through this very serious conversation.  Both of these classes were great examples of how one topic can be taught by the same PLC in different ways with great results.  Great work Eric, Katie and Teresa!

Welcome to the second semester!

Welcome to the second semester!  I trust that all of you enjoyed a relaxing Winter Break a few weeks ago.  It certainly was good to get some time away from schoolwork, and it was great to see how refreshed our students and staff looked as they returned in January.

This time of year is always a busy one for us at HMS.  We’ve just finished up all of our eighth grade exams and we’re already beginning our preparation for next year.  Teachers are busy making course recommendations, and our ParentPortal will be opened up at the end of January for parents and students to select their courses for the 2014-2015 school year.  January will bring our first ever “Seventh-grade Shindig,” a special evening of fun activities just for our seventh grade students.  Spirit week will hit in February with students dressing up in crazy costumes and then challenging our staff in volleyball and basketball games.  This marking period also brings our first foray of the year into SOL testing with our eighth grade students taking their writing test in mid-March.  There seems to always be something happening at Henley, and I hope that your children are finding some ways to take part. 

The first semester officially ended on January 17, and current semester grades should now be available via ParentPortal.  We will be mailing printed report cards to all students later this month.  Please take some time to sit down with your son or daughter and discuss their progress to date.  If they are doing well, what plans to they have to keep their strong work going?  If their grades have slipped, how can they get back on track in marking period three?  I think that the third marking period is always the most difficult one to keep students motivated.  Please be sure that you are checking on their progress regularly and encouraging them to do their best.

This school year has been an outstanding one so far.  I can’t wait to see what the second half of the year will bring!

Go Hornets!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Technical difficulties resolved

I've been having trouble getting access to my blog site for the past couple of weeks.  The good news is that I'm back in and have been able to update with several great posts about wonderful lessons that are taking place at HMS.  Please read the posts below to find out about the great things taking place here!

Welcome to Marking Period Two!

Hello, Hornets, welcome to November and the start of the second marking period!  IT’s been a great start to the school year at HMS and our teachers and our students have been quite busy.  We’ve been hosting school dances, putting on band, chorus and orchestra concerts, taking field trips to enhance some of our project-based learning activities, meeting with parents at conference nights, raising money for the PATSO through our magazine drive, and electing our student council officers.  While that list was long, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what Henley has to offer.  There is something for everyone here, and I hope that all of your kids are getting involved in some way.

Many of you may know that we had some renovations done to the school this summer and have created two large spaces know as our “spark spaces.”  These spaces are designed to enhance our teachers work to build students’ skills in creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration—the “4C’s” of 21st century learning.  So far they have been a great success and the kids have been raving about the unique furniture, the technology available, and the focus on creating that takes place each time they use the spaces.  I believe that just about every one of our students has had a chance to work in the spark spaces and encourage you all to have a conversation about the type of learning that was taking place and what they thought about it.

We’re excited to be moving into the second marking period, and things don’t look like they will be slowing down for us anytime soon.  Before we hit the end of the semester we’ll have our winter semi-formal dance, our fall drama production, holiday concerts, our canned food drive, and lots of opportunities to learn, learn, learn.  We’ll be staying busy and having fun and continuing to be the best middle school we can be.

Lesson Study

Our social studies team participated in a lesson study activity recently.  Here's a recap from Ms. Johnson:

I have heard a lot about the term “lesson study”, but have never been able to do, participate in or observe until this past Friday. My best summary of what I’ve taken away from the process is that a group of teachers (in this case all social studies teachers, instructional coaches, and GRT) collaborate to build a lesson together in the morning. You randomly select one teacher to teach that lesson in the afternoon while the others observe. Finally, you debrief in the afternoon about the lesson it-self, process, what you’ve learned, etc…This is a great way to work vertically with department members, discuss instructional strategies, plan together and have time for a solid discussion. On Friday, the social studies department worked on creating a lesson around primary and secondary sources. Students were split up in several different groups to review primary and secondary sources about a particular explorer.

The group had to work together to read through the provided primary and secondary sources and gather information to create a visual that they explained to the class about their explorer. Mr. Rooks was selected (by drawing his name out of a hat) to teach/facilitate this lesson to Mr. Wright’s sixth grade students. While the students were actively working together, analyzing sources, and summarizing information, the adults were taking notes on the intended student actions vs. observable student actions and any other observations. The lesson study process would be great for any content or level of teachers. Our instructional coaches can certainly facilitate this, so let them know if you’re interested. Awesome work, everyone!