Last Week of School for the Year!

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Upcoming Important Dates

Tuesday, December 16 – Chorus and Steel Band Concert GMS Auditorium 6:00 pm
Wednesday, December 17 – Annual Holiday Luncheon all students GMS Cafeteria
Friday, December 19 – James Madison Excellence in Writing Prize Awards GMS Gym 12:30 pm
Friday, December 19 – Student/Faculty Basketball Game 12:30 pm
Friday, December 19 – Last Student Day of the Year!
Monday, January 5 – Students return from Christmas Break

An Apology

In my last post, I think rambled on quite a bit about how the upcoming changes to education are being greeted by those of us in schools as well as the business world’s interpretation of the changes. I really hate it when I ramble on and say very little! So. I am going to try to be more succinct in what I want to say… So I found someone else who can say it much better!

For some reason, we have been made to believe that schools aren’t working for our kids. We are not properly preparing them for life in the “real world” after they complete school. I don’t think it does anyone any good to try to argue that point, on either side. What I believe we need to recognize is that the entire world has changed dramatically and will continue to change at a pace so rapid that we can’t afford to sit back and wait for the “pendulum to swing back”. (For those of you in education, you’re familiar with this phrase coming from those who would rather not face change!)

I came across this video by Steve Wheeler, a professor of educational technology in Plimouth, England. In this video, he talks about how much technology has changed in the past 3 years and what some of the changes that will be coming in the next 5 to 7 years. It is truly startling to begin to think of some of these developments. It is even more startling to think about what impact these changes will have on how we teach our kids.

There is a part of me that is absolutely terrified with some of the implications of these changes, and a whole other part of me wriggling with anticipation. I would love to hear your comments after you have viewed this video.

 Preparing for 2015

With coming of the new year, we have some fairly significant events that impact all of our students. This will be the very first year that our state will be using the assessment from The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) in math and English/language arts. Now, assessing math and language arts is nothing new for the state of Maine, we have been using the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) for the past 6 years, and prior to that we assessed our students using the Maine Educational Assessment (MEA). We also have been assessing our students through the Northwest Educational Assessment (NWEA), that is a computer based, adaptive assessment that asked students to complete multiple choice answers with a “point and click” format.

The SBAC is a bit different in that this will be an adaptive, computer based assessment that will require our kids to be able to manipulate content on their computer in order to be able to answer questions correctly. It really should be easy for most of our students, but it will still be different.

Additionally, we have been selected to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).The NAEP is an assessment given to 4th, 8th and 11th graders across the nation to provide information on our “Nations Report Card” for the educational progress of America’s public schools. In the coming days, you will receive a letter from us indicating that your child has been “chosen” to participate in this assessment. Not all of our 8th graders will be assessed by the NAEP, and, no, I am not sure how they go about selecting the students, they just send us a list and tell us what day. Some of our students will be assessed in math and some will be assessed in language arts. None of them will be assessed in both.

If you want to learn more about the NAEP, you can check them out on this site: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/

Finally, we are participating in two research grant projects. Each of these projects are very positive for our school and our students. These research projects will require either an assessment or a survey completed by our students. We will not allow these to interrupt our students’ classroom experience, and so these will be completed during the EICAL period. We’ll let you know the exact dates of each of these events.

2015 will also see us continuing our work towards proficiency based education. As you are all very aware, we have been doing a considerable amount of work so far in shifting to proficiency based learning. I have been writing quite a bit about this shift and what it will mean for our kids when we have completed the work. While it should be different, much will still be the same. What you will experience is a far better understanding of what it is that your child is learning, or not learning.

As we progress through the year, and next year as well, we will do a whole lot more communicating about Proficiency Based Education and how it will impact your child. What the implications will be for advancing each year in school, what content and how that content is taught (and, more importantly learned) to you child and how the community as a whole will know what it means to be a learner from Gorham.

Lots of stuff coming in the year ahead, so until next time…

I Think There’s a Storm A brewin’

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Upcoming Important Dates

Tuesday, December 9 – Chorus and Steel Band Concert GMS Auditorium 6:00 pm
Wednesday, December 10 – Early Release Day Students dismissed at 11:10 am
Thursday, December 11 – Band Concert GMS Auditorium Concert 6:30
Friday, December 12 – School Dance 6:00 – 8:00 pm GMS Gym
Wednesday, December 17 – Annual Holiday Luncheon all students GMS Cafeteria
Friday, December 19 – James Madison Excellence in Writing Prize Awards GMS Gym 12:30 pm
Friday, December 19 – Student/Faculty Basketball Game 12:30 pm

James Madison Excellence in Writing Contest

Back in October, many of our students toiled over their computers to pen some excellent essays on what the phrase “with Liberty and Justice for all” means to them when they recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. This is the second year of the competition that is sponsored by the Town of Gorham Republican Committee and we had a huge increase in the number of entries.

As an aside, the winners of last year’s contest did a great job in setting the bar for the competition. The young folks who won last year’s competition wrote very moving pieces that were shared with the entire school just before the annual student/faculty basketball game.

The competition awards three cash prizes to the students, $250 for the winner and two $100 prizes to the runners-up.

Concert Season has Arrived

It is that time of year again where our students get to show off their talents and the results of all of their hard work in preparing for these shows. The Steel Band and Chorus convert will be held on Tuesday evening beginning at 6:00 pm in the GMS Auditorium and the various bands will perform on Thursday evening beginning at 6:30 pm. Please circle these dates for two wonderful evening of “joyful” noise from our very talented students.

 Lockdown Drills

We will be practicing our lockdown procedures in the event of an unwanted intruder into our building. If you are a member of our school community you will receive a letter in your child’s backpack in the next day, or so with all of the details as to date and time. We will also outline some of the other systems we will be testing during the lockdown drill and provide you with an opportunity to offer feedback to us. Please check your child’s backpack later this week for the letter.

GMS Giving Tree

OK, so it really isn’t a tree, but it is our way of getting some holiday cheer and Christmas presents to some of the families in our community who are facing the challenge of providing a joyful Christmas for their kids (our kids,too!)

This year we are hoping to provide for 24 families everything from a few simple gifts from Santa Claus as well as a holiday meal with all of the fixings. Our staff has already brought in wrapped presents for several of our families and we have been collecting food and turkeys for meals.

Truly make us all remember the Spirit of Christmas.

Celebrating the Christmas Season

We will be holding our annual Christmas dinner on Wednesday, December 17 during our regular lunches. While I do not yet know the final menu, it usually is a choice of turkey of ham, mashed potatoes, squash, beans and or peas, a dunner roll and a wonderfully tasty dessert. The students will help themselves to a buffet style serving line. We also have many of the kids teachers come down to the cafeteria and join the kids for this wonderful repast.

Please plan on this day for you kids to join in the feast. If you have any questions or concerns, please give me a call.

Learning and Teaching in the 21st Century

We have talk in this space during the past few months about such large interest items as Proficiency Based Learning and Diplomas. Common Core State Standards and large scale standardized tests that will be administered later this spring. I have written about the impact of technology on the way our kids think and learn and, the impact of this new understanding of our kids and how we need to shift what we do to meet these new challenges. Each of these elements will have a dramatic impact on how schools will prepare our kids for their future.

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the annual Educate Maine conference in Portland, and I came away from the day both invigorated and concerned about the future of schools in the next 10 years, and beyond.

It was very encouraging to see that about 250 people from education, public policy and business felt the need to come together and discuss the future of educating our young people. One session I attended encouraged most, and it was very gratifying to hear about how businesses were opening their doors to schools, and their students, and developing relationships that truly gave the term “real-world learning” meaning. These businesses were able to demonstrate through their actions, how to engage our kids in ways that was meaningful and beneficial to all.

What I found challenging about the meeting was the idea that while we have a dramatic shift in what is going to be expected of our kids, I didn’t see a similar shift in the lens by which we view our tasks. For some who spoke at this meeting the outcomes are expected to change, yet there was not a comparable shift in the how we are going to arrive at these different outcomes.

I am sure that these shifts will be coming, it just gets frustrating that we continue to delay the start of the actuation of these events. Parents regularly tell me that their kids are bored, not challenged and that some teachers don;t give enough homework. This shift should answer all of those concerns about engagement. When kids are able to breeze through homework and seemingly always “ace” the test, they will be moved ahead to more challenging work that will get them into that zone just a bit beyond comfort. It will also allow those students who demonstrate some challenges in certain areas of learning to take the necessary time and additional supports so that they too meet proficiency.

We have some very hard work ahead of us…

 

It Is Hard To Believe the Holiday are Just Around the Corner

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Upcoming Important Dates

Wednesday, November 28 – 29 – Thanksgiving Break No School
Wednesday, December 10 – Early Release Day
Friday, December 12 – School Dance 6:00 – 8:00 pm GMS Gym

Holiday Helpers and Helping

thanksgivingEach year, our School Nurse, Teresa Merrill, organizes a food collection and distribution to those families in our community who face financial challenges of providing a holiday meal or a few gifts from Santa to put under the tree.

As we are fast approaching the holiday season, each year the staff, and the students (Student Council) at GMS, with a donation from the Gorham Health Council, provide holiday sharing of food baskets and small gift items for students at GMS and their families in need. If you are a family interested in assistance or if you are a family who would like to help contribute to this community sharing, please contact Teresa Merrill, R. N. (222-1224) no later than November 14, 2014. All requests for assistance are confidential.

Laptops Over the Thanksgiving Break

As we do during most school vacations, we will be performing an inventory as well as conducting some upgrades to the system and programs on the MLTI laptops. This will mean that our students will not have them with them over the break. All of their teachers have been made aware and they will not be assigning homework that will require the devices. I hope that this doesn’t cause too much of an inconvenience.

Just as a “heads-up”, we will also be conducting some upgrades over the Christmas Break as well. These upgrades will be quite significant and will require us to have the devices during this time.

PIE Meeting

There will be a PIE (Partners In Education) meeting on Thursday night in the GMS Library beginning at 6:00 pm. We have an open agenda, so we’ll be open to talking about anything related to GMS. I will have some resources on hand that we use to deal with bullying behaviors that I would be happy to share with anyone. We will also have information available on what we are doing as a school to comply with the new Proficiency Based Educations requirements.

I hope that you can join us.

GMS Civil Rights Team Project

Would you like your child to get involved in an activity at school, especially one that can help him/her learn some leadership skills and empathy as well as compassion? We have just the activity for you (and him/her), The Civil Rights Team Project(CRTP) is affiliated with the Maine Attorney Generals Office and it helps our students take a leadership role in helping to improve the climate and culture of our school.

The CRTP helps to identify areas of our school that need attention and then they create plans to address those needs. If you would like more information about the CRTP, have your child stop by the Ms. Rounds, 6th Grade Sebago, and get all of the information to get them involved in a very positive activity that helps to improve our school.

Preparing Kids for Their Future

Much has been written in the national press about how our kids don’t seem to be prepared for their future. Our test scores indicate that when our kids are put up against similar age groups kids from places like South Korea and Finland. There are some who think that the Common Core State Standards are wrong-minded solutions for the problems we face. Interestingly, many folks have completely opposite reasons for why the Common Core is wrong!

But I am not writing to debate the merits, or demerits of the Common Core. I am interesting in making sure that our kids are ready for the future, their future, making sure that they have the requisite skills, attitudes and aptitudes to be successful in a rapidly changing world. Truth is, I cannot fathom the possible changes that are coming!

What I can fathom is how much our students have changed over the past 10 years, and how they continue to arrive at middle school with new and different set of skills, attributes and dispositions. Each year, a new group of 6th graders arrive at GMS with more defined skills in technology. That’s because each year we improve the work of our teachers at the elementary grades with new devices and a far greater reach into the digital world. Sometimes we fail to recognize just how much our kids take in when they get their hands of technology and how quickly they adapt to it. In fact, I am confident that the GMS faculty has grown exponentially in the area of technology and how we employ the digital tools in our classrooms. So, what I am about to say may seem counterintuitive to my last statement!

We have grown, as a faculty, in our use of technology. We are getting better at integrating the digital tools in our practice and developing lessons and units that engage students and meet the students where they are. Some on our faculty can “Code” with the best of them, and those that can’t are standing in line to learn how. However, what I am not sure we are recognizing is the real difference in these kids today as opposed to those students who entered our school in the past.

Whether or not the Gorham School Department provides our kids with tech devices has become irrelevant. A quick survey of our incoming 6th graders reveals that many of them have engaged in online behaviors through their video game devices from Nintendo, Sega or Sony. Kids have played “multiplayer online” games with people that they “know” well but have never seen their face. This can be troublesome, if we think about this with our “over 30ish brain”, but it has become the norm for many of our kids and they have learned to manage these interactions quite well. But, I don’t want to stray into that area right now, I want to stay on the topic of how our kids are vastly different than previous generations.

Our kids come to us with vastly different experiences than their predecessors. The activities in which they engage are completely different and the outcomes they experience are far more immediate, allow students to learn from their mistakes and immediately use their learning and try again. None of this is what happens in a traditional school.

Okay, I can hear that little voice in my head saying, “this generation just wants everything… now”! And then I realize that is exactly what my dad said to me, and he was born in 1914, a whole century ago!

Now, I can hear my teacher voice saying “you’re lecturing and babbling on!” So, I will pick this up next week. I welcome your comments here or through my Twitter Feed @briley8557

Until next time…

As the Holidays Near

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Upcoming Important Dates

Monday, November 10 – No School Teacher Workshop Day
Tuesday, November 11 – Veterans Day, No School
Friday, November 14 – School Dance GMS Gym 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Teacher Workshop Day and Veterans Day Celebrations

On Monday, November 10, teachers of the Gorham School District will be engaging in professional development all day. There will be no school for students.

On November 11, in the GMS Gym beginning at 10:00 am the Gorham Veterans Committee will be holding a celebration of the many veterans who sacrificed for the liberties we enjoy each and every day. All are welcomed to attend this great American Celebration of Honor for our citizen soldiers.

The Maine Military Museum will also be displaying several uniforms and other artifacts of a military nature. The display will be set up in the GMS front foyer and in our cafeteria. Please circle your calendar for this great event.

Holiday Helpers and Helping

thanksgivingEach year, our School Nurse, Teresa Merrill, organizes a food collection and distribution to those families in our community who face financial challenges of providing a holiday meal or a few gifts from Santa to put under the tree.

As we are fast approaching the holiday season, each year the staff, and the students (Student Council) at GMS, with a donation from the Gorham Health Council, provide holiday sharing of food baskets and small gift items for students at GMS and their families in need. If you are a family interested in assistance or if you are a family who would like to help contribute to this community sharing, please contact Teresa Merrill, R. N. (222-1224) no later than November 14, 2014. All requests for assistance are confidential.

My Hat in Hand!

I am seeking some help and guidance with this dilemma and I figured I would just put it out there, in the public, to see if I am being unreasonable and over reaching.Me with hat-in-hand

Each year, one of our teachers offer our 8th graders a wonderful chance to visit our Nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C., during the April vacation break. The students leave early on a Monday morning and return on Saturday. There is a cost to the trip which includes transportation, accommodations, meals and admission fees to several venues. As you can imagine, it can be very pricey for some of our students. I am wondering if there is a funding vehicle, available through online sources that might help pay for some of our more needy students to avail themselves of this great opportunity? If you know of something that we can use, without having to “sell our soul”, I would appreciate learning about it. Please feel free to call me at school or send me an email at robert.riley@gorhamschools.org.

I Had to Share This!

We are always looking for ways to expose our students to great learning opportunities. We have a very gifted artist in our school, who doesn’t use traditional canvas or paint, this student uses a digital canvas and his finger to paint some amazing pictures.

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This is a desert setting on IPad, created by Educreations, completed by using his index finger. Pretty Impressive, Huh?

From Digital Natives, Digital Wisdom

Mark PrenskyLast week, I wrote about a book that I have been reading by Mark Prensky. Mark is a former teacher who currently travels the world talking to and with educators, students and parents about how the world of education has changed with the digital revolution we are currently experiencing.

I really hope that I didn’t give the impression that I thought that technology is the be-all-end-all for our students. Let ,e be very clear about technology and its use in education.Technology is a tool, it is not the replacement for the teacher, or the textbook or any of the many other wonderful things that happen in classrooms everyday. Let me repeat myself, technology is a tool, like a shovel for digging a hole, or a hammer for driving a nail. It is only as good as the person who is wielding it.

But I also want to be clear about the majority of the students we deal with every day, they have great access to technology and information. Technology has become ubiquitous in our life.

Daniel Pink, in his ground breaking book (at least to me!), To Sell is Human, writes about how the advantage in most transactions completed today has shifted from the seller to the buyer. Why? Because buyers now have access to vast amounts on information about the product being sold. When buying a new or used car, the buyer can go the the Kelly Blue Book web site and get all of the information about a certain model of vehicle they are interested in purchasing. They can learn about recalls from the manufacturer, particular issues with a certain model (much like the back window motors that fail at an alarming rate on Chevrolet Impalas, I have unfortunately found out!). They can have discussions with people who have purchased the car, and discover their likes and dislikes about their use of the vehicle. Then when you decide on the exact vehicle you want and it happens to be a pre-owned, you can research all repairs done on that car, if it had any accidents, etc.

Need books? Try Amazon! Remember the Sears Catalogue? It’s online, bigger and better than ever! Need to sell that old Christmas present from Aunt Polly? Try eBay! Book a trip? File your taxes? Visit with your grandchild who lives in San Francisco and is beginning to walk and you want to see it? Skype! Feeling ill and want to know if it’s the flu? WebMD!

We all are using technology in more ways than we really know, and it has helped us. Yes, we are adults and we have fully developed frontal lobes and, usually, we can understand the consequences of our actions before we act! Sometimes.

What Prensky is saying is, that in spite of their familiarity with technology, in spite of the fact they are creating lives for themselves, in spite of the fact that they can run circles around us in the technology world, they still need our guidance in learning how to use this wonderful resource productively, appropriately and positively!

So, to demonstrate to you at least one adolescent has used her technology skills for a positive, constructive purpose, I offer the follow TEDx video from this past mont.

More on Proficiency Based Education

As many of you know, and as I have chronicled here many times, I spend a fair amount of time with my Personal Learning Network (PLN) discussing all things PBL logoeducation. My PLN is made upon educators from all across globe, literally from 6 of the 7 continents! (still not sure why Antarctica has failed to respond!).

This past week, my PLN had several discussions, in the Twitter hashtag format, regarding grading and Standards Based Learning, another name for Proficiency Based Learning. I thought I’d share some of the actual comments from folks during this chat as a way of explaining how educators (K-12, and Higher Ed), educational researchers and educational consultants saw Proficiency Based Education.

Here goes:

Q1 What is the purpose of Standards Based Grading, why make the change from “traditional”? #sblchat

A1: Important to eliminate behavioral/ compliance grading #sblchat

A1: SBG focuses learning on what you are teaching, not the “game” of school and point collecting  #sblchat  @rickwormeli2

A1 – Standards-Based Learning is based on learner outcomes rather than chapter, section, page and non-standards-based activities. #sblchat

A1 Standards Based Grading switches the focus in the classroom from grading to learning. #sblchat

A1: SBL helps prepare our Ss for the real world by holding them accountable for learning/mastery. #sblchat

A1: SBG is a measurement of learning not point accumulation for a variety of reasons. #sblchat

A1 Changes the purpose of grades from working the system to mastering the content. A grade is a reflection of learning #sblchat

I could post almost 800 of these kinds of comments about Proficiency Based Learning, but you could join in the chat by using the #sblchat on Twitter on Wednesday evenings beginning at 9:00 pm EST. Also, if you would like to see any of the full chats about #SBLchat, you can do so at Storify.com. Just do a search for #sblchat.

As you can see, there are a lot of educators involved in gaining a better understanding of how we can help our students with authentic learning and not just about acquiring enough points for a “B” or an “A”.

Until next time….

The Times They are a Changin’

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Upcoming Important Dates

Thursday, October 30 – Musical Auditions 2:30 GMS Auditorium
Friday, October 31 – Halloween (not that you need to be reminded!)
Tuesday, November 4 – Election Day in Maine
Monday, November 10 – No School Teacher Workshop Day
Tuesday, November 11 – Veterans Day, No School
Friday, November 14 – School Dance GMS Gym 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Holiday Helpers and Helping

thanksgivingEach year, our School Nurse, Teresa Merrill, organizes a food collection and distribution to those families in our community who face financial challenges of providing a holiday meal or a few gifts from Santa to put under the tree.

As we are fast approaching the holiday season, each year the staff, and the students (Student Council) at GMS, with a donation from the Gorham Health Council, provide holiday sharing of food baskets and small gift items for students at GMS and their families in need. If you are a family interested in assistance or if you are a family who would like to help contribute to this community sharing, please contact Teresa Merrill, R. N. (222-1224) no later than November 14, 2014. All requests for assistance are confidential.

Veterans Day Celebration

The Town of Gorham Veterans Day Committee honors the veterans of Gorham with a celebration of their sacrifice and bravery. This year will be no different and the festivities Vet daywill begin at 10:00 am at Gorham Middle School. This year, the good folks at the Maine Military Museum will be displaying, for those in attendance, a variety of military uniforms and equipment. Please mark your calendar for this event and, always be thankful that we have brave people, citizens, ready to defend our liberties.

My Latest Read 

Mark PrenskyI am currently reading Mark Prensky’s book From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom. That would probably be news to my father since I was a very reluctant reader as a youngster, but should not be news to anyone who has followed me here. I am constantly reading books that I believe will take my learning to a place where I can constructively add to our staff meeting the learning needs of our students. This book has certainly opened my eyes and ears, as well as my mind to some new thoughts about what our kids bring to school with them when they walk through the front door.

Many years ago, Prensky coined the terms “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” to describe the divide between those who were born after 1982 and those born before. Digital Natives are those people who have always lived in the world of “ones and zeros”, and the Digital Immigrants are the rest of us who remember vinyl records and “dialing” a phone. (I’ll leave references to 8 tracks, and boom boxes to someone else!).

Prensky postulates, and I believe the science affirms, that the brains of our digital natives have physically changed over the years, and why wouldn’t they! Our kids have grown up reading fewer print pages and more digital pages in their lifetime. They have lived with access to great amounts of information with a few keystrokes (there’s a term digital immigrants didn’t have growing up “keystroke”).  How science has learned more about the plasticity of the brain and how learning changes the physical make up of the brain, it only makes sense that the brains of our young folks have physically changed. The larger question of the day should be “how has our teaching changed to match these changes in the structure of the young brain?

When we consider how many hours our young people have spent learning how to conquer virtual empires, create worlds or devices that will overcome evil, in other words making things happen in a virtual world, don’t we think they have something more to bring to school than students did ten or twenty years ago? Consider, if you will (I sound like Rod Serling of the Twilight Zone!), a student who has mastered the World of Minecraft, creating a world and defending it against all enemies. How much actual learning had to occur in order for this to be accomplished! How much trial and error, how many attempts, and failures before success, how much resilience and perseverance did that student have to exert to be successful? I would imagine quite a bit.

I am reminded of the song from WW1, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm, After They’ve Seen Paree” written by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young with music by Walter Donaldson, How are we to keep our kids engaged in “sit ‘n git” or “talk ‘n test” after they’ve created kingdoms and explored where no man has dared to go! Once our kids have figuratively done almost amazing feats in the virtual world, how are we going to keep them involved when we ask them to “read chapter 2, and answer the questions at the end of the chapter”.

I use all of the references to the digital world our kids inhabit because that should have implications on how we provide education. All of the time our students spend in the digital world, their world, means that taking an anachronistic step backward into the print world does not compute with the manner in which they receive information. It is just not compatible! We truly need to reconcile our teaching practices to the way our students have been learning, and learning quite well much to our dismay!

We have much to learn about this new generation of students, and we have much to learn about how they learn and about how we can help them be better learners for their time.

Proficiency Based Education

PBL logoI have been reporting here about the work in which the Gorham School District is engaged to meet the needs of our students as they prepare for their future. So let me tell about what I am seeing in our classrooms each and everyday that may our put some concerns at ease and allow you all to know that while it may look different, learning is happening and happening at a speed that works for the student.

An 8th grade social studies class I observed recently, the teacher was reviewing a rubric that the students used to determine what was expected of the students as they attempted provide evidence that they had understood the standard and performance indicator that the learning activity (could have been reading a passage and writing about it, creating some sort of 3-D project like a poster of trifold that highlighted all of the elements or, maybe even a short video presentation). My point is, the students knew what was expected of them, the teacher and student had several opportunities during the creation of the task to offer or receive feedback on improving the evidence and the final piece was a “beyond a reasonable doubt” piece of evidence of the student’s learning.

This provided the stunt with a roadmap to the learning. It also provided both the teacher and the student to engage in conversation along the way about how the student was doing while still on the journey.

This is much different than a task being assigned, a time frame being determined (usually unilaterally by the teacher) and at the due date the evidence is submitted and, within a reasonable amount of time, results are given to the students and his/her parents. The results are transmitted with a simple letter grade, A to F. There is very little time for feedback along the way, there is no roadmap for the student to follow should they stray from the “learning path”, and the results are transmitted by a single letter or number that is supposed to represent what the student has mastered.

This is the difference that a proficiency based learning system offers to students. Time, while very important, takes a back seat to learning. If a student works diligently at  learning, they may need more time than their peers, but they all get to a level of learning and understanding that says “yes, s/he can do this!”

So, will this Proficiency Based Learning stuff be different? Yes and no! Teachers will still be teaching and students will still be learning, but it will look different and, by design, kids will learn to a level of proficiency. What will be consistent will be the student learning and the level to which all students will learn. What will change is the time that students need, and have to learn it. Some students will take a few weeks while some students may take longer. But all will learn to a level of proficiency.

We will continue to shed light upon this subject in the coming weeks.

Until then…

Parent Teacher Conferences and so much more…!

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Upcoming Important Dates

Wednesday thru Friday, October 15 – 17 – Tooth Fairies
Friday, October 17 – GMS Dance Gymnasium 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Wednesday, October 22 – Early Release Day, Students dismissed at 11:10 am
Wednesday October 22 – Parent Teacher Conferences 2:00 to 8:00 pm
Thursday, October 23 – GMS Flu Shot Clinic
Friday, October 24 – GMS Flu Shot Clinic
Friday October 24 – Parent Teacher Conferences 8:00 am – 2:00 pm
Tuesday, November 4 – Election Day in Maine

PIE Meetings

Our monthly PIE meetings will begin in November. We had originally planned to hold a PIE Meeting on Thirsday evening, October 9th, but we have postponed that so that we can attend a ceremony in Augusta where our very own Technology Integrator, Terri Dawson will receive a much deserved award from the Maine Chapter of Technology Educators, ACTEM.

I promise we will be back on schedule on November 20th, where we will have some discussions about Proficiency Based Education and what it will mean for my child.

Speaking of Proficiency Based Education

I have heard from a few of our parents about their concerns of the state switching to a Proficiency Based Diploma and their concerns focus on their child’s chances of being accepted to a good college.

I think these are real concerns. We have long lived with the notion that there is some magic formula for students being accepted into college, That somehow, the admissions departments at all of these colleges and universities have some sort of ritualistic method for deciding who gets accepted and who gets rejected. This is real stuff to many of our families and we shouldn’t enter this blithely or cavalierly.

I have been telling parents that while this is going to be different, much of the process will look the same. Teachers will still be giving test and students will still be writing papers. Parents will still receive reports about their child’s progress. Some students will still excel and some students will still struggle. That is the age old process of school and this will still happen.

What won’t happen is that students who excel will not have to languish in classes that are moving too slow. Once they have sufficiently demonstrated proficiency in a particular topic, they will move on. They will continue to be challenged to greater heights, because the leaning will never stop! Students who struggle will receive time to get it. (notice, I didn’t say “get it right or correct”!) That is what I meant. Students will work until they master the learning challenge.

Parents will receive reports that explain what your child is learning and where your child still has more learning to complete and master. Time will not be a factor in determining a student’s progress through school, learning will be the determinant. This is a dramatic shift in how schools have been operating for the past 100 years, at least.

Parent/Teacher Conferences

GMS will be holding our Parent Teacher Conferences on Wednesday, October 22nd from 2:00 pm to 8:00 pm and on Friday, October 24 from 8:00 am until 2:00 pm. You should be receivingparents information from your child’s advisor about scheduling a time that works best for you. If, for some reason Wednesday or Friday can’t work for you, please give your child’s advisor a call or an email to arrange a date and time that does work.

We have conferences set up with the students’ advisors to allow more time for parents to meet and discuss the progress, both academically and socially. If you would like to meet with one, some or all of your child’s content area teachers, you need only make an appointment. This can be done at anytime of the school year.

I say this every year, so this year will be no different, you do not need to wait for these schedule conference dates to meet with your child’s teachers. You can schedule meetings any tie during the year that you need to meet. A simple phone call or email to arrange the meeting is all you need.

Student Apple IDs

Apple LogoSince the MLTI meetings back in September, we have been working to de-bug the issues with our good friends at Apple Computer to allow students under the age of 13 to create an Apple ID. This is to be able to allow these students to download selected applications and content created by our staff on to their devices.

We think we are ready to for the rollout!

We are putting a link to a presentation on our GMS Website that will help answer some quest you may have and also help you in the process of creating the Apple ID for your child under the age of 13.

If you have questions, please call Terri Dawson, Technology Integrator at GMS 222-1007.

 Flu Clinic

Flu shotAs we have done for the past few years, we will be offering a Flu Shot Clinic in conjunction with the Parent/Teacher Conference days. Here is the information for the dates, times and locations of the clinics:

The Gorham School Department will be offering Influenza (Flu) vaccine clinics on the following dates:
OCTOBER 22 at GHS back of MPAC for GHS students only 8:00AM to 11:00AM
OCTOBER 23 at GMS GYM for K-8 students (Parents must be present with their child or an adult designated by the parent) and GHS students who could not attend at GHS in the morning from 3:30PM to 6:00PM
OCTOBER 23 at GMS GYM K-8 students (Parents must be present with their child or an adult designated by the parent) 8:00AM-12:00PM

For more information, please call Teresa Merrill, School Nurse at GMS 222-1220.

An Oldie but Goodie!

As we examine how we are making the shift to a Proficiency Based Education system and a diploma awarded to high school students based upon the attainment of proficiency, I am offering, for the Oldiessecond time, a video we showed to our faculty in September 2012 to help lay a foundation for our work. Diana Laufenberg is still a classroom teacher working with students, just like ours and still challenging her students to reach beyond their classrooms, themselves and their teachers to discover great learning. She still embraces failure as a learning opportunity, but she is no longer working in a school with the great technology she had in Philadelphia. In fact, she has very little technology in her current school, and yet she still has her students reaching beyond to great learning.

I hope you enjoy this video and, more importantly, I hope this stirs up some questions that we can discuss.

October 1st! Where Does the Time Go?

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Upcoming Important Dates

Monday, September 29 – October 3 – NWEA Testing for 6th graders
Tuesday, September 30 – Meet the Candidates Night at GMS 6:00 pm, GMS Cafeteria
Wednesday, October 1 – Maine Harvest Lunch celebration
October 13 – Columbus Day Holiday No School
Wednesday thru Friday, October 15 – 17 – Tooth Fairies
Friday, October 17 – GMS Dance Gymnasium 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Wednesday, October 22 – Early Release Day, Students dismissed at 11:10 am
Thursday, October 23 – GMS Flu Shot Clinic
Thursday, October 23 – Parent Teacher Conferences 2:00 to 8:00 pm
Friday, October 24 – GMS Flu Shot Clinic
Friday October 24 – Parent Teacher Conferences 8:00 am – 2:00 pm

Meet the Candidates Night

TN_sign_voteOn Tuesday, September 30, in conjunction with the Maine School Management Association, Gorham Middle School will host a regional Meet the Candidates night beginning at 6:00 pm in the GMS Cafeteria. It is expected that several candidates for the Maine Legislature will be in attendance to meet with local voters and discuss their positions on several issues. If you would like to join us on this evening, you should contact the Maine School Management Association to let them know of your interest.

There will be local candidates for legislative positions as well as several local elected officials available to answer questions and share ideas.

I hope you can join us for this informational evening.

Maine Harvest Lunch Celebrated

We will celebrate all the is Maine in agriculture on Wednesday, October 1 during the lunch times at GMS. The Maine Harvest Lunch Program, which has its beginnings right here at GMS, is an Lopeopportunity for us to highlight all of the agricultural delicacies available from our home grown farms and gardens. This year the menu includes beef raised right here in Maine as well as selected greens from local farms, Maine baked potatoes with good ole Maine made made cheese from good ole Maine raised cows.

The students will also get a short lesson on the importance of knowing where your food comes from and how important it is to have vibrant Maine farms.

Please ask your kids about their lunch on Wednesday when they come home from school.

ACTEM Recognition for GMS Technology Integrator

logoWe received news this week that Terri Dawson, Technology Integrator for GMS will be feted at the annual meeting of Technology Educators during the month of October.

Terri is an omnipresent being in every one of our classrooms helping to bring out teaching staff towards technology in their already great teaching. Her hard work and dedication to the Gorham Schools and, in particular GMS, has left an indelible mark how we do our work with our students. In in era when we are looking for constructive, engaging methods to bring our students closer to the work they will be doing when school is done, Terri is a critical friend to our staff and an abundant resource for our staff and our students. Congratulations, Terri!~

School Dances and Cell Phones

It seems as though with each passing year, cell phones become more a part of the middle school experience. Each morning on my arrival at school, we have a contingent of students who are already cellhere and each of them are on their cell phone! Some are listening to their playlist, others are playing games and some are texting messages to places unknown (but probably to the person sitting next to them or across the foyer. No sense getting up and walking across the foyer when a text will do!)

Some of our teachers are beginning to put the students and their cell phones to use in the classroom, which is good because it takes the device out of their pockets and places it on a desk, in the open, in view of all, so the teacher can insure that the device is used for school purposes.

As these devices get more and more sophisticated it becomes more and more important that we help our students understand the proper ways to employ these gadgets, and that brings me to our dances and cell phone title.

All of the phones that have been introduced in the past several years also include a camera with excellent resolution capabilities as well as a video mode for taking some fairly lengthy videos. When parents send their child to one of our dances, the last thing they expect to see at the end of the dance is a video of their child that is not very complimentary showing up on social media!

Seriously, though, we don’t want students to feel as though they must always be on guard for someone shooting pictures of them, especially when they are having fun with their friends. Sometimes,we all can “go over the top” with something and we don’t want that to become a reason for not coming to school. That fear of thinking that everyone is looking at them because they all saw the post of the video or picture of me at the dance on Friday night!

So, when we ask our students not to have their phones out at the dance, that is the reason. We ask all chaperones to be on the lookout for phone in use, but I am not sure we can catch it all, all of the time.

I rely on our Code of Conduct, Respect, Responsibility, Courage, Compassion and Honesty to guide our method of handling the idea of technology and socially networked adolescents. I believe our students do as well, yet, as we are all too aware, sometimes our adolescents’ frontal lobes don’t function the way we would like to expect and our students do things without thinking.

Operating under the idea that we must sometimes act as our students’ frontal lobe, we restrict the use of cell phones at our dances. This is sometimes contrary to the wishes of some of our parents. Rightfully, they want to know where their child will be when it comes to pick up time, or, if their child is planning to spend the night at the home of a friend. Sometimes, the plans of our kids change during the dance and parents need to know this.

We are asking all parents to help us with this and remind their children that we have phones in the office for our students to call (not text) to confirm plans of to notify of changes of plans. We need everyone’s help in keeping the phones of our students in their pockets during our dances.

So far, we have not had any problems that we know, but, as Ben Franklin said, “… an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Thank you for your help with this.

School Holiday – Columbus Day

Not that many of our students (or teachers and Principals) need the reminder, but we celebrate Columbus Day on Monday, October 13, so there will be no school on that day for students or teachers.

I hope that all get to enjoy the wonderful fall weather we always seem to get over that weekend (there I go! I just put a huge jinx on the forecast!)

Proficiency Based Education

We continue our progress toward a Proficiency Based Learning system that has been mandated by our Legislature through LD 1422, which requires that students achieve proficiency in the eight content areas of the Maine Learning Results. You may remember the Maine Learning Results or the MLRs as we in education like to call them. Students are expected to achieve proficiency in a particular area of study before moving on to the next level of learning. In essence, what this really means is that students will determine how quickly, or slowly they “travel” through their education careers. Currently, the school year begins in August (used to be September) and ends in June. At the end of that time students are usually moved to the next higher grade, although there are always exceptions to this. Some students have been “held back” and, less frequently, students are moved ahead and “skip a grade”. (Never a problem for me!)

In this system, time is the constant, that being the school year and learning is the variable. In other words, some students learn more during that time than others.

In the new Proficiency Based Learning System, time is the variable and learning is the constant. Some students will take longer to gain proficiency in certain areas than others students, and that is OK.

This video isn’t the typical kind of video I put here. Usually, I try to find something that is funny or engaging or has someone famous in it to keep your attention. This video is actually one that I could imagine being put on to a film strip. You know, the kind that beeps when you need to advance to the next slide. But the information is important and it does hit on all the elements of Proficiency Based Education, and, it’s short. (Ed Note: the term Standards Based Grading and Proficiency Based Learning are synonymous.)

I hope this helps in increasing your understanding of of what we are trying to do.