Week of February 27


GSD Logo

Upcoming Important Dates

Feb 27 – Students and Teacher return from Break
Mar 1 – Spread the Word to End the Word Day
Mar 2 – GHS Chorus Concert in the Gym 12:30 (we will do 2 concerts)
Mar 3 – School Dance sponsored by the 6th grade 6:00 -8:00 pm
Mar 3 & 4 – Southern Maine MS Honors Band and Chorus Concert
Mar 3 & 4 – GHS One-Act Play presentation 7:30 pm MPAC
Mar 7 – 8th Grade Parent Night at GMS 6:00 pm MPAC
Mar 8 – GHS Principal Jandreau speaks to 8th Graders
Mar 10 -12 – GMS School Musical (more info below)
Mar 12 – Daylight Savings Time Begins
Mar 15 – Early Release Day, Students dismissed at 11:10 am
Mar 19 – Winter Fever Reliever GMS cafeteria 6:00 pm

School Vacation

I hope that all of you had a great week of school vacation. I know that some years the weather can really deal a rough blow, but this year was exceptional. For those of you who are skiers, I cannot imagine better conditions than we had this week. And, even wit the warmer weather, there was still some great sledding weather or snowshoeing weather with great conditions.

It was also great weather to take in the championship run of the Gorham High School girls Basketball team at the Civic Center! Best of luck to the girls next week in Augusta as they take on the Vikings of Oxford Hills.

Now that we are at the end of a great week, we turn our sights toward a very busy March with MEA Testing, 8th Grade Transition activities and beginning the planning for the next school year.

Spread the Word to End the Word

Help Spread the Word to End the Word! You are invited to be a fan of respect and join us in an ongoing campaign to stop the use of the R-word. The goal of Spread the Word is an effort to draw attention to the fact that a large population of people are hurt and offended by the use of the R-word. This is more than just eliminating a certain word from your vocabulary, this is about an evaluation of our attitudes towards a population that has been stigmatized throughout their lifetimes. Everyone deserves respect and removing the R-word from our every day speech is one step we can take toward showing respect.

Please make your pledge by going to www.r-word.org. There will be pledge sheets at grade level lunches on Wednesday for students to sign.

GMS Students Present The Little Mermaid

Please circle the dates of March 10 trough March 12 and plan to attend one of the presentations of the annual GMS Musical. GMS students, under the direction of Tana Krohn, will present three (3) shows of the Little Mermaid. Shows on Friday and Saturday evening begin at 7:00 pm and, new this year, a Sunday matinee beginning at 2:00 pm.

We have come to expect from our students some amazing performances, beautiful singing, great acting, lots of laughs and a truly, wonderfully memorable evening. Please make pans to catch at least one show!

Changes in School Nutrition Program

We have been working with our School Nutrition folks to help get a handle on the number of students who are carrying negative balances on the school lunch account.

School lunch at GMS offers a very vibrant array of meals for our students to enjoy that are both delicious and nutritious (I sound like a commercial!). Our Food Service also offers some wonderful items on an “a la carte” basis. Pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, hamburg and cheeseburger as well as a variety of cold sandwiches, salads and snacks. These are priced individually and the students can use their Pre-Paid account to purchase.

Families can use this pre-paid account system so that they don’t have to remember to give their children cash each day to eat lunch. Here is a link to the on-line pre-paid system that families can use to keep track of their account balances and to receive warnings when the account drops to a certain level and needs to be replenished.

We don’t ever want to withhold lunch from a child, and we won’t, however, sometimes, we do have accounts that go seriously into a negative balance. This causes a problem for your child and for the Food Service people, who need to be responsible to the taxpayers of Gorham and not become a burden on the school budget.

We recognize that family situations change over time and the family finances sometimes cause a struggle. We want to be able to continue to provide nutritious lunches for all of our students. There are some programs that can help, and if you give me a call I can confidentially steer you in the right direction to obtain information about these programs.

In the meantime, I will be reaching out to the people who are carrying negative balances to see if we can work out a plan to bring these balances into line with the program, If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call the Food Service staff or me.

Winter Fever Reliever

This information is from Tracy Williamson and has been sent to all of you in an email. This sounds like a really fun evening of music!

On Sunday, March 19th, the Gorham Middle School and High School Steel Bands will be performing a benefit concert with the Portland based steel band, Sister Steel.  The benefit is to raise money for our registration fee for the New England Steel Pan Festival that is to be held at Thompson’s Point on May 7th.
The event is from 6-8:30pm in the GMS cafeteria with a suggested donation at the door.
We are also looking for people to donate food items to a bake sale/snack concessions table for the event.  If anyone would like to contribute something, please let me know!  The steel band parents and Sister Steel are making crockpot meals and traditional foods from Trinidad for the event too.
Come enjoy some steel pan music, food and dancing on the 19th!  Hope to see you there!

Proficiency Based Learning

Imagine, if you will, (cue the Twilight Zone music) you are once again sixteen years old. You are sitting in the driver’s seat of your fathers four-door sedan, with the white walled tires, waiting for the man from the Registry of Motor Vehicles to slide into the passenger seat to administer your driving portion of the test for your first driver’s license.

The palms of your hands are dripping with sweat, so much so that your are not sure that you will be able to hold the steering wheel steady. Your armpits are moist and your heart rate is preparing to break land-speed records. You have studied the drivers manual, taken all of the drivers ed classes and completed at least 30 hours of driving with your mom or your dad, and it seems like years for them. You know you’re ready, but you’re still petrified!

The passenger door opens and the man dressed in the uniform of the Registry of Motor Vehicles slides into the passenger seat and begins to give you instructions about where to go and what to do.

Not ideal conditions for test taking, but it is what it is, and you fail to make a full stop at the stop sign (although, you’re sure you did!) and you FAIL your driving test and do not get your license!

Lots of tears and self doubt but, the world does not end. You go back to a few more driving practices with Mom or Dad, or, maybe that uncle who seems to show a whole lot more patience than Mom or Dad when you downshift to second instead of upshifting to fourth! The practice seems to work, your uncle has given you a pep talk to get you ready, and you return to the Registry of Motor Vehicles for another go at the “TEST”.

Alas, the pep talk didn’t work and you, once again, failed your driving test.

Let’s say you fail this test a third time, and now you’re wondering if driving is something that you really should be doing. You give it one more shot and, you PASS!

The Registry does not place any special restrictions on your license. There isn’t some kind of sticker that says “Took 3 times to pass”. You pass and you now have your license to drive.

Wouldn’t it be silly if the Registry used the average of all of your scores to determine if you could get your license. “Well, you failed the first 3 times you took the test, so you need to pass the test 4 times to get a passing grade on the driving test!”. That would be silly, and a waste of time for all. Or, worse, the Registry decided that your fails were so terrible they determine you will never get a license.

That’s just not the way the real world works, we just don’t average the things that really count. Yet, for more than 100 years, this is what we have been doing to students. One colossal fail on “the test” and you can never get your average up high enough to pass the course.

There are a plethora of examples of how real doesn’t match what we do in schools and, yet we continue the practice because… well, I don’t know because.

Will Richardson is a self-described parent, author, speaker, instigator, blogger about the web and its effects on school and learning. He is the co-publisher of ModernLearning.com and he can be followed on Twitter at @willrich45. I have been following him for several years now, and each time I read one of his blog posts, I am reminded about why I got into education in the first place.

I think the most profound phrase he uses that continues to stick with me more and more each day is “…trying to the wrong things right…”. When you think about our Core Beliefs here in Gorham this is what they say:

Each student is unique and learns in different ways and at different rates.

And yet, we continue to move students through school in similar age groupings. We also provide 51 minutes for math learning, 51 minutes for science learning, and so on. Our Core Beliefs have much more than just this and, I believe that every teacher, support staff and administrator in our district wants for each of our students to be successful in their life.Yet, we continue to try to get better at doing more of the same!

I’ve ranted on long enough. I am including a link to something from ModernLearning.com that came across my Twitter feed over the vacation. This can voice what I am so woefully explaining far better. I hope you enjoy.

Welcome Back


Upcoming Important Dates

Jan 13 – Early Release Day, Students will be dismissed at 11:10
Jan 13 – Annual GMS Student Talent Show 6:00 pm in the Auditorium
Jan 15 – School Dance 6:00 – 8:00 pm in the Gym
Jan 18 – Martin Luther King, Jr Holiday, No School
Jan 22 – 2nd Quarter Ends

I’ve Been Away for  a While

I apologize for being absent for quite some time. I have been wrestling with a few challenges in my daily life, not that I should use that as an excuse! In any event, I am back and I will begin with my regular postings today.

Thoughts While Watching the NFL

The NFL regular season has ended and teams (and coaches) are either preparing for the playoffs or hoping that they don’t get fired. For those who are planning for the playoffs, we could say that their seasons were successful, or they met the standards that their fans and owners set for them. Those teams that didn’t  make the playoffs could be considered “failures”. The final “report card” for these teams is published in the daily newspapers across the country, and, working for each of these daily newspapers, are reporters and analysts who spend a great deal of time “passing judgement” on each of these organizations.

I used report cards in quotes because that is really what they are, a summative evaluation on the successes and failures of each team. I suspect that within each team, every player and coach receives a similar kind of summative evaluation on how well they performed during the season and the results will be reflected in how much they get paid next year.

But let’s take a look at some of these teams and their final report cards, and see if there is more than meets the eye. Before we begin this examination of the standings of the NFL, let’s frame this conversation around the report cards we send home with our students each quarter.

The New England Patriots started the season (16 games) with 10 consecutive wins, and finished the season by losing 4 of their last games.  They finished the year 12-4, a 75% winning percentage good for the second best team in their conference.

The Denver Broncos, the top seeded team (meaning they were the best) in the conference finished with the same winning percentage as the Patriots, started their season with 7 wins in a row and won 5 of their last 9 games, a kittle bit better than the Patriots.

The Kansas City Chiefs started their season with one win and five losses but won their last 10 games in a row for a record of 11-5, just behind the Broncos and the Patriots. All of this brings on the question, which team is really ready for the final push to the top.

This is a stretch as an allegory to student learning, but it does highlight that fact the numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Just as with these NFL teams striving to be the champions, we work with our kids toward a different “championship”, a life after their schooling that will lead to an enriched life, where each of our former students make positive and constructive contributions to their community. We strive for each of our students to be creative problem solvers and positive and constructive thinkers. Our ultimate goal is that each of our students reach their full potential and exceed our expectations.

Given the way that we currently measure and value student progress, if we were to apply that same procedure to the results in the NFL this year, the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos would be valued below the results of the Kansas City Chiefs. The fact that the Patriots “stumbled” to the end of the season, ( yes, there is a lot of consideration given to injuries,etc), they would have “failed” in their quest to repeat as champion. They still may! But is does seem like an unfair measurement given all that we know.

Update on Proficiency Based Education

Over the past two years, Gorham Schools has been working to clarify the work that we do with your children. We have been striving to make a much more transparent the process of learning and of expectations for our kids. I am providing a link to Superintendent Heather Perry’s blog that is filled with information about the process and about the work we will be doing in the future.

I suggest that you all subscribe to Superintendent Perry’s regular blog.

Early Release Day

We have an early release day on Wednesday, January 13. The students will be dismissed at 11:10 am. During the day the students will have an abbreviated schedule and they will also have a chance to watch their peers perform in the annual Talent Show. The students, and the whole community will also have a chance to come back at 6:00 on Wednesday night to view the whole show again.

Re-Visioning the Gorham Schools

It has been almost 7 years since we have done any work on the vision of the school district and we know that there have been many changes in our work, in the requirements for our students, and in the students who are coming through our schools. In the coming months, there will be several opportunities for community members to have input in the vision of the district.

I would urge you again to subscribe to Superintendent Perry’s blog (link above), to keep current on the work of this district. You will also be contacted, probably several times, with information on how you may participate in this re-visioningprocess.

School Dance

Hard to believe another month has passed and it is again time for our students to dust off their dancing shoes for another dance. This dance is sponsored by the 6th grade and, I know the teachers would welcome anyone who would like to chaperone. If you are interested in being a chaperone for the dance, you first need to have completed the volunteer training provided by the folks in our Volunteer Coordinators Office. If you have any questions, please call the Adult Education Office.

Also, I would like remind parents and guardians to be ready to pick up you child by 8:00 pm.






Cold Enough For You!?!


Upcoming Important Dates

Friday, February 13 thru February 22 – Mid Winter Break, Enjoy the snow!!!
Friday, February 27 – Southern Maine Honors Chorus Festival, Westbrook Middle School
Friday, February 27 – School Dance GMS Gym 6:00 -8:00 pm
Saturday, February 28 – Southern Maine Honors Concert, Westbrook Middle School 3:30 pm
Saturday, March 7 – 6th Grade Honor Music Festival, Bonny Eagle Middle School 3:00 pm

A Warm Welcome

photo-9All of the faculty, staff and our students want to offer a warm welcome to our new Superintendent-elect, Heather Perry. We truly look forward to working with Ms. Perry as we all tackle the challenges that public school education faces in the coming years.

A Dose of Reality

We had a great assembly with all of our kids on Friday. Linda Dutil, an Emergency Room Nurse from Waterville who travels around thephoto-10 country sparking with high school and middle school kids about the realities of abusing substances. Linda does a great job of keeping the presentation very appropriate for the age of the kids and she does not place challenges in front of the kids. What she does is talk about what happens when young people make poor choices and end up in her Emergency Room. Linda does a great job of getting the kids involved in the presentation and she paces her “shock” effect about substances with a comforting compassion of a parent.

Music Honors Season

MusicAs you can see form the “Upcoming Important Date” section of this edition, we have several Honors Concerts coming in the next few weeks for several of our very talented musicians. It is a source of great pride for our school and our community to have so many of our students selected for these great accomplishments. I urge you, if you can find the time, to take in one of these concerts. It is a great chance for our kids to collaborate with other great middle school musicians.

An Update of Proficiency Based Education

The Gorham School department continues to work toward awarding Proficiency Based Diplomas as required by the state beginning with our current 6th grade class. I know that there are several folks out there wondering what is the fuss about this and how is it going to impact my son or daughter as they continue on in CBE-image1school.

I think we first need to remember why we send our kids to school. Our community allocates lots of financial resources and makes great sacrifices so that our kids will learn skills and knowledge to be successful in their life and become productive, positive citizens who will contribute to the betterment of our society. Ultimately, we want our kids keep this Democracy, that has endured for more than 235 years, strong and vibrant well into the future.

There are far too many interpretations of what this looks like specifically, but I think we can agree that having a well educated populace is our top goal.

So the grading systems we all grew up with had teachers administering tests and quizzes and then assigning grades to them based upon the number of correct answers divided by the number of questions on the test. Some teachers assigned more points for short answer questions than they did for multiple choice, true/false, or selected response questions. Some tests had essay questions called constructed response questions that would be worth the most points. Teachers usually used a percent to represent how a student did on any given test.

So, here are 3 students in the same class, taking the same 10 tests. What do the results of these 3 students demonstrate about their learning in my social studies class?

Student 1 Student 2 Student 3
Test #
1 50 100 100
2 60 100 50
3 60 90 90
4 70 90 60
5 80 80 100
6 80 80 60
7 90 70 50
8 90 60 90
9 100 60 80
10 100 50 80
Average 78 78 78

Each student achieved an average of 78% on the tests given. These tests were designed to demonstrate student achievement on a topic in social studies. Unlike some teachers, I chose not to look at homework for this quarter, so I graded the students based solely on the results of these tests. I purposely didn’t give anyone a zero, because I know about the toxicity of giving a student a zero and how it serves only to disengage the student.

What do these grades say about each of these kids?

Let’s look at student #1;

This student appears to start slow, not getting the information or not knowing how to study for my tests, or not understanding what I was looking for. After a time in my class, this student seems to begin to understand either the content or what I was looking for in answers to my questions. By the end of the quarter this student seems to have a good understanding of the content, or what I was looking for in answers, or how to study better for my tests, or had the lead role in the play I was directing for the school, or was the all-state center on my hockey team, or was polite in my class! (Ok, some of these reasons are a little ridiculous, but I wanted to show how the human condition can enter into our decision process.)

Student #2:

This student starts the quarter off with a bang! 100’s on the first two of tests of the quarter. This is going to be a great quarter for this student, maybe a really easy quarter, maybe too easy! This student’s grade seem to fall off as the quarter moves on. Perhaps something happened at home, or “significant other” problems, or I truly bored this student (most likely!). What does this say about how much this student learn?

Student #3

This student is the most troubling, in my mind. Very inconsistent in the scores on each of the tests and this doesn’t really tell me a lot about whether this student is understanding what I am teaching.

The bottom line for each of these students is that the “averaged” a 78% for this quarter, but I cannot tell whether these kids have “mastered” what it was that I was teaching! The path each of these kids took to 78% are so vastly different that I cannot honestly say which one has attained proficiency toward the standard I was teaching.

This is why we need to honestly examine how we determine what students are learning and to what level there are learning it. Our traditional method for making these determinations has passed us by, and what we need our kids to demonstrate cannot be measured by these traditional methods.

We will continue to work as a school, and a district to create systems that will best help our kids become what we want them to become, and that is what we said above about preserving our Democracy for many future generations.

Please call, or email me, if you have any questions about what we are doing and why.

As the Holidays Near


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.


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’


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…!


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?


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.