Monday, December 7, 2015

November Moments - BCEMS Middle Level

Someone once told me that a great school year was a collection of great moments spread throughout multiple days, weeks, months and then adding up to a year. 

Here is a collection of just a few great moments from November at the BCEMS Middle Level
November Moments - BCEMS Middle Level   (click on this link)

These moments reflect teachers working together to promote increased responsibility and participation of students. Ways have been found to increase students sense of belonging in our core classes, our specials classes, our enrichment and explore blocks. 
Our curriculum has been carefully structured to promote a positive learning climate and is diverse enough so that students are able to explore and develop their individual interests and gifts.

These moments reflect teachers and students working together and thinking of themselves as members of a team - a great team.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fostering a growth mindset

6th grade students use a growth mindset to solve a challenge
     Teacher and student growth mindset statements - side by side
 Based on research by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck and her colleagues, we know that students with a growth mindset - the belief that intelligence is not just something that you are born with but that you can continue to develop- have higher levels of success than those with a fixed mindset.  Teaching our students about this concept has the potential to help them persevere through tough tasks, have a more positive outlook, and ultimately be more successful in their career and everyday lives. Researcher John Hattie says a student's  growth mindset won't necessarily be as beneficial as it could be, unless the adults of influence in a students life have one as well.  If adults demonstrate a fixed mindset in regards to their students, the effect size of a growth mindset is minimal.
As a staff we know that having a growth mindset about our students is critical to their success.  We also know that to live the growth mindset ideology, we must have the same beliefs about ourselves and our colleagues. If we were to have a fixed mindset
 about students that would result in treating students who struggle like they will always struggle.  We must remember that if we treat students like they will succeed, they will. A fixed mindset is not helpful in teaching. If students have a fixed mindset about themselves we must remember that it might actually be due to the messages that we send them. 
Knowing this, and after collecting some of our own data, we worked with Dweck and Hattie's ideas in our most recent staff meeting.  Teachers came to common understanding about what it means to have a growth mindset, why it is important, and then they were asked to put those ideas into practice.  They 
demonstrated the qualities and the effect of a 
growth mindset to complete a collaborative challenge and all were successful.
They then discussed taking a big idea and breaking it down into an actionable step that they could implement immediately in their classrooms. These steps will be used to coach students to try different approaches to working and learning so that they are thinking more deeply. Staff also discussed doing the same for themselves and reflected on how that might help them to adjust instruction. Specific strategies were then shared.  
 During one of my classroom visits the next day, I was delighted to find one of our teachers taking his students through the same activity. I was able to see first hand the direct application of staff to student learning.
 I see evidence of our growth mindset approach every day at   BCEMS. Our teachers have a growth mindset about themselves, our students and each other. The beliefs we all hold have a dramatic impact on student achievement. What a fantastic community BCEMS is to learn in!                                                                                                                                                                   
After completing a journal writing activity, 6th grade students add to the growth mindset statements written by their teachers. They then studied and talked about the statements in preparation for their collaborative challenge.  Initially, they doubted their ability to complete the challenge, but all experienced success! 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

In the Art Room: 7th Grade Earth Art 
Ms. Feeser

Students were fascinated by the work of artist Andy Goldsworthy, an environmentalist who creates and photographs sculpture made from all natural materials: snow, ice, leaves, bark, rock, clay, stones, feathers, petals, and twigs. Students discussed themes throughout his work, in addition to studying his use of the elements and principals of design. Students were then given the opportunity to work outside in small groups, creating temporary works of art from materials they found “on site”. I think you’ll agree, the results are stunning!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day Ceremony

Veterans Day is an excellent opportunity for schools and communities to come together in a purposeful way. Participation in these events enhance community pride in their schools, enhance students pride in their work and provide a meaningful connection for all.  Although the parade was cancelled due to rain, the indoor assembly program provided an outstanding tribute to our Veterans.

As I entered the auditorium, I immediately was so proud of our students.  Their representation of our school was exemplary.  Many thanks to the community of Barre for your support and for inviting us to participate today. Thanks also to our band director, Ms. Matthews, for her leadership and dedication to our program. I'd also like to thank the students for their commitment and hard work, their parents (some who were able to chaperone today) and teachers for their support. Our entire school community benefits from this collaboration.

Students prepare in the band room for Barre's Veterans Day ceremonies. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

The importance of community connections 

During the month of October, nearly 200 Barre City Middle School students participated in a community/curricular connection experience.  Through connections with the Vermont Land Trust, we were able to establish a partnership with Bear Roots Farm, a local organic vegetable operation.  Bear Roots is doing amazing work and an absolute asset to the Barre community.  The owners, Jon and Karen, did not hesitate to enter into this collaboration with our school. 

Initially the connection was one of community service. Through our diverse personal learning plan curriculum we were excited to offer students an opportunity to learn more about civic responsibility.  Integrating these opportunities into our school days mean more opportunity to learn actively and helps our students understand the skills of active citizenship.  These opportunities give students a chance to reflect on what it means to be a responsible member of society. Facing five acres of land with row upon row of vegetables waiting to be harvested might have seemed a daunting task to some, but not to our students.  As I worked with the students and teachers I was thrilled to hear students making connections to the eco-system, sustainable agriculture, future careers, personal interests, wondering about how long the rows were, how many pounds each bag held, etc.  Even more inspiring was the collaboration and team work.  Every student participated.  Every student felt a sense of accomplishment. Over a period of three weeks, the PEAK and UJAMAA teams helped to harvest more than 6000 pounds of produce.

Active and engaged learning inspires students to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they are studying and allows them to see how ideas are connected. Bringing class content out to the field promotes collaboration, critical thinking and knowledge retention. The best community collaborations can bring two seemingly unrelated worlds together. 

Service learning provides opportunities for students to engage directly in their communities and meet community needs while enhancing their course work. It is important that, at the same time, students purposefully explore what civic responsibility means and the importance of both understanding and embracing this concept.  With community education as a framework, teams from our school are looking forward to expanding our learning opportunities for our children. We are grateful for Bear Roots Farm and their willingness to integrate their work into ours allowing for yearlong curricular opportunities for our students.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Anti Bullying activities - not just about a day

Our PLP video group conducted interviews about the importance of standing up for each other and Unity Day during explore block. 

Unity Day 2015
Together against bullying — united for kindness, acceptance and inclusion 

Bullying Prevention Awareness month was initiated by PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center Site Exit Dislcaimer in October 2006. Since it began, the event has grown to an entire month of education and awareness activities, and is being recognized by schools and communities throughout the world. PACER recognized that students, parents, and people around the world need to become more aware of the serious consequences of bullying

PACER developed National Bullying Prevention Month to raise awareness and also to change the culture around bullying, which was historically considered a childhood rite of passage. “We know that bullying can lead to school avoidance, decreased self-esteem, depression, and even self-harm,” said Julie Hertzog, director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. “Bullying intervention and prevention is something in which everyone can play an important role.”

At Barre City School we address the issue of bullying every day in a proactive way.  Among other things, specific activities include direct instruction about peer/relational aggression, other types of bullying, peer to peer training and modeling, active strategy teaching for bystanders, an excellent system of alertness, follow up and addressing problems as they arise. 

Our entire middle school, every student and staff member, participated in Unity Day today.  Between decorating the banner, the hallways, the drive, sending letters, writing, interviews, and a variety of other activities, students were actively engaged in sending a common message.  When I walked into the cafeteria during grades 5 and 6 lunch, I saw that every student and teacher was wearing something orange.  What an incredible sight! Equally impressive was the 7th and 8th grade representation, and as I completed my end of the day walk through, I was so glad to see the peer interviews happening. Our students are clearly hearing and internalizing the message that anti-bullying efforts are not about a day, or a week, or a month.  Positive change comes one small moment at a time, all stacked up together.  These moments can and need to happen every day, every week, every month, all year and for years to come. We know this at BCEMS, but we sure did have a great time today coming together for this national event.  
We started our day by walking to put posters up on all of the trees that line our drive.

Our office staff participated - Thank you ladies! 

One of the activities completed today

Some of our 7th and 8th graders make a statement. 

Some of our fifth graders.  

Ms. Bettis and two of her students after completing some of their activities.

Mr. Woodard and Mr. Mislak 

One of our behavior specialists - Justine 

Students - every single one (400 of them!) signed the banner today.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

So many things happen each day in our school that help us to feel connected to each other.  Why is that important?  Can kids learn, be their best selves, do what we want them to do, what we need them to do, without that feeling of connectedness and community?  Some might argue that they can. Some might argue that building a sense of community may take a back seat to the many other things that we need to pay attention to.   Building community is not taking a back seat at BCEMS.  The research that confirms the importance of building a sense of community in schools continues to grow. Students who identify their school as having a strong sense of community are more likely to access all of the academic, social and extra-curricular opportunities available to them.  Along with academic achievement, schools with a strong sense of community emphasize the development of qualities essential to good character and citizenship, such as fairness, concern for others, and personal responsibility. Everyone shares an understanding of the school's values, which then shape daily interactions.  These interactions lead to an increased investment in student learning. 

Ms. Cosgrove's TA (Team UJAMAA) starts their day with a group breakfast ~ an opportunity to support each other with whatever they may need. 
Class meetings, cross grade mentoring, the Barre Youth Mentor Project, organized opportunity for student voices to be heard, collaborative learning, restorative practices, whole school celebrations, community service opportunities, cafeteria contributions, pod meetings, plp/explore blocks and advisories are just some of the things happening at Barre City School to help us continue to build our collaborative, connected learning community. These activities help to cultivate respectful, supportive relationships among students, teachers, and parents. These relationships are the heart of who we are and are essential in supporting engaged learning.  
Student agreements posted in the classroom build a sense of community. 

Members of Students on the Move, our student voice group, review the whole school assembly program. 

At our monthly whole school celebration we all danced together to start things off! 

One explore/plp group created a project in our gardens in which they harvested pumpkins and invited younger students to bring one home. 

School wide celebration of fitness - walk, run, fun.

As part of our explore/plp experiences, the PEAK team volunteered their time and harvested 1500 pounds of produce at a local farm! 
Members of the boys soccer team building benches for our fields.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Visible Learning and Teaching 

Recently I was able to observe the process of formative assessment happening in a 5th grade math class.  

Formative assessment is specific, timely, and directly connected to learning goals. Teachers gather valuable data through this process by observing the actions, behaviors, and words of students. Teachers may take notes as students conference with one another, pair and share, or work in collaborative learning groups. These informal assessments are about checking for understanding in an effective way in order to guide instruction. During my time observing I listened to small group conversations which created opportunities for students to guide their own learning.  Students were successfully applying the new learning and problem solving in the moment. This provided natural opportunities for the students to revise and improve their work products and deepen their understandings.  The teacher and I were also able to quickly connect the “visibility” of her teaching to what her students were able to show about what they had learned.  

Evidence shows that the greatest effects on student learning come when not only the students become their own teachers, but the teachers also learn about their teaching, and then apply that learning to their instruction. In the most successful classrooms, both the teaching and learning are visible. When it is clear what teachers are teaching and what students are learning, student achievement will increase. What I observed in this math class was an excellent example of this process. As a school community, we can celebrate our commitment to providing these essential opportunities for students so that we can continue our own learning about what works best for our kids. Opportunities for learning are endless. For all of us. 
  Students in Ms. Shaffer's class working through a word problem at a concrete station as part of a CRA assessment. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Restorative Practices in the Middle School

Before the start of the school year a group of 25 + teachers, support staff and students were trained in using Restorative Practices.  This group made a commitment to begin supporting the use of Restorative Practices in not only our planning rooms as part of our discipline system, but as part of what happens in the classrooms on a regular basis.  These practices help to build community and can help to set things right when something happens that negatively affects the learning environment. Teachers have made a commitment to using restorative circles in our classrooms. Through one of our new focus groups, we will continue to support each other, reflect on this strategy in our middle school and continue to build community around this very important shift in thinking.

When people come together for restorative interactions they sit in circles. Circle conversation, led by the facilitator, is a fundamental element of the process. Classroom circles support the two main goals of restorative practices: building community; and responding to harms through conversations that set things right.  I was very glad to be invited to a 5th grade classroom to be a part of their circle. I was so impressed with the respect that each student showed for their classmates and with their conversation.
They all felt that it was a good experience.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Weekly Updates

On Sunday of every week, I post weekly updates for all of our faculty and staff.  In these updates I always include three things.  These things are information immediately applicable for professional practice, something about teaching and learning to reflect on and something for inspiration.  I thought I'd share this week's "three things" with all of you as well.

For Professional Practice
Article from Education Week
The thing to understand about personalized learning is that it describes a methodology, rather than just a set of goals."

For Reflection
All the coolest curriculum materials and teaching strategies will not amount to much if middle grades teachers cannot reach their students.  The way to do that is to embrace the following essential elements and make them integral to teaching practice....”

For Inspiration
The importance of doing the “little things”.  Kindness matters.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

As I traveled the halls and visited classrooms this week I was so pleased to see the high level of engagement of our students in the learning process!  During one walk through I was able to talk with three 7th grade young men who had just completed a project in Ms. Cosgrove's class.  I asked them about their learning and they began to tell me about measuring and hypothesizing about bridge building.  I asked them what that made them think about and our conversations went to different kinds of bridges and different materials that bridges could be made out of. One student then asked if the amount of weight a bridge could hold was dependent on the type of material the bridge was made of!  I took this opportunity to remind the student of his personal learning plan, organized in his digital portfolio.  He agreed that it would be one of many great questions to focus on and I promised I would get back to him in a few weeks to learn what he found out.  As I walked away I was so grateful for the opportunities to interact with students, for the commitment that we have made to ensure all of our middle school students have a personal learning plan, and for our teachers who are leading our expert/explore classes so that our students can learn about their interests in a way that is directly tied to 21st Century skill building.

Mr. Woodard posed a challenge to his 7/8 science class this week.  He asked his students to teach him about the water source in Barre City, how it gets to houses and businesses as well as what happens to the water after it is used!  When I visited his class I was delighted to see students talking with the operators of the water and waste water treatment facility, completing research on the computers and using technology to map the water lines.  Every student was engaged and could tell me what they were learning about, why it was important and how they would know they have learned what they needed to.   I'm excited to see the final presentations!
Students in Mr. Woodard's Science class explore and learn about the water system in Barre City