Thursday, October 29, 2009

Evolving Involvement

By Pam Kenney

Every fall parents of upper elementary and middle school students struggle to define the role they should assume in the home/school academic partnership. How much homework support should they provide their children? How should the responsibility for their youngsters’ learning and academic success be apportioned among teachers, parents, and children?

There are educational theories to support a variety of answers to those questions, but my response is predicated on one strongly held belief: Parents turn over too much of the responsibility for academic achievement to the school and assume their children will excel with minimal parental input. As students move through the elementary grades, parents typically ease up on their involvement in homework every year. In fact, as a child’s homework load increases from the fourth grade through middle school, his parents need to be more vigilant about monitoring and supporting his at-home study time than they were when he was younger.

When students are in kindergarten through the third grade, the focus of the curriculum is reading, writing, and math, and homework is usually straightforward. For example, parents are asked to provide a quiet study area, listen to their youngsters read, quiz them on math facts and spelling words, and ensure that completed work and library books are in their backpacks. By fourth grade, the academic curriculum has expanded. Most children are fluent readers; formal reading instruction begins to account for less teaching time, and more emphasis is placed on reading in the content areas (social studies and science). Math teaching zeros in on problem solving in addition to computation. Pupils are asked to study for comprehensive tests and to complete long-term projects at home. In addition, classroom teachers are focusing on building organizational and study skills and helping students internalize the habits of responsibility and diligence started in the lower grades. It is at this point that parents must step up, not scale down, their participation in their child’s academic life.

The task of completing homework assignments in the fourth through the eighth grades is often more time-consuming and difficult for the majority of children than in the earlier grades. Parents become increasingly less sure how to help or how much to help. In general, 9- to 14-year-olds need a lot of homework support from their parents. A common school policy on parental help is that teachers want their students to complete homework that is assigned primarily to reinforce a skill (a math worksheet, e.g.) on their own. Requesting that you not help your child with this kind of homework, however, does not mean a hands-off approach. Most teachers do want you to check his math and reading homework, for example, and have him correct wrong answers. If it is apparent he hasn’t grasped a concept, it’s usually better to send his teacher a note than to attempt to teach him what he doesn’t understand. In math, particularly, children are taught methods to solve problems that are different from how their parents were taught, and parent/child conflicts over the “right way” often produce angry outbursts and tears of frustration.

Most parents are familiar and comfortable with giving their children the help described above. The role of parents is somewhat different, however, when dealing with science and social studies homework, and many falter when children bring home assignments in these subjects. Here are some suggestions on how you can, and should, support your student as homework becomes less straightforward. The teacher may work with her class on a unit about ecosystems, for example. Although perhaps 50 minutes a day are spent on the material in school, additional at-home reinforcement is necessary to ensure mastery. Your child needs to devote time after school hours re-reading lessons, answering study questions, preparing for quizzes and tests, and working on projects. It is an unusual child who is able or willing to do those things on his own without being taught how. With guidance from the school, it is the parents’ responsibility to tell their children what is expected of them at home and to provide the support they require to carry out those expectations.

It goes without saying that parents can’t have appropriate expectations unless they know not only what their child is studying in school, but what organizational skills and study procedures are in place there, too. What is paramount to your child’s academic success, then, is your willingness to become informed about what and how she is studying in school and what her homework assignments are. It means becoming familiar with her assignment book, finding out when tests are scheduled, and working with her to make an at-home study schedule for tests and projects. It means checking not only that she has completed daily homework assignments, but that she understands what she’s doing and, if she doesn’t, writing or emailing her teacher to tell her so. It means requiring that she re-read that day’s science assignment in case there’s quiz even though she tells you she read it in school and already knows the material.

Above all, the prevailing atmosphere in your home must be that homework is a family priority. You must be willing to sit with your fourth through eighth grader and talk about what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. For many families that means reducing the number of after-school activities their children participate in. It may mean that some of your evenings will not be spent on activities you enjoy. Today, upper elementary and middle school subjects are not easy in public or independent schools. Your child will not be successful if he doesn’t work diligently in school and at home every day of the school week. He will not be successful if you expect schools to provide from 8:30 to 3:00 everything he needs to progress academically. They can’t do it. You must be an active participant; it’s one of your most important jobs as a parent.

Working with children at home can be trying for many parents. Children who aren’t used to having their homework supervised will initially balk at parental interference. They don’t want their parents involved, of course, because they know their days of a cursory reading of assignments and the slapdash completion of a math sheet are about to end. It takes effort to do your homework well, and exerting that effort is the last thing a lot of students want to do. However, if you are calm, matter-of-fact, and consistent in your insistence on solid effort at home, your children will slowly but surely realize that the conscientious completion of homework actually makes studying less arduous in the long run. For example, re-reading content area assignments nightly makes studying for tests relatively easy.

To parents who are worried about their children’s grades, I say this: During one nine-week grading period, become more involved with your child’s school experience. Work with him on his homework; help him set up a study schedule and a quiet place to work; quiz him for tests; talk to him about what he’s learning in science and social studies. At first he’ll probably fight you every step of the way, but keep telling yourself that you’re the parent, and you’re in charge. I guarantee the effort you and your child expend now to establish good study habits at home will pay off. His grades will go up, which will enhance his confidence and self-esteem. Someone once said nothing succeeds like success. And my experience with children tells me that when they start to do well in school, they are so buoyed by their success that studying becomes more enjoyable and less of a chore. Diligence can become a habit, and if our children are going to do well in high school and college when their parents’ influence inevitably weakens, it’s a habit parents must instill in them now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

PLC South Session 2: Using the Macbook

Tuesday, October 27, 2:45, Hartford-Sumner Elementary School

Dirigo High School Tech Helpers

In some schools in Maine, students take an active part in helping to solve tech issues and in promoting technology integration. Dirigo High in RSU#10, with a program under the guidance of Mike Nolette, is one of those places. See just some of what these engaged and enthusiastic students do here and here.

Know of any others?

Monday, October 26, 2009

AUP for Teaching


Telstar 3 Session: Blogs and Other Stuff

Crescent Park School, 3:30 - 7:30, Monday, October 26, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Thank you, Ernie Easter, for the lead on this series.

This American Life

Part #2

Part #3

Part #4

Friday, October 23, 2009

Maine Mom Blogs

List of Bloggers

Acceptable Use Policy for teaching with laptops

by Mike Muir

Recently there's been an interesting discussion on the ACTEM listserv (technology using educators) about what the consequences should be for students who violate the school's AUP.

Thinking about the early years of MLTI where we found that schools that had teachers using the laptops in engaging ways with students had lower breakage & theft rates, I got thinking about acceptable use policies for teachers and posted this:

I wish, too, that we had an Acceptable Use Policy for Educators - not for how they use it personally, but how they use it with their students.

I wish that AUP would focus on things like teachers promising that they would use the laptops to
  • do projects
  • promote curiosity and make content interesting
  • build constructive conversations and debate
  • open the world to students, taking them where they've never been before
  • bring experts into the classroom, regardless of where they are geographically
  • improving writing by finding what kids would love to write about
  • make complex ideas concrete and understandable
  • teach responsibility by giving students responsibility and finding out their questions & concerns about their world & work

And I wish that AUP would prohibit (or at least severely limit)
  • not using the laptops
  • locked down machines
  • strong filtering
  • electronic worksheets
  • simply looking up facts on the Internet (or worse - calling that a WebQuest)
  • using laptops as a textbook
  • drills for learning software programs
And I wish that AUP generated as much conversation about consequences of violating the AUP as the one for kids does.
So, what do you think should be in that AUP? (or it might be interesting to see what we believe the consequences for violating that AUP should be!)

What Do We Really Need?

Living Simply


Pie in the Face: Shaving Cream or Whip Cream?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Featuring Theodore Sizer

"Respect for students starts with respect for teachers, for them as individuals, for their work, and for their workplace." ~ Ted Sizer

"The best we educational planners can do is to create the conditions for teachers and students to flourish and get out of their way." ~ Ted Sizer

The Educational Theory of Theodore Sizer

Habits of Mind

Coalition for Essential Schools

Wikipedia; Coalition for Essential Schools

Searching for Photos

Photos at LIM Resources

"Introduction to Self-Education"

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” - Isaac Asimov

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Using PBworks for Adult Education Reading Class

Ramsey Ludlow has created a site using PBworks that allows an online learning environment for her adult learners. Again, it demonstrates the simplicity, utility, and ease-of-use of wikis.

MVMS Advisor/Advisee Wiki

I was thrilled to catch a post from Kim Hilton in the Mountain Valley Middle School First Class conference this morning. Being a proponent of the simplicity and utility of wikis, I was delighted that Kim had just set one up, called MVMSAdvisor, for resources in their advisor/advisee program.

Many schools seem to have a variation of this program, but all too often some busy teachers, with many irons in the fire, have difficulty in finding resources and activities to make the best use of this time. Enter Kim's new wiki!

For additional resources, see Process Skills at LIM Resources.

Want to have your own wiki? See Using a Wiki to Collect Internet Resources.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teachers Games For Change: Part 1

by Olga LaPlante

First Session

Add comments to the blog

    • Opening Questions: Go to this blog and offer your responses.

      1. What do students need to know about a community's energy needs?

      2. If students were given control of energy policy, what might the outcome look like?

      3. Briefly share one example of an activity you provide for students in which the student can quickly and easily try different scenarios to see results.
      4. Check out students' responses on this blog.

Game: Energyville

Objective of the game:

You will create a one paragraph energy proposal that highlights major choices in energy policy based on your experience in the simulation (post it here).

Questions to explore the game:

IMPORTANT: RECORD YOUR CHOICES AT EACH STEP!!! You will need that record to make conclusions about effectiveness of your choices.

You may wish to use a record sheet like this one for data collection.

    After your first attempt, you may wish to try one of these challenges:

    1. start through level one with no renewable energies. How long and what challenges are faced in introducing renewable energies into your city? Can it get totally renewable over time?

    2. assume only green through level one, is it possible to replace the greens with conventional sources and have the city successful? Does green mean expensive?

    3. ***Additional reading and discussion***:
    Extension ideas back in the classroom/community:

    1. CFL video
    2. Ideas and FAQ:

      1. For this particular activity, it's important to have an engaging conversation with students. What are some of the things that seem unrealistic in this simulation? What are the assumptions that have been made and can we change them? What are the things that might be biased? What do we need to know to really affect energy policies and landscape?
      2. The hypothetical city in the simulation lacks lots of background information. To take this project to a more tangible level with real data on alternative energy sources to model events in a particular location, try this additional information. Energy Unit [requires MyWorld GIS, available on MLTI laptops; can be purchased or downloaded as trial for 45 days, which may be sufficient for one project without a license.]

    Link to Part 2

    Want to take a course? Check it out!
    The Game is On, Course Facilitator Olga LaPlante

    Intro Video: If books came after games


    Ed Latham

    Olga LaPlante

    PLC North: Session 2: Google Tools & Mac Apps


    DId You Know 4.0

    (Fall, 2009) (Double-click image to see wide-screen version at YouTube)

    The Third Annual MEDIA Convergence Forum (October 20-21, 2009)

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Teachers Using WordPress at MSAD #44

    Melissa Prescott, an art teacher at Telstar Middle School, has created the following blogs using WordPress:

    Tera Ingraham, Telstar elementary art teacher, has created the following WordPress blog:

    Tera and Melissa gave our Telstar 3 cohort an overview of the possibilities of using WordPress in the classroom this evening. A delightful presentation . . . thanks! :)

    Telstar3: Session 2: Blogs, Wikis & Mac Apps

    October 19, 2009, 3:30 - 7:30, Crescent Park School, SAD#44


    Foreign Language and Web 2.0 MaineEd09

    by Sarah Sutter

    Wiki of resources from Deb Taylor's presentation at Maine Ed 09 on using Web 2.0 tools in a Foreign Language classroom, specifically in a 1:1 laptop class at the high school level (although resources can be adapted to wider use).

    One to One in Science MaineEd09

    by Sarah Sutter

    Wiki of resources and links for the 1:1 in High School Science by Susan Perkins. Links provided to tools, examples related to specific science content, and more.

    Family History in American History Maine Ed 09

    by Sarah Sutter

    Wiki of resources for the presentation Family History in American History by Mary Ellen Bell and Sarah Sutter at Maine Ed 09. Links to tools and ideas for creating oral history projects, a great interactive immigration map, ideas for using Google Maps collaboratively and more. The slide show is there, as is a link to the recorded presentation from the Spring MLTI Online Conference last May.

    Digital Photos : Now What? MaineEd09

    Sarah Sutter's wiki of resources from her presentation at Maine Ed 09 on what to do with digital photos after you take them. Ideas for organization, storage, backing up, and basic editing concepts, as well as web 2.0 tools for posting student work to the web for exhibit, sharing and feedback.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    RSU #10 North PLC Learning & Technology Group


    We need more failure for our children.

    by Ed Latham

    This morning I read this article about a soldier needing a lung transplant, but getting the lungs of a heavy smoker which directly resulted in the soldier dying within a year. This sad case got me thinking about all we adults do to "help" children and what the effects of that help are doing to our society.

    I did not wish to clog up the blog with a long article, so I have a link to my article here for your thinking pleasure. Please come back here with your contribution to the problem stated in the article. We all need to work together to help our children recover from a generational refusal to help our children fail.

    Sunday, October 11, 2009

    Repeal School Administrative Consolidation! Vote Yes on 3! Pass the Word!!

    by George Crawford

    Question 3 on Maine’s ballot this year has to deal with the repeal of Maine’s 2007 school administrative consolidation law. As a teacher, I am working to repeal the law. I hope that other teachers and school staff members vote and will encourage others vote to overturn the law.
    School administrative consolidation was included in Governor Baldacci’s 2008-2010 budget as an “emergency measure” and originally was going to consolidate Maine’s school districts from 290 school districts to 26. After debate in the Legislature, the law was passed in June 0f 2007 which set a goal of 80 school districts, all to be RSUs or Regional School Units with a minimum size of 2,500 students or 1,200 if you met certain criteria such as being geographically isolated.

    $36.5 million dollars was removed from the 2008-2010 Maine state budget for education subsidies to schools. This included reduced amounts for system administration, facilities and maintenance, and also transportation.

    RSU have a SAD governance model and weighted votes on a large school board based on population. The law was passed that if you do not vote for consolidation for your school district to join an RSU, then your district penalty in its subsidy from the state.

    In 2008, another school administrative structure called an AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) was made an option where school districts could consolidate and not form an RSU. This governance structure gave another path to consolidation.

    The law was passed and after “guidance” from the Maine Department of Education, Regional Planning Committees were formed to create the new school districts under the law. After “good faith” efforts, the planning committees submitted their best efforts to the state for approval and then to local voters. Some plans were approved and many others were voted down.

    Maine went from having 290 school districts down to 217 in June of 2009. The figures of 290 districts are also misleading. Towns in School Unions where each town runs its own schools and share a central office and Superintendent are each considered a separate school district. School unions share administration and Superintendents.

    The consolidation law has many undemocratic aspects in it. The first one being when it was passed it was incorporated into the budget, as an “emergency measure” State budgets should not be used for huge policy changes such as this. The law was also passed that if your current district didn’t vote for consolidation then your district would face a subsidy cut. This point was often stressed at consolidation informational meetings for citizens by the state facilitators who helped the Regional Planning Committees.

    The consolidation law causes many problems. Districts who voted not to consolidate were supposed to face penalties if they didn’t vote to consolidate. Districts that did consolidate often found costs shifted from one town to another. School subsidies under the law are not given to each town in a new RSU or AOS but were given to the district as a whole. It is divided up by a cost sharing formula developed by the new district. After consolidation, property taxes in Pownal have risen 25%, Alna 33% and 19% in Durham. These small towns also have less say in their schools due to the large weighted vote on the school board.

    The law also takes away a towns ability to run their schools. Many towns would go directly form running their schools and sharing a central office in a School Union to having little or no say on a a large school board. Otis in Hancock County shares a school with Mariaville. Otis voted not to join RSU 4 which stretches from Ellsworth east to Steuben. They would have 2.6% of the votes on the RSU school board and would have little say about their school. Mariaville voted to join RSU 4 and now Otis must pay RSU 4 tuition to send their students to school in Mariaville. They were formerly part of a school union and ran their own school with Mariaville.

    Other problems with the law include lack of local control, centralization moving away control of schools to whom they are suppose to serve, and the fact that onc e in an RSU or AOS, you are not allowed to leave. There is no provision in the current law to leave an RSU or an AOS .
    Estimated savings on administration are estimated to be $1.6 million once all the savings is added up from passed consolidated plans submitted to the Department of Education.

    If consolidation is repealed, then current RSUs can become SADs and AOS can be changed to School Unions. Savings can be found through cooperation between districts. The Maine Legislature can also come up with a consolidation bill that relies on incentives rather than penalties and coercion.

    I ask that you vote Yes on Question 3 and repeal school consolidation. Please spread the word to your colleagues and friends. Please also check out the resources below for more points of view on consolidation.

    Web Sites

    Pro Consolidation Website

    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    Thursday, October 1, 2009

    Using Apple Photo Booth

    Use this powerful tool. Allow kids to play with it, trying out the "candy", show them some possibilities, and then give kids the structure to create projects based on powerful and engaging learning goals.

    Photo Booth Tutorials and Learning Activities at LIM Resources