Sunday, February 20, 2011

Simply Ridiculous

I don't know about all of you, but I am really getting tired about the relentless attacks on teachers as states grapple with their budgets.  Are they kidding me? Really, educators and other state workers are to blame for out of control costs and spending?  As long as I can remember anyone that went into the field of education was ridiculed for the main reason that the profession makes no money.  Now all of a sudden we are all filthy rich, greedy, and the sole reason for the economic turmoil in this country.  The irony here is that it was the lack of oversight by these same government officials spearheading this agenda that got us into this financial mess.  Where is the accountability on their part?
Education is what makes all other professions possible.  As I have mentioned in other posts I firmly believe that teaching is the most noble profession.  Other countries recognize this and treat their teachers with respect and compensation competitive with many other professions that we see as important.  This summary of Thomas Friedman's views by Victoria Jean Terre sums it up nicely, "Friedman compares our country’s way of recruiting teachers to those countries who draw on the cream of the college student population, cultivating their academic talents and their commitment to working with children. And, I might add, compensating them well for their work and also providing social recognition of the important job they’re doing for their communities and their country."  If this isn't enough try out this recent CNN article written by Diane Ravitch entitled Why America's Teachers Are Enraged.

It is time to remind all of these state legislators and governors of how important teachers are and the countless hours that are spent to help children, including theirs', succeed.  The questions is, would they listen? Consider adding reasons why teachers should be valued, the important work they do, and examples from other countries that value the profession in the comments section.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How to Create and Use Benchmark Assessments to Improve Student Achievement

The following guest post was submitted by April Davis.
Schooling is as much about learning as it is about testing how much we’ve learned. Benchmark assessments are testing tools that are used throughout the year, as opposed to final examinations, which are taken at the end of each school year. Also, benchmark assessments test much more than academic knowledge – most of them test skills and knowledge in subjects like Reading and Mathematics, and some even test proficiency in oral and written communication skills, analysis and interpretation of logical problems, a basic understanding of how to carry out laboratory tasks, dramatization of certain scenarios, how to create memory maps, and even testing typing and keyboarding skills. In general, benchmark assessments are conducted many times in a year (once every few months or even once a month) to help educational authorities to assess the level of proficiency of a student, and compare their performance on these tests to others of their age group and academic level in the district or the state. The exams and tasks are standardized, as are the methods for grading and marking them.
Benchmark assessments were introduced as a way to help improve student achievement – those who were found to be lagging behind after each test could be given extra coaching or taught additional skills, depending on their performance in the different categories of the test.
Benchmark assessments like the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) are designed to:
  • Follow student progress
  •  Identify strengths and weaknesses
  •  Identify gaps in curriculum and instruction
  • Fine-tune curriculum alignment with state (or district) wide standards
  • Gather information that can be used to improve student performance
  • Identify students who may need additional support services or remediation

So if assessments are to be really helpful in improving students’ proficiency and achievement, the following points must be remembered when creating, administering and drawing conclusions from the exams:
  • The tests cannot take into account all the variables involved in a school setting – according to researchers Sue Henderson, Anthony Petrosino, Sarah Guckenburg, and Stephen Hamilton, all of Learning Innovations at WestEd and authors of a study that led to the publishing of two reports by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES),Measuring How Benchmarks Assessments Affect Student Achievement and “A second follow-up year for Measuring How Benchmark Assessments Affect Student Achievement”, variables such as leadership, student motivation, teacher training, and how schools use the benchmark data meant that a minimum of three to four years of testing was required before any student achievement (or lack of it) can be measured with some degree of accuracy. 
  • The tests must be unambiguous, with each question clearly understandable and relevant to the student’s level of knowledge and learning.

This guest post is contributed by April Davis, she writes on the topic of Accredited Degree Online . She welcomes your questions and comments at

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The InFocus IN3916 projector

Earlier this year NMHS had the opportunity to take the new InFocus IN3916 projector for a test drive.  Vikki Smith, a science teacher, utilized the device in her chemistry and integrated science courses.  The following is her review of the projector.
The InFocus IN3916 projector is an interactive projector that allows a teacher to change her regular whiteboard into an interactive whiteboard. The projector can be connected to a laptop computer or directly to a TV/DVD player. Its interactive feature is a wireless LiteBoard wand which allows teachers and students to interact with the whiteboard from the middle of the classroom. One of the cool features of the wireless LiteBoard wand is the ability to write, draw, and highlight on PowerPoint presentations to emphasize any relevant points a teacher or student would like to make. Another feature of the wireless wand is that it acts like a mouse control or a remote presenter pointer when a laptop computer is connected to the projector. This allows a teacher to move about the classroom and interact with the students without the teacher having to be next to the computer or whiteboard. Students can watch movies, presentations, or play interactive educational competitive games from anywhere in the classroom.

The InFocus IN3916 projector with the wireless wand was used in my class to allow students to interact with each other. Topics in Chemistry and Integrated Science were studied using online interactive websites on a regular whiteboard. Using the InFocus wireless LiteBoard wand is similar to using the wand control on the Sony Video Wii console. Students who were familiar with this kind of video control usually found it easier to control the wireless wand of the InFocus IN3916 projector. Any time the wand feature was involved in an activity, many students volunteered to participate.

Students were able to play interactive games that were created using various websites, such as This website enables a teacher to design and create her own interactive games, allowing students to review a subject's vocabulary, review quizzes, presentations, and play educational versions of games such as "Who wants to a millionaire" and "Jeopardy" using templates from This helps students review for a test, quiz, reinforce information, or check for understanding. It definitely helps to bring out the competitive nature in the students.

Although, there are some great features of the InFocus IN3916 projector, it still takes some time to get familiar with and to learn how to use the features of this projector. As with any wireless control, there are limitations, such as the maximum distance you can be away from the projector and the control of the wand, especially for those of us who are not video savvy or experts. However, although it is a learning curve, it is definitely worth using this projector to see the students excited about learning and interacting with topics, especially in science. 
Some websites used and explored with this projector are as follows: (Random number generator - great for creating groups)      (Some game templates)        (Used to learn about forms of Energy in Integrated Science) (Will be using the link for building interactive Electric circuits)   (Students played this game to obtained random vocabulary words to define for homework) (Students learned about Heat Transfer )    (Watched various videos and interactive labs)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Educational Options for a Changing World

This week we officially unveiled The Academies at New Milford High School to our junior and sophomore students (next week we will roll it out to the freshman and eighth graders).  The three academies are Arts & Letters, S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), and Global Leadership.  For obvious reasons I was extremely excited to speak to my students about this initiative and the incredible opportunity that they would now have to be part of a structure that caters to their interests.  The question was, how would the students react to the program?
The answer to this question was one that would please any educator!  My students were so engaged during the presentation that you literally could hear a pin drop.  It was also at this time that we introduced new course offerings that we believe are better aligned with learning in the 21st Century.  Some examples include Digital Journalism, Chinese Language and Culture I, Biotechnology, Digital Photography, Bioethical Studies, and Rock of Ages: Popular Culture Through the Prism of Rock & Roll.  After covering all of the intricacies associated with the new academy structure the students were asked if they had any questions.  Immediately numerous hands went up into the air further indicating their interest in this structure.  Let me tell you, their questions were fantastic!

At this point I was on such I high after seeing and hearing the students positive reaction to The Academies at New Milford High School that I still wanted to engage them further to really feel the pulse of the student body, and feel it I did.  As I roamed the halls in the morning and the cafeteria during lunch,     I was approached by excited students inquiring about which academy they wanted to be a part of, courses that they would like to take, and the possibility of enrolling in more than one academy.  This had to be the best part of my day on Thursday and Friday.  Their excitement about what we do at NMHS really provides me with a sense of fulfillment in terms of the collective work being done by all levels of staff.

Here is an overview and rational for the academies:

  • Student interest: We want to create a culture of learning that focuses on their interests and passions. 
  • National need and global demand for qualified graduates.
  • Concentrated studies in career-focused areas connected to college majors and the 21st Century Workforce.
  • Increasing rigor and accountability across the board for all students. 
  • Re-branding of certain courses.  For example, English 11 will now be called Exploration in Contemporary American Works (this looks much better on a transcript that English 11).
  • Open to ALL students.  It should be noted that this is optional, but available to all students (there is no G.P.A. requirement).  
  • Special designation on high school diploma and colored cords to be worn at graduation.  The students will determine what those colors will be.
  • Authentic learning experiences aligned to each academy where credit will be awarded.  These include internships, independent study, travel, and work-related study.
  • Ability of all students to apply to take a Virtual High School Course (we only have 25 seats per semester).
This is just another example of the changes occurring at NMHS to better meet the diverse needs of all of our learners while preparing them for success in the 21st Century. The challenge I have made to my students is that their lives at NMHS should not be about finding themselves, but instead creating themselves.

So what do you think about our academy structure for 2011-2012?  Are there any components that you suggest we change, add, remove?