Archive for the ‘Customized Learning’ Category

Empowering Students: MAMLE Annual Conference

September 5, 2013

MAMLE’s annual conference is coming right up!  A flyer and registration materials were sent to all schools this week.  Mark your calendars!

Dates:  October 17 & 18

Location: Point Lookout Resort and Conference Center, Northport

Flyer 3

Highlights of the conference:

  • Two inspiring keynoters: Al Miller & Jack Berckemeyer

Al Miller

Al Miller will be speaking Thursday: “Theater in the Classroom: Creative Energy”

Jack Berckemeyer will be speaking Friday: “Middle Level Education:

Living It, Loving It, Laughing About It”


  • 35 + concurrent sessions
  • Featured presentations related to literacy with Dr. Kevin Perks
  • HP & Apple are both presenting and will have Help Desks for individual questions
  • Annual Thursday evening social, Meet Me in the Middle networking get-together, and exhibitors

Highlights of Point Lookout

  • Overlooks Penobscot Bay
  • Trails, ocean beach, kayaking & fitness center
  • Cabins on site for those staying overnight
  • Internet everywhere
  • Delectable meals
  • Great breakout rooms
  • Easily accessible via Rt. 1 or Rts. 95 & 3

For current information about the specifics of the conference check out the conference page at MAMLE’s new website:   You can download registration and housing materials as well as read a preview of some of the sessions!

Middle Level Education–21st Century Style! Empowering Students to Take Charge of Their Learning

April 21, 2013

Jack Berckemeyer

The Young Adolescent Learner

Al Miller

Creativity in the Classroom

Dr. Kevin Perks

Literacy in the Content Areas

Bea McGarvey

Customized Learning

Where Can You Meet All of These Experts in ONE Place?

Plus over 30 concurrent sessions

MAMLE Annual Conference

Point Lookout, Northport Maine

October 17 & 18, 2013

For more information email or call Dr. Wally Alexander, Executive Director of MAMLE

Cross-Curricular Teaching

January 19, 2013


Screen shot 2013-01-18 at 8.23.18 PMIn this weeks edition, January 16 of Edutopia the focus is on “deeper learning”. Those of us who have been around for some time as middle level educators are saying HOORAY! At some point (Ed Brazee I am sure can name the time period) there was a shift to a more intentional focus on the curriculum. The developmental needs intersecting with the learning needs.

Much of what I read in the Edutopia article called Deeper Learning: Why Cross-Curricular Teaching is Essential” the author, education consultant, and blogger Ben Johnson says: “Deep learning implies that students will follow a particular stream of inquiry to the headwaters, rather than simply sampling all the possible streams.” Ben didn’t mention any one particular grade level or age of student. He points out that it is time to create possibilities for students to reach their potential.

Ben claims that teachers and administrators need to “understand and accept” the following:

  1. Deep learning engages the whole student (and teacher) — heart, mind and body
  2. It requires enthusiastic partners
  3. It requires intensive preparation
  4.  Assessment must mirror learning
  5.  Collaboration is necessary

This doesn’t sound like anything new but I do sense in the articles that I have read recently an urgency that I haven’t in the past. An urgency for educators to get it right.

As Edutopia authors do so well there are great examples including a blog by a Language Arts teacher who has a TED talk unit. In the blog post she discusses the changes to her TED talk unit aligning it with ELA Common Core – specifically on “argument”.

The teacher makes a connection to the “21st Century four Cs”. She aims for each lesson to correlate to at least one of the four important skills: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. You can read the details of the work by clicking here. I suggest you go to the article and read the other examples provided as well.

Mr. Johnson stresses the importance of breaking down the walls between content and the value of collaboration. Working with students to help them go deeper in their learning. In many cases they have not been challenged in their thinking for their elementary years so getting them to go deeper is a challenge for teachers. Mr. Johnson ended the article with this statement:

“Students and teacher teams focusing on learning deeply have the force to achieve learning beyond the traditional education dam and shoot out over the spillway to not only understand the torrent of available knowledge, but to also add to it in phenomenal ways.”

I know middle level educators are up to the task of educating students in a 21st century classroom. With ongoing communications with students, parents, and colleagues we can create the opportunity for deeper learning for all students.

Students at the Center–Sugarloaf–Oct. 25 & 26

September 24, 2012

Students at the Center

MAMLE Annual Conference


October 25 & 26

Music by the Medomak Middle School Pantastics!

What Does Learner-Center Instruction Look Like?

Innovative educators who are experts at creating student-centered classrooms will be sharing their classroom-tested strategies and activities during Best Practice Sessions.  Session descriptions can be found at:

What is Proficiency-Based and/or Customized Learning All About?

Bill Zima, principal of Mt. Ararat Middle School, will be leading an interactive panel discussion focused on Customized Learning on both Thursday and Friday.  He is also the featured keynote speaker on Friday.  His topic: Yeah, We Got That! Why The New Reforms in Education Are Middle Level Minded

Sherry Levesque from Gray-New Gloucester will be presenting on her school’s transition to proficiency-based learning on Friday.

What is a Sane Way to Approach the Complexities of Leadership in 2012?

Jeff Rodman, principal of the Middle School of the Kennebunks, will lead an interactive panel on both days.  Panel members include international workshop leader, Chris Toy and NASSP’s Associate Director for Middle Level Services, Patti Kinney.

Specific Best Practice Sessions include:

  • Tools and Strategies for Leading Change
  • Making Change Manageable: Leadership Team
  • Connecting the Dots: Common Core, Customized Learning and More
  • Customized Learning–Transforming Our Schools and Classrooms to Meet Needs of Our Students
  • School Change
  • iPads, Conversations, and Observations

GREAT DEAL for Administrators!  

Register 4 staff members and your registration is complimentary!

Allied Arts–Where Do We Fit In a Standards-Based World?

Specific best-practice sessions and an interactive panel on both days take on this critical issue! Creativity, Art, Health, Music, and Technology Integration weave their way through the program.

What About Our Students at Risk–What Strategies Have Been Successful Around the State?

One of our most highly rated interactive panels last year was the one focusing on supporting students at risk.  The panelists will be back to continue the conversation.

Best Deal in Town!

The 2 day MAMLE Conference costs about the same as many one day events. $175

Plus, when a team comes and stays in a condo the professional conversations and problem solving continue late into the night.

Where Do We Find More Information About This Fantastic Opportunity?

Registration materials at

Email Dr. Wally Alexander, MAMLE Executive Director:

Ask Your Administrator If Your School Is A MAMLE Member. 

If so…ask them to please forward all MAMLE communications (e.g. newsletter went out recently).  If not, ask why not?

See You On The Mountain!

Personal Learning Networks for Middle Level Leaders and Middle Level Students

August 25, 2012

Personal Learning Networks for Middle Level Leaders and Middle Level Students

I have one, we all have one and we may not have thought about it in just this way.  We need to and here’s why.  It is already a part and will be increasingly a part of our students’ learning lives…not to mention our own professional lives.

PLE= Personal Learning Environments

VLE =Virtual Learning Environments

PLE + VLE = PLN = Personal Learning Network

Here is what Wikipedia says:

One aspect is that the learner contributes and derives knowledge in a PLE through various nodes.[3] In this way, the learner chooses which PLEs, VLEs, and social mediums to build a PLN. Specifically, the learner chooses who to interact with in these mediums and how much to participate. The learner enters the PLE with certain goals, needs, interests, motivations and problems that are often presented to the people they include in their PLN.[5] Moreover, the learner will collaborate and connect differently with various members. The learner will establish stronger relationships with some members and have a low level of connection with others. Not all nodes will be equal.[3] Some of the member roles include searcher, assemblator, designer of data, innovator of subject matter, and researcher.[5]

PLNs are becoming an important part of professional development in several fields with some businesses creating their own e-learning content and PLEs for their employees. In addition, PLNs have become prevalent in the field of education and are rapidly becoming adopted as centers for the diaspora of field related information (in this regard, they are also often referred to as PROFESSIONAL Learning Networks).[6][7][8][9]

Here is a slideshow about PLNs

So what does this mean to us as middle level leaders?

It means we need to be consciously developing our own PLNs. It means we need to consciously be identifying how, where, and from whom we are learning…and this goes way beyond college courses and conferences for us and way beyond classrooms and classroom teachers for our students. It means staying actively connected with smart and capable people inside and outside of education who have knowledge we need and possible solutions to our current challenges.

It means staying actively connected virtually and “on the grid” continuing to develop our own virtual learning environments.

And, lest we forget, we may be part of the PLN of someone else.  What have we got to offer and are we willing to share it?

What about our students?  They’re watching.  How can we best assist them to develop safe, productive, rich, and flourishing PLNs?  By modeling it, for a start.

For me personally?  This can’t be an add-on to my professional life. I have no extra time.  None of us do.  It needs to be entwined, enmeshed, embedded and a natural part of my work life.  This means I need to replace some old and less efficient practices with some new more efficient practices.

This is a LOT to think about.

The Bright Futures Report and DOE’s Education Evolving

July 21, 2012

Have you noticed the many parallels between Maine’s middle level report, Bright Futures, and Commissioner Bowen’s newly released Education Evolving?  It is really quite extraordinary. Here are just couple of items that stand out:

From Education Evolving, ” … learners have a meaningful role in planning learning activities and are allowed to choose the manner by which they demonstrate proficiency.

From Bright Futures, “Significant student voice is reflected in planning the curriculum, setting and achieving personal goals, & assessing learning.”

From Education Evolving, “New assessment tools must assess higher-thinking and problem-solving skills.”

From Bright Futures, “Learning experiences are designed so that students learn to pose complex essential questions, search out potential answers, evaluate the quality of resources, and present findings in a variety of ways…” and ” ” A multi-faceted comprehensive assessment system is embedded within the curriculum…”

The chart below demonstrates the many connections between theses two documents.

If you click on the chart you can make it bigger.

Middle school teams (the original professional learning communities), advocacy programs, and the allied arts are the perfect vehicles for personalizing or customizing learning in a proficiency/standards based curriculum because of  (1) the emphasis on knowing the whole child well in order to structure instruction to meet specific learning needs and (2) opportunities for students to learn in different contexts. These organizational features of effective middle schools must not be overlooked as schools implement new initiatives.

Also, there is a lot of collective knowledge hidden among more senior staff members who started teaching in the 1970’s and 80’s. They know about student choice in demonstrating knowledge, they understand how to build an integrated unit, they’ve experimented with project based learning, they have strategies for teaching students to delve deeply into text to ferret out evidence to support an argument–they just had to bury those skills during the era of NCLB.  Think about ways to liberate that vast wealth of experience and connect it with the techno-wizardry of young staff members.

The 12 Core Practices of the Bright Futures report will help you evolve as an effective middle grades school.  Evolving Education, the Common Core, and proficiency-based learning will be interesting challenges to solve together rather than insurmountable hurdles that keep you from moving forward.

Connecting The Dots to Mass Customized Learning: Part 2 (Is MCL a Passion and People Driven Movement? YES!)

June 22, 2012

Again,  you can’t connect the dots looking forward.  You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. 

You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever–because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.
Steve Jobs
Stanford University Commencement Speech 2005

A few months ago, I submitted a post called ‘Connecting the Dots to Customized Learning”.   I am happy to report that finally the dots ARE connecting for me.  My quest has taken me to group meetings, websites, individual meetings, trainings, and a fair amount of reading.

In all of this, it has been the people who are leading the way with customized learning and standards-based education who have taught me the most.

Here are some of those key people (listed alphabetically as they are ALL #1s on my list) who were most knowledgeable and most helpful.  You would find them helpful too if you decide to connect your own MCL dots.

Jim Hodgkin
Jim is the Supt. in RSU #44.  He is probably the first person who introduced me to MCL.  He is a true believer, an early adopter, and PASSIONATE about it.  He is unafraid, undeterred, and unabashed in his pursuit of systemic change.  He is also MOST student-centered.   All in all, Jim is one of my heroes.

Linda Laughlin and Lori Lodge
These two educators are the leaders of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning.  I have attended 4 of their meetings now.  They welcomed me in even though my unofficial title was “cling-on”.   This MCCL group is a bit of a phenomenon in my opinion.  Jim Hodgkin said it best, “If I have a tough week and go to a MCCL meeting, I feel better immediately.  It is so good to be with like-minded people who talk about things that matter” There is a sort of magic here that comes from a new organization struggling to do powerful work.  These two women give countless hours to the cause.  Their PASSION is on display at every meeting.

The Masterful McSisters  (I am changing my name to McEnright)

•  Mary Jane McCalmon
Everyone should have an opportunity to learn from Mary Jane McCalmon.   She understands systemic change and how school systems work inside out.  She also understands customized learning and standards based education.  She is deeply involved in this work and also is PASSIONATE about it.  She is one of the leaders in the MCCL group and also does masterful consulting, coaching, and facilitating around this work

•  Cathy McCue
Cathy is my sister by another mother.  She is my GO-TO person for all things standards-based curriculum.    She is tireless in her pursuit of implementing a standards-based curriculum in her school system, RSU #44, where she is Asst. Supt.  She understands systemic change and pays close attention to it.  If there is a better  standards-based mousetrap out there that saves teachers time and is highly effective, Cathy is figuring it out, I am sure.  She too is PASSIONATE about this work.

•  Bea McGarvey
Bea has a brilliant mind and is a brilliant educator.  Recently I attended one of her training on customized learning.  It was the best 3 hours I have spent in learning all year, possibly in the last five years.   She co-authored Inevitable and is deeply committed to customized learning and to all of us here in Maine too.  She has a fabulous website where she gives away the store for free, (as my father would say).  Is she PASSIONATE about this work?  Absolutely!  It appears to have become the priority focus of her life’s work.

Mike Muir
If you want to have a crash course in Customized Learning and all things systemic change, then spend an hour or so with Mike individually or go to one of his workshops, like I have, and you will come away a changed person (pun intended)!  I have said it before and I say it again, GO TO HIS WEBSITE and admire his Lead4Change work, among many other things. Mike is the Renaissance Man of Education in Maine, in my humble opinion.  He too is PASSIONATE about his work.

Don Siviski
Don is leading the charge from the DOE side along with our Commissioner Steve Bowen.  Customized Learning consumes him, as it is highly student centered.  He is tireless in his promotion of it.  If you have a chance to hear him talk on this subject, as I did recently, you will see, feel, and hear his PASSION for this work.  Don cares DEEPLY about it.

So that is the line-up thus far on the people who are leaders in this brave new MCL world.  I will warn you though, if you hang around them long enough, their passion is contagious!

Here is my newest dot to connect?  What role could and should the middle level play in this effort?  I am thinking that the middle level has a LOT to offer.  Anyone out there have any thoughts?

Julia Helps Us to Connect Some of the Dots…

May 1, 2012

A few weeks ago, Judy Enright asked if someone could help her begin to connect the dots to all of the current change efforts being promoted in Maine, including mass customized learning. As I read an article in the Morning Sentinel this morning about an impressive eighth grade student from Waterville, I wondered if her story might help us to connect some of those dots.

In a nutshell, the young woman, Julia Bluhm, used social media and her involvement in Spark a Movement,  “…a girl-fueled activist movement to demand an end to the sexualization of women and girls in media”,  to create and distribute a petition asking Seventeen magazine to commit to printing “one unaltered — real — photo spread per month. ”  The article goes on to describe Julia’s passion for changing how media negatively influences the self-image of young women.

If this had been part of Julia’s school curriculum, here is how it might connect to some of the current “educational dots” being promoted in Maine today:

Common Core, Learning Results and/or District Standards:  Clearly, Julia’s language arts skills could be directly applied and assessed through this real-world project.  Connections could also easily be made to history, civics, government, and even some mathematics.

Mass Customized Learning, Personalized Learning: Since the topic is one that is of interest to Julia, it serves as the basis for personalized learning.  It then becomes the role of Julia’s teachers to connect the required content and performance standards to her chosen topic.  Teachers would work with Julia (and her others, such as her parents)  to identify more specific (and relevant) learning targets and the assessments of those targets.  In this case, a professional editor might serve as one of the assessors for Julia’s writing, using the Common Core and/or other relevant content and “real world” standards as part of the assessment.

The role of the teacher changes pretty significantly in this way of designing learning opportunities.  Instead of teaching discrete, isolated facts geared for high stakes, grade level exams, the design for learning really starts with the student and his/her interests and passions at the core with the assessments as a way of determining to what degree s/he has met the standards.

One of the concerns I hear frequently from teachers is that personalized/mass customized learning seems to be going back to tracking students by ability or performance. With truly personalized learning, even within tracked groups, students will be pursuing a variety of topics at the same time in different ways.  In fact, if one were to group students, it might make more sense to group by interests, thus allowing students with common interests to learn from each other.

This way of organizing learning is very difficult for some educators and most parents to understand and accept. There is much work to be done in building awareness and curiosity if these dots are truly to be connected for student learning.

True educational change will not happen quickly or easily.  But as Julia would likely tell us, something as important as this change will take time, effort, passion, and commitment.  Hmmmm… maybe we should engage the students in helping move this change forward?  I’ll bet it could serve as a wonderful personalized learning project!

MLTI Leadership Webinar Tuesday March 13, 4 PM – Mass Customized Learning: A Shared and Concrete Vision

March 12, 2012

Inevitable cover

Tune in for the next MLTI Principals webinar tomorrow afternoon at 4 PM. We’ll be joined by Lori Lodge Curriculum Coordinator at RSU57 , Chuck Schwahn co-author of Inevitable, and Steve Garton Coordinator of Educational Technology for MDOE and MLTI. The topic this month will be chapters 6 and 7 of Inevitable, A shared and Concrete Vision of Mass Customized Learning. So, gather your colleagues, grab your favorite digital device, a phone, and join us for what promises to be another interesting and informative hour of conversation! To register for the webinar just go to and select the March 13, 4:00 link.

MLTI, The Next Generation: Share Your Ideas! An Invitation From Jeff Mao

March 3, 2012
Learning Technology Policy Director for the Maine Department of Education.

An Invitation To All Middle Level Educators from Jeff Mao

HI Everyone, MLTI affects all middle level stakeholders in Maine. Here’s your chance to communicate directly with us, online, and in a totally transparent and public setting. Please visit and share your thinking. We will continue to post new questions here seeking feedback. Please share this link with your teachers and your students–even the parents! The idea here is that we want to have conversations and get feedback from all constituents to help us inform the next MLTI RFP. The next RFP will be released in December of this calendar year. It may seem a long way off, but from where I sit, I have very little time left to rewrite the RFP document. I need your help and the help of others in your schools and communities so that the next RFP reflects your needs. As always, please remember that the RFP has to be descriptive and not prescriptive. We can’t ask for a specific device, software title, online service, etc. Its OK to mention them on the site, but what is more important is for us to understand the functionality or characteristics of the specific tool or title that you need and like. So, just saying that you want a software X doesn’t help. What we need to know is what are you doing with software X. What functions does it provide? Why are these functions and capabilities essential? If we are talking about support and maintenance…its OK to use MLTI-specific language like “Buffer Pool” but remember that the Buffer Pool as we know it today is a construct that was provided based on Apple’s last response to the RFP. We didn’t ask for a Buffer Pool, but it was Apple’s response to providing the a protection to schools and the State for expected loss of equipment due to accidents, theft, etc. So in discussing that issue, what are the ! challenges? What works? How would you like to be able to get help/protection? So far, we haven’t asked all the questions because we want to focus attention on certain topics…mostly just to make it easier than for us to dump a ton of questions all at once. However, you can provide feedback on anything at anytime by responding to the appropriate section of the historical 2006 RFP language which is provided on this site. Remember also that we will be seeking input from outside of Maine too…so how we discuss things and how we present ourselves on this site is a direct reflection on Maine and your schools. Let’s make sure we show the world how far we’ve come! Please feel free to tweet this link, share it on your social media channels, etc. thanks everyone! Jeff Mao

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