Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Messalonskee Middle School Makes National List of Middle Schools to Visit!

December 7, 2013

Congratulations to Messalonskee Middle School for being identified as one of the top 38 elementary and middle schools to visit in the nation. According to Tom Vander Ark’s Education Week blog, On Innovation, Messalonskee Middle School is among the top schools in the nation that achieve extraordinary results, create powerful learning experiences, and/or have created innovative technology blends.

Messalonskee Middle School in Maine, students have Learning Goal Time (LGT) every day, with a full two hours once a week to work on assignments and get the extra help they need. Chris Sturgis has featured the school on CompetencyWorks and in this brief.

Why Join MAMLE?

September 26, 2013

MAMLE, The Maine Association for Middle Level Education, is Maine’s only professional association of teachers, administrators, and parents who have joined together to specifically support the development of quality programs serving the needs of young adolescents. For over a quarter of a century MAMLE and its partners have consistently advocated for and promoted a better understanding of middle grades education across the state. It is a source of ideas, information, and support for everyone working with and on behalf of young adolescents.

Of course MAMLE can only do this work with the active support, involvement and contributions of dedicated Mainers, like you! So, if you, or your school or organization don’t already belong to MAMLE this is the perfect time to join with nearly 100 Maine schools and thousands of educators that work with young adolescents in grades 5-9. Check out this short 3 minute video from the MAMLE Board of Directors as they share why they belong, and why you should too. We look forward to working with you on behalf of all middle grades students, and hope you’ll join MAMLE!

For more information, and to join MAMLE please visit our website

New MAMLE Website

September 16, 2013

The new MAMLE website is up and running. It has all of the conference information on the Conference page–Check it out!

Here are the URLs:


Conference page:


Community Service at Mountain Valley Middle School

June 6, 2013

What are 130 eighth-graders doing in the communities of Byron, Rumford, Mexico, Roxbury and Andover? This is the third year that the Mountain Valley Middle School students fan out into the community to lend a hand by painting signs and picnic tables, raking, planting flowers, and a variety of other projects. You can read the article in today’s newspaper, River Valley Sun Journal written by Matthew Daigle by clicking here.

Many middle schools across the state alter the schedule and create opportunities for students in their communities. Please tell us about your activities by clicking on ‘Leave a Comment’ at the bottom of this post!

Give my regards to Broadway

April 29, 2013

Pemetic School Show Choir I love to watch Maine’s middle (and high school) show choirs perform. This year’s state competition was held at Ellsworth High School several weeks ago and as always, all schools brought their best work to the stage. As a sports guy whose musical career ended badly in third grade, I’ve learned to admire and appreciate the singing and dancing talents of middle school students. In fact, show choir may be the perfect activity for young adolescents in middle level schools.

Here’s why: It gives large numbers of students—many show choirs have 20 or more students—opportunities to participate. And these students have a wide range of abilities and interests; some like to be out front as soloists as singers or dancers while others like being part of the ensemble. Still others bring their unique skills as musicians, floor managers, costume and  set designers, and assistant directors. In show choir there is a place for everyone. I also like that these young adolescents take a chance by putting themselves out front. Bravo for them and their hard-working mentors and teachers.

Show choirs absolutely require collaboration, very, very strict attention to detail, with everyone striving for excellence. There are few stars here as everyone recognizes the importance of working as a team. But it isn’t all about winning. You can readily see the joy and excitement on the faces of 11-year-olds or 14-year-olds as they begin a routine scared to death and two minutes later realize they are having the time of their lives.

Middle level schools believe in exploration, giving every 10-t0-15-year-old opportunities to try out different experiences. From volleyball to foreign language, drawing and painting to creative writing. Show choir offers young adolescents outstanding chances to find potentially life-long interests,  a place to be a part of a team,  and the satisfaction of doing something well and receiving instant feedback about it.

Isn’t this what life is all about?

If you haven’t seen any of Maine’s middle school show choirs in action take a look here and here. Or go online to see if your favorite middle level school has posted its routine for you to enjoy.

(Full disclosure: My daughter is the director of the Hermon High School Show Choir. I am also an avid Glee and Smash fan!)

Photo permission by PKHomer and Pemetic School, ME.

Maine Scholar Leader Nominations Due This Week!

April 24, 2013

What: Maine Scholar Leader Dinner

When: Thursday May 16, 2013 5:30 – 7:30

Where: Augusta Civic Center

This is Maine Middle Level Education!

This is Maine Middle Level Education!

This is the perfect opportunity for schools, students, and their families from across the state to gather and celebrate what’s great about middle level education in Maine.

Here are 14 key reasons schools have given for participating in the Scholar Leader program:

  1. positive recognition for students as role models
  2. promotes scholarship and leadership for students
  3. recognition and appreciation of families
  4. recognition of and appreciation middle level educators
  5. the only statewide recognition open to all middle schools
  6. recognizes students beyond the school community
  7. brings recognition to our school
  8. students, parents, school officials and administration all sit together for a great evening of fun and recognition
  9. it reflects well on all middle school students, not just the two that are recognized
  10. it supports our school goals
  11. promotes dignity and respect for all
  12. a way to show pride in our students
  13. lets student scholar leaders see they have peers across the state
  14. it helps support the mission of MAMLE and NELMS organizations




March 19, 2013


Finding our way through the curriculum maze

February 13, 2013

455784008_209bd11db9_zThe other day I plumped up my pillow, grabbed my favorite fleece, and settled in to read yet another article/commentary/opinion piece about the Common Core. I was asleep by the third paragraph. But, 45 minutes later, my newly recharged brain was swirling with visions of curriculum that are creative, exciting, engaging, and meaningful! (Modest, aren’t I?)

These unit ideas are all based on current issues or problems that local or global communities are facing or will face in the not too distant future. Issues and problems that engage our middle level students because they are about real life issues, offering our students opportunities to both find and solve problems. Real life, real learning. (And yes, I am serious about these ideas. But they are only examples. You can come up with your own ideas from your own community.)

Unit #1—On Thin Ice. I’ve always lived in northern states with lots of snow and ice. For the last 30 years I’ve watched and marveled at Mainer’s who insist on taking their cars and trucks on (supposedly) frozen lakes and rivers.  Honestly, I don’t understand why anyone would drive a $25,000 truck on lake ice if there was the remotest possibility of it plunging through!  And that isn’t even considering the safety issue of humans getting dunked or worse. This happens in hundreds of small towns in the U.S., maybe beyond. And there are dozens of questions to answer. Are there different kinds of ice? Do different bodies of water freeze differently? What are the conditions that inhibit ice formation? What about the insulating factor of snow on ice? How thick does ice have to be to support a truck, snowmobile, ice shack, or a person? Lots of other issues as well—What are the social aspects of ice fishing? What are the economic implications of ice fishing in northern climates (say Maine, Minnesota, and Michigan)? How has climate change influenced the number of days of safe ice for on-ice activities? What are the predictions for such in 2028? (For warmer states, this unit could also be a cultural study of this unique behavior.) Doesn’t this sound like the beginning of an interesting unit of study?

Unit #2—And You Think You Have Trash! The March 2011 Japanese Tsunami, as devastating as it was to Japan, has had global implications. For example, a 185 ton pier (65 feet long by 20 feet wide by 7.5 feet high) that washed up in Olympic National Park in Washington state in December 2012 is particularly troublesome, not only for the pollution that the pier is causing as it breaks up and releases its styrofoam core. More importantly, are the potentially invasive species that are attached to the pier and threaten the fragile ecosystem where it landed. The intertidal area of the Olympic Coast is home to the most diverse ecosystem of marine invertebrates and seaweeds on the west coast of North America; this is being threatened by the many species attached to the pier. Here are some potential questions—What currents and weather allowed this gigantic pier to move from Japan to the Washington coast? What species are unique to the Olympic Coast and what species are attached to the pier? How will each set of species interact? What responsibility does the Japanese government have for any potential Tsunami-caused damage in the U.S. or other countries? What types of debris from Japan has found its way to other locations in the world and what have been the implications? On a larger scale, what do scientists know and what are they doing about the massive amounts of trash floating in the world’s oceans…and how could that affect humans?

And several other ideas for developing DIY units—Google Art Project (visit the most famous art galleries in the world); Snapshot Serengeti (visit this site for dozens of web-based Citizen Science projects); Discovering Lance Armstrong (Why did Lance Armstrong dope, why did he lie about it, and what are the implications for what he has done? Lots of opportunities here from studying the history of Armstrong’s racing career, the geography of the racing venues, the science of racing and inevitably the science of doping, and the ethical issues of the doping and Armstrong’s actions then and now).

Please note that my questions have only scratched the surface. Lots of other questions to ask and answer. Collectively, each “unit” will include critical thinking, problem finding and solving, creative and critical thinking. Oh yeah, and massive amounts of content and skills from math, art, science, foreign language, social studies, language arts, and so much more. The magic window into these types of units of study for those of us lucky to live in Maine with one-to-one programs in every middle level school is of course, Internet access. And that adds another level of complexity…and opportunity.

No doubt that I need to learn more about the Common Core and how it can help improve curriculum for all students. Will the Common Core solidify even more “test prep” or will it move us in the direction of more student-generated, project-based, and real world learning that it promises?

But for now, I’m headed back to the couch for er…some more thinking time about this vexing issue!

My challenge for you…what type of unit could you and your students develop around a locally engaging or globally relevant topic? Please respond in the comments section below.

Photo cc licensed (BY) flickr photo shared by Fatboo

Numbers Do Not Tell The Whole Story!

December 24, 2012

We are obsessed with numbers as they relate to learning–data points, standardized tests, and grades.  We miss other aspects of what it means to learn–passion, depth of understanding, creative expression, emotional response, and a life changed forever by an experience.  Even the best rubric would be hard pressed to quantify these things.

This video provides an alternative lens to view how we “do” school.

Food for thought over the holiday break.


Much of what we think we know about the brain is…wrong

December 3, 2012

BrainRules-Paperback_NYT-redband.inddWarning! The following information may be hazardous to your professional health. Read with care.

“Cutting off physical exercise—the very activity most likely to promote cognitive performance—to do better on a test score is like trying to gain weight by starving yourself.” (p. 25)

“Businesses and schools praise multitasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes.” (p.93)

“If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom.” (p. 5)

These are three of many favorite quotes from John Medina’s fascinating book, Brain Rules — 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Much more than just another education tome or flavor-of-the-month theory, Medina’s work is solidly research based. His 12 rules focus on what we know about how the brain works—exercise, survival, attention, short and long-term memory, stress, sleep, and several other key topics. In every instance, Medina presents the science behind the concept and then offers ideas for investigating how the rule might apply to school and work.

His examples are excellent and compelling—taking advantage of exercise to stimulate learning, more walking and movement throughout the day; eliminating stressful environments so children can learn more productively, and; remembering that we (all of us) do not pay attention to boring things. Yes, these do sound like common sense, but you will be surprised about the compelling school and work connections.

A molecular biologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, Medina was a keynote speaker at a recent conference I attended. I don’t know many molecular biologists, but he certainly has to be one of the funniest ones around!

While I love the book, you may want to watch the videos first, because as Medina says, “vision trumps all others senses.” The videos are short, focused, funny, and very, very thoughtful. I recommend them. In fact, I suggest you substitute them for reruns of Big Bang Theory or Friends and watch these videos with your family.

You will be glad you did.


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