Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

Lessons learned at the 2013 MLTI Student Conference

May 28, 2013

LessonsLearnedIn2009The annual MLTI Student Conference is an incredible learning opportunity for students and their teachers, Maine teacher educators, and the dedicated MLTI team. Every year I marvel at the enthusiasm, passion, interest, and knowledge of the middle and high school students attending. As the conference director, Jim Moulton, likes to remind us, “This will be a day dedicated to fun—to hard fun!” I certainly had fun again this year and I learned some “hard” lessons as well. Here are three of them.

#1—The best lesson: MLTI promotes amazing student learning in many ways that aren’t reflected in student test scores. Excellent workshops, outstanding mass learning, scholarship awards, but the highlights each year for me are the student speakers,  middle and high school students from Maine schools, who use technology for learning and for doing good. Their stories are powerful. In past years, Hannah Potter, Chris Jones, and others have spoken about their personal journeys through learning with technology.

This year’s speakers were outstanding as well. Izzy Labbe and Julia Bluhm, 9th graders in central Maine, spoke of their work as bloggers and activists for SPARK. Julie and Izzy led a successful campaign to encourage Seventeen Magazine to stop using Photoshopped images of young girls. Both young women are now active bloggers and speak widely about their work. Watch their excellent presentation at TEDx Women 2012 to hear their full story.

The second student speaker was Yuval Boss, Orono High School senior, a web designer who also got his start with his 7th grade MLTI laptop. Yuval took advantage of many opportunities—”play around” with Sketch-Up and other software that caught his interest, join his high school’s student technology team, attend MLTI Student Conferences, teach himself HTML and other programming languages, and perhaps most importantly of all, “…find out that kids like me are doing all of this.” It wasn’t long before Yuval interned at a local web-design firm, free-lanced for other businesses, and ultimately used his skills to give back to organizations like CISV. Watch Yuval’s presentation here.

These students are amazing. Now I would like someone to deconstruct the skills these Maine students have developed largely because they had the tools (their own MLTI computer and Internet access) and the support of parents and teachers. These young people are self-learners, they are go-getters, and they make significant contributions to their communities and society. The learning they are so passionate about has little to do with learning measured by standardized test scores. (And it certainly has nothing to do with learning to use a computer that businesses currently use or having a computer to take tests on.)

#2—The hardest lesson: The elephant in the room is sitting on my computer.  What will happen to MLTI and technology and learning in Maine? The recent decision about the next MLTI phase has caused consternation everywhere as schools struggle to determine the impact in their communities. Is this really about “choice”? Will the “level playing field”, a key component of MLTI since the beginning, endure without continuity across the state given different devices, networks, professional development opportunities, and aspirations arising from the selection made in each district? And what about everything we’ve learned about technology and learning in the last 11 years? Are we throwing that out to start over? Ultimately, the decision must be about what choice(s) provide the best opportunities for student learning and not the least expensive cost.

#3—The most baffling lesson: Did you see the news coverage of this year’s MLTI Student Conference? Neither did I, nor did anyone else. Outside of one short paragraph I found in an online newspaper, I saw no TV or major newspaper coverage of this event. Evidently, 1200 students and 200 teachers in one place learning from each other is not news. (Sarcasm intended!) I’m convinced that at its core, this paucity of media coverage for such a significant event has more to do with a fundamental lack of understanding about the role of technology in learning than from obvious disinterest. This story is much more complex than students using computers to do interesting things in the classroom…and that may be the problem. But that is a story for another day! Fortunately, MLTI schools and students made and recorded their own news. See this short YouTube video from Gorham Middle School about the experiences of the 19 students and 5 teachers they sent to the conference.

Three lessons…do any of them resonate with your experience?

Photo by Brian Snelson, http://www.flickr.com/photos/exfordy/

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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.

The Philanthropy Project

November 19, 2012

Mount Blue Middle School

When middle school educators and students find meaning in work it is so magical! As I sat at the MAMLE awards presentations at the fall conference at Sugarloaf recently I felt the urge to be back in the classroom. I miss those moments that are filled with energy, life, and bring out the best in all involved, students and adults. It is the work that young adolescents do when they have the opportunity to lead, contribute their creative ideas, and work collaboratively that are often the ones that form who they are and last forever. This intense feeling came on for me as I listened to the work taking place at Mount Blue Middle School. Below is a description of The Philanthropy Project.

Joel Smith, Maureen Oswald, Jayne Flagg, and Mark Simpson

The Philanthropy Project idea came about slowly and then took on a life of its own. Ninety-five students began their 7th grade year as ordinary, “I am a dot in this world? typical adolescents. As teachers noticed common courtesy had taken a back seat in our society, we encouraged them to ramp it up a notch. We discussed manners and practiced them, first in the classroom and then in the halls with simple phrases like “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, etc. We then took that to the hallways, adding other elements such as introductions, handshakes, and using a person’s name to address them when they said “good morning” (especially teachers). They began to get feedback from the staff in our building, who remarked frequently about what a polite, happy group of kids we had. We were all beaming.

As a small independent project, we purchased class journals and each class tried to fill their journals with random acts of kindness they h ad performed or witnessed. This became a daily check-in. Their parents were noticing, and some got in on it. We watched “Pay It Forward”. They were enthralled. They created goals (read to younger child, visit an elderly person, rake a lawn, take food to the animal or local food bank). We watched them unfold by the end of their 7th grade year.

By eighth grade, they were itching for more. This is when the idea for a Philanthropy Project truly sprang. Colleagues agreed to head up a focus group, each with a different theme. We had soldiers in Afghanistan/Iraq, The Less Fortunate, The Elderly, and Animals. Students met with the group they chose and brainstormed ideas concerning how to give of themselves to improve the lives of others. The animal shelter saw dozens of kids come in to not only bring items they collected, but also to spend time int he kitten room and outside walking energetic, appreciative dogs. We ended up with boxes upon boxes of collected items sent to Yap for needy children, our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan received care packages and letters, the food bank was filled, and my favorite was a huge “senior social” we put on in our cafeteria for local retirees and nursing home residents, where we provided a DJ and enough food to feed an army, but most importantly where these citizens got to know our students and relationships developed.

The Exemplary Practice Awards are presented to individuals, teams, and schools across the state of Maine who are incorporating “best practices” into their curriculum and instruction, and whose educational practices exemplify excellent middle level education. Please consider nominating middle level educators for this award. You can learn more about the application process at the MAMLE website

7 Habits Team

November 13, 2012

Biddeford Middle School

Recently at the MAMLE conference held at Sugarloaf I sat with a team of educators at lunch and we had a delightful conversation. Much to my surprise when lunch was over and the awards were presented the three teachers were representing their middle school team from Biddeford who received the MAMLE “team award”. The following briefly explains the recognition and why their team was celebrated.

As a result of a year and a half preparation by the 7 Habits Committee, Biddeford Middle School devoted a week last January to unfold, introduce and practice the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens/People Porgam. Staff read Covey’s book over the summer of 2011 and spent the fall semester developing the program.

The 7 Habits Program is directly related to developing positive habits and relationship among teens and pre-teens. The habits focus on “private victory”:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first. Then students learn about “public victory”.
  4. Think win-win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Synergize. Finally the focus changes to personal renewal
  7. Sharpen the saw

Ray Sampson, Jeff Mears, and Doug Bertrand, representing Biddeford Middle School

Staff and students participated in activities and skits that reinforced all habits. The 7 Habits Committee helped students become leaders in various activities throughout the week. Parents were invited to the activities and the community newspaper reported on the festivities. All in all, every member of the school was involved and continued to live by the seven habits throughout the spring. Reminders through visuals and actions of students and staff were witnessed every day. A great deal of interest and enthusiasm was generated well beyond the Biddeford community.

If you know of a team or a teacher who has a practice that you think should be nominated for MAMLE’s Exemplary Practice Award please go to MAMLE’s website and download the nomination forms.

A Conversation With Commissioner Bowen: Leading from the Middle, Bright Futures, MLTI, and MLEI!

April 26, 2011

Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule and sharing some of your thoughts with the Bright Futures readers Commissioner! So let’s get started. Here’s our first question.

CT-What did you see and hear on your listening tour that you think all Maine middle schools should pay attention to?

SB-What I’ve seen so far is that Middle Schools are really taking the lead on the kind of student-centered learning we want to see at all levels. At Massabesic Middle School, for instance, they have implemented a true outcome-based learning model that allows students to move ahead based on mastery of standards rather than seat time. Because of the student-centered focus that middle schools tend to have philosophically, I see them really taking the lead in moving us in this new direction.

CT-I’m sure middle level folks are pleased that you see how important it is to keep students in the center of everything we do in our schools. So on to our next question.

CT-Maine is the world leader in the implementation of 1:1 learning with technology. What do you see happening with MLTI in the next four years?

SB-The world of digital learning is moving so fast that it is hard to say where we’ll be in four years. It is pretty clear, though, that digital learning has become much more central to content delivery and instruction than it has been, and we will need to do a lot of thinking and planning to make sure we’re adapting to this new reality in a thoughtful way.

CT-Very true. We will need to change to keep up and stay ahead of the ball that, in many ways, Maine’s middle grades started rolling a decade ago!

CT-How do you see the department supporting middle level leaders as they implement the tenets and core recommendations of Bright Futures?

SB-Part of the work we propose to do around a comprehensive state strategic plan for education will be to answer that very question – What is the proper role for the state in supporting the work of Maine’s educators? The state has to deal with the same resource issues that local districts have to deal with, which means we’ll have to work to strike a balance between what we’d like to be able to do and what we have the resources to do. Finding that balance will take a lot of thinking and discussion and planning, and that is what we plan to do over the next few months.

CT-We wish you and the department well on that! It will be a challenge. I’m sure I speak for the Bright Futures Partnership and many other middle level folks in saying we are willing to help in any way we can. Just let us know!

CT-How can the department encourage and support effective Middle level teaching in Maine’s schools?

SB-On the listening tour, I’ve talked with educators about strengthening the Department’s role as a clearinghouse for best practices in curriculum development, instruction, assessment, etc. We need to build out the Department’s capacity to allow educators to share back and forth across districts those things that are working for them. Fostering better communication is a way that we can help teachers learn from each other, and I think that is a great role for the Department to play.

CT-For sure. Communication and building networks is so important. Thanks for focusing on ways the field and the department can share what’s working around the state.

CT-You have a daughter in middle school. As a parent of a middle school student what do you think is important about the education your daughter receives at this time in her life?

SB-The key piece for me is the exploratory nature of middle level education – the way that the middle level provides students with exposure to a rich curriculum that has academic rigor, but also fosters curiosity and maintains a focus on the complete child. This is a time for students to move from simply learning how to learn to really building a passion for learning. It is a very exciting time for them!

CT-Yes, the whole child, and a passion for learning in every Maine middle level student, no matter where they go to school!

CT-What message would you like to send to all of Maine’s middle level educators?

SB-Keep up the good work! I look forward to working with you as we undertake an effort to really transform our schools.

CT-We’ll continue to do our best, improve where we can, and change when we must!

CT-I understand that you are familiar with the Middle Level Institute being held from August 1-4 at Thomas College. Would you be willing to share your thoughts about MLEI for those considering attending this summer?

SB-In my time at the Middle School in Camden, I attended two MLEI sessions and found them to be a great opportunity to do what educators seldom have time to do, which is to reflect on our instructional practice and to really do the kind of thinking and planning we all need to do to be effective. It was always a great experience and one I hope to get back to one day!

CT-Yes, MLEI is all about middle level teachers taking time in the summer to be more effective with students in the fall and beyond. I’m sure you’ll have the opportunity to visit MLEI in the near future! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for all you are doing and planning to do with Maine’s educators on behalf of Maine’s students Commissioner. We wish you well, keep in touch, and let us know how we can help!


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