Posts Tagged ‘middle school’

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,


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.

John Lounsbury Urges Us to Stop, Think, and Prepare to Act!

April 18, 2012

“The middle school is not and cannot be just a physical place in which teachers instruct students on material they will be tested on and presumably will need in the future. The middle school is the prime environment in which youth come of age, the stage on which they act out new roles as maturing social beings on their way to adulthood. It is not a teaching factory, but a laboratory of living—a growing place as much as a formal learning place. Parents and all citizens should realize that what the teachers and schools teach young adolescents about themselves as persons and learners has a far more lasting impact than all the content covered put together.”

Dr. John Lounsbury

Picture of Dr. John LounsburyMany of us who have attended MAMLE conferences or the Middle Level Education Institute over the years have heard and met Dr. John Lounsbury, a founding father of middle level education. He has revised a 2009 article entitled,  “Deferred but Not Deterred: A Middle School Manifesto,””  for NASSP’s Middle Level Leader this month. He wants us to think long and hard about the ramifications of narrowing the curriculum in pursuit of looking for the perfect measure of learning.

Encouraging us to do a “close reading” of his article, he states. “To most effectively study the above article, I suggest it be attacked and analyzed, sentence by sentence, one paragraph at a time. Each of the above paragraphs contains a number of assertions and opinions. Are they reasonable? Fair? To what degree do you agree with the positions taken? “

Finally he urges us to act, “… as committed middle level leaders, we must be proactive in as many ways as possible to help parents, the public, and the profession understand how middle level schools fulfill their critical role of helping youth become well-rounded, responsible, and contributing members of our society.”

Dr. Lounsbury, always the teacher, even suggests some ways for educators to reflect on his thoughts and then to take action. This article would serve as a powerful catalyst for a end-of-the-year faculty  reflection on what they stand for as a school and where they might go in the future as they embrace new initiatives.  Big topics in Maine include customizing learning, proficiency-based learning, and addressing the Common Core—Dr. Lounsbury would urge us not to forget “…students’ success, both in future schooling and in life itself, will depend not so much on what courses have been passed, grades earned, and test scores recorded, but rather on what skills, dispositions, and habits of mind have been developed during these middle level years.

I urge everyone to read….

“Stop, Think, and Prepare to Act”

NASSP’s Middle Level Leader

Middle School as Boot Camp for Life?

October 17, 2011
CCC camps in Michigan; the tents were soon rep...

Civilian Conservation Corps Camps in Michigan

Want an interesting read about what middle level schools could (and should be)? Take a look at “How to fix the mess we call middle school” by Washington Post education writer, Valerie Strauss.

The title may not draw you in, but ignore it and start reading. Strauss argues for a type of school that responds to the needs of every young adolescent…not more test prep…”but a cross between summer camp and the Civilian Conservation Corps camps with plenty of physical activity, structured groups and time with peers, with a little formal education thrown in.”

Strauss suggests that middle school be a “boot camp for life” with more physical activity, hands-on, and minds-on learning. Also, a focus on  service learning to teach responsibility and give young adolescents the opportunities they crave, to do something meaningful for others. Other excellent ideas include more attention to the arts, focusing on issues relevant to this age group (nutrition and obesity for example), learning about financial literacy through running small businesses, and much more.

All good ideas, yet hardly new. Collectively, this type of school would look very different from  the “keep ’em in their seats, quiet, and answer the questions at the end of the chapter” 1950s school model that is the “default” setting for K-12 schools in the U.S. (By the way,  in the last 10 years, NCLB,  the standards’ movements, and a focus on assessment has seriously impeded students’ learning.) Do you ever wonder why we all-too-often fall back on a model with no proven record of success?

We won’t take everything Strauss says literally, but her ideas give insights into the developmentally responsive schools for young adolescents we’ve been talking  about for 50 years. Many Maine middle level schools have programs built on these same principles…where students are actively engaged, excited about learning, and ready to make a difference in their schools, towns, and communities. Aren’t these the attributes and skills that we want all our kids to have…and know…and use?

One more thing to remember. Young adolescents and their unique needs don’t go away when we house them in buildings with younger and older students…not called middle schools. Changing the grade configuration of a school isn’t the answer. Strauss hits the nail on the head…”The sustained experimentation with middle school-age students has continued because schools have failed to meet the emotional and academic needs of adolescents.”

We know what makes a difference…do we have the will to provide the schools our young adolescents need?

What’s Your Top 10?

October 6, 2011

EDU 617 Students Learning About Being Sight Impaired

Each summer I have the pleasure of teaching two middle level courses for USM’s Ed Leadership program. EDU617 – Teaching in the Middle Grades is a one week intensive class, with the emphasis on intensive. From Monday through Friday we put our lives and significant others on hold and “own” one another. We are together for class all day, then reading and posting into the night. I have the pleasure of reading and posting into the wee hours of the morning as assignments are posted to the class wiki. Aside from the long days I really do look forward to learning from the exchange of ideas and insights among classmates and colleagues.

I especially enjoy reviewing assignments that ask students to summarize key pieces of learning from our time together. It’s always interesting to see what resonated with the class, both individually and as a group. It’s also useful to notice what doesn’t get mentioned. Summaries tell me, as the instructor, whether or not my curriculum and instruction had the intended results.

Here, with permission from the students of EDU617 – August 2011 is a “mashup”, based on placement and frequency of their responses to the prompt “As a result of our time together, What are the top 10 pieces of advice you have for middle level educators?”

Which ones resonate strongly with you? Are there any that don’t make sense? What would you want to include in your list of top 10? Do you think this class “got” what working with young adolescents is about?

#10.  Technology is cool, use it well.

#9. Build frequent, short breaks into your teaching process.

#8. Be courageous and look closely into the mirror of your own practice often.

#7. Feed the good wolf. We become the wolf we feed.

#6. Do everything with students in mind first, teachers second, administration last.

#5. Middle school students will do anything to you, and anything for you.

#4. Teamwork! None of us is as smart as all of us. No wallflowers or prima donnas.

#3.  Descriptive feedback has a greater impact on learning than grades.

#2  Students will learn more from what they see than from what we say.


#1. Mr. T says, “I pity the fool that doesn’t Model, Reflect, and Transfer!”

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!

NMSA’s Let’s Move! Flash Workout

April 1, 2011

I’ve just copied this right out of my email because there is a registration deadline of April 6.  Looks like a really neat event sponsored by the National Middle School Association!

National Middle School Association

Headquarters Office
4151 Executive Parkway, Suite 300       Westerville, Ohio 43081
tel 614-895-4730 fax 614-895-4750 1-800-528-NMSA

Middle Schools to Participate in Let’s Move! Flash Workout

Immediate Action Requested – Register now!

National Middle School Association (NMSA) has partnered with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation (NABEF) to produce a “Let’s Move! Flash Workout.”

On Tuesday, May 3, 2011, at 1:42 p.m. Eastern Time and across time zones (12:42 p.m. Central, 11:42 a.m. Mountain, etc.), middle schools across the country will participate in the Let’s Move! Flash Workout, an event underscoring the importance of physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle for children. View an example of the “flash” concept, including the Oprah Winfrey Show 2009-2010 season kickoff , followed by video from Ocoee Middle School of their “flash” performance highlighting reading: Password:1771

The Let’s Move! Flash Workout features 16-time Grammy Award winner Beyoncé in support of First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative aimed at curbing childhood obesity. Beyoncé has re-written and re-recorded one of her songs and provided choreography in an instructional video that educators can use to help students practice and prepare for event day. Both the song and instruction video have been produced in English and Spanish and will be available to educators in early April as part of an online toolkit. The workout routine is approximately four minutes long. DVD copies of the instruction video will be mailed to schools that are not able to download the video from the toolkit.

The toolkit also will include templates for release forms and permission slips allowing student participation in the event and relevant educational resources and suggested activities provided by AASA, NMSA and NSBA.

How You Can Participate

Sign up your school to participate in this historic event by completing the easy online form by April 6.

All middle schools across the United States are encouraged to participate in this unprecedented event. Additionally, an “official” Let’s Move! Flash Workout school will be selected by drawing from each of the 210 television markets. It is expected that these schools will be covered by at least one television station with the involvement of popular radio personalities.

We thank you for your help and support with this important, health-related event showcasing middle schools at their best. If you have any questions, please contact AASA’s Kitty Porterfield at (703) 774-6953 or NMSA’s April Tibbles at (800) 528-6672.

Budget Cuts & The Middle School Librarian

July 2, 2010

Recently I was presenting to middle level educators in Columbus, Ohio (where by the way, they are reinstating middle level principles after a ten year hiatus) on integrated curriculum. A participant waved me over to her table and remarked how important librarians/media specialists were to any efforts to integrate curriculum.  I concurred, and then she told me that Columbus had been cutting school librarians. She said they were viewed as merely book checker-outers. We agreed that this decision was outrageous, and I thought to myself, “How could anyone think it was a reasonable decision to make, even in these difficult budget times!?!”  Then I got home to find out that my local school district had cut the high school librarian as a money-saving strategy and that there would be one librarian, K-12. I was appalled.

I can think of at least three significant reasons why a librarian is a critical member of any middle grades staff:

1) Robert Marzano in Building Background Knowledge For Academic Achievement: Research On What Works In Schools states that students’ background knowledge is a major indicator of their potential for academic success. A lack of background knowledge is a major detriment.  One of the ways schools can build background knowledge, according to Marzano, is Silent Sustained Reading. Matching students to books that will interest them is everyone’s job, however a school librarian knowledgeable about young adolescent fiction and non-fiction is key to a successful SSR program. S/he knows the students personally and is able to suggest 3 or 4 books when a student walks through the door and says, “ I need something to read.” or “Do you have something like…?” Librarians like Kathy Foss as Camden-Rockport Middle School and Julie Purdy at Mt. Ararat Middle School help kids build that all-important background knowledge while inspiring them to become life-long readers. Becoming a life long reader is a compelling academic goal as far as I am concerned.  However, in these days of number-crunching and data-driven decisions based on test scores, it seems to be imperative we pay attention to all of the components of academic success including building student background knowledge. Middle school librarians/media specialists are critical to this process.

2) “21st century skills” is a term bandied around these days.  Look closely at the frameworks from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, ISTE, and enGauge and they all share an emphasis on Information Literacy: accessing and evaluating information, gathering and synthesizing the information, and figuring out the ins and outs of intellectual property. Graduating students who are not adept at managing the research process for both academic and personal uses is educational malpractice.  These skills cannot be learned in one shot during the senior exhibition process; there must be a K-12 systemic approach.  Maine middle grades students are uniquely fortunate to have an MLTI laptop that allows them easy access to the digital world. Many teachers are knowledgeable about Information Literacy skills, however a school has an obligation to ensure that students’ expertise in the world of Information Literacy is not dependent on whether or not they have teachers expert in this area.  A school librarian teaches everyone—teachers and students—about Information Literacy.  They are the ones who are continually reading about this topic, keeping abreast of the latest copyright issues, and learning about new databases and other resources. Information Literacy is their curriculum, not an add-on to their other responsibilities.  Research strategies that worked in the last century are outdated; the middle school librarian is the person to keep us all updated!

3) The library-media center is the heart of learning in the middle school. The librarian/media specialist is the heartbeat.  She or he is the one who creates the atmosphere that says to students… We read here! We explore here! We love to learn here! Everyone is welcome here! We have something that will interest you here! The librarian is the person who sits down with a team and helps them plan an integrated unit that includes a variety of resources, who understands how lexiles can be used to differentiate and ensure that each student is able to access curriculum materials, and who helps them design a Plan B for when the school server goes down or the electricity goes out and the laptops become mere paperweights for a while.  Teachers turn to the librarian for suggestions for read alouds that connect to a curriculum unit and engage the students. Librarians lead the way as teachers are encouraged to incorporate more inquiry into curriculum and instruction. Teachers work hard to engage their students in intellectually stimulating and relevant learning, and the librarian is a vital component of those efforts.  When the librarian has gone missing due to budget cuts, students are denied a 21st century education.

In closing, my students and I were so fortunate to be able to work with outstanding librarians and media specialists. I can’t imagine teaching without a library-media center and librarian at my right hand. Any trend to cut back on fully funding school libraries needs to be nipped in the bud!

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