Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Technology as a Pre-requisite Skill?

We recently hired a new secretary. We required the all applicants to take the advanced assessment for Microsoft Office Excel, Word and Outlook. We do this because from experience we have learned that our office is too busy for people to learn on the job. They need to enter the job with a high degree of competency. We offer a personal interview only to the candidates that demonstrate they are tech savvy.

This led me to pondering whether or not the same is true for new teachers. Is the classroom just too busy of a place to learn on the job? Should teachers enter the classroom with a high degree of technology competency. Should we assess technology skills in a systematic way in the same vein we look at pedagogy and communication skills?

If the answer is no, how much further into the 21st century before we might consider technology assessment as a necessity?

If the answer is yes, what technology skills would we assess and how would we assess them?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Teacher/Student Mentoring

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Wilson High School, Wilson Area School District, is the only high school in the IU 20 region that made high growth for both math and reading. Here is Part II of their story:

In 2007-08 the district created a Teacher/Student Mentoring Program. Each staff member including the principal, assistant principal, central office personnel including the superintendent mentored a group of 10 to 15 students throughout the school year. The assistant principal scheduled 6-8 meetings throughout the school year. The assistant principal also planned the sessions, almost scripted them to support teachers in this new role.

Activities included meeting with each student individually to review their 4Sight scores and discussing the impact on students. For example a 10th grade student might have already completed Algebra, but 4Sight indicates some weaknesses. The mentor points out resources the student has available including PSSA Study Island, Math Labs, and Tutoring Labs. According to principal, John Martuscelli, it is the mentors job to motivate the student.

Seniors worked with their mentor to complete their graduation project, get support on college applications, and/or other school to work transition needs.


  • All teachers take ownership for student success, not just math and English teachers.
  • Every student in the high school has a relationship with an adult in the school.
  • Students are more motivated to succeed.
  • All students have information and remediation materials, if necessary, personalized to their circumstances.
  • Huge increase in student use of remediation opportunities e.g. Study Island
  • All students and teachers have a better understanding of data and using it to make decisions.

Future of the Program:

The high school experienced significant growth on their 11th grade PVAAS scores. They attribute this leap in student achievement to their new mentoring program. Their vision is to expand and enhance this program including:

  • Starting with the 2008-09 school year, mentors will be assigned a group of students and follow them through to graduation.
  • Infuse career to work activities such as career exploration and planning.
  • Other?????

John and his staff are still exploring ways to capitalize on their Mentoring Program and they would love to hear from you. What ideas and suggestions do you have for their mentoring program? What other activities could they incorporate to build relationships and support student growth at their high school?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Long-term Planning Leads to Results

Wilson HWilson 3igh School, Wilson Area School District, is the only high school in the IU 20 region that made high growth for both math and reading. I had the opportunity to meet with John Martuscelli, Wilson High School Principal, and David Wright, Director of Curriculum & Instruction, to learn their strategies for success.

The work began in 2005 and was formalized into a math plan in 2006 which revolved around curriculum alignment, increasing opportunities for learning mathematics, and placing ownership for student achievement onto the students.

Curriculum Alignment

The curriculum committee did not want to depend on electives to deliver the standards. Therefore, the curriculum needed to be written to ensure that ALL students had access to a rigorous sequence of math courses that delivered all core standards. 

  • All General math courses were eliminated.
  • All students, including IEP students, must take Algebra 1, Algebra II and Geometry.
  • Multiple formats for learning Algebra were offered: Honors, Algebra I, Applied Algebra, and Learning Support Algebra - the expectations and curriculum were constant, instructional delivery varied.
  • Learning Support Algebra is taught by a teacher certified in both special education and secondary math.
  • Created an Assessment Anchor Checklist
  • Created a resource binder of math problems, introductory terms, open-ended questions by grade-level to help preview and review all core math concepts.
  • Required open-ended problems on all tests throughout the year. Kidslearning003_1 (3)
  • Required use of scoring rubrics throughout the year.

Increased Opportunities to Learn Mathematics:

  • Designed a Math Lab which is staffed by a math teacher every period of the day. Teachers staff the lab in lieu of a study hall or lunch duty. Some  students are assigned to the lab, however, most of the students simply request the lab as they need it.
  • In addition, student have access to a Tutoring Lab most periods of the day. Peer and teacher support is available. It is staffed by non-math teachers.

Student Ownership

  • Board policy requires students pass the PSSA to graduate.
  • Students receive a report on their areas of need based on 8th grade PSSA data and 4Sight benchmark assessments.
  • Students have the opportunity to obtain support and intervention at the math lab and/or PSSA Study Island on their own. The administration does not view this as a punishment, rather it is a natural consequence. Areas of need are differentiated between those which have not been taught yet and those which have been covered in previous course work. Students are given resources to strengthen their understanding in areas they should have already mastered.
  • Students must complete all remediation activities and return the signed report to the principal on their own time either in the math lab or on PSSA Study Island at home.
  • Students try their best, because they do not want to use their own time to remediate skills.

Stay tuned for our next segment on Wilson's Mentoring Program.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Key to Social Networking

Well, I took the advice of Will Richardson in the November issue of Ed Leadership regarding social networking and I joined Facebook and then later, Twitter. It took a while and at first, I have to confess that I really didn't get it. However, I have finally stumbled upon the key to the value of these tools, but I do so humbly, a bit embarrassed actually that I didn't figure it out earlier.... so no one make fun of me, please.

Here it goes.... The secret to social networking tools is...... being social. I know a bit anticlimactic. I only share because I have noticed friends that have explored with me didn't get it right away either. It could just be us, but our collective experience was to join the site and then stare at an empty screen.... not really getting what the fuss was all about.

However, a few friends find you on Facebook and your busy reminiscing and catching up. More friends and family find you and the fun intensifies. I had the same experience with Twitter. I joined expecting fireworks, and got a blank screen. A few colleagues joined too and then we just sent messages to each other... what fun is that we see each other regularly and have similar work experiences. I finally branched out and started following a few people ... Will Richardson, Chris Lehman, Joyce Valenza, and many others .... wow... then the fun begins. The RSS feature on Twitter makes it even more useful.

The bottom line is that Facebook, Twitter and similar tools just are not any fun by themselves. You need to be social to get the value of these tools.