Thursday, August 30, 2012

Teachers Are Back

The HMS teachers returned to school on Tuesday, August 28, for three in-service days. The three-day focus included a reconnection activity, numerous updates of information, team meetings, and learning area meetings.

The teams worked on refining Units of Study with a focus on differentiation, inquiry, assessment data, and the Common Core State Standards (which outline what we want students to know or be able to do).

The Learning Areas of language arts, mathematics, science and social studies worked with the Common Core State Standards.

In addition, all teams learned more about our Digital Citizenship initiative.

Definitions for terms used above:

Unit of Study: Example: The 5th grade Science unit "Magnets and Motors" focuses on these essential learnings:
  1. Understand how magnets push and pull.
  2. Explain connections between electricity and magnets. 
  3. Describe the properties of magnets. 
  4. Understand that magnets have opposite poles that may be used to determine direction. 
  5. Recognize that an electromagnet can be used to make motors and generate electricity. 
  6. Demonstrate an understanding of the priority vocabulary for the Magnets and Motors Unit.
Students have common assessments that are scored by the teachers who share results, discuss what worked well, what needs improvement, and instructional strategies. 

Differentiation: Differentiation is the philosophy of teaching we use at HMS to understand, support and guide the wide range of learners in our school community.  We seek to gain insight about each student's interests, strengths, learning styles and needs in order to offer our students appropriate choices and engaging learning opportunities.  The ultimate goal is to empower students with this knowledge about themselves as learners and thinkers so they understand how to use their strengths, pursue their passions, and meet their needs as life-long learners.

Inquiry: In order to harness children's natural curiosity about the world around them, we design learning opportunities at HMS within the framework of the Inquiry Process.  This process follows the way we all learn new things that catch our interest: we jump right in to get a sense of the new experience and make connections to things we already know; we ask questions about what we see, hear and feel; we poke around for answers to our questions by trying things out, talking to people and digging for information; we make sense of the answers we find; we look for ways to apply and share our new learning with others; we think about new questions that have surfaced, and decide where we want to go next with our learning.  So you will see the key words of this process peppered throughout our school as a reminder of this natural framework of learning: CONNECT, WONDER, INVESTIGATE, CREATE MEANING, EXPRESS, REFLECT.  The focus of the Inquiry Process, like our philosophy of differentiation, is to turn over the power of learning to the students. This is what engages learners at HMS.

Assessment Data: HMS teachers look at student and grade level scores in reading, writing and Science that come from the Standardized Test students take during the school year. This information impacts instruction for individuals and classes. Teachers search for patterns that show success, as well as, challenges for students.

Common Core State Standards:
Teachers know that, in the 90s, state standards were developed to guide instruction.  Some teachers liked them; some hated them.  Each state, though, had its own.  A few years ago, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers began work on national standards to increase consistency.  These new national standards are challenging--and necessary.

According to the Common Core Web site, the "standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to support them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers."

Along with allowing for instructional consistency among states, the states help align instruction vertically so one grade's instruction leads to the next.

The Common Core site also states that "these standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. The standards:
  • are aligned with college and work expectations;
  • are clear, understandable and consistent;
  • include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills;
  • build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards;
  • are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and
  • are evidence-based.
Digital Citizenship: Digital Citizenship is a concept that helps teachers, technology leaders and parents to understand what students/children/technology users should know to use technology appropriately. Digital Citizenship is more than just a teaching tool; it is a way to prepare students/technology users for a society full of technology.