College and Career Readiness through Blended Learning

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Tragedy and Triumph, The Highs and Lows of Working in Schools

The Highs and Lows of Working in Schools

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

The schools I work in have been back in session since the beginning of September. I was excited to get back to see teachers I have worked with for years, to meet teachers who are new to the JFYNet program, and to see all the students, new and returning. I have also gone to new schools, giving presentations on the JFYNet blended learning program. I enjoy doing these demonstrations since it gives me a chance to meet other teachers and principals and to show them a program that I know helps raise students’ skills and scores on MCAS and college placement testing.

Since the beginning of school, two events have illustrated the range of experiences one encounters in the course of providing academic support to high schools.

The first event was tragic. A senior in one of my schools, who had been my JFYNet student as a sophomore, was killed in a car accident. This young girl played three sports and worked hard in all her classes. She was a positive presence in the school. It was a devastating loss that affected the whole school community.

It reminded me of the first time I encountered such a tragic event. When I was in the 5th grade, a girl named Cindy who was in my Girl Scout troop was hit by a car walking home one November night. She died a few days later. I clearly remember attending her funeral with the rest of my scout troop. Even after all these years, I have never forgotten her.

The recent tragedy and my reawakened memory made me think about how schools help students deal with the grief that follows a classmate’s death. Today, grief counselors are called in immediately. When I was in 5th grade, there were no grief counselors. We were pretty much on our own with our feelings. But even now, I wonder what happens when the grief counselors leave. Do teachers and guidance counselors continue to talk to students about how to deal with their grief in a healthy way? Students are left with constant reminders of the lost classmate: walking past her vacant locker, the empty desk where she once sat, the remembered sound of her laughter, the void of her absence. Just as I have never forgotten my lost friend, I am sure this girl’s schoolmates will never forget her.

On a much different and happier note, I was ecstatic to hear that one of my schools had logged a big increase in MCAS scores. The previous year, scores had gone down and everyone was worried about the decline. To reverse the slide, we had focused relentlessly all year on increasing time on task in our program, and the time had almost doubled. The increase in scores, both in ELA and math, showed that focus and discipline pay off. It was a triumph for the school and for JFY.

The geometry teachers created tasks in our math software that aligned with the curriculum standards that MCAS tests. (Tasks are multi-stage problems similar to MCAS open response questions.) Each geometry class was assigned one task per week. At the end of each week, I produced a report for the dean of math. From this report, he and the geometry teachers could see exactly which standards each student needed to work on. This individualized formative assessment enabled the teachers to effectively prepare their students for the MCAS test by focusing attention precisely where each student needed help.

On the English Language Arts side, teachers were held accountable for spending 80 minutes each week in the JFYNet online curriculum. Students were pushed to work towards a score of 75% or higher on the assigned reading comprehension activities, which also mimicked MCAS open response. As with math, I generated reports that informed teachers of the time their students were spending in the program and their scores. Teachers could then zero in on students who were not logging their 80 minutes or whose scores fell below the 75% target—usually the same students. This formative assessment regimen helped students become closer readers and better at understanding what they read. As a result, their Lexile scores—the standard measurement of reading proficiency—increased. The systematic focus on student effort and measured skill gains led to higher scores on the MCAS ELA tests. In both math and ELA, we’re continuing to push for more time on task this year.

These results reinforced my confidence that the JFYNet program works if it is implemented properly. Focusing instruction on the right content, maintaining the discipline of time on task, and monitoring individual student performance to spot weaknesses and respond with immediate curriculum adjustments will lead to higher skills and higher scores. I’ve seen it happen for many years in many schools, but I still get a thrill out of each year’s results. For each year’s group of students, it’s their first time. Maybe that’s why the thrill of triumph never wears off.

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What educators can learn from the Red Sox, Good of the Student

Humans do not always perform according to algorithm

by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

The Red Sox won the World Series this fall for the fourth time in fourteen years. If any of my friends had told me in 2003 that the Red Sox would collect four World Series championships in the next decade and a half, I would have told them they were crazy. (Disclosure: I strongly believe most of my friends to be crazy anyway.)

Championships do not happen by fluke. The cosmic forces of the universe have to align to create just one instance when a team is permitted to accomplish such a feat. Okay, having great talent helps: but the team with the most talented players does not always win– and often does not. It takes a myriad of little things to make a championship happen. A former boss of mine used to preach to the staff: “Worry about the little things. Big things take care of themselves.” For the Red Sox, those little things began on the very first day of Spring Training. For us fans in the world of education, there are lessons to be learned here.

Communication

From the very first day, manager Alex Cora made his philosophies and strategies clear to his players. Much of it had to do with rest. He was preparing the team not just for the 162-game season but for a deep playoff run as well. He made this clear to the players and communicated days in advance when a player was to have a scheduled day off. When Xander Bogaerts received such a text during the first week of the regular season he replied, “You really weren’t kidding about those days off?”

Communication is vital to the success of any endeavor. When an administrator issues a blanket policy to teachers without explanation or any type of logic, it can cause a backlash among the staff. The same thing goes for a teacher to students: if students do not understand why the classroom is run the way it is, or why they are doing an assignment, they may not fully buy in. Complete buy-in was essential for the Red Sox. Alex Cora’s players would run through walls for their manager by mid-season. Many were at that point much earlier. He gained their trust and he had a plan. Which, it turned out, worked exactly the way he intended.

For the good of students, it takes a team

Right vs Wrong

Cora could seemingly do no wrong during the playoffs. His moves were inscrutable. Brock Holt was the first player ever to hit for the cycle in the playoffs. He was pulled from the lineup the next night. Eduardo Nunez pinch-hitting for Rafael Devers? Three-run home run! But there were times during the season, and even once in the playoffs, when Cora admitted a mistake. “The game got a little bit ahead of me,” was a line he used more than once during the season. He frankly admitted leaving Eduardo Rodriguez in for one batter too many in World Series Game 4, resulting in a three-run homer. Shades of Grady Little.

A manager admitting a mistake was unusual and refreshing. It earned him respect from fans and the media alike. Administrators and teachers are much like managers and coaches: we hate to admit when we’ve made a mistake. But teachers will have great respect for an administrator who concedes that an idea of his wasn’t exactly what the school needed; and students will respect a teacher who admits that “The class got a little bit ahead of me. ” It is usually abundantly obvious to both teachers and students when mistakes are made. Not admitting them demonstrates a lack of humility and can even project a sense of arrogance. No one is buying in when arrogance rears its ugly head.

Trust Instincts

Cora and the crew who crunch numbers for the team did an outstanding job behind the scenes. Cora had a wealth of information about his own players and the opponents for each game. But every once in a while, he played a hunch rather than going strictly by the numbers. There is a quirky human factor in the game of baseball, and sometimes things happen that make absolutely no statistical sense.

In education, the wealth of standardized testing delivers ample data for teachers and administrators. But as professional educators, we know our students. Teachers and even administrators are human, and humans do not always perform according to algorithm. The people in the trenches and on the front lines know their students best, and know when to let instinct trump statistics. The hunch played in a classroom can result in an academic grand slam for a student.

Listen

Early in the season, J.D. Martinez made the unprecedented request to have his batting practice sessions videotaped so he could analyze them. It did not take long for all the players to request the same thing and suddenly the team had a new resource to improve hitting.

Administrators may find that the best ideas come from teachers, and teachers can discover a new idea or method of presenting material by listening to students. If the staff and students have truly bought in to the goals set for the school, everyone has a stake in the game and everyone will find a way to contribute.

Best for the Team

One of the best moments of the World Series came in the middle of the ninth inning. For the entire playoff run, the pitching staff threw their concerns about protecting their arms out the window. Players who threw over 100 pitches one day were volunteering to pitch the next. Immediately after the 18 inning Game 3 marathon, Alex Cora had no less than four pitchers in his office volunteering to start game 4. One of them was Nathan Eovaldi who had just finished throwing 97 pitches in more than six innings of relief.

In the ninth inning of Game 5, Chris Sale, the originally announced starter, began warming up in the bullpen. As the bottom of the ninth began, the bullpen door opened and all the pitchers lined up and applauded Sale as he entered the game. It was a sight even veteran baseball fans had never seen. Most players want the ball, and while they may never admit it, they get a bit jealous when another pitcher gets the call. This group were all about what was best for the team. They checked their egos at the bullpen door.

Our focus as educators always has to be on the good of the students. It can be hard to focus on the task in front of us and not stew about the colleague who has an easier schedule or has students who are more focused and teachable. Borrowing a page from the Patriots playbook, everyone on the 2018 Red Sox did their job and showed no qualms about the assignments handed to other teammates. The result was another duck boat parade.

It takes an entire organization to shepherd a team to success. From the very top down, everyone must find a way to buy in, trust each other, and always focus on the common good. It isn’t easy. It takes a very special type of leadership to foster such trust and commitment—even when it takes until 3:30 a.m. to see the results. The more students find ways to make great plays, the more teachers can celebrate, and administrators can plan for the duck boat parade.

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JFY Partner School Spotlight

Sometimes We Need to Be Reminded…
… that our schools are full of great kids, hard-working and creative teachers, overworked and underappreciated administrators, and effective programs.

Read more about some of these outstanding people, schools and communities in our series: Spotlighting JFYNetWorks Partner Schools… November 2018 edition.

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#GivingTuesday 2018

Donate to Help a Student Today

 
 

#CollegeCareerReadiness through #BlendedLearning

College and Career Readiness is LIFE READINESS.

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Enter Connected, Hyperlinked Students

Reaching and teaching the hyperlinked student

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

I recently had a conversation with one of the teachers I work with about a course she is teaching this year. The content is intriguing, relevant and full of rigor. It has to do with social media, networking, media bias, and how we humans are adapting to these rapid changes. It is a course I would have been dying to get into in high school or college.

I left the conversation excited for, and slightly envious of, the students who would be part of this class experience. Over the subsequent weeks I have thought a lot about the course and read some of the materials the teacher shared with me. It’s easy to see the relevance to the world we’re living in.

Phones are an issue for virtually every school. There are policies in place, but students can always maneuver around policies. It’s what teenagers do best. Schools block sites and have secret passwords for Wi-Fi, but kids always manage to outflank the defense.

As the adult in the room who needs students to pay attention, I struggle with the reality that everyone is connected all the time. The question now seems to be: how do we, as educators, capitalize on the connectedness that students live in?

I am of the generation that is still awestruck at the amount of power we have in our pockets. I marvel that I can access a calculator, look up a math formula, find articles on Darwin’s theory of evolution, read or listen to a book, and even talk to someone– all on the same small hand-held device.

I know it’s old news. Having this technology in our pocket is commonplace and has been for years. But we are still in the early stages of learning how to navigate and manage all that information, teaching people how to navigate it well, and understanding how it alters the way we interface with the world and process information.

It’s a new school year. New classes are meeting and there’s excitement in the air. I am eager to learn about and see firsthand the innovations our teachers will produce. Teaching is not a flat transmission of information. It’s the creation of a physical and mental space where curiosity can flourish, and discovery can unfold.

School is in session.


Related ‘3rd party’ content worth sharing
U.S. Teachers See Digital Devices as Net Plus for Education
Gallup Panel web study published 4/2018

The Advantages of Using Electronic Gadgets in Teaching in School
Classroom.com, 7/2018

Debating the Use of Digital Devices in the Classroom
Concordia University-Portland, updated 7/2018

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Frederick Wiseman, When gods walk the earth

Frederick Wiseman, Chronicler of the Western World

by Gary Kaplan, Unbounded Fan of ‘Fred’

I was at a conference this morning and felt the need for another cup of coffee. The conference was in a lecture room at the front of the building and the food in another room at the back. I sat for a few minutes debating whether to make a spectacle of myself by exiting the room. Caffeine withdrawal finally settled the issue and I slid as silently as possible out of the lecture room and into the corridor. I tiptoed to the rear of the building, decanted my cup of brew, and headed back toward the front. All this, from the first caffeine craving to the return, took perhaps four minutes. Just as I approached the doorway back into the lecture room, a diminutive figure emerged from another doorway and came toward me down the carpeted corridor. It was a small old man with cameras strapped all over his slight frame. Recognition was instantaneous. “Fred!” I blurted. “What are you doing here?” As if it was any business of mine, and as if he knew me from a hole in the wall.

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JFY Partner School Spotlight

Sometimes We Need to Be Reminded…
… that our schools are full of great kids, hard-working and creative teachers, overworked and underappreciated administrators, and effective programs.

Read more about some of these outstanding people, schools and communities in our series: Spotlighting JFYNetWorks Partner Schools… October 2018 edition.

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Language Arts and Math

Two disciplines with a common purpose

by Cathie Maglio, blended learning specialist

Ever since fifth grade I wanted to be a math teacher. I fell in love with the subject at that point and never wavered from it.

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in math, I knew I wanted a master’s degree but didn’t know in what. It took twenty years to find the right program, a Masters of Education with a concentration in Technology in Education at Lesley College (now University). The program was being offered at a local school one week-end a month for 22 months.

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Minding the Gap… GAP Year that is

Should you take a year off after high school?

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

If you’re a senior, you are probably thinking about college. The traditional pattern has been to attend college right after high school, but many students now are taking a year off before enrolling in college. The so-called “gap year” got a lot of attention when Malia Obama decided to wait a year before attending Harvard. Her decision attracted both praise and criticism. Was it a good decision? Let’s examine the gap year option.

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Astronomy in the Fenway

Reading the Red Sox’ Stars

by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

    “I’m amazed you can see Venus with all the lights around Boston,” my friend Tyler commented as we walked back to the car after a Red Sox win at Fenway Park.

    “That’s not Venus,” I assured him. “That’s Mars.”

    “It can’t be Mars. It’s too bright to be Mars.”

    “Actually, Mars is at its brightest point in 50 years right now. And the only time you can see Venus is right after sunset or right before sunrise. It’s too late for Venus.”