Learning Never Stops

Educators often spend time in the summer working on improving their knowledge and skills. Some take college classes, some work on curriculum, others attend workshops or conferences.  Why do they do this?  Educators do this for the same reasons that other professionals and workers attend training sessions; to improve and grow as a teacher and/or leader.

This summer, 27 certified staff attended the PLC Institute in Lincolnshire, IL.  Professional Learning Communities (PLC) is a term that has been around for several years.  Essentially, schools are a learning organization.  It is critical for educators to work in teams and to keep learning to improve learning for students.  The concept is simple:  no one educator is as good as a team of educators.  With the complexity of teaching and learning today, it is imperative that we equip educators with the time necessary to work with a team to improve learning for all.

The NPS Leadership team has spent some time learning together this summer and we are excited about welcoming back our teachers and students to the 2015-2016 school year.  It is my hope that we can continue to develop professional learners, both students and teachers, so student achievement can progress.

To the Class of 2015

It is time for NPS to send you out into the real world.  You are now one of us; an adult who is expected to contribute and make the world a better place.  I came to Newaygo when you were in 9th grade, so in a sense I was a “freshman” just like you. It was your first year in the high school and it was my first year as the NPS superintendent.  A lot has changed since then. I know I have learned a great deal and I am sure you have as well.

This community is pleased with all of your accomplishments and leadership exhibited throughout your high school years.  The Class of 2015 has produced several champions in both athletics and band.  The artists in this class have achieved like none before. Academically gifted, this class has many students who finished their high school career with over a 4.0 GPA. Perhaps most significant, is that this class has produced outstanding citizens who exhibit care and concern for others.

I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to see you all learn, grow, and make your path. Congratulations on achieving this milestone. This community is proud of you. Go out and make this world a better place. And… never forget your roots. You’ll always be a Newaygo Lion!  Carry that Lion Pride everywhere. Best wishes to you as your pursue your dreams.

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NPS Has Outstanding Participation at County STEM Expo

The 3rd annual STEM Expo at NCRESA was on March 24. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) are areas in which we work to cultivate student interests and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The STEM Expo is an event open to all students in Newaygo County and it is sponsored by the Gerber Foundation as they have judges evaluate the work of the students and award scholarship money. For the third year in a row, students from Newaygo Public Schools comprised a majority of the participants.

Consider this: Out of the 37 high school and middle school participants, NPS had 22 students who participated! In fact at the Middle School level, out of the 23 participants, Newaygo had 19 students. I was so proud to see the Expo area dominated by Newaygo students and families. I had one staff member from NCRESA ask me why Newaygo was so well-represented. I gave my standard response, “We have awesome students and teachers.” Things like this do not happen by accident. A big THANK YOU goes to science teachers, Andy Busch, Jenne Bush, Deb Iwema, and Cheri Spoelma who worked as mentors for our students so that they could participate in the STEM Expo.

Congratulations to the students who designed, conducted, and evaluated a project in order to participate this year. The confidence they exhibited while presenting their study was impressive. A complete list of the Newaygo students, their projects, and mentor teachers can be found on the district webpage under spotlights. Once again, the Newaygo community can be very proud of our students and their work.

From a 1st grader: Why Don’t We Just Build a New School?

March is Reading Month. The elementary schools do many things to celebrate and encourage reading during the month of March to shine a spotlight on the importance of becoming a good reader. One of those activities includes the Superintendent reading a selected book to each Kindergarten and 1st grade class, and it is enjoyable for me to do this and this year was no exception.

As I prepared for this year’s reading assignments, we had some other issues to contend with. When the snow began to melt, the Vera Wilsie building was experiencing several leaky areas in the roof and we had two classrooms that had water damage to classroom walls, ceilings, supplies, and carpet. As a result, the teacher and the students in those two classrooms had to relocate to other unused areas in the Vera Wilsie building for a few weeks. Naturally, this was a disruption to the learning but the students and teachers were patient and flexible.

In one 1st grade room, I sat down to read in an area of the classroom that had been refurbished after the water damage. When I finished reading my story, the students wanted to talk a little bit about moving classrooms, the reasons why, and what could be done. I apologized to the class for having to do this. One little boy quietly raised his hand and I called on him. He commented, “I have an idea. Why don’t we just build a new school?” It was such a straightforward question presented in such a simple and innocent way. After further discussion, another boy stated, “But if we build a new school, we won’t be Newaygo anymore!”

Little did the students know that earlier that week, the results of a Facilities study that had been authorized by the board were presented at the March board meeting. The timing was perfect. It also became clear that our students have a keen awareness of the stress that our facilities are under. While moving classrooms due to water damage may not seem like a big deal to some, to students and teachers, it represents uncertainty about how long we can continue to operate in our elementary facilities. To school leaders, it means that we worry about educating students in old facilities that require significant costs to keep repaired.

In the next several months, we will be sharing the results of this Facilities study and examining what options might be available. The residents of this community need to know that we have some facility needs that must be addressed but that I personally do not have pre-conceived notions about what the solutions are. We will want to proceed in such a way where the community can support the effort and do what makes sense in a responsible and fiscally sound way.

As I talked with those first grade students that day, I was both encouraged and proud of how flexible and knowledgeable they were about their situation. I did assure them, however that despite what happens; new school, renovated school, or old school, it will still be Newaygo. It was intriguing to me that with the disruption and moving classrooms, there were students who thought that a new school meant they were “no longer Newaygo.” I told them that no matter what happens, “You will always be a Newaygo Lion!” Certainly, a goal in the coming months is have all of Newaygo become informed about the state of our facilities and options that might be on the horizon. We also want to make sure we put the best interests of students like the ones I read to that day, at the forefront of what we do.

 

Simple Ways Technology Can Help Young Students Learn Math

If today’s adults think about how they learned basic math, perhaps visions of worksheets filled with problems come to mind.  Maybe you can recall opening a textbook and looking at an extensive list of assigned practice problems. These assignments are necessary, however because we know that in order to master a skill, it takes practice and getting proficient at math is no exception. Fortunately, there are many resources that are available through technology that can assist with student learning in mathematics.

With the addition of student devices in NPS classrooms, I observed a couple of different ways that iPads are utilized with math instruction. First, the iPad can be used by students to process math problems and they can easily show the steps with different colors to visualize their thinking. Yes this can be done with colored pencils, but the number of problems students can complete in a given time frame increases greatly with an iPad.Educreations Math

In a similar vein, students can log into one of numerous programs to practice math facts. In some cases, the student’s progress or score can go directly to the teacher and he or she can quickly know how each student is doing on a particular skill. This allows the teacher to monitor each student’s progress and possibly differentiate the next set of practice items for each student based on their skill.

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Justin Mielke practices his math facts.

These are just two very simple examples of how students devices can be used to assist students in learning math. The iPad (or Chromebook) is simply a tool, in a similar way that we used “tools” like pencil and paper. The goal is to be able to have students not only use the device for “practice” purposes but to understand the complex processes involved in learning about how and why numbers work the way they do. Furthermore, it is hoped that students have some fun and learn to love math in the process!

Thoughts from 2nd Grade Students on Technology

At NPS, we have been deploying student devices this school year in a systematic way. As mentioned previously, I will highlight some ways the district’s investment in technology is utilized in the classroom.

During the month of February, NPS 2nd grade classrooms received iPads. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Cotner shared a small stack of hand-written papers written by 2nd grade students in her class. The topic of the paper was, “Life before and after the iPad.” The class worked together to develop a Multi-Flow Map (one of the 8 Thinking Maps) to organize their thoughts. During the mapping session, one of the students was absent that day from school. Ms. Cotner was able to use the iPad to take a picture of the collaborative map so when the student returned the next day, he could pick up right where they all left off without missing a beat.

Some of the comments that were written by the students are included below. Grammar and punctuation was not corrected as I took the comments right from their papers.

- I like my iPad/tablet.  Before we had iPads, it was dredful.
- Now we can take AR tests when ever we want.
- The graphics on lexia are so much better.
- We can draw without cutting down trees.
- Before I had my iPad I had paper and pencil. We worked in textbooks. We had to wait for a computer to take an AR test.
- We couldn’t do lexia every day.
- It used to be boring. But now it’s fun and I really like it.
- Before we had our iPads we had some tools, Like pencils, erasers, and scissors…  Now that we have our iPads we can do a lot of things. Like download apps that are math games, reading, puzzles, and spelling city. AR test and Lexia is more easier to do.

The integration of Thinking Maps to organize thoughts about student devices combined with their views about how the iPad can be a learning tool is insightful. Another thing of note is that the papers were neatly hand-written. Teachers don’t always need to use technology to replace what they are doing. Both teachers and students are finding ways to do things more efficiently with technology and that there is a time and place for the use of technology in the classroom.

 

Technology is Spreading at NPS

It has been several months since I have updated this blog but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a flurry of activity with regard to technology at NPS!  We are proud of the fact that our comprehensive technology acquisition and deployment has equipped Newaygo students with access to outstanding resources as compared most others in the area. High School students obtained Chromebooks at the beginning of the school year. Students in grades 4-8 acquired Chromebooks at mid-year. We are now working on iPad distribution for students in grades K-3. Our teachers have been participating in a technology course throughout this school year during professional development time to learn about resources that are available. All of this is in addition to the classroom multimedia systems and wireless networks that were installed in every room and building two years ago.

A few years ago, it was not uncommon for some teachers to be a little wary and express apprehension about student devices coming into their classroom. Gradually, however, it has been great to see the excitement on the part of teachers as they have become more familiar and comfortable with use of technology in teaching and learning. Teachers are learning more every day about how to best use student devices to reach all learners. In fact, one principal shared this quote from one of the teachers, “I know I have a lot to learn with technology but I know I will be better in one year than I am now.” What a great example of a growth mindset!

One of the challenges facing educators (and society in general) is the fact that technology continues to change at a rapid pace and keeping up with it can be a daunting task. We also have to stay current with teaching our students good digital citizenship and educate students on negative behaviors and associated consequences that can occur when technology is used to hurt or harm others.

We are up to the task. Technology integration is exciting and challenging at the same time. I can assure you, though, that our teachers will continue to work on giving our students the best experience possible. In the coming weeks, I’ll share some specific ways technology is changing how learning occurs in the classroom so stay tuned!

Smiles and Technology

I had the opportunity to attend the annual 1st grade Grandparent’s Day at Vera Wilsie Elementary school, which is a program assembled by the First Grade Teachers.  Each year I, along with the other attendees, really enjoy watching our students perform.  It’s also enjoyable to watch the other group involved in this event as well, namely; the grandparents themselves.  The smiles exhibited by this group are abundant and the resulting positive energy in the room is great.

I also noticed something else about what occurs during this program that probably wasn’t present several years ago.  I would guess that cameras have always been present during programs like this.  What might be different, however is the number of cameras, iPads, mobile phones, and other video technology utilized by attendees.  As part of the story-time portion of the program our staff was able to utilize a document camera to project the book for the large group to see.  Technology is everywhere and our students are familiar with a technological environment.  I would venture to guess that perhaps one of these 1st grade students will end up helping their grandparent to upload and/or edit the pictures and video taken that day. Possibly there will be more smiles as a result!

Let’s give credit to the Vera Wilsie teachers and staff who organized this event and the grandparents who attended. The students and parents thank you!

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I Like to Help People

This week, I was alerted to the fact that one of our very own 4th grade students at Velma Matson Upper Elementary had started something really great.  Iris Herrera talked with her Mom about the fact that in her class during snack time, Iris noticed some students never ate.  Iris didn’t necessarily pry into the reasons why but her heart compelled her to do something, so Iris and her mother set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for snacks for students at school.

Curious about this initiative, I spoke with both Iris and her Mom.  Ms. Herrera and Iris were both nervous when setting up the fundraising account.  Questions ensued.  What if by doing this, we offend people?  What if nobody contributes or participates?  What if we don’t reach our goal?  These questions, while very real, didn’t deter Iris from setting a goal and moving forward.  Lo and behold, the monetary goal was not only reached but is was surpassed!

Shortly after this all got started, I asked Iris, “Why did you do this?”  Her eyes lit up and she beamed, “I like to help people. It feels good.”  That simple conversation provided great insight.  This entire experience turned out to prove two things:  1.)  We have young people in our community who are capable of seeing the needs of others and devising a plan to help them and 2.)  The community’s support of Iris’ work is yet more evidence of how special the Newaygo community is.

This is Hard, But I Know I Can Do It

I tried to visit most of the classrooms this week as we kicked off the 2014-2015 school year.  In making rounds at the Upper Elementary, I stepped into Mrs. Cotner’s second grade classroom.  In her classroom at that time, the students were on the floor playing with toys.  They were building things with the various toys either working alone or with a partner or group.  I turned my head over to an area where a little girl was working on a project trying to put together some pieces.  She then exclaimed, “Wow, the teacher was right. This is hard. But I know I can do it!”  This student wasn’t talking to anyone in particular as she working by herself on a task at that time.  In fact, Mrs. Cotner didn’t even hear the statement as she assisting another student on a different project.

What a powerful lesson in “self-talk” from a 2nd grader!  I don’t know the student’s name and I am certain she doesn’t even know that I heard her declaration.  I just smiled and exited the room and took comfort in knowing that whatever that child chooses to do in life, she will be successful.  I hope all of us can learn something from this 2nd grade student in Mrs. Cotner’s class and use it for this school year and in our lives.  Yes, this is hard… but I know I can do it!