Friday, March 25, 2016

Maker Mondays in the SHS Library

There’s a movement afoot in Isle of Wight County Schools.  It’s a maker movement and it’s made its way in to many of our schools, beginning as a grassroots initiative by a handful of teachers.  We’ve been hearing about makerspaces in the education world for the past few years, but for people outside of education, it may be a new term to them.  So what is a maker?  According to our friends at 757 MakerSpace in Norfolk, “Makers seek out opportunities to learn to do new things, especially through hands-on, DIY (do it yourself) interactions.”  A makerspace is a place where making occurs.  It’s filled with materials and equipment for use by makers to create and invent, with the only limitation being their imagination and often involves robotics, coding and programming.

One of our schools providing a MakerSpace and maker mentality for our students is Smithfield High School.  Librarians Jill Peerey and Minette Brooks, along with Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) Karen Franklin, have started Maker Monday’s in the library during lunchtime.  Students can visit the library during lunch to unleash their creativity.  They can use littleBits and Cubelets, both are small electronic blocks that connect with magnets to create circuits and perform certain functions.  Different arrangements can create different responses and it’s great to watch the students think through their combinations to find out what will happen as they move parts around. They also use kits called Makey Makey that transform ordinary household items into touchpads.  Students can play a song on the piano by tapping on bananas, or play Pac Man using oranges.  If you’re scratching your head, I completely understand.  I believe you have to see this in action to comprehend making and a makerspace.  To that end, in the SHS Makerspace video, you can see how these devices work.   You will also notice a range of emotions and skills from the students.  You will see intensity, excitement, concentration and collaboration.  

Providing students access to a makerspace helps to promote creativity and logic, key skills students need for success during and after high school.  As we revise our instructional program to offer several new, in-house career and technical courses, we will be adding a MakerSpace course to our curriculum.  We will also be offering students at all levels more access to MakeSpaces and robotics.    As we move toward deeper learning, with an emphasis on project based learning, the MakerSpace movement will go from grassroots to mainstream and that “makes” me excited about the possibilities for our students.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Superintendent’s Budget Message

I am excited about the future of Isle of Wight County Public Schools and the future of our children.  We have many dedicated individuals who are leading the way and setting the example as life-long learners.  Administrators, teachers, and staff are innovatively thinking, brainstorming, and researching to provide a 21st century education to our children.  This is a tribute to the dedication and professionalism they demonstrate each day.

The budget presented this year will focus on providing the funds necessary in each category in order to accomplish the School Board’s Strategic Goals. We must solidify the operational budget on the instructional side as well as providing a strong operational budget that will enable us to provide a positive learning environment for our students by proactively maintaining our facilities and support services.

The House and Senate joint budget included a two percent raise for all teachers this year.  A compensation study will be conducted during the second year of the biennium budget.  A strategic plan for employee compensation needs to be phased in over a period of time on a rotational basis in cooperation with the Board of Supervisors.  This will best provide for employees and for school and county officials to plan together.

As we continue to learn with our students, we will be focusing on several new areas this year. The focus will shift from a single score on an SOL test to the skills necessary to be successful lifelong learners.  These skills include collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.  Performance based learning and STEM will be the vehicle in which these skills will be taught on a regular basis.

We are researching a more rigorous reading curriculum in our elementary schools to ensure all children are reading on grade level by third grade. We will be implementing coding as a resource class for all elementary students.  Coding is the second most used language in our country.  Guidance counselors will no longer teach a resource class and will be utilized to mentor students and work with the reading initiative.

The secondary schools will focus on creating new learning environments in the media center and throughout the schools such as maker spaces, writing rooms, music studios, and areas to brainstorm and collaborate.  These environments will provide the tools and space for students and teachers to use their creativity in solving problems and providing a benefit to the school community.
We will focus on Career and Technical Education.  Conversations will continue with local businesses and industry to provide us the information as far as the technical and soft skills that students will need to be employable after high school. We will use this information to design CTE programs in which students will be ready for employment in local industry upon graduation. We are investigating design and manufacturing, HVAC, electrical, and welding opportunities.  In addition to this, a Career Pathway curriculum will be developed for middle school students to expose them early on to possible careers and college.

Teachers will be exposed to deeper learning professional development in order to provide performance based learning opportunities for students.  Students in turn will be able to apply the knowledge that they have learned in the classroom and solve real world problems in addition to being prepared for the new performance based assessments developed locally and at the state level. 
We are requesting additional funding in this budget in the area of maintenance and transportation.  Preventive maintenance schedules will be funded and implemented as well as painting in schools on a rotational basis.  A line item fund to implement a rotational purchase of new furniture will keep the school division moving in a proactive manner in providing a positive learning environment for our students.

There is not a better way to invest in your community’s future than to support the school budget and provide an opportunity for students to achieve their goals. 

Dr. James Thornton

Division Superintendent

Friday, March 4, 2016

Mrs. Day's Class at Carrollton: Learning from A (Active) to Z (Zumba)

 On one of my classroom visits at Carrollton Elementary, I stopped in Mrs. Day’s 3rd grade class for a few minutes.  I love seeing students engaged and active, as well as incorporation of the 4 C’s (creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration).  It was exciting to be able to observe ALL of these taking place in her lesson and it was obvious that this is what the students were used to on a daily basis. I wanted to share this excitement with all of you, so I asked Lynn Briggs to go in and video a typical lesson in Mrs. Day’s classroom.

She was teaching a lesson on fractions which in my experience as a math teacher, is not an easy topic for elementary students.  She modeled problems at the board for students, then gave them one to try.  But she didn’t want them to do this on their own, or even work the problem.  Instead, she told them to talk to their buddy about what they would do.  The class began buzzing with conversation as students shared with each other what they would do.  I also overhead many of them taking the activity one step further and explaining the why. 

Throughout the lesson, she presented the information in many different formats and gave the students numerous opportunities to learn how to subtract fractions.  Students worked problems on their desktops using dry erase markers.  They drew pictures in their math notebooks with colored pencils.  They used manipulatives to represent parts of a whole.  And their entire time, they were collaborating, communicating, being creative and using critical thinking skills.

Mrs. Day’s students are very active in the classroom.  She knows students shouldn’t sit for too long.  As they say, “When the bum is numb, the brain is the same.”  She gives her students plenty of opportunities to move around.  She would play some music for the kids and they would walk and dance around the classroom until the music stopped, not unlike musical chairs.  Then they would partner with someone next to them to work on a problem, using dry erase markers to write on the desk top while standing.  After some collaboration, the music was back on and off they went to another partner, another problem, another desk.

It’s so important to make sure our students are engaged and Mrs. Day incorporates strategies that let the children have fun while they are learning.   She knows it’s much more meaningful and purposeful to teach by showing and not just be telling.  Following in that train of thought, I hope you enjoy watching the video so you can see for yourself the energy she and her students have for learning.