Tuesday, May 15, 2007

We're moving

While we are still working on some pesky technical issues, we have pretty much worked out one issue. We're going to move to a "real" web page. Look for a link to follow once all the registration stuff has gone through (and someone writes us a web page).


Thursday, May 3, 2007

Behind the Scenes

Middle School Matters has been hard at work behind the scene. Although it seems remarkably easy (more about this in a minute), there is a lot of work to be done behind the scene. Making the remote recording work, the remote hosting, proper tags and all is a bit of work. We want to make sure that you have a quality podcast to listen to when we debut in the Fall. Oh, we're pretty sure that the first few won't be perfect (OK, maybe they'll never be perfect, but you get the idea) but we'll try to start with some pretty dog gone decent quality. It's also a tough time of year as we are working on dealing with a very real budget crisis, preparing to close out this year and start up next year. Oh, what fun.

About that remarkably easy. Some of things that we are doing were absolutely impossible just a few years ago. One of us has some experience in college radio (just a, um, few years ago). The things that we can do now we didn't even dream about in that long ago experience. So, yes, on one hand, it is remarkably easy. However, remarkably easy (as any middle school educator can attest to) is a matter of perspective.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

End of the Year

The year is winding down quickly. Someone pointed out to me the other day that we had 7 more Mondays for this school year. We have 8 more Fridays. While that means that this year is quickly coming to a close, it also means that our debut Podcast is coming up quickly. We've worked out some of the technical issues. We're going to polish some of that up and work on some of the procedural kind of things. Mostly though, we're getting to work on developing the kind of show that Middle School Educators will find:

  • Useful
  • Entertaining
  • Humorous
  • Thoughtful
  • Insightful
  • Relevant
  • Intriguing
  • Exciting
And much, much more! OK, so we aim a little high. As always, if you have any suggestions, drop us a line.

Monday, April 16, 2007

New Hope

I've long said that we are in time of great change in education. The changes that are taking place for middle school, high school and the rest of the educational experience bear that out. I've also said that the job of educators isn't the same one as it was 30 years ago. Heck, it isn't even the same job as 10 years ago. In fact, I'm not sure that it's the same job that Universities are currently preparing teachers for.

However, it wasn't completely clear to me exactly how the job was different. It is now becoming more and more clear. However, not everything is changing.

Let's start with the vestiges of what was. Our schedule is still derived from the farming schedule. In fact, lawmakers in Michigan like the schedule so much that we are barred by law from having students return to school before Labor Day. That is one example of what was.

Those same lawmakers also passed a law that every student must have an "on-line" experience. New schedule, meet the old schedule.

Teachers are being asked to do more and more. Yet we don't recognize that. We don't honor that. We don't applaud that.

How has the job changed?

More to come.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Times they are a changin'

Sunday's post probably displayed a little more frustration that was intended. Middle school is certainly undergoing some attacks and some change. However, generally we try to be pretty optimistic around these parts. There is a reason that we work in middle school. We really do love what we do.

With that, it is important to look at the opportunities that are presenting themselves. (Not really sure I've made it quite far enough to have found them all). Anyway, we'll discuss some of the changes that are occurring and try to find as many positives as we can.

First of all, education as a whole is changing. The job of teaching looks very different right now than it did a few years ago. We'll venture to say that the job will look different yet in a few more years. This is an exciting time in education due simply to that fact. It may not always be fun to go through the change, but at least we have an opportunity to be a part of it.

Will we look back in a few years and remember these as "the good old days?"

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Middle School at it's end?

Middle school has long been under attack. However, I feel the attack may be getting ever stronger. Recently Michigan has made some major changes in terms of High School graduation requirements. This has impacted high schools in numerous ways. One of the ways that this is being interpreted by District level personnel as having some dramatic effects on middle school. Here's how the logic goes:
- kids will have fewer opportunities for gaining elective credit.
- Michigan now allows students to earn High School credit while in Middle School.
- let's teach high school courses in middle school, give the students credit for high school while in middle school and every one is happy.

Well, maybe not everyone. There is a reason for middle school. Middle school has some very important concepts that deal with physical, emotional and psychological development of adolescents. However, few people really understand middle school and middle school kids.

Is middle school going to revert to junior high? It's far too early to tell, however, it is obvious that middle school has been and continues to be under attack. We'll keep fighting for what is right for the students. We believe in the middle school beliefs.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Finding us

We're adding Technorati so that we're easier to find.
Technorati Profile

What's in a name?

After a great deal of discussion, we've decided to change the name of our efforts from Middle School Musings to Middle School Matters. We really like the duplicitous meanings of the new name. Plus, since this is very early on in our endeavors, the change is really simple right now. We're still working on the podcast and making sure that it will sound good. We're also working on the structure of the podcast. This is your chance to see "behind the scenes".

As always, comments are always welcome.

Middle School Reform vs High School Reform

I've had many questions lately revolving around the very question of what is middle school? For some people, middle school is a schedule. In fact, for some people, middle school means teachers having an "extra" prep. That's it. Anyone who really knows middle school knows that middle school is much, much more. In future posts, we'll talk much more about the seminal research documents and the underlying concepts of middle school. What is really interesting to me about the question right now is the high school reform that is happening.
Let's face it, middle school is under attack in many places. I've seen many places espousing the abolition of middle school because it "doesn't work". Never mind that most places are truly doing middle school. Never mind that the underlying concepts haven't been implemented. Just say that it doesn't work.

So in short, what are the basics of middle school:

  1. Based upon the developmental needs (social and academic) of young adolescents.
  2. Organized into interdisciplinary teams.
  3. Flexible organizational structures.
  4. Advisory programs to address the needs of students.
  5. Exploratory opportunities
  6. Positive adult and peer relationships are developed.
  7. Engage the family and the community with the education of the middle school students.
  8. Connect schools with the community.
Anyway, the latest high school reform measures advocate many of the ideas, concepts and beliefs of middle school. However, since it being called high school reform, it is, of course, totally different. Here are the Breaking Ranks High School recommendations:
The overall goal of the Breaking Ranks Model of High School Reform is to help high schools improve learning opportunities and achievement results for all students. The model has been designed to assist high schools in achieving the following objectives:
  1. Ensure that all students have access to rigorous, standards-based, real-world instruction
  2. Restructure the high school into small, personalized learning communities
  3. Develop staff capacity to systematically use data for purposes of equity, accountability, and instructional improvement
  4. Implement collaborative leadership strategies that engage staff, students,parents, and the broader community in supporting school and student success
OK, lets take a look at these. #1 speaks to rigor and relevance. Certainly these are important pieces of middle school. Rigor has probably not been implemented as well as it should be. However, it is certainly part of the middle school model. Real world instruction and connection is a huge part of middle school.
#2 - Um, this is one of the major tenets of middle school. The whole idea of teaming, and connecting with kids is one of the major cornerstones of middle school.
#3 - Certainly this is good instruction and important in education. Not specifically a tenet of the middle school concept, but
important in middle school and school of all levels.
#4 - Engaging parents, students and the community. Again, another major tenet of middle school.

How about some suggestions from the Executive Summary:

1. Core Knowledge: Establish the essential learnings a student is required to learn in order to graduate, and adjust the curriculum and teaching strategies to realize that goal
2. Connections with Students: Increase the quantity and improve the quality of interactions between students, teachers, and other school personnel by reducing the number of students for which any adult or group of adults is responsible
3. Personalized Planning: Implement a comprehensive advisory program that ensures each student has frequent and meaningful opportunities to plan and assess his or her academic and social progress with a faculty member
4. Adapting to Differences: Ensure teachers use a variety of instructional strategies and assessments to accommodate individual learning styles
5. Flexible Use of Time: Implement schedules flexible enough to accommodate teaching strategies consistent with the ways students learn most effectively and that allow for effective teacher teaming and lesson planning
6. Distributed Leadership: Institute structural leadership changes that allow for meaningful involvement in decision making by students, teachers, family members, and the community and that support effective communication with these groups
7. Continuous Professional Development: Align comprehensive, ongoing professional development program and individual Personal Learning Plans of staff members with the content knowledge and instructional strategies required to prepare students for graduation.

Again, let's take a look at this.
  1. Core knowledge. Important in middle school.
  2. Connections with students. A major tenet of middle school.
  3. Comprehensive advisory program. A major tenet of middle school.
  4. Differentiation. A major tenet of middle school.
  5. Flexible use of time. A major tenet of middle school.
  6. Distributed leadership. In middle school, teachers, parents and students should have a voice in decision making.
  7. Continuous Professional Development. See #6.
No matter how I look at it, High School reform sure sounds a whole lot like middle school reform. This is not to say that middle school has been perfectly implemented. This is not to say that middle school research is all inclusive. It does, however, point out how important and vital that the middle school concept is.


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Convention Reflections

One of my favorite conversations from the Ohio Middle School Association conference was with a teacher who was at this conference for the first time. He and I discussed many issues related to middle school, but part that struck me the most was his comment on how much stopping and reflecting on middle school education and our own practice was something that should be done more often. Many teachers on the survey reported that they don't talk to teachers in other buildings except at conferences such as this.

One of the sessions that tickled my interest was a presentation on incorporating Turning Points and This We Believe into a limited budget. Two creative approaches centered around planned assemblies where the school aides and paraprofessional personnel were in the assembly with the kids and the teams were in their team rooms planning. The second approach was to petition the state for "waivers". This retired principal had exercised a clause in the school code that allowed districts to waive instructional time for cause. He organized four of these days, two per semester and that gave the teams two whole days a semester to plan ahead and organize their curriculum. Rather than just giving the students a "day off," he brought in community groups like the YMCA to organize activities and events during the day in the building.

Another school used teaming to improve discipline. Their teams created a team discipline plan under the supervision of the Assistant Principal which incorporated a check system. Each student gets a discipline card. Each team rule infraction earned a graduation in discipline starting with warnings and increasing to referrals to the Assistant Principal and Team discipline interventions. They found their Assistant Principal had more time for doing other AP things and less of his time was spent on student discipline. Their teams have daily team meetings.

Lastly, a few quotes from the two days. Betty Hollas spoke on collegiality of staff being second only to curriculum as the most important factor in student achievement.
"Negative attitudes are like passive smoke, it'll slowly kill ya."
"Sign seen in Alaska: Pick your ruts carefully. You will be in them for the next 8 months.
"You can catch an emotion like you can catch a cold."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Middle School vs Junior High

Earlier, we posted a link from a site that used Middle School and Junior High interchangeably. (I'm sure that this is a topic that we'll explore from time to time). It brings up the debate about what Middle School really is. Unfortunately, many people really don't understand what middle school is. Even people who claim to know, people who have been around a "middle school" for years may not really understand what it is. I personally have talked to several teachers who have been teaching at a "middle school" for many years, yet even they don't understand what it really is. For parents, the difference between middle school and junior high is even tougher. After listening to some parents the other day, here is what they perceive the difference to be: (ready?) Middle school starts in 6th grade, Junior High starts in 7th. Seriously. How badly have we communicated what middle school is when that's what parents take away from the conversation?
In another discussion, several teachers (all of whom who reported teaching at a middle school) essentially stated that the difference was that they get two prep periods.
What's your take?

Monday, February 26, 2007


Assessment is currently a hot topic. Several issues came up in our discussion. I'll go into more depth in future posts, but a couple of things really stand out for me.

* I wasn't trained very much in "teacher school" about giving good assessments. Even more so, I wasn't really schooled in what to do with the information. I've done a lot of reading and researching to learn more.
* The question of preparing students for High school seems to come up quite a bit. One of the ways that this is expressed is in assessment. One example, "should we have timed tests" because in high school, they have to be prepared for timed tests. A great question that gets at what underlies much of middle school.
* Assessment lead to the big bugaboo of grades. What do grades mean? For whom? Do students really "earn" them? Do they truly reflect learning? What are grades composed of?

We'll take more about assessments as we go on.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Links to Sites of Interest

Whilst we are busily working on putting together the podcast, we thought that it might be a good idea to gather together some resources for everyone to use. (We may be looking to some of these sites for ideas, news, comments, etc. You may want to check out some of these sites on your own.)

For our first site, we'll take a look at an interesting site from a Reflective Teacher. This blogger is in his second year of blogging. He blogs regularly (a challenge for all of us). He blogs anonymously so that he can protect the identity of the students and such. This allows him much more freedom. We've chosen to put our real, actual names onto the blog. Both methods have advantages. Please know that our blog and podcasts are to express our personal opinions and not those of our employers.

Anyway, the reflective teacher site contains lesson plans and lots of interesting ideas. This blogger is a fascinating read. From the Friday Haiku , to the Day in a Sentence, it is a good read. The last Friday Haiku posted is
"Finally a day
Where collaboration and
hope met side-by-side."

Definitely worth a read.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Survey Results

We've (OK, Shawn) done a little bit of a survey to find out if there is interest in such a podcast as we've proposed. We've gleaned some interesting information. Most of the respondents (middle school educators at a conference) do not currently listen to a podcast (not really a surprise). Many seemed interested in listening to one though. Most of the respondents do use iTunes, however, They were interested in a wide variety of topics (see below). Some mentioned a time length (we're guessing that these people already listen to podcasts). There was more information that we're digesting. Here is a partial list of the potential topics:

* Curriculum Assessment Schedules
* Relationship building, creating an authentic sense of community
* Scheduling
* Academics
* New innovations in technology/teaming/grouping, Inclusion, Curriculum, Achievement Testing, Recognition
* Academic Achievement
* Teaming, interdisciplinary Units, Co-Teaching
* Advisory, People doing Special Ed. well
* Team Teaching
* Teaming ideas, interventions (academic and behavioral), discipline issues, new things kids are doing
* Bullying, teaming
* Differentiated Instruction, Advisory
* Teaming, Advisory
* Teaming, How various schools beat the budget/$$ problems
* How to deal with student issues
* Scheduling
* Transition programs
* Changing middle school students Attitudes in wanting to learn. (Motivating student learning)
* Motivating students, how to reduce discipline problems.

What do you think? Do any of these topics surprise you? Are there any topics that should have been included? Let us know.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Shawn and I were able to run a test case to make sure that we had all of the technology down pat. The good news: we had a great conversation which I think some people might find interesting. We didn't really prep for the show, this was an "off the cuff" conversation. The topic turned out to be about scheduling. We just touched the surface, but it was interesting to discuss. (My school runs a mixed block schedule with an A/B day component.)
Anyway, we did learn a few things:
1) I need to use a different microphone (you can hear the "fishbowl" effect)
2) Technically, most things worked. I need to fiddle with some settings, but basically it works
3) We really, really enjoy talking about middle school and education
4) I learned a bit about the editing process (which has changed just a bit since my college radio station days of tape)

If I get a chance, I may post an edited copy of this first test.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Middle School Misunderstandings

I came across this posting from Laura. Clearly, someone doesn't understand what middle school is all about. The author uses "middle school" and "junior high" interchangably. I'm not sure if it the difference was ever communicated to Laura. But it does lead to the discussion, just what should middle school be? Maybe this would be a good topic for us to start a discussion about. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Your Turn

We're looking for some input from other middle school educators. Currently, we are putting together a "wish list" of topics that middle school educators are interested in. We'll be putting together a podcast and once things get going, we'll be able to respond to issues as they arise. However, you could play an important role in establishing the feel and structure of the podcast. Just drop us a short (or long) email if there is anything that you would be interested in hearing or discussing about middle school. You can drop us a line at Middle School Musings.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Getting to Work

Currently we are in big discussions over what the format of the podcast should be. Right now, it looks like we'll begin with a general discussion of the news, an spotlight on a middle school practice and an interview.

If you are a middle school educator, what would you like to hear about? We're currently open for suggestions. Use the comments section to make your voice heard. Either that or drop us an email at Middle School Musings.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Welcome World!

We are three middle school educators who are establishing a podcast about middle school for middle school educators. Currently there are some middle school teachers who have their students doing podcasts, but there isn't an informative source about Middle School designed for the middle school teacher. That's what we hope to do. We are currently working through the technical (and time) issues to bring you a useful podcast. Currently, our plan is to be podcasting on a weekly basis by September of 2007. If there are subjects that you would like to see addressed, drop us a line.