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.