Sunday, February 12, 2017

#WeeCreate: Project Based Learning

Over one hundred years ago American educational theorist John Dewey wrote about the need for students to learn through experience. Dewey's aspiration for student-centered learning experiences capped with metacognitive reflection was largely stunted until recently by limited resources and/or textbook driven curricula. For too long lesson plans and assessments focused on content recall rather than skill development. Fast forward to Weehawken in 2017. Our teachers are backwards-designing their curriculum units with a focus on authentic learning experiences in which students create and showcase products of their learning. The combination of inquiry, assessment, and creation are the essential elements of Project Based Learning (PBL).  The District's 1:1 devices and blended learning platforms facilitate and enhance PBL.

Here is a short video introduction to PBL from the Buck Institute.

PBL shatters the textbook driven cycle of lecture-quiz-lecture-test-project. In PBL teachers no longer play the role of expert content dispenser. Instead teachers coach and assist students in acquiring knowledge and skills for themselves.  In PBL the project is the unit. Below is a great illustration of PBL from Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy.


In Weehawken our teachers utilize essential questions to focus the inquiry that drives PBL. Google Classroom is being utilized as the platform to organize essential questions, research assignments, project development, and post-unit reflections. Google Apps such as Docs, Hangouts, Sheets, Forms, and Drawings allow for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration amongst our students, as well as, the public sharing of PBL learning products.  

The following are some examples of PBL in our District.

WHS Interdisciplinary Skit Performed on Stage at Hamilton
Before the February 8th matinee of Hamilton, Weehawken students Jose Mesa, Devynn Givens, and Chris Arias performed a skit about American neutrality during the French Revolution on stage at the Richard Rodgers Theater. The skit was developed as part of an interdisciplinary PBL unit in the students’ U.S. History and English courses taught by Laurie Kroll and Kate Kitzie.
Teen Arts Film Festival
In April students from Weehawken and across Hudson County will showcase their films at the Teen Arts Film Festival.

TRS Collaborative Class Blog
Each week students in Ane Eberhard's class contribute to the class blog that is then shared with the District.
DWS Trout in the Classroom
Daniel Webster students are raising rainbow trout from eggs that will be released into the wild in May. Besides providing a hands-on bioresource engineering experience, the trout serve as prompts for writing activities and art projects.


WHS AP Capstone Diploma Program
WHS Students are currently in the first year of a two-year course sequence during which they design, plan, and conduct an investigation of a topic of their choosing with support from experts at the university level or in the community.  Students build on the skills learned in the AP Seminar course by using research methodology;  employing ethical research practices; and accessing, analyzing, and synthesizing information to present an argument.  At the end of the AP Research course students have present and orally defend their own scholarly academic research.

TRS National History Day
In March, 6th graders will participate in National History Day (NHD) for the first time. The NHD theme for 2017 is "Taking a Stand in History." Students have the choice to showcase the results of their social studies inquiry and analysis via a website, documentary, exhibit, performance, or paper.


WHS New Robotics Class and Team
This year we launched our robotics course and team that meet in the WHS STEAM Lab. WHS students will compete in their first robotics competition on February 18th.




REFERENCES
Cooper, R., & Murphy, E. (2016). Hacking PBL. Cleveland, OH: 10 Times Publications.
Dewey, J., & Archambault, R. D. (1964). John Dewey on education; selected writings. New York: Modern Library.
Jacobs, H. H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Larmer, J., Ross, D., & Mergendoller, J. R. (2009). PBL starter kit: To-the-point advice, tools and tips for your first project in middle or high school. Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education.
Pahomov, L. (2014). Authentic learning in the digital age: Engaging students through inquiry. Alexandria: ASCD.
Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2011). The understanding by
design: Guide to creating high-quality units. Boston:
Pearson.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Our Updated Curricula

Since March 2016, the teachers and administrators of the Weehawken Township School District have been revising and enhancing all of our standards-based PreK-12 curricula. Our teachers are mapping and modifying course units, analyzing assessment data, and reflecting on their practice by meeting regularly in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) with their grade level or like-subject colleagues. PLC-based curriculum mapping is a top goal of our three-year District Strategic Plan.


WTSD uses the Understanding by Design curriculum framework developed by Dr. Grant Wiggins and Dr. Jay McTighe. The UbD framework is based on the “backwards design” model, teacher reflection, essential questions, and transfer of skills to the real world.




Our teachers map their UbD curriculum units and plan their formative and summative assessments via the Rubicon Atlas platform. Atlas is simultaneously a medium for collaborative teacher-driven curriculum development and a mechanism for publicly showcasing our standards-based units. Atlas's features include easy linkability to teacher's lesson resources and activities that they develop with Google Drive. I am happy to announce that due to the dedication of our teacher PLCs and the leadership of our Director of Academic Affairs and Innovation, Ms. Francesca Amato, our UbD curriculum maps can now be viewed online: https://weehawkenk12-public.rubiconatlas.org/Atlas/Public/View/Default The unit calendars show course unit sequence and the individual unit maps show the scope of each course unit.




Curriculum mapping is not a one-time initiative. Our teachers will continuously meet in their PLCs to update their units to ensure that the written curriculum matches the taught curriculum. As the owners of the curriculum, our teachers have the autonomy to be innovative in their lesson design and adjust their units in real time to meet the needs of all students.


REFERENCES


Bernhardt, V. L., & Bernhardt, V. L. (2013). Data analysis for continuous school improvement. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education.
Browne, E. G. (2009). Emerging Teacher Leadership: Collaboration, Commitment, and Curriculum Mapping (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Rowan University. New Jersey.
Burns, R. C. (2001). A leader's guide to curriculum mapping and alignment. Charleston, WV: AEL.
DuFour, R., & Fullan, M. (2013). Cultures built to last: Systemic PLCs at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
DuFour, R., & Marzano, R. J. (2011). Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
English, F. W. (1980). Curriculum mapping. Educational Leadership 37(7), 558–559.
Jacobs, H. H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World.
          Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Jacobs, H. H. (2003). Connecting Curriculum Mapping and Technology: Digital Forms Aid Data Analysis and Decision Making. Curriculum Technology Quarterly, 12(3).
Jacobs, H. H. (Ed.). (2004). Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Jacobs, H. H. (1997).  Mapping the big picture: Integrating curriculum and assessment K-12.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Kallick, B., & Colosimo, J. (2009). Using curriculum mapping and assessment data to improve learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Lyle, V. (2010). Teacher and Administrator Perceptions of Administrative Responsibilities for Implementing the Jacobs Model of Curriculum Mapping (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Walden University. Minnesota.
Marzano, R. J. (2003). What Works in Schools: Translating Research Into Action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Marzano, R. J., Frontier, T., & Livingston, D. (2011). Effective Supervision.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Mathiesen, J. A. (2008). Techer Perceptions Related to Technology Tools for Curriculum Allignment: A Survey of Teachers' Response to A Curriculum Mapping Tool (Doctoral dissertation).
McTighe, J., & Curtis, G. (2016). Leading modern learning: A blueprint for vision-driven    schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
New Jersey Student Learning Standardss. Retrieved January 14, 2017, from http://www.state.nj.us/education/cccs/intro.htm
Schmoker, M. (2011). Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student
 Learning.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Wiggins, G., & Jay, M. (2012a). From Common Core Standards to Curriculum: Five Big Ideas. Retrieved October 9, 2012, from http://grantwiggins.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/mctighe_wiggins_final_common_core_standards.pdf
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2012b). The Understanding by Design Guide to Advanced Concepts in Creating and Reviewing Units. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Zywicki, R. R. (2013). Tackling the Common Core. Educational Viewpoints, 12-13.
Retrieved January 14, 2017, from
http://njpsa.org/documents/pdf/EdViewptsSpring2013.pdf

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Banner Year for the Weehawken High School Band

The Weehawken High School Marching Band, under the direction of Mrs. Natalie Kerr, had a tremendous season! The entire Weehawken School District community is extremely proud.  Here are the top 5 accomplishments of the WHS band this season:
  1. Atlantic Coast Champions: Performed and placed 1st out of 26 bands from 9 states of the Mid-Atlantic Tournament of Bands
  2. Regional Champs: 1st place 1a Class of the Tournament of Bands NY Metro/North Jersey Region
  3. Named to NJ.com's List of Top 21 Marching Bands in New Jersey
  4. Hosted eighth annual Weehawken Invitational Festival of Bands
  5. Opened the High School Heisman Award Ceremony in NYC.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

#WeeTrackSharks

WTSD students recently connected with OCEARCH shark trackers using blended learning tools as part of a new STEM curriculum.  OCEARCH is the world leader in tracking marine species such as great white and tiger sharks.  On November 17th TRS students met online with OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader Chris Fischer via Skype.  Fischer discussed OCEARCH’s Global Shark Tracker and taught students how to be stewards of the ocean. Fischer also discussed some of his 26 worldwide shark tracking expeditions.

5th and 6th grade teachers were trained on how to bring the OCEARCH Shark Tracker into their classrooms. Now that WTSD is 1:1 with Chromebooks, our students and teachers have the devices and freedom to access online tools like the Shark Tracker.  The OCEARCH STEM Curriculum is a fantastic example of how engaging and relevant blended learning can be for our students.

After the interactive online session with Fischer, our students continued to utilize the OCEARCH Shark Tracker on their Chromebooks during standards-based lessons in the fields of anatomy, statistics, cartography, and physics.


#WeeCode


This week WTSD is participating in the Hour of Code to expose students to the basics of computer science. The Hour of Code is just one example of the many PK-12 computer science activities and offerings in WTSD.  This summer WTSD hosted Code.org for a professional development workshop for our teachers.  At TRS and WHS we now have Minecraft computer labs where students sharpen their mathematical reasoning and problem solving skills while playing Minecraft Education Edition.  As of this September, WHS offers AP Computer Science A, as well as, AP Principles of Computer Science. Coding is one of the key skills developed when students participate in robotics.  So this year we launched our Robotics elective course and WHS Robotics Team.  Our students are having tons of fun while honing #FutureReady skills.











Friday, September 30, 2016

New Instrumental Music Program Arrives at TRS

I am happy to announce that the newly expanded instrumental music and performing arts programs at Theodore Roosevelt School have officially launched.  These programs will be experienced by ALL students as regularly scheduled special classes.  Optional ensembles will also be available to students who choose to participate.









Thursday, September 29, 2016

WTSD's New Homework Policy

The validity of purposefully designed and thoughtfully assigned homework must be balanced against the pressure it can place on students and families.  Our focus in the Weehawken Township School District is improving student achievement, but it should not be obtained by undermining the health of our students and families.  To that end, I worked with the administrative team, teachers, parents, and the trustees of the Board of Education to develop our new homework policy.  Our policy was developed in consideration of the research on homework conducted by Cooper, Robinson & Patall (2006), Cooper (2007), Hattie (2009), Marzano & Pickering (2007), and Pressman et al. (2015).  Researchers found that the statistical effect size for homework increased as grade levels increased (Cooper, 2006; Hattie, 2009).  Researchers recommended that homework should be assigned with time limitations based upon grade level (Cooper, 2007; Marzano and Pickering, 2007).  These recommendations on limiting homework based on grade level were endorsed by the National PTA and National Education Association.  Researchers also found that excessive homework over the aforementioned time recommendations resulted in stress that had a negative impact on students and their families (Pressman et al., 2015).  


I am happy to report that Policy and Regulation 2330 were unanimously approved at our September Board of Education meeting.  WTSD Policy 2330 now states: “The Board of Education acknowledges the research-based educational validity of homework when it is assigned to pupils based on their academic grade level, ability, and individualized needs.  When assigning homework, teachers should take into account other activities, such as family time, that make a legitimate claim on the pupil's time.”  WTSD Regulation 2330, which governs the implementation of Policy 2330, stipulates the following:
  • Teachers should insist on high standards of quality in homework, however they must operate in consideration of students’ individual learning needs and home life.
  • Teachers are encouraged to utilize tools such as Google Classroom, Edlio, Google Sites and/or Google Calendar to communicate homework assignments to students and parents.
  • All homework must be evaluated by the teacher and the teacher's feedback must be communicated to the pupil.  Homework is not a valid learning activity if the pupil receives no acknowledgment of his/her work and no feedback.
  • Grades K-8: No homework shall be assigned over holidays and weekends.
  • Kindergarten and Grade 1: Reading and/or mathematics practice not to exceed 10 total minutes per night.
  • Grades 2: Reading and/or mathematics practice not to exceed 20 total minutes per night.
  • Grades 3: Reading and/or mathematics practice not to exceed 30 total minutes per night.
  • Grades 4, 5, and 6: Homework should require no more than 45 total minutes per night.
  • Grades 7 and 8:  Homework should require no more than 60 total minutes per night.
  • Grades 9-12: Homework should be based on the academic course level.  The due date of reading assignments, written assignments,  and assessments that require preparation and studying must be made available at least three days in advance to students.  Notification of long-term assignments and major projects must be provided to students at least a week in advance of the due date.


References


Cooper, H. (2007). The battle over homework (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic
achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987–2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1–62.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.
Marzano, R. J., & Pickering, D. J. (2007, March). The Case For and Against Homework [Electronic
version]. Educational Leadership, 4(6).=
Pressman, R. M., Sugarman, D. B., Nemon, M. L., Desjarlais, J., Owens, H. A., & Schettini-Evans,
A. (2015). Homework and Family Stress: With Consideration of Parents’ Self Confidence, Educational Level, and Cultural Background. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 43(4). Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01926187.2015.1061407
Research Spotlight on Homework: NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education
(2015). In http://www.nea.org/tools/16938.htm. Retrieved August 1, 2016.