Sunday, April 30, 2006

Front Door

With the onset of new political fervor over the safety of our schools, the Department of Education has used it resources to spot check our students upon the entrance to any New York City public school. I understand their concern. The idea weapons are being brought to schools is antithetical to the educational process. Weapons have no place in schools.

Is randomly checking schools going to solve this problem? Probably not, “…having metal detectors will make a school safe. But of course, you know, someone who wants to shoot somebody is probably not going to come in and go through the metal detector. They'll probably come in blasting. I think one of the things that also makes the school safe is just ... is the size and whether or not people know each other.” Lisa Delpit, author of Other People's Children, and professor at Georgia State University.

What means for truly stopping the problem are going to put into place by the department of education? We shouldn’t be concerned if Johny has a gun in his bag but rather why Johny felt he needed to buy the gun. Are the “Savage Inequalities” that are being replicated in schools being addressed?

A teacher entering through a separate entrance is not the message we should be sending at this time. Everything we do on campus, coaching, teaching, driving, conversing with colleagues, and walking through the hallways is modeling behavior. We might not agree with Mike and Joel’s decision to further militarize our campus, however teachers should comply with (and in most cases go beyond) the same expectations we set for students.

On Monday our administration will present using the back door of the school near the parking lot as a “teacher only entrance”. I personally will continue to use the front door. Although physically less convenient, it is morally more appropriate. Why should we waste more funds (the security guard watching the door must get paid) perpetuating further inequality?

On the day of the random searches, although I disagree with the how the problem is being addressed, I do whole heartedly agree there is a problem. I will comply. I will model correct behavior for the benefit of the students watching me. But I will also start researching and calling for real solutions. Students should never have to wake up and consider bringing a weapon to school. This must stop.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” AristotleGreek critic, philosopher, physicist, & zoologist (384 BC - 322 BC)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Post Secret

Tara turned me on to an incredible book, Post Secret, by Frank Warren. We should work together to design a Montessori advisory project around this concept-- it really gives insight into human nature and self. Check it out at


Tuesday, April 25, 2006


“Relationships among educators within a school range from vigorously healthy to dangerously competitive. Strengthen those relationships, and you improve professional practice.” (Roland S. Barth)

After reading a recent article by Roland S. Barth in Educational Leadership, March 2006 I began to reflect on relationships among professionals here at QHST. For the first time I now understand what being "colleagues" means. (Ironically its only because we are colleagues I'm not afraid to admit my lack of understanding)

College students surely never envision teaching as a solo profession. How can they? There are 100 teachers in a building, there are faculty rooms, department offices, teacher's cafeterias and let us not forget the 34 new faces every 60 mins. They all understandably believe this until the step foot into a NYC school.

I clearly remember stepping into my first middle school job in Queens. I was given a room, no explanation of what was expected of me, no real advice and no knowledge about where to find help or if it even existed. I was alone (with exception of the 34 seventh graders who just got off summer break).

Sure there was a sense of "congeniality"(Barth), pseudo-friendly relationships between teachers talking about anything other than the teaching profession. Conversations around ballgames, TV shows, and vacation planning took up all the adult gatherings in the "professional" rooms around the building. No one spoke about work because no one trusted each other. Everyone was uncomfortable sharing their accomplishments, or their heartaches of classroom experiences. Asking a question of pedagogy was seen as a weakness. These conversations quickly became the breeding ground for cliques and antithetical for developing a positive school culture.

Closing the door and doing your own thing seemed to be what teachers did. And we did it in isolation. ( and of course we all thought we were doing it well)

Here for the first time in my short career there is a sense of "collegiality" (Barth). Professional relationships based on critical feedback from respected peers are the norm in the school culture that has been created here at QHST. During lunch breaks teacher's conversations are centered on sharing their craft.

ALL teachers here at QHST work extremely hard, and having these conversations, being comfortable enough to know its ok to share something you are struggling with professionally is an amazing feeling.

When we as a school voted against the CFG meetings I was concerned about the loss of the professional conversation. I do miss meeting everyone in my SLC together to have an "open and honest" feedback session, but the school culture of an ongoing professional reflective conversation seems to be continuing.

Being on a team of colleagues this year has been a true growth experience for me.

Please read the hyperlinked article (Click Here)and leave a comment below...

Teaching Mathematics to Gifted Students in a Mixed-Ability Classroom

(I found the following article over the break and thought it might be of interest before the next math meeting.)

Provided in partnership with: The Council for Exceptional Children
From: The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education ERIC EC Digest #E594Author: Dana T. JohnsonApril 2000

Mathematically gifted students have needs that differ in nature from those of other students. They require some differentiated instruction, defined by Tomlinson (1995) as "consistently using a variety of instructional approaches to modify content, process, and/or products in response to learning readiness and interest of academically diverse students." Yet recent studies have found few instructional or curricular modifications in regular elementary classrooms (Archambault et al., 1993; Westberg, Archambault, Dobyns & Salvin, 1993). In grades 9-12, students may be able to select honors, advanced, and AP courses; however, even in these more homogeneously grouped classes there is a range of differences that need to be acknowledged.

Why should we do anything different for mathematically gifted students?
Gifted students differ from their classmates in three key areas that are especially important in mathematics.

Mathematically gifted students differ from the general group of students studying math in the following abilities: spontaneous formation of problems, flexibility in handling data, mental agility of fluency of ideas, data organization ability, originality of interpretation, ability to transfer ideas, and ability to generalize (Greenes, 1981). No list of characteristics of the mathematically gifted includes "computational proficiency," and yet at levels prior to Algebra I, this is commonly used as the criterion that determines who gets to move on to more interesting material.

Furthermore, there is a myth that gifted students don't need special attention since it is easy for them to learn what they need to know. On the contrary, their needs dictate curriculum that is deeper, broader, and faster than what is delivered to other students.

Mathematics can be the gatekeeper for many areas of advanced study. In particular, few gifted girls recognize that most college majors leading to high level careers and professions require four years of high school math and science (Kerr, 1997). Students may drop out of math courses or turn toward other fields of interest if they experience too much repetition, not enough depth, or boredom due to slow pacing.

An Agenda for Action: Recommendations for School Mathematics of the 1980s (NCTM, 1989, p. 18) says, "the student most neglected, in terms of realizing full potential, is the gifted student of mathematics. Outstanding mathematical ability is a precious societal resource, sorely needed to maintain leadership in a technological world." By 1995, when the NCTM created a Task Force on the Mathematically Promising, not much had changed (Sheffield et al., 1995).

What do the Curriculum Standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) say we should do about mathematically gifted students?

The NCTM Standards do not mention gifted students explicitly but recognize that students are not all the same. For all students, the Standards place a greater emphasis on areas that traditionally have been emphasized for the gifted. All students are now expected to complete a core curriculum that has shifted its emphasis away from computation and routine problem practice toward reasoning, real-world problem solving, communication, and connections. "The Standards propose that all students be guaranteed equal access to the same curricular topics; it does not suggest that all students should explore the content to the same depth or at the same level of formalism" (NCTM, 1989, p. 131). At the high school level, additional topics are suggested for "college-intending" students. The Report of the Task Force on the Mathematically Promising recognizes that there are special issues relating to the education of the mathematically promising student (Sheffield et al., 1995) and has made recommendations that include the development of new curricular standards, programs, and materials that encourage and challenge the mathematically promising.

What should be done to differentiate curriculum, instruction and assessment for the mathematically gifted in the regular classroom?

Historically there has been debate about the role of acceleration versus enrichment as the differentiation mode for mathematics. Most experts recommend a combination. The following are suggestions for differentiating for the mathematically gifted by using (1) assessment, (2) curriculum materials, (2) instructional techniques, and (4) grouping models. These opportunities should be made broadly available to any student with interest in taking advantage of them.
Give pre-assessments so that students who already know the material do not have to repeat it but may be provided with instruction and activities that are meaningful. In the elementary grades, gifted learners still need to know their basic facts. If they do not, don't hold them back from other more complex tasks, but continue to work concurrently on the basics.

Create assessments that allow for differences in understanding, creativity, and accomplishment; give students a chance to show what they have learned. Ask students to explain their reasoning both orally and in writing.

Choose textbooks that provide more enriched opportunities. Unfortunately, curriculum in this country is mainly driven by textbooks, which are used about 80% of the time (Lockwood, 1992). Math textbooks often repeat topics from year to year in the grades prior to algebra. Since most textbooks are written for the general population, they are not always appropriate for the gifted. Several series that hold promise for gifted learners have been developed recently under grants from the National Science Foundation; they emphasize constructivist learning and include concepts beyond the basics.

Use multiple resources. No single text will adequately meet the needs of these learners.
Be flexible in your expectations about pacing for different students. While some may be mastering basic skills, others may work on more advanced problems.

Use inquiry-based, discovery learning approaches that emphasize open-ended problems with multiple solutions or multiple paths to solutions. Allow students to design their own ways to find the answers to complex questions. Gifted students may discover more than you thought was possible.

Use lots of higher-level questions in justification and discussion of problems. Ask "why" and "what if" questions.

Provide units, activities, or problems that extend beyond the normal curriculum. Offer challenging mathematical recreations such as puzzles and games.

Provide AP level courses in calculus, statistics, and computer science or encourage prepared students to take classes at local colleges if the supply of courses at the high school has been exhausted.

Differentiate assignments. It is not appropriate to give more problems of the same type to gifted students.

You might give students a choice of a regular assignment; a different, more challenging one; or a task that is tailored to interests.

Expect high level products (e.g., writing, proofs, projects, solutions to challenging problems).
Provide opportunities to participate in contests such as Mathematical Olympiads for the Elementary School (grades 4-6), Math Counts (grades 7-8), and the American Junior High School Mathematics Exam (grades 7-8) or the American High School Mathematics Exam (grades 9-12). Give feedback to students on their solutions. After the contests, use some of the problems as the basis for classroom discussions.

Provide access to male and female mentors who represent diverse linguistic and cultural groups. They may be within the school system, volunteers from the community, or experts who agree to respond to questions by e-mail. Bring speakers into the classroom to explain how math has opened doors in their professions and careers.

Provide some activities that can be done independently or in groups based on student choice. Be aware that if gifted students always work independently, they are gaining no more than they could do at home. They also need appropriate instruction, interaction with other gifted students, and regular feedback from the teacher.

Provide useful concrete experiences. Even though gifted learners may be capable of abstraction and may move from concrete to abstract more rapidly, they still benefit from the use of manipulatives and "hands-on" activities.

How can technology support the needs of the gifted?

Technology can provide a tool, an inspiration, or an independent learning environment for any student, but for the gifted it is often a means to reach the appropriate depth and breadth of curriculum and advanced product opportunities. Calculators can be used as an exploration tool to solve complex and interesting problems.

Computer programming is a higher level skill that enhances problem solving abilities and promotes careful reasoning and creativity. The use of a database, spreadsheet, graphic calculator, or scientific calculator can facilitate powerful data analysis. The World Wide Web is a vast and exciting source of problems, contests, enrichment, teacher resources, and information about mathematical ideas that are not addressed in textbooks. Technology is an area in which disadvantaged gifted students may be left out because of lack of access or confidence. It is essential that students who do not have access at home get the exposure at school so that they will not fall behind the experiences of other students.

What is the responsibility of schools and teachers in developing giftedness in mathematics?

Classroom teachers and school districts share the responsibility of addressing the needs of gifted students.

Teachers need training and support in recognizing and addressing the needs of the mathematically gifted.

Teachers who teach mathematics to gifted learners need a strong background in mathematics content. If the school has only a few students with special needs and does not have such a teacher, a mentor from outside the school should be located to work with individuals.
A coordinated curriculum plan needs to be in place so that the mathematical experiences for students are not duplicated or interrupted from one year to the next.

The school should have an organized support system that includes resource books, technology, and human resources.

Regular mathematics classrooms that offer sufficiently challenging and broad experiences for gifted students have the potential to enrich the learning community as a whole since other students will be interested in attempting, perhaps with help, some of the more challenging tasks. If math classes offer diversity in assignments, products, and pacing and monitor student needs, all students will be able to work at their own challenge level.

Archambault, F. X., Westberg, K. L., Brown, S. W., Hallmark, B. W., Zhang, W., & Emmons, C. L. (1993). Classroom practices used with gifted third and fourth grade students. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 16, 103-119.
Greenes, C. (1981). Identifying the gifted student in mathematics. Arithmetic Teacher, 28, 14-18.
Lockwood, A. T. (1992). The de facto curriculum. Focus in Change, 6. Maker, J. (1982). Curriculum development for the gifted. Rockville, MD: Aspen Systems Corporation.
Kerr, B. A. (1997). Developing talents in girls and young women. In N. Colangelo & G. A. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (2nd ed., pp. 483-497). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1989). Curriculum and evaluation standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author. Sheffield, L. J., Bennett, J., Berriozábal, M, DeArmond, M., Wertheimer, R. (1995) Report of the task force on the mathematically promising. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Tomlinson, C. A. (1995). Deciding to Differentiate Instruction in Middle School: One school's journey. Gifted Child Quarterly, 39, 77-87.
Westberg, K. L., Archambault, F. X., Dobyns, S. M. & Salvin, T. J. (1993) The classroom practices observation study. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 16, 120-146.
Dana Johnson is a mathematics instructor at the College of William and Mary and also teaches enrichment classes through the Center for Gifted Education at the College.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Teaching Institute sees to be a hotbed of debate!

Once again I'm jealous of Mayo!


Teaching Institute sees to be a hotbed of debate!

Once again I'm jealous of Mayo!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Essential Question


You know I love my essential question...What is the responsibility of an individual to other members of society? It's perfect for almost all of literature, school,! I'm sure it can be a lens that we could use in history as well. The sophs are reading To Kill A Mockingbird in English class. How can we use the essential question to tie our work together?


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Grant Wiggins and Oprah

Not to be political, although education is seen as taking care of the "polis," but the idea that it takes a village to raise a child is even more important today. After watching Bill and Melinda Gates on Oprah yesterday it is obvious that all the stake holders in all aspects of a student's life must take ownership of the education of our students.

Large companies who flourish because of the products and services our "polis" provides must begin to return some of the resources back to the education of our youth. Local businesses that rely on the future purchases of our graduates need to become positive role models for our young. Parents need to urge politicians that anything less than an adequate public education will not be tolerated at the Election Day. It is time for America to Stand Up.

As inspiring and passionate as this may sound, currently the student and the teacher are ultimately the only people held accountable for the education of the individuals in society. Teachers passing rates and ability to measure up to the NCLB force accountability heavily on the classroom educator.

Teachers are not alone. Students are also held accountable. Students need to contend with high stakes testing. These high stakes tests are ripe with vernacular of the upper middle class. Students from lower socio-economic ranks are handicapped from the get go with having to learn a new language for a standardized test. They quickly become discouraged as more emphasis is placed on the tests, drop out rates increase, and a replica of a social strata not unlike the one existing in society today begins to blossom in the halls of public schools across the country.

These students become disenfranchised and never become productive members of society.

Although one cannot effectively make a case for the high stake testing phenomena as the sole cause of educational neglect our country is facing; the obvious embedded flaws in a multiple choice sifter of ability can no longer be overlooked.

We as educators must create an alternate way to provide the service of education to our consumers. Grant Wiggins (hyperlined interview from in his book "Assessing Student Performance" claims as public school educators we have an obligation to provide alternate assessment tools.

We need to realize that students are our "primary consumers".(Wiggins 264)
If McDonald's opens a new franchise in a neighborhood that primarily keeps Kosher and does not change its menu; McDonald's will swiftly go out of business. The failure of the public school system is the result of an unchecked monopoly on the industry of education. We need to elicit feedback from our students, we need to create real authentic projects and assess them using student friendly language based rubrics. Organizing community events and publishing information for their community might be counted in lieu of a standardized test. Without drastic change in our focus drop out rates will not change.

The education system should be looking at standardized rubrics rather than standardized tests. Authentic projects that engage students and cater to the needs of the student/consumers of the school/service provider must become the form of assessment. 30% of our clients are leaving, our business is failing.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Hiring teachers has to be one of the strangest processes I have been privileged to be a part of. How can you judge a person's passion for teaching in a 20 min interview? How can you possibly know how the candidate will perform on the job? Some people interview well. Many do not.

Is it fair that we expect all our candidates to be exposed to non-traditional practices? How many of us already here at QHST actually knew what true cooperative group work, DEAR, or an effective advisory actually looked like before working here? We rarely here at QHST hold our kids up to the 60 minute timed test, but a 20 min interview to sell yourself is enough to judge a person's character?

However, with a hundred candidates I realize it is necessary. I read "Blink" and still am not totally convinced the 20 mins works when judging the art of teaching. Referring a friend is probably the only way to truly vouch for a person's character, however this can be dangerous. I have told many a former colleague that this school wasn't for them. "Yes we have parking lot," but rarely are our teachers parked behind a desk. Just like for students and parents, this school is not for everyone.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Struggling with a Comment

"I do not want to read articles during 'slc time' I would rather be marking papers..."

I can't get that comment out of my head. I know I obsess on things but this is really getting to me. I thought about it every time I sat down at my computer this weekend. Our structurally designed Small Learning Community meeting times are our mandated professional periods in the building. They cannot be used for grading papers. In many schools teachers are required to make photocopies for organizational purposes and organize mailings for parents during professional periods (basically the jobs school aids are doing in our building currently).

"... as teachers will be offered a specified menu of activities
from which they will perform various instructional, professional development,
and/or administrative duties." (excerpt from recent contract)

Let us not forget we are being asked to have professional conversations with peers and at times around an article directly related to either school reform, educational leadership, or progressive education. We are meeting as professionals. These conversations, these articles are at the heart of school reform. We made an adult decision to work in this school knowing it was different. With time being the utmost commodity in each of our days; setting aside time for professional growth through collegial conversation; is the least we could do for each other. We should not short change our professionalism. The value of those "articles" and the conversation that occurs from them is a simple way to reflect on our practice.

We need to read,
we need to find outside articles that are inspiring,
we need to share our ideas without fear,
we need to have conversations around the philosophy of schooling.

"Preaching to the choir"?... MAYBE however, even in our ever growing small learning community, we are not all signing the same tune.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Big Pile of Money

"Teachers ...are unable to request the resource they need most: time." (

I feel like someone dropped a big pile of money on the Glen Oaks Campus and teachers are scrambling to grab their stack of it before someone else does. The premise behind comp time and letting teachers decide how it is doled out is that teachers would decide what is best for the students not what is best for the teachers. Comp-time is the DOE’s way of getting services in the building done from the teacher budget that was originally allocated for students. We are entrusted with the school culture. Once again we stand on the precipice of creating a teacher-centered school or a student-centered school. The pile of money (or comp-time) comes not magically from the heavens (as the Christian right might have you believe) but from a loop hole in the pockets of the students. What are we doing? If add up all the comp-time on the current ballot (less the hanging chads) it adds up to 7.1 teachers. Frankly seven fulltime teachers might be better for the building than 2 hr comp-time positions scattered amongst the staff.

Dismissing all comp-time

Better for teachers? NO
Better for teaching? YES

To shamelessly steal from James Carville (who looks very much like James Woolsey) once again:

“It’s the students stupid.”

I realize I'm being idealistic but I would love to hear what other teachers think.

see also: Teaching Montessori: Cohorts, Community, and Comp Time