Special Educators and Paraprofessionals Learn to Use Adaptive Technology

Target 1Student-Centered Learning. FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step – Increase easily accessible opportunities for global collaboration for teachers and students.

Indicators of Success – Students and staff will create personalized learning networks to communicate and collaborate with others.

One of the many professional development sessions offered at the October 16, 2014 FWSU Inservice was: “Using Technology for Adaptations/Accommodations to Support Students with Disabilities.” This was presented by Angelique Fairbrother, FWSU Digital Learning Specialist, and Rhonda Siemons, BFA Technology Integrationist. Together they provided new and enhanced learning to special educator-paraprofessional teams.

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The focus of this session was to enable the teams to explore digital tools available for them to use with their students. It also provided an arena to share ideas on how to provide regular learning opportunities and improve access to build student independence. Some of the tools explored were Text-to-Speech and Speech-to-Text digital options. In addition to access, the teams discussed what scaffolding students may need to be successful using grade-level materials.

In addition, the group reviewed SBAC Accessibility and Accommodations Guidelines and Practice Test formats. This allowed for the team to identify learning opportunities that staff can provide for students with disabilities. The goal is to increase functional independence with complex text and writing assignments in the classroom, before students encounter the SBAC.

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This opportunity helped staff to focus on their students and determine what learning supports the team can offer so students with disabilities can tackle rigorous classroom assignments, project-based learning, and computer-adapted assessments.

FWSU Educators Engage in Action Research

Nearly 25 teachers and administrators from all FWSU schools have begun a graduate course, Digital Learning Through Action Research. Using action research, participants will research, plan, design and evaluate strategies to integrate digital tools using MacBooks and iPads into their practice. By sharing their action research plans for digital learning with others in a personal learning network, each will be able to collaborate and gain feedback from peers. This Action research process will act as a catalyst to promote further inquiry into how digital learning can best be integrated.

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As teachers became more competent and more fearless, we have created teacher-centered opportunities through blended and self-paced learning opportunities, and teacher-driven action research.

The participants in the course start out the course with exploratory sessions using different digital tools on the Macbook. After examining how digital tools can be used, the participants will then pick a topic to explore further through action research.

Based on the growth mindset, the DLAR course allows people to try new ways of digital learning, gathering data from their work with students, and then plan forward designing  ways they will continue with work. The course puts the technology into their hands, the resources in their back pockets, and the pat on the back they need to take the first crazy steps.

The professional development in FWSU created a flexible learning environment for teachers through a blended learning model and creative use of funds.  Teachers design their own course based on their personal learning needs.  Because teachers chose their own action research and pedagogy they wanted to examine in their content areas, they get to direct their own learning.

The DLAR used the framework of the iTunes U to gather the action research artifacts and teacher’s on-the spot reflections.  Teachers were invited to  learn the iTunes U course manager in order to gather and document evidence of the digital learning of both the adult facilitating the learning and the students invited into the learning.

Rep. Carolyn Branagan Visits GEMS

Target 4 — Engaged Community Partners . FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

Action Step 2 — Engage community partners in a focused collaborative inquiry process.

Indicator of Success — Learning outcomes will be expanded to encourage curiosity, communication, and digital citizenry.

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Today the GEMS 6th Grade students enjoyed the opportunity to visit with Georgia’s State Representative, Carolyn Branagan. During her visit with 6th Grade class, Mrs.Branagan shared insights on her work as a state legislator.

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Rep. Branagan highlighted the high level of commitment in time and energy that is needed to do the job really well. During the student body question-and-answer period, a student asked about this year’s elections. Rep. Branagan responded that she is running unopposed, but that she is still campaigning door-to-door within the community.

IMG_0621As the visit with Rep. Branagan neared the end, students presented some of their thoughts on needs for the Georgia Community. Students feel there is a need to have sidewalks throughout the community allowing for people to move about safely. A community skatepark and a police department was suggested as well.

The final activity engaged students in a debriefing session. Students had great discussions such as:

  1.  What did you take away from the presentation?
  2. What will you remember about this presentation a year from now?
  3. Explain your definition of Citizenship.
  4. Cite examples of teamwork from the presentation.
  5. Cite examples of strong Citizenship.
This rich learning experience fits into the overall 6th Grade emphasis on working together, citizenship, and commitment to community. It was a great day of learning at GEMS!

Common Core: Should I Be Worried?

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“Will my children’s school change because of the Common Core?  Will all the “good things” you show in the blog be gone once the Common Core comes to Vermont?   I have read so much about it.  I am scared!”

This email arrived last week. It posed the question so many parents are asking right now. The short answer is, “No, the Common Core will not get rid of the good things happening in our schools.” What you see on the FWSU Blog is the result of the Common Core and the work teachers have done to increase learning opportunities in our schools.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a set of academic standards – nothing more and nothing less. It sets forth a progression of learning targets by grade level. It can be a tool for parents.  If a parent can  understand what their child needs to know and be able to do at each grade level (the Common Core), together we can monitor academic growth. Children learn differently, so not all students will meet every grade level target at the same time, but the CCSS provides a guide and benchmarks. Because the Common Core Standards are national standards, parents know that their children in FWSU are receiving similar learning opportunities as children across the country.

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The Common Core State Standards were developed for students living in a digital age, and they are designed so that students will be “career and college ready” in a modern world. There is no “Boogie Man” hiding between the lines to invoke fear – they were prepared to guide us. Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe, calls them “aspirational”- they are designed to encourage us to set our sights high. High performance means different things in today’s world, and our academic standards have changed as the world changes.

photo 1 (1)The great news? In Vermont, our districts decide how the go about increasing the rigor in our schools. In FWSU, our Action Plan defines our priority to develop Personalized Learning, and the Common Core helps us to benchmark excellence within that framework. The State of Vermont has not dictated texts, set non-negotiable curriculum, or punished teachers based on student scores. Much of the argument we hear in the media against the CCSS is based on the approaches different states have taken with the Common Core Standards.

In FWSU, we have sought to expose students to a global world, to connect them with authentic sources of material, to engage them in real-world projects as part of their academic learning. We provide them with more texts and greater experiences because we have access to digital tools. We provide opportunities for them to be leaders in their world. But still they laugh, play, have fun and contribute to their community with their friends.  photo 1 (24)

The Common Core is here! Do you wonder what changes the Common Core is calling for? Check here for a summary of the major shifts in reading and writing instruction.   Do you hear about “Common Core Math”? Check here for a simple explanation of the shifts teachers are making in math curriculum and instruction.

We have a ways to go to meet our goals of developing Personalized Learning in each of our classrooms. The blog helps us document that process. Stick with us and watch us grow!

Students Extend Helping Hands to Fairfax Seniors

Target 2Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment. FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Ensure students and staff take an active role shaping their learning using rich, authentic questions, problems they identify, & diverse resources.

Indicator of Success – Teachers embrace role of coach, facilitator and co-learner in a student-centered learning environment.

Senior Coffee Hour was held last week at the Mountain View Apartments Community Room during BFA Fairfax Support Block. Students prepared and served coffee, tea, banana muffins, and fruit salad.  They even made a delivery to a senior that was not able to attend.

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Students had this to say about their community outreach:

“Coffee hour was a great event!”

“So nice having the senior apartments so close to our school.”

“It was cool especially for the lady that we delivered muffins to.”

This learning opportunity encourages students make connections with neighbors and make a difference in their community and world.

October is National Principals Month!

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment
FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Redefine high performance in a student-centered, collaborative,
technologically rich learning environment

Indicator of Success – Creativity and risk-taking will be evident and celebrated as learners embrace new technologies.

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Although it may not be an official “Hallmark” holiday, October has been designated as National Principal Month. At FWSU we are extremely proud of the hardworking and dedicated administrators in our schools.

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Principal Steve Emery – GEMS (@Emery_Gems )

Principals play a pivotal role in the success of every student. Research has shown that a school without a leader committed to success of its students will not succeed to the highest levels. Effective leadership not only matters: it is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning,

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Principal Mike Clark – BFA (@1939Ford9N )

How do our Principals achieve this high performance in our schools? First, they set direction – creating a clear course that everyone understands, establishing high expectations and using data to track progress and performance.

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Principal Tom Walsh – BFA (@ecucatamount)

Second, they also help the staff in our school professionally develop and grow as educators. Principals look beyond the horizon of the day-to-day and help create conditions where creativity and innovation can occur.

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Principal Frank Calano – GEMS (@fcalano)

Third, they believe in our students and care for them deeply. Creating a culture that meets the needs of all students is on the top of their priority list every day. Making sure that students reach their full potential is what drives them.

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Principal Chris Dodge – FES (@FletcherFalcon )

Fourth, they ensure their buildings organizations work. This sets the environment free for teachers and students to achieve their hopes and dreams each and every day. Whether its shoveling the front entrance or fixing a ceiling tile, our Principals want our learning environments and classrooms to be top-notch.

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Asst. Principal Geri Witalec – BFA (@GLWit )

Finally, they take risks. We all know that sometimes new initiatives and practices do not always succeed on the first attempt they practice a Growth Mindset. Not only for themselves, but everyone in the school. They believe our students and staff can be developed through dedication and hard work.

Recognition of Social and Emotional Growth Celebrated at GEMS

Target 2: Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment -FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Develop learning habits that are necessary for collaborative learning and leadership.

Indicator of Success – Student voice will have the power to impact the perceptions of others.

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Every month at the Georgia Elementary School children are recognized for social, emotional and academic growth. During school lunch periods, Principal, Steve Emery and Guidance Counselor Cindy Little, present “Proud Principal Awards.”  The awards are presented to students who have been recognized by staff members for a variety reasons.

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The recognition is meant to honor the character traits that are being exhibited and praise the modeling efforts students share among peers. Student recognition can be for a variety of traits such as: helpfulness, friendliness, inquisitive thinking, supportive behavior, honesty, trustworthiness, responsibility and academic efforts.

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Research shows that promoting social and emotional skills can lead to a reduction of aggression and physical violence among children while also promoting academic achievement and an improved ability to function while in school. Children demonstrating respect for others while practicing positive interactions, and being rewarded, are more likely to demonstrate such behavior in school and working environments. Students who feel secure and respected can better apply themselves to studies and lifelong learning skills with great appreciation.

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Children cheer for “Proud Principal Awards” and our entire learning community is thankful for the great efforts of all children each and every day!

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Coaching from Within: The Power of FES Teachers as Instructional Leaders

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment: FWSU will foster development of teacher and student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Provide multiple avenues for students and staff to lead, advocate, and serve within the school and community.

Indicator of Success – Teachers embrace the role of coach, facilitator and co-learner in a student-centered learning environment.

The professional learning of teachers is essential to the success of our students. Regardless of a teacher’s specific subject area, new discoveries in both content and the way we teach are constantly being made. While these new discoveries are what make our world engaging and exciting, they also require great teachers to be in a constant state of learning, just as we expect our students to be.

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Teacher leaders, sometimes called instructional coaches, help bridge the gap between a teacher’s need to have a deep understanding of their ever-changing profession and their ability to continuously learn while on the job. These highly-trained coaches typically work at the district or school level. They provide daily expertise by modeling best practices for their colleagues, co-teaching alongside other professionals in classrooms, and providing ongoing support, strategies and professional learning for teachers. They sometimes also work with a small number of students to address a specific challenge and consult with school staff in an effort to support and challenge all learners. In short, they become the “go to” person for a particular content area.

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There are many benefits of teachers as leaders and coaches. They allow schools to have in-house expertise that is easily and comfortably accessed by all staff. They become the ambassadors of professional development, attending trainings and bringing new information and ideas back to the entire building. They move fluidly between their work with adults and children. Empowering teachers as leaders boosts their investment in student and teacher success and allows schools to provide high-quality instruction for all.

In this type of shared leadership model, teacher leaders increase the efficiency of professional learning school-wide by facilitating conversations that do not rely solely on an administrator. As such, multiple professional learning opportunities can occur simultaneously. This allows schools to meet the specific needs of all teachers and students.

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At Fletcher, two teacher leaders work to support the learning of all students and staff. One specifically works in the area of literacy, while the other supports science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). They meet weekly with grade level teams to discuss and plan for the ongoing needs of all students. Their work in classrooms acts to both connect students to specific content expertise and inform the classroom teacher’s ongoing work with everyone.

To learn more about teachers as leaders and coaches, check out this article.

Winooski City Manager Visits BFA

Target 4 — Engaged Community Partners FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

Action Step 2 — Engage community partners in a focused collaborative inquiry process.

Indicator of Success — Learning outcomes will be expanded to encourage curiosity, communication, and digital citizenry.

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A sign welcomes Ms. Decarreau to the classroom.

On Tuesday, September 30, 2014, Winooski City Manager Katherine “Deac” Decarreau visited BFA to speak with students in Ms. Shea’s and Mr. Brooks’ Digital Citizenship and Economics classes.  She spoke about many of the valuable benefits, and some potential pitfalls, of using digital technology.

Ms. Decarreau talked to students about her role managing the Winooski city government. She detailed how community members and City of Winooski officials communicate with one another using a variety of digital technology, such as the city’s website, Facebook, Twitter, Front Porch Forum, and emails. She talked about how online communication has greatly expanded the ability to quickly share information with the community, but how the city also still relies on phone calls, in-person conversations, and distributing printed information, since not everyone has internet access, and since city council meetings and voting* still occur in person (*or by absentee ballot via postal mail).

A student raises his hand to ask Ms. Decarreau a question.

A student raises his hand to ask Ms. Decarreau a question.

The students worked in groups to do an activity that showcased how small conflicts in a neighborhood can become larger if people use social media to discuss it, but they are careless and allow rumors and misinformation to spread.

Next, Ms. Decarreau described a recent situation in which a Winooski resident posted a complaint about a Winooski business on their local Front Porch Forum website. Shortly thereafter, the post became a local news story. Within days, a national newspaper picked up the story, followed by other national news sites, and finally even an international news website ran the story. Along the way, as each news site added their own spin to the story, factual errors were introduced. Amid all the hoopla and international attention, the local business, the original poster of the complaint, and the City of Winooski all received angry phone calls and messages online. The local business even had to disconnect their phones for a time.

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Four students stand alongside Ms. Decarreau and Ms. Shea.

The story about a simple local online interaction that quickly escalated and erupted into an “international” brouhaha, reinforced concepts that students have been learning about in Digital Citizenship class, and school-wide. For instance, students are encouraged to be mindful of what kind of information they post online (e.g., by asking questions like: “Is it true?”, “Is it helpful?”, “Is it over-sharing personal information?”), to use good digital etiquette, and to avoid “trolling” and bullying online. They are also taught to try to verify the accuracy of what they are reading online, judge whether it is from a credible source, and to think about the possible biases of the person or group who posted the material.

The students enjoyed meeting with a government leader from a city in our region, and making connections with what they have been learning about in class. We send our thanks to Ms. Decarreau—we were grateful that she gave of her time to come and speak with us!

A collage of Thank You notes the students and staff sent to Ms. Decarreau.

A collage of Thank You notes the students and staff sent to Ms. Decarreau.

BFA Football Tackles Cancer with “Blackout Breast Cancer” Game

Target 4 – Engaged Community Partners. FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

Action Step – Develop partnerships with global partners to carry out a project related to units of study.

Indicator of Success – Collaborative student projects/partnerships become part of the fabric of the broader community.

On October 17, the BFA Fairfax Football team, in cooperation with Winooski High School, will be holding its annual “Blackout Breast Cancer” game.

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This initiative is spearheaded this year by football players and National Honor Society members Logan Langley, Luke Langelier, and Sean Stergas. It serves as an opportunity to raise funds for breast cancer research through the sale of “Tackle Breast Cancer” tshirts, spread awareness about the disease, and build partnerships between rival schools for a meaningful cause.

The game will be held at 7pm on Friday night, October 17, under the lights at Winooski High School. Fans are asked to wear black and pink in honor of this night.

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The BFA Fairfax Athletic Department would like to thank Winooski High School, specifically coach (and former BFA faculty member) Josh Safran for their cooperation in building such a meaningful and collaborative relationship between our two teams and schools.

See you on the 17th, and GO BULLETS!