Climate, Community and Voice from Day 1

 Starting up with our students

ready2LAnother exciting year is upon us. It may be difficult to wrest our attention from these glorious days of Vermont summer but never have the opportunities for good teaching been more open to us. As one teacher noted upon leaving this summer’s Middle Grades Institute, “I can bring about positive change in my classroom and school. I just have to follow my heart and do what I know is best for kids: personalized, flexible and proficiency based learning!”

In the next several weeks, we’ll dive into making the most of the first weeks of school so you can follow your heart and do what’s best for kids.

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Mathew’s Y.E.A.R. at The Compass School

Scaffolding year-end reflections

The 21st Century Classroom podcastAt The Compass School in Westminster, Vermont, students advance through grades by producing evidence of their accomplishments from the year, using the previous year’s reflection to inform the current one. We had the chance to sit down with a student just finishing 11th grade at Compass, and hear not just about his Y.E.A.R. (year-end academic reflection) but how it’s going to prepare him for the all-important graduating Roundtable.

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V is for Voice Recordings

Why voice recordings work for young adolescents

why voice recordings work for young adolescentsAs students use technology to explore and capture projects that show both their emerging proficiency with skills and snapshots of who they have been, are and may become, tools that allow students to add their own human voice to multimedia can be invaluable in the discovery and showcasing process.

Here’s why voice recordings work for young adolescents and 3 tools we like for creating them.

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Student voice as a social justice issue

Eminent education researcher speaks at UVM

student voice as a social justice issue

Emily Nelson, Eastern Institute of Technology Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Visiting New Zealand researcher Emily Nelson PhD spoke this past week to Vermont educators about how student voice — the concept that students need an active role in determining the course of their education — is a social justice issue and a fundamental right of students everywhere.

“When we talk about ‘students’,” Dr Nelson told the crowd, “what we really mean is ‘humans in a student role in a compulsory setting.'”

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Multiple platforms, multiple voices: scenes from a 1:1 rollout

Collaborative blogging puts students’ voices out front

getting student perspectives on school changeHazen Union School 8th grade student Elijah Lew-Smith shared the first student post of the school year on the school’s shared Middle Level Blog.

Check out his post to see this year’s new initiatives: 1:1 with iPads, a new House structure, and the focus on Project Based Learning, from a student perspective.  

But that’s not all.

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Project-based learning at Essex Middle School: algebra and songwriting

Making math and music at The Edge

algebra and songwritingWe were lucky enough to get to sit down with three groups of students at Essex Middle School’s Edge Academy just before the break and hear how their year-long project-based learning (PBL) projects are going.

In the final installment of the series, we talk with three students making math and music in equal measures.

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Hour of Code at Essex Middle School

Students report enjoyment and challenges learning programming

Hour of Code at Essex Middle SchoolA huge congratulations to everyone — students, teachers and families — who participated in this year’s #HourofCode! The students from the Edge team at Essex Middle School were kind enough to share their reactions to trying coding, and a little bit about what they worked on.

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The Problem with Genius Hour

Shouldn’t every hour be a genius hour?

the problem with genius hourAnyone paying attention to education in the US lately has seen the proliferation of the “Genius Hour.” Presumably inspired by Google’s 20% rule, through which employees of the search engine giant spend a day a week on projects of their own choosing, many schools are adopting a model described by best selling author Daniel Pink as “60 minutes to work on new ideas or master new skills.” By setting aside an hour of instructional time, schools enable students to connect, construct or create, without the constraints or distractions of business-as-usual. What could be better than that?

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Why is everyone doin’ it for the Vine?


Vine is a tool where users can craft looping six-second videos for sharing globally, and other users can up-vote them, follow favored Vine-creators (some of whom have one million+ followers) and comment. It’s available for the Android, iOS and Windows platforms, and despite the nominal age-17 requirement for the platform, it’s more than likely that students in your class are more than likely Vining.

And what they’re making are awesome. Here’s why:

1. Authentic student voice

Want to know what students really think about school? Get on Vine and follow the #school hashtag.






They aren’t Vining for a grade or for any school project. This is what students really think about school. It’s not always pretty, and it’s definitely not always complimentary towards the schools in question, but what it is is startlingly honest.

And 2., this is a really fascinating digital storytelling medium.



Think about all the skills that come into play in figuring out how to tell a story in six seconds.



But it’s not just students who are using Vine.

At Orchard School in South Burlington, librarian/rock-star Donna McDonald is using Vine with her students to create a series of six-second book reviews to share for the #MockCaldecott awards. First of all, they’re epic, and second, they’re each only six seconds long, so you can easily justify watching every last one. Such as this one:


And this:


(Seriously, just go follow @OrchardVT on twitter. They share fantastic work and those #MockCaldecott Vines are this close >< to becoming their own meme.)

All of which brings up two questions: Do you Vine? And do you know what your students are Vining?


How one teacher learned to let go and trust her students to lead their learning

While we’re all over here recovering from the epic spectacle that was this year’s Code Camp, please enjoy Shelly Wright’s TEDTalk, on her journey as a teacher.


They’re all excited and they’re telling people, and texting and I’m thinking this is gonna be awesome, you know? We’ll raise a couple thousand dollars, the kids’ll feel like they’re important, this’ll be great.

And so, the next day we come back to school and my students come back to the class and they say, “Mrs. Wright, we have decided on a goal…We have decided that we want to raise ten thousand dollars.”

Inside my head I’m thinking, “Oh. My. Gosh. Do you have any idea how much money ten thousand dollars is???”

And my outside voice said, “That’s awesome! How do you propose we do that?”


Featuring social justice work, community connections, and all the cats in
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, this 15-minute video is worth every second.

(Entirely related, Wright’s blog post on the power of student-driven learning is every bit as good.)