What Programs Should GCPS Career & Tech Offer Next?

The Career and Technical Education Department is seeking community input about current and possible future CTE courses at Goochland Middle School and Goochland High School.  The survey will be available from now until November 20th, 2015.  The survey consists of approximately 10 questions and should take less than 15 minutes to complete.

Click here to access this survey.

The information will help the CTE department with program evaluation and help identify future needs within CTE.  Please note that no identifiable information will be gathered or used. The survey is completely anonymous.


About the Author

Ms. Kass and her students are making books about plant and animal cells on their iPads. They are using SketchBook and Book Creator to gather everything they are learning through labs and research. The books are going to be great and after Spring Break, we are going to make them available for download.

To make these books more like books, the students will be working in Ms. Ray’s classes to write biographies to use on an “About the Author” page to append at the end of the cell information. Although we are close to the end of the year, during the course of our conversation about rubrics and peer editing, we realized this was a great year-long project, and even a great project to last the full three years of middle school. 

Next year, we will start early. Students will interview each other write each other’s biographies. This will help the kids get to know each other as they come together into a single middle school from three elementary schools. They can use this bio at the end of all their books. But, as the year goes on, kids will have newer accomplishments to mention in their biographies. They will also improve their writing and wish to make changes.

As the kids go on to seventh and eighth grades, they can continue to add accomplishments and revise their writing. Towards the end of their third year in middle school, the kids can compare versions and see how much they have grown, both in their writing and in their lives. These biographies could be used in applications to Governor Schools and for scholarships later on.

I wonder what the effect on the students will be.  Having all their accomplishments written out in front of them will show them how much they have done, and how much they can do when they set their minds to it.

Archie and Veronica Explore the Internet

For the past few minutes, I have been flipping through a copy of Exploring the Internet published in 1999. Surprisingly, I have found the Amazon link. The book is a very interesting stroll down memory lane.

Do you remember Archie and Veronica? How about Lycos, Atavista, and Infoseek? Did you know that Lycos is still in operation? Back in the day, I was a big fan of Infoseek, knew all about Telnet and IRC.

The book is full of names and acronyms that have come and gone over the past two decades. The statistics are hilariously quaint. Did you know that there were 35 million people accessing online content from home in 1998? Did you know they were posting as many as 250,000 articles to Usenet each day? Usenet posts were the nerdy precursors to tweets. How many tweets are tweeted each day?

Despite being hopelessly out of date on the tech front, the book has a lot to offer. The main focus is on finding and using information, a topic in which there is always something new to learn, no matter how much expertise you might have.

I am a firm believer in the mission of this book despite the goofy spider graphic.

Information literacy and digital citizenship must be a part of the recipe in every single learning activity involving any digital tool. They are not the exclusive domain of Language Arts teachers suffering through formal research projects with their students. I might hang on to this book to pull out ideas when I work with teachers.

Technology changes, and it changes teaching. The truth remains that good teaching always covers the most important concepts.

Active, Engaged Math

“Well, of course you can do that in (fill any subject). Math is different.”

“I can’t use that tool if it does not have a built-in equation editor.”

“I don’t have time for that. My students need to practice solving math problems.”

I can hear these things a million times. I still don’t believe them. Here’s proof that we can have relevant, real-world, engaging learning activities in math class. And these are just three examples.

Cathy Yenca’s blog

Robert Kaplinsky’s lesson ideas

Mr. Orr’s blog


Balancing Act

More recently, I’ve heard the term “balance” come up in education circles, and sometimes it rubs me the wrong way. Some balance, I’d argue, is good; other balance could be dangerous.

Balance with Screentime

I took part in a conversation recently with some teachers and one offered this sentiment: “Learning through a screen all the time isn’t what’s best for kids; sometimes they need to learn in a different way, maybe, by building something with their hands.” I found the idea easy to agree with, and even though my work is often tied to learning through screens, I think we learn through experience, not through glass. Balance in this regard is apt, when it comes to any one thing we do directed at learning. Learning should mimic the full range of human capacity for experiencing our world.

Balance with Assessment

A number of folks recently visited us here in Goochland to learn more about our Balanced Assessment Project. This effort, organized originally by Dr. Geyer in 2013, set out to re-engineer how we conduct and do assessment within Goochland. In short, we now use a variety of assessment types to provide a more holistic view of student progress with learning. Balance in this regard reminds me of a balanced plan for more healthy living. A doctor wouldn’t likely recommend heavy, strenuous exercise alone, while we could eat all the junk food we might find. We also might not fully benefit from a super-healthy diet when our activity level is low. Balance in this regard is a healthy diet, moderate, regular exercise, and balancing our day to day activities to include things that help us reduce stress and find happiness.

Balance with Instruction

I actually do not have one specific example here, but this is will illustrate the more dangerous interpretation of balance we might make. I am sure there is a name for what I’m trying to describe. It’s when you take a general concept and apply it to something else, but the comparison isn’t entirely congruent. The example I have is with coding, which is the contemporary term for computer programming. (It also extends to things that are technically not programming, like HTML creation for webpages, but to most folks, the interpretation is the same.) We are currently offering two after school coding clubs at Goochland and Randolph, led by Ms. Parrish. She took this on completely on her own, and I know eventually, she’d like to have the experience available to all three elementary schools. I think what she has done is a dream come true and give her 100% of the credit for the success of these programs. Students come to these weekly sessions excited and energized and the types of learning taking place is deep.

The idea behind a liberal education, which is more apt a description of many undergraduate programs today, centered on having a well-rounded (balanced) exposure to a number of different disciplines of learning. That same idea is certainly echoed in our state standards. We don’t just teach math to kids who seem to like it. We teach it to all of them.

We do sometimes marginalize some subjects/disciplines. Band or chorus. Or, music or art. We do let kids choose with some things in middle and high school, but the “core” is always there.

The one thing that has stayed with my training years ago as a future music teacher was that music, and really all the arts, belonged to humankind, not just kids who seemed to like music, or show an aptitude. I could say the same thing about coding. Coding as an educational method helps the learner develop skills around how to think in logical ways. I’m so happy there’s an opportunity for some kids to develop coding skills through an extra-curricular club (and for parents who are interested, I can point them to a number of excellent online opportunities for learning, too, that are free). But balance in this regard is dangerous.

The same goes for a “balance” between student-centered and teacher-centered instruction. So many of us were taught how to teach (or it was modeled for us as students ourselves) on how to present and rehearse information to/for students. When the sole source of information is the teacher, we are robbing kids of the opportunity to be self-directed learners and human beings. I think if we’re being honest, we are currently balanced in our schools here in the United States. As general practice, we mix up (balance) our instructional delivery methods with different instructional design models. But it’s the student-centered ones that we ought to be considering. The wholesomeness of balance is apt, but not when it’s between spoon-feeding and inquiry.

I want to be honest – I rely upon a lot of teacher-centered methods in my own teaching. But I’ve been getting better. I love to lecture, I love to present ideas. I’ve seen teachers who are so talented at it, too. It’s not that kids cannot learn this way, they can. We all can. But if our vision is focused on something we’re calling deeper learning, with incredible focus on learning from students (which we’re calling engagement), and we’re learning how to better collect and utilize assessment, we need to be careful about the promise of a simple word like “balance.”

Balance Should Require Us to be Reflective

If you’ve made it this far, it’s probably obvious I’m reflective of my own role in the field of education. One way we can really use the term “balance” without it failing us is to make it personal. We’re hopefully not balancing one really good strategy for learning with a bad one, instead, we’re taking the time to stake stock of our tools, our abilities, and our effectiveness and how we are able to balance those. For example, I might love to lecture, but realize it’s not the best way for students to learn. So, I might balance by using my own experience as an entry event to a project where I turn over the learning to students. Or, a “bell-ringer” for an interactive debate in class. Or I balance my assessment strategy by giving students the ability to self-assess their learning on an upcoming assignment. The reality is, learning and teaching is a mixture of both art and science and with extreme limits on resources (among them, time), we are always attempting to balance the experiences we provide students. My ultimate point is to consider what we’re balancing, not to be satisfied alone with the idea that balance is, in itself, a virtue.

Parent Conferences March 23

GCPS staff & families,

This is a reminder that the student holiday originally scheduled for March 23rd will now be a regular instructional day, in accordance with the 2014-15 school calendar. Parent-teacher conferences will still be held on March 23rd at each school from 4:30 to 7:00PM. This is a great opportunity to dialog with your child’s teachers about his or her progress in school.

Sharing Copies – Google Apps

In previous posts I have written about Teacher Dashboard, Google Apps, and how to share documents with students. Here is one more way that lets you share a link to a document in Schoology (or anywhere else) bypassing the Smart Copy button in Teacher Dashboard.

If you need to share a document with students and you want each student to have his or her own copy, here is what you do:

  1. Create the document in Google Drive. Make sure it has a distinctive name that lets your students know what it is when they see it in Google Drive again.
  2. Click the SHARE button and select to share the link to the document by clicking on GET SHAREABLE LINK.
  3. Copy the link and paste it into Schoology (or your blog, or an email, or Twitter…)
  4. Before you send or publish, edit the link. Change the last part of the link where it says /edit?usp=sharing  so that it says /copy
  5. Share the link!
When your students click on the link, they will see the following screen:
When they click the blue button, they will have a copy of the document they can edit and turn in to you via Teacher Dashboard or Schoology.
Easy, right? Let me know if you have any questions.


Student Collaboration Goes to Executive Mansion

You may remember the inspiring collaboration that began last year between RES 4th grade students and GHS seniors. The two groups partnered to build a beautiful courtyard at RES, do some student mentoring and tutoring, and begin work on the GHS courtyard as well.

That partnership has continued to flourish. This month Mrs. Gates and Mrs. Yearout-Patton will be visiting the Executive Mansion in Richmond with their seniors and 4th graders. The teachers have worked through Delegate Peter Ware who has been most impressed with the professionalism of the teachers and students.

We look forward to sharing pictures and news from the students’ tour later this month!



Congratulations To BES Robotics

The Byrd Robotics Team had an incredible weekend in Harrisonburg at the 3rd Annual First Lego League Competition! They arrived in Harrisonburg Friday evening, ate together as a team and then headed to downtown Harrisonburg to march in the Christmas parade!

The team competed against 69 other teams in Division 1 on Saturday and Sunday all day at JMU. They enjoyed the JMU dining hall experience and classes at the campus as well. The team did a great job all weekend in all of their events.

Channel 12 covered the event here.

Our heartfelt congratulations to the BES Robotics Team members and community!

Community rallies support for the BES Robotics Team before the competition in Harrisonburg!

Schoology – Student Completion Requirements

True or false: When I give my students work, they all finish at the same time.

Yes, keeping kids on task is one of the most difficult issues faced by teachers. Schoology has a tool that can help.

When you have multiple activities planned for a class period, you can create a folder with all your resources and require that students work in order, achieving a minimum score per item. Watch this tutorial to find out how to set up a classwork folder with Student Completion requirements.

Play On…

I cannot believe it was an accident when I encountered Ms. Hall’s interactive obstacle course at Byrd Elementary School just moments after hearing Dr. Peter Gray’s provocative talk on “The Decline of Play.”

Gray, a research professor and author of Free to Learn, asserts that play – free, expressive interaction necessary to learning – has been sacrificed to what he calls a “schoolish view of child development.” Take a look at about 6:50 into the video:

A “schoolish” view. It’s offensive. And he’s right.

He refers to the myth that kids learn best when they learn from adults, period. And he attributes that to a widespread philosophy at work in schools, spreading now deeper beyond the classroom walls into the rest of a child’s world. All decreasing the importance – and availability – of play.

And he says play is necessary to learning. Watch the video, read his book – and agree or disagree.

Having spent 26 years in this field and raising three of my own, I agree without hesitation. Kids learn a great deal when they are free to play, to roam, to explore, to create, to question, to wonder.

Imagine the wash of comfort I experienced when I encountered Karen Hall’s Halloween maze, designed to incorporate creativity, collaboration and kinesthetic strategy into a smorgasbord of what would invariably be seriously fun for Dr. Papert.

Ah yes, I remember. Goochland is different.

I’m reminded of our deep commitment to personalized learning in Goochland. Our pledge to strive for engagement – not entertainment – but the kind of involvement in learning whereby kids become resilient, persistent, and gritty, committed to their work, co-designers of lessons.

Our work to build authentic assessments that are truly formative.

Thank you, Ms Hall.

May fun be “hard” for our students. And let them play on…





Goochland Fully Accredited, Top 3 in Region

From today’s Press Release:

Goochland was one of 22 school divisions of the 132 in Virginia to have 100% of its schools earn full state accreditation.  This compares to 36 such school divisions last year and 87 the year before, during which both years Goochland maintained full accreditation.

“I’m so proud of our results,” said James Lane, Goochland superintendent. “Our school community has worked diligently and focused on the right things. This accreditation validates our focus on maximizing every learner’s potential.”

Goochland is in the top 3 regionally in all core academic areas (reading, writing, mathematics, science, and history) based on overall achievement as measured by the state’s SOL tests in grades 3-12.  For a second consecutive year, Goochland was #1 regionally in writing achievement. The division is especially proud of this recognition.

“Writing is the only one of the state testing areas that requires students to think critically and demonstrate understanding through the development of an original  product, “ explained Stephen Geyer, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction. “In this case it’s a piece of writing. All other state assessments are generally multiple-choice in nature.”

Goochland also finished in the top 3 in all areas when compared with the top 10 highest funded school divisions in Virginia (based on per pupil expenditure).  Goochland’s per pupil expenditure ranks the division 57th of 132 in spending in the state.  More specifically, Goochland’s state ranks in achievement and per pupil expenditure are as follows:

 Area: State Rank: Percentage:

  •  Reading 13th Top 9.8%
  •  Writing 7th Top 5.3%
  •  Math 9th Top 6.8%
  •  History 19th Top 14.4%
  •  Science 16th Top 12.1%
  •  Per Pupil Expenditure 57th Top 43.2%

Advance Placement (AP) results are also on the rise at Goochland High School.  Sixty-seven percent of students tested received a score of 3 or higher during the 2013-14 school year.  That’s up from 55% the year before and 33% the year before that.  Goochland’s 67% “AP pass rate” is higher than both the state (65%) and global (61%) “pass rate.”

Finally, Goochland High School’s graduation rate is 95%, far outpacing the state and regional graduation rate, as well as the benchmark for state and federal accreditation.

Goochland Top Performer in Writing

Having focused on student engagement and maximization of individual student academic growth, we are thrilled to report that Goochland was a top performer on last spring’s SOL tests. We were the top scorer in the region on the writing test, and second in reading, math and history – 3rd in science.

Read the full press release here.

This confirms our belief that a focus on pedagogy and improved relationships with our students with a passion for seeing every learner grow academically is of utmost importance. And scores on achievement tests, such as the SOL’s, will reflect that commitment to excellent instruction.

Great work, GCPS community!

Data-driven Games?

Over the weekend I traveled to an event in Florida and got to talk to Marcelo Stavale Molina very briefly at the end of a session. He is a Brazilian educator and his students do quite  lot with Scratch (link to his Scratch page). He described a game for visually-impaired players developed by 7th graders that I can’t wait to try out. So, I’ve been thinking about the role of programming in problem-solving and creativity all day.

I was skipping from one web page to another earlier today and found this FlowingData website. One of their recent entries links to a very detailed analysis of the frequency of letters in specific positions in words. Since I like playing word games like Scrabble and WordWrap, I had an idea. What if the points awarded by a digital version of Scrabble took into account more than what letters you used? What if we could apply this dataset to a scoring scheme so the value of the letter varied based on the difficulty of placing that letter at the beginning, middle, or end of a word? Imagine assigning a multiplier that either rewarded  you for an uncommon placement, or penalized you for a very common one.

If nothing else, this would be a great example of math in real life. Any takers for this G21 project?

Presenting your Learning

When I recently visited Randolph Elementary School, I visited a lesson “in action” where students were presenting information they had mastered (presumably for review purposes). This is a very strong instructional approach, and I was pleased to see the students had used video to capture their instructions for their peers on how to solve math problems.

student presentation

During the visit highlighted above, a student had made a mistake in the video, and then told everyone about the mistake and the “correct” way to solve the problem. This reflection on the recorded performance was another excellent sign of strong learning.

Earlier this spring, I began looking at our G21 Framework and areas for improvement. One of the things I wanted to “remove” was the necessity of any expert in the room to fill out the planning form. While it made for a nice sleek form, I wanted to put more of what it takes to develop a good project-based experience for students into the form itself. It would make for a more complex form, but hopefully too would provide teachers a scaffold on which to present an awesome learning experience.

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, my new proposal for G21 adopts the Buck Institute for Education model for project-based learning. The format is more complete at helping teachers plan for the project-based experience. One of the things it encourages, too, is student presentation. While I am not certain that every PBL needs a presentation, and there will be times where the resource of time may prevent a formal presentation, it does not dilute the effectiveness of presenting as an instructional activity. Since 2008 when we started G21, we have used “teaching others” and “communication” as two of our core 12 twenty-first century skills. But we need to remember that these skills do not need to wait for a “G21″ to be utilized in our designs for instruction.

I look forward to sharing more in my blog throughout the summer about G21 3.0. On August 7, for our Mission Possible: Operation Engagement professional development day, Bea and I will be offering sessions on the new framework. For now all I will say is consider the new format “smaller” but “more potent!”

A Third GHS Student Selected for the Cochran Summer Economics Institute

Since receiving the wonderful news of the two GHS students to be admitted to the Cochrane Summer Economics Institute, another Bulldog has been selected for this distinguished opportunity!

Chase Doczi is the third GCPS student to have been chosen to attend this institute, joining J.T. Massey and Meghan Edwards.

Only 35 rising seniors have been chosen from among the entire Greater Richmond area. This is an incredible honor for these three scholars as well as the Goochland community. Not only to have students participate, but to have multiple students in a given year chosen during such a competitive process speaks volumes about these students’ commitment to excellence and the support they’ve been given by their GHS teachers and parents.

We look forward to learning more about their experience at the Institute and the internship this summer.


Energy Efficiency an Important Area of Study for Students

Energy efficiency is quickly becoming a key player in Virginia’s growing economy. The field has been shown to generate more than $300M in economic activity, supports 9,400 jobs, according to a report released today by the nonprofit trade association Virginia Energy Efficiency Council (VAEEC).

Based on a census conducted last fall to which 300 firms responded, the report underscores energy efficiency’s critical role in meeting energy demand, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, cost savings, job creation and other state and national goals.

This is an important area for us to consider as we continue to enhance our career and workforce development opportunities for students.

Zoe Parrish and Margaret Dickerson Present at VA Reading Conference

GCPS Reading Specialist, Margaret Dickerson, and ITRT, Zoe Parrish, presented a session entitled, Learning Mashup, for the Virginia Reading Conference. The session was designed to show how to use technology tools to integrate reading instruction with service learning projects to develop develop better readers, mindful citizens, and 21st century skills.

See the Learning Mashup Website Here!

The partnership between Parrish and Dickerson is an evidence of the strong connection between instructional delivery and the use of technology tools. Their presentation displayed the division’s emphasis on leadership and character development, inseparable from our commitment to maximizing every learner’s potential.

Zoe Parrish (left) and Margaret Dickerson (right) at the VA Reading Conference.


Amie Potter Named Interim Goochland Middle School Assistant Principal

We are thrilled to announce that Amie Potter has been appointed Interim Assistant Principal of Goochland Middle School, a position that will be temporarily vacant when Mrs. East takes her maternity leave. “I am confident that Amie will be an invaluable asset to GMS and will do an exemplary job in this role!” stated GMS principal, Jenn Smith.

Amie joined the GCPS team in 2009 and currently serves as the coordinator of GIST (Goochland Instructional Support Team) at Randolph and Goochland Elementary schools, where she collaborates with teachers to develop instructional strategies and interventions to support student learning. Prior to her work with GIST, she taught Kindergarten and First grades at Randolph Elementary School. She has served as the elementary summer school principal and has contributed to a variety of school-based and division-wide initiatives, including the division’s balanced assessment committee, coordination of the division’s teacher mentorship program, as well as having served as the division’s teacher leader for first grade.

To ensure a smooth transition, we anticipate Amie to begin shadowing Mrs. East within the next couple of weeks.

Please join me in welcoming Mrs. Potter!

Students Travel the Globe on Diversity Day

Randolph Elementary School will host its second annual Diversity Day next Friday, March 21. Students will “travel” across Europe and Asia in five rotations. Each third grade classroom hosts a different country that would have been teh subject of student study in teh previous two years.

Students will experience the cultures, both ancient and modern, unique to each country through an exploration of the food, music, clothing and traditions.

GHS Video Production Students Excel in Competition

Saturday, March 8, 2014, students from Goochland High School competed in the Digital Video Production Contest during the Technology Student Association event held at Glen Allen High School.  Three GCPS teams (pictured below) competed against 8 other teams from various schools.  Goochland High School excelled with 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishers in the event, second only to one of the teams from the Maggie L. Walker Governor School.

The video theme for the competition was “Documentary.” GCPS students created interesting, dynamic videos about their chosen topics.  The students’ video’s will be featured at GHS this week on News 2.

Be sure to congratulate the following students and their sponsor, Mr. Bouwens, on their success:

2nd place finisher with their documentary, Cheer Isn’t a Sport?! : Lauren Nuckols, Katie Gentry, Lillie Rosson, Brittany Bailey and Jontey Mosley

3rd place finisher with their documentary, The Phone Factor: Hunter and William Glaveskas, Felicia Hallworth, Josh Hayward and Jazmyn Rhodes

4th place finisher with their documentary, Travis Duley: A Career in the Clouds:  Jeremy Phillips, Jenna Meadows, Lucy Cary, Preston Loveland and Hannah Duley

March Is Youth Art Month

Please stop by the Goochland County Public Library during the month of March. Select works by GCPS students, Kindergarten through Seniors, will be on display!

Youth Art Month (YAM) is an annual observance each March to emphasize the value of art and art education for all children and to encourage public support for quality school art programs. Established in 1961, YAM provides a forum for acknowledging skills that are not possible in other subjects. The Council for Art Education (CFAE), a sponsor of Youth Art Month, adopted the national theme, “Start With Art, Learn for Life.” Art Education develops self-esteem, appreciation of the work of others, self- expression, cooperation with others, and critical thinking skills.

All of these skills are vital to the success of our future leaders – our children!