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11-8-13 Education Issues in the News
Press of Atlantic City - Teachers at convention share tricks to make learning fun ... "...The conference devoted several sessions to evaluation models used in New Jersey. Former educator Charlotte Danielson, of the Princeton-based Danielson model, packed a large conference room as she talked about the need for effective evaluations. She defended her model’s position that teachers are rarely great all the time, saying part of the problem of past evaluation systems is that almost all teachers were rated effective all the time..."

The Record - Tenafly to update offerings to meet new educational standards

NJ Spotlight - Big Concerns Spur Big Turnout of Teachers at Annual NJEA Convention…Tougher evaluations, new standards and testing for students – and re-election of nemesis Gov. Chris Christie – among items on agenda

Press of Atlantic City - Teachers at convention share tricks to make learning fun

NJEA Convention

Posted: Friday, November 8, 2013 2:00 am  By DIANE D’AMICO, Education Writer The Press of Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Public school students may have had the day off Thursday, but thousands of their teachers converged on the Convention Center to tackle the question of how to make learning both relevant and interesting.

The answers, spread through more than 300 workshops and 700 exhibits, ranged from learning math by building a boat to programming an adorable robot to tell a story or dance.

The convention returned to the city after being canceled last year due to Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey Education Association spokesman Steve Baker said he did not have specific attendance numbers, since teachers had both registered online and in person, but he said it reminded him of the 2000 conference that attracted a record 55,000 teachers on its first day. Typically about 40,000 New Jersey teachers attend the two-day event.

Underscoring all sessions was the growing issue of teacher evaluations, and how to effectively monitor how well a teacher is teaching and link it to how well a student learns. This is the first year all districts are using new state-mandated evaluations, and implementation has been bumpy and time-consuming.

The conference devoted several sessions to evaluation models used in New Jersey. Former educator Charlotte Danielson, of the Princeton-based Danielson model, packed a large conference room as she talked about the need for effective evaluations.

She defended her model’s position that teachers are rarely great all the time, saying part of the problem of past evaluation systems is that almost all teachers were rated effective all the time.

“Teaching is so hard that it is never perfect,” she said. “I don’t say that because I think teaching is of poor quality. I think good teaching is a lifelong quest. Being proficient is good. But we should always strive to be better.”

She earned applause when she said that those doing the evaluations should also be trained and certified, and she said she cares most about what the children are doing and how they are being challenged.

“How can we engage them in a way that gets them to the learning outcomes we want?” she asked, noting a child will spend hours learning to skateboard but claim to be bored in school.

“We need to make teaching more like skateboarding,” she said. “We teach like it’s work. We should teach like it’s fun.”

Down in the exhibit hall, hundreds of exhibitors attempted to show how teaching can be fun. The High Tech Hall featured the latest in electronics, including NAO from Teq, a doll-sized robot built to be programmed by students. Developed for use in research, the robot is making its way into schools, including in Randolph, Morris County, and at the Warren County Special Services School, Teq sales staff said.

The robot enchanted students at the conference, dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The $16,000 robot uses Python programming language and arrives basically as a blank slate. Students learn how to program it.

Cathryn Weiss, of West Milford, Passaic County, said she is always looking for ways to get students involved, but she was a bit blown away by the cost of the robot.

Egg Harbor Township teacher Lynne Kesselman said there is a big STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative in the district, and programming robots could be part of that. She said her concern would be how well students would behave with the expensive equipment.

“Can we program them, too?” she asked, laughing.

Fifth-graders from Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Atlantic City spent the day building a boat under the guidance of Bill Sheridan, a retired Millville principal who now works on the school boat project through the Bayshore Center in Bivalve and Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries in Cumberland County. The project is part of a national Building to Teach program that trains math teachers to use hands-on projects such as boats and guitars.

Teacher Colleen Griffin said she is thrilled with all of the math lessons she can develop as students wearing safety goggles hammered away.

“I love these types of projects,” she said. Plans call for the boat to be launched from Gardner’s Basin in the spring.

The conference continues today from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is open to NJEA members and their guests

Contact Diane D’Amico: 609-272-7241 DDamico@pressofac.com


The Record - Tenafly to update offerings to meet new educational standards


Thursday, November 7, 2013  BY  STEPHANIE SIMONE

TENAFLY – In order to fall in line with Common Core State Standards and the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams next year, the district is implementing new curriculum including Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM).

Board of Education vice president Edward Salaski gave an update on curriculum enhancements during the Oct. 15 Board of Education meeting.

Several new initiatives are being implemented this year including phonics and literacy programs that fall in line with core standards for kindergarten through fifth grade.

New common core standards recommend students analyze and comprehend stories and interact with groups about various ideas.

In kindergarten through second grade teachers are prepared to implement the Phonics First program to students. The new curriculum focuses on phonemic awareness, decoding and spelling, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

To reinforce vocabulary, students in third through fifth grade will participate in the Wordly Wise program — a vocabulary mastery program with online and audio components.

"In addition, a lot of the computer skills that [students] are using in this online version are the same skills that are going to be used in the PARCC exams coming up," Salaski said.

Beginning in January, the district is going to implement the Measures of Academic Progress which is another online assessment program that automatically adjusts to the students reading level and aligns to core standards. Additionally, it will provide questions similar to those seen in upcoming PARCC exams and will provide data for analysis by teachers allowing them to better understand students’ growth in literacy.

New report card rubrics and reading level benchmarks are also being implemented in the district.

At the middle school, students are partaking in a STEM course called the Principals of Technology — implemented this year. Science teacher Brian Cook created the program modeled after STEM initiatives on the high school level, according to Vice Principal Mary Delouvrier. Cook teaches students a multitude of concepts with hands-on activities through Principals of Technology. Students on the sixth grade level learn structure through building bridges.

"They start by building bridges out of toothpicks and then Balsa wood," Cook said. "Before they do that, they go online and play games to learn about structure and how to design. Students will use the internet and interact with demos about stress points."

In seventh grade, students will learn about the electronic aspects of science and design by creating video games.

"Next spring students will participate in a video game design challenge," Cook said.

Students in the eighth grade learn about real life situations such as energy, health and safety among others.

"Students are currently designing and building hydroponic systems," Cook said. "This is a sustainable way to build their own food, nutrients or plants for the future."

Cook says the new program is one of the best courses to teach at the middle school.

"Students engage in hands-on activities building and projects," Cook said. "Students build the projects themselves and it’s a spiraling curriculum so from sixth to eighth grade some things they learn carry over while some things are specific to each grade level."

Students really enjoy the freedom of an open curriculum that allows them to explore planning and process in a broad way.

"It’s completely different than anything out there," Cook said. "There are non-traditional assignments and students are assessed by an online portfolio. Each student builds their own website and each student writes their own journal about what they’ve worked on."

He added there’s also a non-traditional homework aspect where students will go home and experiment and come back to report on their findings.

"It’s very out of the box," Cook said. "Instead of telling students what to specifically do I give them broad topics and they research on their own what the pros and cons are and where they get the parts, etc."

Salaski said the curriculum committee will continue to review and discuss new programs and ideas for various changes at its next monthly meeting.

Email: simone@northjersey.com

NJ Spotlight - Big Concerns Spur Big Turnout of Teachers at Annual NJEA Convention…Tougher evaluations, new standards and testing for students – and re-election of nemesis Gov. Chris Christie – among items on agenda

John Mooney | November 8, 2013


Maybe it was the pent-up energy from the year off due to Hurricane Sandy. The New Jersey Education Association's annual convention came back yesterday in full force with capacity-crowd workshops, a busy exhibition hall, and plenty of questions about coming changes in how teachers do their jobs.

The nation’s largest state convention for teachers drew more than 30,000 educators to the Atlantic City Convention Center, according to the union, which said it the event’s biggest turnout in at least a decade.

The exhibition hall was often near gridlock, and many workshops were turning away attendees for lack of space -- those dealing with coming mandates regarding teacher evaluation and new standards and testing were especially sought after.

One of the hottest tickets was a session led by Charlotte Danielson, the architect of a teacher-evaluation model being used in a majority of New Jersey school districts as part of the state’s new tenure-reform law, which aims to hold teachers more accountable for student performance.

Danielson, based in Princeton, addressed more than 300 teachers grappling with the new system, which standardizes how they are observed in the classroom.

With good humor and plenty of asides, Danielson stressed the importance of it being a collaborative effort and several times recognized the challenges that will come in the first year.

But she also faced questions to how her system of specific benchmarks can be applied to all educators, ranging from classroom teachers to those working with special-education students both in and outside the regular classroom.

It is a particularly critical time in the rollout of the new evaluation system, as districts must have student-performance measures in place by Nov. 15 and with new information coming out this week with specifics on how student test scores will apply.

State officials, several of whom will be at the convention today, said yesterday they realize the transition has had its bumpy moments, but said they remain confident that teachers and administrators are working together.

“These are reasonable concerns, and not ones we haven’t heard before,” said Peter Shulman, the state’s assistant education commissioner, who is overseeing the new evaluation system.

But he said there has also been significant progress made in many districts, and that the state is sticking to its deadlines, many of which were written into the new tenure law.

“They were dictated by a state law that was unanimously approved by the Legislature,” Shulman said.

Nonetheless, Shulman – one of those expected to be on hand today with state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf – vowed he would continue to work with the NJEA and its members to make the new system succeed.

“I think we have had a collegial relationship with the field, and been open to their concerns and questions,” he said. “That will not change.”

Such collegiality wasn’t so apparent in another session yesterday before members of the State Board of Education. Teachers – many of them union leaders -- lined up to criticize a variety of policies that are coming their way under the Christie administration.

Beyond the new rules for teacher evaluation, other big issues including implementation of the new Common Core State Standards, new online testing, the Camden school takeover by the state, and even the decrepit condition of Trenton High School were all on the list.

Many teachers voiced frustration with the implementation of the various requirements, but also criticized the state board’s acquiescence.

“My members want to know, after numerous letters sent to the board, do you hear them?” said Heidi Olson, president of the teachers union in Hopewell Township. “Why do they not feel they have been heard and respected? All their nightmares are coming true, times ten.”

The three board members on hand – including the president and vice president but less than one-third of the full board – said they have heard the teachers’ concerns and were trying to address them with the state education department.

“Those letters are important to us,” said Arcelio Aponte, the state board’s president. “We bring these topics into meetings, and I must say that on many occasions, our letters have yielded better regulations.”

Besides the gathering of teachers, the convention was also the first chance for the NJEA to appraise the impact of this week’s election, which saw the union’s frequent nemesis, Gov. Chris Christie, easily win reelection over Democratic challenger Barbara Buono, whom the union endorsed and backed heavily.

In an interview, NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer was philosophical about the defeat.

The NJEA could hardly claim full victory, he acknowledged, despite spending upwards of $13 million on behalf of Democratic candidates that included Buono as well as incumbents in a half-dozen contested legislative races.

But he said the NJEA had at least helped protect the Democratic majority in the state Senate and Assembly.

“We were shooting for the stars, and we got the moon,” Steinhauer said in the interview. “We had three goals: the governor, a pro-education Senate, a pro-education Assembly. We didn’t get the governor, but we got two out of three.”

An interesting side story at the annual convention came from a school district where teachers are not even members of the NJEA.

More than 1,000 Newark teachers traveled down to Atlantic City, despite the fact that its Newark Teachers Union is part of the American Federation of Teachers, which is a separate union from the NJEA and its parent National Education Association (NEA).

Under state law, all teachers are entitled to attend the convention, and Newark teachers have been attending for years.

But this year’s showing apparently proved to be news to officials in Newark’s state-run district, which was forced to suddenly close schools yesterday and today due to the exodus of teachers.

Union leaders and district officials went back-and-forth yesterday over who was to blame. The district said the union had approved a school calendar back in the summer that did not include the days off for the convention. The union’s leaders maintained they had warned the administration that teachers would be attending nonetheless.

Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608

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