Podcast #65: “Somewhere, A Place For Us . . . “: What Grade Are You?

Items, Events, and Other:

  1. Book sale!  Clearance prices!
  2. NMSA’s Middle Level Essentials Conference April 23-24, 2009.
  3. NMSA ‘09 Invitation Video:  Indianapolis,  IN Conference.
  4. NMSA ’08 Technology Focus Video.
  5. The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission calendar:
    1. “March 4, 2009 Coolidge Auditorium, Jefferson Building
      Library of Congress
      Join the Librarian of Congress, Dr. James Billington, and Lincoln scholars Harold Holzer, James McPherson and Douglas Wilson as we commemorate Lincoln’s 200th birthday.

      Full details of the symposium can be found here.
    2. ALBC Commemorative Coin:
      The ALBC Commemorative Coin is on sale now. Available for order on the U.S. Mint Web site, the pure silver coin is available as a proof coin (which has a mirror-like background) and as an uncirculated coin (featuring a more satiny background).
      For the first 30 days after the coin goes on sale (beginning Feb. 12, 2009), they can be purchased for $37.95 (proof) and $31.95 (uncirculated) each. A $10.00 surcharge on each coin, which is included in the cost quoted, benefits the ALBC.  After the first 30 days, the coin’s regular price of $41.95 will take effect.
      For details and to purchase the coin, visit the Mint’s website here.


    3. Visit the ALBC Calendar detailing all Lincoln events throughout 2009 —
      http://www.abrahamlincoln200.org/calendar/default.aspxisit the ALBC Calendar detailing all Lincoln events throughout 2009″

  6. Michigan Association of Middle School Educators Annual Conference March 12 & 13 at White Pine Middle School in Saginaw Township.  Mr. Ron Clark will be keynoting.
  7. North Carolina Middle School Association’s Annual Conference will be March 16-17 in Pinehurst, NC.  Keynote speakers include Bill McBride and Rick Wormeli.  Ron Williamson from Eastern Michigan University will also be speaking at the conference this year.    
  8. The National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform will be holding their annual conference in June.  See the flyer at their website for details.
  9. Free Professional Development through Webinars! NMSA is offering previously recorded webinars for free from their website.
  10. Classroom 2.0’s Live Calendar.
  11. NECC is coming this summer!  Here’s an excuse to travel to Washington D.C.
  12. Classroom 2.0’s Ning Blog:  This week’s discussion is on the uses of Ning in the classroom.  Archived content is available.
  13. Second Life:
    • No Events specified.  Regular Tuesday meetings are scheduled.  See the board on the ISTE Island for up to the minute details.
    • Video:  Educational Uses of Second Life
  14. From the Twitterverse:


  1. Twiddla :  Its like Elluminate, just without all the expense. (Thanks to Jenny for the heads up on this one!)
  2. Forward Thinking Museum : A  virtual museum worth checking out.

“Letters from our Listeners”:

Shawn and Troy

I’ve spent some time in 5-8, 6-8 and K-8 school environments. Sometimes 5th graders were self-contained while older students moved from teacher to teacher. In other circumstances, 5th grade was used as a transition with single-teacher classrooms and locker access during passing time. I’m currently in a New Jersey K-8 school with no passing time, no lockers and 6-8th graders changing classes.

Knowing all too well the challenges of adolescent behavior and academic performance, I wonder what thoughts you had on the appropriate breakdown of grade levels for elementary vs. middle school. At what grade level should middle school begin (beside the legal requirements for teacher certifications)? Can a single administrator effectively manage a staff who work with students from kindergarten age to their teens, or should different principals handle different grade ranges? What impact does the proximity of 7th and 8th graders to elementary aged students have on academics and/or behavior? How about 5th and 6th graders? In my search for answers on this topic, I found a study done by Duke University in 2007 entitled “Should Sixth Grade be in Elementary or Middle School? An Analysis of Grade Configuration and  Student Behavior.”

Is there such a thing as either an elementary or middle school mentality? Can a teacher have both? Can a principal?
What are your thoughts on this topic?

NMSA Teacher Preparation Standards.


Public Schools Outperform Private Schools in Math Instruction

In another “Freakonomics”-style study that turns conventional wisdom about public- versus private-school education on its head, a team of University of Illinois education professors has found that public-school students outperform their private-school classmates on standardized math tests, thanks to two key factors: certified math teachers, and a modern, reform-oriented math curriculum.“According to our results, schools that hired more certified teachers and had a curriculum that de-emphasized learning by rote tended to do better on standardized math tests,” Lubienski said. “And public schools had more of both.”

Of the five factors, school size and parental involvement “didn’t seem to matter all that much,” Lubienski said, citing a weak correlation between the two factors as “mixed or marginally significant predictors” of student achievement.

They also discovered that smaller class sizes, which are more prevalent in private schools than in public schools, significantly correlate with achievement.


Bridging the Character Education Achievement Gap

Throughout his now-famous “Last Lecture,” the late Carnegie Mellon University professor of computer science Randy Pausch talked about what he called the “head fake.” It is the idea that learning and education work best when they work on the personal and general levels simultaneously.
We miss one of the most important aspects of character education, the cognitive head fake, when our obsession with advanced coursework becomes myopic and overshadows the strength both areas could have if working to complement each other in high schools.

Bridging the Character Education Achievement Gap


As James Traub, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, has noted: “[T]he issue is not whether we will have character education, but instead, what kind we will have and what relationship it will bear to the ongoing campaign to improve children’s academic skills.” Indeed, character education’s very survival depends on its quantifiably improving students’ academic skills.

A new character education model should be developed around principles that encourage college-level critical thinking and service to community. It should include the following elements:

1. We should teach dialogue and deliberation through Socratic seminars and consensus-building, so that students learn how to communicate with each other in a democratic setting and the ability to judge ideas on the strength of evidentiary support, not misinformed opinion.

2. We should teach core values and beliefs, so that students identify universal truths they are willing to speak for and work from that will guide the decisions they make as leaders and citizens of their communities.

3. We should teach historical models of leadership, so that students will understand that all great leaders are merely standing on the shoulders of others, and that the values of integrity and compassion don’t come easily. Figures taught could range from Gandhi and Lincoln, to the Bible’s King David, to the explorer Ernest Shackleton.

4. We should provide thoughtful teaching of inequity and inequality as they relate to race, gender, and class, so that students can learn how to speak to one another about diversity in a way that creates progress and does not reinforce stereotypes or systems of power and privilege. Students should be introduced to the writings of authors such as Peggy McIntosh, Cornel West, and James A. Banks.

5. We should teach democratic citizenship and leadership, so that students can learn how to use democratic systems to empower and give voice to all participants in a society to make communities more equal and just. Students should be introduced to scholars such as Walter Parker and historical documents such as the Federalist Papers and Washington’s Newburgh Address.

6. Since moral reasoning is integral to these pursuits, students should be taught to think their way through ethical and moral dilemmas and how to make choices that benefit all and that foster the strength of character to persevere through failures. Lawrence Kohlberg’s “stages of moral development” is a great place to start.

7. We should teach ethical and collaborative decision making and problem-solving, to empower students to change dysfunctional systems and communities. This should teach them that problem-solving is not the sole responsibility of one leader or group, but of a whole community working together.

8. We should give students opportunities for practical application of these precepts and practices, so they can test their new knowledge within the community and attempt to make positive improvements. These opportunities could be through schoolwide community-service projects, school philanthropy projects, and various other school improvement projects that encourage all students to participate.