Thursday, February 25, 2010

More on 21st Century Learning Skills

Above are slides from a PowerPoint that I presented to the MHS School Council and the Parent Advisory Council this week. The topic was 21st century learning skills- what are they and why are they important? As I have mentioned in earlier postings, 21st century skills are a list of what all high school graduates need to know and are able to do in order to be successful in college and in their careers.

There certainly are skills/competencies here that are not new, like effective communication, problem-solving, use of critical thinking skills, and mastery of core subjects. However, there are new demands- ones such as the ability to collaborate, creativity and innovation, and flexibility and adaptability- are also necessary to be competitive in a new, global economy. Additionally, the 21st century skills framework calls for new literacies, among them technological, media, and information, so students can navigate a complex world where information is expanding exponentially every year. Research consistently shows that students need these skills if our workforce is going to be economically competitive in the coming years. Recently Thomas Friedman, Daniel Pink, and Tony Wagner have written extensively about this subject and, unfortunately, the apparent gap- where even our best schools aren't giving all kids these skills that they need.

It's one thing to detail these skills and proclaim them important, but the heart of the matter is actually implementing them in the school setting. There are clear implications for curriculum and instruction, as embedding them into existing school programs and courses is going to be hard work. For example, do all students get enough opportunities to use technology, to solve meaningful problems with real-life applications, and to collaborate on a daily basis? How do we actually measure student mastery of 21st century skills through meaningful assessments where students are using higher order thinking skills? How do we ensure that all students are receiving such assessments?

Much work lies ahead to answer these questions, as they all have implications for school structures, our curriculum, teacher practices, and teacher professional development. It should be noted that the idea of 21st century skills being part of the school's core curriculum is the very foundation of the Standards for Accreditation of the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC), the agency that accredits Mansfield High School and 95% of public and private high schools in our region. The standards call for MHS to define what 21st century skills all students should possess upon graduation, and then to build curriculum, instruction, and assessment around those skills.

This work will- and must- commence so there is significant progress before our decennial accreditation visit by NEASC in the spring of 2012. While this challenging work is an accreditation requirement, it really is so much more. I believe that it is the foundation of a vision of Mansfield High School truly moving forward- a school where every graduate is extremely well-prepared for post-secondary study and beyond in a rapidly-changing society. The world our kids will live and work in demands it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hockomock Champs!

Okay, let's get a little perspective here.... The last time the MHS Boys' Basketball Team was the Hockomock League Champs, Ike was finishing his last of eight years in the White House, gas sold for 25 cents a gallon, and the enrollment at MHS was 457 students! That date was March 3, 1960, and MHS beat Randolph High in a one-game playoff to determine the league champion. (Thank you, Mark Farinella, for the history lesson!) So needless to say, last Friday night's accomplishment by this year's Hornets was a big deal!! It was done in fine fashion, a 63-46 dismantling of rival North Attleboro. The 18-2 Hornets now head to the MIAA Divsion I South Tournament as the #3 seed, as they will host the winner of a preliminary round game between No. 14 Brookline (12-8) and No. 19 Natick (10-10). That game will be this coming Wednesday night, 2/24 at 7:00 pm in the Albertini Gym.

Congratulations to Head Coach Mike Vaughan, the entire coaching staff and this fine group of young men! Good luck in the tournament!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Life is a Cabaret

Wow... what a show!! I am talking about last weekend's 6th Annual Cabaret Night put on by the MHS Performing Arts Department. The show featured 37 outstanding numbers from the MHS Concert Choir, Select Choir, After School Choir, and Dance Team. While most of the selections were classics from Broadway shows, there were a few contemporary pieces (dare I say campy?) including "What I've Been Looking For" from High School Musical, "Tell Me What You Want" from The Spice Girls Movie, and the show-stopping "Pokemon Song" from The Pokemon Movie! Congratulations to all of these talented students, as all of the performances were outstanding! Congrats also to MHS Choir Director Sheila Newton for once again putting together a show that highlights amazing talent. As Sheila pointed out at the start of each night's show, for so many students, the Cabaret represents a "stretch" where they are pushed to take risks and perform songs at their highest level. The students succeed, and it does wonders for their confidence and future aspirations. Isn't that what true learning is all about?

Here are a few snapshots of some of our performers:

"Comedy Tonight" performed by the Select Choir: (l to r)- Nicole Lynch, Johnny Fullerton, Duncan Fuller, Janelle Celestine, and Lloyd Hewitt

MHS' own Spice Girls: (l to r)- Nicole Lynch, Mariah McGrath, Katie Maleiko, Monica Cusak, and Julia Bogden

"Journey to the Past" performed by Ashley Traphagen

"Stars and Moon" performed by Emily Ruddy

Many thanks to Kelli Noonan, '09 for letting me "borrow" these photos and video! For a glimpse of the quality of performances, check out the below video, which is Allison Passanisi's rendition of the classic, "Alfie." Enjoy!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Know thy child's Facebook

This past week my assistant principals and I dealt with three issues of students using Facebook to harass other students. While this was not the first instance of this type of behavior, nor will it unfortunately be the last, it is interesting how these events are blurring the lines between what happens inside and outside of the schoolhouse. These incidents, commonly referred to as "cyberbullying," include harassing/threatening posts on social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, threatening instant messaging and text messages, and "sexting" (the transmission of sexually explicit images through text messaging).

A recent editorial by the LA Times entitled "Mean kids, online"
states that, "Mean girls- and mean boys- have been terrorizing their classmates since the first schoolhouse was built." The new reality is that the Internet has eroded clear distinctions of physical locations, thus student harassment can extend far beyond the reaches of the school campus. The editorial points out the fact that courts have recently been reversing school disciplinary decisions where cyberbullying has occurred but not during school time or on school grounds. Furthermore, the courts state that schools have failed to prove that the behavior caused a substantial disruption to the school setting. While making the point that parents must educate their kids about cyberbullying, the piece fails to recognize that principals are charged with creating a warm, safe, and orderly school environment where all students can learn and grow. Cyberbullying is insidious, and when it goes unchecked, it can have very real negative consequences in the school setting. It invariably adds fuel to the fire, and the cycle of verbal and at times, physical harassment continues in school. Several cases in the news, the most recent being the tragedy at South Hadley High School where a 15-year old freshman committed suicide after being tormented by a group of peers both online and in person, have brought to the fore how severe the victimization can be.

With so many teenagers there does not appear to be full cognition of consequences. It's almost as if they do not understand how powerful their words are- especially now that they're in the public domain. Some make the demarcation in their minds that what is posted in cyberspace on their time cannot be addressed by the school. For example, last week when I called one young man into my office to confront him on some Facebook postings- ones that were incredibly crude and insensitive and directed at a complete stranger (whose relative emailed me the link due to her dismay)- his immediate reaction to me was, "You can't do anything about that! I did that outside of school!" While he had a point, there was still a moral responsibility to address this behavior. Luckily I had support when I shared the posting with his parents, who then in turn took appropriate action.

And that's where it all starts.... with parents in the home setting. While it is laudable that the State Legislature will soon be passing a new comprehensive anti-bullying law that envelopes cyberbullying, the first line of defense starts at home. Research consistently shows that 90% of parents claim that they regularly check what their children are doing online, but when the same kids are surveyed, only 50% say that's true. Parents must ensure that this "monitoring gap" isn't the case in their homes. I say from first-hand experience: know what your kids are posting. If your son/daughter has a Facebook account, you should too. Make sure you friend them and then have unrestricted access to all of their postings, photos, videos, etc. Know who they are talking to online and the content of their communications. Ensure that all privacy settings for your child are intact and they are not sharing personal information (e.g., home phone, cell phone, address, sibling names, etc.). These may seem like simple, common-sense measures, but it is alarming how few parents follow through on these steps.

The Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) at Bridgewater State College has published a document on avoiding and responding to problems on Facebook. It may be found be clicking here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Groundhog Day

Alas, as it has happened 100 times since 1887, today a silly groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow, and thus there will be six more weeks of dreaded winter. (Note to self: Do you think the shadow might have anything to do with the thousands of video cameras and 5,000-waat klieg lights that descend on Punxsutawney, PA every year??) So to my colleagues Mr. Farinella, Mr. Fitzgerald, and Mr. McGovern- don't even think about teeing it up comfortably in mid-March!

Speaking of Groundhog Day.... did you catch the oddball piece that made the national press last week, where the animal rights group PETA proposed using a robotic groundhog instead of Phil? Are you kidding me? First off, a groundhog is part of the marmota monax species, a.k.a. the woodchuck. We are talking about a rodent here! I'm all for not being cruel to animals, but don't you think these folks are going a little off the deep end here??

Besides, the last time an animatronic rodent was featured, things didn't quite end so well.... (Sorry....I couldn't resist- my favorite movie!)