• AP Bio at Southern Alamance High School

    Posted by William Benson on 3/15/2019

    I spent the morning in Ms. Moore’s AP Biology class at Southern Alamance High School today. After a warm-up exercise where students reviewed the six Kingdoms (I remember when there were only five.) and how organisms are placed in a phylogenetic trees, students worked on sample open-ended questions from the AP Biology exam – Free Response Friday.  (Coincidentally, I discussed the importance of good open-ended questions with principals at our last leadership meeting.) One of the questions required students to review data collected by observing subcellular structures of three different types of eukaryotic cells, including endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, cilia, and golgi bodies. Students were asked to use the data to identify a likely primary function of each cell type and explain how the data supports the identification.


    After a couple of pre-lab exercises,  students then moved on investigative work using BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool), an on-line bioinformatic tool used to seek out gene sequences. BLAST allows students (and scientists for that matter) to search gene sequences of interest across entire genomic libraries, producing matches in seconds (Imagine writing a three-word sequence on a post-it note and searching every text in a public library for matches.). The point? Looking for relatedness at the genetic level. If you would like to check it out, you will find the link on Ms. Moore’s AP Bio Helpful Link page (https://www.abss.k12.nc.us/Page/19946).


    Ms. Moore is an exceptional teacher. Her passion for biology is contagious and her positive rapport with students is palpable!



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  • Metric Morning at E.M. Holt

    Posted by William Benson on 3/11/2019

    I had the pleasure of co-teaching with Ms. Strickland at E. M. Holt Elementary School last Friday morning. Ms. Strickland’s 5th graders have been learning about the metric system and metric unit conversion. After a review of the metric system and the meaning of the prefixes, students were presented with the following problem:


    Josh and Katie are friends who are very competitive with each other. They both like to run, and they both want to be the one who ran the most each day. Today, Katie ran a 3 kilometer warmup, followed by 4 sets of 500 meters fast, and then a 4 kilometer cool down. Josh ran 2 kilometers to warmup, then 10 sets of 200 meters fast, and then a 5 kilometer cool down. Josh is sure he ran more than Katie since he ran more fast sets AND ran more to cool down.


    Is Josh correct? If not, explain where he might have gone wrong or what he was missing using words and numbers.


    Students determined what information in the problem was important. They decided that they would have to determine the total number of miles for each of the runners. They also were quick to point out that all of the distances would need to be in the same unit.


    We talked about the importance of including units on numbers. Students had previously added a metric conversion table to their math journals. We also introduced students to the factor-label method of conversion:


    3 km x 1000 m = 3000 m

                    1 km


    Students took the lead in the final conversions needed to answer the question using multiple strategies (I am not sharing the answer in the event you would like to solve the problem.).


    Research shows that student problem-solving ability improves when students are exposed to authentic, open-ended problems that require multi-step solutions and written defense of the solutions. All kinds of right here (and, kudos for including a running problem), Ms. Strickland!  Great job! Thank you!!




    p.s. Yes, Eli, I am pretty sure you would have a better time than me in a 100 m race, but I like my chances in a 15 km.

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  • Dancing in the Wings

    Posted by William Benson on 3/1/2019

    I had the pleasure of co-teaching with Ms. Kimber at Pleasant Grove Elementary School this week – and what a pleasure it was! Ms. Kimber’s 4th graders were a delight to work with and Ms. Kimber, well let me just say, is one of the most personable, pragmatic, and passionate practitioners (alliteration intended) I have had the pleasure to work with. Ms. Kimber started the lesson by unpacking the standard: Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (a character’s thoughts, words, or actions). Students brought me up to speed on what they had already learned and clearly articulated their understanding of the standard. Ms. Kinder passed out blank post-it notes to the students while I prepared to lead the Close Read portion of the lesson.


    Using the document camera to display the book, we discussed what inferences could be made from the title, illustrations, and body of text. Our read for the day was Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen. We used a stop-and-jot strategy at the end of each page where students captured their thinking about a character’s actions, motivation, struggles, and feelings – as well as the textural evidence to support­­­­ that thinking – a strategy to ensure all students participate and show evidence of their thinking. Students used a hand signal to let us know they were ready to proceed to the next page. After reading and thinking about a half dozen pages of text, we used a stand up/pair strategy to have students share their thinking and the textural evidence that supported their thinking. As I have written previously, it is important to be able to articulate how we know what we think we know. Ms. Kimber and I circulated among the pairs prompting additional discussion with open-ended questions. Next step: students will be creating a character trait graphic organizer about the main character, Sassy.


    Thanks, Ms. Kimber!  Great lesson, positive student outcomes -- we are lucky to have you in ABSS!!



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  • Executive Powers

    Posted by William Benson on 2/22/2019

    Not mine. I spent the morning in Mr. Sean Quinn’s Civics class at Western Alamance High School where students (Great students by the way – shout out to Mason, Nathan, and Rogelio!) were learning about the powers of POTUS and the organization and responsibilities of the executive branch of our government. The morning started out with a round of Kahoot! to review the powers of POTUS. Kahoot! is a web-based application used to create learning games. I loaded the app on my phone last night so I could participate. Students used their phones or classroom chromebooks. Mr. Quinn created questions based on actions taken by President Trump and we were challenged to identify under which of the 7 roles the action would fall: Chief of State, Chief Executive, Chief Diplomat, Commander in Chief, Legislative Leader, Chief of the Party, or Guardian of the Economy. After summary responses for the class were displayed, discussion ensued regarding the correct answer, particularly when there was significant variance in student responses.


    Students then participated in guided notetaking about the executive branch including cabinet departments and independent agencies. Students moved on to use internet resources to determine which department would be responsible for an expressed concern (e.g. Mora and Tony organized a group of young people to pressure this department to support their demands for a higher minimum wage.).


    Students completed an exit ticket before leaving class, identifying which of the 15 executive departments they would like to lead and why.


    Next up, Mr. Quinn will be asking students to identify a current issue within a selected department and then develop a briefing to be delivered to the entire class.


    So much done exceptional well – supportive classroom community, great teacher-student rapport, unpacked standard, varied instructional strategies, and task design that crosses the rigor divide!


    Thanks for letting me participate!



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  • Author's Purpose

    Posted by William Benson on 2/20/2019

    Students in Mrs. Katie Wood’s second grade class at B. Everett Jordan Elementary are learning to identify author’s purpose in informational, non-fiction text – answer a question, explain, or describe. The passage from last Friday is titled Seesaw: For Play or Work? The text introduced students to simple machines, focusing primarily on seesaws as levers. Students were introduced to effort and load in that context. To help students visualize some of the new vocabulary, students examined some simple machines – a pulley, inclined plane, and craft-stick seesaws. After a daily five, which included an opportunity for students to review their progress in meeting reading goals with Mrs. Wood, as well as set new goals, students returned to the text with markers in hand to highlight text that would support what they believed was the author’s purpose. After sharing their thoughts and text-based evidence with peers using an inside/outside circle, students shared with the whole group, demonstrating their agreement with peers using a class hand signal. Wonderful students, phenomenal teacher! Thank you, Mrs. Wood for allowing me to help out and for choosing to make BEJ and ABSS your professional home!




    p.s. Students had lots of questions for me. No, I was not born in 1885.

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  • Who Doesn’t Love Two-step Word Problems?

    Posted by William Benson on 2/14/2019

    Well – there are probably some folks out there who don’t – but students in Paula Hornaday’s third grade class at Hillcrest Elementary certainly do! I had the pleasure of helping out in Ms. Hornaday’s class last week. After a review of problem-solving strategies and mathematical order of operation, students set out in pairs to solve a variety of problems at stations throughout the room. Each station had materials (manipulatives) that students could use to help visualize not only the problem, but a problem-solving strategy and ultimately a solution. Students were required to then draw a picture of their solution and then write a word sentence as well as a number sentence representing their solution. Great lesson!




    A Word of Caution: Most of us probably learned order of operation using the mnemonic PEMDAS, Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally – parentheses, exponent, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. The issue is that it doesn’t always work. Consider the following: 6 – 2 + 3. Starting with 6, you take away 2, and add 3, ending up with 7, the correct answer. But if you follow PEMDAS to the letter, addition comes before subtraction, and you would add 2+3 first to get 5, and then end up with 6−5=1. Addition and subtraction must be carried out left to right or you should think of subtraction as the addition of a negative number. There is also a potential issue with multiplication and division.

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  • Why Emigrate?

    Posted by William Benson on 1/29/2019

    Seems like an important question – and not just for today. Such was the topic in Tiffany Helton’s class at Eastern Alamance High School last week. Students brainstormed a list of push and pull factors that might be reasons to emigrate today. The list included family, poverty, fear, disasters, weather, employment, safety, education, crowding, discrimination, and freedom. Students then applied their thinking to westward expansion in the United States and the impact on Native Americans.


    Throughout the lesson, Ms. Helton used the power of story and personal narrative to engage students, including the use of first-hand observations from the Sand Creek Massacre. Incredible lesson – and who would expect less from Ms. Helton, our current Teacher of the Year?!!



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  • Search for Best Practices? Look No Further.

    Posted by William Benson on 1/28/2019

    I recently spent time visiting classes at Marvin B. Smith Elementary with Principal Hancock. The first three classes we visited were three homeruns in terms of efforts to improve literacy. In each classroom, students clearly understood the learning objective. In the first classroom, students were responding to questions that probed beyond basic knowledge and comprehension, requiring students to support their responses with evidence from the text. A student shared with me the importance of knowing how we know what we think we know – sounds very much like what goes on in an IB Theory of Knowledge class. In the second class, students were summarizing a story in their own words, learning to identify the most important ideas in a text. In the third class, students were determining the author’s purpose to write about a topic – to inform, persuade, entertain, or explain. In each classroom, students were cognitively engaged and teachers were using high yield instructional strategies. There was also evidence that teachers were making effective use of their grade-level professional learning communities.


    Principal Hancock and I discussed what seems to be a never-ending search for best practices in education to improve student outcomes. Simply put – working together to improve clarity, cognitive demand, student engagement, and use of instructional strategies with high effect sizes should be at the front and center of our efforts. In other words, we know what to do. We need to implement with fidelity.



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  • Science is a Verb.

    Posted by William Benson on 1/18/2019

    Well, not technically…but today at Broadview Middle School (BMS) it is, thanks to Principal Battle, Ms. Bellerand (Broadview Teacher of the Year), and her fellow science teachers. BMS hosted a half-day event for students and parents to experience hands-on science at ten different investigation centers in the library. Using unpacked science standards to guide activity selection, students and their parents rotating through stations where they explored density, physical and chemical properties (using appropriate safety equipment), pH, and much more.


    How many drops of water can you fit on a penny? Well, at least 19 at the time I visited the station. Students used small plastic pipettes to add drops of water to a penny. As drops of water were added, a dome formed. Why (a very important question in science)? Water is a polar molecule, with a slightly positive side and a slightly negative side and is more attracted to itself (cohesion) than to the copper (adhesion) on the outside of a penny (Fun fact: Pre-1983 pennies are mostly copper, new pennies are mostly zinc with a thin layer of copper.) resulting in high surface tension.


    Great job! Thanks to all involved!!




    Ms. Bellerand with students Dr. Benson with students

    Floating eggs Mr. Battle with Students



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  • Squares at Sylvan

    Posted by William Benson on 1/11/2019

    I had the pleasure of helping out in Mrs. Sarah Farrell’s third grade class at Sylvan Elementary School today. Upon arrival, students were tasked with solving a math word problem as a warm-up. Students used a Know – Need – Plan strategy to attack the problem, identifying in table form what they knew from the problem, what they needed to know in order to solve the problem, and what their plan or strategy would be to solve the problem. 


    After morning meeting that included a discussion about current reads, what exactly does a superintendent do, and what students like most about school (Math, reading, and science were the first things mentioned!), students were challenged to identify and apply patterns in an exploration of square numbers. Mrs. Farrell reviewed what students are expected to know and be able to do using an unpacked standard, including academic vocabulary. During the learning, students explored how square numbers grow and developed equations to complete a simulated task – setting up a number of square tables for a science fair with all tables being square and no two tables being the same size. Students used paper, pencil, crayons, cubes, and a 10x10 multiplication table to identify and extended patterns in developing their solutions.


    Great students! Great lesson!! Fantastic job, Mrs. Farrell!!! Thanks to all for letting me participate.



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