Gallery Walk at Graham Middle SchoolPosted by William Benson on 5/13/2019
I had the pleasure of previewing the art show at Graham Middle School last Friday afternoon at the invitation of Ms. Shelby Kremer. As an advocate for the visual arts, Ms. Kremer strongly believes that visual art teaches us to be inquisitive and observant through self-expression and reflection – a belief that was clearly evident in the work of her students. Upon arrival, Ms. Kremer introduced me to Paula Dominguez who served as my docent for a gallery walk. Paula did a great job sharing the work behind numerous pieces of art, including her own self portrait. During the tour, I had my eye out for my favorite piece to receive the Superintendent’s Award as requested by Ms. Kremer. I selected a piece by Sydney Smith. While made entirely of paper, it effectively presented as a mosaic of broken tile. Well done, Sydney (and thank you to Ms. Kremer for inviting me)!!
National Teacher Appreciation Day: Excellence in Education AwardsPosted by William Benson on 5/8/2019
Last night our community celebrated our 2019 Teachers of the Year at McCoy Commons on the campus of Elon University. I had the privilege of sharing remarks and handing out the awards at the program which is organized by the Alamance Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by chamber members. Over $50,000 in cash and other contributions were distributed.
I spoke about the National Education Association and their effort to recognize what we can do as a result of teachers. For example, I can remove a blastodisk from a fertilized chicken egg and prepare a wet mount slide thanks to Mr. Allen, my high school anatomy and physiology teacher (not that I have had an occasion to do so recently). I can play the guitar thanks to Mr. Knowles, my high school music teacher (which I do regularly).
We are able to do things as individuals because of teachers – think critically, problem-solve, communicate, draw, paint, perform – you name it, whatever it is – we most likely learned it from a teacher.
We are able to do even more as a collective, a nation if you will, because of teachers.
On May 14, 1962, National Teacher Appreciation Day, President Kennedy welcomed Marjorie French, the National Teacher of the Year, to the White House. In his remarks, the President noted that Ms. French was a teacher of mathematics, “one of the disciplines we accept with reluctance.” I find this interesting given the challenge the President would present to the Nation. The President continued, “…not only you, but all the thousands of other teachers whom the future of our country depends, we entrust our most valuable resource, our children.” A statement that is evermore so true today.
Later that same year on September 12, at Rice University, President Kennedy proclaimed “We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” I am certain we needed some mathematics (and physics) to make that happen.
By leveraging what many were able to do as a result of what they had learned, we landed men on the moon in July, 1969. We can do things because of teachers.
Also in 1962, John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in Literature (Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, The Grapes of Wrath – I can appreciate great literary works thanks to Ms. Schreiber, one of my high school English teachers.). Mr. Steinbeck had this to say about teachers, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are many great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”
We have great teachers who truly are artists of their professional craft. We recognized many last night, including our 2019 Teacher of the Year, Jessica Fitzgerald, AIG teacher at Woodlawn Middle School who has a passion for not only working with students – but for mathematics as well. Given what I know about her classroom, I am confident her students do far better than “accept (mathematics) with reluctance.”
Thank you to all of our teachers for what you do for our students – or more importantly, what you enable our students to do.
Student ResearchPosted by William Benson on 5/3/2019
Students from Williams High School recently presented their original research in The Great Hall at Elon University. With support from a grant between Elon University and Williams HS MAT (Mu Alpha Theta - Math Honor Society), students conducted original research under Dr. Ryne VanKrevelen on sports statistics and confidence intervals. Students participated in a poster presentation on Elon’s SURF (Spring Undergraduate Research Forum) Day. Elon’s SURF program showcases student research and provides students the opportunity to present their research to a faculty and student audience.
May 1Posted by William Benson on 5/1/2019
Every school day is an opportunity to inspire and empower our students. We lost that opportunity on May 1, 2019. While I support our staff advocating for additional resources for public education in North Carolina, I do not believe it should be done in a manner that disrupts our core responsibility -- to prepare students for their future success.
I announced at our Board of Education meeting on Monday night that we were in a position to operate effectively on Wednesday, May 1. In fact, as of Tuesday morning, we had 165 classroom teacher leave requests, a number of absences lower than what we have experienced on other days in the current school year.
However, also on Tuesday morning, we began to learn of a mounting number of bus driver absences for May 1. By the end of the day, we realized that we would not be able to cover all of our bus routes, even after seeking out others in the school system who have appropriate licenses and training. We also realized that we were not in a position to determine when or if students would be picked up at their bus stops on Wednesday morning -- a significant concern for the safety of our students. As such, I made the decision to close.
We should have been in school on May 1, inspiring and empowering our students for their future success.
A Tale of Two ...Posted by William Benson on 4/15/2019
…exceptional classrooms at opposite ends of our continuum of opportunities, reading in kindergarten at Highland Elementary School and math at the Alamance-Burlington Early College at Alamance Community College.
On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of joining one of Mr. Kevin Scharen’s math classes in the Alamance-Burlington Early College. After a warm-up team competition on Quizlet to review trigonometry ratios, students were tasked with creating, and then critiquing, four real world word problems using trigonometric ratios (Remember SOHCAHTOA?). We worked in teams of two with each member responsible for two problems. I worked with Cale and developed the following problem:
Students in a high school biology class are cataloging trees on their high school campus. One of the pieces of information required is estimated height. A student who is 5 feet tall uses a homemade clinometer to sight the top of a tree and determines the degree of incline is 52 degrees at a standing distance of 25 feet. How tall is the tree?
(Hint: The vertex of the observed angle is behind the viewer, and as such, the length of the adjacent side is longer than 25 feet.)
On Friday, I joined Ms. Blum’s kindergartners at Highland Elementary for readers’ theater. Ms. Blum divided students into three groups to take on three versions of The Three Little Pigs, including the original, a version with a big, bad pig, and version told from the viewpoint of the wolf. Student groups performed their versions of the story. Ms. Blum recorded student performances and made them available to their parents. Students read fluently and with expression -- exceptional performances all around. Students then used graphic organizers to compare and contrast the stories. I personally found the version told from the viewpoint of the wolf to be very compelling. The wolf’s intentions were completely misunderstood!
Mr. Scharen and Ms. Blum are exceptional teachers on two ends of a K-12 continuum designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills to think critically and own their futures!
'Hoos at Teacher Leadership AcademyPosted by William Benson on 4/12/2019
Yesterday was the final day of the Teacher Leadership Academy, Class of 2018-19. Agriculture Day was scheduled for earlier in the year, but was rescheduled for yesterday due to inclement weather. It was the perfect day to learn about agriculture in our community -- egg and beef production, farm equipment, forest service, soil microbes, and so much more -- and a bonus -- sunny, warm weather. Many thanks to all involved!
P.S. Starting out the day with teacher leader, Christine Sudzina -- science teacher extraordinaire at Graham High School (and fellow Virginia 'Hoo).
Solving Multi-step Real-world Mathematical Problems…Posted by William Benson on 3/29/2019
…using algebraic expressions – what better way to end the week?! I had the privilege of helping out in Ms. Erika Dye’s math class at Turrentine Middle School this morning along with Ms. Strong and Elon student teacher, Mr. Huneycutt. After a warm-up problem, students were paired into teams to tackle problems posted on the wall around the room. Each member of the team was responsible for solving every other step of the problem with coaching provided by the other team member. I started out with Anthony and Braxton as they tackled the following:
Lee learns that 6% of the freshman class are in the band, 12% are in the chorus, and 14% are in sports. If no freshman is participating in two activities, what is the fraction for the total percent of the class in band, chorus, and sports?
Student teams moved around the room solving the posted problems while we provided assistance where needed. Ms. Dye and Mr. Huneycutt noticed that students were incorrectly solving two of the problems with similar errors, and decided that we needed to work through the two problems as a class before the end of the period – Ms. Dye worked through one and I did the other. I was a great lesson and a great strategy to uncover what every student was thinking! We are fortunate to have outstanding teachers like Ms. Dye and Ms. Strong, as well as the opportunity to partner with Elon and support the development of future teachers!
Measurement OlympicsPosted by William Benson on 3/25/2019
Students in Ms. Leah Duell’s second grade class at Harvey R. Newlin Elementary School competed in some Olympic-like measurement events last week – and, they were all winners. Students worked with partners to estimate distances for cotton ball shot put, one-leg jump, and cotton swab javelin throw. After estimating distances in inches, students completed the event, measuring actual distances to the nearest inch. Students then calculated the differences between their estimates and actuals. Students used various strategies including thinking about base-10 blocks and counting back. Ms. Duell’s second graders measured up to the task!
AP Bio at Southern Alamance High SchoolPosted 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!
Metric Morning at E.M. HoltPosted 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
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.