Tuesday, May 9, 2017

National Teacher and Staff Appreciation Week

Teacher and Staff Appreciation WeekThe teachers and staff in our schools have always played an important role in the growth and development of children in our communities. Those of us in education know that our work—be it as a classroom teacher, school support staff, custodian, kitchen staff, front office staff, classroom aide, bus aide or playground supervisor—requires teamwork, compassion, and a constant drive to ensure all children are learning and growing. Even though we are currently recognizing our teachers and all other employees during Teacher Appreciation Week, we know you do great work throughout the school year.

This year’s celebration is bittersweet for me. Soon, I will be retiring after a long career in education. For the past eight years, I have been proud to serve as Superintendent of the School District of Janesville, and have had the privilege of seeing how your efforts accomplished great things for many thousands of Janesville’s children.

Your collaboration, teamwork, and positive demeanor continue to drive student success for which our community should be proud. I will say it now, and I will continue to say it after my retirement – the employees in the School District of Janesville are outstanding.

I send you my best wishes for a strong and safe finish to the school year. Thank you to our teachers…thank you to you all!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Providing students with global experiences and a competitive advantage!

Photo of students and staff attending the 2017 Global Youth Summit at UW-Madison, left to right:
Gisela Sarabia Sandoval, Rei Bezat, Samantha Rennie, Nayeli Govantes-Alcantar, Teacher Julie Grandeffo,
Carlos Miguel-Longoria, Teacher Andrea Behn

Guest Blogger: Andrea Behn
World Language Teacher, Parker High School

On Saturday, March 4, 2017, 5 Parker High School students and 2 World Language teachers, Julie Grandeffo and Andrea Behn, attended the 5th statewide Wisconsin Global Youth Summit (GYS) at UW-Madison.

Students and teachers followed different programs throughout the summit. While teachers learned how to establish a more global curriculum and promote the Global Education Achievement Certificate (GEAC), students explored what it means to be a global citizen.

Several comments from our Parker student participants regarding their experiences:

“. . our tables were composed of students from all over Wisconsin, and we held a discussion with a UW undergraduate about what a global citizen today looks like and how he/she is affected. Then our tables met an international student from China and she shared with us an infinite amount of information about her country. We went into detail about how their school system works, college, values and beliefs, food, sports, and politics. The conversation was so in-depth and interesting that an hour seemed like only ten minutes.”

“My table learned Czech and in the end, each table got to demonstrate what they learned for the entire group. It was a lot of fun because we learned about languages I have never even heard of. To finish the program, four UW students who traveled abroad sat as a panel and told us about their experiences studying abroad . . . the stories they told of their adventures were incredible.”

“My favorite was learning a new language, because I felt an advantage to communicate in some way to other people that don't speak my language.”

“I have learned all the benefits to taking risks, political and cultural perspectives from across the world, different mind sets, and the infinite opportunities your dreams can have if you truly believe they are special enough to make an impact. It felt as if I traveled the world in one day.”

Global Education Achievement Certificate

This was the second year that Parker students have participated in GYS. The summit was critical last year as the high schools in Janesville began the Global Education Achievement Certificate (GEAC) and GYS proved useful again this year as the district continues to promote the program. Any School District of Janesville high school student is eligible for the GEAC, though they must meet the following requirements:

1. Coursework
  • Four credits in one world language at the high school level (including English courses for students whose native language is not English)
  • Four credits in courses with global content. One credit may be one year of a second world language.
2. Eight Reflections demonstrating cultural literacy
  • Minimum of four reflections on books
  • Minimum of one reflection on art, music, or film
3. Participation in school wide global activities
  • Activities that you participated in to expand your global perspective, learn about world cultures, or explore global issues.
4. A minimum of twenty hours work on (a) global service project(s).
  • Actions have you taken to impact/make a difference in global issues.

These requirements and more information can be found at the SDJ Global Scholar Center.

High School students from SDJ pursuing the GEAC have been meeting throughout the year to work on portfolios and consulting with their teachers. This program requires students to be self-motivated, curious, and open to other cultures. Guidance is given, but the end result is all up to the student!

Our hope is to provide students with many opportunities to explore global citizenship in our community and abroad. If you would like to partner with SDJ Global Scholars, please feel free to contact abehn@janesville.k12.wi.us.

For more information about the Global Youth Summit and Global Wisconsin, check out their website.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Rigor, Relevance and Robotics

Back Row L to R: Craig HS Principal Alison Bjoin, Computer Science Teacher Janice Bain, Malcolm Eady, Andy Hermanson, Frank Breu, Ben Glowacki, Alexei Sapozhnikov
Front Row L to R: Harry Kubiak, Grace Clasen, Sophia Werner, Travis Duffy
There is a lot of talk about rigor and relevance in education. Sometimes the lessons come outside of regular classroom instruction.  A great example would be the Rock ‘n’ Robotics and the LEGO Robotics clubs hosted at our schools after school regular hours. Over the years, many students have participated in the clubs, achieving a level of success that other clubs envy. The clubs have been so influential that a class was developed to extend Robotics to all high school students as a course option for credit.  Classes are now being developed at the middle and elementary levels as a part of the expansion of the School District of Janesville’s STEM initiative.

Recently, the Craig High School “Rock ‘n’ Robot” programming team placed among the top 10 teams in the world in Zero Robotics. Zero Robotics is a robotics programming competition for high school students sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), NASA, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
Astronaut aboard the International Space Station working with the 2017 Zero Robotics Robots
Zero Robotics teams create code for small robots to fly aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The robots, called SPHERES— roughly the size and shape of a basketball — run on compressed gas, and can be programmed to spin, revolve, hover, and navigate through the air. Researchers use SPHERES to test maneuvers for spacecraft by performing autonomous rendezvous and docking. They fly inside the ISS cabin autonomously  under the supervision of an astronaut. Each is self-contained with power, propulsion, computing, and navigation equipment.

The games are played with units called SPACE SPHERES. Students were tasked to build surveying satellites that would orbit Mars. In the game, the satellite pieces were launched into orbit and teams programmed their spheres to collect these pieces into “assembly zones” to earn points. During the game, students had to be alert to rival teams intent on stealing the satellite pieces their team had already collected.

This year’s competition began in September 2016 with several phases. Both the Craig and Parker High School teams made it past the top 100 round, with the Craig team reaching the Alliance portion of the contest.  In this stage, they had to create an alliance with two other teams of high school students from at least one other continent. Craig’s Rock 'n' Robot team joined with the FermiFloating team from Italy and the ASIJAsteroids team from Japan.  The new team name became the Fermi-Astroid-Craig alliance.

The alliance submitted their final code to MIT on January 6, 2017. The Fermi-Astroid-Craig alliance reached the top 10, and were invited to the finals hosted at MIT on Friday, January 27, 2017. While there, they watched (via live transmission) their programming code utilized to fly the spheres and were judged by astronauts aboard the ISS.  Their competitors hailed from around the world, including teams from the USA, Europe, Romania, and Australia.

The students did amazing work, and put in a tremendous amount of effort in the competition. Their collaboration with peers from other countries, problem solving skills, and positive attitudes were essential in helping them reach the finals in this prestigious event.

The event was hosted by MIT faculty members and students learned from special guest speakers like 2010-2011 Astronaut Cady Colman as well as the engineering crew responsible for the Mars Rover.

The Craig High School “Rock ‘n’ Robot” team members for the Zero Robotics competition were: 

  • Lucas Dahlberg (12th grade)
  • Travis Duffy (12th grade)
  • Alexei Sapozhnikov (12th grade)
  • Sophia Werner (12th grade)
  • Frank Breu (11th grade)
  • Ben Glowacki (11th grade)
  • Andy Hermanson (11th grade)
  • Grace Clasen (10th grade)
  • Malcolm Eady (10th grade)
  • Harry Kubiak (9th grade)

The Robotics club and participating in the Zero Robotics competition are great opportunities for our students. They allow our students to showcase their knowledge while solving real-world problems through global collaboration with their peers from around the world.

At the final event at MIT, the Fermi-Astroid-Craig team first battled two other teams in a round-robin contest.  Each team had representatives that spoke to the audience and astronauts to explain their strategy during the competition. The world could watch the robots compete via live feed.

Craig lost the first match to Keppler-Hubble by 0.64 of a point which rounded to 17-16. Craig won the second match 13-10. At the end of their 3 team round-robin, Craig placed second to the Flying Falcons alliance. The three teams in the Craig pool scored:  32, 29.1 and 20.8 points respectively. Flying Falcons went on to take second place in the entire competition.  Although the team didn’t quite make the final two – Craig’s efforts , dedication and collaborations should be exemplified as a model for excellence to be imitated across all areas of education. The exposure to experts at MIT, NASA, ESA, and CASIS will help them as they pursue their interests and dreams long into the future.

Visit http://zerorobotics.mit.edu for details about the Zero Robotics contest. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Story of Two Minds

Guest Blogger: Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of
Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment

Currently the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (CIA) Team is conducting visits to each school in the district to conduct an on-site review of the implementation of School Improvement Plans. A topic that is getting a lot of attention is growth mindset.  So I thought I would blog about what we are learning.  

We know that too many of our students don't believe they can learn or grow.  During our school visits to date, we are finding many teachers in our district that actively embrace the challenge to help our students change this belief by teaching students in a way that helps them grow their minds. 

Central to the topic is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. As Carol Dweck explains, a fixed mindset assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static and cannot be changed. A growth mindset, on the other hand, adopts the perspective that our intelligence, creativity, and character can change and grow over time. 

These two views have a tremendous impact on teaching and learning. If a teacher believes in a fixed mindset, then he or she is saying there is no potential for growth.  If a child is intelligent, they will continue to be so. If a child is struggling, it's because he or she just isn't "smart enough". On the other hand, if you believe in a growth mindset, you believe that students may start with a certain amount of ability, but that can change over time with effort and persistence. This powerful disposition by many of our teachers is showing up over and over again in a number of our schools. 

For students, which of these mindsets they believe also matters. Students with a fixed mindset typically avoid challenges, feel threatened by others' successes, and give up easily. They want to look smart, and believe that working hard at a task means they are not smart. Students with a growth mindset believe they can learn and become better. They embrace challenge, view effort as a positive part of learning, and persist through difficulties. How can we develop a growth mindset in our students? Here are six strategies that are commonly recommended in the literature: 

Six Strategies to Develop a Growth Mindset in Your Classroom

  • Build a learning-oriented mindset.
  • Focus on process as well as product.
  • Emphasize mastery and learning.
  • Reinforce effort.
  • Decrease learned helplessness.
  • Provide multiple opportunities for success.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Student Safety Our Top Priority

Superintendent Dr. Karen Z. Schulte

The School District of Janesville (SDJ) is the tenth largest district in Wisconsin (by enrollment) and one of the largest employers in Janesville and Rock County. Every day, thousands of people enter our buildings, either to attend school, to work, or to pick up their children. Without question, we have an obligation to make sure all of our students, employees, and visitors are safe when they come to our facilities. Due to a recent “Our Views” in the Gazette concerning the district’s response to a bomb threat, there may be some questions about our process and our commitment to safety. It is important to know that the school district is a partner and integral member of the greater Janesville community, and we take very seriously our role in keeping our students, schools, and community safe.

With any safety threat that presents to our schools, the school or district administrators immediately contact the Janesville Police Department. Each safety threat is unique, and must be evaluated and assessed. If that safety concern is a bomb threat, the law enforcement and safety hazard preparedness protocols (including those from the Department of Homeland Security) state that they should be treated as genuine and investigated. To be very clear, a safety threat assessment is not done by school district officials alone, but conducted with the full collaboration of local law enforcement. The district appreciates the dedication and cooperation the Janesville Police Department provides us in these matters.

Despite what may be portrayed in national media, violent acts such as bombings or shootings remain relatively rare, but sadly, they do occur. That is why all schools in Wisconsin have response plans and practice their drills. Even if violent events are not common, they have happened in our state. We only need to look at Weston High School in Cazenovia, Wisconsin where, on September 29, 2006, a student shot and killed the school principal. We cannot afford to be complacent on any threat to students and schools.

We also know that our district and community are not alone in ensuring the safety of our students. We must rely on parents and their vital role in the education and safety of their children. We do our best to provide parents with the information necessary for them to make informed decisions for their family, and that is why we use various tools to communicate with parents. In our communication to parents on January 24, it was reported that the SDJ’s message indicated it was OK for students to miss class if they didn’t feel safe. We want to be very clear—there was no “OK to miss class” message. Parents were notified of the situation and the procedures that would be in place the following morning. Ultimately, it is the parents’ decision to keep a child home or to send them to school.

The business of conducting school is complicated, and we rely heavily on parents, and our community partners including the Janesville Police, Janesville Firefighters, Emergency Responders, and many more. Parents are the first and most important teachers of their children and play an essential role in educating and keeping their children safe. The SDJ remains a dedicated partner in this effort, and we remind everyone of the P3 mobile phone app students, parents, or others may use to submit anonymous tips or report safety concerns. Student and school safety is no laughing matter, and I want you to know that the School District of Janesville will continue to work with everyone in the community to make it a safer place to live, work, and play.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

MLK Day: Not a Day Off

Please see this great blog post about Going the Extra Mile for MLK Day found on the Teaching Tolerance website.  It was written by fourth-grade teacher Leslie Willis-Taylor, one of five recipients of the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching and is an excellent resource for teachers and parents.

Leslie Wills-Taylor on January 9, 2017
Blogs and Articles: Activism Civil Rights Movement

Walking and other types of physical movement played a critical role in the progression of the civil rights era. But the physical movement started well before the civil rights movement, with such notable examples as Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad—first called the “underground road” since most people traveled by foot, not train.

Years later, in late 1955, civil rights activists launched and participated in the 381-day-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, opting to walk or travel in personal or charted vehicles instead of riding segregated city buses. In 1963, around 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington, using their presence and voices on the National Mall to call for civil and economic rights. And two years later, in 1965, civil rights activists marched 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, calling for the basic right to vote.

The underlying themes of these examples and the civil rights movement at large were sacrifice and purposeful, organized action. How do educators build a deep, conceptual understanding of such abstract ideals? The first step is to set the scene.

When I was in elementary school, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was not established as an official day off from school. However, I had a mother who believed that this day should be dedicated to serving the community and learning about the dynamic life and contributions of Dr. King. My mother pulled me out of school in order to visit museums and engage in community service, and those childhood experiences imparted an important lesson in activism. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not a day off. It’s a day out in the community where we exercise the original missions of the civil rights movement while using our voices and actions to stimulate necessary changes.

Since 2015, the school I work at has opened its doors on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day so that families can gather together and walk for causes that are personally significant to them. Our district has walked 775 miles over the last two years. Each participant arrives, writes their personal cause on their nametag and then proceeds to our outdoor track for a minimum stretch of five laps. Some people have walked to take a stand against educational inequity, health disparities and bullying, just to name a few. The idea is that it’s an individual’s choice to identify an area of passion and purpose. As I scan the nametags and causes, I always gain a broader perspective of the diverse cultural values that exist in our community. And the lessons learned on this day—for students, families and educators—can be transferred back to classroom discussions and activities.

With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day around the corner, here are some steps educators can take in their classrooms to prepare.

Don’t assume. Ask your students what they know about Dr. King:

Activate background knowledge using developmentally appropriate tools. For primary grades, use a KWL chart. For upper elementary and beyond, create an anticipatory set. Note that students who have immigrated to the United States may need additional scaffolds, including bilingual learning tools. Ask these students to compare and contrast the civil rights movement in the United States with the progression of civil rights in their native countries in order to build background knowledge.

Incorporate action-based activities:

In addition to teaching about how critical physical movement was to the civil rights era, offer opportunities for students to participate in hands-on civic engagement. It might be a school-wide event, a classroom-based activity or community service opportunity. For inspiration, see the “Do Something” tasks in Teaching Tolerance’s curriculum tool, Perspectives for a Diverse America. (Free registration required.) These tasks build civic engagement and critical literacy skills.

Use historical primary resources:

Incorporate primary sources into your instruction, such as a virtual tour of Dr. King’s childhood home and documents and photos that require inferential thinking. For tips and suggestions for teaching with historical primary sources, see the Teaching Tolerance feature story “National Treasures.”

Let students choose an area of research:

Instead of designing a teacher-centered unit where everyone in the class studies the same topic, create a topic list based on class discussions and questions. Then, students can develop research teams for further investigation of the topics. This approach increases engagement and promotes reciprocal learning on a larger scale.

Infuse technology and Maker work:

Produce podcasts with students interviewing each other about the power of Dr. King’s legacy. Publish student-created web quests that chronicle the civil rights era. Ask students to create a mathematical replica of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial using hands-on materials.

Invite local members of the community:

Use the resources in your community. Find out who lived through and participated in the civil rights movement. Ask them to bring in artifacts and to orally share their experiences. Allow students to create discussion questions for a local panel, and then follow up with a writing prompt for students to reflect.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Students Giving Back Through Service Learning

Guest Blogger: Tom Heiss,
Technology Engineering Teacher and
Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator

I was born in Madison, Wisconsin and am from a large family of seven kids.  One of my older brothers is developmentally disabled and set the bar for me and my family to engage in community service projects in Madison. One such event was a 150 mile bike-a-thon for ARC of Dane County fundraiser to help support people with disabilities.    The ARC of Dane County’s mission is to create opportunities for children and adults with developmental disabilities to reach their full potential by creating acceptance, respect and participation in daily living skills in the community. 

This cause allowed me to develop a passion for teaching and giving back to others in the community who are struggling and are in need of help from our community.    In my teaching career of 29 years, 25 in Janesville I have been trying to pass on to my students the passion of community service and the benefits of giving back to others in our community. 

I am grateful that the School District of Janesville holds to the same value and commitment.   We have implemented service learning into the fabric of a child’s education at SDJ.  Our mission “to serve our community by educating every child” reflects perfectly the correlation that exists between community and education.

In 1993, one such service project that helped support community and our students was the construction of the Camden Playground. At that time, Craig and Parker High School Construction classes under the leadership of Mr. Jim Adams and Mr. Ron Brown helped build the original park.  At its completion, Camden Playground, became the most accessible playground in the world at that time for people with special needs.  Now in 2016, Camden Playground has been refurbished by Janesville community members and organizations,  including School District of Janesville students. 

Mrs.  Stephanie Davis, Dean of Students at TAGOS Leadership Academy, and her students volunteered to help to rebuild the playground with adult mentors.  They assisted by digging holes, spreading gravel, drilling and securing parts together.  The Camden project took several days and service hours to rebuild.  The final stage of completion is the engraving of pickets that surround the park perimeter to create a fence.

One of my students, Michael Hounshell, is a junior at Parker High School taking many Design and Engineering classes and is also part of the Robotics Club assisting with the building of our Robot for competition. Michael has the same passion to give back to the community through service.  Last year, Michael took a class in Technology Engineering class called MasterCAM with Mr. Joe Kapugia. Thanks to Mr. Kapugia, Michael mastered the program. Master CAM brings  the power of  computer aided design software to enhance machining to cut parts directly on a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Router. This process and machinery is used by companies in Janesville and across the globe. The CNC Router is the machine used to fashion the Camden pickets.

The Camden Pickets are a fundraiser and still for “purchase” at $50.00 each.  Michael engraved the picket for the SDJ which will be part of the fencing at Camden. If you would like to still purchase a picket through your donation, please click here: Camden Playground Picket Donations.

It has been rewarding for me to see Michael grow and give his time back to the community through an amazing Camden Playground project.  I think the power of service community learning projects empowers success in our students now and into the future.

To read more about ARC of Dane County: http://arcdanecounty.org/

Click here for photos of TAGOS assisting with the Camden Restoration: Students Help with Camden Restoration