Still thinking about the Science Fair!

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You may have missed our kindergarten presentations at the Science Fair on Wednesday (they were in the music room, across from the All-Purpose Room.)  If you didn’t get a chance to see them, you missed out on some interesting projects.  Winthrop had seven students in kindergarten participate, and one completed his along with his third grade brother.  Their work was well done, and truly representative of good science!

Tech Information for Parents

Last night I was happy to co-host an information night for parents about elementary school technology. Working with Principal Conway of Lincoln, Principal Strasnick of Horace Mann, Gr. 4 teacher Mrs. Acevedo (Lincoln), and Mark Kelsey our elementary technology integration specialist, we put together a presentation on what is happening in classrooms across the district with technology, and how it can be linked to home.

The primary focus of the evening was the wealth of resources available to families that tie into the curriculum students are learning during the day.  Please see the presentation for more information, however for program information by grade, availability, and whether a user id and password are necessary, you can also refer to this matrix created by Principal Conway.

Internet safety (and digital literacy awareness) are concerning areas for our young students, and a family Internet contract is a great place to start!  Mr. Kelsey presented on these topics and provided a handout for audience members to bring home and discuss.  This stimulated a good deal of discussion about “locking things down” vs. teaching safety and awareness, and I think everyone agreed we need to be doing both!

Superintendent Casey, along with the city’s Information Technology Director, Jorge Pazos, were also available to answer questions and provide insight on the future of technology in Melrose and the need for sustainability.

Technology can never replace a good teacher, and we are proud of the efforts our teachers are making to integrate technology into the existing curriculum.  We know it will simply get better when students connect what happens in their day to what happens at home!

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” ~ John Dewey

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STEM – it’s Elementary!

Over the past few months the word STEM has been flying around the city, and appearing, almost nightly, on the news. STEM stands for: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education – the “non-liberal arts.” For those of you literary gurus who might already be tuning me out, please read on … I beg you!

Over vacation, I found this article by Dana Goldstein especially relevant to our STEM discussions. The author and leading experts, encourage creating gender neutrality in toys and play items when children are young, and correlate those small changes to improving the advancement of girls and women in STEM sector careers.

If you attended the November STEM Forum (for adults), or the STEM Expo (for families) you learned about many of the science and technology opportunities students have throughout their years in the Melrose Public Schools. I presented an overview of the FOSS curriculum at the STEM Forum, and introduced the audience to the parent component of their website ( After the presentation, several people expressed an interest in going to the website, but wondered how they could navigate around it without really knowing the official name, or title, of their child’s current unit. An updated elementary science and technology curriculum unit guide can now be found on the district website, or by accessing this PDF – Melrose Public Schools Elementary Science Units. Please note the vertical alignment of grade level information, with the horizontal alignment of the specific strand of science learning. A small number of units are “Melrose created” and therefore not purchased through FOSS, so there is no internet availability.

All over the city students are gathering information, and formulating questions to participate in science fairs. Building upon last year’s successful Winthrop Science Fair, there will now be a science fair in each and every elementary school the week of February 27, 2012. This is completely voluntary, and done outside of school. Permission slips for Winthrop students must be returned by Wednesday, January 4th. The Winthrop fair will be held on Wednesday, February 29th. Complete details can be found on the website or by accessing this PDF – Winthrop 2012 Science Fair.  Science fairs are everywhere, even at the White House.  Watch this clip from YouTube for some fresh perspective – it’s not just blowing up volcanoes!

STEM enrichment activities also abound at Winthrop this winter.

– Tim Donnelly is running “Scratch Club” (sorry it’s full!) Scratch is an introduction to computer programming specifically designed for students, and our club members will be creating video games, animated shorts, and interactive stories beginning on January 4th.

– Anne McCarthy and Jeanne McAndrews are running the always popular “Lego Club” again this year. This drop-in program provides students of all ages (and genders) the opportunity to build, create, and explore with Legos.   Another interesting article I read lately, entitled Lego Is for Girls, notes the 1/1/12 roll out of Lego Friends, a full line of 23 different products aimed at girls ages 5 and up, and designed to reach “the other 50 percent of the world’s children.”  (*)

– In response to an obvious decline in upper elementary students participating in “Lego Club”, Anne and Jeanne brainstormed and researched other opportunities for more structured Lego activities. We are pleased to offer Play-Well TEKnologies (Teaching Engineering to Kids) for our 4th & 5th graders this winter. Becoming a Play-Well engineer means students will take on real-life engineering challenges that explore concepts in physics, architecture, mechanical and structural engineering. (*)

(*) detailed information about Lego Club and Play-Well TEKnologies can be found on our website or by accessing this PDF – Winter Enrichment Flyer.

Lastly, in April (thanks to our awesome PTO enrichment funding) our fifth graders will once again participate in the full-day, Lego Your Mind Robotic Workshop!

Melrose is taking the hands-on approach in its elementary school science curriculum, and providing many other opportunities for “tinkering,” so I hope you and your child will find something at home to take apart, or build up; something to fly or launch; something to grow; or something to program!

FOSS – Air & Weather in Grade 1

I attended part of Science Friday in 1H last week. The students were working on a culminating activity for the first investigation in FOSS Air & Weather. After learning a ton about air, its properties, and what happens when its pressured, the students were launching air balloon “rockets” on tracks set up around the room.  Their excitement was contagious!  But even more impressive were their explanations as I sat and spoke with each group.  I look forward to going back later in the unit and seeing how things have progressed.

What’s the Word on MCAS?

I think it must be quite confusing to be a non-educator and understand the recent press surrounding Winthrop’s MCAS results! In the course of a week I looked at rankings on (9/22/11) where the number of students scoring proficient and advanced for Gr. 3 ELA, Grade 5 ELA, Math, and Science were in the top 10% of the state, Grade 4 ELA in the top 20% of the state, and Grade 3 Math and Grade 4 Math in the top 30% of the state.  Then the Melrose Patch (9/22/11) noted our 5th grade success, but also pointed out the rise of students in the Needs Improvement category in 3rd grade math, and then that was quickly followed by a Boston Globe article (Globe North 9/25/11) that cited Winthrop as #1 in the region for having students in the Advanced category in English Language Arts.  Hmmm…. what to take from all of this –  that is the question.

If you know anything about data collection and analysis, you know there are many ways to approach reporting.  Some of the ways MCAS scores are spoken or written about include:

  • AYP – the acronym for “Annual Yearly Progress.”  As a result of No Child Left Behind and the goal of all students reaching proficiency by 2014, each school is given a target goal for the following year in both ELA and Math.  Meeting or not meeting “AYP” is often a hotly publicized issue, as there are multiple factors that go into the determination.  More information can be found at:
  • Year to year comparisons of achievement results (ex. 3rd grade results in 2010 compared to third grade test results in 2011.)  This is a fairly typical way the press compares MCAS scores, however many educators do not favor this way as the comparison is based on two different groups of students.
  • Same group comparisons of achievement results (ex. 4th grade results in 2010 compared to fifth grade results in 2011.)  This way of looking at data compares the same group of students as they progress through the grades.
  • There are also now growth comparisons for students, schools, and districts.   Growth comparisons (also known as SGP – student growth percentiles) are relatively new and look at a student’s progress over time in relation to a similar group of peers across the state.  More information about SGP can be found at:

In a nutshell, at Winthrop, we are thrilled with our results across the board last year.  We are above the state average in every test, at each grade level.  We have a large percentage of students scoring advanced or proficient in every area and are considered to be a very high performing school by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  They also rate our school as having moderate/high growth in ELA (we’re on the border of the two rankings) and high growth in Math.

Next Tuesday, October 11th, the elementary principals will present MCAS results to the school committee, and next Wednesday, October 12th I will give a parent presentation with Winthrop specific information here at school.  I hope you will consider attending and learning more about MCAS testing, reporting results, and how we improve from here!

Last Week’s 3 R’s

It wasn’t what you think – rather it was Reduce, Re-use, Recycle!  Mary Beth Calnan came to visit and educate students at Winthrop, and re-invigorate our efforts toward protecting the planet. Mary Beth brought along Jessie Schmidt, who is an intern working with the Energy Efficiency manager, and who promised to come back later in the year to help us get better at energy conservation.

Together these ladies stood on our stage, dumped out some trash collected from the day before, and evaluated our efforts at sustainability.  We learned about a recent change to cardboard recycling in Melrose (no more cutting!), a bit about composting, and grew excited to participate again in the Trex plastic bag recycling contest!

In the week that has passed since the assembly, the staff at Winthrop has redistributed recycling bins so that all classrooms and common areas have both a paper/cardboard and a plastic bin, and we’re working to see that they’re clearly labeled.  Our plastic bag containers were quickly overflowing and they’re already in need of emptying.

If you’re interested in working more as a family, the county of San Mateo (California) has a child friendly website which incorporates the science behind “the 3 R’s.”  Also, National Geographic has a game on its website entitled “Recycle Roundup” which is very similar to what the students did with Mary Beth and Jessie.  The library is always a good resource for books you might not normally pick up at the bookseller.  It would be interesting to find a fictional story or picture book, and then match it to a non-fiction selection on the topic.

However, the most important thing you can do as a family, much like what we’re trying to do here at school, is to model the behavior we want children to repeat.  So, go ahead – reduce, re-use, and recycle!