Sunday, August 28, 2016

Exponential Problem with PBL

I was talking to a group of students this week at NSE. One of the students was talking about how hard it was to understand exponents in math. I asked her when she might need to use exponents in real life. She went on to say that, "...all you all really want is the right answer, right? You give us the problem or question and we have to give you the answer." I tried to save the day and say, "No! We want you to be able to use what you learn to solve bigger problems." Fortunately, it was time to start the morning news show and I was off the hook! 

Interestingly enough, I recently read an article by Gisele Huff, Executive Director of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation. The article is titled Project Based Learning Needs More Learning. In the article, Huff states that, "At some level, doing must be based on knowing." This made me think about my conversation with the student earlier this week. She is not going to get how and why exponents are important unless they have a purpose. How are exponents going to help her as a 10 year old solve a real world problem that is important to her. 

So, when are exponents important to a 10 year old? Solving exponents to complete a worksheet or set of problems in a math workbook is showing your knowledge. Using exponents to draw and build a diagram of your dream bedroom with a budget attached to present to your parents is project based learning. As this student goes through her educational career and future career, she will have had an experience that will allow her to better know what exponents are, why they are important, and how they are used in real life. Experiences like the one mentioned above should be part of the culture of every classroom.  

One of the components of AdvancED's Effective Learning Environment Observation Tool (ELEOT) is "creating a supportive learning environment." In order to create a supportive learning environment, teachers must "provide support and assistance for students to understand content and accomplish tasks." Some content is very difficult to learn without being able to connect the content to a real world problem that is important to the learner. Knowledge connected to a Project Based Learning project done well can help make this happen. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Teacher Think Tank and Collaboration Space

I posted back in February 2016 about NSE's Think Tank space that was being created here at North Springs. Well, the space has evolved over the summer and is starting to come alive with ideas, resources, goals, data charts, etc... A number of grade levels and collaborative groups have used the space this summer to plan and design units for this coming school year. We want this space to be a collaborative space where teachers and school leaders can work together to achieve the goals and priorities set by RSD2 and NSE. Below are some of the resources that have made their way to the NSE Think Tank so far:

1. Think Tank Norms - voted on by the teachers
2. Lexia Core 5 Scope and Sequence chart (a reading intervention program used at NSE)
3. NWEA Comparative Data to Inform Instructional Decisions chart
4. The SAMR Model chart (enhancing technology integration)
5. The NSE Curriculum Map for the first nine weeks of school
6. MAP and PASS Data
7. NSE Goals and Initiatives
8. Reading and math MAP Strands
9. AdvancED ELEOT areas of focus for the first nine weeks of school
10. NSE Beliefs, RSD2's Teaching and Learning infographic, The Four Squares explained, RSD2's Priority Areas, and BIE Gold Standard infographic

Other resources include:
1. SC Standards
2. PBL 101 Workbooks
3. PBL for 21st Century Success
4. Step up to Writing manual
5. Pre-referral Intervention Manual
6. NWEA Continuum of Learning and DesCartes Vocabulary

The NSE Think Tank will be used by teachers on a weekly basis to collaborate on units of study, discuss student success, discuss effective learning environments (ELEOT), align SC standards to MAP skills, celebrate successes, and discuss benchmark and progress monitoring data.

One of the dry erase boards in the Think Tank has the MAP math and reading strands listed for discussion and goal setting. It also has the AdvancED ELEOT focus areas for the first nine weeks of school. First quarter walkthrough observations will focus on these areas.

Another dry erase board in the Think Tank is our first quarter curriculum map. This is a work in progress. The goal is to have all grade levels post units of study, and specific topics on the board for all grade levels, related arts, and support service teachers to see and discuss.
One corner of the Think Tank has this year's NSE Goals, Map Data, and PASS Data. Once SC Ready data arrives, we will post it as well. These data charts help us set academic and instructional goals as well as generate conversations about how to improve student achievement at NSE.

Each classroom teacher will have a data notebook that will contain data on each of their students as they are assessed throughout the year. Some of this data may include MAP scores, Lexia progress, EasyCBM reports, Accelerated Reader reports, Reflex math reports, PASS and SC Ready scores, parent conference information, etc... These notebooks are great when collaborative teams such as IAT and RTI meet to discuss student progress. They are also important when parents and teachers have conferences about student progress.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

NSE Believes in the Four Squares

We created this board that is displayed in the NSE Think Tank so that all NSE employees can see how our NSE Beliefs align with our district's mission statement, vision of the four squares, nine priorities, and PBL Gold Standards.    

We believe that all students come to us with individual experiences and ideas that form a foundation for learning.  It is the district's mission to prepare all students for success. The success of our students and students across the district is measured by their ability to learn and apply academic concepts, and show good character in our school and community. All NSE staff members practice and teach the Cricket Way to all of our students.  Students and staff learn to - Be Kind - Listen - Stay on Task - and Do What You're Asked the First Time.  These rules and our nine character traits are emphasized each morning on NSETV, in the regular classroom, during guidance classes, and at our student recognition days.   

We believe that our teachers design authentic and purposeful learning experiences for all students.  It is the district's mission to provide all students meaningful, challenging, and engaging learning experiences.  Teachers are consistently involved in professional learning that provides them with the tools, resources, and strategies such as Project Based Learning (PBL), and technology to teach the SC standards and 21st century skills needed to be successful in today's workforce. Teachers are taught to constantly progress monitor student achievement and ability in order to adjust their instructional strategies. 

We believe that our school and community are committed to working together to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship.  In the same way, the RSD2 partners with the community to accomplish its mission. As mentioned in the four squares, schools cannot do what they are asked to do alone.  NSE partners with the University of South Carolina, Midlands Education and Business Alliance, National Center for Fathers (Watch DOGS), and more to provide real world opportunities for all of our students.     

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

NSE Watch DOGS Program

The Watch DOGS at NSE have been an amazing addition to our school. The NSE DOGS have been a tremendous help in arrival car rider, dismissal car rider, field trips, Walk to School Days, front office security, school maintenance, lunch monitors, Father/Daughter Dance security, etc...  They have even served cookies and juice at evening PTO performances.  Our Watch DOGS have provided speaker systems that have made our car rider line much more efficient, influenced the district to replace all of our exit signs, participated on our school improvement council (SIC), and parent/teacher organization (PTO). There is no limit to what these NSE DOGS contribute to our school. Every school in America should utilize the Watch DOGS program through the National Center for Fathers.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Design and Innovation for Teachers and Students

Ms. Duck and Lauren
Ms. Allmann and Mrs. Halbrook
North Springs Elementary (NSE) is proud to say that we have had three collaborative teams successfully participate in the R2 Innovation Incubator.  Ms. Rosemary Duck (cafeteria manager), Ms. Nichole Allmann (TLC), and Mrs. Suzie Halbrook (Kindergarten TA), went through the process early on with the idea of starting a show called Culinary One on One.  This was inspired by a student named Lauren who asked Ms. Duck one day if she would teach her how to make a breakfast burrito. From there, the idea has grown into a school club that allows 15-20 students per year to take culinary classes with Ms. Duck.

Mrs. Parker and Ms. Hunt
Dr. H, Ms. Coates, Mrs. Turnbach
This year, NSE had two teams apply for the R2 Innovates process.  Mrs. Kimberly Parker, Ms. Whitney Hunt, and Dr. Sally Catoe applied as the SLC3 Team which focused on developing a curriculum centered around sustainable energy and the dream of having a sustainable cottage at NSE.  Ms. Coates, Mrs. Turnbach, Mr. Orlando Ratliff, and I embarked on the process with the idea of bridging the gap between elementary and career.  The name of our team was Collaboration by Design which centers around collaborating with middle schools, high schools, Richland Two's Institute for Innovation, and businesses to expose our students to their future.

This cohort of educators used the IDEO process for design called Human Centered Design.  The process required teams to be very reflective and collaborative throughout the process.  The process required us to come up with a number of iterations and prototypes for our final product.  I can attest to the fact that the Collaboration by Design idea changed drastically as we went through the process.  This whole idea of design was a head "scratcher" for us.  We needed the R2 Innovator Incubator to help us find ourselves.

"Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving and the backbone of our work at It's a process that starts with the people you're designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs." ( 

As you may already know, IDEO is a global design company that designs products and ideas for companies around the world.  As educators, we need to learn how to use this process to design units of study, lessons, projects, and activities that we ask our students to complete.  The process really requires teams to think about who they are designing or doing the work for and what the needs of that person or group of people might be.  We need to teach students how to use this process when completing assignments, projects, presentations, etc...  By being able to apply this process to the work they do, students will be better prepared for the work force in the future.   

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Why Magnet Schools Work?

Magnet schools generally attract a wide-range of students based on their interest in a school theme. As a result, magnet schools typically have a diverse body of students from various socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Specific benefits of magnet schools include: improved academic achievement, diverse student enrollments, reduced discipline problems, increased cultural competence of students, increased student attendance rates, higher graduation rates, greater teacher satisfaction and reduced teacher turn-over, innovative curricula, specialized teaching staff, and increased parent engagement and satisfaction. Magnet schools boast more parental and community involvement, more personalization through theme-based education, and specialized programs that create a shared sense of community that leads to a safer environment for learning. Teachers are licensed in the areas they teach, and are “highly specialized” through specific theme-based training and professional development (Magnet Schools of America). 

The Science Technology Engineering and Math School at North Springs Elementary School (STEMS) was designed to attract students from around the district who have an interest in learning through science, technology, engineering, and or math.  Our teachers design units of study related to engineering.  The themes are incorporated into science, ELA, math, and social studies lessons and are often tied to projects that are inspired by the students.  Our magnet parents are very supportive and benefit the entire school through their participation in PTO activities, SIC meetings, and supporting school wide events.  We also benefit from several business and community partners such as the University of South Carolina, the Midlands Education and Business Alliance, and Midlands Technical College.  Having a magnet program at our school helps improve the diversity of our school by including families from minority groups around the district.  We enjoy learning from these families and involving them in the learning process.  

North Springs also embraces the project based learning process developed by the Buck Institute for Education (BIE).  STEMS teachers as well as teachers in more traditional classrooms are trained to design projects that meet the BIE Gold Standard. We are finishing up our first year implementing and participating in the BIE process and look forward to our second year next year.  It has been exciting seeing many of our teachers and students try projects that they would not normally try.  BIE gives us a structure for these projects.  

While magnet schools are designed to draw students with certain interest and passions to a particular school or program, all students in a school such as North Springs benefit from the magnet concept.  Teachers who teach in the magnet program benefit from the the expertise of the traditional classroom teachers and visa verse.  Some of the best collaborations come from a traditional classroom teacher collaborating with a STEMS classroom teacher where students from both classes bring strengths to the table.  Students are able to interact with students who they would not normally get to study with in a non-magnet or choice district.

Another way that we incorporate our STEM theme through out the school is by providing all students the opportunity to design, create, and publish products in our Design Center.  Students are exposed to the Human Centered Design process established by IDEO.  Students practice coming up with problems to solve, or products to make, do the research, create prototypes, work through iterations or revisions, and present the final product.  
The Design Center at NSE is working with the Richland Two Innovation Incubator to better prepare our elementary students for middle, school, high school, and beyond.  

As you can see, magnet schools can have tremendous impact on your school, give your faculty, staff, students, parents, and community a common focus, and ultimately better prepare your students for the real world. 

NSE is honored to be considered a Magnet School of Excellence by Magnet Schools of America (MSA). A HUGE congratulations to Miami-Dade School District who did an amazing job of hosting the 2016 MSA National Conference. NSE's STEM program is seven years old and started at the kindergarten through second grade levels.  Since 2008, the program has expanded to our feeder middle school, Summit Parkway Middle (SIDI) program where our students can continue a STEM focused education.  Our Lead Teacher, Dr. Sally Catoe, and Mrs. Dea Jones, SIDI Lead Teacher worked closely to develop a continuum of STEM education through middle school.  In Richland School District Two, our students will have many magnet opportunities in high school as well.
We were excited to here about the MSA National Certification Program supported by the National Institute for Magnet School Leadership (NIMSL).  NSE definitely plans to be one of the first 100 magnet schools in America to be certified by such quality organizations.  While we feel like we meet the requirements for many of these standards, we look forward to continuing to improve our program to be MSA and AdvancED certified.

NSE has worked hard to make sure that we are preparing all of our students to not only pass state assessment requirements, but to also prepare our students for the middle school and high school programs offered in our district.  We also strive to prepare our students for college and careers with an emphasis on STEM careers.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dorf's "Principals" of Fitness

About this time last year (March 2015), I was a happy 6'2" 215 pound/48 year old couch potato. This year (March 2016) I am a happier 180 pound/about to be 49 year old couch carrot/broccoli spear/almond/etc... I am grateful to my wife, Lottie, who is a Physical Education teacher and avid runner. She inspires me to get out and run/walk at east three times per week. She also inspires me to eat healthy. I am also grateful to our faculty and staff at NSE. Last year around this time, we challenged each other to spend a month working out and eating right. The 2015 NSE Fitbit Challenge and my wife's healthy lifestyle encouraged me to eat better, and get moving. Here is what I try to do to keep the weight off:

Don't live to eat, but eat to live. Eating half of what you are accustomed to eatting, especially in the
evenings, will cut your cravings for food. The idea is to not stretch your stomach so much that it craves more. If you can order the same dish as your spouse and split it, do it. If you do not order the same meal, try to eat half and take half home for later or tomorrow. Stay away from too much bread, greasy chips, fries, and sweets every day. Drink as much water as you can through out the day. Try to plan out what you are going to eat each day so that you are not hunting for something and end up eating too much or something you should not eat.

Typical Weekday (eat the following or something comparable - low fat, low carb, and low unnatural sugars):
6:30am - 1 Smoothie (orange juice, kale, carrots, banana, strawberries, blueberries, and vanilla extract)
9:30am - 1/2 of a turkey sandwich; handful of almonds; cut apple slices
11:30am - the other 1/2 of a turkey sandwich; handful of almonds; cut apple slices
1:00pm - turkey and cheese roll-up; almonds if any are left; cut apples if any are left
5:00 - 6:00pm - Eat one of the following (salad, char grill chicken sandwich and small salad, turkey or chicken roll-up, chicken or shrimp quesadilla, salmon steak, grilled veggies, rice, mashed red potatoes, etc...) Some of this is from fast food restraunts, or dine-in restraunts. Unfortunately, we do not cook at home very often in our houeshold.
7:30pm - Eat some light popcorn or pretzels and drink a 16oz water.

Eating smaller portions through out the day and evening keeps you from over eating and stretching your stomach.

On the weekends, feel free to eat chicken tacos, and pizza in moderation on ocassion if you like. As the weather warms up, grill chicken, salmon, shrimp, etc... with some veggies.

Stay away from fried foods, butter, sugar (including drinks), white bread, whole milks (I use skim milk - others dring Soy), ice cream, etc... Snack on lightly buttered popcorn, pretzels, pickles, veggies, and fruit instead.

Get out and walk/run at least three days per week. If possible, get out more than three days per week, but at least get moving either in the morning or in the evening for about 30 minutes to an hour. If you have not been running, walk a couple of miles three days per week. After two weeks, run about one mile, and walk about a mile and a half which takes about 30 minutes. On the weekend, run a mile and half and walk three miles which takes about one hour. I like to get my walk/runs done in the morning. I find it hard to sleep if I am hyped up after a run or workout. However, some experts say that working out before you go to bed can burn calories while you sleep. My theory is that if you walk/run regularly for 30 to 60 minutes three times per week, your body becomes a calorie burning machine all of the time.

Ideally, my wife and I like to get out and run/walk on Saturday or Sunday, Monday, and either Wednesday or Thursday. I believe that at my age, I need to give my bones, muscles, and joints a day or two to rest. I also try to excercise to a level of slight discomfort, but not overexerting myself to the point that I am injured or burned out. I am hoping to incorporate some mountain biking in my routine soon (gotta buy bike though!).

Another strategy I used is wearing a ruck sack with about 10% of my body weight (18-20 lbs) in it. I bought a small back pack that straps around my waist and chest to keep it close to my back. I bought 5 and 7.5 pound weights to put in the pack. I wear this when I am walking during the week and on the weekends off and on.

I hope this practical routine helps you. If you do not use the compnents of this routine, I hope that you find a routine that helps you shed some pounds, get some excersise, and feel better about yourself.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Coming Soon!

Posting soon!

I will share my, "Principals" of Fitness. In this post, you will find my very practical strategies for eating right, and excercising regularly. Everyone needs to find their own healthy eating habits and excercise routine. "Faster, Stronger, Higher" at 50 years of age!

Is the Educator Dress Code a Hot Mess?

Call me brave for writing a post about educator dress codes, but it is often a hot topic for school principals and employees. As an elementary principal, I try to have control over a few things at our school. One thing that I like to control is when we have jeans and tennis shoe days. It is a fun way to celebrate together, relieve a little pressure, relax a little bit, etc... I also believe that the education world and the business world are very different. We as educators should know when we need to dress up, when we need to dress casual, when we need to wear clothes that can get dirty, and when we need to wear clothes that are safe and comfortable. You don't need your boss to tell you this, right? Yes, we should always keep in mind that your students, parents, colleagues, and community members are constantly watching. We should always lean towards a more conservative approach to our attire while in our role as public educators.

Read Article Here

For me, SAFETY and good HEALTH are important. Therefore, educators should dress so that they are safe when in the classroom, in the cafeteria, out at recess, standing for hours, and walking the halls. This can be done in a tactful way that allows the teacher to remain professional in the eyes of the school's stakeholders. Shoes should protect your feet from being stepped on, having something dropped on, being bitten by ants at recess, and allow you to stand and walk for long periods of time without injury.

I think that it is also important to be COMFORTABLE, but PROFESSIONAL. As a mobile principal, I can walk up to 17,000 steps in a day. As a result, I have tried to find shoes that are comfortable, yet professional. I usually wear these shoes when I know I am going to be doing a lot of walking. If I am scheduled to be in a lot of meetings or attending a district meeting, I may wear shoes that are more professional. The same should go for teachers. If you know that your plans are going to require you to be outside, on the floor, painting, cutting, bending, sitting on the floor, then your attire should be comfortable, but professional.

There are times however, when we should LOOK the PART. Just like any other event in our lives, sometimes we have to look the part. If we know that we are having visitors, attending a meeting with community members, attending a board meeting, or want our students to dress to impress for an event, we should dress to impress as well. When I was teaching sixth graders, I usually dressed a little nicer on days that we were taking the state test. I encouraged my students to dress nice as well. It gave us more of a business feel for the day. I cannot promise you that dressing up raised test scores, but I wanted to squeeze every point or percentage I could out of my students.

With all of this said, I want to offer to our employees at NSE to wear jeans and tennis shoes every day next week as we finish strong before Spring Break! Just keep in mind the activities you will be participating in throughout the week and make sure you are dressed appropriately. For example, I will be attending the board meeting Tuesday evening. Therefore, I will NOT be wearing jeans. Have a great week!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Think Tank at NSE

We are about to unveil the "Think Tank" at NSE.  This is a place where faculty and staff can brainstorm on curriculum ideas, units of study, analyze student data, and come up with innovative ways to solve problems. The Think Tank at NSE will be driven by NSE's shared beliefs (2012).  The plan is to have as much up to date data, curriculum maps, calendars, curriculum resources, thinking space (i.e. white boards, SmartBoard, etc...) so that real thinking and problem solving can take place.  We believe that this space will get it's greatest use over the summer, but will continue into the 2016-2017 school year and beyond.

Grade levels, or groups of teachers can use the space to plan, design lessons, design projects, meet about student data, etc...  District personnel will be able to meet with teams to guide instruction and curriculum decisions.  The sky is the limit with this space.

This space is my old office by the way.  I cannot think of a better use for a space where I used to talk on the phone, check email, met with people, and hung my degree and a few pictures.  I have found out that I can do those things anywhere in the building as a Mobile Principal.

David Raths talks about designing a space that is driven by your vision and mission in his article, How to Launch a Campus Innovation Center. The space David describes and we are trying to create at NSE reminds me of the Deep Dive video created by IDEO.