Monday, May 15, 2017

Couches, Bouncing Balls, and Standing Desks? This Classroom Doesn't Look Like My Old Classroom!

Many of the Beach Middle School Blog have probably seen some of our tweets and Instagram pictures of some very unique classrooms. Check out some examples below:








So, this begs the question: why are classrooms changing the way they look? The answer is both complicated and simple. We'll start with the simple answer.

Most people would agree that they work better when they feel happy, comfortable, and relaxed. Why would we not want our students to feel this way in the classroom? Many teachers are helping students feel relaxed and comfortable by offering different styles of seating. Some students even prefer to stand and work! Not only does it make students happier, it also mitigates a lot of classroom behavior issues. For example, a student that is active and has hard time sitting still may enjoy sitting on an exercise ball in order to stay active, but engage in the lesson. That same student may prefer to stand while they work in order to burn that energy.

Of course there are traditional seats available, because we've learned that students have varied preferences, and some have no preference at all, but the availability and choice of seating gives students more ownership, however small, over their education. This is a crucial theme within 21st century learning.

Now for the more complicated answer. Teachers at Beach are looking at their spaces and asking, "does my classroom set-up make sense for what we know about learning today, or just from what we knew about learning in the past?" By asking this question, teachers are taking student input, academic research, and good ol' fashioned trial-and-error to find the best configuration for what students in Chelsea need. Helen Hirsh Spence, Educational Consultant, says, "Most of today's classrooms are designed with the teacher at the center. But if the classroom is focused on the learner instead, then learning becomes paramount."

Unfortunately, many people confuse "flashy and new" with "educationally sound". Our focus at Beach was been to put the pedagogical ideals (21st century learning, student choice/agency, flexibility) before the glitz and glamour of brand new furniture. Beach teachers, in particular, want to see the evidence and rationale behind these changes before they enact them; this is what also makes Beach teachers such exceptional educators. For now, baby steps are required as we navigate through new waters and try new things.

Keep your eyes open for more changes coming to Beach that will support 21st century learning, and feel free to reach out to your team of teachers if you have furniture that you may want to donate!

Go Bulldogs!


Thursday, April 20, 2017

How Can You Can You Link Household Chores and 21st Century Learning Skills?

How many of us struggle getting kids to help around the house, with things like chores and picking up after themselves? If your webcam was on, I would probably see a lot of head-nodding and hand-raising. How can we motivate our kids to voluntarily participate and engage in household work? The answer doesn't necessarily involve bribery or allowances, and pitching in collaboratively at home might be a building block for deep learning in classrooms.

Research conducted by Dr. Andrew Coppens, assistant professor of education in learning sciences at the University of New Hampshire, has shown that children in many Latino families, specifically in Indigenous-heritage communities of Mexico and the U.S., are engaged contributors to their families, helping voluntarily with cooking, cleaning, etc. Generally speaking, families in this research report that children helping voluntarily in a wide range of chores around the house is a normal part of life. Families and children share norms of what collaboration looks like within the family unit – everyone pitches in to help. Imagine your own child, not needing to be told or urged to do work, but simply noticing work that needs to be done and helping to do it!

Although this might seem unlikely to some, Dr. Coppens suggests it is worth the effort. He points out that when children take an active role in the function of the household, helping voluntarily, they learn collaborative skills and develop a powerful sense of autonomy, agency, self-worth, and social belonging.

There is far more detail in what Dr. Coppens is researching and discovering. I encourage you to listen to his recent appearance on the Your ParentingMojo podcast (iTunes download here), which provides a very accessible overview of a unique way of thinking about these topics. You can also take a deeper look into his research here.

I see a clear connection to Beach Middle School students’ learning and development. If there is one universal truth for all middle schoolers: they are looking to belong, and to be accepted. This can start within the family. The confidence and validation that a middle school student gains from having a contributing role in their own family is, in my opinion, crucial to their ability to branch out and learn in different social scenarios. You can give your student(s) a chance to experience productive collaboration, and the feeling of belonging that comes with it, through simple everyday opportunities to work alongside you and others, sharing ownership in the cleanliness of the house, cooking meals, or preparing lunches. As Dr. Coppens puts it in the podcast, a chance to develop "long-term commitment to reciprocal goals," along with support for kids’ autonomy, amounts to a powerful ideal of at-home learning. That same ideal extends to the classroom and to the workplace. By cementing this mindset at home, you could be setting your student up for great success in school and in the workplace.

At Beach Middle School, group work is defined by individuals working collectively by collaborating, communicating, thinking critically and creatively. We identify these traits as being "21st-century skills". We attempt to build these skills in academic and elective courses throughout the school year, and are moving towards renovating our existing spaces to help facilitate growth in those areas.  The push in education is to make spaces that cater to individual student needs – like comfort, ease, and accessibility – without making learning individualistic. One aspect of our approach has been to turn the classroom into a nest, or home for students. Educators have found that students, when comfortable and relaxed, are better capable of implementing 21st-century skills. Students also begin to take collective, collaborative ownership of the spaces they inhabit and flex the furniture to fit their learning styles and desired educational outcomes. By working towards "long-term commitment to reciprocal goals" during group work, the end result can even extend beyond meeting academic standards and obtaining grades.

If learning spaces are beginning to reflect the comfort and accessibility of a home, then we are creating a link between classroom and kitchen table. If students are active, engaged collaborators at home, then it seems that those skills would naturally translate to the classroom, creating a powerful nexus of agency, autonomy, and other 21st-century skills with your student.


Clearly, there are a lot of assumptions made here, but there is very little downside to exploring the correlation between building identity and belonging in your student at home, and promoting collaborative skills that will benefit your student at school and throughout their life. If you have personal experience with this, or are looking at ways to improve collaboration with your student at home, I encourage you to look further into Dr. Coppens' work. If you want to know more about how we are skill-building here at Beach, please ask!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

3rd Trimester Run-Down

It's the last 12 weeks of the school year! Can you believe we are this far into? I know that it's felt like a whirlwind in the front office. I hope you are all geared up for a very eventful and exciting end to the 2016-2017 school year. Here is what to expect:


WEB DJ Skate - March 18th
Parent Education Series - March 19th
8th Grade Orchestra to the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra - March 21st
Author Visit March 22nd-23rd
Jazz Band Concert - March 30th
Spring Break - April 3rd-7th
mSTEP - April - May
TrackLacrosseWashington D.C. April 25th - 29th
Moving Up Day - May 26th
BMS and CHS Band Memorial Day Parade - May 29th
Choir Concert - May 30th
Empire Project Night - June 1st
5th and 6th Grade Band Concert - June 6th
JA Finance Park - June 9th
Academic Honors Night - June 5th, 2017
8th Grade Farewell Dance - June 15th
Last Day of School - June 16th

Keep your eyes open for the Newsletter that comes out every month for more details.

Happy Spring!

Monday, February 20, 2017

100 Days In: a reflection


We just finished 100 days of school here at Beach Middle School, and I want to take a moment to reflect on the school year. I've met so many wonderful families and worked with such admirable and worthy education professionals. Chelsea truly is exactly where I want to be.

A question I often get is how Chelsea, or Beach Middle School, compares to other places I've worked. The answer, however, is very complicated.

In many ways, BMS shares many of the same characteristics of other middle schools; the students are good kids trying to find their way, the staff care deeply for the success of their students, and administration works hard to ensure that there as few obstacles to learning as possible. The community supports the schools, and in turn, the school produces young adults that ready for the world. The differences between BMS and its contemporaries are subtle, but crucial.

After being immersed in the culture of the building, one begins to notice how closely all of the teachers work together. "Teaming" is not a unique concept to Beach, but it is performed better than most schools that I've seen. Teachers take time out of their schedule to meet with the team and discuss student achievement/behavior, coordinate projects between subjects, and organize field trips. Teacher consultants work closely with general education teachers to ensure that the needs of our students with special needs receive the accommodations and modifications they need. Paraeducators work in conjunction with special education and general education teachers to ensure that students can be as successful as possible.

The support offered by our counselors (Dennis Strzyzewski and Marie Lombardo), psychologist (Emily Verbeke), and social worker (Fred van Reesema), is a cornerstone for our building and how we tend to the social-emotional needs of our students. The counseling staff is not merely a reactive group of people, but a team that actively pursues the most effective ways to address the varying and changing needs of our students.

Our food service workers and custodial staff work tirelessly to keep students fed, warm, and safe. Their work cannot be overstated. Without these individuals, our school can't run. This is true in most buildings, but here at Beach our food service workers know kids by name, they are aware of food allergies and taste preferences. The custodial staff is present during lunch time to interact with students and help hold them accountable for their areas. It's truly a village here at Beach.

The strength of the schools, however, resides in the community's support. There are myriad examples of the charity and favor given to the schools, but most recently, Beach Middle School has received support in the form of scholarship money for some 8th graders to attend the Washington D.C. field trip in April. There were moments of concern as to how we would cover the costs of some of our students with financial need. The concerns were alleviated when word got out, and the community responded with an outpouring of generous donations that have covered the expenses. The donations varied in size, but what was constant was the speed at which families and companies contributed.

Athletics in Chelsea call back to a time that preceded pay-to-play, year-round specialization, and the "whatever it takes to win" mentality that seems to present in high school athletics today. Student-athletes in Chelsea are encouraged to play as many sports as they possibly can, and they're able to do so because Chelsea sports are free to all students. It's a stark contrast to what we see around the state - sometimes families can only afford for their student to do one sport, or no sport at all. In Chelsea, it's apparent that there is push to make everything accessible, regardless of financial obstacles. Student-athletes in Chelsea learn life skills by working as a team, focusing on personal growth, and accountability for their actions.

After 100 days, I see the similarities that I see in many buildings, but at its core, Chelsea schools and Beach Middle School offer faint differences that make this a wonderful place to be. As cliche as it sounds, my first 100 days only make me want 1,000 more.


Monday, January 23, 2017

ALICE Training and Talking to Your Student

This week, students at Beach Middle School are going through ALICE training. For those of you who are unaware of this program, ALICE is a plan for individuals and organizations on how to more proactively handle an active threat.

Similar to fire drills, tornado drills, and other like it, the ALICE training drills are a way for students to practice responses to various intruder threats. By addressing this in class, students can dialogue and problem solve in the event that there is a threat.

ALICE is an acronym for "Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate". Students go through scenarios where they incorporate proactive methods, rather than passive strategies to stay safe in the event of a threat.

It's possible that your student will come home with questions about the training. If that is the case, please refer to the following website for more details. Also, don't hesitate to contact your student's team of teachers to discuss the training and how you can help facilitate your student's comfort and confidence in the program.

ALICE Training

Friday, January 20, 2017

After-School Homework Club at Beach!

We are so excited to announce the inception of a new after-school program that assists students who are struggling with homework completion. Through the generosity of the Chelsea Education Foundation, Beach Middle School is able to provide this opportunity.

The program is coordinated by Chelsea Raupp, a Chelsea native and paraprofessional at Beach Middle School. During this hour-long session, students review their grades and identify missing assignments to be completed. Students are provided a snack, support, and a safe, quiet environment to complete their work.

In order to be eligible for the program, teams of teachers evaluate their rosters to identify students that are falling behind in work completion. The team then reaches out to the student and their parents. With parental consent given and transportation organized, the student will show up in the media center on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays until all of the work is made up.

We make a point to explain to participants that the after-school program is not a punitive measure, meant to humiliate or discipline students; rather, the program is here as an additional support to those that need it. If you feel like your student would be a good candidate for the program, please discuss this with your student's team of teachers, as there are additional parameters that the student has to meet in order to qualify.

As always, we strive to do what is best for students, and feel confident and excited that the after-school program will be a step in that direction.

Go Dogs!