Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Managing Online Sites

Managing SMA Online Sites

A great place to start to 1) check on individual and overall scores in a given course and 2) find your way to that teacher's Google site is Infinite Campus. A recommended path is:

1. Log on to Infinite Campus and bookmark the site. Allow the computer to save your password and log on.

2. On the opening page, open Schedule of all the choices listed (CalendarScheduleAttendanceGrades, Reports).

3. With Schedule opened, click on the tablet icon for any one of the core courses. This will open the grade book. Note that missing or late assignments have a red comment. Other comments may be present for individual assignments. An overall average for the course to date is at the bottom of the individual assignments. When you open later in the year, to see trimester II, you will need to scroll down past trimester I.

4. To access the teacher's Google site, scroll to the top of the grade book page. Click on the blue address and the teacher's Google site will open if the site is public. If it is private, you enter by using your student’s school email address and password. In seventh and eighth grades, please take note that each teacher's Google site links to the other teachers’ sites. We are working to add that feature to the sixth grade sites.

5. On teacher Google sites, you will find resources, PDF assignments and links to support the class. Also, you will find the anticipated schedule of assignments and class activities for the coming week. Bookmarking each of the sites is recommended. Many students have the sites saved with an icon on their iPad home screen.

By visiting each core course site on Sunday, a student is able to fill in his/her planner for the week. The actual activity of filling in the planner allows the student and parent to preview the week. Family events and outside activities can be written in, as well.

What follows are links to teacher Google sites. You can also find these links on the stmarys.academy site following the path of Resources, All Academy Resources, Destiny (Library) Login, Middle School.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Homework Parameters for Parents

Tips and More Tips for Helping Your Child with Homework
Do you have trouble setting homework parameters in your house? How much is too much help? What is the right amount of help? Here are some tips sent to me by an SMA parent by Annie Griffin of the Shipley School that I have altered and to which I have added recommendations. Please use any of these that might help your family avoid homework battles and develop strategies to enhance the homework experience.

1)   Provide a public place for your child to complete homework where the television and radio are not competing for attention. As far as possible, eliminate screens and the distractions of texting or messaging.

2)   If screen time is required for homework (confirm this with teachers) have the screen facing your direction. Have a written agreement with your child that he/she helps to create about what studying and homework mean. Set a time when playing on the device, surfing the net and exchanging texts are allowed. Between parents and student, establish written guidelines about timing and breaks.

3)   Provide 5-10 minute breaks with the goal of no more than two hours or perhaps two and a half for completing homework depending on your child’s profile. If more time is required on occasion, that is understandable. If more with three or so short breaks is regularly required as the year progresses, contact teachers and/or the MS principal.

4)   Set your involvement with homework based on what your child’s academic standing shows on Infinite Campus and/or teacher commentary and not just on what your child is telling you.

5)   Make sure your advice on how to study and learn is based on your child’s learning style and not on how you learn. Discover what your child’s learning style is by observation and by talking with his/her teachers.

6)   Avoid direct handling of work. That means don’t handle the pen, pencil or keyboard.

7)   If your child asks, offer verbal counsel. Otherwise, do not give unsolicited help. Respect their need to struggle and allow them to miss the mark if you see that they are giving the assignment adequate effort and attention. Learning to prioritize and complete home assignments is a process over years.

8)   I really like this suggestion by Annie Griffin:  Let this question be your guide: Is my involvement in this process helping my child be more successful when I am not around?

9)   I add this question: Is my involvement in the homework/studying process creating a battle rather than seeking to establish comfortable parameters and structure within which your child finds success and learns how to manage failure?

10)   Offer time and place for your child to complete a paper planner on Sunday for the next week that includes school assignments and family events. This sort of overview helps to see the forest and then focus on the trees.

Adapted and added to from an article by Annie Griffin, Middle School Academic Dean and Learning Coordinator at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, PA.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Where Did Free Time Go?

Free Time Is Important

Free time has become a rare experience in our children's lives. For the older ones among us, do you 
remember the vultures in The Jungle Book movie? They shake themselves awake from a nap on the limbs of a tree, and one turns to another and says, "Hey Flaps, what we gonna do?" Flaps answers, "I dunno. What cha wanna do?" And the exchange repeats with ideas offered along the way. Do kids have time to ask each other, "Hey, what do you want to do for the next few hours?" Do they have enough time to do nothing long enough to ask?

From a healthy amount of boredom comes imagination, creativity and exploration. Unstructured free time without set drills, chores, lessons, the Internet or adult direction offers beneficial opportunities for fun, play, reflection and, yes, mischief, because coloring outside of the lines is important.

Perhaps one of the most significant products of a good dose of unstructured time in childhood is a robust development of self-directed executive functioning*. That means a better capacity to work toward goals, make decisions, regulate behavior, switch between tasks, and manipulate information. These capacities definitely contribute to a happier, healthier life. 

Data gathered in creativity tests of young children in the United States by William and Mary psychologist Kyung-Hee Kim and referenced in an article called "The Creativity Crises" notes a significant drop in abstract, creative thinking and problem-solving skills. The culprit? One is a lack of free time for exploration and another is our constant connection to the Internet with its quick and seemingly definitive answers. Quick does not mean creative or deep.

What can we do? As educators at a school with a mission of providing "the foundation for students to be powerful agents of change," we are going to continue our research and implementation of best educational practices to foster creativity, reflection and patient decision-making. Students will want to exercise those three skills (creativity, reflection and patient decision-making) as often as possible and advocate with adults for the unstructured, free-of-Internet time to be bored enough to experience spontaneous play. Parents will want to be aware of how their children's days are filled and what motivates them to fill them. 

One motivator is a fear for children's safety - emotional and physical. Kids today are accustomed to being watched at all times. They are accustomed to having situations smoothed out for them. We do that with good intention but not such good results. Also, there is this huge club sport and dance business, which is mostly fun for kids, yet also stressful, expensive and time consuming. And, there is a sense of being in a race to build a résumé for the next level of schooling or to make it to the professional league or stage.  

I'm a proponent of free time though not always a loyal practitioner. For those reasons, I'm writing this blog to remind and perhaps inspire us to be sure and allow time for play without structure and with spontaneity. Summer is coming. Let's remember to leave a good amount of space and time for our children to create, imagine and explore offline and directly in space and moment.  

*Less-structured time in children's daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning (Front. Psychol., 17 June 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00593)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Digital World

Digital World

I’m in love with my phone, iPad and laptops. Yes, that is plural on laptop. My devices have expanded my world in multiple ways. I’m informed, connected and entertained without bounds. I travel the earth via Internet. And, I can work anywhere.

I’m also in conflict with my phone, iPad and laptops. Being constantly connected to everyone all of the time too often keeps me from living right where I am in the moment. There is a diminishment of the gritty and sweet encounter of the senses with reality. And, I can work anywhere.

I’m almost certain that the students in the Middle School don’t experience the same conflicts I, an immigrant to digital world, do in regard to technology. They have other conflicts when it comes to their devices and constant connectivity – social vulnerability and positioning being number one on the list.

But, like me, they know relief when they turn off devices and set them aside (unless they have an addiction). On school trips, I’ve witnessed their relief and the unleashed joy of ‘living in the moment’ when reports to their many social networks are put on hold.

As educators and parents, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and immerse ourselves as much as possible in the digital world so that we can ‘be there’ for our children.

Suggestions for parents:

1. Collaborate with your child on a digital contract that mirrors your family’s values. http://mediatechparenting.net/contracts-and-agreements/

2. Be realistic in setting connectivity parameters. Cell phones and social networking are your teen’s world.

3. Trust your child giving her/him space within safe bounds.

4. Check in devices before bedtime.

5. Keep devices out of the bedrooms.

6. Set device-free meals whether at home or in a restaurant.

7. Consider setting other device-free family hours or activities

8. Model disciplined use of devices.

9. Protect your family’s eyes with blue-light filters.

Suggestions for students:

1. Pause and think before you text and send.

2. Don’t respond to every message or post.

3. Don’t believe everything you read online. Be skeptical!

4. Avoid sites that allow anonymous commentary.

5. Protect your personal information (and your family’s).

6. Ask yourself, if all of your sites with your comments and photos were open to all the people you love and who love you, would you have regrets.

7. Take time off from your devices. Turn them off.

8. Protect your eyes with blue-light filters.

If you are looking for some resources, here a few that offer guidelines for developing healthy relationships with our devices and a few that remind us of why time off tech is important. There are many more.

This is a general site that provides recommendations and links for further education:

While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides the following straightforward guidelines, your family life and values dictate the variations:
· Children under two years of age should receive no screen time whatsoever.
· Kids aged two and up should spend no more than one to two hours a day in front of monitors and displays.

This article in the NY Times cites beginning research that supports the benefits of learning to handwrite and print.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Formal Conferences

The Value of Formal Conferences
Upcoming set is February 5th and 6th
Have you signed up?

The question is often asked, "Why do we allot two days of school to parent-student-teacher conferences? Just think, students and teachers could have two more days of instructional time together twice a year. Instead, each family meets with two teachers (and occasionally one) for twenty minutes, often rearranging schedules to make this happen. Is this a valued use of time and why?

The value of formal conferences in your child's progress at school can be strikingly evident, extremely subtle or anywhere in between. Rarely is a conference meaningless, but often, the positive outcomes are intangible. 

There is no substitute for face-to-face time together in one room - parents, student and teachers. During this time, progress is celebrated and challenges are identified. Food for thought is offered and plans of action are initiated. Emotions are uncovered: A child's anxiety about academic capability, difficulty relating to a teacher or discomfort in a particular social situation emerge. A parent's doubt about his/her role in homework is addressed. Clarification of expectations is provided. A fuller knowing of the student invariably occurs, one that contributes positively sooner or later to the child's growth and place in the community.

A follow-up meeting can be arranged as needed. The twenty-minute conference calls for focus and directness; it is an ideal amount of time for checking in, uncovering and realizing common concerns. Rather than a chance or spontaneous meeting, this one is purposefully structured. Afterward, the door is open and welcome mat set out for further interaction among teacher, student and parents. 

Another reason we schedule formal conferences is because these meetings would not otherwise occur for a number of students, and while those students would not necessarily lose an edge, an opportunity to boost their academic, social and emotional growth would be missed. 

A meeting among parents, student and teacher may not occur because a student's scores and emotional and social well-being is rocking along fine. Why meet? Or, a child may insist on his/her independence and discourage their parents from meeting with teachers. Parents may be intimidated by the prospect of engaging teachers and worried that they would be judged as bothersome. Sometimes life gets in the way of scheduling a meeting with teachers. We are busy with family and jobs. 

One more reason for scheduling formal conferences is to provide students with the experience of representing themselves in the company of significant adults in their lives. Being ten or fifteen-years old in the company of your teachers, mentors and parents is not easy even if it is with adults who are committed to loving and supporting you. With experience, students learn to articulate their accomplishments and needs. 

In the days after formal conferences, as teachers and principal share and reflect upon the outcomes of the time with families, we realize that we are better equipped to help students individually and as a group. The two intense days provide a powerful catalyst for reflection and positive change, and they lead to specific and general actions that make the education at St. Mary's Academy is better for your child.