Thursday, June 30, 2016

WWSU Teachers Complete Project Lead the Way Launch Training

 A group of  Washington West educators completed a three day intensive training in the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) "Launch" program. Project Lead The Way provides a comprehensive approach to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education, through a problem-based, hands-on curriculum. The schools of WWSU will be implementing this new program in the Fall.

PLTW gives students in kindergarten through high school a chance to apply what they know, identify problems, find unique solutions, and lead their own learning. PLTW "Launch" is the program for kindergarten through fifth grade.Through this program, students become problem solvers using structured approaches, like the engineering design process, and employ critical thinking. Students apply STEM knowledge, skills, and habits of mind, learning that it is OK to take risks and make mistakes. 

The fifteen teachers who participated in this training will work throughout the year to support their colleagues in implementing these new approaches through use of the resources offered by PLTW. They spent the week immersed in sampling the hands-on materials, and grappled with some of the same problems the students will explore once school begins in the fall. PLTW offers students opportunities to learn how to design and build models through construction materials and robotics equipment, and to learn new skills like coding to design games and solve other challenges. These students will be able to take advantage of an increased array of STEM offerings similar to these early learning experiences up through their Senior year of High School at Harwood Union High School. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

From Chaos Comes Clarity

Seeking the "just right" fit
Yesterday the Washington West Leadership Team for Excellence in Education (LTEE) members worked through our action plan to prioritize professional learning needs for all staff in WWSU schools. This was an exciting process, because it is the first time that teachers and administrators have worked together across all seven schools to collaborate with this goal in mind. Creating cohesion between our action plan goals and desired outcomes to plan for professional learning is a challenging task that requires strong communication between staff and the leadership team to get the "just right" fit. 

The first step in the process was to assign sections of the action plan to groups containing representatives from elementary, middle, and high school. The groups then considered what the action plan directly stated or implied in terms of professional development, and to consider what the appropriate audience and setting would be for each item. When groups later reported out over 60 different ideas were presented! We clustered sticky notes together, and did our best to connect the ideas before running out of time for the day. I left with 60 sticky notes representing everyone's best thinking and the charge of pulling it all together into a draft plan for group feedback. 

Sleep can be a powerful creativity-booster, as the mind in an unconscious resting state can make surprising new connections that it perhaps wouldn’t have made in a waking state.
I have learned to rely on the power of the brain, which does some of it's best work while sleeping (check out this blog post)!  I woke up early ready and excited to get back to work, and began tackling the task of going through each sticky note to consolidate our work into a plan of action for next year. Taking the best of what we have recently learned as process for sorting through feedback from our WWSU Community Engagement efforts- I entered all the data into a spreadsheet and began to assign codes. Soon the themes became more evident and the pieces began to fall into place. What we communicated through our work yesterday underscored the significance of teachers' needs in terms of  time, support, and strategies to meet the individual learning needs of each student (Personalized Learning) in a proficiency-based model. Universal Design for Learning is our frame for doing so. Most everything else connects to this theme in some way. 

This note from one groups shows a cycle for how these ideas fit together which I have framed into essential questions below. 

I: What is personalization?
II. How do you design for personalization?
III. How can technology be leveraged as a tool for personalization?
IV. How do you document evidence of learning and provide opportunities for reflection?
V. How do you use data to inform your instructional design and meet the needs of all learners. (back to step II)

I'm excited to bring these ideas back to the team for feedback, and consider how best to share our professional learning design with teachers. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Community Conversations Offer Much to Consider

Reflecting on what was heard. 

This past Thursday a small but committed group of community members and staff took on the task of sorting through all of the ideas, reflections, and suggestions gathered from eight hours of community dialogue that took place over four meetings during the month of March. As recipients of a Nellie Mae Foundation grant, we have been provided with technical assistance with this process by associates from Everyday Democracy. This organization helps build capacity to create change through civic engagement and dialogue.

Everyday Democracy helps people and organizations build capacity to engage communities in creating change

So what did we learn?

During the day we were led through the process of "unpacking" this data with the support of Susan McCormack, Senior Associate with Everyday Democracy. Susan is a skilled expert in guiding a dialogue such as ours, and she has offered so much to our group over the course of the past year. Susan also reminded us of the importance of our own bias. "Sometimes we see what we want to see", she cautioned. The process she designed and facilitated offered objectivity and helped us theme what was actually there without our subjective lens.

We are still sorting through the data, but one thing evident: our community believes that education must look different to prepare students for their future. While the specific suggestions offered to this end vary, the themes of flexibility and relevance are strong. Collectively, participants value real-world and authentic learning opportunities that make meaningful use of the technology we have access to, while balancing outdoor and community-based learning. Additionally, students should be valued as partners in their education. It is important to many that their voice is valued and listened to. There was also collective agreement about  the quality of our teaching staff, who go above and beyond for students- building strong relationships which are highly valued. 

Next Steps

We will share all of the trends and themes from these sessions at our Community Celebration on 4/25 at  6 p.m. at Crossett Brook Middle School. We hope this will be the beginning of something more! 

People want to know that their investment of time will mean something. We want that too. We know that some of the changes we are engaged in are not widely understood. Developing a shared understanding of the work, and creating opportunities for others to engage and impact what is happening is a shared desire. 

We hope to emerge from the Community Celebration on April 25th with a better sense of concrete avenues to make use of the momentum gained from this process. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Washington West Supervisory Union Schools Adopt Project Lead The Way

For Immediate Release                                                         
March 17, 2016   
Media Contact:
Sheila Soule
Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (802) 496-2272 ext. 115

Washington West Supervisory Union Schools Adopt Project Lead The Way
(PLTW) Program to Better Prepare Students for Future Success

Waitsfield, VT. Washington West announced today that it will begin offering Project Lead The Way’s (PLTW) programs, PLTW LaunchTM, PLTW Gateway, and PLTW Engineering to grades K-12 school students in beginning in the Fall of 2016. PLTW is a nonprofit organization that provides a transformative learning experience for K-12 students and teachers. Washington West joins more than 8,000 schools across the U.S. in offering PLTW programs to students.

“PLTW has a long history of successfully engaging students in STEM subjects,” said  WWSU Director of Curriculum, Sheila Soule “We are excited to offer PLTW Programs to our students, giving them a chance to get excited about math, science, and STEM concepts and pursue these subjects as they continue their educational careers.” WWSU Lead teachers will begin preparing for the instructional shift over the summer.

Studies show that students decide as early as elementary school whether they like, and think they are good at, math and science. Recognizing that elementary age students already have the qualities of great makers and innovators, PLTW Launch taps into students’ exploratory nature, engages them in learning that feels like play, and encourages them to keep discovering – now and for years to come. Through PLTW Launch, WWSU students will become problem solvers. Whether designing a car safety belt or building digital animations based on their own short stories, students engage in critical and creative thinking, build teamwork skills, and develop a passion for and confidence in STEM subjects.

The PLTW GatewayTM program is designed for students in middle school, a time when kids are figuring out what they’re passionate about today and how that relates to who they’ll become tomorrow. Tackling pressing challenges like designing tires for a moon rover, cleaning up an oil spill, or solving a fictional crime, students learn to test their limits and question what’s possible. And by challenging themselves to rework and refine their projects, PLTW Gateway students learn that both failure and persistence are key to learning and innovation.

At the High School, PLTW Engineering is a STEM pathway that empowers students to step into the role of an engineer, adopt a problem-solving mindset, and make the leap from dreamers to doers. The program engages students in collaborative, real-life activities like working with a client to design a home, using a flight simulator to learn basic pilot skills, or exploring algae as a biofuel source. As students work together to imagine and design solutions to local and global challenges, they test their limits and question what’s possible. And by pushing themselves to rework and refine their projects, PLTW Engineering students learn that both failure and perseverance are key to learning and innovation.

“Project Lead The Way is proud to partner with WWSU to excite and engage students in math and science from the earliest ages,” said PLTW President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Vince Bertram. “Together, we’re helping students make connections, understand how the world works, and develop a strong foundation that will prepare them for success in their education, and ultimately, their careers.”

As a PLTW school system, WWSU is part of a community of K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and corporate and philanthropic partners across the country united around a passion for providing students with inspiring, engaging, and empowering learning opportunities. PLTW students are afforded a variety of opportunities including scholarships, preferred admission at colleges and universities, internships, industry connections, and avenues to highlight achievements.
For more information please contact Sheila Soule at Washington West Supervisory Union.

About PLTW
Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is a nonprofit organization that provides a transformative learning experience for K-12 students and teachers across the U.S. PLTW empowers students to develop in-demand, transportable knowledge and skills through pathways in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science. PLTW’s teacher training and resources support teachers as they engage their students in real-world learning. More than 8,000 elementary, middle, and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia offer PLTW programs. For more information on Project Lead The Way, visit

Monday, January 18, 2016

Most Likely To Succeed In WWSU

On January 14th about 125 parents, students, and staff joined together in the HUHS Auditorium to attend a screening of the film Most Likely to Succeed, a Sundance film from director Greg Whiteley. This film profiles teaching and learning at High Tech High in San Diego, CA in juxtaposition to traditional public school and its emphasis on short-term test prep and traditional grades.  The filmmaker provides a great deal of background information about how the current model for school was formed (in 1892!) and has remained relatively unchanged and unchallenged ever since, and contrasts this model with the needs of the 21st century. Reportedly the future belongs to those who can create, collaborate, communicate, and solve challenging problems in a way that synthesizes content rather than keeping it isolated into the silos we call subjects.

In Washington West, we decided to show this film as a foundation to engage with our community about changes currently underway within the school system, but also as a means to help shape these changes into a model that reflects our shared values. In March 2016 we invite all interested community members to attend a series of "Community Conversations" to help define the future of learning in our schools. 

Your Voice Is Important!! Community Conversations, also known as the Study Circle process, is a forum for community discussion, debate and feedback regarding teaching and learning in the schools of WWSU.  Come prepared to talk about ways for students to be prepared for the future, find ways the community can engage to support our learners, and have a voice in the future of educating all of our children.

Each “circle” will consist of a group of 10 individuals from various segments of our community (students, teachers, parents, business owners, community members, etc.) and be facilitated by adult and youth partners from our school and community.  These circles will work as a team over the course of four (4) meetings:

March 7, March 14, March 21 and March 28 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Harwood Union High School. Please sign up in advance so we can have an adequate number of student and adult facilitators. (click here to register). 

It is critical that all participants commit to attending all four sessions, as each discussion builds upon the previous one.  Thus, by committing to participate in this process you are agreeing to come to all four meetings. The ultimate purpose of this initiative is to develop and make recommendations to the WWSU Leadership Team to be utilized in the WWSU action plan.  This process is modeled after successful community dialogue programs in other organizations and schools across the country.

Monday, January 4, 2016

WWSU Schools to Host a Screening of the Film: Most Likely To Succeed

The Film. 

For most of the last century, entry-level jobs were plentiful, and college was an affordable path to a fulfilling career. That world no longer exists. The feature-length documentary Most Likely to Succeed examines the history of education, revealing the growing shortcomings of our school model in today?s innovative world. Directed by acclaimed documentarian Greg Whiteley, the film has been named “among the best edu-documentaries ever produced” by Education Week, and called a “smart and engaging look at education in the 21st century” by The Hollywood Reporter. Film Threat stated that “this film should be a required course for all parents and educators.” Most Likely To Succeed is an official selection of many of the nation’s top film festivals, including the prestigious 2015 Sundance Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival.

Where: Harwood Union High School Auditiorium
When: Thursday, January 14 6:30-8:00 p.m.
Free and open to the public