Monday, January 5, 2015

Check out these learning opportunities for students and staff

Welcome to 2015,

As we begin this year -- we focus on providing opportunities to increase the skills of students and staff of Benton Community.  We've gathered a few resources (from the Iowa DE and SAI recent newsletters) that may give staff some ideas of learning opportunities for the students in their classrooms and/or for themselves.

1.  Juneteenth essay contest for students:

  • Iowa students in grades 9-11 are invited to celebrate 150 years of Juneteenth by entering an essay contest. Juneteenth is an international observance marking the end of slavery on June 19, 1865.  The purpose of the contest is to help young people appreciate scholarship, cultural diversity, and community relations. This year’s essay theme is: “How does education influence freedom, liberty, and responsible citizenship in a culturally diverse society?”The deadline for entries is March 31. Winners will be honored with trophies and gift cards at the Iowa Juneteenth Observance Community Appreciation Banquet in Des Moines on June 11. Contest requirements and entry forms can be found here. For more information, contact Celeste Lawson at the Iowa Juneteenth Observance at

2.  Teacher leadership, Iowa Learning Online
  • Iowa Learning Online can provide scheduling solutions for Teacher Leadership and Compensation schools. Iowa Learning Online makes it easier to continue to provide your students with top-notch teaching while sharing the talents of your local instructional coaches and mentors. Partnering with Iowa Learning Online also could include an offer and teach capacity, when approved by a short waiver.  For more information, visit or contact Iowa Learning Online director Gwen Nagel at
3.  Early Literacy Implementation Waivers
  • The Early Literacy Implementation (ELI) page on the Iowa Department of Education website has been revised so that you have access to all recorded webinars, Power Point slides and related support documents such as a parent contract example, parent letter example, and teacher observation tool.  In January, the Department will host six webinars, listed below. If you have identified an area in which a webinar is needed, email the ELI contacts.  There will be weekly Iowa TIER-FAST-IGDIs question-and-answer webinars on Friday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on the following dates: Jan. 9, 16, 23, 30, and Feb. 6.  Another webinar on criteria/rubric to identify evidence-based literacy interventions will be held Jan. 14 from 2 to 3:30 p.m.  Webinars are hosted at the following website. Read more about early literacy at the ELI page. For more information, contact Barbara Ohlund at or Amy Williamson at
4.  Why project based learning?
  • The Buck Institute has outlined eight essential elements for PBL, including significant content, a driving question, opportunities for inquiry and innovation, and high levels of student voice and choice. Typical classroom “projects” lack these essential elements and thus are mostly busy work. The content isn’t significant because it’s just recall and regurgitation. There is no big question driving students’ efforts. And every student work product looks the same, which, as Chris Lehmann notes, means that it isn’t a project, it’s a recipe (e.g., 20 identical student posters of a cow’s digestive system!). 
  • There are many different models for creating high quality PBL experiences for students.  The Iowa BIG School in Cedar Rapids has organized its entire school day around rich inquiry and problem solving. The Spirit Lake, Okoboji, Newell-Fonda, North Union school districts all have two-week PBL sessions in January or May in which students spend 50 or more hours immersed in deeper projects. Some Iowa teachers are experimenting with “genius hour,” 20 percent time or other structures to facilitate student passion projects. 
  • John Dewey famously reminded us that we learn what we do. If students spend 90 percent of their time making a poster or mobile and 10 percent of their time writing down facts that they quickly looked up, we can’t really say that significant learning occurred. The products look nice but there’s little substance behind them. Walk around your school and look at the “projects” that your students do. Ask yourself if the creation of those student work products required deep, complex thinking and problem solving. 
5.  EdCamp for your own learning
  • EdCampIowa (Jan. 31, 2015) is coming up FAST and is likely the most powerful day of learning you and your staff will have all year. Sign up today and encourage your teachers, parents, and students to attend too.  Five locations means that there’s one near you!
6.  StuCamp for student learning
  • StuCamp, a student-oriented unconference in three simultaneous locations across Iowa, is on February 28.  

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