Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Blackhawk Teachers Share Highlights From the Year

With another school year now behind us here in FSD145, Blackhawk Elementary teachers from each grade level team shared a few highlights from the past year in their classrooms.

Throughout the year our kindergarten students have had the opportunity to experience and participate in a variety of activities. Our students enjoyed learning about Veterans Day with grade level activities centered around veterans and the important role they have played in our history.  They also had a great time celebrating them at our Veterans Day concert. They love to perform and had the opportunity to sing at our Winter Concert and Blackhawk Has Talent show as well.  We celebrated our 100th day of school by doing a variety of STEM related activities.  We have seen our students' letter and sound recognition, as well as their handwriting, grow through the use of our phonics curriculum, Fundations.  Our students' math knowledge has expanded through our daily Number Corner activities and work investigation time. We have had the opportunity to encourage their love of reading through read alouds and time alone to read a book of their choice.  

First Grade
We did a Monster Build and Cheetoh Tower STEM Activity in the fall. The kids showed ingenuity in developing their designs for their monsters. Some could even stand up on their own! The students were able to figure out several different ways to make shapes with a specific number of sides or using only a certain amount of supplies. In October, the students took a field trip to the pumpkin patch. They showed excellent behavior away from the school environment and were very excited to learn about how pumpkins grow. They also got to pick out their own pumpkins! This spring, the Highland Basketball Team came out to read to the first graders. After this experience, some students asked to have more time to read in the classroom that afternoon! The new Fundations program was popular among students. The content was fun and the activities were very engaging. Kindergarten Fundations has helped the ESL students make great strides in their decoding skills for reading. All classes made significant progress in F&P. 88% of Smith’s students improved at least a grade level or more. All of Perry’s class moved two or more levels, and one student jumped four levels. The new curriculum was exciting and effective. The students enjoyed the Bridges lessons and made strides in math. Schoolwide provided opportunities to dive deeply into books and get students thinking more critically about good reader topics.

Second Grade
Second graders took part in monthly STEM challenges. Some of the favorites were: apple rafts, string bridges, marshmallow towers, slingshots, catapults, and marble mazes. Students researched how and why birds build nests, tried building their own, and then convinced a robin to select theirs. During reading/writing instruction, we incorporated a study of rocks where students learned about the different types of rocks and their uses. Students went to the Cave of the Mounds as a culminating activity.  We studied the solar system, and wrote informational essays about the planets, including learning about various art mediums. Students researched animals in their natural habitats, learning to take notes and use them to write informational texts. Students learned to present information to peers, and were able to visit Madison’s Zoo to see their animals in real life.

Third Grade
Our Disney Dude Stem Activity was creative and engaging.  The Keepers of the Land field trip to Oakdale was fun and educational. Bridges and Number Corner emphasized academic vocabulary, partner discussion, explanation,  and the eight mathematical practices, which really makes the kids think. The majority of third graders grew a great deal on the MAP math test. Family Engagement Nights were all a huge success.  

Fourth Grade
Throughout the year, we’ve seen lots of growth with our students in math - MAP scores are showing that implementation of our new Bridges and Number Corner programs seems to be effective, and approximately half of our students are performing at or above grade level. Although not all of our students are currently reading at grade level, they have all shown growth of more than one level on the Fountas and Pinnell year-end assessment. As we worked through our last ELA Schoolwide unit on Energy, we incorporated several hands-on STEM activities, including creating a closed circuit and using wind energy. Our classes even took a trip to the Discovery Center in Rockford to explore and create roller coasters to demonstrate potential and kinetic energy. We went even further with STEM as we attempted to Save Sam - our drowning worm - and to create spaghetti and marshmallow towers, and develop a wind-resistant marshmallow igloo. As part of our AVID program, our fourth graders have also been working hard to identify various levels of questioning, take ownership over assignments and objectives, and develop a system of organization that works best for each individual child. They have also learned to utilize a variety of note-taking strategies and tools to demonstrate reflection and learning (such as the DLIQ, one-pager, and quick writes).


1st and 2nd grade bilingual students display science experiments.
Having Bridges and Number Corner in Spanish and English was a great success because it gave teachers the opportunity to learn math in both languages. Students loved the American Reading Company 100-book challenge Spanish reading program.  They took books home every day and advanced their Spanish reading as they interacted with culturally-relevant books.  They also loved the medals and prizes that they earned as they read. Also, the bilingual students experienced the true value of bilingualism by adhering to any particular language during the day.  Teachers and students throughout the school were very supportive in acknowledging both languages that bilingual students used in the school. Lastly, we should celebrate how all the entire school embraced Tuesdays and Thursdays as our Spanish morning P.R.I.D.E welcome in the gym. The Pledge of Allegiance and P.R.I.D.E. pledge were recited in Spanish by all students and staff.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Superintendent: PARCC Testing Approaches

By: Dr. Mike Schiffman, FSD Superintendent

Spring is in the air and that means students and teachers are preparing for the PARCC exam. This is the third year Illinois has participated in the PARCC assessment. The 2018 exam has a simpler format to improve the testing process while still providing reliable information about student achievement. This year’s results will allow parents, teachers, and students to see how the student is growing in his or her knowledge and understanding of the State’s learning standards, which are focused on college and career readiness.

No assessment can ever fully capture the skills and abilities of a great teacher or the extraordinary benefits and positive impact of a great school. This assessment is simply one reflection of your child’s academic growth. Assessments, along with other indicators such as classroom work samples and teacher observations, help provide a sense of where and how we are succeeding and where and how we must improve. The PARCC assessment is designed to give schools and teachers more information to support improvement efforts and personalize teaching to better guide our students’ learning.

These spring assessments correspond with what the students are learning in the classroom and with the performance expectations of the Illinois Learning Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics.

Below are a few highlights specific to FSD145:        
  • This is our third year of computer-based testing. Our students and teachers are becoming more proficient in the testing process and we expect that testing will go even more smoothly than last year. Teachers have now been working with online PARCC practice tests for three years. Our additional use of online reading and assessment systems like myON and MAP have also helped our students transition to computer-based testing.
  • Our technology infrastructure has improved since last year with the addition of several Chromebook mobile labs. This has increased our testing capacity. In some cases, this has allowed us to complete testing in a shorter test window.
  • We have worked with students on test-taking strategies.
  • We have aligned our Reading and Math curriculums PK-12. We have also aligned them with the Illinois State Standards.
  • Testing begins on March 5th and will be completed by April 20th. Most schools will complete testing by March 23rd.
  • Testing for the PARCC test will be in grade levels 3-8.
Ways you can help your child with PARCC testing:
  • When practicing with your child, focus on their weakest areas in order to strengthen those areas and to build their confidence for taking the actual test.
  • Keep practice sessions short and if your child becomes frustrated, stop the session. 
  • Be sure your child gets a good night’s sleep.
  • Be sure your child eats a healthy breakfast.
  • Share the importance of the exam with your child. This test will help gauge the learning level of your child. Encourage them “To Do Your Best on the Test!”
  • Help your child stay calm the day of the test.
The district has implemented several new reading and math strategies, curriculums, and programs the last three years to help the students increase their learning ability. These strategies and programs will help them in the classroom and on the test. Thank you again for your continued positive support as we educate every student for the challenges of today and the opportunities of tomorrow through the continuous pursuit of excellence.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Freeport High School: Pretzels Shine on the Big Stage

It probably goes without saying that most educators love to watch their students succeed on the big stage. Freeport High School students have prominently displayed Pretzel PRIDE with several big accomplishments lately and show no indication of slowing down. Please allow me a bit of space today to brag about our Pizazzy Pretzels.
  • Academics--We are proud that our students have bested their MAP and PSAT scores all fall, with some students’ performance allowing them exemptions from one or more final exams. Our students are also well on the way to earning more than 200 AP or HCC dual credit college credits in our advanced course opportunities.
  • Competitive Dance--The dance team moved up a class to 2A this year, but still made a strong showing at State, taking 20th place. Also of note, senior dancer Davida Sanders sang the National Anthem acapella twice for the IHSA at the start of the 1A and 2A/3A competitions last Friday. In addition, the team was crowned the NIC-10 Champs for the first time in the school’s history this year.
  • Boys’ Bowling--Thanks to a healthy helping of 80 chicken nuggets on Friday and 100 nuggets on Saturday, the boys’ bowling team picked up the energy they needed to propel past the competition and finish in 2nd place at the State meet this past weekend. Whether it was the loud pretzel pants the team wore, or the loud and proud Pretz chants, everyone in the O’Fallon house knew Freeport was in town.
Rounding the bend to the end of the season:
  • Girls’ Bowling-- The girls’ bowling team is quietly having a very successful season. They were crowned NIC-10 Co-Champions and are favorites to advance in the state series. Freeport hosts the regional this Saturday, February 3rd.
  • Chess Team--Charles Gill secured a key round one win against an Auburn opponent in sectionals last weekend, along with key contributions in rounds two and three by Sam Stoehr, Noah Watson and Hunter Deal to propel the Chess team downstate. The team looks to dominate during the state tournament the second weekend of February.
  • Speech Team--The Pretzels host Regionals on our home turf this Saturday, February 3rd. The Speech team has a strong group of seniors who are planning to make their last run at the postseason the most memorable one yet. Seniors to watch:  Sara Heiden, Katelynn McIlwain, and Elizabeth Julius.
  • Wrestling-- Top-seeded junior Major Dedmond is back and hopes to best his 3rd place state finish from last season. Sophomore Matt Chavers is a favorite to qualify for state competition. Several other teammates hope to do well at regionals, which take place in Sycamore this Saturday, February 3rd. 
  • Swimming-- Freeport hosts the boys’ swim conference tournament on Saturday, February 3rd. The boys also hope to perform well at sectionals on Saturday, February 17th at Jefferson High School.
  • Basketball--The basketball season is winding down and both programs are striving to play their best at the end of the season - just in time for the state series. The girls’ regional begins the week of February 12th and the boys’ regional action begins the week of February 26th.
  • NJROTC--The Freeport NJROTC Rifle Team is traveling to Chandler, Arizona to compete in the Navy JROTC National Rifle Championships. The Pretzels qualified in the fall of 2017 for this event. The National Qualifiers are Emma Thompson, Makiah Stacy, Linsey Kleckner, Austin Martinez, Kaitlyn Radick, and Kya Lynon. The match will be conducted February 7-10.  Currently ranked 3rd in the nation, our Pretzels hope to finish strong in the competition.
Last week, the 105th Annual FHS Band Concert occurred. During the concert, I couldn’t help but think about how parents and community members must have arrived to hear the concert that first year. I have no doubt there were horses and carriages, and possibly early automobiles, parked outside the school in 1913! What hasn’t changed in 105 years is the quality of the musical talents our Freeport students and their teachers share with us year after year. It is no wonder we are a Grammy award-winning program!

Every principal has certain parts of their job that they LOVE. I happen to love attending student after-school events… everything from athletic competitions to musical and drama productions to speech competitions. To see a student compete, face adversity, and let their competitive edge drive their success provides a lesson beyond the classroom walls that lasts a lifetime. We are so proud of our Prestigious Pretzels at FHS. Our students represent us well time and time again on the big stage. We have a lot of reason to be proud of Freeport!

Dr. Beth Summers, Principal 
Freeport High School

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Empire Elementary: Teachers Share January Learning Highlights

Our classrooms at Empire Elementary School are busy with engaging learning this month! Teachers from each grade level team shared a highlight about what their students have been studying.

Kindergarten Team
Penguin Research
Kindergarten is focusing on non-fiction texts and using that text for informational learning. We are studying penguins and their habitat in the Arctic region. This is one of our favorite units because we do hands-on activities to show how penguins survive in their environment. We take pride in doing a research book to add to our understanding about penguins.

1st Grade Team
Williams Tree Farm - Rockton, IL
PBL Cumulative Adventure: How Living Things Grow and Change
First grade students recently went to Williams Tree Farm in Rockton, Illinois. Students were learning all about reindeer in class and had the opportunity to see one in real life named Dancer. We also saw goats, camels, llamas, ponies, and a wallaby. Students learned about the life cycle of trees and we saw first hand how to make a wreath. Then, off we went on a sleigh ride through the snow to learn about the trees, how they grow and change, and how old some of them are! It was a magical winter day!

2nd Grade Team
Sweet and Colorful
January can be a bit sour and dark, but our classrooms were sweet and colorful! Students were engaged in nonfiction texts. One of our favorites was an article on M&M’s which included a text feature called a timeline to illustrate the history of how M&M’s got started. Transitioning into math, we did an activity to help students develop number sense in the context of a statistical investigation. Students got to work in partners to collect, graph, and analyze data about their M&M’s. Below are some photos of our Marvelous and Magnificent discoveries.

3rd Grade Team
Surgeons for a Day!
Third grade students at Empire Elementary have been studying nonfiction text features with the new Schoolwide curriculum. In order to see that students fully understood how important text features are, they became surgeons for a day! Students put on all of the necessary equipment to ensure they and their patients were safe during surgery. Our new surgeons worked together to identify which text feature each patient needed based on their given symptoms. Students then needed to find that text feature and apply it to their patient before their patient flat-lined!

4th Grade Team
Great Wall of Base Ten
Students produced the Great Wall of Base Ten to reflect their understanding of place value by creating a model of our standard number system. This cooperative project was displayed and referred to during our Multi-Digit Multiplication and Early Division unit. Culminating activities during this unit included sketching multiplication arrays, building ratio tables, developing and understanding of doubling and halving factors, and the effects on their product.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Taylor Park: Art Club Offers Students A Unique Opportunity

Taylor Park Family Resource Coordinator Marie Stott has a love for art. Outside of school, she spends her free time doing photography and creating art at home. Through her work with the students at Taylor Park Elementary, she noticed a need for an after school program. Ms. Stott came up with the idea of starting an after school art club, not only to share her love for art but also to give students an opportunity to be a part of something special and unique.

Extensive research has been done on the effectiveness and impact of after school programs. As the article “The Benefits of Participation in After School Activities” states, “Experts in child advancement suggest that participation in extracurricular activities on a regular basis is the best way to help children develop their individual personality, cut down on emotional stress, and enhance social or academic skills that could benefit them in the future. Psychologists even recommend after school activities as the preferred choice over confidence-building classes.”

Programs like the Taylor Park Art Club:
  1. Boost Academic Performance
  2. Improve Life and Social Skills
  3. Create Safer, Happier Children
  4. Promote Healthy Hobbies
  5. Encourage a Brighter Future 

I asked a few Taylor Park Art Club students what they had to say about their experience. Tegan C., a 2nd grade student in Ms. Bowers’ class, shared, “I like Art because I like to paint and color.” Hannah M., a 4th grade student in Mrs. Volk’s class, stated, “Art club is an interesting activity because you can stay after school to do Art. You can show your emotions. Staying with Ms. Marie is fun too, and you get to have a snack.” Teighan M., a 4th grader in Mrs. Pleshkewych’s class, added that her mom plans to hang her completed art pieces on the wall in her bedroom. Her favorite Art Club project so far was the button tree (pictured) because “there were so many different buttons to choose from.”

Each quarter, the Taylor Park Art club has an opportunity for new participants. Anywhere from 15-20 Kindergarten through 4th grade students with parental permission can sign up for this after school program. Ms. Stott tries to reach a different group of students each quarter by allowing new participants to sign up for the club first. If there are spots available, she then opens the club up to students who have participated before. Supplies for the program are funded through donations and fundraising. If you would like to donate supplies to the Taylor Park Art Club, please contact Ms. Marie Stott at Taylor Park Elementary at 815-232-0390.

Brian Lamm, Principal
Taylor Park Elementary School

The article referenced, “The Benefits of Participation in After School Activities”, can be accessed in its entirety at the following link: http://www.sparkpe.org/blog/the-benefits-of-participation-in-after-school-activities/.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Empire Elementary: Creating a 21st-Century Library

Freeport School District’s theme for the 2017-2018 school year is “Adapt to the Change!” Empire Elementary School is hoping to do just! Technology is by far the fastest changing element in the 21st Century. Do you recall the McFly family sitting around the dinner table wearing Virtual Reality Goggles in Back to the Future II? Well, the future is here and Empire School is on the cusp of making this futuristic situation a reality.

Virtual Reality (VR) is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real way by a person using special electronic equipment.

VR has the potential to change multiple industries, including entertainment, design, real estate and especially education. So far, only a few students have been able to harness the power of Virtual Reality, but it is likely to be something that the children born this decade could consider standard once they reach high school.

What are the benefits of VR in education? 

Students can participate in field trips beyond imagination. One group of students was treated to an awesome excursion: a bus ride to Mars. The bus was transformed, replacing the view out the window with the landscape of the red planet. This incredible journey was easily accessible to students using VR equipment. 

Students can also find themselves transported to the plains of the Kalahari, the deepest depths of the Pacific Ocean, or the peak of Mount Everest without ever leaving the classroom. Have you ever wondered what it was like to walk among the dinosaurs or to be a part of a wagon-train traveling across the United States? Imagine learning Italian by visiting cafes in Venice. Imagine exploring career fields by walking alongside doctors, microbiologists, and world-renowned chefs and artists. Imagine watching volcanoes erupt and crossing the Delaware with George Washington. The possibilities are endless!

Virtual Reality equipment gets kids excited about the “STEM” subjects, meaning Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It is a way to open a world of interactive technology to students, making learning exciting and fun. 

According to the Virtual Reality Society, using VR in education provides benefits that include:
  • Active, rather than passive, learning
  • An immersive experience
  • Immediate engagement
  • A hands-on approach that aids retention
  • Helping students to understand complex subjects and theories

Using VR equipment has also been shown to improve user performance in tasks such as spatial understanding, memorization, comprehension, and engagement.

For those of us born in different generations, doing something as technical as this at such a young age seems impressive. However, with an increasing dependence on technical skills in the workplace, it is more important than ever that children start learning to operate various kinds of technology from their young age.

Let’s embrace the change that technology creates. Let's create experiences that shape who our young people become. Let’s allow our students to experience first-hand all that their minds can wonder.

The Empire faculty and students are raising funds to purchase such equipment for the school library. Every student will have access to the experiences afforded through Virtual Reality. If you are interested in donating to one of our projects, please contact Empire Elementary School at 815-232-0380. We would be proud to offer our students learning that is only limited by their imaginations.

Chris Truckenmiller, 2nd Grade Teacher
Empire Elementary School

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lincoln-Douglas: What Is Project Based Learning Really About?

As an educator for 30 years, I am continually amazed at how education has changed. When I started, education wasn’t much more than the teacher presenting a lesson, and students sitting and receiving the knowledge that was offered. Much of the learning was done through texts or notes, and very little authentic learning was taking place. It was, in many aspects, the same educational offerings that were available to students in the 19th and 20th centuries. The age old practices of spelling lists, fact tables, and handwriting were the expected outcomes. There were students who excelled at this type of learning, but more often than not, students were put into above average, average, and poor categories. Those who excelled were considered gifted, and those that were at the other end were, more often than not, forgotten. 

In today’s dynamic learning environments, educators are challenged with helping all students find educational success. We are charged with teaching students to be creative, to be critical thinkers, to collaborate, and to learn to communicate. These 21st century skills are the basis for all occupations, and are discussed and reinforced throughout all curricular areas and grade levels. Teachers and systems are expected to show growth on high stakes tests, to involve the community, and to develop our children to think and problem-solve. This is a much different focus than when I was a student in public education. Now, education is expected to be globally competent and competitive. In addition, our global community has become more focused on solving some of our greatest challenges: famine, poverty, and more.

How is Lincoln-Douglas tackling these many and varied needs our students are facing? With driven teachers, focused and purposeful lessons, three new and excellent curricula, and a philosophy of learning with purpose. In other words, one of our focuses is learning through Project Based Learning (PBL).

Unlike the projects of old, such as putting leaves on a board and sticking it up on the wall, for instance, the new project based learning process focuses on thinking and the purpose behind instructional learning. PBL starts with a meaningful, intentional question that drives further inquiry for students. From this starting point, students create and explore ways to find answers to not only that focused question, but other questions that it creates. Next, students look at ways to put together their research and then present their new knowledge to their peers, parents, teachers, or whomever their audience will be.

How does PBL look at Lincoln-Douglas? We are at the very start of this process, and we are dedicated to continually improving our instructional skills.

At Lincoln-Douglas, our preschool, kindergarten, and first grade are finding creative ways to use PBL for our students. In preschool, for example, Mrs. Rittmeyer is working on how to create delicious pizzas. She is having students answer the critical question, “What makes a great pizza?” From there, the students are thinking of ingredients, making drawings, constructing model pizzas, and explaining their thinking about why their ideas make a great pizza. There is no right or wrong. There are only possibilities and excitement for learning. From there, our preschool students will be going to a local pizza establishment to create pizzas of their very own.

Earlier this fall, our kindergarten students asked the critical question, “What makes a butterfly?” They observed Monarch caterpillars eating and growing on milkweed. From there they watched caterpillars pupate and become chrysalises. Finally, once the beautiful Monarch butterflies emerged from their encasements, the students walked to an open area and released them to their journeys and adventures. Throughout this process, students wrote stories, kept detailed notes, and prepared presentations to give to other students throughout the school. Even 4th graders were an audience, and our kindergartners blossomed. You could see the pride in their work and the ownership in their knowledge. They even taught the adults a thing or two about the life-cycle of these amazing Monarch Butterflies. 

Starting in November, the first grade children will be exploring natural habitats and looking at a variety of critical questions: “What is a habitat? What adaptations are needed to survive in that habitat? Have there ever been exceptions in the animal kingdom to these adaptations?” The first grade students will be creating a number of sub-presentations looking at animals' regional temperatures, body coverings, diets, and more. So much of what they will learn requires asking questions they have yet to create. Their questions will drive their presentations and permit them to own their learning at whole new levels. We are all anxiously awaiting the outstanding learning that will be taking place in our first grade classrooms through this project.

As I hope you can see, I am very passionate about Project Based Learning. At 
Lincoln-Douglas, our teachers are equally, if not more, passionate about taking risks with learning and asking critical questions to drive inquiry. Education has moved from the age of sitting and getting to become an enriching educational process for all students to succeed and achieve. Lincoln-Douglas is leading the way in this area, and I cannot be more proud of the efforts being made every day to improve instruction so students can create their successes. Lincoln-Douglas is driven to offer powerful, purposeful learning opportunities for all of our students to become the professionals and craftsmen and women of the future. We are dedicated to our students and their future successes. Well done, Lincoln-Douglas!

Matthew Bohrer, Principal
Lincoln-Douglas Elementary

In Cooperation With: Lincoln-Douglas PBL Task Force members Jackie Rittmeyer, Stephanie Webster, Katherine Lutz, Kim Confer, & Jenice Jacobs, as well as FSD 21st Century Learning Coordinator Sandra Ehrat.