September 25, 2012
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All About the Middle Grades

Back to School:
Middle Grades Today
Classes are under way at schools across the country, and middle-grades educators everywhere are working to create interesting, dynamic and challenging lessons to meet the unique academic, social and other needs of their students in grades four through eight.

In this MiddleWeb Back-to-School Report, we provide coverage of how some middle-grades educators are engaging students in the classroom this fall as well as adapting to the changes brought on by the adoption of the Common Core State Standards. In addition, we offer an interview with MiddleWeb founder and co-editor John Norton, who offers his insight on trends in middle-grades education, and we also include a number of resources we hope will be helpful for those in the field.

We hope you will find this MiddleWeb SmartBrief Special Report informative and useful. If you don't already receive MiddleWeb SmartBrief, we urge you to sign up for our timely e-newsletter. MiddleWeb SmartBrief delivers the stories making news in your profession directly to your inbox -- for free.
  Expert Viewpoint 
  • What will the new school year bring for the middle grades?
    The implementation of the Common Core State Standards, the integration of digital tools for teaching and learning and the ongoing debate over how best to configure schools by grade level are among the issues on the forefront of middle-grades education, according to MiddleWeb founder and co-editor John Norton. In this interview, Norton discusses these trends and offers some thoughts and predictions for the future concerning those who work with students in the middle grades. SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education (9/21) Email this Story
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  The Middle-Grades Classroom 
  • Graphing game helps students investigate math concepts
    Middle-school math teacher Marsha Ratzel in this blog post shares a method for bringing Common Core strategies into her classroom by making graphing equations into a game. She offers a step-by-step guide to a lesson in which she teaches students about the equations of parallel and perpendicular lines, allowing them to experiment throughout the lesson. "The best part here was not only the engagement, but the fact that we 'tested' everyone's idea ... rather than me telling them if they were correct or not," Ratzel writes. Reflections of a Techie blog (9/9)
  • What should middle-grades students read this year?
    Sixth-grade language arts teacher Bill Ferriter in this blog post shares suggestions from a class assignment on what middle-school students should read this school year. His students offer their top reads -- from the "Guardians of Ga'Hoole" series to "Pretty Little Liars" -- in Twitter-friendly form with 140 characters and accompanying hashtags. SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education (9/13) Email this Story
  • Ethics lessons that work in the middle-school classroom
    Having middle-school students debate ethical dilemmas in class can be a powerful tool for teachers to "hook" students early in the year, promoting "critical thinking, participation and self-efficacy," according to middle-school educators John Prosser and Ryan Prosser. Ethics, unlike morality, can be taught as a method to analyze and evaluate beliefs, they write. The pair also offer suggestions for lessons on ethics, from debating a scenario based on a Harvard lecture to teaching classic short stories such as "The Lottery." Education Week Teacher (premium article access compliments of (9/12) Email this Story
  • Ideas for election-themed classroom projects
    Teachers can use this year's presidential election to engage students through project-based learning, journalist Suzie Boss writes. She suggests projects that allow students to have a voice in civic issues. At the New Tech Network, students are creating campaign messages and aligning with political parties. Boss also lists resources to assist teachers with media literacy lessons and other ideas for using the election in the classroom. Boss's blog (9/4)
  • Other News
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  Standards & Assessment 
  • Middle-grades educators begin transition to common core
    Some middle-grades educators in Chicago-area schools are among those beginning the transition this year from the Illinois Learning Standards to the Common Core State Standards, which are being implemented in 46 states. Districts have until 2014 to make the switch to the new standards, but many educators say they are incorporating aligned lessons on a day-to-day basis. "It's a big shift," eighth-grade English teacher Holly Bontkowski said. "It's going to be very important that they can read history, science." WBEZ-FM (Chicago) (8/29)
  • Frequent testing used to gauge students' understanding
    Teachers in Richmond County, Ga., are using short tests every 15 days to determine whether students need immediate help with the curriculum. The tests are given in core course areas, range from 10 to 15 questions and do not count toward students' grades. If a student does not understand a concept, teachers will try to intervene in the next two days with individual tutoring, said Nathan Benedict, the principal of Tutt Middle School. The Augusta Chronicle (Ga.) (9/16) Email this Story
  • Does grade configuration affect student achievement?
    Students transitioning to middle school in sixth or seventh grade may be more likely to experience a drop in achievement than students enrolled in K-8 schools, according to research by Harvard University assistant professor Martin West, who considered nine years of data from state tests as well as attendance and dropout rates in Florida. While some question the effectiveness of the middle-school model, others say there are many factors at play beyond grade configuration. "The question is, what are the practices that are occurring to make some schools successful?" asked Laura Rogers of Tufts University. Ed. magazine (Fall 2012) Email this Story
  • Other News
  Resources for Teachers 
  • Imagine STEM lessons that teach students to think
    In MiddleWeb's first weekly blog, STEM Imagineering, science educator Anne Jolly explores the engineering design process that can make science, technology, engineering and math projects authentic, deeply engaging and full of sticky learning. Along the way, Jolly (an NSF-funded curriculum writer and former state teacher of the year) encourages readers to join in some "get-real" teacher chat about student teaming, meaningful STEM math lessons, the reality of limited time and other dilemmas. Read more. Email this Story
  • 2 teaching fundamentals for the middle grades
    Well-known writer, speaker and former middle-grades teacher Rick Wormeli explains why frequent descriptive feedback to students is essential for long-lasting learning. Wormeli also urges teachers to trust their training and evaluations of adolescent student needs in deciding how to use curriculum pacing guides. Not doing so, he suggests, could amount to professional malpractice. From a MiddleWeb article. Email this Story

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