As a teacher, I felt it was imperative to use every instructional minute of the entire school year to make sure my students got the most learning out the classes I was entrusted to teach. When I became a school principal, I had this same expectation for the faculty I served. I have often used the analogy of ‘running through the finish line’ associated with track and field at this time of the school year. As Superintendent, it has been a joy to see activities taking place engaging students right up until the last day of classes. Keeping students engaged until the end doesn’t mean assigning additional ‘busy work.’ Students will almost always rise to our level of expectation, especially when we make the work authentic. Here are a few examples of activities I have personally observed in the last week. I am sure there are dozens of other examples happening in #nfldedu each day.
AP Biology Bio-Rad Partnership
Advanced Placement Biology students, under the direction of their amazing teacher Jody Saxton-West, has a partnership with Bio-Rad. Bio-Rad “provide(s) the healthcare industry with innovative and useful products that help life science researchers accelerate the discovery process and medical diagnostic labs obtain faster, better results.” Our students have functioned as scientists and contributed to the industry’s body of knowledge through beta testing and providing detailed laboratory reports, some of which have been published. This year, they are measuring photosynthesis and cellular respiration in Scenedesmus obliquus algae under varying conditions. These laboratory experiments and reports are taking place after the Advanced Placement examination and I observed students fully engaged in this work — knowing their efforts are making real contributions to science.
Sibley Fractured Fairy Tales
Second Grade students at Sibley Elementary worked hard to practice and perform a series of short plays emulating the infamous Fractured Fairy Tales segment of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame. I had a chance to observe student performances that clearly showed their hard work, collaboration, understanding of timing, and learning to be a patient audience. While these skills may seem trite to some, employers know these skills are essential to workplace success and these students are having an opportunity to develop them early in their academic career. In addition, parents at the performances were grinning ear-to-ear. Everyone loves to see their own children ‘on stage.’ Many thanks to Sibley second grade teacher Paula Seeberg for inviting me to see the plays!
Senior Capstone Projects
This is only the second year that Northfield High School seniors have been required to complete a Senior Capstone Project, focusing on a research question that can be tied to geography and/or economics. These projects were very impressive and address a concern that has plagued educators since the advent of modern high schools: How do we keep seniors engaged all the way until graduation? This project has done just that. Topics are selected by students themselves, essentially becoming passion projects. Students investigated a plethora of subjects, including the environment, poverty, how the World Cup soccer tournament impacted Brazil’s economy, the impact of social media on teenage mental health, the origins of pizza, and the economics of Magic: The Gathering – a trading card game. This outstanding approach to the end of our seniors academic journey is the brainchild of social studies teachers Sarah Swan-McDonald and Brian Stevens.
Our Bridgewater and Sibley Elementary Schools Compañeros students practice and perform the always amazing Espáctulo de Talento each Spring. These Spanish immersion students dance, sing, and perform short theatre pieces in Spanish. This is an excellent way to tie together their learning of language and culture each year.
In addition to all of this, our world-class music programs are sharing their incredible capabilities with the community on almost a daily basis. Northfield band, choir, or orchestra programs are all the envy of the other Minnesota school districts. I must admit that I have to remind myself I am not sitting in a professional concert — though I might as well be for how good they sound! Please enjoy the clips below — our Northfield High School Symphonic Orchestra performing Hoedown by Aaron Copland, our Northfield High School Concert Band performing John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever for a group of local veterans, and a wonderful tradition where our Northfield High School Concert Choir performs the Long Road Home along with any alumni at the concert. Many thanks to our entire Northfield Public Schools music department for their special contributions to our community!
Keeping students engaged in meaningful learning is something we strive for each day of the school year, whether it be September, November, or – yes – even May. I am thrilled our faculty continues to utilize every day equally and focuses on high quality learning experiences for students. Keep running, folks, all the way through the finish line on June 6, 2017!