Thursday, December 15, 2016

Careful the things you say...update!

...children will listen.

Careful the things you do.
Children will see and learn.

One of Stephen Sondheim's most poignant lyrics comes from INTO THE WOODS which is being presented tonight at 7:00  and tomorrow at 1:30 & 7:00 by Stony Brook Theater Arts.  It is an incredibly powerful cautionary tale using familiar fairy tale characters woven together in a story the reminds us to be careful what we wish for as it might certainly come true.  The musical complexity and richness of the lyrics make it one of the most difficult pieces in the Musical Theater genre and our students are wonderfully proud of the work they have been doing to bring this production to life.

This week I was able to enjoy watching many of our students participate in the Hour of Code as Mr. McElhinney and I made our regular tours through the building.  While the wifi is not always as fast as the students would like it to be, once they were connected and coding I did not hear any complaints and I was very impressed with the amount of code students were able to produce in such a short period of time.  They all have links to the Hour of Code sites that they can continue to access through a Google Classroom that Ms. Schultz established for the event.

Another treat during the week was participating in some of the 6th grade Social Studies projects as they are creating digital scrapbooks of their virtual trips to many of the countries they have been recently studying. I look forward to seeing the finished products to find out where I actually traveled :?)  

'Tis the notify families of our scheduled state assessments.  Please take a minute to access the letter from Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kerry Clery regarding our decision to move towards the online version of Next Generation MCAS. Additionally, we have been randomly selected again to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the 2017 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey.  Both of the those assessments will be administered to a small group of students selected from our enrollment.  If your child is selected to participate, you will be notified with more information regarding the specific assessment and the date in which it will be administered.  While there is no process for students to opt out of MCAS sessions, both the NAEP and MYHS sessions are voluntary and students selected will have the opportunity to choose whether or not they participate.  Again, if your child is selected for either NAEP or MYHS you will be notified and provided with additional information.  For those of you paying attention, It is merely coincidence that this update began with a journey into the woods...

If you are looking for additional opportunities to enjoy student performances, the WA Winter Orchestra Concert is tonight at 7:00 pm.  You could listen to the orchestra tonight and come enjoy one of the performances of INTO THE WOODS tomorrow!

A reminder that next week's schedule is a bit different with the parent conferences.  Students have a 2.5 hour delayed start on Tuesday (12/13) with the morning bell ringing at 10:05 to start classes.  Wednesday (12/14) there is no school for students at all.

The Scholastic Book Fair has arrived and is set-up in our library and will be available for parents to visit during the conference hours this year!

Have a wonderful weekend,


Friday, December 9, 2016 update. (Posted on SB Website 12/2/16)

While I would like to think of myself as a well educated individual, I often find myself saying, "what did that mean?" and look to see if I am being directed towards the proverbial doghouse.

Simply trying to follow a face to face conversation between a group of middle school students can leave us asking, "is that code for something?" Now, add the online conversations to the mix and it is clear that they often don't even know what they are saying to each other.  They need constant code breaking skills to navigate their own conversations.  While decoding the conversation is not always easy, the ability to have the conversations keeps students connected at all hours.  If you are looking for additional resources to help navigate your own options in regards to your children's online activity you might find ConnectSafely a useful site.

However, in the world of computer science, the term code brings on an entirely new significance, one of which most of our students are not yet aware.  

With that in mind...throughout the day next Wednesday, Stony Brook students will be participating in an Hour of Code as part of the National Computer Science Education Week .  According to their website, "The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify 'code', to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1-hour coding activities but expanding to all sorts of community efforts (2016)." One of our goals this year involves increasing and embedding maker-centered learning environments throughout the building and in all content areas as best as we can; coding is very much part of that environment.  Mrs. Schultz, our Digital Learning Specialists, has spearheaded our involvement in the Hour of Code as additional support to all of the work that Mrs. Smith, our Librarian, is doing to provide opportunities for students to explore our Innovation Lab in the library (a.k.a. our MakerSpace).  By creating multiple opportunities for students and collaborating with teachers from various content areas and grade levels, these two teachers are actively supporting our students ability to access and explore our wide variety of technology resources on a regular basis.

The maker-centered learning has even spread to our administrative offices.  Towers, walls, parapets and even a bridge or two have been constructed out of the donated cans and various other non-perishable items filling our offices.  Most of the structures have been built and organized by the students, but admittedly I have taken some time to flip a few cans here and there to both upset the balance of colors and or to see how many people entering the office feel the need to organize labels in a specific order.  It's an interesting social experiment.  There is still time to donate to the cause...of supporting the Westford Food Pantry that is...not tormenting individuals with specific organizational talents.  The Student Council Can drive is running through Dec 16.  As of today, there is still room for me to sit in my office.  Just me, however, as the other chairs have all been filled with cans already which I can't say is a horrible problem.  The aroma developing in the office keeps transporting me back to my first job as a grocery clerk back in the day when we actually had to type numbers into a cash register...what a nightmare.

With that being said, please take an extra minute and read the messages below from our parent organizations and community partners, as well.

Have a wonderful weekend,


Friday, November 18, 2016

Canned Gratitude...update!

Well, actually my gratitude is fresh and organic...even if it seems to be fragranced with the most natural of fertilizers...

My office is getting very crowded but I can still manage to get to my desk.

Cans upon cans upon cans have crossed the threshold already and we are still early in the drive.  It warms my heart to see the students so genuinely interested in displacing me from my office.  I keep finding additional items in strategic places like my printer when I am trying to troubleshoot reasons things are working around me.  My bookshelf is now a tower of Ramen noodles and almost every level surface in the office is supporting piles of cans, boxes of pasta, and a roll or two of toilet paper.  A package of toothbrushes were placed on my desk yesterday.  I was not sure if it was hint or not, but I chose to believe it was a donation to the drive.  The items are numerous and the variety is wide; initially, students were simply spreading them out over the floor but they were reminded that the goal is max volume capacity not just area!

In addition to the can drive, our CommUnity Club (formerly known as Service Learning Club) is working with all of our advisories to collect toys and clothes for local children in need from both ours and surrounding communities.  Our students are also looking to help support the WA Student Council's efforts to collect school supplies and coats for the students impacted by the fire in an elementary school in Lawrence recently.  We received this information from WA regarding their drive:

-Last Monday the Bruce School in Lawrence had a fire and much of their school's interior was destroyed
-Westford Academy Student Council is running a Coat and School Supplies Drive from Friday November 18-Wednesday November 23 to help replace items lost in the fire 

Some items to donate include (gently used or new):
-School Supplies 

*We are looking for supplies and clothing for grades 3-8 

Thank you for your support and we hope you have a wonderful holiday!  

We are very proud of how willing our students and their families are to get involved in helping when they recognize a need.

Very soon, the students should be able to express how proud they are of the work they have been doing in their classes as the first term grades will be available soon after the Thanksgiving break.  Grades closed today and after they are completed and verified, they will be made viewable in iParent on Wednesday, November 30 at 2:30PM.

Parent Conferences will be held on Tuesday, December 13th from 7:30AM to 9:30AM and Wednesday, December 14th from 2:00PM to 8:00PM.  There is a 2 ½ hour delayed opening on December 13th and no school on December 14th.  In an effort to accommodate all families interested in attending a conference, we offer a choice between one of two teacher groups: Math/Social Studies or ELA/Science.  Should you wish to schedule a conference we are asking families to sign up for one conference per student online as we have in the past via Sign Up Genius. In addition to one of the team of teachers time-slots, families can also sign-up for a conference with the Integrated Arts and the Foreign Language Teachers if they wish to do so through the Sign Up Genius website.  The website will be open for families to access starting on Wednesday, November 30 at 9:00AM and closing on Thursday, December 8 at 2:00PM.  Changes can be made by calling the office after that time.

These ten-minute check-ins with two of your child's team teachers provide an opportunity for you to share important information, stay informed of your child's progress, and discuss the first trimester report card. Parent conferences are not required, and many parents find a phone call, email or one of our available weekly team conferences meet their needs.  As I shared earlier, our students are well supported both here and at home and these conferences are only one of the many processes that we have in place that help foster the home/school communication which we know to be one the most critical elements for overall student success.  When the adults are all on the same page, the children are more likely to thrive.

I would like to express specific gratitude to the WMSPTO for once again sponsoring our 6th graders visit with Newbery-Medal Award winning author Jack Gantos.  As always, he was entertaining and inspiring.  The students were gripped to his stories and enjoyed hearing about his writing process and how he developed his voice as a writer.

With next week being so short, I will wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving now and do my part to give your inbox a break for a few days!


Big Ben, Kids...Parliament...update! (posted on SB website 11/10/16)

A number of activities this week made me think about a European Vacation...

8th Graders were singing about the Bubonic Plague (I didn't say all of the activities made me want to take a European Vacation) while others were watching entertaining video clips of the British Parliament in action.  

7th Graders were imagining life under Hammurabi's Laws which took me much further than Europe...but I doubt Clark Griswald would know that.

6th Graders were slapping Spanish vocabulary pictures while others were dancing and acting them out in rapid succession.   

...of course, the students felt like it was a vacation with only three days of classes this week.

Additionally, there is a plan brewing among the Student Council that would result in me having increasingly limited access to my office over the next few weeks.  That doesn't hurt the notion of European Vacations.  The plan as I understand it is to collect enough items for a food drive to fill my entire office and if possible, Mr. McElhinney's, as well.  There is a lot more space in my office, as I remind him regularly, so it will take a lot of items!  From now until December 16th, the Student Council is organizing a can drive for the Westford Food Pantry.  They are looking for donations of food items including instant potatoes, stuffing mixes, soup, spam (not the email variety), cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie filling, and pasta.  Toiletries such as toilet paper, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs and deodorant (not sure if that is for the drive or just for me and Mr. Mac) are needed, as well.  Any contributions are greatly appreciated!

As we enter the long weekend, I took a moment at the end of the day to share two quotes with the students and remind everyone the importance of not forgetting the reason for tomorrow's Holiday.  
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress." - Frederick Douglass

Without the struggle and commitment of our veterans, much of our wonderful progress would simply not have been possible. We must remain steadfast in recognizing the sacrifices so many have made to protect our liberties.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." -John F. Kennedy

No explanation needed.

I hope your Veteran's Day and the weekend are wonderful!


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Electionem suffragio...update!

In case you haven't heard, there is a big election next Tuesday.  Consider yourself updated. I could not help but find it humorous that the Latin word to vote (suffragio) sounds like suffer.  Regardless of any specific political view, we have all suffered through a barrage of opinions over the last few months.  Enough of that.

8th grade Latin students inspired the title of this update as they were busy creating Propaganda Posters for candidates in Ancient Rome.  Huge posters were plastered in the hall for them to cover with typical Latin phrases they translated while studying local elections in Ancient Rome.  I was pleasantly surprised to stumble into 8th graders creating graffiti on a Friday morning; according to Ms. Latham:
This activity is part of the Local Elections unit in which students learn about the various positions one might run for in local elections in ancient Rome, what the duties of these officials were, and the overall election process.  We study the ancient election slogans that were found on the walls of the forum during the excavation of Pompeii and learn many of the various abbreviations that were commonly used in such election 'graffiti.'  The culminating activity of this unit is the mock election with four teams of candidates running for positions.  As a part of this project, students were writing their election slogans on the walls of our 'forum.'  They were required to use the same style of lettering found in Pompeii, three of the newly learned 'Special Verbs, ' and four of the abbreviations they learned from the ancient election graffiti found in Pompeii.  
It was awesome!

Speaking of studying another part of the world, I received an email from WA today extending a fantastic opportunity to our 8th graders:

Colonialism and Conquest in the Pacific

Eighth grade students at Stony Brook School have the opportunity to join students from Westford Academy on an educational experience to New Zealand, Australia & Hawaii upon completion of their freshman year at the high school. The trip runs for two weeks beginning at the end of June 2018. Enrollment has begun and over twenty spots have been filled. Interested candidates should contact Westford Academy History teacher Mr. Stephen Scully ( for details and pricing.

Back to great things happening here, another highlight of the week was watching some of the 6th grade presentations in both Engineering and Theater Arts.  Engineering students were presenting their research on rockets prior to the next phase in which they build their own.  There was a wide variety of information as students created guiding questions to focus their research and had multiple options as to how they wanted to present their information.  They are now working on creating their own rockets which will be launched in the weeks to come.  The students in Theater Arts were tasked with creating marketing commercials for alternative uses of regular house hold objects.  Their work was creative, thoughtful and very entertaining.  In order to develop an alternative use, students needed to examine the initial object closely and determine another possible way to utilize it. Following that, they needed to collaborate on a script that could successfully persuade someone to purchase the object.

Finally, I was fortunate to observe a Milky Way Plate Tectonics lab during 7th grade science classes.  Students collected data on the effects various force had on the Milky Way bars as they study plate tectonics.  The gooeyness of the activity created a lot of laughter in addition to the demonstrated will power necessary to not eat the models.  Personally, I was not tempted as I have seen enough sweets lately to last me until...well, Thanksgiving.

Have a wonderful weekend!


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Let the Games Continue...update! (Posted on SB Website on 10/28)

Gamification is a relatively new buzz word in education, but innovative teachers have been using games as powerful learning tools in the classroom for a long time now.  The difference is the number of people now utilizing video games and or online games to support learning.  Walking through classes this week, I was thrilled to see a healthy balance of the old and new in terms of gamification and in both arenas the adolescent contestants were wonderfully engaged and taking ownership of their learning.  

The first thing I observed was students building confidence in their skill development and practicing the unbelievably difficult skill of communicating in a different language all while playing a wide variety of games. Classic battleship was capsized online to support German language skill development.  Quizlet Live was demonstrated engaging Spanish and German students in team competitions online for energetic vocabulary review.  Memory and Charades in full Spanish immersion had students laughing and eager to participate.  Science classes were full of students accessing Gizmo to virtually race sleds, or playing old fashion card games or organizational games with jelly beans to better understand natural selection and survival of the fittest.  Math classes played a touch free adaptation of Twister and Simon Says to physically represent the various types of relationships between angles while other classes explored Prodigy as players ventured through an imaginary world full of math challenges in order to progress and complete the journey.  One math class organized and executed a snow ball battle of colored paper riddled with math equations that students then needed to solve as part of the recovery process.  Finally, I was able to watch some students successfully solve some printer problems while preparing for their regular Friday News Quiz featuring current events from their own independent research.  It made me wonder if the game wasn't dependent on the printer working if they would have been as enthusiastic about getting it to cooperate with their chromebooks.  That was just one week.

One game we need not play is Mario Cart or any other type of racing game in the driveway of the school.  With the increased traffic on Farmers Way, it can add to the time of dropping off or picking up students.  Please be cautious and drive slowly.  Students can be dropped off or picked up anywhere along the front curb of the building where the student drop off and pick up signs are located.  This decreases the line of waiting vehicles, but it is very important to proceed with caution as individuals are using the crosswalk, as well.  

With the special mid-week edition two days ago, I am keeping this update brief.

Try to stay dry!


Monday, October 24, 2016

A Crumby Update! (posted on SB Website on Oct 21)

A crumby update!

An unexpected outcome of early preparations for Halloween was having an entire conversation with parents today while donut crumbs lingered in my grizzly adams facial hair.  Initially, I thought the conversation went very well, but the fact that they maintained their composure while I had food on my face impressed me even more once I discovered it.  Just another downside to looking like a character from a 70s TV show and a grim reminder that I shouldn't have been eating an apple cinnamon donut for breakfast.

Earlier in the week, I was able to have conversations without food on my face when talking with colleagues from other districts about the many wonderful things that our students are doing here at Stony Brook in and out of the classrooms.  They were very impressed to learn about all of the extra-curricular activities that our students participate in while still maintaining such impressively high academic performance.  Our students are very well-rounded and the variety of their interests supports both their academic and social emotional growth overall when kept in balance. Our challenge is to help them maintain the joy of learning and exploring their interests without letting it tilt into stress or unhealthy pressure.  We discussed at length the correlation between student interest and academic performance and how robust activities can directly support classes as students and teachers are able to make connections between the skills being developed in the classroom and those developed on the fields or in the garden or in the rehearsal rooms or during the variety of club meetings taking place throughout the building after the bell rings on any given day.  The other educators were impressed to see how we keep the quality of student-centered activities in line with the quantity.

The unfortunate part of our expansive opportunities is the need to collect activity fees.  Students participating in an afterschool activity (SBTA, Math Team, Speech and Debate, Fantasy Game Club, Art, Roller Hockey, etc.) are expected to pay a one time fee which is due at this time.  
Please turn in your fee to the office this coming week.  If you are unable to pay the fee, please contact me directly as we do not want any student to miss out on an opportunity due to the inability to cover a fee.  Visit our Activities page for more information and to download the activity fee payment form. 
The idea of quality combined with the fear of talking to people with food on my face reminds me that Thursday Oct 27 is picture re-take day!  O'Connor studios will be returning (hopefully, without another impromptu fire drill) to photograph students who were absent on the original picture day or for those who need to have another portrait taken.  If you would like to order pictures, please use the original order form, or pick up a new form in the office.  For students (or parents) wishing to have the pictures retaken, return the original package to the photographer on retake day.  No order form is necessary.

While on the subject of order forms, our 6th graders will soon get the opportunity to meet with Newbery Medal-winning author, Jack Gantos, when he visits Stony Brook 6th graders on November 18 sponsored by the WMSPTO. Don't miss an opportunity to have him sign a book for your child that they can treasure forever. You can send in a book or pre-order one through the WMSPTO at a significant discount. Note that the pre-order is for BMS and SBS 6th graders ONLY.

The 3rd floor was glowing pink in the rain today.  The entire 7th grade participated in Pink Day to honor those impacted by breast cancer. It was a heartwarming sight to watch nearly 187 students dressed in pink mixed among the 6th and 8th graders enter the building under the grey clouds and light drizzle this morning and climb the three flights of stairs to their advisories.

Last Wednesday night, the coordinators for the 8th grade trip to Washington DC held an informational session. Forms to register for the Washington DC trip are available in the main office or on the Stony Brook website.  The conduct contract is due the Stony Brook by Friday October 28, signed by both student and guardian.  This contract lets us know that you are at least considering registering for the trip.  Registration is done through Capitol Tours.  The registration deadline is December 2, 2016.  

Any parent who is willing to help with fundraising toward scholarships can let us know through the form below.  We appreciate any help in supporting all students who are interested in traveling with us.

We have utilized parent chaperones in the past when we did not have enough staff able to travel with the students on the trip.  If you are able to chaperone, please check with your student first, then let us know through the form below.  Chaperones would need a completed CORI and fingerprint check.  We will know if we will be in need of parent chaperones by the end of January.  

Volunteer and Chaperone sign up:  

Westford Parent Connection has released this year's Speaker Series.  The flyer can be accessed here.  I encourage everyone to review the series as many of the presentations are incredibly helpful for parents of middle school students.  This is an wonderful resource here in Westford and we need to help make more parents aware of it.

Finally, we have been asked to include this important notice from our Special Education Department:

If you know of any child attending public or private school, or who is homeless or has left school, and could benefit from a special education evaluation under Chapter 766 or educational services under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, please contact the Special Education Department in Westford (978-692-5560).

Every effort will be made to contact the parents to advise them of their rights under these laws.

Thank you for assisting us in this important matter.

Have a wonderful weekend,