A Teacher’s Perspective on the Junior Achievement Finance Park

by Natalie Barnes

IMG_7453When I first heard that all eighth graders would be participating in the Junior Achievement Finance Park curriculum, I was not looking forward to the experience. I assumed that it would be just one more thing to try to fit into the already jam-packed school year. However, in the end, I was delighted by the experience and look forward to participating in the future.

I attended a training at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year that shared highlights of the curriculum and took us on a tour of the location. I was still a bit confused, but the coordinators promised that once we looked at our curriculum guides, it would make much more sense. And they were right. The curriculum guide was well put-together, with color-coded organization, clear instructions, and detailed explanations. It also provided teaching suggestions, extension activities, and probing questions. The county required that we only cover a few lessons (shared between social studies and math class), which were mandatory material for the experience. However, there was a plethora of additional material for students who needed differentiation or teachers who had more time to further explore the content. Overall, the curriculum took approximately a week in math class and a week in social studies, although teachers were free to customize this for their classes as long as they met the minimum lesson requirements.

Each student had his or her own workbook.  These were consumable workbooks that were designed to be engaging to students with various graphics as well as plenty of activities and space to work—all in full color.

The fourteen required lessons covered four main topics:

  • Income
  • Saving, Investing, and Risk Management
  • Debit and Credit
  • Budget

Income and Budget were covered in math classes while the remaining topics were taught in social studies classes. While many situations were geared to future careers and salaries, students also spent a great deal of time analyzing situations and jobs that are common for middle and high school students. Many of my students were engaged as they examined current and future potential situations, applying the principles of financial literacy to their own lives. This became even more true as we prepared to attend the Financial Park.

The entire field trip was free of charge to students, ensuring that every student could come. The buses were prompt and because they were not school buses, students were excited to attend, and they felt like this was a special experience. When we arrived, they were ushered into the Financial Park auditorium to receive a brief overview of the day’s activities. But after only a few moments, they were split into groups and assigned a volunteer who would serve as their group leader for the day. Many of the volunteers were teachers, parents, student teachers, or community members. The students were often pleased to be working with an adult they knew. It was particularly advantageous to some of our students with learning disabilities or other special needs as they were able to be placed with supportive chaperones who allowed them to participate fully. We had a group who spoke very little English, which was assigned to a chaperone who also spoke Spanish, allowing the day to be conducted bilingually, truly allowing all the students to engage with the activities.

As they were assigned groups, each student received an iPad and a fictional scenario about their job, salary, marital status, and family situation. From there, they determined their monthly gross income and monthly net income, using the iPad. On the iPad, they then set a budget, allotting money for housing, transportation, utilities, food, clothing, entertainment, etc. During the budgeting time, they explored the Finance Park, which has various stations devoted to each of these categories, allowing students to research costs before making a final decision. After lunch, students then revisited each of these stations and actually “purchased” items. They had to first decide on renting an apartment or buying a house and then owning a car or using public transportation. Many times they had frustrating realizations that they simply could not afford the home or car of their dreams and had to settle for less expensive options. Once they had determined their housing and transportation options, students were then given a “debit card” linked to their iPad and account. They went shopping to the various stations around the Finance Park, buying different products and quickly realizing that their money supply was not endless. After their purchasing time was up, they worked through reflection activities with their chaperone and made any final changes to their monthly spending. One aspect of the reflection included a random event that caused them to spend money (e.g. the car needed repairs, the refrigerator stopped working, a child broke her arm).

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PGCPS Elementary Foreign Language Offerings

by Katherine McElhenny

IMG_7154Have you ever wondered about the foreign language offerings at your local elementary school? Or how your school compares to others in the district?

No? Neither had I until recently.

Our family was out at a restaurant when we ran into a friend whose daughter had attended nursery school with my daughter. Immediately, the two kindergartners began comparing their schools. Our friend was proud of her brand new uniforms and Chinese classes. My daughter boasted of her Russian classes.

The parents were taken aback.

Chinese? Russian? Who knew? What was offered elsewhere? My curiosity was piqued.

A compilation of the district’s foreign language offerings was nowhere to be found on the PGCPS website.  Instead, the chart below was cobbled together from emails and calls to the World Language Office along with teachers and staff at individual schools.

Is your elementary school one of over one hundred that is not listed?  According to PGCPS, those students do not receive any foreign language instruction.

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Free University Courses Through Dual Enrollment Program

by Beth McCracken-Harness

When you are thinking about what your teenagers will do over the summer, you might consider a concurrent enrollment class at University of Maryland, College Park. This opportunity is open to talented high school seniors.

My son took courses there in history and PE over the summer, earning an A- and an A. He just got accepted to the University of Maryland, and I think that having previously taken courses there helped.

These courses were paid for by Prince George’s County Public Schools, through the Dual Enrollment Program. Tuition at any public Maryland college is fully covered by PGCPS, and fees and textbooks are also covered for those students who qualify for free and reduced meals. This month, PGCPS is hosting two information sessions for the Dual Enrollment Program.

To enroll in a UMD course, my son had to apply to the university under their concurrent enrollment program for high school students. (That was good practice for applying to colleges in his senior year.) The process was more complicated than taking a course at Prince George’s Community College, but it was well worth it.

To do this:

1) Register for the Dual Enrollment Program through PGCPS: http://www1.pgcps.org/dualenrollment/

For more information, speak with your professional school counselor, or email the PGCPS Dual Enrollment office at dual.enrollment@pgcps.org.

2) Enroll at the University of Maryland, College Park under their concurrent enrollment program for high school students:
http://admissions.umd.edu/requirements/SpecialAudiences.php

The deadline to apply for the summer session is May 1. The application is processed through the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and may take up to six weeks. For additional information, contact: um-admit@umd.edu.

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Writing Across the Curriculum: One Math Teacher’s Experience

In December, the Washington Post published an article describing the new literacy program in Prince George’s County Public Schools that requires teachers of all subjects to teach literacy skills in the classroom. One middle school math teacher has shared with us her experience with the new program. She has asked to remain anonymous.

Last fall, I learned that my students would be required to complete a literacy assignment as part of the new county-wide literacy initiative. Previously, our focus had been on the Formative Assessment for Maryland Educators (FAME) tasks. These tasks combine math and literacy skills by having students solve real-life problems and explain their thinking. With the new program, in addition to completing the FAME tasks, students would write five-paragraph essays.

During a subsequent school-wide professional development meeting, I learned that each department across our school would be completing the same writing task, which mirrors the SAT essay. Social studies would complete the assignment in October, science in November, math in December, creative arts, health, and physical education in January, and language arts and world languages in March. The goal is for each department to conduct the same activity with the students to see if there is marked improvement in student reading and writing across content areas.

Every prompt is nearly identical. The basic task takes the form, “Write an essay in which you explain how the author builds an argument to persuade his audience that [insert author’s claim here].”

Here is the one used for my class:

writingPrompt

With each prompt is an essay for students to read and analyze.  For math students across the county in December, Grade 6 and 7 students read an excerpt from Math Doesn’t Suck, a book written by Danica McKellar and Grade 8 students read the article “Teaching Kids Why Math Matters” by Cindy Donaldson in order to complete the analysis of an argument writing prompts.

We are told to have the students complete this assignment in ten steps.

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What’s Working: Great Teaching in Second Grade

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

My son is enjoying his second grade year so far, and I am impressed with the learning that is happening in his class. Here are some instructional practices that seem to be working well:

Spelling pretests and posttests. There are no spelling groups in my son’s class (when I was that age, we had the “green apple group” and the “red apple group”), but there is certainly differentiated instruction. Instead of being grouped by ability, children are given a pretest each Monday on ten spelling words. Students who can spell at least eight of those words correctly are given a list of more challenging words to study that week (called the “star” list), while the rest of the class sticks with the original list (the “smile” list). This means that there is no rigid differentiation between good spellers and not-so-good spellers: A child might be on the “smile” list one week and the “star” list the next.

Moreover, the spelling lists for the upcoming week are included in the weekly newsletter, which is emailed to parents on Friday. This lets my son study the easier words before he takes his pretest on Monday so that he can be on the star list that week. This is his choice, not mine! Spelling has always been a struggle for him, and being assigned the challenging words after a successful pretest seems to be a big confidence booster.

Flexible spelling assignments. Each week, students choose three spelling activities from a list of nine and turn them in at the end of the week. There is a wide range of options (they change from week to week), and students are explicitly given permission to replace any of the activities with something else that is not on the list. Some of the activities are quick and fun (e.g. writing your speling words on your parent’s back with your finger) and some are more arduous (e.g. writing down the dictionary definitions). We always do a practice test as one of the three activities, whether or not it is on the list of options for that week.

img116_readingLog

What day did he actually read Bunnicula? Who knows? But he is writing about books, and that’s what matters.

Flexible reading log. I have a hard time with reading logs. Though I understand that they are supposed to promote daily reading, I can’t stand the thought of timing one’s reading and keeping a record, as if reading is a chore to be endured. But the reading logs that my son completes each week are flexible enough that we can adapt them to our read-for-pleasure-with-abandon lifestyle.

  • For each day (Monday through Friday), there is a space for students to fill in the number of minutes that they’ve read, but we don’t keep track. My son just writes “20” for each day, though he usually reads for much longer.
  • He has to write one sentence per day on what he’s read, but the sentence can be anything at all, as long as it says something about the book. This really helps. My son needs practice writing sentences about what he reads, but at this point, he doesn’t need something overly prescriptive.
  • And here’s what really makes the reading log doable for us: We don’t worry about filling in the chart every day. My son does most of his reading before bedtime, and it would be extremely disruptive to have him fill out his reading log just before bed. Besides, reading is pure fun for him, and I don’t want the reading log — a task that he does not enjoy — to intrude on that experience. So he sometimes writes a week’s worth of sentences in one day. He still gets practice writing sentences about what he reads, but its not really a daily log anymore after we’re done with it. And that works better for us.

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Art Class: Coloring in the Lines?

One PGCPS parent has shared with us her recent observations about her daughter’s art class curriculum. She has asked to remain anonymous until her concerns are addressed and resolved. The views and opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of PGCABS.

As an art teacher and professional illustrator, I was happy to learn that my kindergartener would have art class once a week, and I was very curious to see what kind of art curriculum would be implemented in class. I have over 5 years of experience teaching art, especially focusing on ages eight and under. My classes are structured around the elements and principles of art, and I have found kids even as young as three to be very receptive to these concepts, not to mention the frame-worthy artwork they create while learning them.

So far this year, my five-year-old has had six art classes (once per week), and for all but one she has brought home nothing but pixellated coloring pages printed from the internet, with the web address still intact at the bottom. The one day that she didn’t bring home coloring pages, she proudly showed me a scrap of paper with some fringe cut off the bottom. She told me they were supposed to glue things to it, but they didn’t have glue that day. She reported that their most recent art lesson was “learning to color inside the lines,” which some might argue could be considered an anti-art lesson.

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Ten Things We Love About PGCPS

arby Genevieve Demos Kelley

IMG_6342There are plenty of things to appreciate about Prince George’s County Public Schools. Here are ten of them:

1. Dedicated Staff

We have benefited from some truly remarkable, inspiring teachers and visionary, hard-working principals who really are making a difference. One parent writes, “If I go to our school at 7 am, there is staff there (school starts at 9:15). When I go there at 7 pm, there is staff there. Lots of staff are leading many extracurricular activities, there is always something going on at the school.”

2. Strong Instrumental Music Programs

Beginning in grade four, elementary school students may learn to play a string, woodwind, or brass instrument in twice-weekly classes. Instrumental music is also offered to middle and high schoolers. Here is a lovely YouTube video of the PGCPS Honor Band and Middle School Honor Chorus.

3. Career Academies and Specialty Programs

The list of career academies offered in PGCPS high schools was recently expanded in the 2014-2015 school year. It’s an impressive list! PGCPS also offers Creative and Performing Arts and STEM magnet programs.

4. Dual Enrollment

Students may enroll at any public college or university in Maryland while still enrolled in high school and have their tuition paid for by PGCPS. Read more here.

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