An Exchange of Learning

June KauffmanJune Kauffman, an ESOL teacher at Ducketts Lane Elementary School, has taught in the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) since 2011. Prior to moving to Laurel with her husband and two children in 2008, she lived in Hong Kong, China for 15 years where she taught English and fell in love with Asian food and hospitality.


Pam Freedman
Pam Freedman teaches English Learners (ELs) at Ducketts Lane Elementary School. This is her ninth year teaching in Howard County and her 12th year teaching ELs from Pre-K through 12th grade.

Here Kauffman and Freedman write about their experiences with the Korean Summer Cultural Exchange Program, where they enjoy learning from their students as much as they do teaching them.

Ten years, seven teachers, more than 200 Korean students and an abundance of learning have taken place in the Korean Summer Cultural Exchange Program hosted by the International Student Registration Center of HCPSS. Started in 2005 by HCPSS International Student and Family Services Specialist Min Kim and taught for many years by retired teacher Pat Previdi, the three-week learning excursion challenges students to learn to navigate culture and language through daily formal English classes, visits to places with historical or cultural significance, and building relationships with host families.

Middle school students from Iksan, South Korea go through a rigorous selection process to be accepted into the program. They attend classes taught in English every morning, and focus on all skills necessary for English language development: reading, writing, listening and speaking. This multi-faceted approach helps to build confidence and camaraderie among students as well as challenges them to try new things.

South Korean English language teachers accompany students on their trip and join in the learning environment. This exchange provides a prime opportunity for the teachers to participate in hands-on professional development and gain teaching skills they can use in their language classrooms. We encourage the teachers to teach a mini-lesson to the students, so we can learn from them as well.

This summer, we co-taught 20 students and hosted two teachers at Patapsco Middle School. Students loved debating, learning idioms, typing journal responses in the computer lab, and giving and receiving feedback from their peers. Throughout the three weeks, the students’ strong English language skills “knocked our socks off” and challenged us to challenge them even more.

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding activities involved the Korean students’ interaction with American students. Students from both countries learned about each other through various games and activities. It was gratifying for their teachers–both Korean and American–to watch them interact and witness first-hand how the students’ English skills had developed. This activity left both the students and teachers feeling accomplished.

At the end of the program, the students showcased musical performances and read essays that highlighted their talents and time spent in the United States. Host families were invited to attend the ceremony. In addition, a memo of understanding was signed by HCPSS Interim Superintendent Dr. Michael J. Martirano and Superintendent Jideug Yu from Iksan, South Korea, expressing an intent to continue in this amazing partnership.

To see video and photos of the closing ceremony, visit here.

Mecah Washington, Paraeducator, Ducketts Lane Elementary School

The Importance of Paraeducators

The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) is fortunate to have a team of tremendously talented and dedicated educators in every school. Paraeducators–who provide extra individualized attention and instructional assistance–are critical in ensuring every public school student in Howard County succeeds. The Board of Education and I have a shared commitment to support staff, as we recently added 87 paraeducator and media paraeducator positions to next year’s budget.

Our belief in the paraeducator’s importance for student learning and behavioral outcomes is well founded. As cited in “Supercharging Student Success,” learning increases when an excellent paraeducator is paired with a great teacher. Students, including those at risk and with learning disabilities, can improve academic performance with the support of a paraeducator. The assistance provided by paraeducators greatly benefits teachers, enabling them to provide more individualized instruction with students. Paraeducators also encourage connections among students, parents and schools.

I invite you to get to know our paraeducators. They help our schools shine every day. For example, Muhammad Bilal has inspired Running Brook Elementary School students for a decade, both in the classroom and after school through the Bridges Over Howard County program. Jerard Rucker brings his background in mental health and social services to his special education paraeducator role at Hammond Elementary School. Ducketts Lane Elementary School special education paraeducator Mecah Washington builds strong connections with her students, so they can find their voices and receive a quality education.

Our paraeducators are outstanding, and the school system understands we must do our part to maximize their effectiveness. That is why we provide our paraprofessionals and all educational support professionals (ESP) with ongoing, differentiated professional learning.

The Office of Teacher and Paraprofessional Development and Support offers ESPs year-round opportunities including conferences and an online ESP Canvas Community for discussion groups, self-paced learning, personal growth resources, technology tools and more. Additional professional learning sessions are available throughout the year for special education paraeducators and student assistants.

Every child deserves highly effective educators. I couldn’t be more grateful to our classroom support staff, who ensure that every child has the best possible start in life.

Centennial High School CHS students using Canvas in class on Dec. 7, 2015.

Canvas: It’s about Communication, Collaboration and Instruction

Julie Wray
Julie Wray is the coordinator for digital learning innovation and design for the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS). She has served as an elementary teacher, technology resource teacher, instructional facilitator and graduate instructor.

Joe Allen

Joe Allen joined HCPSS in 2014 as the coordinator of learning systems. Previously, he held positions leading learning and technology functions for Fortune 500 companies.

As HCPSS heads into the final stretch of its second year using the Canvas Learning System, Wray and Allen take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going with the platform.

Canvas, the HCPSS online learning management platform, is aptly named. You could think of a student as a “canvas” that is shaped by teachers, families and life experiences, and is an individual masterpiece by the time they graduate from Howard County public schools. Canvas is also an online space where HCPSS connects all the digital tools and resources teachers use into one place, and helps develop student skills for college and career readiness.

Two years after launching the platform, we see teachers shifting from learning how to use Canvas to transforming their teaching and learning practices through Canvas. Classrooms are moving beyond paper and pencils to functioning in real-time with digital content, communication and feedback.

“Canvas is the first tool that has allowed me to see what a 21st-century classroom looks like. Using Canvas in conjunction with online software like Nearpod has helped me to teach without paper and has my students become more engaged and take ownership of their own learning. Canvas has also made me more acutely aware of the digital competence students must gain in order to be college and career ready,” said one HCPSS teacher.

“I have been able to transition to a paperless classroom because of Canvas…The amount of time I spend grading has been drastically reduced due to the use of rubrics for writing assignments and quizzes that are automatically graded,” another HCPSS teacher said.

Canvas is a place where all teachers are able to communicate with their students and families. Teachers have taken advantage of various features such as announcements to provide regular updates to parents, calendars to highlight upcoming events, and timely, personalized feedback on online assignments.

“The benefit is that there is one central location with everything I need to access for classes or school,” an HCPSS student told us.

“I like how students and parents can access Canvas and learning materials from home. When a student is absent or has transferred from another school, I can post materials on Canvas for the students to ‘make up’ and learn on their own at their own pace,” an HCPSS teacher said.

Canvas provides integrated tools for delivering instruction in engaging and flexible ways by including audio, video, text and other digital tools. Canvas also allows students to collaborate online using discussions, within groups, and participate in peer reviews. With the recently updated Google Apps for Education (GAFE) integration, teachers are also able to easily embed docs, sheets and slides directly into Canvas for students to use.

“Canvas has afforded me the opportunity to build a module that takes my students through the multiple steps of a project. They can watch a video as motivation for the lesson, download files to use, click on links for research, fill out a quiz as an exit task and collaborate as a group to make a Google slide presentation, all in one location. This ability, to have everything in one location and to have an archive of this lesson to build from or make changes to, is invaluable,” one HCPSS teacher said.

Recent HCPSS graduates have already shared how Canvas has real life application and has eased their transition to career or college experiences. They have gained the fundamental skills to collaborate and communicate effectively using a variety of digital tools and systems.

“… I personally think [Canvas is] the best resource we have used so far,” an HCPSS senior said.

Canvas will continue to innovate and introduce new functionality. This year, we introduced grade level pages which simplify communications and information sharing at the elementary level, and the Canvas Parent mobile app, which helps parents at the secondary level keep track of their children’s assignments and grades.

We look forward to Canvas’ ongoing role of creating rich learning experiences for students, efficiencies and blended learning tools for teachers, and opportunities for parents to stay connected to their children’s education.

The Canvas testimonials in this guest blog come from feedback submitted anonymously online by the HCPSS community.

OMHS new classroom

April is Mathematics Awareness Month

Jon WrayJonathan (Jon) Wray is the secondary mathematics instructional facilitator for the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS), and an author, consultant and national speaker on mathematics teaching and learning. He is immediate past president of the Association of Maryland Mathematics Teacher Educators, past president of the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and recently served as an elected member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Board of Directors. For Mathematics Awareness Month, Wray shares how families can support their student’s understanding of mathematics, an ever increasingly important skill in today’s world.

As a parent of four children, with one each in elementary, middle, high and graduate school, there are times when I find it hard to keep up with what they are learning in all of their many classes. Occasionally my anxiety level rises when they come to me with questions related to challenging assignments. Will I be able to recall the concepts from my schooling and be able to provide meaningful assistance? Do the assignments include content that has evolved as a result of new developments in teaching, learning, curriculum and/or assessment? Most of all, will they view me as a “failure” if I cannot help them?

The subject of mathematics provides no exception during these anxious moments, as I am often reminded of how the content in and across courses/grade levels is a moving target. Once children develop a new or deepened understanding of a topic, there is always more waiting to be explored. Few would disagree that mathematics is part of everyday life. However, we now know more about the critical impact of mastering mathematics concepts at an early age on a student’s academic success later in life. According to Greg Duncan, a researcher at Northwestern University, “Mastery of early math skills predicts not only future math achievement, it also predicts future reading achievement.” For many, that’s a pretty heavy dose of (new) reality to swallow.

When my children come to me with questions, I’ve learned to avoid doing the mathematics for them (reflecting on the fact that watching me ride a bike did very little for helping them learn to ride on their own). Instead I pose the following questions (which I find helps them work productively through their struggles and avoid major frustrations): What do you already know about this problem? Can you show me the method(s) you have used (so far) to complete the problem? What have you discovered? How did you find that out? Have you found another way that could be done? Does your answer make sense to you–why or why not? What might be your next step? The thinking revealed through these conversations often point my children in a productive direction and limit the need for me to “take over” or reteach.

HCPSS firmly believes that families are a critical centerpiece for student success in mathematics, as parents and guardians are children’s first and most important teachers. That’s why about two years ago, at three HCPSS community workshops, we asked parents/guardians about their needs related to supporting their own children with mathematics learning. Their response was clear and focused on the need to help families:

  • gain a better understanding of their child’s math program;
  • refresh or build a deeper understanding of math concepts, skills and practices; and
  • provide additional support and practice opportunities for students, including free online homework help, as needed, throughout the school year.

Within a few months, the school system released the online Family Math Support Center (FMSC). The FMSC provides students and their families with details related to mathematics course content, background information on “unfamiliar” concepts and practices, free homework help in partnership with the Howard County Library System, targeted practice opportunities, the latest information related to testing and understanding student results, videos about what students should know and be able to do in each K-12 mathematics course, and much more. In the short time since its establishment, the FMSC has received well over 500,000 visits.

A recent addition to the HCPSS FMSC is a series of short videos that describe recent shifts in mathematics instruction, as well as ways to support children with mathematics homework.

As Mathematics Awareness Month is observed in April, we pause to recognize the need for all students to study mathematics, as society has become increasingly dependent on the application of mathematical reasoning, problem solving, communication, connections and the strategic use of different representations (e.g., numbers, words, pictures, objects, tables, graphs, and other tools and technology). As a community, it is critical that we view mathematics in a positive light, and as an important discipline for our students to learn and use on a daily basis. When our children come to us with questions related to their struggles in mathematics, consider posing some of the above questions to help them work productively through problems while helping develop their problem solving, reasoning and communication skills.

I hope you find these resources helpful and invite you to contact me with any suggestions for enhancing the Family Math Support Center. Happy Mathematics Awareness Month!

Addressing Fake News

Mark StoutMark J. Stout serves as coordinator of Advanced Placement & Secondary Social Studies for the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS). He holds a Ph.D. and M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Maryland, College Park. He began his career as a middle school social studies teacher, and has worked as a resource teacher for social studies and as a facilitator for professional development. Here Stout blogs about the social studies teacher’s role in empowering students with strategic reading skills to determine credibility.  

“Some 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled ‘sponsored content’ and a real news story on a website, according to a Stanford University study of 7,804 students from middle school through college.”
— The Wall Street Journal, 2017

In this era of the 24-hour news cycle and the spread of information through social media, students are inundated with data. As evidenced by the quote from the Stanford study, many have difficulty determining which news sources are reliable. I am often asked to comment on how teachers help their students discern between fact and opinion when so much information is available. In this new era of “fake news” that has attracted the attention of so many Americans, social studies teachers work very purposefully to help students understand how to determine reliability and bias.

Our nation is built upon the notion that citizens should have opportunities for the free exchange of ideas. This was important to the framers of our Constitution, who considered a free press essential to our democracy. In an age where individuals consume media increasingly linked to their interests, it becomes easy to accept what they read as the truth. Whether it is the news programs they watch, the forwarded links from family and friends, or their social media feeds, we need to help our students dissect fact from opinion by questioning everything they hear, see or read.

Howard County social studies teachers are trained to teach students how to read text critically through historical reading and thinking skills. Instructional methods focus on developing deep historical understanding through the interpretation and analysis of the past using complex primary and secondary source documents. HCPSS curriculum is informed by two Teaching American History Grant Programs with the Center for History Education at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), which built on work from the Stanford History Education Group to promote historical thinking.

The first step in this process involves what historians term “sourcing” the documents. Here, students ask questions such as: Who wrote this? When was this written? Why was it written? What type of source might this be (journal entry, letter, legal document, news article, etc.)? What is the author’s point of view? Is this source reliable? Does the author have anything to gain or lose?

Next, students conduct what is termed “close” or “critical” reading. In this stage, students determine what claims the author is making, if there is substantial evidence to support these claims and if the author is attempting to influence the reader through the use of language. After determining the authenticity of the sources, students then begin to look for other pieces of evidence to support the author’s claims. They can ask: Are there conflicting versions of the story? Which versions are more believable and why? By seeking multiple sources, students can make more reasoned decisions about what explanation is plausible.

In the final stage of the historical reading process, students learn to establish the historical context of the sources. This is perhaps the most challenging, as they need to see the story or event through the eyes of the people who lived in that time period. They can ask: What else was going on when this was written that might have influenced the author? What was different back then, and what was the same? Understanding context is critical to evaluating any account, whether in the past or the present.

Determining credibility is an acquired skill that can be applied through these processes of historical reading and thinking. Integrating the skills of reading like historians is now an expectation across social studies courses in HCPSS. It is imperative that students in our history and social studies classrooms understand these skills, so they can fulfill their roles as informed citizens.

Mia Mcllwain, 6th grade African American History Seminar Student

The Entrepreneurial Spirit of the Harlem Renaissance to Contemporary Times

Marcus Nicks

Marcus Nicks serves as the achievement liaison for the Black Student Achievement Program (BSAP) at Patuxent Valley Middle School. He is the program director and founder of the school’s Students of Success leadership group as well as a co-teacher for Patuxent Valley‘s African-American History Seminar. Here Nicks writes about his school’s efforts to encourage entrepreneurship during Black History Month this year.

Black entrepreneurship has always been the spirit of the African-American experience especially during the legendary time period of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s to the 1940s. The work ethic and determination through cultural expression and social change during this time period in American history serves as a model of extraordinary inspiration. At Patuxent Valley Middle School, we expose students to entrepreneurship opportunities and engage them in conversations on what makes entrepreneurship powerful. For Black History Month this year, our school will provide month-long experiences encouraging entrepreneurship while making the historical connection to the Harlem Renaissance time period.

The month of February will begin with a Black History Month kick-start celebration for students during their lunchtime. Students will be able to enjoy the smooth melodic music of the Harlem Renaissance while viewing a slideshow of influential African-American entrepreneurial pioneers. Over the course of the month, our students will start each day learning about significant achievements of African Americans in our “Who Am I” morning news segment. Parents can get involved by showing their appreciation for the staff by serving food at our Soul Food potluck feast during lunchtime.

When it comes to entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial spirit, Howard County has much to offer its students. This will be the central focus of our Patuxent Valley Middle School Community-wide Black History Celebration, which is scheduled to take place on Friday, Feb. 24, from 6-8 p.m. This event will conclude the school’s Black History Month festivities. This will be an evening with a packed itinerary including student performances that pay tribute to the Harlem Renaissance, and a fashion show with local fashion designers and modeling agencies. There will be a gallery with local, black-owned businesses where people can network and make purchases. Author, speaker, educator and historian Dr. Deborah Newman Ham will serve as a featured speaker for the night, and we will conclude the celebration with a panel of prominent entrepreneurs from Howard County discussing the importance of entrepreneurship in contemporary times.

As a representative of BSAP, I take pride in being able to use my role here at Patuxent Valley Middle School as a platform to lead the way in representing the African-American experience in an uplifting and empowering way. All people regardless of race, ethnicity or color have been impacted and influenced by the illustrious accomplishments that African Americans have made through their undying entrepreneurial spirit. Awareness of the victories obtained throughout the African-American historical journey can instill pride, confidence and help to foster racial sensitivity. I appreciate the opportunity to work with school principal Rick Robb and African-American History Seminar co-teacher Monica Bickerton, along with the rest of our staff, because we all share the vision of embracing the rich history of African Americans of the past to give our students inspiration for the future.

Nicks’ guest blog is part of HCPSS’ participation in celebrating Black History Month, this February.

Social Media and Education: Why it Makes Perfect Sense

I am excited to have a guest post today from Long Reach High School rising senior Collin Sullivan. Collin is a technology enthusiast who enjoys learning and teaching about the latest application trends. He has led discussions at the Howard County Library System, engaged with teachers around professional development, and even wrote an article on EdSurge, “Five Things I Want Teachers To Know About EdTech.”



Social Media and Education: Why it Makes Perfect Sense

8080. That number is meaningless for many people, but for Howard County students, it is their favorite number. It is hard to believe that HCPSS Board of Education Policy 8080 has only been in effect for one year. As we celebrate the first year of Policy 8080, it is important to reflect on why this policy was implemented. Superintendent Foose, the Board of Education and the entire Howard County Public School System came to the realization that we were at a technological stand still. The school system has made significant improvements throughout the years. But in relation to how fast technology moves in the real world, HCPSS wasn’t keeping pace.

Social media is probably the biggest new wave to technology since the smartphone. It has redefined how we connect and how we interact with people. It has changed the dynamics of our lives. It has enhanced how we collaborate, communicate, and connect. Every teenager my age is on some sort of social media—whether it is Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Blogster—just to name a few.

I took a biology class three years ago, and I actually was in a study group for it. We created a Facebook group to post assignments, when we were meeting and what was covered in class. Believe it or not, if a teacher had found out about that Facebook page, my HCPSS Computer Contract could have been revoked. Since Policy 8080 was not implemented, any social media page that was created that pertained to a school related activity was strictly against HCPSS policy. Can you believe that was a reality for the better part of the 21st century? A couple of students who were trying to complete their school work could have had their technology contract revoked … because they were using technology effectively.

I am thrilled that Policy 8080 exists, and I think that many students are grateful for the policy without even knowing it. From communication around snow days to upcoming events, it has provided a new communications tool for the whole HCPSS community. In the coming years, I look forward to seeing students and staff use social media as a collaboration tool—uploading and sharing files, or collaborating on ideas for projects. The possibilities are endless.

Social media is something that every teenager has a black belt in. Now, they are taking their education and they are positively reinforcing what they have learned on to social media. I am thrilled that the HCPSS is encouraging this behavior, because students who truly have an understanding of what they learned and are engaged in the classroom, can make ties with it in their real life. On a social media site, they can share their wealth of knowledge with anyone in the world.

It surely is a crazy time we live in, and I am excited to see where this takes us!