Monday, April 11, 2016

The Honor Societies at Brandon Academy

There are so many ways that the students of Brandon Academy show how awesome they are. We have amazing athletes, artists, singer, actors and we always work hard to make sure they have a place to share and grow those talents. However, the area that the students of Brandon Academy shine the most is in the classroom. Let’s stop for a bit and celebrate our amazing students and everything they accomplish in their most important setting.

Last week, thirty-eight 4th and 5th grade students made history here at Brandon Academy when they were inducted into our brand new chapter of the National Elementary Honor Society.  Their selection was based on four criteria.  Students had to have at least a 3.0 grade point average so Scholarship was the first consideration.  In addition, students had to submit an application showing examples of their Responsibility, Service and Leadership. Note that these criteria are set by the national organization and not by Brandon Academy. How is it possible that so many Brandon Academy students achieve this distinction? Academic Excellence is the answer. Read more below for how this is accomplished.

The inaugural NEHS induction ceremony was held in the Brandon Academy Student Life Center.  These new members will participate in community service under the guidance of the NEHS advisor, Mrs. Vanermine.

Congratulations to the following students:

Grace Britt                            Ben Chabalowski                 Jay Chaplot
Olivia Davis                           Colin Enos                            Alyssa Fraser
Carly Grey                             Katarina Grubbs                  Devin Hart     
Jordan Hassoun                   Isabel Hernandez                Jonah Honrado
Khai Jackson-Mitchell         Jade Jannarone                   Antonio Kapusta
Camdyn Karch                      Tzak Ying Lau                       Alexander Lawler
Michael McAllister              Keira McGrath                     Eli Mishkin
Madeline Mitchell               Riley Mook                           Nigel Osceola
Shayan Patel                         Sebastian Roman                Sam Schneider
McKenna Smith                    Adler Stone                         Laina Sutton
Michelle Swain                     Abhilasha Tammineedi      Pranav Tammineedi
Cooper Whitney                   Logan Young                        Adan Zahidi
Hannah Zink                          Preston Zink

On March 15,2016, twenty-one 6th, 7th and 8thth grade students were inducted into the Carolyn Alesandrini Chapter of the National Junior Honor Society. Their selection was based on five criteria.  Students had to have at least a 3.0 grade point average so Scholarship was the first consideration.  In addition, students had to submit an application showing examples of  their Character, Service, Citizenship  and Leadership. Just as is the case for NEHS, the criteria for NJHS are set by the national organization and not by Brandon Academy. How is it possible that so many Brandon Academy students achieve this distinction? Academic Excellence is the answer. Read more below for how this is accomplished.

The induction ceremony took place in our Student Life center. New members will join or existing members in completing service projects on and off campus.

Congratulations to the following newly inducted NJHS members:  
Deon Armes                         Jayden Avecillas                    Zander Badger
Paul Bryant                           William Chabalowski           Abhishek Dave’
Cole Davis                             Lillian Erwin                          Anisya Gonzalez
Charity Johnson                   Tikir Jahmai-Steele              Christian Karchurak
Tzak Sing Lau                        Joshua Lewis                         Chris Muratti
Melissa Olsen                       CJ Perez                                 Kaniya Robinson
Aidan Rudolph                     Nola Stone                            Casey Sutton

Current Members (37)
8th Graders:
Liam Ackels                          Ben Ayres                             Jack Ayres
Nikita Bandarupalli            Abby Caballero                    Kaitlyn Campbell
Ishan Chaplot                      Daniella Curatelli                Richard Cusack
Aaron Davila                        Elias Dones                          Ramsey Hassoun
Patrick Kohel                       Ryan McCranie                    Katie Muratti
Kaylee Rodriguez                Victoria Rudolph                 Sydney Smith-Dill
Audrey Stecher                   Ved Verma                           Kaiden Whitney

7th Graders:
Allison Barfield                    Marquis Berkhall                Marquez Berkhall
Angelina Curatelli               Julia DeMik                          David Erwin
Noah Galzerano                  Dean Hotz                            Garrett Hudak
Ethan Jennings                    Bailee Lawrence                 Sarah Leybovich
Laila Moursi                         Rheeya Patel                       Esha Saini
Aidan Sevintuna

Of course, both of the above honor societies are the precursors to the high school version, which is called the National Honor Society. The NHS allows induction of members beginning the spring of the sophomore year; therefore, our BAHS students will be eligible next school year. Similar to NJSH, our high school students will have to have at least a 3.0 grade point average to meet the Scholarship requirement.  In addition, students will have to submit an application showing examples of their Character, Service, Citizenship and Leadership. Just as is the case for NEHS and NJSH, the criteria for NHS are set by the national organization and not by Brandon Academy.

We look forward to inducting our first ever high school students into this prestigious national organization in the spring of 2017.

What does this suggest about Brandon Academy and our students?
As you can see, at Brandon Academy academic excellence is the norm. Our students strive for academic excellence and expect the same from their peers. One of the main advantages that our school offers our students is a peer group that supports and encourages each other to be good students and leadership. We congratulate our students on their hard work and accomplishments and thank them for supporting and encouraging each other to be the best they can be!

How is it possible that so many BA students meet these national criteria? Well, there are multiple reasons.
  1.  It starts on the front end with our admissions process. Recall that every student in our school had to undergo a rigorous admissions process that included a thorough review of prior academic history and behavior, individual academic testing, interviewing, etc. Only students who are deemed capable of being successful in our rigorous curriculum are offered admission.
  2.  Once admitted, our exceptional teaching staff works diligently with our students to ensure their academic progress and success. Brandon Academy hires only highly qualified teachers with college course work in the subject that they are teaching. Once hired, teachers are mentored and closely supervised and supported by administration to ensure the Brandon Academy curriculum is delivered as designed.
  3. Teachers implement a unique, Brandon Academy curriculum that is designed by the administration of Brandon Academy. We have never and will never use canned or fad curricula at Brandon Academy. Our curriculum is designed by educators. This curriculum ensures the most rigorous academic program possible and this program is constantly being evaluated and changed to meet the changing needs of our students and world.
  4. But, of course, none of this would be possible without our incredible parents!
    • BA parents seek out our school because of their high value of academic achievement. 
    • They want the very best educational experience for the children and come to BA for us to provide it.
    • Once their children are here, they work in partnership with our staff to ensure that their children are successful.
    • They make sure their children attend school regularly and arrive on time. They check the assignment pads and REMIND app to be sure their children are doing their homework and studying for tests. When they notice an area that their child is struggling, they alert their child’s teacher so that additional support is offered in that area to allow the child to find success.
    • The list of ways our parents support the learning of their children is endless.
It is through this partnership of awesome students, exceptional teachers and administrators and incredible parents that the students of Brandon Academy have and will continue to excel nationally in every way possible.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

What is the best device to purchase?

As we began the second half of our school year, we found our teachers and students becoming experts at using technology at school. All of our students PK3 through eighth grade have enjoying using their tablets as part of classroom activities, using apps and websites their teachers are finding to enrich their classroom lessons. In addition, many of our 4th through middle school students are finding their tablets to be a useful new tool for taking notes, writing essays, doing research for homework and classwork assignments, and for creating projects. They have all picked up easily on using google drive for cloud storage and for sharing their work with their teachers. As these students begin working on their research papers and projects during the second semester, they will no doubt enjoy the many conveniences that google drive allows. For example, Mr. Rudolph's 7A/8th grade students are recently completed a research project that includes group presentations. In the past, students would have had to get together after school to collaborate on their presentation. Now, with google drive, the students were easily able to share their work and collaborate "in the cloud" without having to meet in person. They stored their presentation in google drive and "shared" it with the members of the group. Then when any individual member wanted to work on his or her part, he or she simply logged into the file and did their work. Amazing!

After seeing so much success during this year, our "pilot year" of tablets in the classrooms, many parents have asked for advice in purchasing a tablet for their child. At the present time, we have found that we are able to accommodate nearly every device that students have brought onto campus. However, the tablet that we purchased, following considerable research and consultation with our technology experts, is the iPad Air. We have found that students with most relatively recent versions of iPad (iPad 2 or later) are able to do most everything that the iPad Air is able to do.

Regarding non-iPad devices, the main issue with these devices seems to be that not all apps are available on those devices. Further, since our teachers have been trained to use iPads, when a student has technical difficulty, our teachers are not always able to assist if the device is unfamiliar.

Therefore, at this point we recommend that if you are considering purchasing a device for your child that you consider choosing iPad. However, if your child already has a device that is not an iPad and it works well for him or her, that is fine as well.


Mrs. Whitt, MS Language Arts
Earlier this year, Middle School Language Arts Students did a reading project using the Sock Puppets app on the iPads. Students worked in teams to create News Casts to summarize the important events in their quarterly novels. Each team created a current event, this day in history, celebrity gossip, and a weather report that reflected the culture, setting, characters, and plot in the book, but more excitingly all news casts were performed by animated sock puppets. This activity allowed the students to show their comprehension of the novel aspects by having students use critical thinking skills to expand upon their learning. The students really enjoyed working on the projects  and sharing their videos with the class. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Technology Class vs. Technology in the Classroom

Brandon Academy has had computer courses for students since the mid-1990s. Back then, we had an "Apple Lab" and a "Gateway Lab." Times sure have changed! These days, our technology program is quite different. In addition to our technology classes, we now have integrated technology into our regular classroom experiences as well. The difference between these two methods of providing technology experiences to our students may seem a bit confusing. Below I attempt to explain the difference.

Technology class takes place in our newly renovated Technology Center. There students have access to our PC lab as well as our iPad mobile lab. Our technology specialist, Lana Smith, is the instructor for all technology classes. She plans lessons that follow our Brandon Academy technology curriculum. These classes are "special" or "elective" classes.

In the lower school, students take computer/technology class twice per week for 30 (JK-3rd grades) or 45 minutes (4th and 5th). These classes, much like art, music, PE and Spanish, provide our lower school students opportunities to be exposed to a wide range of courses that are outside of the core academic curriculum. Students at BA are learning to use computers as learning and productivity tools from JK through 5th grades. Common activities in lower school technology class involved exposure to typing on a keyboard, using productivity software such as Word and Power Point, and learning to do research online. In addition, students learn to be responsible and safe on computers as well.

Please note, however, that students in the lower school are only in technology class for about an hour to an hour and a half per week. This allows for exposure to technology skills, but certainly not mastery. The lower school special area classes are intended to expose students to a wide variety of subjects in order to allow them to have lots of experiences prior to making a decision as to what to specialize in once they are in middle school. While students are exposed to keyboarding, for example, we would not expect students to be proficient at typing just from attending technology class, even if that was all they did every time they were there. However, it does give them exposure to those skills so that they can build upon them in the middle school grades as well as practice them on their own, if they have an interest.

In the middle school grades, students are allowed to choose 2 electives. Those students with an interest in computers may enroll in Graphic Design or TV Production. Middle school elective classes meet everyday. Student have specific assignments to complete to demonstrate specific skills that they are learning in these courses. Students also earn grades for these courses.

Now that we have our iPads and that students are bringing their own devices to school, classroom teachers are able to use technology to enrich instruction within the classroom as well. Of course, our teachers have used our SMART boards, laptop computers and projectors for many years. iPads provide another modality for teachers to use in their classrooms to engage students in learning. Teachers are finding apps for the iPads that allow students to practice basic skills, enrich what they are learning in their lessons, and show what they know in new ways. Students are doing research on the iPads as well. The older students, in grades 4-8, are now using the iPads to write essays and reports and share them using their new BA google drive accounts.

As technology continues to change and grow, our staff and students are learning right along with it. Our teachers have engaged in an increased amount of training focusing on technology and integrating it into instruction. One of my recent blog posts focused on this. Most of the most recent teacher work day focused on additional technology training, which continues to be a focus at their weekly faculty meetings.

It is indeed an exciting time in education as we find ways to incorporate technology into our students learning!

Grade/Class: 2nd grade 
Teacher: Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Jones
Subject: Science
App or website: Loggerhead Marinelife Center 
Describe the activity: Second grade went on a virtual field trip to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, FL. The students first learned there are seven types of sea turtles and five of them can be found in Florida (Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Kemp's Ridley). They explored various turtle shells and learned about what those shells are protecting. The student's could relate to this when they felt their own spine and ribs. Next, the students were taken to the turtle yard where they got to meet the turtles and hatchling patients. We saw some resting and some swimming around to say hi to us! We learned that the turtle hospital helps many turtles that are injured. Once they are all better they release them back into their natural habitat. After we met the turtles and toured the hospital, we had a chance to ask questions. The students had some fantastic questions! 
Explain how this activity enhances learning of the subject matter: Besides learning many interesting facts about turtles we got to expand on our current science topic: natural resources and pollution. The students were able to connect that keeping our water clean is not only helpful to us, but the sea turtles and other animals. 
Student feedback: Second grade loved this field trip! When we asked the students what their favorite part was, they said:

"Meeting the adorable cute little hatchlings"

"Learning that they can live 80 - 100 years!"

"Seeing all the turtles and hearing their stories"

"Learning that they can lay 600 eggs"

Friday, October 10, 2014

Middle School Math Changes

As the title of my blog indicates, I intend to keep everyone up to date on all of the many changes that we have had and are working on in the area of curriculum in addition to technology. In future blogs I will review some exciting changes that we made in the past few years including emphasizing teaching organizational skills, changes to how we teach and assess writing, and the acceleration of our math program from PK3 through 8th grade.

This post, however, will focus on a more recent change. When we decided to make changes to our math program 3 years ago, we noticed that our 7A/8th grade math course changed significantly. In past years, that course, called "Pre-Algebra," evolved into what would better be described as beginning algebra and beginning geometry. For the first half of the course, students in "Pre-Algebra" covered the same concepts as those enrolled in our 8A "Honors Algebra I" course. The second semester of "Pre-Algebra" actually wasn't algebra at all. In fact, it was comparable to the first semester of high school Geometry.

This year we thought that it might be best to rename the course "Intro to Algebra and Geometry." As Mrs. Weiss and I further considered this, we came up with a new idea. Instead of having students essentially do the first half of Algebra I in 7A/8 and then again in 8A, why not complete the entire Algebra I course in 7A/8? This would allow all middle school students to have the opportunity to take Algebra I at BA. This also would give our advanced students the opportunity to take a full year of Geometry at BA as well.

Beginning with this year's 7A/8th grade students, the course that they are enrolled in is now called "Honors Algebra I." For those in 7A this year, when they are in 8A, a full year Geometry course will be offered for the first time at BA. This Geometry course will include the second half of the former "Pre-Algebra" but will continue on to complete the entire course of Geometry.

Why make this change? First and foremost, we feel confident that our middle school mathematics program is second to none. Mrs. Weiss, who has taught math in our middle school for 15 years, is widely known by all students past and present to be an exceptional teacher. Further, our research done last year with our graduates indicated that math is by far the area that students at all area high schools (including both public and private) felt that they did not have as positive of an experience as they did at BA. Many of our graduates stay in touch with Mrs. Weiss to get assistance when they feel they need it in high school. All say that they keep their middle school notes from Mrs. Weiss with them at all times to help them with their high school coursework. With this in mind, we believe that exposing our BA students to as much math under the instruction of Mrs. Weiss is in their best interest moving forward.

Another reason, of course, is that we believe that our students are highly capable of reaching even further. We know that our students will be able to meet the additional challenge of further acceleration of our curriculum. Whenever we have raised the bar at BA, our students always rise to the occasion and amaze us with what they are capable of accomplishing. We are excited to give our awesome students another opportunity to excel academically.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

eBooks at BA!

As I am sure all parents of BA students know, this year we required each of our students to have a public library card. As part of our technology use this year, students will learn how to access the wealth of online, free materials available to them via the public library. During the summer, students were asked to check out a book, using ebooks, for practice. During the month of September, every student again will do so as part of a learning activity during reading or language arts class.

Research shows that libraries as we remember them as children, or even five years ago, are beginning to look very different and will look quite different in the very near future. Having access to books and magazines via your computer or iPad, being able to check books out and return them online, without ever leaving your home or classroom, makes eBooks the preferred way to access reading material by our many.

I recognize that many of us hear this news and feel a bit saddened by this change. Reading on a phone or an iPad seems so different from the way we did when we were kids. Most of us still prefer the comfort of curling up with a good book at home or on the beach. It seems hard to imagine that reading on a device could compare to that comfort feeling.

However, I encourage all parents to give it a try. I personally felt the exact same way. Then I tried it myself. I went to the library this past spring and received the first library card that I have had since I was a child. Like most adults, I normally read books that I purchase from bookstores. Once I had my library card, I went onto the library website and checked out my first ebook. My goal was simply to know the process so that I could share it with teachers. Once I started reading my first book on my computer I was hooked. First, my book it now with me all of the time, since my computer or my phone is with me all of the time. When I am stuck waiting somewhere, such as the doctor's office or in a long line at the post office, I have my book with me everywhere. I also love that reading on my computer is easier on my eyes. I no longer need to carry a book light with me in order to be able to read. My computer or device has a backlight making reading so much easier on my vision. I also can increase the font size as well, which also makes reading a joy. But the thing I love most about checking out books via ebooks is that they are free and easy to access! I know, all books at the library are free. But since I am so very busy, I can now check books out from my home at any time of the day or night. I can check out every book from my favorite author, even if I am not sure I will enjoy the book. In the past, I might have decided not to purchase books at the bookstore based on the summary. But with ebooks, since I can check out books and try them out for free, I am reading many more books than ever before.

I also have heard the same thing about the students. In middle school, students who are not usually "readers" are finding reading more enjoyable when they can access lots of books on their devices. We now hear about students reading in the car on their phones and checking out other books by the author of books they have read in class. It is very satisfying to hear that this initiative is doing exactly what we hoped: finding a new way to get reading material into the hands of students.

As I discussed in my previous post, paper books are still available to students at BA. We certainly are not a school that believes in throwing away one thing in favor of another. To the contrary, we believe in providing as many different modalities as possible to allow our students to grow as learners and as individuals. Each of our lower school classrooms now has a huge collection of grade appropriate books right in their classrooms. The students are able to access these books every day, not just a couple times per month as was the case when the books were housed in a central location. We are finding that since we have rearranged our collection in this way, books that used to sit on the bookshelf untouched in the old library are now being read by students since they are easier to find in their classrooms.

Grade/Class: 1A
Teacher: Mrs. Smith
Subject: Spelling and Vocabulary
App or website: Spelling City (It is both an app and a website)
Spelling City incorporates our spelling words and lets students do games and activities to practice spelling. Some of the games include "Hang Mouse," "Word Search" and "Word Unscramble." Student can also take a practice test with their words. 
This app enhanced learning by providing additional practice with spelling words in a novel, highly engaging format.

Student feedback: We did this activity last week on the SMARTboard, and students enjoyed playing the games! They especially loved Hang Mouse! We will be going to the Technology Center tomorrow so that students can practice their words on the iPads. I sent the link home for parents and I have heard a lot of feedback about how the students liked practicing by doing the games. 

Grade/Class: 5th
Teacher: Mrs. V
Subject: Language Arts
App or website: Website
Students watched Weird Al’s “Word Crime” video for insight into common grammar mistakes. The music video format engaged the students and we used it as a springboard for discussion about mistakes featured in the video. Students then picked their own word crime from what we discussed and made their own PowerPoint presentations about them.
This site makes grammar alive and relevant, and makes it a fun start-up activity.
Student feedback: Students loved the video! Some told me that they listened to the song again at home; now students will say “Word Crime” if they notice one, and they also enjoyed making the PowerPoint (many of which were clever and hilarious in their own way (e.g. “Lettuce” talk about it)

Monday, September 15, 2014

What happened to all the paper books?

Some of you may be wondering what happened to all of the books that you used to see in our Technology Center (formerly "media center"). In an effort to make is easier for students to access age/grade appropriate books, each of our teachers spent considerable time going through our entire library collection. Each teacher created from that collection a set of four "classroom library" boxes. These boxes will be rotated quarterly to keep the classroom library fresh with new books for students to choose from for classroom pleasure reading as well as overnight checkout. All checking out of books will now occur in the classroom.

Believe it or not, having every teacher choose four large boxes of books didn't even put a dent in our collection! The remaining collection is housed in a room in the technology center designated specifically for our paper books. All of the old shelving was moved to this room and now serves as a resource area for teachers to use to add to their classroom collections or to search for specific books of interest whenever they see fit.

In addition to this, all of our students will be learning how to access ebooks via the public library. I will share more about this initiative in an upcoming blog post.

With each of my posts going forward, I will be sharing examples of how technology is actually being used in the classrooms. This week we see some examples from Kindergarten and 6A/7.

Grade: Kindergarten A
Teacher: Poirier
Subject: Math
Apps: Bubble pop addition 
This app shows the children a problem at the bottom of the window. There are bubbles that float around and they need to pop the correct one that answers the problem.
This activity enhances learning by giving the children a chance to practice their addition skills with a fun activity other than pencil and paper. It also has gotten them familiar with using the iPads. We do this once a week and slowly we will start adding other apps, websites, and games for almost all of our subjects. 

Student feedback: "Awesome!" They love going to use the iPads. It makes them feel like big kids. They ask me every day if we are using them in the afternoon!

Class:  6A/7
Teacher: Galzerano
Subject:  World History
Activity:  In class we learned about the Epic of Gilgamesh.  It is the oldest known story that dates from around 2000 BCE.  The class used their IPADs to read one of the stories from the book from the website.  The story was how  Gilgamesh defeated a Demon in order to obtain cedar wood.  They answered questions prepared by the teacher along the way.  We then discussed the story and how it relates to similar stories/movies we see today in the 21st Century.
Feedback: Students enjoyed it because it was short and had comic-book type pictures along the way to help them understand it better.  They were able to draw comparisons to today, which amazed them since the book is about 4000 years old.  It made them see the connection between the ancient world and today, which is a wonderful way to teach History.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Summer 2014

During the 2013-14 school year, Mr. Galzerano, Mr. Rudolph, Mrs. Cliggitt and I attended several workshops focusing on the use of technology in the classroom. These workshops as well as guidance from our technology consultant led us to decide to purchase our first set of iPads in December of 2013. This was based on the evidence that tower computer systems and even laptop computers are not going to meet the needs of the students of tomorrow.

As those of you who had the opportunity to attend our orientations may have noticed, we have consolidated our technology workspace into one newly renovated area. The new Technology Center will continue to house our existing PCs, which our students in the lower school will continue to use during their technology classes. In addition, our Technology Center also will house our collection of iPads and provide a central location for our students to use them as well. This will happen not only during their scheduled technology class time with Mrs. Lana Smith, but also with their classroom teachers as well.

Intermediate and Middle school students will be using technology right in their regular classrooms. Beginning this year, we are encouraging all students who have an iPad or a tablet to bring it to school. They are allowed to use them for note taking, research, creating projects, completing assignments, etc. In addition, there will be times that each of their teachers will have apps and websites that they will be using to enrich their learning experiences.

At Brandon Academy, we never invest in anything just to say we have it. If we are going to have iPads and ask our students to bring them in, we certainly are going to do so in order to enhance learning. In an effort to ensure this will happen, we have taken two very important steps. First, our fantastic classroom teachers have spent the summer researching apps and websites that can be accessed with the iPad to enhance the curriculum presented at their respective grade levels. The teachers are currently in the middle of a series of workshops at BA sharing this research with their colleagues.

The second step in ensuring that our technology is being integrated into the curriculum is that our technology teacher, Mrs. Lana Smith, has had her role expanded. In addition to her duties as the technology teacher, she also will be acting as the Technology Integration Specialist. That is, Mrs. Smith will be working with every teacher to find ways to use the iPads to enhance the learning of all of our students. A schedule has been arranged and teachers are meeting with her regularly.

Stay tuned to this blog as I will be posting specific examples of how teachers are using the technology at every grade level throughout the year.