A Slice of Pi
An Electronic Newsletter for HCPS Mathematics Teachers
April 2012
Volume 1, Number 5
In This Issue
Sites of Interest
Math Websites
A Slice of Pi newsletters
Contact Me

Skip Tyler
Secondary Mathematics Specialist



SOL Spotlight - Middle School SOL Cut Scores

The Virginia Board of Education met on March 22nd to review and adopt the recommended cut scores for the Grades 3-8 Mathematics SOL tests. Below is a summary of the Superintendent's Recommendation:

MS Cut Scores

At first glance, many people think the new cut scores (which are lower than the cut scores for the 2001 SOL tests) make it easier for students to pass the tougher test. However, similar to the high school SOL tests, the cut scores definitely reflect the rigor of the new tests. Take a look at the table below showing the cut scores for the Pass/Proficient and Pass/Advanced categories.

Pass Cut Scores

Looking at the 8th grade Mathematics SOL, students who got 32 out of 50 correct last year would have scored a 400 on their SOL. On the 2009 SOL test, it is predicted that those same students would get 23 out of 50 correct this year yet the cut score is 31 out of 50. I would call that an increase in rigor...just sayin'.

We cannot say that our students are not capable of reaching these goals. That is an excuse. WE MUST CHANGE HOW WE ARE TEACHING OUR STUDENTS. It is up to us to include more rigor in the classroom. It is up to us to help our students become better problem solvers. It is up to us to help our students reason and communicate mathematically. Reflect upon your teaching practice. Are you doing what you need to do to help students reach and exceed these new expectations?

As Michael Bolling, our VDOE Mathematics Coordinator, communicated at the VCTM conference:

  • If you are more tired than the kids at the end of the day, it's not because you are old. Make them do the work and the thinking!
  • Make kids estimate/predict and think before calculating.
  • Don't ask questions that solicit one word answers.
  • Let kids struggle to make sense of the mathematics.

It is time to upgrade. Instruction must change. Assessment must change.

Using Videos in the Classroom?

You may have seen the story on 60 Minutes (3/11/12) called Khan Academy: The future of education? If you haven't, I'd encourage you to watch it. As I've been mentioning in the past few newsletters, the idea of using videos in and out of your classroom can play a key role in making your classes more student-centered. The benefits of this model are that you have time in your class to work with students on depth, rigor and rich tasks.

Take caution though. Flipping the classroom is not something that is done overnight and needs a lot of structure and training of your students. Using videos in the classroom does not replace the teacher, rather, it changes the role of the teacher. Here's a different yet interesting viewpoint of Khan Academy - Let's Just Call it What it is... This blog discusses a good learning cycle and where videos fit into lessons. Plus, it includes a mash up of Vi Hart vs. Sal Khan. If you have never seen Vi Hart's videos and doodles, I'd strongly encourage you to view them. They are awesome - and I don't say that about a lot of the videos I find online.

Here are some other articles related to this using videos in your classroom. Enjoy!

  • How can YouTube be used to enhance classroom lessons?
    While YouTube is a commonly blocked website in schools nationwide, a growing number are beginning to use the video-sharing site as an educational resource. The new YouTube for Schools program allows access to YouTube EDU, which blocks inappropriate content and allows access to educational content. "We're making content and tools available to our teachers to help them increase and enhance their teaching," said John Connolly, educational technology director for the Chicago Public Schools.
  • Khan on the future of classroom learning
    Salman Khan, creator of the nonprofit Khan Academy, in this interview discusses the success of his organization -- which has created an online collection of thousands of free instructional videos -- as well as his views on the future of classroom learning. Among other things, Khan said he expects schools soon will begin to embrace a model of instruction in which technology enables students to learn at their own pace and allows teachers to embrace a "higher-value role" in which they spend more time mentoring and addressing the academic needs of individual students
  • 5 suggestions for a successful "flipped" classroom
    Education consultant Andrew Miller in this blog post offers suggestions for teachers using or considering a flipped instructional model in the classroom. Educators first must create for students a "need to know" the content presented in pre-recorded teacher lectures, and Miller suggests this step is made easier through project-based, game-based or other engaging learning models. Educators also should consider their technology resources, availability of time and space to implement the model and ensure reflective activities are built into instructional videos, he writes.
  • TED to open online library of video lessons
    The nonprofit TED -- Technology, Entertainment, Design -- is launching a free online-education website, TED-Ed, which will house high-quality online lessons to add to its library of "video talks." The lessons will include professional editing and animation and each will be a maximum of 10 minutes. "We want to show that learning can be thrilling," said TED curator Chris Anderson.



SOL Simulation

Over the past few months, the math coaches and I have been collaborating with Chesterfield, Hanover, and Colonial Heights to develop SOL simulations. Using all of our collective experiences on test writing committees, standard setting committees, and VDOE training sessions, this represents our best guess at the rigor your students will see when they take the SOL test. I will be sending these to department leaders soon and you should be able to preview them before Spring Break. Please take a look at these and use them as a teaching tool between now and the SOL tests!

SOL Spotlight - High School

Are you curious about how much of the SOL test assesses new content? The following information was just released by the Virginia Department of Education. As you can see, there is a good chunk of new content on each SOL.

Number of Total Items
Number of Items Representing New Content
Percent of Items Representing New Content
Algebra I
Algebra II


I love this time of year! This is when many of our stellar math teachers are identified by their schools and colleagues for being leaders, role models, and exceptional educators.

Please congratulate the following math teachers for being selected as the Teacher of the Year at their school:

  • Stephanie Causey, Holman Middle
  • Dayle Nicol, The Academy at Virginia Randolph
  • Crystal Tabib, Pocahontas Middle
  • January Tims, Rolfe Middle

Equally impressive is the crop of "young kids" who were selected as the New Teacher of the Year at their school. Holla!

  • Andrew Blazar, Glen Allen High
  • Jennifer Evans, Wilder Middle
  • Derek Podolny, Freeman High
  • Jessica Taggart, Holman Middle

21st Century Skills in HCPS

Congratulations to the following secondary math teachers for their Henrico21 awards!

Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
Justin Brittle: Holman Middle - Winner
Beth Layne: Brookland Middle - Finalist
Jenny Smyth: Holman Middle - Finalist
Pete Anderson: Glen Allen High - Winner
Joseph Palen: Deep Run - Finalist

Communication & Collaboration
Maggie Robison: Short Pump - Winner

Tucker High Robotics Team Wins Regional Competition

TuckerMarch 20th, 2012—After a two-day robotic basketball tournament with 99 qualification rounds that tested their engineering, teamwork and alliance-building skills, “Sparky” team 384 from Tucker High School was seeded 6th and chose the teams from Martinsville, VA and Raleigh, N.C. as alliance partners in the final matches. Sparky's alliance emerged Saturday as top winners in the 2012 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Virginia Regional. Tucker High School's FRC team qualified to compete at the FIRST WORLD Championship in St. Louis, April 25-28.

In addition to leading the winning alliance, Team Sparky was named winner of the Engineering Inspiration Award, celebrating outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering and engineers, both within their school as well as their community. Deep Run's Blue Cheese 1086 were very competitive and were selected for the quarterfinals.  Blue Cheese also won two big awards: the Industrial Design Award and the Entrepreneurship Award. 

Special thanks go to Flexicell and GE Healthcare. Flexicell engineers put in untold hours mentoring kids in the design, construction, and programming of the robot, six days a week, very often late into the night.  GE Healthcare made financial contributions toward the entry fee for April's World Championship in St. Louis.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an international organization with the ambitious mission of transforming modern culture by celebrating science and technology and encouraging more students to be interested in pursuing education in Science, Technology,Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

For anyone interested in learning more, WCVE (Richmond Public Television) profiled the team for its series Science Matters.  The first of two installments is available at http://ideastations.org/sciencematters.

For more information about the regional competition, click here!

Pie Graphs vs. Bar Graphs


Did you know?

That in a room full of 23 people, there is a 50% chance that two people will have the same birthday?

Sites of Interest

Top educational apps to use in the classroom
Several applications are available to help teachers and students in the classroom. Among them on this list are Educreations, a free app that turns iPad devices into interactive whiteboards; Class Dojo, which helps teachers manage and improve students' behavior; and Star Walk, which allows students to see the location of stars on their iPads. The app MathBoard offers tools to improve math teaching and learning, and Evernote allows users to write lesson plans and upload them to mobile devices. RedOrbit
Teachers observe each other to improve instruction
Leadership coach Elena Aguilar writes in this blog post that some educators have adopted a process similar to the rounds doctors make in hospitals. The teachers are working to improve instruction for English-language learners. Participating teachers establish a question to answer, then -- in small groups -- visit fellow teachers' classrooms to observe for 20 minutes. Teachers used the rounds to see what students were doing and learning, then met to discuss what they observed.
Raytheon's MathAlive! opens at the Smithsonian
Raytheon's program to promote science, technology, engineering, and math among children, starts at the Smithsonian, but the company will then take it on the road to stops across the nation and then internationally. MathAlive! lets students engineer cities and design video games in what the company calls an "immersive" experience.
Study: Students do better when told they can fail
Students perform better academically when told that failure is possible, according to a recent study by French researchers. The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, questions the trend toward adopting high-stakes standardized tests -- used to evaluate teachers -- which researchers found actually could lessen students' confidence. A California teacher says she has had success with a technique called "my favorite no," in which she points out common mistakes and helps students understand that mistakes are part of learning
Survey: PE, math among favorite subjects of middle schoolers
A recent survey of middle-school students found that among those polled, physical education is their favorite subject -- followed by art and math. Students' least favorite subjects were English and foreign languages, according to the survey by Raytheon Co., an aerospace and defense contractor. Students also reported they prefer to learn through hands-on activities or computer-based instruction.
How to determine if students are engaged in lessons
In this blog, former administrator Ben Johnson offers several ways in which teachers can determine if students are engaged in lessons. In lessons that are teacher-directed, engaged students are paying attention, taking notes and asking content-related questions. When students are working alone or in small groups, engaged students are interacting, exploring, explaining and evaluating.
How to teach students to think critically
Author and attorney G. Randy Kasten in this blog post advises educators on methods for teaching students to think critically, a skill that empowers them to avoid buying into harmful messages and unsupported arguments. Kasten suggests students first consider the ways in which false information can seem real, and then examine how motivations -- those of others as well as their own -- can play a role in what they choose to believe.
26 states, D.C. meet second-round deadline for NCLB waiver requests
Twenty-six more states plus the District of Columbia have met the second deadline for seeking waivers from some requirements of No Child Left Behind. Eleven states already have been granted waivers, and the remaining 13 states will have until Sept. 6 to apply for a waiver in the third round. Among these, California is considering requesting a unique waiver that would provide more flexibility but not be subject to the same requirements.
STEM Teacher Scholarships Available
The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) Educational Foundation is offering scholarships of $5,000 to students actively pursuing an undergraduate degree, graduate degree, or credential/licensure for the purpose of teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) subjects at a U.S. middle or secondary school.
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