Teaching & Learning in Middle Schools More Effectively

Creating More Effective Middle Schools

An Online Course: Producing A Project of Ideas & Resources

May be taken twice for 8 credits total.

This is a distance learning course, concentrating on uses of the Internet for teaching, learning and professional development. It also is intended to give you enough web sites and leads-in to more web sites to be a continuously useful resource for your learning and doing.

This is a PASS/FAIL course. Therefore, SELECT and BASE YOUR WORK on those areas that best match your current interests. You can return any time to areas that match future concerns and changing interests--one of the many advantages of on-line learning

Assessment is based on work you produce in series of essays/listings for each Essential Question or topic you "connect with," and with an annotated lists of sites supporting your views and reflecting your web work.

Note the Rubric for Course Portfolio Assessment.

For instance, you might write “The site XXXX [http://www.xxx.com] gave me a different perspective on how to help students learn _____. It also cleared up for me something I was confused about, and that is what educators mean by __________.” Certainly you would want to elaborate more.

This work may be emailed to me at ozpk100@aol.com, or snail-mailed to me at Chad C. Osborne 923 W. Mission St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101. If you email the work, you may wish to put it in a Zip file, which compresses text and makes it easier to send over the 'Net.

Be sure to read the COURSE POLICY


Because of the extensive number of links, the most important are signified with a *1* sign. These also cover the widest array of Certification Standards. Be sure your course work reflects your having learned from these sites.

*1* Either develop and answer an essential question for each section of the course, or use and re-use the following "ESSENTIAL MEGA-QUESTION": IN WHAT WAYS MIGHT YOU USE (selected) TEACHING STRATEGIES TO TEACH THE SUBJECT MATTER (selected) FROM THE RESOURCES BELOW? [A "rubric" for this question: Use Individual Brainstorming to list at least five items, each indicating both content and strategy. Try to "think outside the box" in your ideas, and then * star what you regard as the best idea(s) for each section.]

Be sure to HIGHLIGHT and ANNOTATE all pages you reprint for your Project Notebook!

To Share Questions, Ideas, Best Links, Problems, etc.

Advanced Level Challenge: Based on links from any single or combination of sections of course work, develop a WEB QUEST you can use with your classes. My web page, *1* QUESTING the WEB: Web Quests as Essential Questions, gives further examples of this format.

Since a Web Quest is a series of linked web pages, you may want to begin with HOW TO CREATE WEB PAGES. Also take note of the *1* Examples of Student-Produced Web Quests, and especially, *1* Think Quest projects for your subject area!

*1* Project Based Learning: What Works -- Check out Subject Matter Projects on this page!

Middle Grades Improvement

The past two decades have seen a shift from preadolescents attending junior high schools to their attending middle schools. But the change is more than just semantic. Junior high schools, acting as little high schools, were impersonal places. Today's middle schools try to help the whole child, academically and socially, at this transitional point in their lives. These schools are entering a transitional stage themselves, as they face pressure to shift to a more academic emphasis. With "academics" so much easier to measure than social development, and the conservative political agenda favoring a drill/skill-based back-to-basics school "reform," are Middle Schools at risk of going "back to the future" and becoming impersonal junior high schools once again?

Research consistently identifies the middle grades as one of a few crucial crossroads in the American system of public education. In short, middle grades students either acquire the knowledge and skills they need to achieve in high school and beyond, or they fall critically behind and struggle to overcome intellectual and social-emotional underdevelopment for the rest of their educational careers. *1* Emotional I.Q., so critical in the workplace and in life relationships, not only is at risk of being enhanced and developed at this stage; it is also at risk of being swallowed up in the reemergence of back-to-basics.

Critics claim schools have become too soft around the middle. NAEP scores and reports from other education groups across the country point to less emphasis on academics and more on young adolescents' developmental characteristics. This reflects a controversy. Nel Noddings, Professor of Education at Stanford University and author of The Challenge to Care in Schools, argues that traditional liberal education--the emphasis of academics--is based on how people sought to educate the rich, emphasizing verbal and mathematical intelligences to the exclusion of others, and that such academic emphasis is elitist, sexist and misguided.

The key to a successful middle school, proponents of the Business Roundtable say, is a healthy focus on academic results, not just student development. Why would corporate interests back this return to junior highs when they need employees with social and emotional maturity?

One view is that corporations want a mass market of easily led consumers far more than whole people, who tend to be too independent and self reliant. Besides the private schools, unburdened by high stakes testing and back-to-basics pressure, will supply corporations with their future leadership. Are corporate single-focus-profit motives an appropriate basis for educational values and practice?

A Feast of Offerings for Higher Academic Standards illustrates some of the best effort to strengthen the academic aspects and give a strong, develpmental middle grades focus. While this may be a "lighthouse" effort, the particular contexts of Amherst Middle Schools's faculty, leadership, and community make it unlikely to be widely replicated.

Foundations and community groups nationwide are working to involve citizens in middle school reform--at a time when many districts witness an exodus of students from public to private and charter schools, and to homeschooling, after the sixth grade.

All of these factors make Middle Grades Education an arena of critical importance.

Project Notebook Essay #1

What is your initial position as you begin this online course on the relative emphasis academics need to be given in middle schools, particularly in light of the profit motives of corporate interests and the politics of back-to-basics? Reflect on this in your Project Notebook.

Further Obstacles to Middle Grades Effectiveness

Two Education Week articles highlight difficulties/opportunities middle schools face. The first, Underprepared Middle School Teachers, reflects the continuing reliance on academic preparation of teachers during pre-teaching college work. Given how little is understood, how little retained, due in large part to the lack of a concrete application, is it really a solution to propose more "front-loaded" college course work and high stakes testing required for middle school teachers? Wouldn't in-service requirements and incentives, much of which could be done through online professional development, have a stronger effect on middle school teachers and programs? For instance, familiarity with and understanding of *1* Middle School Philosophy based on *1* Development in Early Adolescents and *1* Working With Adolescents or Parenting Children K-6 are only a click away for the conceptual aspects; experiences with early adolescents--not academic course work, are needed to transfer knowing about into knowing how.

Similarly, the conceptual philosophy and techniques of *1* collaborative or cooperative learning can be mastered first through the Internet, then confirmed in experience. The sites on collaboration relate both to faculty teams and to group work in classrooms. The third area in needed training for middle school teachers has already been developed by the MiddleWeb site for both *1* Core Curricular areas and *1* Interdisciplinary Curriculum Links. Other sites, such as *1* Integrating Ideas - Middle Schools, and the multi-site *1* Integrated Curriculum demonstrate the range of teacher helps in mastering and presenting content. There are limits to what knowing about can accomplish, which is why online learning coupled with experience is a powerful form of teacher development.

The second article, *1* Forces Compete for Middleschoolers' Attention, speaks to the reality of the forces stronger than academic learning that characterize the lives of middle school students.

*1* Project Notebook Essay #2

What are your ideas and opinions about these two issues--the preparation/professional development of middle school teachers, and the impinging forces of reality that make academic learning pale in comparable importance?

Project Notebook Issue/Essay #3: Middle School Girls--A Need for Specialized Education?

Invesitgate the following three sites:
  1. Color Math Pink
  2. *1* GirlTech
  3. *1* Girl-Friendly Sites
Do you believe it is important to address girls as a special target population within middle schools? Do you see a need for Math in particular, to recruit more girls into math-based careers? After familiarizing yourself with these sites and as many of the links as you can check out, take a stand on the issue of "Should Girls Be Targetted for Special Programs in Middle School?"


  1. *1* What Works In Middle Schools and
  2. *1* Links to Other Reforming Middle Schools and School Systems profile a number of middle schools trying to boost student capacities.
  3. *1* Best Teaching Practices in the Middle Grades -- The Maryland Department of Education has a series of webpages where middle grades teachers can link to resources about best teaching practice -- including brief materials on homework, abstract concepts, praise and rewards, student accountability, organizing and presenting instruction, goals and purposes, monitoring student success, meaningful school and community participation, rules and rountines, managing disruptive behavior, learning skills, student team learning, setting high expectations, and more.
  4. Middle Schools To Watch
  5. *1* Middle School Resources has an extensive list of links of value for your seeing what other middle schools are doing.
  6. Ten Great Sites Every Middle School Educator Should Know!

Examine these sites closely for trends and ideas, and write about what you find appealing in your Project Notebook. Also, from at least two sites/activities you want to use, write an imaginary dialogue (script form) between yourself and two teachers—one tending to support your ideas, the other quite doubtful. Use this dialogue to develop ideas for how you would use and justify the activity or idea.

Project Notebook Issue/Essay #5: What Role Should Technology (Computers) Play in Middle School Education?

As you might imagine, the Internet has a lot written on using computers in the classroom.

  • *1* Computers In the Classroom,
  • *1* Teacher's Guide To Integrating Technology and
  • *1* Technology and Middle Schools-Links are the three sites with numerous links to use in your fourth Project Notebook task. Again, look for patterns, best practices, and ideas for your "tool bag" to implement. Write these up with supporting web reprints for this fifth section.

    Project Notebook Issue/Essay #6: How Can We Make the Most Productive Use of Parent and Family Involvement?

    As you think about improving learning in Middle Schools, you can sense the additional resources that come into play when the learner's parents/families are involved. The first four links will guide you into sites exploring best practices. Spend time particularly on the page links from the first site.

  • *1* Parent and Family Involvement
  • *1* Middle School Parent and Public Involvement Links
  • *1* Middle School Partnership
  • Bayer/NSF Community Involvement Contest

    Write the first part of your Project/Notebook #6 on your insights and ideas for involving parents and families as learning support.

    The next several sites have resources that can prove helpful to parents, families and students. It is fairly easy to create classroom web pages with links such as these, homework and project assignments, puzzles, activity and other family learning suggestions. More resources are available through Creating Web Pages. Think about resources for students and their families as you investigate these Homework Helper sites.

  • *1* Middle Web Homework Helpers
  • *1* Homework Helps
  • The Kidlink Network
  • *1* Yahooligans!

    The third part of this Parent & Family Involvement inquiry concerns building positive attitude in young adolescents. We might call this section, "Whatever..." See if you can envision and develop a plan for enhancing your students' attitudes as you study these sites and program practices.

  • *1* Middle School Student Attitude Handbook
  • *1* Middle Schoolers Attitude Tool Kit

    *1* Formulate your plan into three stages: [You may want to use a listing format]
    1. Preparation Tasks
    2. Initial Steps
    3. Procedures to Try
    4. Student and Family Tasks.

    Include this Plan as the third part of the Parent & Family Involvement section.

    Project Notebook Issue/Essay #7: Insight From Other Sites

    These nine sites reinforce and extend the concepts and practices for improving middle school learning. Go through links on these pages, collecting reprints of articles and sites for future reference and use.

    1. *1* Teaching Strategies for All Subjects
    2. *1* **Rubrics!Great site to help you evaluate students most fairly and to help them learn to self-evaluate in all areas of the Middle School curriculum!
    3. *1* **Types of Assessment
    4. *1* **Assessment Resources
    5. *1* **Inservice Workshop on Middle School Authentic Assessment
    6. *1* Middle School Performance Assessment
    7. *1* ASSESSMENT MATTERS -- Many more assessment links

      *1* Work out your views on assessment in a brief paper, written as a Draft Proposal to your department. Include this in your notebook.

    8. Adolescent Directory On Line (ADOL)
    10. *1* The Medical Basis of Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Sleep Problems, and Drug Use On-line book
    12. Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention--Archives
    13. *1* Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention--Programs That Work
    14. *1* Safe Schools

    15. *1* Middle School Issues
    16. Millard Central Middle School (NE) -- Over 600 links for middle school educators and students
    17. *1* Using Adolescent and Young Adult Literature The type of reading that most students read and English teachers use
    18. *1* TeachersFirst Middle School Content Matrix
    19. ParenTech
    20. Middle Grades Links Great!
    21. *1* National Middle School Association Superb Links!
    22. Active, Engaged Learning
    23. Hampton Academy Junior High Links
    24. Living Things
    25. Blue Web'n
    26. Web Resources for Middle School Teachers
    27. *1*Your Seventh-Grader -- Excellent content and student resources!
    29. *1* TEACHERS AT WORK
    31. For a final bit of "icing" on the cake, consider some of these learning games you could use from *1* FUN BRAIN.

    Final Essential Question:

    Considering the following "EXTRA TOPICS" sites, how might you make your teaching more relevant and reach more students? Particularly, through a) working with parents and families, b)using alternative assessment to help students learn more, c) confronting the dilemma of depth vs. coverage. d) teaching the gifted and talented, the learning disabled, and English Language learners likely to be in your classes via "inclusion", e) coping with challenges of (beginning) teaching, including mastering the dynamics of questioning, and f) helping students with career planning and transition to life after high school.

    1. Working With Parents: What Parents Should Do, What Is the Teacher's Role
    2. Teacher Web.com -- A fast and easy way to create a great connection to students and parents. You can use many of the links you find in this course!
    3. **Rubrics! Great site to help you evaluate students most fairly and to help them learn to self-evaluate in all subjects!
    4. Depth vs. Coverage in Teaching and Preparing Students for Standardized Tests
    5. Teaching Gifted and Talented Students
    6. Teaching Strategies and Techniques -- Matched to types of diabilities students may have
    7. Free Translation.com -- A site that can be used to translate handouts, tests, and texts into Spanish and several other languages
    8. Teaching English Language Learners
    9. Guides for New (And Not So New) Teachers
    10. *1*TEACHERS ON TEACHING Discussions by classroom teachers on what they wish they'd known when they started.
    11. *1*My Hero: Teacher Heroes Inspiring!
    12. *1*Teacher Tools Page -- On-line tools for making quizzes, puzzles, rubrics, webquests, and more.
    13. Custom Classroom -- Free tools
    14. SchoolNotes.com FREE! Easily develop homework assignments and class information, posting it on the Web!

      *1***Consider, too, the importance of WAIT TIME. Most teachers ask questions at an extremely rapid rate, and average only one second of wait time after each question and after each student answer.

      When teachers increase wait time by 5 seconds, the following results occur:

      1) Longer student answers;
      2) More appropriate answers;
      3) More frequent student responses;
      4) More answers on the analysis and synthesis levels;
      5) More questions and responses from slow learners; and
      6) More confidence by students in their answers.

      An excellent site to inquire further into the dynamics of questioning and wait-time is *1*Changing the Questions.

    15. Careers.org -- Resources for Job Seekers and links to numerous career information sites.
    16. Exploring Careers
    17. Career Paths Online
    Note the Rubric for Course Portfolio Assessment.


    *1* Go through your Project Notebook. Make an annotated Table of Contents for each section, and **star the sections you want to be sure to make reference to in Creating More Effective Middle Schools.

    Mail your completed Project Notebook to:

    Chad C. Osborne
    923 West Mission St.
    Santabara, CA 93101