Sunday, June 19, 2011

Their final exam? Tutor an award-winning teacher

by Sharon Hessney
Mathematics teacher at the John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science

I have been a math teacher for fifteen years who has been awarded one of four 2011 – 2012 Capitol Hill Albert Einstein Distinguished Fellowships.  Our 2010 – 2011 school year ends at 1:45 pm on June 28th.  At 4:00 pm, I will be on a plane to Washington to commence three days of interviews with the offices of senators and congressman.  Based on these interviews, I will offered positions for the coming year.
I know much about mathematics (I probably won the position because I am a seasoned statistician), but what do I know about the operations of Congress?  Not much more than what I learned in high school and what I can glean from reading the newspaper.
I needed to get prepared.  But how?  Read a book?  Go on the internet?  Wikipedia? 
Fortuitously, I bumped into one of the graduating seniors just after she had completed her Advanced Placement United States Government exam.  I asked her for suggestions.  Together, we discussed how her class, taught by Dr. Jim Diskant, could brief me.  When, I discussed this with Dr. Diskant, he recommended that the class’ answering my questions about the workings of Congress could be the class’ final exam.  He prepared a list of preliminary questions.  As teams, they prepared their answers. 
On Tuesday, May 31 and Wednesday, June 1, I came to their class and fired away questions. 
• What is the basis in the Constitution for Congress to act on educational issues? 
• How does legislation move through Congress? 
• How do the committees operate? 
• How does the House of Representatives relate to the Senate? 
• What percentage of the votes are needed to pass legislation?  Does it matter what the content is of the legislation? 
Dr. Diskant called on groups in order to respond and rebut.  I could ask for clarification and offer follow up questions.
At the end of the first day, I left the students with two questions that I would ask the following day.
• What is the status of education legislation in Congress?
• Where would you recommend that I work – the Senate, the House, or an Education Committee, and why?
After two days, the students had clearly seen that what they had learned could be used in the “real world” – Ms. Hessney working on Capitol Hill.  I was not asking the questions to give them a grade, but, rather, because I needed this information for my upcoming interviews and for working on Capitol Hill next year.  The requirement for completeness and accuracy was so apparent. 
Also, the students got to see the tables turned.  Their teacher needed their knowledge. 
And, possibly, some day, they, too, would need this knowledge to do their jobs well.

Two juniors last week provided their reflections on the final:

One student explained:  "For our Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics class final, we had the honor of tutoring our very own Ms, Hessney, a winner of the Einstein Fellowship award. She will be working very closely with Congress next year, and the class of 15 students were able to do a sort of "question and answer" session to prepare Ms. Hessney for her job in Congress. It took two class periods, but I think we were all able to really help her prepare for the work she would experience once in Washington DC. It was a very interesting two days, as Ms. Hessney asked us question after question about the nitty gritty details of congress, a refresher to the rather difficult unit we took a few months back. Each of her questions took some of us by surprise, and it was interesting to see that she was very prepared, and that Ms. Hessney really studied up on her reading about Congress. The session was also really tiring in a positive way, having us look back and forth from our notes and textbook to answer her questions. Still it was a very fun way to remind ourselves about Congress and the U.S. government, and I am glad to have been able to partake in such an event."

Another student added:  “I am a junior in the AP Government and Politics class at the O'Bryant with Dr. Diskant. I believe the way that the final was given was a great way to express the class' knowledge on what we were taught.  When certain questions were asked I felt very confident in the information that I was given and the information that my peers were discussing. I think that having the final in this way helped me realize how politics work and it gave me a chance to be placed in a situation in which government advisers could be placed."
Hessney, a 2011-2012 Einstein Fellow, won the 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Farm to School: providing food options

Farm to School is an initiative that looks to change the culture around food in BPS cafeterias by providing healthier options for students, while also educating them about those options. Farm to School works with local farmer's market to provide locally grown fruits and vegetables to BPS. The program which piloted in 2008 currently services over 58 schools.

In December 2010, the "Local Lunch Thursdays" program was launched. The program featured a local fruit or vegetable from a farmer's market on Thursday's school menu. One item that was on the menu was rutabaga. The rutabaga was cut into sticks and roasted into "fries" so that the natural sugars were drawn out. The menu was a hit! Students starting requesting for its come back. During a site visit from one of the staff members from Farm to School, a student stopped the staff member and asked, "When are you coming back with rutabaga fries? Those are really good!" It's important to note that all of the locally grown produce served on the lunch line has been purchased within the budgeted amount for fruits and vegetables per a reimbursable meal.

Farm to School is not only given students options by letting them taste all types of natural foods, but also empowering them by letting them decide what they may or may not eat. If students can request rutabaga by name then what's next...the kohlrabi?

Currently Farm to School is developing cycle menus that will most likely be implemented next year.

To learn more about Farm to School:

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Trotter runs for recess

On May 14, 2011, the Trotter School partnered with Playworks Metro Boston, an organization that encourages learning through physical activity during recess, for the second annual 5k Run for Recess at Franklin Park Zoo.
The event included a one-mile run for kids and over 30 participants, which were staff members and friends of the Trotter School. The school raised over $800 for its recess program.
To learn more about the Playworks program check out:

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The First Golf 'IT' Mentoring Event with TechBoston Academy

On May 24, 2011 the Boston Society for Information Management (SIM) and the New England Chapter of Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) partnered with TechBoston Academy for the first Golf 'IT' event at McGolf in Dedham. During this event students from TechBoston were partnered with mentors from SIM and HIMSS and learned the art of golfing.

The students that participated in this event were 24 technology leaders at TechBoston Academy. Mary Skipper, Headmaster of TechBoston Academy, was thrilled to have her students partake in this event. She stated, “TechBoston Academy students are tech-savvy and this opportunity to meet with professionals who are daily using the skills we teach in classes will give the teens a connection to the real world of work and a better understanding of the path they'll need to get there. These IT professional associations have come up with an innovative way to inform our students about careers in high tech while exposing them to golf fundamentals. I know it will be a memorable day in their young lives.”

To learn more about The Boston Chapter of SIM and The New England Chapter of HIMSS, check out the following sites: