Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Family + Food + Football = Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, I am most thankful for my family, friends, and colleagues. I am thankful for opportunities to meet new people, travel, and explore ideas. 

I am thankful for the ability to keep in touch with my past including the many people who have had an impact on my life. I am thankful for the students who inspire me on a daily basis.

My most memorable Thanksgiving was at my Grandpa and Grandma's house. We spent quality time together going on a walk, playing cards and board games, and watching the Detroit Lions. 

Another memorable Thanksgiving was going to downtown Detroit to run in the 10K Turkey Trot and watch the parade.

Thanksgiving is more than a wonderful meal with turkey, potatoes, and stuffing. It is about the people and relationships that have been nurtured throughout the years. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Teachability Instagram Takeover

I teach 7th grade science and information literacy in Michigan. It was exciting to take over Teachability's Instagram channel for the week of November 9th. I shared my favorite things about teaching and our story of education at the classroom level. This is a photo of our 6th hour class. (http://teachability.com/people/mj_lerch)

This is Blake, Sal, and Prekton working on a STEM focused activity. Science experiments are an effective way to engage students. 

These are our classroom bulletin boards.

Our sporting events increase student and staff morale.

Our staff recognizes the prideful accomplishments of students and school community service with awards. 

Blended Learning: Education tools used for digital integration and fun games in the classroom.

Our parent/teacher conferences are essential for the communication of student progress. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tell Congress: No Polluter Giveaways!

Big polluters want Congress to choose between protecting clean water and funding the federal government – a ridiculous, dangerous and false choice.  Please urge your representatives in Congress to stand up for clean water and other common sense protections for our environment and our communities!

These special favors for polluters don't just undermine critical safeguards for our communities and environment, they are a waste of tax payer resources. Tell your Representative and Senators to oppose these giveaways today!

Spending bills should be about dollars and cents, not protecting polluters' bottom lines. I urge you to oppose ALL ideological and anti-environmental riders proposed for inclusion in spending bills for fiscal year 2016, including language that would undermine the Obama administration’s final Clean Water Rule.  

More than 800,000 Americans supported the Clean Water Rule, which restores protections to critical drinking water sources for more than 117 million people. The appropriations process is not the place to legislate policy decisions. 

I urge you to stand with people, not polluters.  Please oppose all ideological riders that would undermine protections for our nation’s air, land, water or wildlife.

From fighting for new protections for streams and wetlands, the sources of drinking water for so many, to ending coal plants' free pass to dump waste into lakes and rivers, Clean Water Action members answer the call and make the critical difference. 

I strongly support EPA’s proposed Methane Pollution Standard, which will help reduce methane pollution from new oil and gas wells. The oil and gas industry is carelessly wasting millions of tons of gas and leaking toxic chemicals into the air that harm health and speed up climate change.
Reducing methane pollution is a commonsense policy that will help protect fence-line communities living in the shadow of oil and gas development and start to address the serious climate impacts of oil and gas development.

We urge EPA to finalize these sensible protections and put similar prevention measures in place for existing facilities, which under the current plan will be allowed to continue leaking and flaring methane pollution into the atmosphere.

Visit the Clean Water Action Center [http://cleanwateraction.org/national/actions] to see what's happening in MI and across the country.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

First Quarter Newsletter

In an effort to increase communication with students, parents, and community members, I would like to do a newsletter blog post every now and then to share what students are learning in our classroom. In September (Chemistry Month), our 7th grade science classes started learning how to use the Periodic Table of Elements.   

If you have access to a computer and the internet, there are a number of excellent tutoring sites to help students gain a better understanding of chemistry.  One of the better sites for middle school students is: chem4kids.com

How do we classify matter?  Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space.  

Scientists use a system to classify matter based on its composition and purity. Matter in its purest form comes in two types – elements and compounds.

The simplest form of matter is an element.  An element is composed of a single kind of atom.  

Gold would be an example of an element, as it is composed of just gold atoms.  If you had a piece of gold, you would just have gold atoms. No other kind of atom would be present.

Compounds are also a pure form of matter, but the particles that make up compounds are composed of more than one kind of atom. These particles are called molecules.  

A molecule is a particle composed of two or more atoms chemically combined. A good example of a compound would be water.  

Water is composed of water molecules, each of which is made up of an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms chemically combined.

If you took an element and started subdividing it, you would, after much work, come to the smallest particle that would still have properties of that element.  That particle would be an atom.  

If you took a compound and started subdividing it, you would come to the smallest particle which still has properties of that compound, and that particle would be a molecule. The molecule would be composed of atoms chemically combined.  

To reach an understanding about the nature of matter and chemistry, you need to know something about atoms.

Atoms are very small particles. Atoms are mostly empty space.  

If you enlarged a hydrogen atom so that the nucleus was the size of a person, the electron would be two miles away and the size of a small bird.  It is an interesting thought that if atoms are mostly empty space, we are composed of atoms, so we are mostly empty space.

Atoms are composed of three kinds of particles – electrons, protons, and neutrons.  Protons have a positive charge and a mass of 1 atomic mass unit. Neutrons have no charge (they are neutral) and have a mass of 1 atomic mass unit.  Electrons have a negative charge and have a mass of 1/1840 that of a neutron or proton.  For all practical purposes, in determining the mass of an atom, the masses of the electrons can be neglected as they are so small.

Since atoms are electrically neutral, they will have the same number of protons as electrons – in other words, the same number of positive charges as negative charges.  They are electrically neutral.

Models are used to help us figure out how things work – especially in cases where we can’t actually visualize the objects that we are dealing with.  There are several models of the atom that are used to help us understand how atoms interact.  

One of the simpler models is the one used by Bohr.  He pictured the atoms as a solar system with the nucleus at the center of the atom containing the protons and neutrons and the electrons in orbit about the nucleus.  

Atoms differ from each other in numbers of protons in the nucleus and numbers of electrons in orbit about the nucleus. It is the number of electrons and protons that determines the chemical properties of an element. 

These chemical properties include acidity, flammability, and reactivity. Substances also have physical properties such as density, boiling point, and conductivity. 

These properties are used to identify different substances. Students learn that these substances can change chemically into new substances through reactions in a closed system.

Students raised over $25,000 at our annual Panther Prowl Fundraiser.
Pink Out: Students support Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Students show their Halloween Spirit.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Change of the M-STEP Due to Public and Teacher Feedback

Teachers, parents, and students often felt powerless when it came to government-mandated standardized tests such as the Michigan Student Test for Educational Progress (M-STEP).
It was difficult for teachers and parents to understand if the amount of time spent on standardized testing was necessary and beneficial to students. Hours were taken away from teaching and learning time last school year in order to administer the M-STEP. This was a problem.
The M-STEP was also an online test. This took computer time away from teachers and students who needed them for instructional and learning purposes. This was another problem.
There were also technology problems such as software failures, which also ate up teaching and learning time.
Teachers across the state had issues with the M-STEP. Many felt that standardized tests were an unreliable and inaccurate measure of student growth.
Standardized testing increased stress and wasted time, creating a toxic environment that hurt teacher and student morale.
Educators argued standardized tests should not be on the cutting edge of education because it promotes teaching to the test, which can impede, rather than promote, learning.
Alternative assessments such as observations, performance tasks, and portfolios should also be used to measure and improve student educational progress.
Frustrated teachers and parents of Michigan finally demanded less time for standardized testing and more time for learning. They’d had enough.
Time for a Change
After listening to public opinions, complaints, and feedback, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) shortened the length of the M-STEP.
This shows the importance of teachers’ voices in education policy. As a Michigan Educator Voice Fellow, I play a role in the engagement between Michigan teachers and the MDE.
Teachers need to be respected as other professionals. They need to have a say in education reform efforts.
In Michigan, lawmakers seem to have accepted the importance of teacher input when developing education policies. Most states have projects similar to the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship to teach teachers the best ways to make an impact on education in their states.
All teachers have valuable experiences and insights from the classroom that could be shared to help shape and influence education policy.
Support for Teachers Who Lead
The Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship provides support and training for teachers and administrators who want to share their experiences and insights with local, state, and federal policymakers. Fellows learn how to effectively engage policymakers and the public through blogging, social media, and public forums.
All teachers should start a blog and share their education stories and initiatives on social media. This would enhance the teaching profession in addition to building a stronger professional learning network (PLN).
Most bloggers do not get paid. They do it because they want to share their experiences. We can improve education with better communication systems. Teachers need to celebrate and encourage innovation in schools.
Teachers seem to be “sharing people” by nature. Better communication systems would allow more opportunities for teachers to connect, engage, and collaborate with each other.
New teachers need to have coaches and mentors to help them learn the ropes. Such collaboration can assist with professional development and improvement. All schools should create a professional learning community (PLC).
Edtech Help
The effective technology resources available for communication in schools are endless. There are Twitter Chats everyday allowing teachers to collaborate with each other and share their united voice. Voxer Groups are an excellent way to communicate within a PLC or PLN.
Technology resources can also be used to involve parents and community partners. Such a strategy can improve school culture by increasing communication about expectations and student progress. It is essential for teachers and parents to communicate and work together to close achievement gaps and improve attitudes in schools.

Teachers, administrators, and community members are all needed to play a role in education reform and policy decisions. Communication is the key to creating and maintaining high-quality schools.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship

It is an honor to have been selected to participate in an organization dedicated to speaking out about public education and sharing best practices to improve it.
I have been a math and science teacher since 2008 at Chippewa Valley’s Iroquois Middle School. I was recently named a fellow for the America Achieves’ Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship.
In that capacity, I will join 100 other educators across Michigan to develop skills that will impact students locally and statewide.
I am honored to work with incredible educators (who) are committed to transforming education for themselves and students.
This fellowship will not only equip me to be a better educator in my classroom, but it will help me advocate for improved funding for teacher training in education policy discussions at the state level.
The Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship is a branch of the national America Achieves Teacher and Principal Fellowship.
According to the organization’s Website, the fellowship “empowers outstanding teachers and principals to elevate their voices in public conversations about teaching and learning, to assume leadership roles in their schools and communities and to influence education policies at the local, state, and national levels, including the implementation of college- and career-ready standards. By including educators in the policy-making process, the fellowship elevates the public’s perception of the education profession.”
As participants, fellows deliver their message about public education through such avenues as letters and columns to local newspapers; testifying in committee hearings; and making presentations to civic organizations.
I have had opinion pieces published in The Macomb Daily, The Oakland Press and the Detroit Free Press.
“Participants in the fellowship interact with colleagues and community leaders in ways that will serve everybody –- most importantly, students -– for years to come,” said Donna Rummel, state manager for the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship. "We are thrilled to welcome Mike as a fellow in this prestigious program.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Open Letter to United States Lawmakers

Please speak up, stand up, and fight for ALL students! Listen to educators and get ESEA right this time! 

The Every Child Achieves Act is a good start. As an educator and a constituent, I want to share my views on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). 

ESEA-the cornerstone of the federal presence in K-12 education aims to support programs to level the playing field for students most in need. 

The reauthorization should set a new vision of shared responsibility for public education to promote opportunity, equity, and excellence for all students. To do this, a bipartisan bill, similar to the approach taken so far by the Senate, is likely needed. The bill should: 

1. Include a dashboard of key indicators and action plans to identify and close opportunity, resource, and achievement gaps to ensure all students, but especially those most in need, have access to a well-rounded education. 

2. Give students more time to learn by reducing over-testing, decoupling tests from high-stakes decisions, and providing more flexibility for states and districts to determine an assessment system that helps teachers help students. Alternative assessments that go beyond standardized tests need to be developed. Parents should have the right to opt their children out of standardized testing. 

3. Ensure educators' voices are heard and empower them to lead. All educators must play a role in decision and policy making on the statewide level since they are the professionals with the expertise and knowledge of what students need. 

I urge you to get ESEA right with a bipartisan bill that advances opportunity for all students, ensures more time for students to learn and for teachers to teach, and empowers educators to lead.