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The Best of the Web: Resources for Middle School Educators

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Every middle school teacher ought to know about the helpful resources found on the WWW at MiddleWeb.com. They ought to be part of one of the most interesting listservs on the Internet too! Learn about those and other invaluable resources for middle school educators in this story, part of Education World's celebration of The Month of the Young Adolescent.

Editor's Note: October has been declared The Month of the Young Adolescent by the National Middle School Association. Thirty organizations have joined NMSA to increase public awareness of the unique needs of young adolescents. Education World is pleased to devote all of this week's stories to the most dedicated group of teachers around -- middle level educators!

"Back in my classroom, I had a bit of a homework crisis. We were off on Wednesday, and on Thursday at least half of my 165 students were unprepared. It was not a good day. My lessons depended on the work being done and I had to spend a great deal of time writing notes home in student planners. It was frustrating to say the least, but it did put things back on track for Friday. Was it the extra day off, or just normal adolescent testing of the limits? I'll never know, but I really dislike days like that, days where I feel more like a cop than a teacher."

"The new Grade 7/8 teacher came into my class and saw students working on longitude and latitude. 'Gee, those books are sure old,' she said. 'Even older than the stuff in my class!' Do you suppose we could apply to the United Nations or something for some used books from developed countries?"

"I like Open House, and am looking forward to bragging about the kids and meeting their families. Some I know from last year -- the Grade 8 students are the ones I worked with before, and they made such striking gains last year One boy in particular has been so gratifying to work with: he really turned his life around. [N]ow he is confident, working hard, showing leadership in class and in sports When you have a part in helping kids like that get it together -- it makes all the you-know-what worthwhile."

Sound familiar? Then you're probably a teacher in a typical middle school!...

The quotes above are extracts from the diaries of two middle school teachers, two daring teachers who for this entire school year are chronicling their efforts, their thoughts, and their frustrations as they help their middle school students survive -- and succeed. Anyone can track the teachers' yearlong journey in Middle School Diaries, one of many teacher-features found at the best middle school resource online, MiddleWeb. The site is packed to overflowing with resources for middle school educators and parents!

SNEAK A PEEK WHEN NO ONE IS LOOKING!

Eavesdroppers are welcome to follow the diary deliberations of middle school teachers Debbie Bambino (of Philadelphia) and Susan Smethurst (of Toronto). They're even invited to react to the weekly entries, to question or support the teachers!

Online group therapy? Call it what you will, but teachers around the world are following -- and relating to -- the roller coaster ride of middle school life as these two teachers survive it. In the opening entries of this school year, you might find Bambino or Smethurst

  • musing about time demands posed by a student who "has more labels than Campbell's Soup, and a veritable alphabet of diagnoses."
  • rethinking the benefits of the self-contained classroom. ("It's much harder to get in the intensive time on task needed by these students when they have to be somewhere else every 40 minutes.")
  • having an epiphany. ("When one person [in a meeting] queried how they could 'make' teachers do this and that, something crystallized for me: where is the genuine reform going on that involves classroom teachers as partners in change? Seems like everyone and his brother has a plan for improving the schools -- if it weren't for those dratted teachers!")
  • noting how relieved students seem to be ("as if a load were lifted from them") and how smoothly the day seems to go when one particular boy is absent from class that day.
  • or bucking political correctness ("John Taylor Gatto, the homeschooling guru, is in town and on a radio interview he decried the use of the bell to start and stop work, arguing that it taught students not to take ownership of their learning. I found myself agreeing with him. I see how students just drop everything when the bell rings and they feel it absolves them of any [need] to finish.")

Want reassurance that you're not alone? The Middle School Diaries are sure to provide it. Join the rest of the lurkers, or the reactors, online at MiddleWeb.

MIDDLEWEB:
HELPING TEACHERS SORT THROUGH THE MUDDLE

It's October, and you feel like you're sinking under all the demands -- of curriculum, administrators, and students -- on your limited time?

Middle School Diaries is just the tip of an iceberg-sized resource called MiddleWeb. The site's content goes deep, offering a lifeboat of ideas, resources, and support to keep busy educators afloat!

MiddleWeb is funded by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, which has been supporting middle-grades reform efforts across the United States for about a decade. Two years ago, the Foundation decided to fund the development of a Web site that would be of interest to middle school educators and others dedicated to improving middle-level education. A grant to the Education Writers Association funded the "Focused Reporting Project," which was charged with development of MiddleWeb.

Directed with aplomb by editor/webmaster John Norton, MiddleWeb should be required reading for anybody teaching (or anybody who plans to teach) ten- to fourteen-year-olds!

"Over the last five years, I've spent hundreds of hours visiting middle schools, interviewing teachers, students, and principals, and wrestling with the 'big question': how can schools raise the achievement of all students?" Norton told Education World. "When we began, our primary purpose was to provide resources and information about middle grades reform Today, while we maintain an important focus on reform, we also include resources about curriculum, teaching strategies, school-community relationships, and much more. Anything that will help teachers, principals, and parents make their middle schools work better for kids."

Norton's respect for middle level students and educators shines through in the site's unwavering dedication to its purpose. It's a respect reinforced daily by Norton's contacts with middle school educators. It's a respect that was reinforced at a recent conference on middle-grades reform too Norton had spent days preparing for a live, online presentation about MiddleWeb to conference attendees. Finally, the moment had arrived. The lunch plates were cleared away, the lights went down. As Norton was about to stand face-to-face with an audience of 500 outstanding educators, he logged onto the Internet from his laptop computer and

"I experienced the kind of computer crash hackers only dream of!" he recalls. "I managed to stumble through the presentation, but not without gaining an even greater respect for educators who confront the unknown daily in their schools and classrooms, with grace and style."

WHAT ELSE DOES MIDDLEWEB OFFER?

What else will middle school teachers find at MiddleWeb?... What are you looking for? It's bound to be there! Start your search of the site on its Getting Around at MiddleWeb page. Here you'll find links to many of the best resources around.

  • Are you just beginning your middle school teaching career? MiddleWeb offers The First Days of Middle School. The site contains a huge collection of resources designed to support new teachers in grades 5-8 through the first weeks and months of their careers. No first-year teacher should be without this MiddleWeb resource!
  • If it's news about topics and issues of interest to middle school professionals that you're looking for, be sure to check out the weekly updates to Middle Grades Newswatch. MiddleWeb sifts through the pages of countless online newspapers to find news of value to middle school teachers. Learn about issues being debated in communities across the U.S., programs that are working, local and national research on topics of interest, and much more that matters to middlers.
  • Check out The MiddleWeb Index. It's Middle Web's alternative to search engines. Just click on a topic of interest and find useful documents and links. Among the topics addressed are assessment and evaluation; parents and the public; teacher professional development; and standards-based school reform.
  • MiddleWeb's Curriculum and Instruction page is an ever-expanding resource of the best online materials for teaching middle school kids geography, social studies, language arts, math, and science. Best of all, every link has been checked for suitability.
  • The Reforming Middle School and School Systems page on MiddleWeb offers in-depth stories from the Focused Reporting Project. Among the recent postings is an editorial, For Many American Middle Schools, Achievement Is Not the Top Priority, that challenges middle-grade educators to reject the thought that "middle schoolers are developmentally unprepared for high academic achievement." Indeed, all of MiddleWeb's resources are bent on exploding that myth and breaking the cycle of underachievement.
  • No site is so thorough that it can't benefit from linking to other resources on the Web. So MiddleWeb offers a handily indexed page of Middle Grades Links on topics such as middle grades reform; enriching teaching and learning; grouping, tracking, and grade retention; professional development; urban education; at-risk students; and technology.
  • Finally, just in case you can't easily find exactly what you're looking for, MiddleWeb recently introduced its own Search Engine to search the site's 600-plus pages of information.

GO TO MIDDLE-L, THE BEST LISTSERV ON THE INTERNET!

If you haven't joined the Middle-L listserv, you're missing a real adventure! I belong to lots of listservs, but none of them is as consistently active or interesting as Middle-L is! Just check out some of the topics that teachers are talking about on Middle-L this month. (Click Subject in the Current Archive.) Among the topics that got teachers on Middle-L going during the first week of this month were:

  • academic inclusion,
  • Web sites for teaching about endangered species,
  • a debate over teaching evolution and creationism,
  • teaching ideas for the novel Flowers for Algernon,
  • suggestions for teaching about the Holocaust,
  • board games that can be used to teach language arts skills,
  • ideas for teaching map skills,
  • a discussion of multiple intelligences,
  • ideas for rewarding middle schoolers,
  • the benefits of e-mail, and
  • the pros and cons of WebWhacker.

Any middle school teacher (or interested party) can join the Middle-L listserv. All you need is an email address and access to the Internet.

Joining Middle-L is simple. Click here for subscription options and for directions on how to join/subscribe.

WARNING: BE PREPARED!

WARNING: I told you Middle-L is a popular listserv! Be prepared to be inundated with messages, perhaps 20-30 a day or more! But, in time, you'll get used to weeding through the messages. You'll click on those you're interested in, and hit the delete key to get rid of those that hold no interest. Most posted messages are short and to the point. (Middle school teachers don't have a lot of time to waste.) Another option: Subscribe to the listserv in its digest form. That way, you receive one daily post that includes all the messages for the day.

So, does joining the Middle-L listserv mean that you'll be dragged into the discussion? Not unless you want to be! You can lurk and learn. Or you can jump into the fray by responding to a post or posting a new question about something that you've been thinking about, something that's been bothering you, or something you need help with.

The Middle-L listserv isn't for the faint-hearted. Middle school teachers (like middle school students) come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and personalities -- and they tend to say what's on their minds! Some will get up on their soapboxes. Some will irritate you. (You always have that DELETE key!) But those are some of the things that make Middle-L the always-interesting place that it is. Middle-L moderator Jerry Taylor is the other "always-interesting" element of this list. Even when he's telling off someone, he does it with charm and with wit!

Check out Middle-L. Check out its archive of past discussions. This list might not be for you, but it will be interesting!

NAMLS IS A NAME YOU CAN TRUST!

"As middle school administrators, we are constantly looking for innovative programs and practices to support our staff in their efforts to provide quality learning experiences for our students," says Jerry Singer, a middle school principal in Haysville, Kansas. "Why spend your time constantly looking elsewhere when NAMLS can place what is effective directly into the hands of your staff and community councils?"

So, what, pray tell, is NAMLS?

NAMLS is the National Alliance of Middle Level Schools, a division of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The group is dedicated to helping school leaders implement the recommendations offered in Turning Points: Preparing Youth for the 21st Century, published by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development.

The site's Frequently Asked Questions page offers answers and resources in response to questions such as

  • How do we "detrack" our school when we have students with such a wide range of abilities?
  • What are the best resources to assist us as we move from a junior high school program to a middle school program?
  • What are the qualities of successful middle school teachers?
  • What are the advantages of interdisciplinary teaming at the middle level from the perspectives of teachers, students, and administrators?

A quick peak at the NAMLS Web site reveals some of the other resources the organization provides for school educators:

CELEBRATE THE MONTH OF THE YOUNG ADOLESCENT!

October has been declared The Month of the Young Adolescent by the National Middle School Association. Thirty organizations have joined the NMSA in this effort to increase public awareness of the unique needs of young adolescents.

"There is no word for this period of a person's life," campaign officials say. "Infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood -- none of these words adequately reflects this important stage. Yet, this is a crucial time when major decisions are made about values, beliefs, and standards -- decisions that shape current and future behaviors."

The NMSA offers suggestions for promoting the Month of the Young Adolescent in communities across the United States, a Resource Guide (a listing of organizations that offer services for and resources to address the needs of young adolescents), and informative articles such as What Does It Mean To Be Thirteen?, by Chris Stevenson.

In addition, the NMSA offers a Resource Center, which includes books, research summaries, and videos on just about any topic of interest to middle level educators, and a page of Web Links that connects middle school professionals to dozens of sites of interest.

Related Sites

MORE MIDDLE LEVEL LINKS

  • MidLink Magazine An award-winning, non-profit, online magazine for kids, by kids. Check out some of the upcoming activities that middle level students might get involved in. See what students have created by checking out back issues of the magazine.
  • Middle School Olympics Get your students involved in this springtime activity. These "Olympics" include mental and physical events. Results are emailed and posted to the site. Last year's NMSO involved students from the United States, Canada, South Africa, Romania, China, Finland, Sweden, and Japan. (Dates for a Spring 1999 Olympics have not been posted yet.)
  • The Kids in the Middle: A Seattle Times Special Report Seattle Times education reporter Jolayne Houtz and photographer Steve Ringman spent the school year at Madison Middle School in West Seattle, visiting one or two days a week for most of the year to get to know some of the 940 students and the staff. The result is a three-part series exploring issues unique to this age and middle-grade schools.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998 Education World

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10/19/1998