Middle school: The foundation blocks of a global ready graduate


#PocomokeScholars display problem solving skills working with circuits.

Technology and its accessibility catapult students into the busiest streets and conversations of our time, the information super highway better known as the digital world. Reading news feeds, manipulating content, and republishing, while creating content and sharing it with the world is only the beginning. Young people’s opinions on any topic plays a role in what is trending on popular social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook daily.

The “power of voice” youth have today is greater than ever. However, their expression are quickly ridiculed and labeled as self-indulgence at best. These judgments may have merit, but arguably there is a level of competency needed in high school graduates to create responsible content while becoming active and responsible citizens in an increasingly interconnected world.

Planting the seed to ensure high school graduates are globally ready for todays ever changing society must begin as early as middle school. It is here where students are most willing to learn and express acceptance, empathy, and personal failures. Students are open canvasses with a youthful understanding of the world. They have limited experiences and lack the maturity to fully engage with the world.

Therefore, laying the foundation of becoming responsible global citizens starts with creating a basic foundation of understanding for the world they live in today. At the middle school level, it is imperative to build foundational skills in responsible citizenship, global collaboration, tinkering, utilizing real-world applications, and media literacy.


Responsible Citizenship: Culture Moving in a Different Direction

Responsible citizenship begins with understanding one is not in an isolated bubble and the world continues to evolve around them, even when asleep. Simultaneously in those other time zones and other countries there are different sets of laws. In our culture, other cultures’ system of governance may seem odd and offensive. But for those natives their system may be status quo and our way of governing may be perceived as odd. Furthermore, one must recognize there are different perspectives on what is deemed right and wrong based on one’s personal upbringing, experiences, and worldview.

In order to facilitate an understanding of their world, many districts offer flexibility on how teachers introduce students to diverse cultures. For middle school students, building responsible citizenship is like building a reservoir of wisdom. Exploring current events in the world, historical events and its effects – long and short term – on society allows students to understand how the global world is interconnected. Memorial or remembrance services and speeches (i.e., D-Day, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, etc.) are regular news stories prepared by news media outlets and are great tools to use for relevant teaching moments to tackle delicate topics from the past and tie it to the present.

Jolene South is a Reading English Language Arts teacher at North Dorchester Middle School in Hurlock, Maryland. She believes incorporating multiple perspectives on sensitive topics to increase student engagement while working to develop or extend student aptitude is necessary in today’s classroom. As an extension to hearing about anniversaries of historical events involving discrimination, genocide, or events of a major war, she uses digital field trips to offer real-life experiences to students who may never get an opportunity to critically study historical turning points in our global history. Each virtual field trip is used as an aid to further research on the topic and locate hidden nuggets of knowledge not always presented in traditional textbooks. South focuses on modeling particular skills, reinforces those skills, and assesses those skills by offering meaningful and authentic writing opportunities for students to display their mastery of the standards.

One example of this is to offer authentic writing opportunities by incorporating social media into the classroom. For instance, South models how to make a fictitious Facebook page for a literary character from their readings. Using an historical image depicting the character and writing a profile description to match their character’s attributes – as well as flaws – students create status updates using internal and external conflicts. Writing in the voice of the character, each student posts and responds in a conversation with other characters. South looks for students to demonstrate complexities and depth of a character’s thoughts in their posts while incorporating the dialect of the character into the modern medium.

Another example is utilizing the traditional news story coupled with infused curriculum approved readings. This gives students a tremendous opportunity to understand multiple perspectives toward a sensitive topic. Encouraging students to evaluate all perspectives of a topic or theme is a necessity as students’ springboard into a new era of responsible citizenship. The basic premise of responsible citizenship swells as individuals harness technology to further illustrate a needed skill for future graduates.


Global Communication No Longer Uncommon


#PocomokeScholars display team building skills while creating a tower using red cups and rubber bands. No hands were allowed to touch the cups.

Growing ones ability to collaborate on topics across content areas is another expected skill set global graduates must possess when entering the workforce or the university level. The demand has never been higher for each future graduate becoming an expert communicator and being comfortable working with diverse populations. Many businesses are now utilizing technology as part of team efforts when working on projects and school should be no different if they anticipate adequately preparing its graduates to compete in the global workforce.

Katie Shaffer is a language arts teacher at Middletown Middle School in Middletown, Maryland. She believes in rolling up her sleeves and taking risks in modeling the power of technology in her classroom. She primarily does this by modeling the use of video conferencing. To do this, she harnesses the power of Google Hangout and her personal learning community (PLC). Each student connects with another student in a class 200-miles away as they jointly break open the rich layers of literature. Each day students read and analyze portions of the text with their virtual cross-state partner with teacher made discussion questions. Students document their discussion and work by using a Google Doc, an online document where both students contribute.

For Shafer and others, incorporating video conferencing is a great way to offer authentic global communication and collaboration opportunities into the classroom. For instance, Shafer models how two different viewpoints often see the same topic differently while students study the same piece of literature. To display mastery of the literature, students create two-voice poems with the perspective of two different characters from a short story. The expectation is that each line displays the inner voice of the character while the student demonstrates knowledge of the text.

Utilizing the traditional videoconferencing applications already supported with most Internet browsers and combining an authentic collaboration task gives students an authentic learning task tied into their already approved curriculum. This uncommon learning activity is becoming more common as Google Hangouts is one mechanism used to prepare middle school students to collaborate with students in classrooms across the globe.


Maker Movement: Learn By Tinkering

Every child has the right to innovate and create. Teachers are charged with preparing students for technology related jobs that do not even exist quite yet. Therefore, there is no cookie cutter education experience that is going to make a child prepared because the world is constantly changing. Hence, more opportunities need to be available if there is ever a hope for a student to attain global competencies needed to actively engage in the world.

Brittany Hulme-Tignor, a media specialist at Snow Hill Middle School in Snow Hill, Maryland, designed and implemented the first maker space in her district. Driven by her conviction that students should be encouraged to explore their passions she created a student-driven community space where students can simply make things. Leaving an open-ended opportunity for students to explore their talents, students can create by engaging with 3D printing, circuitry, LEGO challenges, and video game design.

Offering maker stations in school libraries gives students the opportunity to build foundational skills in design, construction, and problem solving. Each of these transferable skills across most educational settings is necessary to build especially at an early age.

Real-world Applications for Assessment

Every teacher gets frustrated hearing the common student complaint I am never going to use this in real life. The way students learn has not changed, but the environment in which they learn has been drastically altered. Multiple sources indicate students are spending more time online using multiple tools. Hence, the student learning environment has gone digital, and it is an expectation those same tools be used in the classrooms or the teacher becomes irrelevant even at an early age.

Kristi Schmidt is an English Language Arts Specialist in Frederick County Public Schools in Frederick, Maryland. She offers professional development to educators about incorporating the elements of graphic design with tools called infographics. She believes an infographic holds the same components as an essay or research assignment (i.e., thesis statement, textual evidence, transitions, and message). However, student learning is demonstrated in a creative manner using Piktochart. The application allows a different learning style and students determine which is the best way to present their information resulting in high student engagement.

The traditional essay is no longer the status quo or sole source of formative or summative assessment in classrooms. But the basic writing standards and principles learned are still foundational. Students must feel comfortable manipulating and navigating real-world applications to survive in a technological world. By applying writing standards through technology integration, however, students are offered rigorous assessments and continue to build the foundation blocks needed at the middle school level to eventually become high school, college, and career ready.


Media Literacy

With an increasingly encroaching media environment it is necessary for young people to understand the nature of media companies and their power to persuade. Therefore, navigating media messages and evaluating media reliability is a job readiness skill necessary for anyone at the secondary level. At the same time, these same media companies are often built on individuals – yes, even youth – creating and contributing media content through a post, retweet, or video, making anyone that does so a media content creator. Engaging with and critically interpreting media messages is important in the formative years of education. Equally important is helping young people to become responsible media content contributors and creators.

In my own middle school classroom located in Pocomoke City, Maryland, I facilitate cross-curriculum quests focusing on media literacy within the contexts of social studies and current events. It is my belief the youth of today can easily be manipulated by accepting media posts as credible because it comes from the media. I often push for students to explore the author of the messages as well as their political and business connections. For instance, we often explore political campaign donations because they are public record. Afterwards, students chart how particular individuals vote in their coming term. Discovering how politicians vote with their donors while presenting alternative messages prior to coming to office is intriguing to them and provides a deeper understanding of political affiliations. Another example, students explore the owners of major newspapers as well as their political affiliation. Afterwards in a seven-day span, students chart articles – mostly opinion editorials – that are for or against that owner’s political affiliation.

The traditional evaluation of the five o’clock news has dramatically changed with real-time news sources working around the clock. Young people cannot depend on a few news sources to be entirely accurate and unbiased. It is essential for students to explore all aspects, including sources that provide differing viewpoints and make their own decisions.



It is difficult to determine one specific skillset necessary when teachers are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist. However, one can guarantee technology is not going to cease or slow down and students must be able to use it to their advantage. If not, students will leave middle and high schools unprepared for their education or career path.

Therefore, responsible citizenship, global collaboration, tinkering, utilizing real-world applications, and media literacy are now the basic skill sets needed to stay relevant in our current world. The examples provided are how some exemplary Maryland teachers have tackled these new global competency skills, which must begin at the middle school level, to transition students toward becoming global ready graduates. More of these uncommon learning activities will continue to occur as teachers understand the need for creating global-ready graduates to enter college and career opportunities.

-Brian Cook, Ed.D.

Ohio County Schools: Where I grew up

Ohio County Schools WVSometimes people walk into your life and turn right around and walk away out of your life. However, there are some select few special people who stay with you forever. Those are the ones who plant seeds of knowledge with you and watch it grow. You never know who these people are going to be immediately; sometimes, it takes years to realize their impact. They linger in your heart and memories. At times, they frustrated, challenged, and pushed you.

Those people are my past teachers and coaches.

With the passing of Coach Sam Andy, an iconic basketball coach and mentor to so many students, teachers, and friends in the Ohio Valley, I am reminded about all of my positive memories coming up through Ohio County Schools (WV). I was blessed to have a public school experience not saturated with standardized testing. But, instead, it was vested with teachers focusing on the whole child — building relationships, nurturing the social and emotional growth and teaching skills to be a better person.

As I think about the future for my own children, I always come back to the hope they will love and cherish their time in school as I did in Ohio County. My core group of high school friends, who I still communicate with regularly, and I always reminisce about the good times and tell our wives we would relive our school experiences instantly.

The reason was simple…the teachers and staff we interacted with transformed our lives.

I want to share in no specific order about the legendary teachers and coaches who impacted my life today:

Fran Schoolcraft: The heart of the speech and theater program for many years, but more importantly a great mentor. Simply known by last name, Schoolcraft sparked the love for theatrical productions for me while in her technical classes. I learned how to organize monumental projects, build theater sets, and work as a team with a group of people with all different sorts of skill sets. In our daily work, she allowed me to lead small groups. Schoolcraft’s mission was to make us independent as well as leaders. There were a lot of successes, but more importantly there were failures. I learned to accept failure and use it as motivation to persevere. Ms. Schoolcraft continues to be one of the most influential individuals who impacted me as a student and now as an adult. I hope to take your characteristics and pass them onto my own children.

Coach Tom Hogan: Interestingly enough, I never had Coach Hogan for class or as my athletic coach. He was retired from coaching when I entered high school, but he always managed the weight room. He often spoke to me first asking me how my mother was doing and how I did in class that day. We spoke a lot about life and my high school goals as well as life goals. His wealth of knowledge was impeccable. He often spoke about hardwork, what one has to do to get ahead, and how to treat others in your path with dignity and care. Better yet, he modeled those attributes daily.

Coach Gary Zelinski: Coach Z was my offensive line coach at Wheeling Park. I was always curious about him because he had some nontraditional mannerisms during practice, but he always made it interesting — even when it resulted in additional reps. Coach Z was an in-season and out-of-season coach, he preached in the weight room how an individual was always responsible for himself. He represents his school, his family, and his coaches when in the community. Z stated people knew who Wheeling Park football players were in the community, and we needed to uphold ourselves at all times. We needed to treat females with respect. We needed to honor the values of our parents. He was a role model father figure, whether he ever knew it.

Carmen (Wager) Heil: I loved reading the school newspaper and yearbook in high school. I honestly read every edition cover to cover. There was something special about the power of the pen that intrigued me. Ms. Wager allowed me to join the journalism staff with poor grammar skills and an inability to write a story. Thankfully, she allowed me to pursue sports writing — something I knew enough about to have a fighting chance on her staff — and play the role of photographer during a time when we were still using film. She and my classmates edited my work heavily, believe me it needed it too. She encouraged me to do the best I could with my stories and our journalism team would help me out the rest of the way. Her encouragement pushed me towards an undergraduate degree in communication, later editor-in-chief of the Bethany College newspaper, and special sections editor and sports writer at The Times Leader newspaper. Today, I still enjoy writing for educational publications and blogging thanks to Ms. Wager.

Anne Paul: Some teachers get forgotten in those middle, adolescent years. Anne Paul was a life changer as my mathematics teacher at Bridge Street Middle School. I was already good at math, but her witty comments and laughter made it possible for me to break out of my shell. She offered activities in small groups for collaboration and brought me to the chalkboard to display mastery of my skills. We spent many extra hours working on Algebra tutoring sessions and preparing for Math Counts competitions. We joked a lot and I was able to pick up on her humor where others were not mature enough yet. She taught us with tough love letting us know school was not meant to be an easy ride for any of us, but encouraged us to rise to the occasion.

Sandy Mauck: There were moments I thought Mrs. Mauck was one of the most strange individuals I ever met during my introduction to speech and theater class. She spoke with such a high level of word choice and so eloquently; it made me wonder whether I belonged in her class. In her class, she got me on stage in Jack and the Beanstalk as one of the requirements for the class. However, my two-line part allowed me to see I could speak in front of people comfortably and that was all that was needed for a timid, shy 13-year boy. I went on to be in two different musicals, a regular speaker as a class officer, gave numerous Young Life talks as a leader, and even preached at my church because of that one moment that I performed in that little one-act play. Later down the road, I was fortunate to come back into the teaching field and student taught with her during Mrs. Mauck’s final year at the Park. Now I publicly speak daily as a classroom teacher and feel very comfortable doing it.

Susie Whitecotton: I have been to numerous science museums as a child and parent, and I still have no grasp on much that goes on in the world of science. Find it no surprise, Mrs. Whitecotton’s eighth grade science class at Bridge Street was no different. However, I do not remember her for the content, but I remember the rapport she built with me and my fellow classmates. She had to joke and laugh at me because I knew nothing in her class. Science never came easy, so she had to break it down and scaffold it for me daily. I learned in her class how doing all the little things added up because that is what I needed to do to be successful in her class. When one has a weakness, it is necessary to over prepare. In my adult life, I thank Mrs. Whitecotton for teaching me organization, preparedness, and loving even those who struggle. I model much of my teaching at the middle school level after her.

Fred Hehr: Transitioning from elementary to middle school is difficult for many people, but I was prepared because of Fred Hehr. He had a way of making school engaging and competitive with the other Elm Grove Elementary fifth grade teacher, his wife Mrs. Hehr. Being a competitive person, I wanted to win all the time. He taught me to strive for excellence and want to win. He told me winners are those who work hard. As an adult, I realized the message of working hard was engrained into me at a young age. I cannot remember what it was like not hearing this message because it was an expectation very early on at home and school. I hope to continue this message in my own children today.

Coach Jim Noel: The community t-shirt guy, as I initially remember him, was a football coach for my brother’s YMCA flag football team. I never paid much attention to him — as I played my imaginary football game with some of the other little brothers on the side — until he became my coach at Bridge Street. I remember wanting to score a touchdown and run the ball, my size and ball handling skills said different though. Coach Noel placed me at center sharing that it was the most important position on the line and crucial for any good team. I learned not everyone made it in the spotlight, and every person plays an important role on a team. He preached if one person doesn’t do their job, the whole team breaks down. Wow, that is true in any family or business. To imagine, I was given a life lesson at 11-years old that I continually use everyday of my adult life is remarkable. Teacher or no teacher, Coach Noel offered some of the best advice and made a significant impact on my life.

Coach Bill Gooch: Only with me for one wrestling season at Bridge Street, Coach Gooch brought an energy that I never saw before. He honestly loved the sport of wrestling and all those involved. Besides building my technique, he taught me I needed to be knowledgable in all aspects of the sport and able to adapt to different opponents. Similar to life, we need to be able to adapt to difficult situations and use our depth of knowledge to persevere through our problems. Beginning my teaching and coaching career at the middle school level, I hope I have brought his same compassion and energy to my students.

As I started writing this blog post, the list of individuals continued getting longer and longer as I went backwards from high school, middle school, and elementary school. Teachers and staff members like coach John Chacalos, Joanne Taylor, Karen Seabright, trainer Pete Chacalos, Patti Naples, Bill Welker, Bill Donohew, and Stan Rogerson all had significant impacts on my life as a student and adult.

I admit, if I continue much longer I am going to make a yearbook of memories. However, I attribute all the memories to a school system of individuals who genuinely, loved and cared for their students unconditionally. The path I made in my life is greatly attributed to the top shelf staff at Ohio County Schools.

I am proud of where I come from, and I am a product of Ohio County Schools. It saddens me it takes the passing of a former teacher to force me to sit back and reflect. I hope to use my reflection to springboard my own teaching this fall at Pocomoke Middle School (MD).

As coach Gerri Cappiccie once told a group of friends of mine, teaching is the greatest profession in the world. It has allowed him to have an everlasting impact on the children of the world while affording him the joy of watching his own children grow up first hand because of his presence in the school system. He would not change it for the world, and I can say the same too.

-Brian Cook, Ed.D.


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