Friday, February 17, 2017

Indiana School Mascots

Indiana School Mascots
A few things to ponder as we get into the Indiana High School Basketball Tournament and our homegrown Hoosier Hysteria. In French the word mascotte originally referred to a totem or charm used for good luck. In the 20th Century it evolved into a uniquely American practice of transferring “good luck” - and usually live- animal mascots into symbols of their teams, and eventually of their whole school identity.

Here are Indiana's 16 most used school mascots* and how many schools use them:

Eagles 22 (Including 2 Golden Eagles and 1 Fighting Eagles)
Warriors 22
Panthers 19
Tigers 15 (There is 1 Tiger Cubs)
Bulldogs 14
Trojans 12
Cougars 11 (There is 1 Kougars)
Wildcats 11 (There is 1 Wildkats and 1 Cadet Wildcats)
Knights 11 (There is 1 Golden Knights)
Patriots 10
Lions 9
Braves 9
Hornets 8
Raiders 8
Vikings 8
Indians 8

Many schools choose mascots who represent tenacious military cultures, such as the Rangers, Gladiators, Highlanders, Marines, Minutemen, Mounties, Norsemen, Spartans, Wolverines, Knights, Braves, Trojans, and Athenians. Spencer County has two schools, somewhat schizophrenically named the Patriots and the Rebels.

The Legends at Fort Wayne’s North Side High School, is unique and just plain sounds cool, like the Delphi Oracles, logically located in Delphi, Indiana, and which is also unique in that it refers specifically to a role which was uniquely and exclusively female.

Despite some isolated outbursts from mostly white people against using Native American Names for mascots, many Indiana schools have selected Native American cultures to represent them, which makes sense - the courage and toughness associated with Native American cultures is a stereotype only because many Native American groups were actually seen as pretty tough and fearless - and collectively Native American cultures are by far the most-represented groups, with over 40 schools using these cultures for their mascot:

Warriors – used by 17 schools - most use what is clearly Native American imagery.
Braves -   9 schools
Indians - 8 schools
Blackhawk - 5 schools
Apaches - 1 school
Mohawk - 1 school
Redskins - 1 school

In addition to the tough warrior or predatory animal names, there are less ferocious names and uncommon mascots, such as the: Alices, Berries, Bricklayers, Cavemen, Clovers, Gryphons, Jug Rox (literally named after “Jug Rock” - a natural rock formation).
Jug Rock, Indiana
Also the Kougars (?), Millers, Oracles, Pilgrims and Quakers, Shamrocks, Space Pioneers, Sparkplugs, Zebras, Eels, and the Frankfurt Hot Dogs - which is also listed on the “oddest high school mascot in every US state” site:

But -  not Indiana schools but by far the most clever -  just for their sheer contemporary cultural uniqueness I think that honorable mention should have to go to a handful of schools which opened concurrently with Y2K -  Millennium High School, Piedmont, CA, Millennium High School, Tracy, CA, and Millennium MIddle School in Sanford, Florida -

All of them are the Falcons. The Millenium Falcons.

* Disclaimer - this isn't exactly doctoral-level research, there may be oversights or omissions in this work. :)

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Importance of Music in Education - Jim Bales

The Importance of Music in Education
Jim Bales

I could quote countless research reports to support the benefits of music education but we must also remember that we teach music because it’s a universal language, and the arts are our most potent means of human expression.  

We must never give the impression that artistic expression is less useful or important than the sciences.  We must never allow music, art, dance or drama to be pushed aside in our American school curriculum.  It is well known that study in the arts has beneficial effects on learning other academic skills, but those are merely side effects.

We study arts for their own sake.

Young people should study music because it’s central to every human society on earth and has a vitally important role in every aspect of culture, from history to literature to media and communication studies.

Music is an essential part of what it means to be a human being. It occurs in every culture, in every era.

Fortunately, music has always been an important part of the well-rounded education that Blue River Valley Schools offers our students.  We value music as a critical learning tool that keeps students engaged in school, helps develop well-rounded individuals and encourages skills that are vital for success in the 21st century.

We know this because research has proven that access to a quality music education engages students in the classroom and increases graduation rates. Participation in music fosters self-esteem and the ability to work cooperatively in teams.  It also helps to develop critical thinking and leadership skills and can even enhance learning in other core subjects.

The most recent reports show that the study of music improves early cognitive development contributing to increased math and reading skills.

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways.”  

Research also shows that the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres in the brain, grows larger in musicians’ brains.

USC neuro-scientists have followed 37 children from low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles for 5 years to see how children’s behavior and brains changed over time.  They watched 3 groups.  One group received music training, one played soccer and the third did not participate in any specific programs.  Two years into the study the scientists found that the musicians had more developed auditory pathways.  According to the senior research associate on this project, “A more-developed auditory system can accelerate a child’s brain development beyond musical ability. This system is also engaged in general sound processing that is fundamental to language development, reading skills and successful communication.”

The Champion of Change: The Impact of Arts on Learning report found that students with high level arts participation outperform other students on virtually every measure.  The correlation was particularly strong between music and success in math.  Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a non musician.  When you’re a musician ... you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University.

These changes to the brain almost makes music akin to a foreign language. As Jessica Hamzelou writes, “Music is a phenomena that is experienced differently by different people. Each person who hears music is influenced by his or her own individual personality, knowledge, and life experiences. People with little or no musical training, who represent the vast majority of the listening audience, perceive music in a totally different way than the actual musicians who create the music.”

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Outline of Planning Thoughts for 17-18

As most of you know, the administrative team has been in the process of fact-finding in order to come to some decisions about how best to improve student performance in some key areas. 

Fact-finding is part of the very fist decision-making step - Assemble data. 

One of the options that we wanted to examine was a middle school model which would move 6th grade to the current Jr. Sr. High School building, integrate them with grades 7 and 8, and create a middle school. 

Towards this end we met with teachers and parents, and had a couple of options for parents to come into the school, see the space and the school facility, and ask questions. We have examined all of our options and we will not be bringing this recommendation to the school board next week, February 13. 

The agenda for Monday's board meeting will be publicly posted today and it will not be listed as an agenda item, and we will move on to more fact-finding in some other areas we see as potential solutions to some gaps in student achievement in our schools.


The text below is designed to help explain our strategic planning process in this area 

To understand how we see the areas that we need to resource- and perhaps restructure- to close some of our student performance gaps, maybe it is helpful if you see the progress of our students as a series of bridges and islands. 

Being at home the first few years of life is an island. No-brainer.

But then grades P, K, 1, and part of 2 are bridges - they travel across their intellectual and physical adjustment to school at different tempos and bring into our school the whole range of IQ, social development, at-risk categories, high-ability categories and the wide range of physical growth and change as well. This age has less state-required testing and should be the most student-centered space in our corporation. Our primary effort on this bridge is focused around authentic literacy - nothing is more important. This bridge will be one of two of our main corporation efforts next year. 

Exiting grade 2, and then through grades 3 and 4 puts students back on an island - students have discreet subject-area instruction, increasing rigor and expectations, and - statewide standardized testing. These grades have to have stability and should expect student growth across all areas. Each grade should represent age-appropriate progression through reading, math, English, science, social studies, health, music, art and PE. Nonetheless, like P, K, 1, and 2, the primary effort is still authentic literacy. 

Grades 5, 6, 7, and 8 are anther bridge - physical, emotional and intellectual changes occur throughout these ages and for students with normal or higher IQ they can begin to process more and more sophisticated concepts at a much faster rate. This group will be the second area we consider a main corporation effort next year.  Abstract and higher-level thinking is developed, and more and more of their emotional and interpersonal interactions are young adult responses rather than old child responses. This is, in fact, the biggest bridge. This is the Golden Gate Bridge - big and bold and everyone has seen it, and it can be a bit scary.

And you get one (1) chance at it. 

Because grades 9 through 12 are an island again. But the clock is running every moment at these grades and it lasts exactly 8 semesters and then it is over forever - because the last bridge, graduation, is it. It's the Brooklyn Bridge. Thanks for visiting, end of story, welcome to Long Island and the rest of your life. 

In these grades we become a little bit less student-centered and a little bit more subject-centered because nothing follows that step off this island that we can influence any longer. There are things these students need to know and be able to do. These grades move quickly, the course content and graduation requirements are determined at the state and it is very structured and time is short and energy is high. This is the Manhattan of the school islands.

These are the natural breaks that make sense when you look at things one way, and there are other equally normal divisions if you look at it another way. But this grouping makes sense in our settings and with our student data and I have endeavored here to explain my thinking in this. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

USS Consitution Grove

USS Constitution Grove

We’ve seen a lot of commentary lately on the Constitution of the United States and how various people interpret it - or perhaps wish it were different.

Very few people actually understand the nature of the “title” of the document even if they know its contents very well, for the document itself is NOT the Constitution of the United States, rather its contents describe the manner in which the Government of the United States is constituted. The organization of, and limits upon, the power of our government must match the description which is contained in the document that we call the “Constitution” but it is that proper structure of government that gives the document its name, not the other way around.

The document itself is a recipe, a set of instructions- it is in fact the representative form of government, described therein by law, and constituted as described, that is the subject of the Oath of Office for people who swear to defend it. Not the document upon which it is written. It is no more limited to the document than you can survive by eating the Betty Crocker recipe book.

We pay the price to protect and defend our actual government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and how it was constituted to be just that.

Another word which has become somewhat lost is the description of the arrangement of stars upon the blue field known as the "union" on the flag. The recognizable arrangement of stars is called a "constellation" and that term has been used to represent the Union of states by referencing the design of the union on the flag.

The word constellation is mostly restricted to stars in the sky now, and the word constitution has become archaic in some usage and almost never used except in political, organizational and chemical language. And although Indiana was not one of the original states, we have an interesting connection to the Constitution.

Because of the value of this representative form of government one of our most celebrated symbols of liberty is the USS Constitution, launched in 1797 (along with the USS Constellation, two of the first six frigates of the United States Navy) and the oldest naval vessel in active service which still sails. The USS constitution has a service and repair cycle of about 20 years, after which it will go into dry-dock and the copper on the bottom of the hull will be removed and the wood inspected. Although almost 90% of the ship’s timbers have been replaced, the keel and the bottom 13 planks are original.

This is where Indiana plays a role in all of this. There are currently about 150 special white oak trees on the military reservation at Crane Naval Support Activity in southern Indiana (most people don't know that one of the largest naval bases in the world is landlocked in Indiana) which are protected to use exclusively for repairs to the USS Constitution. Although it isn’t actually one specific grove that contains all of these trees, their collective location is actually called “Constitution Grove”

A pretty unique treasure which serves one of our greatest treasures - only here in Indiana.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Peanut Butter Manisfesto

The Peanut Butter Manifesto

Three weeks into school this might seem like an odd topic for me to share on a Friday, but I hope that it can a good job of connecting some current events in the world right now with what we’re trying to do with our own educational mission.

Yahoo! was founded in 1994 by two friends, Jerry Yang and David Filo, as a guide to the “World Wide Web” and within a few years was the most-used portal to the web.

You’ve probably already seen it on the news, but this summer Yahoo agreed to sell Tumbler, e-mail and its news services to Verizon after losing $440 million in the last quarter. But Yahoo had never truly evolved into a sustainable model in all of the decades that it operated.

In 2006 Yahoo Senior Vice President Brad Garlinghouse wrote an internal memo to the Yahoo staff that became known as “the Peanut Butter Manifesto” (a title it acquired after it was leaked to the Wall Street Journal) because he wrote in his memo that Yahoo’s business practices could be “…described as spreading peanut butter across the myriad opportunities that continue to evolve in the online world."

The result: a thin layer of investment spread across everything we do and thus we focus on nothing in particular.”

Mr. Garlinghouse then listed the three key points where Yahoo failed when their competitors succeeded. Competitors, companies like Microsoft, Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, and even smaller companies like LinkedIn, that delivered their product or carried advertising via the Internet. He wrote:

1. We lack a focused, cohesive vision for our company.
2. We lack clarity of ownership and accountability.
3. We lack decisiveness.

He wrapped up his comments by stating, “I hate peanut butter. We all should.”

When Mr. Garlinghouse wrote this, the leadership at Yahoo was operating with resources and money going into lots of things that weren’t necessarily working together, and therefore these resources certainly weren’t working to support or reinforce any one key thing that would make Yahoo the dominant Internet player – bearing in mind this was a company which started specifically to be a portal the Internet, and for a time actually was the dominant Internet player.

At that time the corporate leadership team at Yahoo had a collection of different people who had their own collection of different priorities of how Yahoo should operate, so Yahoo fell into a conglomerate of many separate areas, each of which offered a range of services to customers.  But these services were not as good as the services offered by their competitors who only did a few things, and did them very well.  

Mr. Garlinghouse summarized:  “We need to boldly and definitively declare what we are and what we are not.”

Yahoo was not able to solidify long-term success because their multiple internal efforts were working against the success of the whole.  Recently Business Insider wrote: “Garlinghouse’s words still seem to hold true for Yahoo's ailing business: lack of clarity and decisiveness, leading to a seemingly perennially dysfunctional group.”

In 2013 Mr. Garlinghouse added an additional and critical component to his manifesto: “If a business has to be told that it needs more focus, accountability and decisiveness, there is a bigger problem at hand. Truly successful businesses encourage these qualities innately by creating and fostering a culture that inspires each individual to perform at their peak and rewards passion and results.”

The real mystery at Yahoo, however, is why they didn’t pay attention to this manifesto in the first place. Mr. Garlinghouse was a key person at Yahoo since 2002, and his manifesto, following a critical New York Times article, he openly said,

“A reminder that the measure of any person is not in how many times he or she falls down - but rather the spirit and resolve used to get back up. The same is now true of our Company.
It's time for us to get back up.
I believe we must embrace our problems and challenges and that we must take decisive action. We have the opportunity - in fact the invitation - to send a strong, clear and powerful message to our shareholders and Wall Street, to our advertisers and our partners, to our employees (both current and future), and to our users. They are all begging for a signal that we recognize and understand our problems, and that we are charting a course for fundamental change. Our current course and speed simply will not get us there. Short-term Band-Aids will not get us there.
It's time for us to get back up and seize this invitation.”
Another company that is a big player in the Internet is Apple. But in February of 1995, when Apple was facing very serious product and management problems, The Economist wrote: “Apple could hang on for years, gamely trying to slow the decline, but few expect it to make such a mistake. Instead it seem to have two options. The first is to break itself up, selling the hardware side. The second is to sell the company outright.”

That was in 1995.  Apple is currently the largest publicly traded company in the world.

In both cases, the obvious solution was exactly the same as what Mr. Garlinghouse wrote:

1.  Create a focused and cohesive vision and live by it.
2. Own your contribution, right or wrong, and be accountable for it.
3.  Make a decision based upon the best information you have and stick with it.

Apple did exactly this and thrived. Yahoo did not and failed.

The moral of this story?

Be a good apple, not a yahoo?

Well, kind of.  Let’s choose to be the Apple, Inc.© of schools. Let’s be freqently reminded of our core mission, and our vision of being an exemplary school. Let each of us put our own effort into the whole of the mission, but also put our signature upon each part that we do.

Now I’m no Steve Jobs - but I have a great team, great students and great families - so I don’t need to be. Maybe I’m more like Steve Carell.  But this year has started out with successes far beyond what the board and I envisioned, with wonderful contributions from everyone, veteran and new staff alike.  

Thanks to everyone- it’s been a great start to school.


Friday, January 27, 2017

Believe...Learn...Grow - Sonya Paul

Guest Blogger: Mrs. Sonya Paul
“Wherever you find excellence, you find continuous learning. They go hand in hand. Wherever you find that continuous learning is missing, you find mediocrity.” –Matthew Kelly

Life is always about teaching us lessons.  They do not come in a book or neatly tied-up in a fill-in-the blank order. No, life comes about teaching lessons in a most natural way and sometimes it’s not pretty, in fact at times life is a train wreck.

A friend of mine, her father dies at sixteen and she had to find a way to pay for college, another acquaintance, her child has to have round the clock, 24 hour care, another young woman will live out her entire life in a wheelchair, and yet each have amazing perspectives on life. It is good to be able to believe…to learn…and to grow.  If there is one lesson to model to young children today it is this phrase: “Believe in yourself, learn all that you can, and grow in understanding of the world and the people around you.”

My growth as a person came not as a student in a classroom, but as an observer of life:  people, cultures, and types of socialization. For example, once upon arriving in Trinidad, as a seventeen year old student it became clear to me what was meant by minority because for the first time in my life I am one.  It is a revelation not discovered in a book, or express by mere rote memorization drills. The summer singing and working in a Bible college in a small country truly allowed me the gratitude of living in a nation that did not have everything…like we do in America.

It has always been competitions with others that kept pushing me to excellence at first; and believe me, I was not excellent at anything in my teen years-BUT, I did have a desire to learn. I am still thirsty for knowledge, even though I am well past young adulthood and school days. If someone gives me a debate topic, or challenge (not MATH), I will likely be all-in! It is because I believe in myself. I have confidence-a gift that I so wish that could be passed on to my young students as they seek to be a more refined version of themselves. Parents, we are to teach our children well.   Kids, believe in yourself, in your talents, find your strong points, and develop those skills. Believing is the first step to excellence: There is more confidence building skill in the words: I CAN!

My love of learning did not come from a classroom, but rather from the many mentors over my lifetime who have encouraged me and challenged me with the question: “Why!”  I often take the con side of  a debate topic to play the devil’s advocate, list the reasons for the other side, and then let the person know that even if I agree with the proposition, it is a good exercise to have them state their own reasons for understanding.   Ahh, the magic words, how to have students understand and make sense of the world be it in literature, writing, music, signs or symbols, or even self-knowledge.  
I tell my students be excellent, for one day, today…and the next day, and the next day, until it becomes a habit. It is impossible to be fulfilled if you do a bad job, or only enough to get by!  Being mindful of the present moment, and how hard you try gives one a sense of accomplishment-so keep trying, go back until you have achieved your goal.  I did this once with weight lifting, all 120 pounds of me as a college student, and my trainer did not let up until I had reached my goal! I think I did a lot of crying, but he did not care, and so, his being tough on me, and showing a lot of patience, helped me to achieve excellence.  Growth comes a little at a time, but it does come. If I do what I do not want to do today, I will one day be able to do whatever I want.

My love of reading and writing did not necessarily come easy in a classroom ; A favorite writer of mine, Matthew Kelly says, “ Every moment is a chance to turn it all around,” He talks often about how sometimes we are our own worst enemy. One day, I had to teach my son, Tim the gift of self-talk. It’s where one stops playing the tapes in their head of what everyone else says about him, and that he takes control of what he wants the tape to play. From that day on, once he mastered the concept, he was a different student, friend, and child. He had to learn that sometimes, we have to live what we believe and know we are-and in no way allow others to define that for you.  You define your own future, knowing what you do today, becomes a reality tomorrow.  

It was Chaucer who said, “Gladly would he learn, and would he teach.”  There are times when life will allow us to be the teacher and to be the student.  Therefore, believe…learn…and grow. It can happen at any age and any moment. Yes, I am still in the process of learning life lessons, often, I have to go back and refine the task until excellence is the outcome.

Sonya Paul

Friday, January 20, 2017



FOGBANK is a codename for a substance first manufactured in 1975 that is described as looking and feeling like either styrofoam or aerogel. The original recipe was lost, and it took $92 million to reinvent.

What it actually is and does is classified at the highest levels. Its only use is in thermonuclear fusion warheads (hydrogen bombs). It is an essential material and its purpose in the process of detonating a bomb is a secret. There are many guesses as to what exactly it does, but the only people who really know have high security clearances or are dead.  Neither group can tell anyone who wasn’t already in the program.

When the US Navy began a Trident missile upgrade, they needed to refurbish their inventory of certain nuclear warheads. This meant taking them apart, modernize and replace parts, and then put them back together. But in the process they needed to replace the component called FOGBANK. And nobody knew how to do it. The job of figuring it out was given to the National Nuclear Security Administration, the NNSA, which is part of the Department of Energy.

At the very least they knew it was very difficult to manufacture, and that the last of it had been made in the 1980’s. There were few records and almost all of the people involved in making it were retired, had left the field, or dead.

In addition, the NNSA had to build an entirely new facility to produce FOGBANK because they had dismantled the original factory which made the original FOGBANK.

Still, a lot of people at the Department of Energy also thought, “This is old technology, how hard can it be?”

In March 2007, engineers finally devised a manufacturing process for FOGBANK and a new generation of FOGBANK was ready. But the material turned out to have problems when tested - it turns out that it may have been too pure, and something that was seen as a contaminant and carefully removed from the product was actually a key component.  After all this they seemed to have made it too well - in an odd twist, removing the contaminant (seen as non-essential) in the quality control process was apparently both a failure in quality control (making it necessary to remove it) while at the same time it was a failure in the production process (removing it took out an essential component of the finished product.)

A document from Los Alamos National Laboratory contains statements such as, “historical design records were vague…” and “Personnel made multiple changes to multiple processes simultaneously…” and “...personnel did not know the root cause of the manufacturing problems” and “...did not know which process changes were responsible for fixing the problem..:  Also lines like, ““disagreements on the implementation of safety guidelines.”

The cost of just reinventing FOGBANK (as estimated by the Government Accounting Office) added an additional $69 million over the original plan for upgrading the Trident missiles.

A good list of many lessons learned from a failure to document the manufacture of an exotic form of plastic foam would start with “write it down.”

I’ve worked in seven different schools/buildings in my educational career as a teacher, a building-level administrator and a superintendent. Some were very good places to work, and some weren’t. But in every single one of them I heard someone say, at some critical point, “Didn’t we used to...?” and someone else would say, “Yeah, we did. Do you remember how we…..?”

“No, but how hard could it be?”

And we’d start making our own “fogbank” with results very similar to what the Navy ran into. We’d hear, “Nobody wrote it down.” or “That building was demolished.” Yeah, the records are on these old plastic discs and in Office 97.”

“That one guy who wore those Brady Bunch shirts and taught in that corner room?  He started  that and now he’s dead.”

“Yeah, I remember now. But how hard could it be?”

But it’s almost always hard because “fogbank” has another meaning -  a thick and heavy body of fog which drastically limits visibility. It is often in distinct contrast to clearer air, and once you’re in the middle of it it is just “fog.”  You can’t see and you get lost. At the least you slow way down. Sometimes you miss your turn and sometimes you run right into someone else who’s lost in the fog.

Kind of like when you try to re-do something that worked well at the time and now you can’t remember how.

There is no benefit to operating in the fog. Share good ideas, communicate successes, put your creations in the hands of other great teachers so that the learning impact is available to the largest number of students.  It’s the key to one of our main focus points - Back to Basics.

New people need to know what we do but also why. And how. There are three good rules for this and all three of them are: “Write it down.”

Write it down and share it.

We have a whole lot of best-practices and great instruction going on.  Let’s make sure that we share the knowledge and develop the skills in newer employees and record what we are doing and how it is working so that we can stay out of the fog.