Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Local Meets Global – Connecting Area Students to Future Careers

Written by Nanci Young, Workplace Learning Connection
Kirkwood Community College

You can’t contemplate the future without considering the impact of science, technology, engineering and math in our everyday experiences, especially in our jobs.  Students in high school will be facing far different workplace demands than their parents.  And, our middle school and elementary school population need to be prepared for jobs that don’t even exist today!  The 34 school districts within the Grant Wood Area Education Agency Area 10, including Solon Community Schools, are partnering with Workplace Learning Connection (WLC) to not only ride the wave of STEM careers, but to get in front of the demand by providing work-based learning opportunities for their students.   

Area high school students are job shadowing in STEM careers and participating in class-credit student internships at area STEM businesses.  Local professionals employed in STEM careers are hosting worksite tours and going to elementary, middle and high school classes to speak to students about their careers.  To date, WLC has connected students to STEM careers over 850 times this school year.

Chemistry teacher, Jennifer Brown, Kennedy High School, explains why STEM education experiences are so important, STEM careers are growing quickly and if we don’t produce students to fill those positions, they will be lost to employees outside the US. Students are often unaware of the number and scope of options available to them, so it is important to increase their exposure.  By working with WLC, we have access to the large number of connections that they have developed with the community.”

Sarah K from Xavier High School talks about her job shadow experience at St. Luke’s Hospital, “I think that it was really important for me to actually see what an occupational therapist gets to do. I learned exactly what kind of work the job entailed, what kind of training I would need, and what the market looked like for those skills. This experience will definitely help me in selecting my major in the next couple of years.” 

Claire T, Linn-Mar High School student, shadowed a physical therapist, “I learned about the different types of physical therapy, and shadowed one kind.  It made me really interested to find out more about the rest! It has interested me to take more science classes and keep pushing towards this career path!”

Pete Kies, Lab Technician from Genencor International, explains why he participates in work-based learning activities, “I enjoy my work and I like being able to tell the kids that there are some cool jobs out there, if you have the skills and the knowledge to qualify for them.”

STEM touches a wide variety of career fields, over 75 of them explored this year through WLC’s job shadows, internships and events.   These fields span five different pathways and include careers like veterinarians and ag mechanics (Agriscience and Natural Resources), graphic designers (Arts and Communications), accountants, computer engineers and web designers (Business, Information Technology, Marketing and Management), machinists, aerospace engineering, and skilled trades (Engineering, Industrial and Technical Sciences), and dieticians, EMT’s and dermatologists (Health Sciences).

The need for STEM career education opportunities continues to grow.  This fall, Governor Brandstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds commissioned a STEM Advisory Council to grow Iowa’s commitment to bolstering STEM education, STEM innovation and to better position Iowa’s young people and the state’s economy for the future.  Workplace Learning Connection plays a role in this initiative by providing STEM career experiences to K-12 students and instructors in this area’s 7-county region.  To learn how to be a part of this wave of education, innovation and economic development, go to or become a fan of WLC’s Facebook page,

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Meet Auggie

You may have heard from students about a dog in the building.  Auggie, a 145 pound Newfoundland, is a therapy dog.  Michelle Hand, Auggie's owner, has been taking him to local schools and hospitals to work with a variety of people.  She has partnered with our MECCA counselor to provide services at Solon High School.  It is a joy when he comes and all students benefit from his presence!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why do I need to know this?

That question can often be heard in the classrooms of Solon High School.  Our staff is quick to not only answer, but give students real-life, authentic learning experiences.

In the first video, students are using bubbles to investigate the permeability of cell walls.  This lab further demonstrated the properties of cells and cell membranes and gave the kids a hands-on learning experience.

In a Project Lead the Way course, students used computer programs to evaluate the effectiveness of their robots.  This measured energy consumption, speed, and other factors.  Students were analyzing the data.  

Finally, Spanish students were speaking to students in Mexico through Edmodo, an online and educational social media tool.  This allowed our students to have authentic speaking experiences with native Spanish speakers.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Win or lose, we all are champions!

Here at Solon, we know a thing or two about being a champion.  With 4 state football titles from 2007-2010 along with many other state titles in sports and music, our student athletes know how to win.  So when our girls made the state volleyball tournament for the first time in school history, our student body was geared for another championship.

But when the final match ended, our girls, and our school were in new territory...we lost.

As a school leader, you hope your school has a culture that supports each and every person.  My hope was validated all season long as our student body rallied around each other.  The band played with heart, our students cheered, and we showed that no matter the score, we are all winners.

This is our school.

We are Solon.

And all of our students are champions!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Creating A Sense of Urgency for Grade Reform

This article was initially published on Nov. 3, 2011 at  You can access the link to the article here.  

For those of us working in the trenches in education to overhaul grading practices, the recent Educational Leadership journal from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) is a timely publication.  Each article is dedicated to providing information about effective grading practices.  The journal implies (actually it SHOUTS) the fact that grading practices are not effective in our schools. 

So what can we do as educational leaders to fix the grading problem?  First, we have to acknowledge that the current system for grading students is broken.  Let me share with you an example from our school.  A student in a high school class recently scored poorly on an assignment.  Here is the email he sent to the teacher.

Dear Teacher,
I was wondering if there was a time we could meet. Before, after, or even seminar during school. When I turned in my [assignment], you just said I needed more. I would like to go over it and get some more feedback from you. I feel like I could be a better student. I would like to get more feedback and work through it with you. 
Concerned Student
His grade on this assignment gave no feedback on learning targets that were mastered and those that were not.  This student was left with a feeling of unease and wants to know what he can do to improve.  If this is a student in your school, you need to act now to prevent this from happening to other learners.  
Below is a list of things you can do as a school leader to move your school toward more effective grading practices.
  •  Start with assessments.  Teachers in our building are working on creating common assessments that are tied to essential learning targets.  When teachers discuss and create assessments, they have ownership of the learning target.  Then, when an assessment is given, it allows the teacher to focus on the feedback from students to help guide instruction.  The ultimate goal is for teachers to focus on student learning rather than simply teaching the concept. 
  • Effective grading is about effective student learning.  Share that message often with all stakeholders.  Feedback is critical to the learning process. 
  • Share articles with the teachers to improve their understanding of effective grading practices.  We utilize a Google doc to share articles and to gather input to allow all voices to be heard. 
  •  Create grading guidelines for your district and have your board adopted that as local policy.
  • Start a book study group with staff.  We started by reading Checking for Understanding by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey or Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormeli. 

As Thomas Guskey stated, we can’t allow ourselves to say, “We’ve always done it that way.”  Our school is taking on this challenge.  Is yours?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vocal students participate in all day jazz workshop

On Friday, October 28th, Solon High School vocal jazz students participated in an extraordinary master class with famed musician Michele Weir. Michele is often featured as guest vocalist at educational jazz festivals and is a former member of the Grammy-nominated vocal group, The PM Singers.  Michele's vocal arrangements are performed by The Manhattan Transfer, New York Voices, The Swingle Singers, M-Pact, Beachfront Property, Chanticleer, Voice Trek and her orchestral works played by the Boston Pops, the Buffalo, Cincinnati and Pacific Symphonies, and others. 

She was Vocal Producer for the Manhattan Transfer¹s 2009 CD release, Chick Corea Songbook, and her arrangements or compositions have been featured on the Shari Lewis TV show, Disney's 101 Dalmations Sing-along CD, and the Holland America Cruise line.Michele is one of the leading figures in vocal jazz today. She has earned international recognition through a diverse set of talents as arranger, teacher, singer and pianist.
Currently serving on the faculty of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Michele taught previously at USC, CSU Long Beach, and the Phil Mattson School. Highly respected as a teacher and clinician, her work has taken her to more than 22 countries around the globe.

During the master class, students received the opportunity to participate in vocal improvisation, ear training, and scat singing.  Several students also sang solos for the class and were critiqued one-on-one with Michele.  Two of the vocal jazz ensembles performed one of their selections and were critiqued as well.  Michele also provided foundations in jazz history, guided listening, and gave a long lasting, passionate session on life as a musician.  In the end, students were treated to a once in a lifetime opportunity to work with one of the leading musicians in jazz today.  The Solon program is fortunate to have such experiences and would like to thank Solon Spotlight for making this day possible!