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Articles from January 2016

Northwood students learn with musician Justin Roberts

AMES–For more than 20 years, two-time GRAMMY nominee Justin Roberts has been creating music helping families and children navigate the joys and sorrows of growing up. Roberts’ visit to Northwood Preschool Center Friday, Jan. 29 kept his young audience engaged and entertained while they practiced the essential elements of music learning.

Principal Brandon Schrauth said music learning is an important part of the preschool experience, and he invited Roberts because he is a master at integrating learning standards into his concerts.

A former preschool teacher, Roberts said the interactive aspects of his concerts naturally meet the learning goals for young children.

“It’s so important for children to experience music as part of their learning,” he said. “It helps with brain development and function, and supports and enriches foundational for concepts for math, science and language.”

Regardless of such empirical benefits, Roberts said, music is something people can enjoy and appreciate throughout their lives.

Hendrix Baumgartner, age 5, is on track for a lifetime of music enjoyment. He said he liked the concert from beginning to end.

“I learned my voice is an instrument I always have with me, and my hands are a drum,” he said. “I liked the last song best because we got to dance.”

The Iowa Learning Standards for music, rhythm and movement include:

  • Participation in a variety of musical and rhythmic experiences, including singing,dancing, listening, playing simple rhythmic and tonal instruments, and creating and singing chants, rhymes, and fingerplays from diverse cultures.
  • Demonstrating meaningful creative responses when listening to music to reflect the expressive elements of music.notices differences in pitch, rhythm, patterns, dynamics, tempo, and timbre.
  • Demonstrating an awareness of music as part of daily life indoors and outdoors.

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Ames educators improve knowledge and skills on January 18 day of learning

AMES–While many people enjoyed a day off or participated in a day of service during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, educators in the Ames Community School District used the day to improve their skills and knowledge to help the district’s diverse learners succeed.

Kari Smith, Teacher on Special Assignment for math and science, said the day’s workshops were geared to the District’s overall goal for teachers to continually improve their knowledge and skills in the hands-on, interactive ways research shows have the most direct effect on student learning.

“We spent the day bettering ourselves so we can take new skills and strategies into the classroom,” Smith said.

Teacher Leader Coordinator Lisa Clayberg said full-day professional learning opportunities happen just a few times a year, and those days are designed to support the District’s on-going, job-embedded professional development. Such ongoing professional development for teachers happens most often during the hours set aside each Wednesday, and during daily periods when teachers can observe model teachers, consult with mentor teachers and work with Instructional Coaches and Teachers on Special Assignment.

Full-day professional learning opportunities allow teachers to go deeper into topics and skills, have more time to reflect and collaborate, and to calibrate their understanding and goals across the District. But you won’t find teachers passively listening to a lecture or watching a slideshow, Clayberg said.

“Just as teaching students has changed from a “sit and get” model, learning opportunities for teachers has changed from a lecture model to one of sharing expertise and experience, and modeling and practicing skills together,” she said.

Clayberg said the day’s learning opportunities gelled around the themes of prioritizing the learning milestones students need to master and creating and sharing the common assessments that help teachers track students’ grasp of those milestones, sharing and practicing strategies that are effective in helping students learn, and strengthening effective relationships with their peers in professional learning communities.

Here are some highlights:

Speciality Areas strengthen their PLCs

Teachers on Special Assignment Mary Morton and Erin Miller are boosting efforts by music, art, and physical education teachers to strengthen their professional learning communities and align their resources for helping students succeed.

The professional development day allowed music educators to gather as a K-12 team and strengthen their common vision. They outlined the skills students need to succeed in band, orchestra, general music and choir, and worked together to establish benchmarks for success. Moving forward, teachers will be revising their grade and course level expectations and assessments, and exploring new materials to use with student musicians.

“These teachers’ passion and dedication to serving students is truly inspiring,” Miller said.

Art teachers also met as a district-wide PLC. After dividing into groups that included elementary, middle school and high school teachers, group members shared a portfolio item showcasing students’ work. Morton presented a rubric to help compare the Iowa Core and the National Core Arts Standards with current course level expectations. Meeker art teacher “Coach” Susan Norris said, “Working on and discussing the rubric allowed the K-12 art PLC to formulate a recommendation we can share with the school board about our ongoing work with curriculum.”

Physical Education teachers met for the second time to continue to align their vision.  The discussion began with a review of the essential components of physical education, policy, environment, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Studying the National Standards for Physical Education collaboratively fostered conversations that ranged from assessment and grading practices to student behaviors. These teachers are now in the process of creating PLC action plans.
Ames Middle School and Ames High School teachers of family and consumer sciences met together to share learning and strengthen the alignment of their programs. They studied the Financial Literacy Work Team Report from 2014 and the 21st Century Skills for Financial Literacy and shared essential standards and teaching activities.

Workshops show bookend learning strategies from preschool to high school

In separate workshops, Northwood Preschool Center Instructional Coach Johanna Hicks and model teachers at Ames HIgh School demonstrated how a foundation established for the district’s youngest learners deepens as students advance. HIcks led a discussion around teaching preschool students to “think within, about and beyond text” that is read to them. Meanwhile, high school teachers learned how to plan a “mental model” to share with their students how they construct meaning for a difficult text.

“It’s a way of showing students how we think about the text to reach explanations, analyses and interpretations, to help students see the ‘invisible process of creating meaning from complex text,”’ model teacher Katie Gustafson said.


Northwood educators use “make and take” strategies to use what they learned during their Jan. 18 professional development day.

Elementary educators prioritize essential learning milestones

Determining which learning standards are most essential for students to master requires educators to agree on some common values, Smith said.

Ames educators look at the standard’s endurance, asking how long the knowledge and skill will be necessary and relevant; its leverage, asking how much the knowledge and skill applies to more than one area of learning; and its readiness, asking if mastery of the knowledge and skill is necessary for the student to be ready for the next level of instruction.

Smith said she’s heard from parents and community members who are worried that prioritizing standards means eliminating some long-held foundations of learning.

“In practice, prioritizing standards may mean we’re actually raising the expectation for what students learn, and we’re giving students the opportunity for a better grasp of what they need to learn to move forward,” she said.

For example, Smith said teachers don’t discard traditional ways of solving math problems, but District math standards might set the expectation that a student will understand why a math operation works the way it does instead of expecting the student to memorize facts or formulas.

Elementary teachers used a portion of text from Common Formative Assessments by Kim Bailey and Chris Jakicic to learn from some experts and practice what they learned. Using a rubric, they ranked selected reading and math standards according to their endurance, leverage, and readiness. Grade level teams from all five elementary schools focused on aligning reading and math essential standards to improve consistency of what is being taught in the classrooms.

Ames Middle School capitalizes on collaborative and collegial foundations

One of the highlights of the Ames Middle School’s professional development day was watching and reflecting on John Hattie’s Ted Talk, Why are So Many of our Teachers and Schools so Successful?.

This video provided staff with insight showing why students respond with greater academic success and growth when educators work together in a collective effort. Middle School staff continued its learning with a refresher on PLCs and broke out into one of three differentiated sessions:

  • Creating a focused and reasonable, common formative assessment
  • Creating a quality rubric to describe proficient student work
  • Analyzing and responding to common formative assessment data

PLCs came together in the afternoon to share what they took away from the sessions, and continue down the path of collaborative work.

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Contact your legislator to voice opinions on school funding

AMES–Across the state, school district officials are asking their constituents to weigh in on important issues.

The Iowa Legislature is currently discussing school funding for budget year 2016-17. This year, the House of Representatives has proposed a 2 percent increase in school funding and the Senate has proposed a 4 percent increase.

Superintendent Tim Taylor said that last year, school districts received a 1.25 percent increase, and received no new funding for the two years prior.

“After so many years of austerity, we have no place to cut except for staff and programs,” he said.

The House proposal of 2 percent would require the District to implement about $1 million in cost-cutting measures, and the Senate proposal of 4 percent would be within $100,000 of the District’s break-even point, Taylor said.

To voice your opinion, contact your legislator. To find your legislator, you may visit the Iowa Legislature website or Story County’s website.

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Fifth grade students tout benefit of Invention Convention

AMES–Fifth grade inventors in the Ames Community School District, like Payton Stewart, Grace Schmitt and Kayley Birkland, are honing life skills that will last well beyond the Invention Convention on January 25.

Payton said the inspiration for her invention, for example, came from wanting to solve the problem of her family’s increasing water bill.

“We were using too much water brushing teeth and would leave water going,” she said. “It’s been fun taking our own journey through all this cool inventing process to solve problems.”

Grace said she learned not to give up even when it was hard to get her project-mates together and to manage her time to  complete her invention.

“At school, we are learning what it means to persist when things are hard,” she said. “Persistence was helpful. We didn’t get together for a long time and I thought maybe we’d have to give up.  My plate was too full, but then we got together and we made a plan and got straight to work and we accomplished a lot.”

Kayley said she learned the value of taking the risk to try ideas that might fail.

“We weren’t sure if we should use plastic, cardboard or metal (for our materials). We knew whichever we chose, there was risk involved. If we chose metal, we didn’t know if we had time to send it to my grandpa to weld it,” she said.  “So I talked to my dad, and he helped us make a plan, so then I had confidence that it would turn out great.”

Extended Learning Program teacher Ariane Schmidt said the event is open to all district fifth graders.

“Inventors will be judged on inventiveness, the diagram, the model or prototype, the log and the oral presentation,” Schmidt said.

The young inventors will put their projects on display beginning at 4:15 p.m., Monday, Jan. 25, at Edwards Elementary School, 820 Miller Ave., for parents and friends to view and experts to judge.

At around 4:50 p.m., inventors and visitors will move to the Gymnasium for a science presentation while the judges continue to deliberate in the display area. Judges will present awards around 5:45 p.m. in the Gymnasium.

UPDATE: Student received medals for the following inventions:

Snoozeless Pillow, Alicia Nicolas
The Nail Catcher, Samuel Vis.
Dugout Doctor, Ali Frandsen and Piper Kirsch
Seed Saucer, Karin Grevstad-Nordbrock.

S.E.W.S., Mia O’Connor-Walker.

Adjusta Tub, Ryan Maland and Connor Johnson

The Coop Collector, Jackson Hufford.
Tunes Tie, Allie Enyart and Mia Vogel.
No Slip Hanger, Lauren Powers and Maddie Swartz.
EZ-Pour, Adam Lee and Owais Samman.

Photo gallery

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Enrollment dates announced for kindergarten and preschool

  • Kindergarten Enrollment is Wednesday, Jan. 20 from 8:30 a.m.-noon and Thursday, Jan. 21 from 2-7 p.m. at Northwood Preschool Center
  • Preschool Enrollment is Wednesday, Jan. 27 from 8:30 a.m.-noon and Thursday, Jan. 28 from 2-7 p.m. at Northwood Preschool Center.

AMES–The youngest learners in the Ames Community School District will get a head start on enrollment with on-site events at Northwood Preschool Center this month.

Kindergarten enrollment sessions have long been a tradition for Ames Schools, and this year, Northwood Principal Brandon Schrauth is providing similar sessions for preschool enrollment.

“We want to reach as many families as possible because early childhood education is so important,” Schrauth said.

It’s important for families to attend the sessions to provide the documentation the District needs to plan for programming and to form a connection with the District before school starts in August, Schrauth said.

“Gathering paperwork and completing online forms is a necessary step in getting enrolled in kindergarten or preschool,” he said, “but it’s just as important to meet families and answer any questions they have.”

What to expect at Preschool Registration

  • Parents and guardians may enroll children in preschool who will be 4 years old by Sept. 15, 2016.
  • Parents and guardians who meet certain income guidelines may enroll children in the Early Success 3-Year-Old Preschool Program who will be 3 years old by Sept. 15, 2016.
  • Parents and guardians will complete an information form online, a Home Language Survey, a Health History form and an “Ages and Stages” questionnaire.
  • Parents and guardians should bring the child’s original birth certificate, or duplicate with raised seal; student physical report and immunization records; and adoption or guardianship papers, if applicable.

Learn more.

What to expect at Kindergarten Registration

  • Parents and guardians may enroll children in kindergarten who will be 5 years old by Sept. 15, 2016.
  • Parents and guardians will complete an information form online, a Home Language Survey, and a Health History form.
  • Parents and guardians should bring the child’s original birth certificate, or duplicate with raised seal; student physical report and immunization records; proof of residency (lease, mortgage, house title, or utility bill with current address); and adoption or guardianship papers, if applicable.
  • If the student did not attend Northwood Preschool or one of its Statewide Voluntary Preschool Partners, parents will be asked to complete an “Ages and Stages” questionnaire.

Learn more.

The Ames Public Library will provide story time, and representatives from busing and school meal services will be available to provide information. Other community organizations with early childhood services will be onhand. District Family Ambassadors, who are parents of current students, will be available to give support and supervise a playroom for children aged 2 and over.

Northwood Preschool Center is at 3012 Duff Avenue.

For both preschool and kindergarten, the District will provide information later in the spring giving details of classroom placement and events to welcome families.


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Northwood Preschool Center earns renewed accreditation

AMES–Northwood Preschool Center has attained renewed accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) for its preschool programming for 3 and 4 year olds. The accreditation renewal process began in the spring of 2015 and culminated with a two-day site visit in the fall.

Northwood provides preschool programming under the guidelines of  Iowa’s Statewide Voluntary Preschool program.

Northwood Preschool Center Principal Brandon Schrauth said NAEYC assessors reviewed 417 criteria for evidence of program quality in classroom and program portfolios, staff certifications, and health and safety. They conducted nine random 60-minute classroom visits, observing for 188 criteria from 10 different standards.

Schrauth said a program must meet at least 70% of the criteria for each standard to achieve accreditation. The Northwood programs earned more than 100% on several standards, he said.

“Meeting standards at such a high level has a direct impact on student success,” Schrauth said. Northwood shined on the Relationships standard, for example, because staff demonstrated how it values staff relationships and relationships with students and families.

“Our staff forms relationships through powerful interactions that help us get to know each individual child and family’s interests, prior knowledge, and needs.” he said. “We also value each other as colleagues.”

Schrauth said the programs’ high scores on Assessment stem from strategies that staff identified to lead to better understanding of each individual child’s learning process.

“These assessments range from daily observations to more formal benchmarks,” he said. “At the heart of these assessments, we strive to document student learning to make their thinking visible. This leads to collaboration around what students are learning and what experiences we need to provide for them next.”

Schrauth said the accreditation experience was valuable for celebrating successes and reflecting on areas of focus for improvement.

“In the coming year, our staff will process the feedback that NAEYC provided to us, such as how we integrate the arts into our curriculum and support teacher professional development goals,” he said.  “This will be an integral part of our journey to further define the Northwood experience.”


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