Category Archives: Baxter

They’re graduating

Our seniors. My advisory. They’re graduating. On June 3. Tomorrow.

We’ve spent lots of time together, building this school. We’ve spent one and a half hours together every week for the last four years, plus 10 minutes every morning. We’ve learned together and grown together. When we first started together, we came from all over – from Kennebunk to Topsham to Lewiston and everywhere in between. One of us even came from Owl’s Head. Some of us knew each other, but mostly we didn’t. It was awkward.

I’ve worked with other advisory groups in the past, but they knew each other. They lived in the same town, or at least in the same local district. This time it was different. Would my same, silly “get to know you” games work? Which, of course, in the past had been more for me than for them. Why not try, anyway?

So, I explained the rules of my silly name game. You will introduce yourself using an adjective that begins with the same letter as your name. I modeled what I meant: “I’m perfect Pam.” Then we’ll go around the circle and you have to name everyone before you and then yourself. They looked at me funny. They wanted to build the furniture. I told them that we needed to know each other’s names before we could try building IKEA furniture together. They humored me and played my game, even though they didn’t quite get it and thought it was stupid (they tell me now). And we built some furniture. That was in September of 2013. Two days after receiving a building occupancy permit.

Since that time we’ve had lots of conversations. About important things that were happening in the world, about decisions that we needed to make at school, about nothing in particular. We laughed and played games and had “TED Talk Tuesday” and played “Dancing Queen” whenever someone turned 17. We built our community. We became “PRawson and the Funky Bunch.”

And now they’re graduating.

So, thank you, for being the Funky Bunch: Awesome Aidan, Brianna Butterfly, Brilliant Ben, Eccentric Eddie, Ethan “Wheat Thin”, Evil Eli, Glitterific Gracelyn, Goofy Gabe, Ironic Irial, Jazzy Jenna, Loopy Lizzie, Marvelous Maddy, Nick (who likes chips), Novel Nicholas, Sassy Seham, Tenacious Tucker, and Terrible Theo (who hates mayo).

Remember that you built more than just a school. You built a very special community.

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#CollegeSigningDay

On Friday, May 5, Baxter Academy celebrated its first #CollegeSigningDay. While it’s true that we graduated a class of 49 students last year, our first graduation, this year’s senior class has been with us for 4 years. Plus, it takes a bit to get organized around these celebrations. This year we were ready for it.

These are the schools that our soon-to-be graduates have committed to:

  • Bennington College
  • Bishop’s University
  • Catholic University of America
  • Concordia University
  • Cornell University
  • Eastern Maine Community College
  • Florida Institute of Technology
  • Green River Community College
  • Goucher College
  • Hampshire College
  • Johnson & Wales University
  • Maine Maritime Academy
  • Marlboro College
  • Mercyhurst University
  • Mt Ida College
  • Mt Holyoke College
  • NASCAR Technical Institute
  • New England College
  • New England School of Photography
  • Parsons School of Design
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • School of Visual Arts NYC
  • Simmons College
  • Smith College
  • Southern Maine Community College
  • St Joseph’s College of Maine
  • St Michael’s College
  • Stonehill College
  • Union College
  • Unity College in Maine
  • University of Maine
  • University of Maine, Fort Kent
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • University of Rochester
  • University of Southern Maine
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute
  • Wagner College
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Word of Life Bible Institute
  • Xavier University

Among the group of those who stated majors, there are 23 science, 16 engineering, 8 creative design, 7 liberal arts, and 4 business. Of the 20 or so remaining: One is apprenticing with a Master Plumber, two are starting a game design company together, one is designing and producing storm chasing instruments, one is continuing to build his music production & performance skills, and the rest are taking a gap year or are undecided on their major.

I will always be grateful to these pioneering students for taking a risk to build a new school, not knowing where it would lead them. Well, it’s led them to some pretty great places.

As the hashtag says, the world #BetterMakeRoom.

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Impressive

I spent today at Baxter Academy. Actually, I’m still here. See, I have a group of students working on Moody’s Mega Math Challenge. They have 14 hours to complete their solution to the problem. The clock starts ticking at the moment they download the problem. That was at 9:00 this morning.

I am impressed that this group, who in class is lucky to remain focused for 35 minutes (in a 55 minute class), has pushed through today with so much focus – I am assuming. You see, I’m not actually in the room with them. I make this assumption based on observations when I go and take some pictures or get a food order. I had to remind them about food, not the other way around.

Prior to today, they had done a bunch of work in class, on practice problems, getting organized, reviewing the modeling & problem solving process. One thing I learned from all of that is that we are definitely teaching these skills here at Baxter Academy. These students never once thought they wouldn’t be able to tackle any problem thrown at them. They would come up with a plan for what to do before the M3Challenge folks sent out their tips or hints.

Here they are, 8 hours into their day.

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That was four and a half hours ago. Now, with less than an hour and a half to go, it’s truly crunch time.

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My Favorite Games

My advisory students are now seniors. We started together four years ago, along with the school. It’s a humbling journey to spend four years with the same group of students, helping them navigate through high school, getting them ready for whatever adventure follows.

We do a lot of work in advisory – research about “Life after Baxter,” prepping for student-led conferences, creating and maintaining digital portfolios, keeping track of academic progress, and completing any required paperwork, for starters. Even though we meet three times a week for about 35 minutes each time, we still have some “down” time.

We like to play games together. We play Set, Farkle, and Joe Name It along with various card games. Taking some time to play and laugh together is important to building those relationships.

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Standards-Based Grading

There’s lots of talk out there, and especially in New England, about standards-based education. Whatever you think about standards-based, or proficiency-based, or competency-based education (they are all the same to me – just using some different words), the bottom line is that we teachers are now supposed to be able to certify that, regardless of any other factors beyond our control, our students are able to _________. Fill in the blank with your skill or habit of choice. This is tricky business. The tricky part is

  • not to distill learning into a checklist of discrete items that have no connection to each other.
  • to maintain a cohesive, robust curriculum with a clear scope and sequence.
  • to develop cross-curricular, integrated courses that give students rich opportunities to build those skills.
  • to build an assessment system that students, teachers, and parents have a common understanding of.

My school has put a lot of energy into creating a standards-based assessment (and reporting) system. Since we are still a new school, there is nothing to change except our own perceptions. We started out using the old 1-2-3-4 system, but ran into trouble with different interpretations of what those numbers represented and how students were able to achieve, or not. Some teachers maintained that standards in a course were global and that there was little chance for a 9th grader to demonstrate at a level higher than a 2. Other teachers defined course standards as local, so that students could earn a 3 or even a 4 on the standards within that class. Clearly, this was a problem.

The other problem is that any time grades are represented using numbers, people want to operate with them, or break them down further (using 2.3, for example). But those numbers represent discrete categories of performance or understanding. A 2.3 doesn’t make any sense if it isn’t defined. So we had to create a brand new system.

Each reporting standard – those big things like Algebra & Functions – has indicators that are connected to each level on the big scale toward graduation benchmarks. These are defined in a rubric. For any given course, we identify what the “target” knowledge & skills are, what level of the rubric we are targeting. For example, in the Modeling in Math class, the target level is Entering.

During a course, we report if a student is “below target,” “on target,” or “above target” for an assessment on particular indicator of a reporting standard. This way a student can be “on target” – meaning that the student is making solid progress and is doing what is expected in the course – but still not be at the graduation benchmark for that standard. After all, Modeling in Math is the first course that our 9th graders take. It’s unlikely that they will meet the graduation benchmark after just this one twelve-week class.

Report cards and transcripts report the big picture status toward graduation. So that 9th grader who was “on target” during the class has made progress toward graduation, but still has work to do to meet that benchmark. And that work could happen in a series of courses or through some combination of courses and portfolio, giving the student control over her education.

 

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Note from a graduate

Hey everyone! I just felt like I should email all of you to say hi, and to assure you that I haven’t forgotten Baxter, and to remind myself to stay in touch, and to tell you that [college] is great and almost everything is going really well! I’m actually kind of tearing up writing this, which surprised me since that’s not something that happens to me very often. I’ll try to remember to stop by the school if it’s in session while I’m visiting home!

Teaching is about building relationships with our students.

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2nd Annual STEM College Fair

college fair

Yesterday afternoon we hosted our second annual STEM College Fair. Last year we had representatives from five colleges and universities, mostly from Maine, come visit our school and talk with our students. This year there were sixteen reps from all over New England, large schools and small, liberal arts and technical, private and public, thanks to our amazing guidance colleagues.

The representatives had an opportunity to tour the building and eat lunch with some of our students, Baxter Ambassadors, who engaged in lively conversations about why they came to Baxter Academy and how they hope to continue their education beyond Baxter. After lunch there were some panel discussions that focused on the application process, what it’s like to study a STEM field at a liberal arts school, the benefits of attending a community college, how project-based learning connects to research, and what studying engineering at college is really about.  During the last hour of school, the fair was up and running with students in grades 9-11 (the 12th graders are pretty well set) roaming from table to table learning about what makes each program unique or special.

I’d like to think that in visiting our school, these reps learned what makes Baxter Academy unique and special.

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