Working together

When we were in elementary school, even preschool, our teachers encouraged us to work in groups – whether it was creating a story together or exploring facts and figures. This teamwork mindset helped everyone learn together to make something bigger than ourselves and is often used not only in the classroom but in the real world too.

Today, many states have taken a team approach to establishing and implementing national standards and assessments for the country’s students, and together, we are creating a shared vision on how America’s education system will be re-energized.

More specifically, groups of states recently worked to create the Common Core State Standards, defining what students should know and learn in English, Language Arts and Mathematics to ensure they leave our schools ready for the next step. Now, this same group of states is developing common assessments that will measure our progress in making sure those standards are being successfully taught to our students. This group, commonly referred to as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), is comprised of 24 states that are working together to define what these assessments need to look like and all the other logistical issue surrounding such a large, and important undertaking.

Despite the enormous task these states have agreed to take on, the benefits far outweigh the headaches. For instance, a student in Maryland could move to Florida during any course of his or her educational journey and continue to be on track for college or career without skipping a beat. Students in all states participating in PARCC will have the benefit of the same high-quality instruction in the Common Core State Standards and will have an accurate, comparable picture of their learning progress.

This is an exciting time in education and we continue to seek additional feedback and ideas on tomorrow’s classrooms. Check our efforts with the Partnership at any time and offer ideas and suggestions. Improving the education of our youth is an ongoing conversation and we need your feedback to make sure it’s not a one-way street.



Busy families need options. Online education can help.

Guest post by Sally Roberts, DOE Educational Policy Consultant for Virtual Education

We appreciate all the feedback we received in the blog comment section, on Facebook and on Twitter regarding last week’s online education post. This blog post will feature the issue again so we can provide even more information.

Many virtual options

With three different options – Florida Virtual School Classic, Florida Virtual School Full-time and district online programs – students and families can choose which virtual offering fits their needs the best. This chart helps explain the differences and benefits of each program.


Online education provides incredible flexibility for families on the go. Florida Virtual School (FLVS) students can participate in online courses at any time and have teachers available from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. for phone calls, parent-teacher-student conference calls, instant messaging and emails. (District online courses and programs also provide flexibility for accessing online courses and curriculum. Please contact your local administrator for details) for district teacher availability.

As an example, if Jane is leaving school early to attend acting classes from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. then goes to her brother’s soccer game at 4 p.m., she can take her algebra class at 6 p.m. when she gets home and still have access to her teacher.

Personal, individualized instruction

Even though the course is online, teachers can still hold live online lessons. Say the teacher is receiving a lot of questions from students about conjugating verbs in language arts. The teacher can then schedule a live lesson so she/he can respond to students’ questions as the class is going on – just like at a brick-and-mortar school.

Preparation for the future

In addition, most post-secondary schools offer online courses, and chances are your child will be enrolled in at least one. By taking online courses in high school, your child is better prepared for their future education.

Which online course choices would fit into your child’s schedule? Do you have questions about the difference between Florida Virtual School Classic, Florida Virtual School Full-time and district online options? We welcome questions in the comment section!

Going Virtual – even more!

Guest post by Sally Roberts, DOE Educational Policy Consultant for Virtual Education

Everyone is talking about “school choice” these days, but “choice” doesn’t mean just charter and magnet schools. Starting in August, Florida students will now have more virtual education choices.

Students will have the option to take ALL their classes through Florida Virtual School Full-time. In addition, the Legislature authorized districts to now offer additional online courses for students in grades K-12 and virtual charter schools. Courses include everything from chemistry and grammar to physical education and drivers ed!

In order to better prepare our students for postsecondary education and the 21st Century workplace, all students entering ninth grade in 2011-2012 must complete at least one course through online learning. Students may take the required online high school course from Florida Virtual School, a district high school or middle school, or through dual enrollment.

Check out our Florida Virtual Public Education Options chart for a quick overview of what program would be best for your child.

How to register:

Has your child ever enrolled in an online course? If so, what was their experience like?

And the band plays on …

Scales, flats and sharps are not types of shoes or medieval tools, but rather some of the instruments used in the classroom of Miramar High School music educator Alvin Davis. Mr. Davis was recently selected as a finalist for the DOE/Macy’s Teacher of the Year award, and understands the correlation between participating in fine arts classes and achieving academic success. In fact, a study of 2007-08 12th Grade cohort of 188,859 students found a strong correlation between participating in fine arts classes and academics. Whether it’s music, dance, theater or visual arts – the more art classes taken, the higher the academic achievement.

Taking music education a bit further, Broward County’s Teacher of the Year emphasizes academics, discipline and musicality in all of his lessons.  

Each student in the Miramar High School Soldier Band from Patriot Land gets one-on-one counseling with band staff, mentoring and tutoring. Mr. Davis also reviews copies of everyone’s report cards and requires his seniors to provide proof of secondary education applications and ACT/SAT testing. It is obvious he truly means it when he says, “It is not enough to just teach music, but I believe it is also my duty to reinforce the skills learned in other classes.”

From learning musical rhythms and vocabulary to reinforcing time management and responsibility, students benefit from being a part of art and extracurricular activities. Mr. Davis is proof of this, and we are proud to honor him as one of the finalists for the DOE/Macy’s Teacher of the Year Award.

Is your child in a fine arts class? Do they participate in extracurricular activities? Do you think these activities better prepare them for school and future careers?

“I hate science!” is no longer heard

Guest post by DOE Science Program Specialist Latasha Fisher

“To be, or not to be.” An often used quote in literary times, but begs the true question – what do you want to be when you grow up? In Florida, students have the opportunity to really engage themselves in the classroom – particularly in courses that will help them shape the future.

The fields of science, technology, engineering and math, commonly referred to as STEM, are really taking shape and will help our state’s economy for years to come. The days of saying, “I hate science!”should be pushed aside and embraced if we want our students to be profitable and compete in a globally connected society.

One teacher in Pinellas County knows all too well how to ensure that her students succeed in science. In fact, she was recently named as a finalist for the DOE/Macy’s Teacher of the Year award. Ponce de Leon Elementary School fifth grade science and writing teacher Tracy Staley is preparing her students today for the real world of tomorrow. 

At the beginning of the school year, Ms. Staley gives her new students a survey to find out how they feel about science. She recently found that 70 percent of her students had negative feelings toward science. However, by engaging her students with hands-on science lessons, she was able to make science cool and deepen the students’ confidence in their studies.

At the end of the school year, after repeating the same survey, she found that all of the students enjoyed science – one even said it was fun and they felt like a real scientist! She has found that hands-on learning also helps with language and self-esteem.

Ms. Staley uses the Inquiry Model which enables students to work through their ideas until they have evidence to support their thinking.

In one activity, students read a science fiction mystery book after learning of force and motion. Ms. Staley then asked the students to solve the mystery using the science knowledge they just learned. Students had to justify their claims about the mystery based on scientific evidence, and the result was a fun, engaging lesson that got the kids involved and increased their science and reading skills.

Does your child like science? How can teachers make science fun for students?

You can “count” on it – even at home!

Guest post by Teresa Sweet, Curriculum & Instruction bureau chief

Math teacher Stephanie Thetford of Fort Walton Beach High School knows that her students can be successful when they have a rigorous curriculum, confidence in their skills and strong family support. These were just a few of the many reasons she was selected as a finalist for the Department of Education/Macy’s Teacher of the Year award. She has recognized that having success in math serves as a gateway to a career in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), which are some of the most in-demand, high-paying careers around. And she takes every opportunity to encourage her students to dream big when it comes to finding the right career path. 

Fostering a love for math and encouraging early childhood development are two areas where teachers like Ms. Thetford excel. She is a proud champion of instilling necessary math skills to all of her students and takes every opportunity to foster a deep passion for the sometimes difficult subject. To help families take simple, easy steps to support learning math every day, the Department of Education offers a wide array of tips. Encourage the use of math in your home by following a few of the tips noted below. With just a few household items, you too can make this subject exciting for your child:  

  • Use measuring cups and empty containers to explore fractions and estimations. Fill the items with different materials such as water and discuss what happens if you add ½ cup of water to ¼ cup of water [equals ¾ cup]. Sand and/or beans are other materials you can use to fill the containers. 
  • Use clean-up time as an opportunity to teach counting, addition and subtraction by counting the number of toys they pick up. You can also practice patterns by asking them to pick up one black block, then one blue block, and keep repeating different colors/patterns/items. 
  • Help your children estimate how much longer a car ride is by using distance and speed. If you have 60 miles left and you are driving 60 miles per hour, then you have one hour left [60 minutes]. If you have 30 miles left and are driving 60 miles per hour, you have ½ hour left [30 minutes].
  •  Come up with hypothetical situations involving math and numbers for your child to figure out. For example, a man went to a store and bought a $5 box of nails, a $25 hammer and $1,250 lawnmower. The store was having a 25 percent discount on all of the items. He then used a $10-off coupon. How much did his purchase cost? [answer: ((5+25+1,250) * 0.75) – 10 = 950] 

The most important thing to share is to encourage your child to tackle any problem. Try not to discourage your child’s efforts or comment negatively about your personal experiences with math. Many teachers, including Ms. Thetford make themselves available before or after school to ensure that children obtain the necessary help and support to be successful. Be sure your child takes advantage of these types of opportunities.

We’d also like to congratulate Ms. Thetford for being named a Teacher of the Year finalist. We wish her the best of luck as the winner will be announced next week!