VariQuest Blog

The VariQuest Visual and Kinesthetic Learning Suite Blog contains resources on classroom ideas, lesson plans, industry news, events, and offers throughout education.

Lindsey Graff

Blog Feature

Featured Topics: Professional Development

Planning for Success

By: Lindsey Graff
October 28th, 2013

by Nathan Vlcek VariQuest is excited to open our blog to educators across the country who are interested in sharing their ideas, stories and opinions with our network of teachers, administrators and more. If you have something you would like to share, please let us know! Email your ideas to variquest@variquest.com. Starting the year out on the right foot is something everyone strives to do.  As a new administrator/athletic director, I had envisioned where I wanted my middle school athletics to go and thought things were already set up for me to take them in that direction.  I was unfortunately about to discover some horrible truths. One of those truths was that when things look like they are going great, they probably are about to crumble.  I was hired fairly late in the summer and was shown some of the documents left for me by my predecessor.  Most of the documents showed me who my coaches were and what games we were scheduled for and such.  I thought the start of the sports seasons would be off without a hitch since things were already established for me.  After a week on the job, I decided I better confirm with my coaches.  Through that process I discovered that one of my head coaches was indeed not planning on returning.  The first monkey-wrench!  Soon I discovered that there is more red tape in administration than I had first thought.  What could have been sorted out in a day, turned into a month long search that led me to the day before the first practice started before I had my coaches sorted out.  That’s not a good way to start the season.  Because of the late hiring process, I was unable to have an official meeting with parents and coaches to go over expectations for the season which has now led to further frustrations – stay tuned on that! Shortly after I discovered the coaching debacle, I discovered that the sports schedule I was handed was also incorrect and that the away and home dates were mostly backwards.  The second monkey-wrench!  So now I had to re-organize the busses, inform my coaches and referees that the information they had been given was all wrong.  Not to mention that some of our games were scheduled during our parent teacher conferences and forensics meets which involved our coaches.  Since school had not started, making contact with other athletic directors was next to impossible.  I’m a person who likes to lay out a plan well in advance and then follow that plan.  The next couple weeks were filled with anxiety as I waited to hear from other schools for confirmation of the schedule and start times for games.  I also had to wait on officials to respond on their availability to work our games. While this school year did not start the way I had intended, as far as the athletics are concerned, I am confident that I will have a system in place to make next year better.  I have taken a few things away from all the issues that I have had to deal with.  Over-communicating is certainly not something that is possible.  I have sent several e-mails and even had conversations with other AD’s about our start time for games, yet we still have schools show up late, not realizing our start time was earlier than they thought.  If I had over-communicated by contacting them early in the week to re-confirm the start time, I believe we would have had teams start on time for each event.  Even though I didn’t have all my coaches hired until the start of season, I should have moved forward with a parent meeting the first week of school.  Even though things have crumbled, being flexible and creative with problems as they arise has helped me in fixing things on the fly.  Instead of getting bent out of shape when things didn’t go as planned, we just adjusted the start times of games and the amount of warm-up time.  We’ve adjusted schedules so that everyone can make it to games, parent/teacher conferences and band concerts.  I’ve learned that more communication is needed and that it opens up the avenue for everyone to have input on how to solve problems that arise.

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Blog Feature

Featured Topics: Professional Development

Getting There: One Teacher’s Professional Development Journey

By: Lindsey Graff
October 25th, 2013

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How to Write a Grant eBook

How to Write a Grant eBook

This helpful guide includes an explanation of the grant process, including a checklist (with samples!), and useful links and resources to find funding!

Blog Feature

Featured Topics: Differentiated Instruction | Featured Topics: Student Engagement

5 Myths & Mission Statements for Engaging Gifted Learners

By: Lindsey Graff
October 23rd, 2013

By Amanda Parker

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Blog Feature

Featured Topics: Common Core | Featured Topics: Education Policy

Education Reform: Change or Peril?

By: Lindsey Graff
October 21st, 2013

by Gary L. Albrecht, Ph.D.  VariQuest is excited to open our blog to educators across the country who are interested in sharing their ideas, stories and opinions with our network of teachers, administrators and more. If you have something you would like to share, please let us know! Email your ideas to variquest@variquest.com. In the past few years, Wisconsin schools have experienced significant changes as a result of state policy changes (most notably ACT 10) that occurred in the spring of 2011. As result, many districts altered their compensation, ended collective bargaining with represented employees, slashed healthcare benefits, and implemented an employee contribution to retirement benefits.  Employee handbooks have been written in lieu of collective bargaining agreements while administrators and school boards have been placed in the position of having much greater unilateral authority without adequate preparation. Last spring (2013), Dr. Kent Peterson  ( University of Wisconsin Emeritus Professor) and Dr. Don Ferguson  (private practice consultant/psychologist) presented at a conference for Wisconsin school district administrators.   The session was entitled, Managing and Leading During Tectonic District Shift.  Peterson and Ferguson assert that the recent changes “go deeply into the core expectations, as to how employees are compensated and rewarded, and the processes of decision-making and involvement.  Given that the current culture has been in place for a very long time, these changes are being deeply felt as significant seismic transformations, tectonic shifts in districts and schools.” Further, Peterson and Ferguson believe that  “resistance, grief, anger, and sometimes withdrawal individually and in-group manifestations of fear or discontent are to be expected.”  They site five key shifts: (1)  Changes in Contracts are central, potentially lifestyle-altering events.  The loss of collective bargaining rights can lead to a sense of powerlessness, social disengagement, and sometimes active or passive resistance. (2)  Reductions in compensation can affect not only weekly budgets, but also long-term financial and career decisions.  In most districts staff are facing reduced compensation, in some cases causing financial pressure, reduced opportunities, such as short term budget constraints, changes in life choices (such as putting off a house purchase of going to graduate school) and doubts about the future or an immediate financial crisis. This is especially the case if it is a couple with two teaching positions.  Fear, anger, and withdrawal of commitment can occur. (3)  Even a brief lack of work rules or lack of clarity may bring on passive resistance. (4)   Feeling that the community no longer values one’s work can increase anxiety among staff.  One of the most serious consequences can be perceived loss of support for teachers and their role in the education of children. (5)  Previous conflicts may come back and cause anger.  A prior history of conflict and disagreement between the district and the union may foster a sudden sense of power on the part of administrators and set off the imposition of changes they have always wanted.  Sudden autocratic changes can seriously damage longterm relations with staff. (Peterson & Ferguson. Managing and Leading During Tectonic District Shifts. December 2012) In addition to the changes above, public schools across the country are challenged by many initiatives such as the implementation of school report cards, Common Core State Standards, Educator Effectiveness, Response to Intervention (RtI), and Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies (PBIS).  Compounding these challenges are increasing concerns regarding school safety and vastly increased numbers of students coming from families in poverty, and an increasing number of English as a Second Language students. Media reports across the country suggest that all of these challenges face schools across our country and that while not all states have encountered the changes cited by Peterson and Furgeson, other states are watching closely as they approach the brink of a similar fate.  Having visited over 50 school districts in the past year, it is apparent that all of these challenges are real and that few of the consequences were considered or underpinned with a grand plan. Over the past 30 years, since A Nation at Risk was published, reform efforts to improve student achievement and close achievement gaps between economically disadvantaged students and non-English speaking students for the most part have failed.  Are we providing students the support they need to succeed?  Is the emphasis on accountability and testing meeting the needs of our students?  Can technology be more effectively used to support students and teachers? There is a wide array of issues and questions, so when the “Tectonic Shifts” proposed by Peterson and Ferguson are thrown in the mix, several questions arise that schools and states across our country may ponder.  Given that these changes will not be “undone”, how can school boards and administrators act in order to “re-professionalize” the teaching position in order to give teachers a voice into their personal and professional destiny (including curriculum/assessment development and input into salary and benefit structures)? As other states have experienced similar education initiatives but perhaps not the changes with regard to personnel salary and benefits, what policy changes might they consider so that they can avoid feelings of fear and discontent among staff during a very unsettled time in education? How can local communities become more involved as a support network for their schools as partners in the fabric of the community?

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Blog Feature

Academic Subject: STEM | Featured Topics: Differentiated Instruction | VariQuest Tools: Cutout Maker 1800

Launching STEM Initiatives with the VariQuest Cutout Maker

By: Lindsey Graff
October 14th, 2013

Featuring Cannon Elementary: A GCSID STEM School

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Blog Feature

Grade Level: Secondary (7-12) | Academic Subject: STEM | VariQuest Tools: Cutout Maker 1800 | Featured Topics: Lessons and Activities | Academic Subject: Mathematics

Grades 9-12 Activity: Number Tricks & Algebra

By: Lindsey Graff
October 14th, 2013

Challenge students to decode the algebraic equations behind number “tricks”

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Blog Feature

Grade Level: Secondary (7-12) | Grade Level: Intermediate (3-6) | VariQuest Tools: Design Center Software | VariQuest Tools: Poster Maker 3600 | Featured Topics: Lessons and Activities | Academic Subject: Mathematics

Grades 6-8 Activity: Logic Puzzles

By: Lindsey Graff
October 14th, 2013

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Blog Feature

Grade Level: Primary (PK-2) | Grade Level: Intermediate (3-6) | VariQuest Tools: Poster Maker 3600 | Featured Topics: Lessons and Activities | Academic Subject: Mathematics

Grades K-5 Activity: Solving Word Problems

By: Lindsey Graff
October 14th, 2013

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Blog Feature

Academic Subject: English Language Arts | Featured Topics: Differentiated Instruction | Featured Topics: Student Engagement | Featured Topics: Professional Development

Differentiated Activities for Engaging Students with Spelling

By: Lindsey Graff
October 7th, 2013

by Emma Dorrance

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Blog Feature

Grade Level: Secondary (7-12) | Featured Topics: Student Engagement | Academic Subject: Interdisciplinary | Featured Topics: Lessons and Activities

Grades 9-12 Activity: Student-centered Learning

By: Lindsey Graff
September 10th, 2013

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