Monthly Archives: December 2014

Hour of Code: Raising the Bar on 21st Century Skills

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Samantha Finch, an eighth grader at Hillside, makes Elsa skate in Disney’s coding game. The coding assignment is part of her math homework.

Frozen’s Elsa is poised on the ice, waiting for her instructions.

Our student, Samantha, creates a list of commands. If she organizes the list correctly, Elsa will “skate” a snowflake on the ice.

-move forward by 100 pixels.

-turn right by 90 degrees.

-repeat 10 times.

And so on.

When done, Samantha will click “Run” and Elsa will gracefully skate the pattern Samantha commanded on the screen ice. If the pattern is correct, Samantha will move to the next level and continue the game by writing more challenging instructions.

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Yes, this is a game. But what Samantha and many other students throughout Simi’s schools, and the world, are doing is coding. Coding is computer programming, where specific commands are used to tell the computer to carry out actions. Last week, in an ongoing, international effort to promote teaching kids how to code, many of Simi’s schools participated in the Hour of Code.

To help support the effort to teach coding, some of the biggest names in tech, retail and entertainment joined together to create games, classroom apps, tutorials and curriculum that teachers could use to expose their students to coding. During the week of Dec. 8-14, the official Hour of Code organization offered live web chats with celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Alba to 100 classroom winners. Major corporate sponsors included Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Best Buy, Disney, Google and The Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

From kindergarten through high school, students jumped into these programs–alone or in pairs–to write code and get to the next level. And at many schools, parents were welcomed participants in after-school coding parties.

John Brinkman is a computer programmer. He’s also the father of Theodore, a second grader at Wood Ranch Elementary School.

Dad John Brinkman helps his son Theodore (in orange) and Josh Abugow, work their way through an Angry Birds coding game. Brinkman is a computer programmer. The boys are second graders at Wood Ranch Elementary, which held its Hour of Code on Dec. 8.

Dad John Brinkman helps his son Theodore (in orange) and Josh Abugow, work their way through an Angry Birds coding game. Brinkman is a computer programmer. The boys are second graders at Wood Ranch Elementary, which held its Hour of Code on Dec. 8.

“This is real good,” Brinkman said. “It’s teaching them sequential skills. This is actually how it happens in real life. Well, not with Angry Birds, but otherwise it is. Soon, before they know it, they’re tricked into doing their own video game.”

This week, following the completion of the Hour of Code week-long event, the website had 77,441 Hour of Code events registered. In all, it’s estimated that 15 million students learned an hour of code last week! The games and tutorials weren’t just used on computers. Smart phones, tablets, iPads and other devices were all used with the coding apps.

Here in Simi, the Hour of Code was a voluntary program. Dustin Ellis, Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) in charge of technology, said the turn out was much better than last year with most schools participating in some way.

“Hopefully they will continue on with coding,” Ellis said. “There are several teachers that are taking this on and continuing with it.”

One example is Deborah Ibbott, a fourth grade teacher at White Oak Elementary. Ibbott has made coding a part of her daily instruction with her students. One hour each day is spent on coding to help teach the students computer science. But coding also requires students to know geometry, math, language skills and more, making coding a great Common Core choice for classroom instruction.

For more information on coding, go to hourofcode.com. Disney’s Frozen, the Angry Birds and other code games can be found at studio.code.org. The Walt Disney Co. has more information about its involvement in Hour of Code HERE. A quick search in the iTunes store for “Coding” will also glean a ton of apps for children and adults wanting to learn basic coding.

BOARD REPORT: New Superintendent Named; Trustees Sworn In

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From a new superintendent to new board members, there were many changes welcomed in from last night’s (Dec. 9) Simi Valley Unified School District School Board meeting.

Dr. Jason Peplinski, acting interim superintendent, was appointed by the board with a 4-1 vote (Trustee Debbie Sandland dissenting) to become the permanent district superintendent.

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Dr. Peplinski began his teaching career in Lancaster, California, where he taught Spanish and led the choir at Quartz Hill High School. He came to Ventura County through Moorpark High School in 2000, where he taught Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish and served in several different leadership capacities.

The Simi Valley Unified School District welcomed Dr. Peplinski in 2004 when he accepted a job as the assistant principal of Royal High School. From there, he served as principal of Abraham Lincoln School in Simi (2007-2009), Moorpark High School in Moorpark (2009-2011) and then Santa Susana High School from 2011-2013.

In 2013, he accepted the position of Director of Educational Services at the district office. In 2014, he was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services. In October, Dr. Peplinski agreed to serve as the Interim District Superintendent, following the retirement of Dr. Kathryn Scroggin. A national search for a permanent superintendent was conducted and the Board of Trustees interviewed three other candidates in November.

Dr. Peplinski earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the Central Michigan University in 1997, a Masters of Arts with Distinction in Educational Administration from CSUN in 2003 and his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from California Lutheran University in 2014. He also served as a Regent for the CLU board from 2012-14.

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Two new school board members were sworn in at the meeting. Trustees Scott Blough and Bill Daniels won the two open school board seats at the November election. Trustee Arleigh Kidd did not run again and Trustee Jeanne Davis was defeated in the election.

Trustee Blough works in finance and Trustee Daniels is an officer with the Simi Valley Police Department. Both have children in Simi schools and have been active in other community efforts.

The annual reorganizational meeting for the board was also held tonight. Trustee Dan White was elected board president and Trustee Blough was elected as clerk of the board.

Brad Torti, one of the District’s four Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSA), was named the new assistant principal of Santa Susana High School. Mr. Torti is a former Royal High School English Language Development teacher. He’s worked closely on the District’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) and several other related projects.

In other business, Assistant Superintendent Ron Todo presented the First Interim Fiscal report for the District, showing that the District is fiscally solvent for the next three years, as is required by the state. The entire report can be found HERE.

The Board took another step closer to closing and repurposing two schools by scheduling the public hearings required for the process. Abraham Lincoln Elementary School will have its public hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. and Justin Elementary School’s hearing will be held on Thursday, Jan. 8 at 6 p.m. Both schools have been in declining enrollment for several years. Lincoln has 241 students and Justin has 216 students. Closing each school could save the District up to $250,000 each year for each school. Earlier this year, the Board voted to close Simi Elementary School, after the aging facility proved to have extensive repairs and renovations required for student use. Right now, a special committee is looking at options for using the property.

Giving Up Is Not An Option: Program Confronts Suicide With Students

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In Simi Valley this year alone about 50 teens will try to take their own life.

Two will succeed.

That’s a statistic that no one wants to experience in reality.

We know that our teens today face many formidable challenges and even the most stable family can find itself with a child who suffers so much they consider the ultimate action–taking their own life.

That’s why the Simi Valley Police Department and Student Support Services in the Simi Valley Unified School District have organized Suicide Prevention assemblies for all middle and high schools in the District.

The assemblies began last month at Valley View Middle School and continued this week at Hillside Middle School. Next week is Sinaloa Middle School’s turn and all of the high schools will have their assemblies scheduled after the Winter Break.

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Det. Dan Swanson of the SVPD investigates homicides. At Hillside on Thursday, Swanson delivered the same powerful message of turning despair into hope as class after class came to the cafeteria to hear his presentation.

“Let’s be blunt,” he told Chris Kuske’s and Matt Kingsbury’s 8th graders. “If you kill yourself, you just die. The consequence is that you will leave a blast radius in your family and friends and community and you won’t even know.”

The fix, he said, it to talk about your problems, even those too big to see an end to.

“Nobody ever fixes a problem in a secret society,” he said.

His message was aimed at kids who might have or might be considering suicide, as well as their friends who may know about someone who is thinking about suicide, or who show any of the warning signs.

When it came to the potential for someone to take their own life, he urged friends to not worry about breaking confidences or making someone mad. The bigger issue is to get help, and fast.

“Better a mad friend than a dead friend,” he said. “Don’t ever worry about giving up a friendship; worry about saving a life. Life comes first.”

Everyone has value, Swanson said, no matter what they’ve heard. People can be mean and life is difficult, but these are not excuses to give up trying, especially when it comes to getting help.

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“Getting help is brave,” he said.

Swanson also talked about self-harming–cutting and other behaviors. He showed graphic pictures of someone’s arm and another person’s thigh that were both permanently scarred by cutting.

“It fixes absolutely nothing,” he said. “Remember that you control your pain. Transferring it to another part of your body is not helping it.”

Students were encouraged to stay behind after each session and talk with a counselor or Swanson if they wished. Principal Jerry Block also had counselors in the school’s library during lunch on the days of the presentation so that students who were hesitant to approach counselors in front of their friends would have a more private option.

Block said about five students came the first day. And each session saw a handful of students stay behind to speak to someone.

Many of the kids were crying as they listened to Swanson speak. Some held hands with friends. All seemed to take the message seriously.

Swanson provided each student with a card to keep in a pocket or wallet. On it were many area resources that any student can reach out to get help, whether they know someone who us suffering or if they are suffering themselves.

“There are people out there who care,” he said. “Don’t you dare give up on yourself!”

Help.

 

Parents Get Set Up for Piloting iPads

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Over the next few weeks, about 600 parents and guardians will return to school to help launch the Simi Valley Unified School District’s iPad Pilot Program, which is part of the bigger SVUSD Technology Plan that has brought major changes to Simi’s classrooms during the last two years.

In its second year, the iPads only spent about six weeks in the classrooms last school year, said Reina Bejerano, program coordinator for technology at the District. But that was enough to get the teachers, parents and kids involved with the program excited about what they were doing.

“I was happy to see how excited the kids were, and how engaged and excited the parents were,” she said. “It created a level of excitement in the classroom you don’t usually see.”

There are 23 teachers participating in the pilot program that covers 16 elementary schools and Hillside Middle School. The teachers span from kindergarten to sixth grade and two of the teachers have Special Education classes. Each teacher’s class will receive an Apple TV, iPads for each student and supporting equipment (power strips, chargers, etc…).

In turn, the teachers have been given guidance and suggestions for how to use the iPads, but no mandates. Bejerano said that the point of the pilot is to see how these devices will enhance learning and how easy it is for the teachers–many of whom had no prior iPad experience–to adapt to them.

“Each teacher and each principal set their own visions and goals that were particular to their schools about what they wanted to accomplish with the iPads,” she said.

One teacher set three goals for the iPads’ use in her classroom. They would be used as learning tools (through apps and the Internet); they would help instill independent practices to increase knowledge; and they would serve as a means to differentiate instruction, meaning that lessons and practice work could be tailored to each child’s needs and abilities.

There are many kinds of apps available through the iPad that help supplement classroom experiences, including some already familiar to the teachers and students, like EveryDay Math and Accelerated Reader. Others apps help with classroom management, test-taking, instant quizzes and presentations. Then there are the websites, like Khan Academy, which provides bite-sized video tutorials on specific standards. (How to multiply fractions is one example.)

Throughout the year, Bejerano will regularly visit classrooms to see how the iPads are used and also to offer additional monthly training to the teachers.

So why are the parents coming to school? The way Apple sets up the iPads, each student must have an account with Apple exclusive to the school (existing accounts won’t work for this). To do this, Bejerano and her team are hosting tech nights at each school to guide parents through the set-up process. This also gives parents a chance to ask any questions about the iPads and their use.

Last year’s parents were at first skeptical about the iPads and had many questions about expectations and access. But, at the end of the school year, every iPad was returned in good working order and parents overwhelmingly told the teachers the iPads helped their children learn better.

Internet access with the iPads is only through WiFi. Every Simi campus received improved WiFi over the last year and most of the iPads will remain in the classrooms. Bejerano said that the teachers and principals have been given the option of having students take the devices home with them. Most seemed hesitant to do this, but Bejerano believes that as teachers and students become more adept at using the devices, more will go home with the students.

What parents do need to understand about the iPads is that when they are used at school, the District’s Internet filters are in place and students are restricted from accessing questionable Internet sites and content. But, when the iPads or any other Internet accessing device are home, those restrictions are no longer in place. Students receive training in digital citizenship at the start of the school year, but parents must be vigilant about how their children are using the Internet, Bejerano said.

It’s not just iPads that are being piloted. ChromeBooks are also in use at every grade level throughout Simi’s schools. But, Bejerano said, the ChromeBooks were simpler to set up and use and they’re also kept solely in the classroom.

At the end of the school year, Bejerano and others involved in the District’s technology programs, will evaluate the pilot programs and use the information gleaned from the effort to help guide the District into the next phase of technology expansion.