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Grey Matters, February 29, 2016; Volume 4, Number 24

posted Feb 28, 2016, 9:32 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:26 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

Last Friday, we had our latest installment of a curriculum that was developed by the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) to engage with students about topics related to positive social behaviors, social media, and managing conflicts and disagreements.  Every few weeks, we take one of our silent reading periods and turn it into a mini-version of an advisory period where we explore topics that fall within that above list of subjects.  Our most recent session focused on social media and the potential challenges it may present when it becomes the primary vehicle of communication. For this discussion, I joined Ms. Kondracki’s (7 Gold Math) class and we had what I thought was a conversation that was enlightening for both the adults (me and Lynne) and the students.  Two comments and discussion points that stood out for me: (1) when parents/adults tell kids to put their phones and devices away, but don’t model themselves an ability to separate from said device, it’s quickly noticed. This was a point echoed 

by a number of students. Those of you who might place yourselves in the penalty box for that transgression,

make room for me since I’m guilty of that too; (2) when students think about “followers” or “friends” on their social media accounts, such as Instagram (apparently Facebook is for us older folks), their definition of who can be part of their digital world is a bit different from mine, and maybe yours.  Or at least that’s my only explanation for why a few students in the conversation shared that they have between six hundred and one thousand followers on their Instagram accounts.  Whereas yours truly can count the number of his friends using just two hands. 

I am by no means someone who thinks that social media is the Trojan Horse that will bring about the downfall of our civilization.  There are so many ways that online connections enrich and improve our lives (I know that just sounded like an ad for an online dating site, but hopefully you know I’m referring to other things).  However, I do fall within the camp of those who see the need to address some challenges that I think will emerge when there is a decrease in the amount of practice that our children have with things like face to face communication, managing and maybe even benefiting from boredom and silence, and practicing introspection.  Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT, has written extensively on this topic, and for those who might also share an interest in this topic might be interested this article from last September, or this follow up article to the response the article generated.  In a letter to the editor, one reader referred to some of the above as the potential impact of “texting while living” and the tendency for us to become more easily distracted from the present moment.  The reader closes her letter with this thought, “The problem is that no one is selling, advertising or tempting the public with the ‘wares’ of empathy and introspection. It behooves parents to model for their children restraint in their use of gadgetry and to have the kinds of conversations with them that can only occur without distraction.”

Here’s a couple of update and reminders:

  • The schedule for Spring sports is not on our website yet.  We are still finalizing plans and we hope to have details (including dates) within the next week or so.  As a reminder, our Spring sports includes: Baseball (one 7th/8th grade team; tryout sport); Softball (one 7th/8th grade team; tryout sport); [new] Girls Volleyball (one 7th/8th grade team; tryout sport); and Track (no-cut sport).  

  • Next week, I’ll share some additional details of this year’s MCAS testing schedule.  For now, please know that MCAS testing is about a week later than it has typically been scheduled, and the first session will be Monday, March 28 for 8th grade students.  

  • The Winter Trimester closes on Wednesday, March 9 so there’s a chance that your students may have some end of term assessments and projects that are being finished up this week.  

  • Last Thursday, I sent an email to 8th grade parents/guardians about the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  Click here to view a PDF of the letter.  This survey is administered every other year to 6th grade, 8th grade, and high school students throughout the area (Concord, Carlisle, Littleton, Harvard, Acton, Boxborough, Groton, etc.).  The purpose of the survey is to gather important information regarding targets for health education and supports.  A report on the data is developed and shared with local agencies, schools, and the community at-large.  This year, the survey will be administered on March 10 during the school day.  If you have questions about your child's participation, please review the instructions embedded in the letter, and contact Jim Marcotte (  

  • Last week, I shared the District’s plans to develop a Master Plan for our school buildings and that there will be a series of “Visioning Workshops” that will include individuals representing various groups within our community.  We are looking for two (2) parent/guardians from the Junior High to participate.   If you are interested, please review the flyer which includes specific dates and times, and then send me ( a note by March 9 letting me know you’d like to be considered for this work. I’ll pass along your interest to Dr. Brand’s office, and someone from his office will follow up.

Ok - now we shift gears to high school course registration for current 8th grade students.  The below is a bit on the lengthy side (what’s new for me), and is essentially what I have shared the last two years, and hopefully it proves somewhat useful to families navigating this process for the first time.  

On Thursday (March 10), a group of high school staff will be visiting every 8th grade team to explain the high school schedule and provide each of them with an orientation packet that describes the registration process. During that week, 8th grade teachers will also begin individual conversations with students to discuss their recommendations for level placement.  The actual registration process takes place via the Parent Portal (directions will be included in the materials each student receives) when the portal opens in a few weeks.  

During the conversation that takes place with a student, the teacher will explain some of his/her observations about the student’s strengths and areas for growth, and what level placement may be most appropriate for next year.  In many of these conversations, students also share with teachers their thoughts on next year, their level of interest in the subject, and their own reflections on the progress they’ve made this year.  To be sure, a teacher’s recommendation is influenced by a student’s performance thus far (trimester grades being one measure), along with a variety of other observations about a student’s approach to the subject.  There are certainly variations that come with different areas of study.  For example, English and Social Studies teachers are asked by the high school to give particular weight to writing, reading comprehension, and critical thinking.  To that end, a teacher in one of those disciplines may place emphasis on a student’s growth on certain types of writing assignments, along with other factors.  

In all of the subjects, a teacher will often review with a student his/her observations about specific student skills, such as time management and self-discipline, and consistency of work.  In addition, teachers are asked to consider level placement with the hope that students will both enjoy the class and have the time to pursue other interests, including extracurricular activities. During this process, it’s important to remind ourselves that these recommendations aren’t meant to serve as a final verdict or prediction for how a student will perform for the rest of their academic lives. It’s feedback based on what a student has demonstrated this year, and using that as a guide to thinking about what a student would be prepared to take on next year.   Some students may have hit their stride this year, and for others it may be their sophomore year when all of a sudden they develop a passion for a certain subject or they figure out that whole time management puzzle (my parents needed to wait until I was about 20 to witness me figuring those out).  I won’t speak officially for the high school, but I am confident that the high school also recognizes that things can and do change over time for adolescents and that there’s always a path for students to take that suit their interests and strengths.  

For many of you, the recommendations made by the teachers may align with your own leanings, and even your child’s. If there are situations where you feel you would benefit from some feedback from the teacher, please ask.  In addition, it’s very useful to discuss with your child what all of you might view as a healthy and appropriate course load for next year.  For example, while a student may have the ability to be successful in a number of accelerated courses, it may not be in his/her best interest to be taking them all at the same time (on top of participating in sports, and/or the school musical, and community service).  Finally, in those instances where you and your student would like to enroll in a course level that is different from the teacher recommendation, there is an “override” application process that is managed by the high school.  Within the orientation packet given to each student, there is a description of the steps that the high school would like you to take to pursue those requests.  

Finally, we had our latest installment of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week, and it featured three students from 8 Gold.  As part of their study of Daoism in Ms. Mazonson’s social studies class, students went outside to meditate in the snow (I am sure they were all properly clothed), and the wrote poems inspired by their experience.  As part of Poetry Friday, Siena Brolin, Sayoni Barari, and Vivian Williams read aloud and shared their poems with our school community.  Click here if you’d like to read the selections.  

Have a great week, everyone.