MMS Musings

Math Instruction at Mountain Middle School – A Project-Based Learning Model

posted May 14, 2012, 9:30 AM by

Dear Parents/Guardians:

 Mountain Middle School’s inaugural year is quickly coming to a close.  As is typical in the world of education, the staff and I have our feet firmly planted in closing this year successfully, reflecting on our programming and practices to evaluate what worked and what needs revision, and planning for a strong start to the 2012-2013 school year.

With that in mind, the math department is committed to continuous improvement of our delivery model of math instruction in this project-based learning school.  Throughout the year the MMS math teachers have participated in professional development focused on creating a quality math program.  Changes for next year include the purchase and implementation of a math textbook series that provides complete and comprehensive coverage of the Common Core Standards, which is the foundation of the Colorado Academic Standards.  Active learning, technology support, and integrated assessment and intervention are key features needed to support our student’s learning and provide a vital link to real life problem solving.

Coursework at MMS is designed to provide an academic environment that supports the development of critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities with a curriculum that focuses on depth over breadth through Project Based Learning (PBL).  It is our goal to help all students develop their abilities to reason logically, apply mathematical skills in authentic learning activities, communicate mathematically, and feel confident in using quantitative and spatial information to make decisions. Major mathematical strands of our math program include: proportional reasoning, number concepts, measurement, probability, statistics, algebra, geometry, and discrete mathematics.

In accordance with our Charter, approximately 65% of the school’s teaching methodology will be project-based learning and 35 % will be other approaches such as direct instruction, Socratic Seminars, tutoring, skill remediation, and scaffolding of projects to differing skill levels. These instructional methods are modeled on best pedagogical practices within each discipline, but generally include direct instruction, well-structured collaborative group work, learning through critique of models, structured independent student work, and one-on-one work with teachers. Teachers will differentiate skill levels through strategic use of project design and the aforementioned teaching methodologies.

In project-based learning schools, math is taught with rigor and integrity in discrete math classes along with application through project work. At Mountain Middle School, along with discrete math instruction, math is integrated into projects whenever possible, in a lead or supporting role.  MMS focuses on learning and using foundational mathematical skills-vocabulary, formulas, algorithms, and number facts-that are always grounded in conceptual understanding. Teachers are committed to ensuring that students develop procedural fluency, calculating with accuracy and efficiency. There is an equally strong focus on problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills.

Students will learn to use appropriate technology strategically in supporting problem solving. Technology tools are used not as a substitute for learning foundational facts, but to enhance conceptual understanding and problem solving.

Mountain Middle School Math teachers will work to support students to think like mathematicians and cultivate mathematical habits of mind: curiosity, risk-taking, and perseverance. Students learn to reason abstractly and quantitatively, model mathematically understandings, and to construct and critique mathematical arguments. MMS also recognizes the opportunity represented by advanced-level math classes and prepare all students to engage in high-level math learning appropriate to their individual level.

Motivation and a positive attitude towards learning are essential to creating high achieving math students. Students
who are highly motivated and have positive attitudes toward mathematics demonstrate higher success and achievement levels compared to the students who are not motivated and engaged. Project-based learning emphasizes student autonomy and collaborative learning, which have been found to improve motivation and attitude.

Mountain Middle School’s Charter, our contract with the State of Colorado, defines project-based learning math instruction in the following way:

Known at the college level as CHEMATH, a team-teaching approach to Math/Science focuses cross-subject learning of two key subjects, strengthening connections and understanding. By integrating the two subjects students learn how mathematics is applied which not only reinforces their basic skills in the subject, but helps them to understand the value of learning math. In small groups problem-solving students learn to benefit from each other as resources; to communicate and describe problems; to learn to take responsibility for their own learning; and to build support systems.

MMS will use the High Tech Middle School (HTMS) integrated approach to math and science, which fits well into the design principles of personalization, real world connection, and common intellectual mission. Students with a wide range of prior experience in math and science learn in the same classroom. While all students work on the same topics, some students work on more basic problems and receive more remedial support, while others work on more advanced problems.

The MMS Math/Science students are expected to acquire and demonstrate middle school competencies in Math and Science such as inquiry; scientific and mathematical language; engineering and design; the history and nature of Math and Science; careers in Science, Math and related fields; and current and enduring issues that cut across all the Sciences and Math (e.g.: the environment, evolution, artificial intelligence and energy).

In the move from elementary to middle school Mathematics, students encounter major changes in instructional materials and approaches, work expectations, school structure, and general level of difficulty in material. Research shows that, in general, students suffer significant declines in academic achievement in the transition from elementary school to middle or junior high school in Math. In particular, students’ attitudes toward–and achievement in–Mathematics appear to be negatively affected in this transition. A crucial component of addressing the transition from elementary to middle school Math is the alignment of the mathematics curriculum.

Mathematics and statistical analysis is the art and science of gathering, analyzing, and making conclusions from data. However, many people do not fully understand how to interpret statistical results and conclusions. Placing students in a collaborative environment involving project-based learning may enable them to overcome misconceptions of probability and enhance the learning of statistics concepts. This type of structure may also encourage debate and discussion, which can promote student engagement and new thinking while cultivating social development.

MMS’s Math/Science program will include Language Arts as an integral part of the learning process. Math and Science educators support reading and writing in mathematics and science classrooms, introducing mathematical history and ideas into their social studies and English classrooms, designing interdisciplinary projects, and assessing student learning more thoroughly. Some projects will also incorporate Theatre Arts (e.g: measuring for set builds), Music (e.g.: sound wave integration), Humanities (e.g: supporting the understanding of how science, technology, and medicine have developed and how we interact with their social contexts as described by the Society for Social Studies of Science), and Visual Arts (integrated in the presentation of project work).”

This model, defined in our Charter, will be used by the Colorado Department of Education next year to evaluate our program’s effectiveness.

We will share our resources and programming in more detail at a back to school Math night at the beginning of the next school year.

As always, we are grateful for the support you have given us this year. 

Kind regards,


TCAP Parent Brochure

posted Mar 6, 2012, 1:14 PM by

Dear Parents/Guardians:

Please use the following link to access information from the Colorado Department of Education regarding the statewide assessment program, TCAP. Click here

PD Focus of Early Release Fridays at MMS

posted Mar 5, 2012, 8:05 AM by

The Mountain Middle School staff is thrilled with the opportunity they have on Fridays during Early Release time to address the need for vigorous intellectual pursuit by our students. The teachers are using their weekly Professional Development time to collaborate on the development of high quality projects that reflect the intent of Project-Based Learning (PBL).  PBL is the required educational model used at Mountain Middle School and is outlined in our Charter.  

According to PBL-online, project based learning is “an instructional approach built upon authentic learning activities that engage student interest and motivation. These activities are designed to answer a question or solve a problem and generally reflect the types of learning and work people do in the everyday world outside the classroom. Project Based Learning is synonymous with learning in depth. A well-designed project provokes students to encounter (and struggle with) the central concepts and principles of a discipline.”

MMS teachers are sharing their projects for feedback and critique, researching and exploring technology resources, and engaging in professional dialogue to examine the nuances of project based learning.  Please follow the link below to read one of the articles the teachers dissected.  They used the socratic seminar method to evaluate the effectiveness of PBL at Mountain Middle School, and create an action plan to improve our practices.

MMS Fundraising Opportunity - Please Read

posted Feb 28, 2012, 7:48 AM by

Dear Parents/Guardians:

Shakti Dudley, an amazing consultant here in Durango who is working with Mountain Middle School, is a finalist in a nationwide contest.  She has entered this contest for the sole purpose of donating the winnings to Mountain Middle School, should she be selected as the winner.  

Please read both of the following letters and VOTE for Shakti!

Kind regards,

Dear Friends Teachers and Students,


I want to acknowledge the effort and hard work that my dear friend Shakti poured into transforming her life.

She is an inspiration not only to women and men, but our children.

Shakti has been on the  leading edge of educating Adults to be all that they can be and now she is paying it forward to benefit our children.


As a mother of a Mountain Middle School student I am expressing my gratitude, Shakti, and sending you heaps of praise.

Thank you,

Carin Garcia

Dearest Friends,

What I am about to share with you is so outside of my norm and comfort zone, and I have no idea how this is going to turn out….however it is worth it for the cause I am pursuing and I am requesting your help to be successful. 

As you well know,  I have been on a path to transform my body and reverse the aging process for 10 years now. I am so excited with my progress  and my transformation. I have lost a total of 73 pounds, 38 inches and 7 dress sizes to date. I feel fantastic…the healthiest and best ever in this lifelong pursuit.

Last month, I was asked by the local Maurice's junior clothing store to enter a nationwide contest that corporate is having looking for their new models for 2012. This contest is to narrow the search from the contestants that made the first cut, which I am one of….to 100 real girls in all sizes who embody what Maurices is all about: fashion, fun and giving back.

They feel I am a perfect candidate because I am turning 60 in June, don't look it, and I do shop there and wear their "junior" clothes now.  

I would never enter something like this however the winner is awarded $7,500 to the charity and/or community organization of their choice….which is my motivating factor.

The charity of my choice that I would be so honored to have awarded the prize money is our new Charter Mountain Middle School. The Head of School, Faculty, Staff, the Students, Parents and the Board of Directors are such heartfelt, loving, forward thinking people committed to offering a new way of educating and developing young people.

I cannot believe I have been selected as one of the contestants America now votes for and the voting will determine the top 100 semi-finalists, which then go through a process down to the top 4 winners.

Voting began yesterday and that is where you come in.  

You can vote once per day and everyday starting today through March 19th…I know we are all so busy….and if you could  just vote once per day and share this with your email network and facebook network that you feel would be moved to also vote and support this effort, it is greatly appreciated.

You can either click on this weblink and type in my name: Shakti Dudley to vote each day:

Click here and it will take you right to the voting page, where you can see my photos and essay I had to submit:
Below is Maurice's How to Vote rules in case you are interested in that.

I will send out reminder emails, so if you would rather not receive that please let me know.

Thank you for your love and support of Mountain Middle School and for me!


February Dates

posted Feb 15, 2012, 10:20 AM by

February 20-21 -- NO SCHOOL
February 22-24  --  SCHOOL IN SESSION

Important Dates

posted Jan 19, 2012, 12:50 PM by   [ updated Jan 19, 2012, 12:50 PM ]

Wednesday, January 25 -- NWEA Testing
Thursday, January 26 - NWEA Testing
Tuesday, January 31 -- NWEA Testing
Wednesday, February 1 - NWEA Testing

MMS students will take the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress assessments for the second time this year. These computerized assessments allow teachers to see each student's individual base of knowledge in reading, language usage, math and science.  Teachers use this data to adjust instruction based on the needs of their students.  The assessments are aligned to the Colorado Academic Standards.  The results give us a good measure of how our students will perform on the state tests in March.  Thank you for your support in helping your child be ready for testing.

MMS Report Cards

posted Jan 5, 2012, 2:04 PM by Randy Parker

Dear Parents/Guardians,

We have discovered an issue with our report cards that we need to rectify before distributing them to students.

The Charter School Institute began an upgrade to our system over vacation that they aborted when they realized teachers would be posting final grades for the semester.  This caused some of the calculations to be incorrect which we caught today.

We will make the fix today, rerun the reports, and distribute report cards to students on Monday.

Thank you so much for your understanding.

Kind regards,

Kind regards,

January Parent Meetings

posted Jan 5, 2012, 2:02 PM by Randy Parker

Dear MMS Parents/Guardians:

Happy New Year!  It is so good to be back in school after a spectacular vacation!  The staff and students made the transition seamlessly and are focused on new learning.  There is a positive energy in the school that makes it exciting to be here.

I hope you are enjoying this glorious winter weather, although I had hoped for a little more snow!

I spent time over vacation reviewing the accomplishments of Mountain Middle School's first semester against the requirements of the Charter.  We have much to be proud of and a lot still left to do as we go forward.

Improved communication is my commitment to the MMS community.  With that said, I am scheduling three parent meetings focused on a report of our accomplishments, our expectations for students and culture, and conversation about next steps.  Each meeting will be scheduled at the grade level to allow for discussion around the uniqueness of each of our classes.
The dates are:

6th Grade - January 11
7th Grade - January 12
8th Grade - January 17

Meetings will begin at 5:30 in the Eeva Reeder Room at the school.

We hope to see you here for great conversations about your children and learning.

Kind regards,

PTO Invitation

posted Jan 5, 2012, 2:00 PM by Randy Parker

Good Morning Mountain Middle School Parents/Guardians:

We are pleased to announce the following!

The Parent Teacher Organization, (PTO)  is starting for MMS.  We would like to invite parent's to the following:




The next meeting for the PTO is Friday Dec 2nd at 8:15 at Dough works.

We encourage all parents to become active members of the Mountain Middle School Community.  Your involvement is important to all of us.  

Please access the following article, "Parent Involvement at the Middle School Level" for more information about the benefits of parent support.

Kind regards,

Habits of Heart and Mind

posted Jan 5, 2012, 1:42 PM by Randy Parker   [ updated Jan 5, 2012, 1:58 PM ]

Dear Parents/Guardians:

Mountain Middle school acknowledges that school needs to be a safe place in order for students to achieve academic success. The staff has been working to support the mission of our Charter to ensure that we are responding directly to the needs of our students.

One of the design principles defined in the Charter as being integral to meeting the goal of academic success is personalization. The MMS Charter defines personalization in the following way:

MMS fosters student engagement by knowing students well, tapping into students’ experiences and interests, and building a strong sense of community. Each student has a staff advisor who monitors the student’s personal and academic development and serves as the point of contact for the family. The advisor works with the student and family to ensure that an individualized program is developed that reflects each student’s special needs and interests. Students pursue interests through projects in small learning communities. They compile and present their best work in personal digital portfolios. Students with special needs receive individual attention in a full inclusion model. Facilities are tailored to individual and small-group learning, including networked wireless laptops, project rooms for hands-on activities and exhibition spaces for individual work.”

Personalization is achieved through the structure of advisory. This week we revised the daily schedule to include advisory on a daily basis. Students meet in small groups of 11 - 12 students with their adult advisor at the beginning of each day. The description of the Mountain Middle School Advisory Program is shared with you below.

You should receive communication from your child’s advisor within the next week. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact your child’s advisor.

I have met with many of you personally and wish to thank you, once again, for your continued support and patience as we work to breathe life into the words of our Charter and make Mountain Middle School great! Thank you for entrusting your children to us.

Kind regards, Jackie

Advisory Program
Overview: Middle school students learn best when they are connected to their school community, feel known and recognized as individuals, and feel a sense of personal relationship with the adults in the school environment. As students enter adolescence, effective middle schools are designed to offer unique opportunities for independence and exploration of ideas while still nurturing that sense of belonging to a community.

Mountain Middle School students will begin each day in their Advisory. This is the cornerstone of creating a positive school culture where academics can soar to great heights. The focus of advisory is on the development of personal and social responsibility for time management and effective study skills, personal goal setting, decision making, team building, and conflict resolution skills, as well as making contributions to the broader school community and society at large.

Goal: At its heart, the MMS advisory program is designed to forge connections among students, adults, and the school community, thus creating conditions that facilitate academic success and personal growth.
Philosophy: The Mountain Middle School Advisory Program supports our school community in living our mission: Within a supportive and safe culture, Mountain Middle School integrates technology and project-based learning into a rigorous liberal arts curriculum that prepares students to succeed in the 21st Century as self-motivated, innovative thinkers who seek to resolve challenges collaboratively. Strong advisors know and care about their advisees. Through this safe and trusted relationship, students are empowered to create solutions to problems, to develop responsibility for their learning and their actions, to communicate openly, to serve others, and to better understand what it means to belong to the Mountain Middle School community through open discussion of our school’s Habits of Heart and Mind. The MMS Advisory Program is student-oriented and structured to explore issues through goal setting, discussion, activities, shared experiences, and play. Advisory provides a structure for communication among the school, students, and families.

MMS Habits of Heart and Mind

School-wide Goals:

* Support students as they learn about themselves and others
* Create a safe environment where students can explore difficult issues
* Create a tolerant and caring community of learners
* Embrace students’ questions and concerns
* Examine diversity
* Provide academic support
* Mentor and support students
* Provide time to practice goal-setting and reflection
* Explore the concept of “Beautiful Work”
* Encourage students to develop empathy, kindness, respect, and acceptance
* Communicate with families

Skill Development through Advisory Activities:

* Develop strong healthy peer relationships
* Self-advocacy
* Develop responsibility for work
* Develop empathy for others
* Team work and collaboration skills
* Organizational skills
* Time management
* Study skills including note taking
* Leadership skills
* Problem-solving
* Discussion strategies
* Decision making skills
* Goal setting and reflection
* Renewal
* Stewardship – caring for self – others - the environment

MMS Advisory = C.A.R.E.S.
C = Communication Infuses advocacy into the team process
A = Achievement Goal setting and academic support relates directly academic success
R = Responsibility Build character and citizenship which supports a positive school culture
E = Exploration Provides opportunities for students to be the expert and apply knowledge to real life
S = Service Provides opportunity to support community needs and connections

Advisory Structure: MMS students meet every morning in advisory for 25 minutes. Many different activities are completed during this time that focus on the stated goals for advisory. These activities typically require little preparation and usually get students involved and motivated. Games and discussions are most often used to facilitate learning in advisory.
A typical weekly advisory focus may include:

Monday – Preview team expectations for the coming week – projects, academic, etc. Habits of Heart & Mind focused
Tuesday – Academic support planning, goal setting, reflection
Wednesday – Habits of Heart and Mind discussions
Thursday – Games – Habits of Heart and Mind focused
Friday – Week in review – Town Meetings

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