Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Yardsticks, A Book Recommendation For Parents

Every once in a while I run across a book that would be really helpful to parents of elementary age students. Yardsticks by Chip Wood is one such book. This book looks at children by age and gives lists of information explaining what typically developing children know and are able to do at school.

I received a copy of Yardsticks quite some time ago--and have found myself reading it, referring to it, and recommending it in meetings with parents and teachers ever since. On Tuesday of this week, a parent came to me and said, "Kevin, I bought that book you recommended. It has really helped me not worry that my child is ______ (fill in the blank with something about your child) because now I realize that is typical for her age." It was a really satisfying moment to hear the book helped the parent.

A little more information about Yardsticks from author Chip Wood (from
Practical info to help parents/teachers understand children. This book is about children in school. It is designed for both parents and teachers and provides easy reference to expectations about children's growth and development in the classroom. I have tried in this small volume to consolidate a good deal of theory with years of professional experience in schools. My goal is to present important information in a readable format without compromising the key ideas passed down from the worlds of anthropology, child development, pediatrics and education. I hope you will find the information about a particular age immediately useful, and will also be captured by the obvious patterns of development. Enjoy the book. I hope you find it useful in your work with children.

You might also be interested to know I recently ordered copies of this book for MLK teachers to use as a reference.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Yardsticks from, feel free to use the link below. A small portion of sales is donated back to school and will be used to purchase books for school.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


There has been a question regarding elementary transportation procedures on the last day of school. Being a half-day, the protocol is to drop off at the group stops at noon (regular PM dismissal stops), not running the kindergarten noon routes. Parents need to be aware of this. Child care stops, address stops, or alternate transportation that is made on the regular noon routes will not be made on that 1/2 day dismissal. If you have any questions, please call the school office before the last day of school.

Saying Farewell--and Thank You!

At the end of this school year, we’ll be saying farewell to a few of our finest teachers, representing 113 years of teaching experience! As you can imagine, this doesn't happen very often. Please consider saying your goodbye to these fine teachers at the annual MLK Ice Cream Social on June 1 from 6 - 8 PM.

In addition, if you'd like to make a contribution towards farewell gifts, please contact Mylinda Balint (jrb-myn at or Laurie Barnett (lcbarn at

Teachers leaving MLK at the end of the year:
• Our extraordinary media specialist, Marge Rutila. Mrs. Rutila is retiring and has been a dedicated teacher in Ann Arbor Public Schools for 37 years. She worked at Newport, Bader, Scarlett, Clague and Martin Luther King, spending 33 years at MLK—and the school has only been open for 37 years. In other words, Mrs. Rutila IS the MLK school media center. She has developed a space that is the hub of school activity and a model for other schools.

• One-half of the fantastic 5th grade team, Judy Pietila. Ms. Pietila is retiring and has been teaching for 32 years, spending 27 years in the Ann Arbor Public Schools with 22 of those years at MLK. She also spent two years at Bryant, one year at Eberwhite, and two years as a Language Arts Consultant at Lawton and Abbot. Ms. Pietila’s teaching in language arts and social studies in fifth grade have been fantastic.

• One of our dynamo 3rd grade teachers, Briita Hall. Mrs. Hall is retiring and has been a dedicated teacher in the Ann Arbor Public Schools since 1970 as a teacher with two years at Northside, one year at Clinton II (before it was named Bryant), 21 years at Pittsfield, and 12 years at MLK. Mrs. Hall’s thoughtful approach to teaching won’t soon be forgotten.

• Another dedicated and talented 5th grade teacher, Michelle Oliphant. Ms. Oliphant is taking a one-year leave of absence from the Ann Arbor Public Schools and will be teaching in London, England. She has spent 7 years at MLK after student teaching with Joyce Griffiths. We’ll hope to see her again somewhere down the road.

Please join me in saying farewell to these teachers at the MLK Ice Cream Social on Friday, June 1. I sincerely wish that we had more time with each of these dedicated, intelligent, caring teachers because of the excellence they represent. I’ll hope to see you Friday!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Food For Thought--Research On Teaching Of Writing

Research Basis for Best Teaching Practices Around Writing
  1. All children can and should write;
  2. Teachers must help students find real purposes to write;
  3. Students need to take ownership and responsibility;
  4. Effective writing programs involve the complete writing process;
  5. Teachers can help students get started;
  6. Teachers help students draft and revise;
  7. Grammar and mechanics are best learned in the context of actual writing;
  8. Students need real audiences and a classroom context of shared learning;
  9. Writing should extend throughout the curriculum;
  10. Effective teachers use evaluation constructively and efficiently.
This list and the ideas behind them form the basis for an informed discussion about the teaching of writing. I hope you’ll take a ten minutes right now to think about them.

End Of School Year Behavior

As we wind down the school year, it is always important to note that children can feel quite a bit of anxiety. Maybe it is the warmer weather or uneasiness about the changes looming ahead. At school, this can manifest in behavior that is out of the ordinary—not following basic rules, moodiness, quiet, frequent disagreements with peers (or even the teachers or principal). Teachers and I are watchful and we intervene if something comes up, often through discussion with an individual who needs extra support but sometimes with a larger group if that is needed or is most appropriate.

I am sharing this information now after noticing an increase in the number of students who are showing behaviors that shout, “I’m needing a little help here,” or “I think it is time we sat down and talked for a few minutes.” I know the behavior/anxiety is somewhat typical as it is a pattern I’ve seen over the years. I’ve also noticed it helps if, when something is noticed, we talk about it with our children. I hope this helps over the next few weeks of school and as we get summer vacation started.

MLK Soccer Goals

You might have noticed the soccer goals are no longer on the back playground. Here is what happened:

After reviewing guidelines from the Consumer Products Safety Commission around metal soccer goals and the fact that they have caused the death of many children, the Ann Arbor Public Schools has removed all metal soccer goals on its playgrounds. You might also remember that a number of years ago, covered slides were removed due to safety concerns.

Soccer can be practiced and played using other types of goals, including cones, flags, or PVC goals, which are movable. At this point, I am investigating the best soccer goal alternatives for MLK. If you have input to share, please email or call me.

The ancillary problem at MLK is that practicing soccer on our fields causes deterioration of our playing fields. The fields at MLK became too rough and muddy and could not be used--even for recess.

Fifth Grade Returns From Space Camp

On Friday, May 26 our fifth graders returned from Space Camp. As I watched students get off the buses, they all had smiling faces but also looked very tired. There were lots of stories being shared with parents about astronaut training, robotics, astronaut missions, the multi-axis trainer, the 1/6 gravity chair, Rocket Park (and the authentic Saturn V rocket), the 5-degrees of freedom chair, and I heard a lot about the MMU (Manned Manuvering Unit). I also heard kids talk quite often about their Habitat experiences which is the name Space Camp gives its dormitory facilities. I think quite a few of our almost middle school students were really enjoying the independence of being in a dorm for a few nights (knowing they'd be back at the safety and security of home in a few nights).

I also want to note the extraordinary initiative, organization, leadership, and dedication of the fifth grade team at MLK. Organizing and taking a group of students on any field trip, let alone a trip 1000 miles from home, requires many extra hours for teachers. By far, Space Camp is no exception. I hope you'll joining me in thanking our teachers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Summer Activities for Kids

Rec & Ed offers many safe and fun summer camps and classes for kids.

Go to for the online catalog of all our fun summer activities.

Space Camp Update--Tuesday

It is getting busier in Alabama! Enjoy today's update.

The student’s enthusiasm is increasing with each day at Space Camp. Today was the first day of Mission training. Some of the students’ roles include: Flight Director, Commander, Pilot, Capcom, Inco, Prop, Cato, Station Commander, Mission Scientist, EVA and ACO. Be sure to ask your students about their role. Tomorrow is the first mission and they have been told to expect the unexpected.

Our students were interested to find out that the parent chaperones have started our own mini-camp. They said, “I’m the Mission Commander, what are you?” They are really into the roles. One group actually did their main mission this morning. I’m sure they’ll be ready to tell you all about it.

The students also twirled around on the Multi-axis trainer and the 1/6th gravity chair (more spring than even Michael Jordan.) They continue to be enthusiastic and inquisitive.

They also learned how astronauts live in space, how they eat, sleep, work, and exercise. You can ask them now how the waste management system works on the space station. They were exercising their creativity and seriously worked on space robots. By the time they graduate on Thursday, they would have spent more than nine hours on robotics.

Many of the students went on a tour of “Rocket Park” today. They were able to see the real rockets used to launch American satellites and astronauts into space and the Pathfinder space shuttle, which is at the entrance to the park. If you get a chance someday, ask students to describe the Pathfinder shuttle; they learned all about the different components today.

At dinner, some of the kids mentioned that they are very busy (they are!) and that they haven’t had much free time (that’s by design – they’re immersed in ‘space’). However, this evening they had an hour or so to run around, play sand volleyball, kickball, and run around. The staff has created a great balance.

More tomorrow,

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Space Camp Update--Monday

From MLK School in Huntsville:

Another great day in Alabama, 80+ degrees, sunny, and lots of fun things going on…
After the warm up of last evening, the kids seemed really eager to get rolling today.

Our students were involved with mission training in the shuttle simulators today. We were able to watch some of them on television monitors. They actually practiced a takeoff and initial stages of a mission. They will have more time later this week to hone their skills.

At meals, the students were happy and interacting with their groups. They seemed to be always eager to move on to the next activity. We also heard students saying that their counselors are really cool. Some of the kids are making friends with children from other parts of the country who are at Space Camp this week. The ‘habitats’ or dorms where they stay are working out well.

Today, the way to brighten a face was to ask about Space Shot or G-Force. Several groups had the opportunity to try out these exhilarating rides. They gave the kids the feel of the increased g-forces of a launch and the thrill of a space shot.
The children were very excited about Spaceshot and G-Force. One group said the girls were able to go on three times and the boys only got to have two turns. The girls learned to get off quickly and get back into the line. One girl told us on the Space Shot her heart was left way up high, but it was back now. They are having fun. We wish we were kids again and had had such a fine opportunity.

Friday, May 18, 2007

5th Graders to Space Camp in Alabama

Our fifth graders boarded buses to the U. S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama on Saturday night around 11:45. The buses traveled throughout the night (with a couple of planned stops) and arrived in time for students to begin learning--and enjoying.

This annual fifth grade experience began about ten years ago and explores many of the science concepts students have studied throughout elementary school. Check back to find out more about what our students are doing. Here is our first update:

We're here, safe and sound.

All the kids slept, at least a little. The buses were very quiet until around 6:30. We stopped at the Tennessee border for breakfast at the Visitors' Center. Then we made a second stop near Nashville for a stretch-your-legs, run around for an hour play period. We arrived at 12:30 Huntsville time, 1:30 Ann Arbor time.

It took us awhile to get beds for everyone because some other schools were short of beds. All our kids were taken care of. Then we had our first meal. What a riot... Chicken-Fried Steak. The kids all talked about the weird, brown chicken. I guess we should have taught them about Southern Cuisine.

Back at the Habitat, the kids unpacked and made their beds. Counselors took over after a slide show presentation. We are now off to dinner and an adult orientation. Then everyone is going to get some well-needed sleep.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

AAPS Strategic Planning

Dear King Community,

Last week I began working with other district and community members on the Ann Arbor Public Schools Strategic Plan. In particular, the work I will focus on will be as an Action Team Leader. Action Teams will focus on one of the strategies mentioned in the flyer. Click here for more information.

If the strategic planning process is something you'd like to be a part of, I encourage you to call/email Liz Margolis at 734.994.2236 or . Please respond by May 18th.

If you have questions, I'm happy to help direct you.

Kevin Karr

Monday, May 07, 2007

Science Olympiad Success!

I want to congratulate all of our King students who participated in the Washtenaw Elementary Science Olympiad (WESO) this past weekend. From the medals being worn at school today, I can tell King was very, very successful.

In particular, it should be noted that the overall 5th grade championship was awarded to King School! Please look for the championship trophy next time you're at MLK.

In addition, the King team stood out in the following ways:
  • 2nd Grade won medals in total of 7 events
  • 3rd Grade won medals in total of 4 events
  • 4th Grade won medals in total of 3 events
  • 5th Grade won medals in total of 8 events
These results are really exciting and mark a banner year for science at MLK, along with the 100% passing mark King students earned on the 5th grade science MEAP.

Thanks to the King PTO and King parents who made WESO a huge success again this year!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Feedback from Parent Writing Workshop

Last night was the first of three Parent Writing Workshops offered by the MLK School Improvement Team. CLICK HERE for more info.

At end of the workshop parents gave feedback. Here is some of what was offered:
  1. I learned more about how I should respond to my children's writing: less critical, more praise.
  2. The useful, straight forward tips the instructors gave will be very useful.
  3. I enjoyed examples of how to make writing fun.
If you are still interested in signing up for either the May 10 or May 15 presentation, please call the school office.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


This year’s Elementary Summer Learning Institute will serve current second grade students. The program will run from Monday, July 2 - Friday, July 27 at Logan Elementary School. There will be no school on July 4.

In order to attend, students must be referred by their classroom teacher. Students who have not yet reached grade level reading targets or have not yet reached a secure target on selected second grade math outcomes, are eligible. Teachers and principals are just now receiving applications for the program. If your child has been referred and you have further questions, please contact your child’s teacher. With further questions, feel free to contact this year’s Co-Principal, Michele Madden, at 994-1686 or