Mr. Hood's Monthly Messages

Read about the learning journey at Madison

The newest message will be at the top of the page.

June 2020

Dear Madison Parents, 

Our school is dedicated to Creating a Culture of Caring. We know that not every student's or parent's experience is the same at Madison. The Black Lives Matter Movement has called us to confront the inequities that still exist in our schools. As Superintendent Brabrand and the FCPS School Board have highlighted, “...there are still many situations and instances of racism, hate, and oppression across our country, particularly for Black people. This cannot be ignored.” 

We want to hear about your story and experience. We are dedicated to creating opportunities for students and parents to have a voice in the steps we take to improve Madison. All principals in the Madison Pyramid will also be providing opportunities to listen and hear from their students and parents.

Today, I sent an email to our students offering an opportunity for them to participate in Student Listening Groups. The purpose of these groups will be to listen and learn from our students. Our goal is to ensure diverse student perspectives and points of view are represented. Three sessions will be offered for students next week on June 17th.  Other opportunities will be provided for students who can not attend and students who prefer to respond in writing may do so in the Google form they were provided. Questions that students are initially being asked to consider are:

  • What is the student experience at JMHS?
  • How can we foster a culture of anti-racism at JMHS?
  • How can we ensure every student feels valued?
  • How can we provide every student a voice?
  • How can we foster student well-being at JMHS?
  • How can students and adults collaborate to improve our school? 

For parents who are interested in sharing their experiences, we want to provide a variety of options. We know that parents have preferences for how they prefer to communicate and manage their time depending on work schedules, child care, comfort level, etc.  As a starting point, we welcome parents who would like to engage in this discussion to complete this Google form. This Google form will help us identify who wants to share in this important dialogue and the preference for having this discussion.  Once we have collected this information, we can then begin reaching out.

Normally, we would not be asking students or parents to stay connected to us over the summer months; however, we feel this is critical in our efforts to make sure every Madison student feels valued, included, and loved. 

Conversations and dialogue are just the first steps to taking meaningful, thoughtful action. We are committed as a Madison administration and staff to make meaningful changes that are systemic and impactful.  

Thank you for joining me on this journey.


April 2020

Dear Madison Community, 

While so much has changed about our lives over the past month, one thing has remained constant: we are incredibly proud to be a part of the James Madison High School community. Our faculty has embraced the challenges that have come with distance learning, shifting their plans sometimes overnight to meet the needs of students. Our students have shown resilience and commitment to their education, engaging in new modes of learning, and showing up for each other like never before. 

Our common understanding of Deeper Learning has taken on a new meaning for our staff as we embark on our new journey of distance learning: Deeper Learning goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy. Our school’s focus on Deeper Learning has never been more relevant, and the questions that have inspired our focus ring true now more than ever: How can we design meaningful learning experiences that engage students beyond grades? Which skills are most important and relevant for our students to learn? What do we want Madison students to be like as adults?

Since Spring Break our students and teachers have enacted each aspect of Deeper Learning across our virtual school community. We are proud to highlight a few examples of Deeper Learning through Distance Learning with you. 

  • Ms. VanPelt, our Family & Consumer Science Teacher, is collaborating with colleagues across the county to film food demonstrations videos for students to view and try out at home. Check out this week’s video featuring Grilled Wings & Jalapeno Poppers
  • Mr. Gongaware & Ms. Sarfati’s AP Environmental Science students celebrated Earth Day through the use of two digital tools: FlipGrid and PadLet. Students created “chalk drawings” representing the effects of air pollution on the environment, and shared images celebrating their favorite outdoor spaces. 
  • Scroll through more examples of how distance learning is happening across Madison here.

We can’t say enough how inspired we are by the persistence of both our faculty and our students since the school closure, and we are thankful for the support you give to our school. We hope you and your families are healthy and safe. The Madison faculty is here for you; we miss you, and we look forward to connecting with all of you throughout the rest of the school year.


March 2020

Dear Madison Community, 

Many of you are familiar with the powerful way that Project Zero, out of Harvard Graduate School of Education has inspired our faculty as we move towards a Culture of Deeper Learning for all. Passionate about arts education, Nelson Goodman founded the Project Zero Research Group in 1967 with the intention of learning more about the role art integration might have in schools. The project was named, ‘zero’ to signify that at that point in time, there was no research related to the field of arts education. Over fifty years later, Project Zero has expanded its focus to explore the challenges facing education today and tomorrow including the projects that have continued to inspire us: Making Thinking Visible, Agency by Design, Cultures of Thinking, and Artful Thinking

As we learn more about Project Zero and Deeper Learning, like Goodman, we often turn to our art department both for inspiration and for their leadership in what Deeper Learning can look like for all of our students. We are excited to put a spotlight on some of the Deeper Learning experiences that our art students are engaged in this year: 

  • Students in Studio Art are working on a Recycling Project where they are creating and innovating to re-purpose old or unused objects such as broken locker doors, records, picture frames, skate boards, and shoes, and give them new life.
  • Small group Studio Art Design students explore emotions and the communication of emotions through mixed media emotive portraits. 
  • Students in Digital Art 3 are making real-world connections through the investigations of contemporary issues such as education accessibility, clean water, and sustainability. Students will research their chosen topic and create public service announcement posters. 
  • Students in Photo 1 are going beyond the surface of a simple writing prompt by ‘answering’ the prompt through handmade books. Students are telling stories through both writing, photography, and beautiful handmade creations. 
  • Students in 3-D Studio Art are kicking off their annual Monster Project, an experience that connects students with an authentic audience of neighboring elementary school students. Our students become pen-pals with second graders who share images and written descriptions of a monster they have created. Our high school students creatively bring these designs to life, and present the second grade designers an actual monster at the Annual Pyramid Art Show later this month. If you want to hear more, the project was featured on the MADucation podcast last year.
  • Check out some of the artists’ final products

These learning experiences connect with our school’s common understanding of Deeper Learning: Deeper Learning goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy.  

Many of these projects and more will be featured at the upcoming Annual Pyramid Art Show on March 19, from 6-7:30 pm in Warhawk Hall. We hope to see you there!


February 2020

Dear Madison Community, 

It’s February, and we LOVE all the Deeper Learning happening around Madison. This month we will continue to highlight Deeper Learning with a specific focus on FCPSOn: the initiative that provides equitable access to meaningful learning experiences and technology that supports student learning needs both at school and at home.

We have numerous teachers participating in a Portrait of a Graduate Presentations of Learning cohort to facilitate opportunities for students “to apply Portrait of a Graduate skills to real-world problems through teacher use of the Learning Model.” Students across contents are creating Deeper Learning Portfolios, such as this example from a sophomore, to reflect on their growth and leveraging FCPS approved digital tools and resources to do so. FCPS utilizes G Suite for Education. With this array of tools, students gather and organize evidence into folders in their Google Drive, document their learning and progress by uploading artifacts to their own Google Site, and reflect on their growth in POG over time through narrative captions and self-assessments. Students add photos, videos, and other external text structures to their websites. Access to this technology transforms the student experience by redefining what they can do online. There are varying levels of instructional technology integration; read more about the SAMR model here

As we introduce our students to various approved digital tools, it is essential that we continue to reinforce Digital Citizenship, “...the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior (and its positive and negative impact on self and others) with regard to technology use.” This is a shared responsibility among school staff, students, and parents/guardians. At Madison, we have partnered with Common Sense Media Education in an effort to ensure our students have the skills they need to leverage technology in school and beyond. In addition to required FCPS trainings and lessons, Digital Citizenship is at the core of our Culture of Deeper Learning. We have theater students creating videos around relevant digital dilemmas, health and PE students collecting data around social media use and impact for wellness projects, and school-wide wellness days planned to foster more face-to-face interactions. If you would like to dig deeper into these conversations with your family, check out these suggestions and tip sheets.

There are numerous other ways teachers and students use technology for Deeper Learning. Some common tools we integrate and use to learn and create include: Adobe Spark, FlipGrid, Padlet, EdPuzzle, and Newsela. Furthermore, many of our courses utilize interactive online textbooks and adaptive programs like NoRedInk and MathSpace. World language teachers use Padlet to make their students’ thinking visible; science teachers use EdPuzzle to provide a flexible venue for students to review concepts and provide them with formative feedback, and social studies teachers use FlipGrid as a venue for students to reflect on their learning. Students experience high-quality instruction that incorporates digital tools in meaningful, authentic ways; FCPSOn is an important aspect of Deeper Learning at Madison High School.


January 2020

Dear Madison Community, 

Happy New Year! We are excited to start 2020 with the first in a series of MADMemos that will highlight examples of Deeper Learning happening around Madison. In December’s memo we shared a short video, The Future of Work. The video ends with an important question that has motivated us to continue our journey towards a Culture of Deeper Learning: Will our children be ready for their future? 

Three years ago, we started the WINGS program to provide seniors an opportunity to experience what their future might look like after graduation. Twenty students piloted the program that first year. Now in year three, approximately 250 students have shown interest in participating in the WINGS Senior Internship Program. The WINGS program is an opportunity for seniors to spend the last two weeks of the school year in an internship. Students have a chance to expand their interests and gain professional learning experiences before they leave high school. Internships over the past few years have included working at a local animal hospital, planning large-scale festivals in Washington, D.C., working with the National Park Service, assisting archeologists on an active dig site, and shadowing elementary school educators. The Deeper Learning experiences that Madison students experience daily at school are transferred into applied learning and contributions to our community. At the end of the two weeks, students reflect on what they learned and the skills they developed from the experience, then present to their peers and the administration in a WINGS Exhibition of Learning. We will share more information about this year’s exhibition in May - and we hope to see you there! 

Tenth grade students were also recently engaged in a Deeper Learning experience that developed cross-disciplinary skills that will prepare them for their future. During the last few days of school before winter break students gave presentations to parents, Madison administration, FCPS Central Office employees, and Ted Dintersmith. Students presented their research on student-selected topics regarding problems they identified at Madison and current educational experiences, provided research, and generated student-focused ideas to improve learning experiences and student mental health. Students read and discussed some of the Deeper Learning sources posted on our website, and excerpts from Dintersmith’s book What School Could Be. Students engaged in their own research focused on proposing changes to improve learning experiences and mental health for students. Student presentations and the project experience will be highlighted on Ted Dintersmith’s Innovation Playlist

Both of these recent opportunities highlight an important part of our school’s common understanding of Deeper Learning for all: authentic experiences. We all know how powerful learning is often experiential, and as we pursue Deeper Learning, we strive to create more authentic learning opportunities and experiences for our students. We look forward to sharing more examples from across the school in the months to come.


December 2019

Dear Madison Community, 

As the calendar year closes on James Madison High School’s sixtieth year, we have been reflecting on how thankful we are to be a part of the Vienna community. Sixty years ago we opened our doors, and four years ago we embarked on our journey towards Deeper Learning. As we shared in September’s MADMemo, we think of Deeper Learning as learning that goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy.

 We spent a portion of time at last month’s PTSA meeting sharing our Deeper Learning journey and the reasons why we are driven to pursue such a culture for our students, faculty, and community. Our presentation is linked here and on our website, along with this link with current research that supports Deeper Learning. As many of our seniors are finalizing their post-high school plans, we would like to share a little bit more about Deeper Learning and its implications for our students after they graduate and begin new chapters in their lives. 

The focus on Portrait of a Graduate in FCPS and across Virginia has prioritized student learning around the skills and attributes needed to be successful in our modern, global community. The FCPS School Board’s Student Success Goal states“All FCPS PreK-12 students will continuously progress in their development of Portrait of a Graduate attributes...with student opportunities to apply Portrait of a Graduate skills to real-world problems through teacher use of the Learning Model.” Madison is a leader in this endeavor in FCPS. Students across contents are creating Deeper Learning Portfolios and will reflect on their growth throughout the school year in Portrait of a Graduate Presentations of Learning. 

 Recent changes to the college admissions process reflect a shift in focusing on standardized data to focusing on these same Portrait of a Graduate competencies, the whole child, interdisciplinary learning experiences, and learning portfolios. Just this year a record number of colleges dropped the requirement of the SAT or ACT test, as highlighted in this article. Students applying to college this year using the Coalition Application have the opportunity to share a Portfolio of Interdisciplinary Learning Experiences with their applications. The Common Application is piloting a similar platform with several colleges and universities this year, and several Virginia schools will participate next year. Providing students rich learning opportunities that will be relevant not only in the new college application process, but also in their lives beyond high school is part of what drives our pursuit of Deeper Learning. 

Ted Dintersmith, a 1970 JMHS graduate and venture capitalist interested in educational innovations across the country, and specifically the state of Virginia, shares a brief and thought-provoking video on his innovation playlist titled, The Future of Work. The video ends with an important question that motivates us to continue on our journey towards a Culture of Deeper Learning: Will our children be ready?


November 2019

Dear Madison Community, 

At Madison, we are committed to ensuring that our assessments reflect deeper learning experiences and provide an accurate reflection of a student’s current level of content knowledge and skill ability. Part of our Deeper Learning for All journey at Madison includes consistently examining our assessment practices across our school to meet this mission.

Two years ago we began to take concrete steps to establish a more equitable and fair grading system across all of our departments. Traditionally, teachers have determined their own grading scales, categories, and weights in their gradebooks. This created multiple assessment outcome possibilities and inequity across classes and grade levels. As we reflected on the assessment practices at Madison, and across the county, we concluded that revising our grading practices would provide students with more equitable grades, more accurate feedback, and create more opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding of content standards and essential skills. 

Based on current research of best practices for Deeper Learning in assessment, we identified four grading practices that provide students a more equitable assessment experience:

  • Uniform grading categories: This year all teachers shifted their gradebooks to use the same three categories in their gradebooks: preparation, formative, and summative.
  • 4.0 Scale: In 2019-2020, we began to shift to a 4.0 scale. This year, most classes are using the scale and by school year 2020, all teachers will have transitioned to a 4.0 scale. The 4.0 scale standardizes that an A, regardless of class or teacher, is a 4.0, and an A-, regardless of class or teacher, is a 3.7. 
  • Standards-based grading and mastery learning: Many teachers and teams are implementing standards-based grading systems to accompany the 4.0 scale. Standards-based grading provides a clear delineation of what mastery “looks like” for each standard and skill, and the feedback via assessments focused on the standards and skills provides students concrete feedback on their level of mastery. Students and teachers use this data to track progress in order to reach “mastery” over time and deepen learning. These practices are similar to the standards-based grading and reporting from elementary school and common in FCPS.
    • Some teachers have adopted the “rolling gradebook” as part of the mastery-based learning experience. The rolling gradebook allows for students to spend more time learning content and practicing skills deeply over time and embraces reassessment on standards and skills throughout the year.

We know that these assessment changes have led to many conversations in classrooms, between students, teachers, counselors and parents, and at home. Our administration, leadership team and faculty will be focusing on grading and reviewing practices throughout the year to ensure accuracy, equity and Deeper Learning for All.

We invite all parents to learn more about Deeper Learning and equitable assessment practices through the following venues in the near future. More opportunities will be offered in the future.

  • At the November 11th PTSA meeting we will spend part of that time sharing: What is Deeper Learning at Madison and how do equitable assessment practices align? 
  • Interested in learning more about the “Why”? Read about shifts in assessment, grading and instruction across the country: “The Case for Competency-Based Education”
  • Read more about the research and Madison’s practices on the JMHS website, under the JMHS Parent’s Guide to Grading & Reporting. We have added additional information and responses to Frequently Asked Questions about the assessment practices described above.

Thank you for your support of our students and staff at Madison.


October 2019:

Dear Madison Community, 

Last year several members of the Madison faculty participated in the Stanford Design School’s Shadow a Student Challenge, an experience designed to give educators “a crash course in empathy” as they spend a day walking in the student’s shoes. The faculty who participated were so energized by the experience we have created the opportunity for every member of the Madison faculty to shadow a student during the course of this school year. Ted Dintersmith, a venture capitalist focused on supporting educational improvements and innovations, and more importantly, a Madison graduate, class of 1970, highlights the experience on his Innovation Playlist

Understanding more about the experience of school from the perspective of our students is central to our goal of Deeper Learning for all. As teachers embark on this challenge, they will set a goal for the day, seek out a student to shadow, reflect on the experience, and commit to a change in practice based on their new perspective. Students will be learning more about this experience through a special segment on the Madison News Network, and many students will hear about it from faculty who are interested in shadowing them for the day. Faculty will be reaching out to the parents of students they are interested in shadowing for permission. 

Shadowing students is just one of the opportunities we have designed for faculty to collaborate with students this year. We hope that this experience will set the groundwork for more collaboration between faculty, students, and parents as we continue to pursue a culture of Deeper Learning for all at Madison High School.

Throughout the school year, we will be sharing snapshots of Deeper Learning at Madison during PTSA meetings, and look forward to continuing the conversation about Deeper Learning opportunities for students through these meetings and other forums. 

One recent example of Deeper Learning at Madison: Ninth grade students in biology had the opportunity to learn from certified county and federal forensic scientists. Ms. Kimbrell shared, “The forensic scientists that came to Madison are from the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID).  Many of the scientists that visited are going to deploy in the next few months to take on various investigation cases around the world. We are thankful for their service to the community and beyond!” Students were provided examples of forensic processes that apply to their learning about light processes, biology, and the importance of close observation and evidence. The fusion of science, math and technology showcased the interdisciplinary nature of learning and application of learning in career and civic life. Students and teachers reflected on the experience: 

“Last week, we had 6 forensic scientists come to Madison and teach us about different ways to solve a crime.  Different ways included taking fingerprints from a crime scene as well as using different UV light sources to uncover different types of writing like ransom and suicide note... In addition to teaching us about ways to solve a crime, they gave us background information we needed for our Investigation unit in biology.  We are solving our own investigations and learning about DNA, bone structures, and how everybody has a different make-up of their body and everything within it.” - Nooshon Farhadi (9th grade student)

In future months, we will continue to showcase examples across the grade levels and disciplines. You can also find out more about Deeper Learning at Madison at this link.


September 2019:

Dear Madison Community, 

Welcome back to another wonderful year at Madison High School! It’s been a great start to the 2019-2020 school year already.

This summer, over twenty of our faculty and staff attended some of the preeminent professional learning conferences last spring thanks to the generosity of the JMHS PTSA. Most recently, twelve faculty members attended the annual Washington International School Summer Institute for Teachers, also known as WISSIT. During this week-long conference, our teachers immersed themselves in research based practices of Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education’s research group and learned from the researchers themselves, including Ron Ritchhart. Ritchhart’s work has been the foundation of our focus on Creating Cultures of Thinking in our school over the past several years. 

The teachers who attended WISSIT this year have already shared their learning with colleagues and students over these first few weeks of school. Tonia Anderson, a Latin teacher reflects on her learning at WISSIT:  

“Our collaborative and interactive learning experience at WISSIT provided a great model for what our classrooms can be – with students directing and taking ownership over their own learning, incorporating thinking and learning routines to help them understand how they each learn, and using art to make connections with culture. I want to select some thinking routines and art pieces that will work best with each level of Latin and incorporate them in a systematic way throughout the year.” 

The experiential learning that WISSIT provides for our teachers mirrors the kinds of Deeper Learning experiences we are working hard as a faculty to provide for our students. During our first staff meeting this August, we shared our common understanding of Deeper Learning at JMHS with the faculty: 

Deeper Learning goes beyond the surface and provides opportunities for all learners to collaborate and innovate to find meaning and make connections in real-world, relevant, and authentic experiences that unlock our individual passions and collective joy.

Our professional learning plan for faculty this year is an attempt to fulfill this aspirational understanding of Deeper Learning by providing teachers opportunities to pursue their own paths of inquiry that unlock their individual passions and honor their own identity as learners. 

We are excited to continue on our journey of Deeper Learning at Madison, and we are grateful that you are all learning with us.