Pennridge School District Technical Education Earns Honor

At Pennridge School District, technical education is integrated throughout its curriculum as much as possible, including in traditional woodworking and metalworking classes. The district has earned the Program of Excellence Award from the Technology Education and Engineering Association of Pennsylvania for its ability to underscore the importance of technology. We’ll learn in April how well Pennridge does at the international level. Best of luck to all involved!


Doylestown teen is a world-class puzzle solver

In his field of play, Doylestown teen Walker Anderson has already achieved Olympic-like status at age 16 — ranked one of the world’s top 10 in contests from India to Slovakia.

Perhaps the only thing keeping the Central Bucks West High School junior from becoming a household name with big endorsement contracts is the relative obscurity of the world where he excels: as a superstar on the U.S. Puzzle Team.

“I don’t think most people know about this,” Will Shortz — the New York Times puzzle editor and crossword guru who founded the World Puzzle Championship a quarter-century ago — said with a laugh.

But ever since Walker learned of the contest in the sixth grade, it’s been hard for him to think of anything else. Always a precocious math whiz, he took an online course called the Art of Problem Solving offered by a past champ and got hooked on the puzzles, which require the solver to use logic to complete numbers, shapes, or patterns on a grid.

“He’d come home from school each day, and puzzles from around the world were posted on blogs,” his mother, Susan Anderson, said. “He couldn’t wait to get in the door and start them.”

In five short years, puzzle practice has made Walker one of the best solvers on the planet. At last month’s World Puzzle Championship in Bangalore, he placed seventh overall (out of 169) and first in the under-18 category, though there were only three other competitors in that age group. More important, he helped the four-member U.S. team to a second-place finish — in a competition where almost all of his rivals were adults or college students.

“He’s a brilliant kid, one of the fastest solvers and the best solvers in the world,” said Shortz, arguably the world authority on the subject.

The world championship event was created by Shortz in 1992 as a way for solvers from more than 30 nations to compete using puzzles that aren’t word-based, eliminating the language barrier. Participants complete some 300 puzzles over three days of competition, with each puzzle timed and assigned points. The best-known variation is the popular number grid Sudoku — printed in many newspapers — which has become so popular that there is a separate championship for it.

“The puzzles are hard; some of them I don’t even understand the instructions on — he eats them up,” Shortz said of Walker.

A friendly kid with a big smile, Walker was born with a knack for mathematics that has boggled the minds of both his mom, who works in human resources, and his dad, Ken Anderson, an analytical chemist for a pharmaceutical company.

The couple still have a video of Walker from a third-grade talent show, which he won by reciting the first 130 or so digits of pi after handing the judges a printout so they’d know he was getting it right. He won best in show. It has always been like that for Walker, who, as a toddler, wasn’t particularly interested in watching Thomas the Tank Engine but was obsessed with letters and numbers.

“I always liked puzzles in general when I was little,” recalled Walker. “I did word searches” — when he wasn’t showing off with numbers. Walker took the fifth-grade math class when he was in the first grade and the highest-level high school course — Advanced Placement Calculus BC — when he was in seventh grade, the same year he got a perfect score on the SAT math test. He has since enrolled in online college math courses through Johns Hopkins University.


Walker Anderson holds his e-book, called “A Beginners Guide to Logic Puzzles,” which he designed over summer.

Nick Baxter, longtime captain of the U.S. Puzzle Team, said Walker is the youngest ever to compete for America in the global competition. In 2016, he qualified for the event in Senic, Slovakia, by besting roughly 1,000 others in an online competition, “Usually you don’t get someone brand new just showing up, but he did,” Baxter marveled.

Walker placed 10th in Slovakia his first year as the U.S. team finished third. And he found it thrilling to be surrounded for three full days by like-minded puzzle solvers, who start strategizing with a sample puzzle hinting at that day’s logic over breakfast at 7 a.m. and then compete, both individually and as a team, until 6:30 at night.

“Some people don’t finish the puzzles,” Walker said. “It’s about prioritizing. If you make a mistake, you move on to another one.”

Walker’s youth hasn’t stopped him from teaching what he’s learned about puzzles to others, first on his blog — WA1729 — and this summer in his book called Beginner’s Guide to Logic Puzzles, which can be purchased online for $5.99.

Yes, Walker has other hobbies, including playing the cello as well as geocaching, which involves finding objects outdoors based on coordinates, a kind of three-dimensional puzzle-solving out in the fresh air. Meanwhile, he took the SAT again in August and scored a perfect 800 in math — of course — and a 760 in reading and writing; he said he’ll take it again because he wants a perfect score and “that would be cool.”

That would also match his trajectory in the puzzling world, where it seems the sky is the limit. “I expect good things for the future for Walker, as long as he stays interested,” said Baxter, the U.S. team captain. That shouldn’t be a problem.

Indeed, Walker already is eyeing Massachusetts Institute of Technology for college, not only for MIT’s top-rated programs in subjects such as applied math, but also because it’s a mecca for puzzlers, including an annual Puzzle Hunt that attracts the nation’s best, which Walker has already attended.

“One of the dorms has a puzzle floor,” Walker added. “I would probably end up there.”

Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer




Pennridge schools honored for technology education

The school district is incorporating STEM concepts into traditional woodworking and metalworking classes.

Technology education is thriving in the Pennridge School District.

The latest evidence came when the district recently received the Program of Excellence award from the Technology Education and Engineering Association of Pennsylvania, part of the International Technology Education and Engineering Association.

By winning the state award, Pennridge is in the running for the international association’s award, to be announced at its conference in April, Pennridge spokesman Joe Ferry said.

One of the reasons the district was recognized is that it is incorporating science, technology, engineering and mathematics tools and concepts into traditional woodworking and metalworking classes at the high school without sacrificing hands-on craftsmanship, he said.

“They still have plenty of table saws, planers and routers in the shop but have supplemented them with 3-D printers, plasma cutters, CNC routers, laser engravers and other high-tech tools,” Ferry said.

The result is “stunning creations such as tables, cabinets, and chairs as well as guitars and ukuleles,” Ferry added.

Pennridge Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Kathy Scheid said STEM is being emphasized on all levels in the school district.

“We are providing STEM experiences beginning at our elementary schools and formally at the middle level in grades seven and eight,” she wrote in an email to this news organization.

“The response to the middle school courses has been overwhelmingly positive for both students and teachers,” she continued. “Parents are pleased that their children are excited about learning to be innovators by using their hands and brains. When our students move to the high school, they will further develop their skills through complex and collaborative work. By integrating STEM learning opportunities into courses such as metalworking, we hope to not only develop critical thinkers and problem solvers but also that students will see this as a springboard for their careers.”

Pennridge High School education technology teacher Matt Peitzman said the process of building an electric guitar involves several STEM elements.

“String frequencies involve physics,” he said. “Deciding what finish to put on the wood incorporates chemistry and deciding where to put the frets on the fret board includes a lot of mathematics.”

In advancing its technology programs, Pennridge has also developed a strong connection with Millersville University. All five high school technology teachers and the four in the middle school STEM programs are Millersville graduates, Ferry said.

He said the five high school teachers have “high expectations for their students and willingly provide extra time for students during the day, after school and on weekends to hone their skills.”

Credit: The Intelligencer



CAPS Original

PSEA names Susan Lynam of North Penn ESP of the Year

Fifteen years ago, Susan Lynam was looking for a job when she saw an email from the North Penn School District testing a new email alert system.

“I wrote back and said, ‘You passed the test. You got any job openings?'” Susan recalled. “The next week I had an interview.”

Susan is PSEA’s 2017 ESP of the Year. The announcement came on ESP Day during American Education Week when communities show their appreciation for education support professionals in our schools.

For most of her 15 years at North Penn, Susan has been the Guidance Office secretary at Penndale Middle School. She is also active with the North Penn Education Support Professionals Association, having served as president, PACE chair, and treasurer.

Susan said she was “totally flabbergasted” when she learned that she had been selected ESP of the Year.

“Never, ever in a million years did I think I would be named,” she said. “I don’t do things for an award or a reward. I just do it because I enjoy being a helper for people. If people need something, I have those broad shoulders. I’ll be there to help you out.”

The “Mom Counselor”

As Penndale’s Guidance Office secretary, Susan interacts with students a lot. She recalled a group of eighth-grade swimmers who would stop by every morning last year to see her after swim practice.

“I was what I call the ‘Mom Counselor,'” Susan said. “I would give them a little advice about what they needed to do, stop being petty, those kinds of things. … We have a lot of kids who like to come in. This is their safe haven.”

PSEA Mideastern Region President Alan Malachowski, who nominated Susan for ESP of the Year, said she has strived to make the Guidance Office a warm and welcoming place for all.

“Not only is it a safe place for kids, it’s a safe place for staff, as well,” he said.

Be there, be available

Susan encouraged other ESPs to “be there, be available” for students.

She recalled seeing a challenging student and his mother at a school event. The boy’s mother asked Susan how he was doing during the school day.

“I said, ‘I’m going to be honest. I don’t know what happens in the hallways because that’s not part of my job. But when he walks into my office, he is the most respectful young man there is,'” Susan recalled. “As long as students respect me for who I am and what I do here for them, I have no problem with them. And he got the biggest smile on his face.”

Susan lives in Hatfield with her husband of 27 years. They have one daughter who went through the North Penn schools and is now a teacher in the district.

As PSEA’s ESP of the Year, Susan will be nominated for the National Education Association ESP of the Year Award.

CAPS Original

Public Schools: A Place for Everyone

During American Education Week, we’d like to celebrate the teachers and students of Bucks and Montgomery counties who are demonstrating every day that Public Schools are for Everyone!




Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: November 14, 2017

What’s not to love about a teacher who likes to have fun in the classroom with her students? Every year on Halloween day, Ellen Kosh, this week’s #TeacherTuesday, decorates the room and reads “The Raven” to her students who, of course, love this annual event.

This Language Arts teacher at Wissahickon Middle School in Wissahickon School District notes, “I love reading and the theater and let my kids know that with the passion that I show them. I am not afraid to dress in a silly costume or break out in song if it means a student will want to read something I suggest or investigate an author.”

Her tastes in reading are eclectic so “I like to share everything from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” to Kwame Alexander’s newest spoken word poetry book Solo.

“I hope that bringing ‘The Raven’ to life encourages them to read more Poe or try a new author another student recommends.”

Ellen even manages to make grammar fun as she says, “I give the same enthusiasm to grammar as I do to reading. I often teach them songs to remember helping verbs or rules of punctuation. I want kids to enjoy learning and realize how far they can go with it.”

Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: November 7, 2017

Sabrina Scott is this week’s inspiring #TeacherTuesday. A fourth grade Language Arts educator at Knapp Elementary in North Penn School District, she is a ray of sunshine, instilling a positive attitude and “a myriad of vocabulary words that spans grade levels and builds upon linguistics.” She says of her students, “They… never leave without a passion (or at least a beginning of a passion) to write creatively.”

Her early experience teaching in West Kensington has stuck with Sabrina. “Despite big class sizes, almost 100 percent poverty, incredible transience and a challenging environment, these sweet and loving students came to school every day ready to take on the world. Their eagerness to learn inspired me to be the best teacher I could be.”

She calls public education “truly remarkable” and notes, “Where can you find young minds being guided to their calling in life by instilling the seeds of a love of learning, a stronghold in resilience and a path to joy.”

Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: October 31, 2017

On this Halloween #TeacherTuesday, we’re featuring Chris Calhoun, a “fun guy” who is so much more than that. This learning support teacher at General Nash Elementary in North Penn School District has often wondered whether the emotional support he offers makes a difference.

“I had many a sleepless night worrying about my kids as they worked through sixth grade, stressing about whether I had prepared them to successfully make the jump,” he notes. When he was invited to attend the high school graduation of a former student, Chris learned the true answer. The student “credited me with motivating and keeping him going when things got tough. He said he remembered me telling him, ‘Keep pushing, don’t stop,’ and ‘You’re going to hear my voice in the back of your mind,’ and funny enough, he said he did hear me at times.”

As the ES teacher, he may be viewed as “mean” by some kids and staff who see him “re-directing or disciplining my kids.” That’s why he’s happy that “days like Halloween let them see the goofy, silly Mr. Calhoun and allow me to decompress and show off my school spirit and pride.”

CAPS Original

Right To Work Laws

Teacher unions advocate for student learning conditions that allow all students to succeed. We believe proposed legislation to make Pennsylvania a Right-to-Work state, which would likely mean that union budgets would shrink, would limit our ability to fight for our students.


Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: October 24, 2017

Kelly Voicheck is a “very dynamic professional and a natural born teacher,” according to another educator who nominated her as this week’s #TeacherTuesday. A Gifted Support specialist at Evergreen Elementary at Perkiomen Valley Schools, Kelly’s students are fortunate to benefit from her thoughtful and motivating approach to enhanced learning.

She says, “The teachers and leaders that I have been fortunate enough to have in my life inspired the type of educator I am today, as I work to embody the gifts they gave to me as a young student.”

She adds, “They created a safe and loving space that empowered me to embrace curiosity. They nurtured my courage to help me find the bravery to take risks and try something new. They built a foundation for the lifelong love of learning I carry today. I am forever grateful.”

And we are grateful that Kelly is passing along her gifts to the next generation.