1. The Education Gradebook

The 'wheel' keeps turning in Hillsborough schools' sixth-grade schedules

TAMPA — It has been a sixth-grade tradition for years: Learning to play Hot Cross Buns on the cello. Mastering Microsoft Word in computer class. Counting to 10 in Spanish.

The sixth-grade "wheel" has introduced countless middle school students to creative and vocational subjects that they pursued throughout their education.

Although the state discontinued the wheel this year because it did not correspond to the Florida Standards, the Hillsborough County School District has found a way to keep it alive.

Students entering middle school this year will take a one-semester course called Career Research and Decision Making.

"We thought it was very important for our middle-schoolers to have exposure to those various occupations," said Rebecca Kaskeski, instructional leadership director for middle schools.

How did they get away with it?

"We were creative," she said.

Working for the past year and a half with the district's career education division, Kaskeski's staff found a career planning course for middle school that taught elements of the Florida Standards, the new curriculum modeled after Common Core.

Students will learn about leadership and how to get along in an organization. They will explore their strengths and interests. They will begin to chart plans for their future.

"We've taken the standards that are associated with that course by the state, and those are going to be taught by our elective teachers," Kaskeski said. "And our students are going to go through the wheel just like they've always done."

Topics in the rotation include instrumental music, art, technology, culinary arts and foreign languages.

"At each spoke of that wheel, they're doing a little bit more investigation of what they like. So they ask personal questions: 'What do I like? What do I do well?' So by the time the semester's over, they're going to have a little career plan," Kaskeski said.

Social and emotional learning will be part of the curriculum, enabling teachers to form lasting relationships with the students during what is often a stressful transition year.

They'll take a test at the end of the semester, and for the second half of the year they will get to select something they enjoyed in the first half.

Kaskeski said she does not know if Hillsborough is unique in finding this solution. But, she said, "we have not heard others doing it. We're really, really excited."

Contact Marlene Sokol at or (813) 226-3356. Follow @marlenesokol.