Monday, April 14, 2014

Using EdTech to Enhance Science Learning

Miss Ginter’s Biology students at New Milford High School have been using Padlet as a forum to post answers to teacher created questions, as well as student created questions. A KWL chart on Mitosis was created in class, and the questions that students wanted answers to were posted on the Padlet. Students have the opportunity to post their response with the approval of the teacher. They are also able to pose their own questions on Padlet allowing their peers or teacher answer them. Students are also able to refer back to the Padlet to review for a test/quiz. 

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As an extension of Mitosis, students used the chromosome bead kits and the Stop Motion Video app used by Mr. Devereaux’s class and created a Stop Motion Video, which is a series of pictures taken that play back as a video clip. The students aligned the chromosomes appropriately for each stage and labeled the stages accordingly. These videos will were then uploaded to Vimeo and shared on Twitter using the handle @MrsMoutafis.  Below are some of the student stop motion videos:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bucking the Trend

The following is a guest post by Michael Warren, a Social Studies Teacher at Hasbrouck Heights High School in NJ. Michael recently visited New Milford HS and reflected on hist visit below. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrwarren29.

Over the past several years in both politics and education, the word “change” has created a buzz that incites people to believe that something big is about to occur or that there will be a dramatic shift from the status quo.  This is not necessarily the case in all matters and in particular the matter of education.  In a world where politics and education are colliding more than ever, there is a desperate sense of hopping onto the latest trend or buzzword from educational companies and authors that will fix all of our educational problems. This is not the solution.  There is another way, I’ve seen it.

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Recently, I had the opportunity to visit New Milford High School in Bergen County, NJ and spent a couple of hours meeting and touring the school with Principal Eric Sheninger. Like anyone who has followed this rockstar principal on social media (and he knows he’s a rockstar despite his humble protests) there is something happening at NMHS.  As an eager teacher and someone who is looking for a renewed sense of purpose in a field that is becoming mind-crushingly data driven, I expected to walk away with the answers to the big questions in education.  That did not happen.  Mr. Sheninger couldn’t provide me with any of those answers.  Instead, he showed me something else.  Something I found much more important and revealing of the type of school he runs.  

Oh, don’t get me wrong, Mr. Sheninger (and the team that works with him) has enacted a laundry list of changes at New Milford since he became principal several years ago in 2007.  However, these changes were not spurred by the need to develop his students into test taking machines or to succumb to test prep ad nauseum and to strip away choices for his students in order to continuously meet the demand that our state’s politicians keep piling onto our schools.  He centered his changes around a culture.  This culture can be seen as soon as you set foot on campus.  It’s intangible yet completely surrounds you.  There is a focus on responsibility, engagement, and understanding that learning can take shape in an insurmountable number of forms.  

Mr. Sheninger explained to me that these changes to the school culture happened slowly over time and that if a district can be consistent with carrying out these changes, all stakeholders from the highest level of administration to the parents in the community will see the payoff in a well rounded and educated student.  Mr. Sheninger is on a mission to turn every piece of space in his school into an area of learning by investing funds and donations to repurpose old/outdated space. He is also calling upon the students to become a “maker” and create the space they want using their own abilities and talents by letting them be a major stakeholder in the school.  After all, it is all about them, right?

Needless to say, I walked away with a few pages of notes from my visit.  I could list an incredible amount of things I saw that day (BYOD for instance) but if you are reading this blog than you probably already know what NMHS is up to.  While most of us deal with a bureaucratic mess of redundancies when it comes to developing educational policy, New Milford is bucking the trend of reactive policies that come from a changing political landscape. It is well on their way to becoming a center for true college and career readiness by doing just the exact opposite.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Inquiry-Based, Constructivist Learning in Physics

Every year New Milford High School teacher Tahreen Chowdhury teaches Newton’s laws of physics and most of the students are able to grasp the first and the second law. However, Newton’s third law is the one that is most contrary to their everyday intuition. This law, as the students know it, is “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. The students have learned this concept since their first science classes, but are puzzled by this concept when they see small cars being demolished by bigger SUV’s. 

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So this year, Mrs. Chowdhury decided to take a different approach to teaching this law in physics. The lesson started with Mrs. Chowdhury having two students pull on each other with spring scales. She asked the students to pull so that the two spring scales read different forces. The students were unable to do so, each time one pulled with a certain force, the other spring scale read the same force. Normally, students agree when Mrs. Chowdhury says that pulling with the spring scales attached and pulling hand to hand are the same except spring scales just reads the strength of the pull. This year, the students completely disagreed and said that using the spring scales make the forces the same. So Mrs. Chowdhury decided to use the Vernier Force Sensors. She set up an air track and two carts with motion sensors attached to them. She asked the students to come up with different collisions and predict how the forces will compare to each other based on the collisions. The students changed the carts’ mass and velocity so the collisions were different. 

In the end, they saw on the force sensor software that the readings were identical from the two sensors. One student summarized their learning from that lesson as “when two things collide with each other, they exert the same force on each other regardless of their mass and how fast they are coming at each other”. Below is a screenshot of the convincing data of two students pulling on the force probes from two different directions, each time the measured forces were identical regardless of who pulled harder. Mrs. Chowdhury believes that this year the students have a much better understanding of Newton’s third law instead of mere memorization of the phrase “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Makerspaces Provide a World of Opportunities

As of late it seems that I have been blogging a great deal about our makerspace here at New Milford High School and with good reason. Not only is the space being overrun with students during their lunch periods, but teachers here have begun to explore how the process of making can enhance the learning experience for the students in their classes. Just last week I shared on my blog how physics classes were exploring concepts related to circuitry in a more hands-on, authentic fashion in our constantly evolving space through a collaboration between Mr. Fowler and Mrs. Fleming.  It seems that this might have been a catalyst for even more collaborations in order to fully take advantage of what a well-designed makerspace can provide.

While studying the unit on Promotion in Marketing class and addressing the chapter of Visual Merchandising and Display as a form of promotional strategies to sell products and services, Mrs. Vicari thought about a design project that was assigned last year.  In an effort to make this project more meaningful, she thought about our school store, which is currently being redesigned and reopened.  She then challenged the students to use all the elements of Visual merchandising and display to create a model of what our school store should look like.  

Their project was to consist of designing NMHS’s school store that included a storefront, sign, entrance, window display, selling space, storage space, personnel space, customer space, color, lighting, graphics, paint, fixtures, a point of purchase display and props. Collaborating with NMHS media specialist Laura Fleming, who introduced Mrs. Vicari to Tinkercad, she challenged the students to use this website to create a 3-D model of their school store, which could be printed out in plastic using the Makerbot 3-D printer that is a main component of our makerspace.  The students also elaborated on their design with a written explanation that included all the elements of visual merchandising.

You can check out the written portion of this project HERE