Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Who's Your Buddy?

\Who's Your Buddy?Tonight my Student Assistance Counselor, Doreen Zacher, is running a program for parents called STOP Bullying.  At NMHS we have always been proactive when it comes to protecting our students to ensure that they have a learning environment free from physical, social, and emotional distractions.  Even so, the passing of N.J.S.A. 18A:37-15, otherwise known as the Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying Law (HIB), has moved our school to adopt additional measures to deal with an epidemic that plagues schools across the country.  
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Doreen has spearheaded many innovative initiatives designed to educate students on the negative impacts of HIB in order to prevent situations from occurring both in and out of school.  At the heart of each initiative are the students themselves.  I invite you now to read the thoughts of Jesus Collado, a current senior at NMHS, on one of these programs:  

“B.U.D.D.Y.” – Bullying Undermines Developing Diverse Youths; the name of the group conveys the message that about 30 high school students and their mentor, Ms. Dorene Zacher, are trying to spread. The idea is simple: organize a group of students to help regulate and teach other students about the dangers of bullying, intimidation, and harassment. These students are called “Buddy’s”, and each hold very strong and personal views about the bullying issue that is plaguing the country today. It is because of this that I have come to feel so comfortable in New Milford High School. I feel amazed and joyful that so many teachers and students have come together to support this program to work towards a more united future. There is a heart-warming quality to seeing a school, not only the students, but also the faculty, coming together for such a righteous cause. It truly makes me eager to be part of a movement that is marching towards a better future.  Be a Buddy, Not a Bully!

All students in the B.U.D.D.Y. program have received an intense day of training by Doreen.  The students themselves will be running the program tonight.  They are also are sent out to the other schools in our district to educate younger students on HIB.  Students learning life lessons, modeling good citizenship, and being empowered to make difference in their school and beyond is what education is all about.  We must empower our students to be involved in every facet of their educational experience if we want to truly create a system that they find valuable, relevant, and meaningful.  They should be the catalysts that drive reform.  Let their voices be heard!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Future is Here: Take Advantage of It

At New Milford High School we have begun to leverage technology that many students possess.  This has led to a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative, where students are encouraged to bring in their mobile learning devices, which include cell phones or personal computing devices (laptops, tablets, iPod Touches, eReaders, etc). Students that bring their own computing devices have the ability to connect to our secure wireless network.  Check out the recent story CBS New York did on our initiative below.

We highly value equity in terms of access to technology.  In the case of mobile learning devices (cell phones), if a student does not have a device my teachers have been instructed to pair or group them when using polling sites like Poll Everywhere or conducting research.   Students that bring their own computing device primarily use them in the cafeteria during their 48 minute lunch to conduct research, work on homework/projects, or for organization.  It is at the teachers' discretion whether or not to allow a student to use their personal computing device in class.  Many times students that have brought their own devices will us them in lieu of school-provided options (laptop carts, computer labs).

The mobile learning revolution is upon us.  Isn't it time schools and some educators stop making excuses not to move forward and leverage the technology that our students already possess? How mobile learning devices are adopted in each school will vary as there is no one-size-fits-all approach due to the uniqueness of communities.  If you have pondered or are against BYOT at least engage your students, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders in a conversation to elicit their thoughts.  If you do I am willing to wager that you will take advantage of mobile learning devices as well.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Be the Change You Want to See in Education

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi

On a beautiful Saturday morning in October hundreds of educators from numerous states in the Northeast descended upon New Milford High School for a day of learning, connecting, and reflecting at The Edscape Conference.   As I addressed the crowd to begin the event I was in awe of all the passionate educators who took the time to gather on a weekend for the sole purpose of getting better at their craft in order to better meet the needs of their students.  Do the reformers know or even care about events like this?  I’m guessing it wasn’t even a blip on their radar as there wasn’t a single session on standardization, accountability, performance pay, or the Common Core.  Instead session after session provided educators with fresh ideas, proven strategies, invaluable connections, and the confidence to pursue innovation. 

As the co-host I had the luxury of popping in on every single session to get a feel for the presenter and the learning environment that he or she had established.  What I saw in each room were engaged educators eager to learn and open their minds to the possibilities that the 21st Century presents.  From Diana Laufenberg’s keynote, to the exciting hands-on sessions provided by Teq, to the inspiring discussions at lunch, Edscape was about transforming schools in a way that benefits all of our students.  

So how should school be structured and operate?   This is something that must be decided by those in the trenches (teachers, administrators), stakeholders (parents, BOE), and most importantly the students.   As Diana described so eloquently schools should be inquiry-driven, student-centered, relevant, foster creativity, community-based, and emphasize mentoring.  I could go on and on, but I am fortunate that members of my PLN and the media (The Record and Patch) have already shared detailed reflections and analysis on Edscape.  Please take the time to read their thoughts, which portray an event that I was honored to be a part of: 

When reading the powerful quote by Gandhi at the beginning of this post, I believe that the greatest takeaway from the Edscape Conference was that individual educators need to be the change that we want to see in education.  The reform talk and subsequent push is not going to subside anytime in the near future, but each of us has the capacity to initiate positive change in order to create a teaching and learning culture that pushes our students to think critically, unleash their creativity, actively solve problems, promotes service, and inspires students to challenge themselves.  This is the type of reform that I want to be a part of.  Thankfully, this is my reality. 

MARK YOUR CALENDARS NOW!!!! Edscape will once again be held at New Milford High School on Saturday October 13, 2012.   

(A special thank you goes out to Teq.  Without this educational partner, Edcape would not have happened or been a success.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Simple Idea, Huge Impact

Recently we have been brainstorming ways to motivate students to begin thinking about college at an earlier stage while in school and believing that it is an attainable goal for everyone.  One idea suggested by my two new guidance counselors (Michelle Harle and Rebecca Chabrow) was to host an event during the school day that would help us achieve the goal stated above.  After intense planning NMHS held its first annual college mini-fair on Thursday, September 15, 2011.  The not so mini, mini-fair took place in our main gym with more than 70 colleges from across the country attending.

Colleges from as far south as Florida and as far north as the Canadian border were here. College representatives set up tables full of information about their schools, academic disciplines, tuition, popular programs, clubs, location, and much more.  All students in the school had the opportunity to visit with college reps, fill out response cards and some students even applied to schools on the spot.  This was made possible as we scheduled the event during our three 48 minute lunch periods.  Students either went before or after they quickly ate their food and thoroughly took advantage of the experience.  The event was a huge success in creating awareness about different types of universities, majors and minors, and reinforcing the fact that there is a college for everyone.  

Planning for an event of this size started in late spring and continued on through the summer.  Feedback from the reps was overwhelmingly positive, and we expect our 2nd annual mini-fair to be even bigger.   This is just one small, yet important step in helping out students actively pursue greater learning opportunities that college provide if this is what they aspire towards.  Thanks to the Guidance Department for organizing and hosting the event.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Instructional Upgrade

With the first month of the school year in the books, I am extremely pleased with how more staff members are embracing educational technology and effectively integrating a variety of tools into instruction.   At New Milford High School we clearly articulate that technology is a powerful tool. Together, with a sound pedagogical foundation, these dynamic 21st Century tools have the ability to assist in transforming learning environments where students are engaged and excited to learn. Here are some highlights from the past month:

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  • Students in Ms. Perna’s US History I course worked on developing a colonial road trip project this month. Students were to develop a trip that someone could take today to explore colonial history through one of the three colonial regions. Students created detailed trip itineraries, after conducting research, and used Google Docs to put together their itineraries. After completing itineraries, they created visual representations of their trips to “sell” it to their peers, and then in class, students set up their trips for a “fair” in which they walked around and viewed other students’ trips. Students enjoyed the project and made colonial history come alive!
  • Since the start of the school year, technology has been a huge part of Mr. Fiscina’s lessons. Each day students are greeted by the interactive SMART board. The students in Geometry honors have learned how to use the board’s construction tools. They now can come up to the board and use the compass, ruler, and protractor (all within the SMART notebook software) to construct different Geometric relationships. Students from Algebra 1B and Elements of Geometry have used Poll Everywhere in order to answer multiple choice questions. A live chart, showing results from the classroom, is posted on the SMART board during this question and answer time. Students can see how they are doing compared to the rest of the class and Mr. Fiscina can assess the class as a whole. Also, in the beginning of the month, Mr. Fiscina used a program called Jing in order to help a student with a problem. Jing is a program where you can select part of your screen to be recorded and make a short film featuring picture and sound. Mr. Fiscina used Jing and the SMART notebook software to make a short video instructing the student on how to use the problem. Mr. Fiscina plans to post videos throughout the year in order to help with difficult problems. The biggest complaint students normally have with math is that they understand the problems in class, do fine with the work in class, but when they go home they have no idea how to do their work anymore. Now with Jing, they can bring Mr. Fiscina home with them in order to help study.
  • One of Mrs. Chellani’s goals at NMHS is to infuse technology into daily math instruction to make the learning process more interactive, engaging, and relevant for students. She has employed a variety of methods in order to accomplish this goal. A recent initiative has been integrating a Smart Board interactive game at the beginning of each class to review key mathematical concepts taught in prior lessons. This initiative not only acts as a cumulative review on previous material, but it creates an engaging, student-centered learning environment and serves as an alternate means to individually assess the learning of each student.
  • Mr. Hawkins has been developing a website for his math classes. This was developed for students to get extra practice on their studies in a variety of ways. It includes random problem generators, solver pages, and videos.
  • Mrs. Morel has been having her art classes utilize their students’ smart phones to look up definitions to art terms, which are shared in class, and design images to further stimulate and influence students’ creativity. The students are excited to share their findings with one another and, if they find images they desire to use as references, they can print them using the computer and printer in the art studio.
  • The World Language Department at New Milford High School has recently gained access to Voki Classroom, a website in which students create their own avatars (graphical representation of the user), and use them to improve oral communication in the target language.  The World Language teachers are currently collaborating and working on different lesson plans using Voki Classroom and plan to implement them within the next month.
  • Mrs. Levy has been creating websites for her courses using Google Sites.  The main website is used for all activities, classes, and communication.  The two websites Mrs. Levy created just for her classes are: U.S. History I - This website allows students to find out what homework is assigned, provides all handouts given in class, lists dates for projects and tests and allows students to submit their homework online via form to Mrs. Levy’s Dropbox. It also enables students to take online polls.  Each week in our newsletter section, Mrs. Levy brags about the superstars of that week who really stood out in class and they get a phone call home too.  World History - This website allows students to find out what homework is assigned, provides all handouts given in class, provides dates for projects and tests and allows students to submit their homework online via forms to Mrs. Levy’s Dropbox.  It also enables students to take online polls.   Each week in the newsletter section, Mrs Levy brags about the superstars of that week who really stood out in class and they receive a phone call home for additional reinforcement.
These dedicated teachers have made a point to upgrade their instruction this year with 21st Century tools, many of which are free, to facilitate authentic learning.  It is an exciting time to be at NMHS to witness this transformation.  The end result, engaged students excited to learn.  How is your school transforming the teaching and learning process?