Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Real World, Not MTV Style

One of the main objectives of a sound lesson is for students to find meaning and relevancy in terms of what they are learning.  Typical questions students ask include the following:
  • Why do we need to know this?
  • What am I going to do with this later in life?
  • How is this going to help me get a job?
This can sometimes prove to be a difficult task as real world contexts are either not established or properly articulated.   One effective strategy is to leverage local resources by bringing in experts as guest instructors.  Not only is this cost effective, but students can hear from actual practitioners in the field whose experiences connect to what they are currently learning about.  They can also provide concrete connections between different content areas.  This is a fantastic way for students to acquire additional essential understandings of concepts and how they connect to specific lines of work.  It is one thing for students to learn concepts, but another to see how they are actually applied in a professional line of work.  Guest instructors serve as a great resource to answer the common questions listed above.  All of these reasons listed above are sure to increase engagement and instill a greater sense of relevancy and meaning amongst learners.
Image credit:

Each month my teachers bring in a variety of guest instructors.  Recent guests include alumni, local business leaders, and fellow teachers.  Below are some some examples during the month of December:
  • On December 13, 2011, Art Coughlin from Nelson-Patterson Insurance Agency in New Milford was a guest speaker in Mrs. Vicari’s Business Strategy classes.  Mr. Coughlin spoke to the students about the Insurance Industry, types of business insurance, as well as, what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Additionally, Mr. Coughlin has graciously volunteered to give the students “mock” insurance quotes for their start-up businesses.  The students have to research the costs associated with starting a business and are then to ask for a loan as part of a business plan competition. 
  • On December 15, 2011, Mr. Tusa of the Social Studies Department guest lectured on the history of racism in America in Mrs. DePoto’s AP Language and Composition class. The AP class is studying nonfiction works on a variety of themes this year; Mr. Tusa volunteered to bring a historical perspective to a piece the class was studying by Thomas Jefferson called “Notes from Virginia”. The class was able to trace the history of philosophical movements that impacted some of the earliest writers of our nation and are to see the connection between their ideas and various contemporary figures such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Future collaboration between the Social Studies Department and the Language Arts Department is planned.     
  • Mr. Thomas Jaworski, an alumnus of New Milford and a professional engineer visited the high school and delivered a presentation on civil engineering on Friday, December 16.  His presentation to the engineering class covered many of the fields of civil engineering. He discussed bridge construction in detail, citing local and familiar examples including the George Washington and Tappan Zee bridges.  The engineering students responded very well to the presentation and continued the discussion well after the class had ended.  Mr. Jaworski offered to assist Dr. Asa-Awuku and Mrs. Bergoffen with developing an activity for “Engineering Week” in February of 2012.  
  • New Milford High School is obviously a place where students feel safe and comfortable while they are here as our students. This can be seen each year as former students come back to visit, work as substitutes, and in some cases even get hired as teachers. For two days this December, in Mrs. Collentine’s Global Perspectives in Literature Honors classes, NMHS class of 2005 alumnus Jonathan Silver was a “guest” speaker/teacher/actor and taught and performed Shakespeare’s Hamlet for Mrs. Collentine’s students. Jon, who is currently serving as producer and director of this year’s NMHS spring musical, is a professional actor. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati with a degree in Dramatic Performance, Jon was thrilled to teach for two days when Mrs. Collentine asked if he would come into her classes. Jon spent a summer in London studying Shakespeare and even performed on the famous and historical Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts stage. He is a natural and a force to be reckoned with as he brought a palpable passion to Mrs. Collentine’s classes. He discussed why Shakespeare is so challenging for young adults, he gave them techniques in terms of approaching the text, and he logically compared the analysis and reading of Shakespeare to math problems like calculus and trigonometry. His booming voice took on the roles of Hamlet, the Ghost and King Claudius. The kids read with him and he joked and laughed with them as he compared Hamlet’s world to the world of today’s teenager: Britney Spears was mentioned and the word “emo” was as well, along with other 21st century references. As hard as English teachers work to bring any text to life and off the page, there is always a welcome burst of energy when a professional actor comes to town. 
  • Visiting artist Clifford Smith, a New Milford High School Alumnus, came to share his paintings with students in Ms. Bettini’s class.  Smith’s artwork is in exhibits at the Spanierman Galley (NYC), Fashion in the Hamptons (NY), Scott White Contemporary Art Gallery, the Travis Hansson Fine Art Gallery (CA), the Rosenbaum Contemporary Gallery and the Elaine Baker Gallery (NJ). He is known for his paintings of oceans, fields, landscapes, and portraits.
Technology can also greatly assist educators in bringing in a variety of experts from all over the world in virtually every field.  Some fantastic free video conferencing tools include Skype and hangouts within Google+.  Establish your own unique real world learning experiences within the walls of your school today!

To see other guest instructors that have visited NMHS check out the archive of my monthly Principal's Report.


  1. Saw a great guest speaker in physics classes today. The speaker spoke of his experiences using SONAR in the navy providing real-life applications. BUT, what made it so special was he had created his own PowerPoint, referenced the student's text, and required the students to perform calculations. So not only was it real-life, it was also practical students couldn't zone out during his presentation (even I was engrossed and most of the info was over my head).

  2. I had my cousin's wife as a Skype guest in my psychology class this fall. She has a psychology degree and works for an agency. She is also paralyzed from an accident as a teenager. So we focussed on her career and functioning in life. Truly and inspiration to others!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.