Monday, October 29, 2012

What Matters to Students

It is always great to hear back from alumni once they have left our buildings.  The feedback we sometimes receive provides us with a sense of whether or not we are doing a good job preparing them for success at the next stage in their lives.  Below is an email that I recently received from Amanda Howell, a 2012 graduate of New Milford High School.  Amanda's reflection on her time at NMHS put into perspective what really matters in an educational experience.

Mr. Sheninger,

            I just wanted to take the time to thank you for all of my experiences at New Milford High School. As I am embarking on my college career, I am thankful for all that I learned at New Milford. There are few people here who have had experiences as great as I had in High school, and I believe that much of that is due to the positive changes and environment you have created. The technology, the experiences, and the educators all play a positive role in the drive I have in furthering my education.

            I was able to take part in so many great experiences during high school. There were so many great opportunities I am glad that I took part in. I was able to attend a trip to the Liberty Science center to watch an open-heart surgery as a part of my AP biology course, and the S.T.E.M Academy. It was a great experience because the educators really ensured that we were taking everything we possibly could from everything presented to us. We traveled to the Google offices in New York City, which was a great learning experience because much of the technology I used in high school, and still do in college, runs with something from Google. I was able to sample and provide feedback on the Chromebook, which helped me choose the technology I wanted for college. I traveled to many competitions to work on my debate and public speaking skills through the Ethics Bowl and Mock Trial, where we had to research and formulate opinions and strategies on current issues. As I am getting involved in groups, clubs, and organizations in college I am learning just how important and valuable it is that I was immersed in those issues and I have to tools to become informed, formulate an opinion, and defend it.

            But beyond all of the experiences, and beyond all of the technology are the educators. The teachers of the school who encourage you to get involved, and make you want to be all you can be and do all that you can do. All of the teachers I had at New Milford helped to make me who I am today, but being a Biology major I need to point out Mr. Devereaux. His enthusiasm and passion for what he does really shines through in his teaching. He extended himself to be available to his students inside and outside of the classroom, always responding to e-mails and going out of his way to make sure all of his students were being the best they could be. He provided excellent resources, using social media such as twitter, to communicate with the students and provide them with further information beyond the topics covered in class. Even today in college, I still refer back to his notes and utilize his website, still enjoying his famous PowerPoint animations, to help me be the best I can be. Moreover, I know that if I ever have a question, or needed help with something all I would have to do is send him an e-mail and he would still help me today.

            My roots and New Milford are stronger and richer than most. I am extremely thankful for all that I was able to take part in during my time at New Milford. I am thankful for all that Mr. Sheninger has done to make the educational experiences at New Milford better, for I feel I was given to tools to reach my potential. I am also thankful for the educators who go above and beyond the call of duty and because of them I will forever be reaching for the stars!

Thank you,
Amanda Howell

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Doing What It Takes To Support Learning (Part 2)

A few weeks ago I published a post titled Doing What It Takes To Support Student Learning (Part 1).  In a continuation of that piece I am posting a second student reflection on a summer learning experience that our school supported for one of our students.

Mr. Sheninger,

I would like to thank you for generously supporting my trip to the Foundation for Free Enterprise’s Summer Business Camp. Without the support of Mrs. Vicari, the Board of Education, and yourself, my successful experience with the program would not have been possible. I very much appreciate the encouragement of opportunities such as this one, and I highly recommend continuing the program of in-school and out-of-school collaborations with the FFFE.

Through the Summer Business Camp, students were given the opportunity to learn about various fields of businesses and were privileged to have informative lessons instructed by knowledgeable executives in relevant areas of business. Students explored the ideas and concepts pertinent to any business including economics, employment, banking, accounting/financing, business law, marketing and advertising. Students were also educated on important life skills applicable to anyone looking to be successful; for example, public speaking and the college/job application process. All activities and seminars proved to be appropriate for high school students interested in business and especially beneficial to those preparing to take business-related courses in high school and college. The availability of a true campus-life experience also allowed students to be subjected to different learning and living environments, which they now have the advantage of being familiar with.

Personally, the FFFE’s Summer Business Camp was an unforgettable experience that I was fortunate to be a part of. Not only did it reinforce and expand on the knowledge I had on business, but it solidified my interest in pursuing business in high school, college, and as a career. Forming a business complete with its own business plan within a group of other students was a creative and practical way to develop team-work, communication, and time-management skills necessary in any field of business. In addition, I was glad to have become acquainted with eminent executives in business, be inspired by success stories, and to form lasting friendships with my peers.


Stelios Giannoulis

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Getting Professional Development Right

We have all had our own unique horror stories when it comes to professional development.  From a one size fits all approach, to unqualified presenters that lack passion, to leaving a session or entire day for that matter with no applicable ideas and strategies to implement into practice - poor professional development has left many scars.  Another glaring void has been the availability of quality opportunities to learn about the latest Web 2.0 tools or innovative pedagogical techniques that have begun to take hold in small pockets across the country.   Up unto recently many of the best hands-on, authentic learning opportunities for educators were restricted to large conference events that were out of the financial reach for many to take advantage of.  These reasons in combination with a few others served as a catalyst for the Edscape Conference.

This past Saturday marked the third year that a conference was held at my school.  The first year it was called TSETC and was subsequently re-branded and refined into the current event.  Regardless of the event name the ultimate goal has remained steadfast - to provide relevant, meaningful, and applicable learning opportunities that will inspire participants to break out of their comfort zones and innovate now.  We have taken what we think are some of the most effective and desirable components of a quality professional development experience and rolled it into one action packed day typically reserved for mainstream events.

I have seen firsthand the impact that Edscape has had on my staff and the new ideas that have been readily implemented immediately after the event.  We specifically seek out a keynote that will not only resonate with a diverse audience, but also inspire participants to take action.  Vicki Davis shattered every expectation we had with her remarkable presentation and has set the bar very high for next year.  The over 50 concurrent sessions focused more on the "how"as opposed to the "why" to integrate tools and innovative pedagogical techniques.  It is one thing for me to share my opinion as it could tend to be a bit biased, but the voices of others provide a powerful, unbiased perspective.  Below are some of the reflections and thoughts on Edscape that have begun to surface
Approximately 350 educators from 10 different states and Canada joined us at Edscape this year.  Please mark your calendars for Edscape 2013, which will again be held at New Milford High School on Saturday October 19, 2013.  If you have any ideas for an electrifying keynote please add your suggestion in the comments section below.  Again, thanks to everyone who attended and/or assisted with this event.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

NMHS Social Studies Teacher Brings Technology to Capitol Hill

Two of my Social Studies teachers were recently invited to Washington DC on October 4, 2012, to deliver a model lesson that illustrated the effective use of technology.  The following is a guest post by Rebecca Millan who attended with her colleague Nicolette Perna.  For more information on this event check out the summary provided by ISTE.

As a social studies teacher, being asked to take a professional development trip to Washington DC is an extremely exciting offer.  When it was furthered by the occasion to actively participate in the National Coalition for Technology inEducation and Training (NCTET) to show Senate staffers what a 21st century social studies classroom looked liked, Nicolette Perna enthusiastically accepted the invitation. The experience was truly a culmination of history: taking an Amtrak Train from Metropark to Washington DC, navigating the Metro subways of DC and lastly, filing through security and joining the ranks of US Senators and Senate Staffers for the day.  Upon entering the upper floors of the Hart Senate Building we were captivated by a panoramic view of the Capitol Building and Washington Monument. While taking the time to set up our SMART Board and applicable technology, we were greeted by Jon Bernstein, the director of the event, in addition to a variety of people representing SMART Technology, Common Sense Media- Digital Passport, Pearson Education, and the Director of Hybrid Learning for Washington DC Public Schools, John Rice.

The event began with an introduction and panel discussion moderated by the Executive Director of Learning First Alliance, Cheryl Williams, who discussed the pertinent value of integrating technology into our 21st century classrooms. At the conclusion of the discussion, guests were divided into the four quadrants of the room to learn about the power of technology to improve teaching and learning in the fields of Science, Special Education, Adaptive Curriculum and Assessment, and Social Studies. Upon entering the Social Studies quadrant, Senate Staffers were asked to take out their cellular devices and to answer two Poll Everywhere questions on the Election of 1860. The first was a close-ended question that asked: Which of the following is most effective in reaching voters: Newspaper, Poster/Slogan, Button/Trinket or a Rally.  The second, an open-ended question, polled staffers on any prior knowledge they had about the Election of 1860.  

After finishing her anticipatory set, Nicolette then moved on to her Prezi presentation of the Election of 1860 which discussed the issues of the election, major candidates involved, the candidates positions on slavery, the controversies of the results and an embedded YouTube video which highlighted the major points of her Prezi.  As the audience enthusiastically followed along, they were then asked to participate in using the SMART Board to play a Who’s Who review game using the SMART Markers and an Adobe PDF file she had created.  Lastly, to culminate the assignment, Ms. Perna demonstrated how to create an interactive Glogster poster advertising and highlighting major ideas and perspectives of one of the four candidates of the election. It was evident that the audience enjoyed their brief return into her social studies classroom a lot more than their earlier memories of reading dusty and antiquated history textbooks.

Throughout the entire day, from the panel discussion to our interaction with the technology and learning personnel, fellow teachers, and Senate staffers; it was evident that everyone in the room shared a common sentiment and admiration towards the positive aspects of education and the ways in which we can all contribute to making learning valuable and relevant to our students.  After leaving the Hart Building and walking past the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court on our way to the Metro, we felt greatly rewarded by the experience and refreshed to return to the classroom with some new perspective.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Next Generation Adobe Acrobat XI

Adobe recently announced its next-generation Adobe Acrobat XI software, complete with cloud services to help K-12 and higher education teachers and administrators handle complex document challenges and alleviate productivity inefficiencies. Additionally, AXI’s new, more intuitive editing and exporting tools helps students showcase their academic achievements more easily.

Educators involved in the beta process are already impressed with AXI’s capabilities. For example, Dan Armstrong, a graphic arts teacher at Lake City High School said: “Adobe Acrobat XI is a problem solver for educators –it’s simple to learn and easy to use. Class materials can be easily combined into one PDF which allows educators to spend more time teaching and engaging students in the classroom and less time re-creating course materials. Acrobat also allows teachers to lock documents they don't want changed to help avoid cheating in the classroom.

The top new AXI features include:

  • Integrated cloud services: Administrators will especially love the new eSignature service Adobe EchoSign, which expedites document and Web contract approvals from weeks to hours. Teachers will equally be excited about the updated Adobe FormsCentral for simplified form creation, data collection and analysis.
  • Improved PDF editing and exporting capabilities: Students can now easily edit PDF files or modify paragraphs, images and objects with a newly designed and intuitive Edit Text and Images tool. Further, students can now save PDF documents directly to PowerPoint, Word and Excel with just a few clicks.
  • Enhanced capabilities for campus or district IT: Acrobat XI integrates easily with Microsoft Office and SharePoint environments, streamlines deployment and maintenance, and supports application virtualization via Citrix XenApp software – all intended to help provide a low cost of ownership and sound return on investment. In addition to supporting virtualization via Citrix XenApp for use on tablets, Acrobat XI will also work on Windows 8 tablets.
  • Expanded mobile functionality: Also immediately available is Adobe Reader XI, which supports today’s leading device platforms including iOS, Android and Windows 8. Now faculty and administrators can manage files containing dynamic media content as well as participate in shared document reviews. Reader XI also offers the ability to manage electronic signature work flows from virtually anywhere on almost any device.

The Student and Teacher Edition of AXI is immediately through the Adobe Education Store. Teacher resources – including step-by-step tutorials and ready-to-use lessons for incorporating the software into classroom learning – are now available online at the free Adobe Education Exchange.

Please click here to access the official Adobe Education blog announcing the launch. You can also click here to view the Acrobat XI press release, which contains additional content, videos and assets. If you’re interested in receiving more information or speaking with Adobe, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  

Also, Adobe recently introduced Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 & Adobe Premiere Elements 11, photo and video editing tools that help K-12 educators teach 21st century literacy, problem-solving, collaboration and communication skills across curriculum. Please check out their blog for more information.