Thursday, June 30, 2011

Edscape 2011: Innovation Now

Last fall I hosted a conference at my school that turned out to be a great success.  The idea was to create an event at a high school like no other in the area where passionate presenters and a major conference feel would have attendees leave inspired to initiate innovative change in their instructional practices.    Building upon last year's event I am proud to officially announce Edscape 2011 will be taking place at New Milford High School on Saturday October 15, 2011.  The site just went live this week so there will be many exciting updates in the near future.  For those that attended last year our goal is to provide an even better learning experience!
Edscape 2011 is a conference intended to bring together passionate educators who firmly believe that innovation is essential to increasing student engagement and achievement. Innovation begins with a desire to change. Edscape 2011 will provide attendees with the inspiration, strategies, and the confidence to actively pursue a transformation in teaching and learning practices.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Innovation Now”.  We will explore how learning environments can be established to promote critical thought, inquiry, problem solving, and creativity. Attendees will leave with a greater sense of how to authentically engage all learners through meaningful and relevant instruction.
The 2011 Eduscape Conference will feature presentations and workshops by innovative educators who believe that change is essential to meet the diverse needs of all learners in the 21st Century. They will share best practices, success stories, applicable strategies, and pedagogical techniques that address the following:
  • Meaningful, cost-effective professional growth opportunities to improve teaching and learning.
  • Effective technology integration as a means to promote student creativity, apply knowledge, and increase engagement in the classroom.
  • Design of authentic learning experiences to enhance critical thought, inquiry, problem-solving, and relevancy in the classroom.
  • Essential leadership practices to articulate a vision for school improvement and begin the implementation process.

Highlights for Attendees
  • Learning about exciting, free Web 2.0 tools
  • Hearing from esteemed educators who are innovating now
  • Leaving with an array of applicable strategies and ideas to being the change process
  • Complimentary breakfast and lunch
  • Networking opportunities
  • Sharing of best practices by other school districts, teachers, and administrators
  • Opportunity for hands-on experiences with innovative digital tools

One major change this year is the $35 registration fee.  As many of you might recall last year's event was free.  The problem with this was that 575 people registered, extra food was ordered, and then 100 people didn't show up.  With all this being said I can guarantee that $35 is a steal considering we will still have a vetted keynote, exceptional presenters, giveaways, an interactive innovation learning lab, and delicious food (breakfast/lunch) just like last year.  We will be accepting proposals to present up until July 15, 2011.  If you have procrastinated now is the time to submit.  You can access the form to submit a proposal here.  Stay tuned for hotel information, updated sponsors, and other exciting events associated with Edscape 2011.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Curriculum 2.0

I came across this interesting video this morning entitled "Curriculum 2.0".  Check it out below:

This video, as well as the information found at the Curriculum 2.0 wiki, reinforces what I and many others believe, that technology is just one of many tools to assist in engaging students in the 21st Century.  As technology and access to information continue to evolve at a rapid pace my question is when will we see curricula in schools shift accordingly?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer Learning Loss: A National Dilemma

As the summer break quickly approaches in the Northeast I have come across various articles focusing on summer learning loss and the negative impact that time off has on students.  In 2010 Time Magazine published an article that clearly articulated The Case Against Summer Vacation.  Even though there is a great deal of research on the loss of learning that occurs during the summer I am perplexed by the fact that many schools and parents are not doing more to prevent this.  Here is a video that shares some stark statistics as well as a few great strategies that parents can utilize at home.

Photo Credit:

As a district we have always assigned summer readings (view this years assignment here).  This year we are taking it a step further as we have developed assignments in both Language Arts and Mathematics to lessen the summer slide while retaining a focus on specific skills and concepts learned throughout the past school year.  The math assignments developed by my teachers can be found on our Math Department web page.  When I reminded the students of their summer assignments at our academic awards ceremony yesterday many parents in attendance began to clap and cheer.  This provided some nice validation in terms of our shift towards implementing summer learning assignments.

As a result of a recent $10,000 donation to New Milford High School all students in grades 9-11 have access to Study Island in mathematics and language arts for the next three years.  Certain 12th grade AP students will also have access in the following AP courses: Chemistry, Biology, U.S. History, Calculus AB, English Language & Composition, and English Literature & Composition. The expectation going forward is that teachers will develop standards-based assignments for all students to sharpen and retain skills, review concepts, and get a taste for the content to be learned in upcoming courses.

I am really interested to learn what other schools and educators are doing with their students over the summer to reduce and/or prevent learning loss.  More importantly, how do we construct meaningful, relevant, engaging assignments that the students will want to complete? We all can agree that this is a major problem across our country that the traditional school calendar of 180 days has created for us.   If you have developed successful programs, projects, or assignments PLEASE SHARE!  In the meantime here are some articles that I have come across that present some great strategies for reducing summer learning loss:

Preventing the Summer Slide with DIY Tech and Science Projects

Using the Calendar gap to Narrow the Achievement Gap

Preventing the Summer Slide in Reading

National Summer Learning Association

Preventing the Summer Slide in Math Skills 

50 Websites and Apps to Keep Students Learning Over the Summer

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Learning Shouldn't Stop When the Last Bell Rings

A few months back Verizon Wireless visited New Milford High School and we had a fantastic meeting. The end result was the formation of a pilot program where students and a teacher would be given a tablet device and then be tasked with developing a plan to extend learning beyond the school day. About a week later the devices arrived at my office. Each of the ten tablets (5 iPads and 5 Samsung Galaxy tabs) came with 3G access for the duration of the pilot program.

For the pilot group I selected nine students that were currently enrolled in Virtual High School courses as I felt that these students would provide the best possible feedback. I then reached out to Jeff Fiscina, one of my tech savvy math teachers, who was to provide a perspective as to how teachers could develop assignments to be completed outside of school and tailored to these devices. Jeff and I then created a Google Group called the “Tablet Ten” to collect information on how the tablets were being used to extend learning beyond the school day, provide feedback, and eventually develop a plan for Verizon Wireless.

Needless to say, the students and Jeff were extremely excited when they received their tablets. On the day that I distributed them I had students at my office door by 6:50 AM. After signing an acceptable use and liability form, each student was challenged to utilize their respective device to improve learning and achievement. As we near the end of the pilot program, I wanted to share some of the student reflections and ways in which they have been using the tablets outside of school. Here are some of their thoughts:

Anita wrote:
My iPad was surprisingly most useful with the defaulted notes application. Since it is the end of the year, I was running short of notebook paper and I actually took notes in English, biology, and Spanish in my Notes app. In biology, we had to read a book online. The iPad helped because I had Internet access and could read the book from my iPad if I didn’t have access to a computer. If I had to look up a word that I did not know, I could quickly go onto my Merriam Webster Dictionary application. I downloaded an application called “free graphing symbolic calculator” which actually helped me more in AP Calculus than my actual calculator. Since an iPad is touch screen, you can pan and zoom as much as you like and control different parts of the graph. I have the “Periodic Table of the Elements” application, which helped me in chemistry. After the AP chemistry test, we started organic chemistry. I downloaded the “organic chemistry essentials” application to help me with new concepts, such as biomolecules and synthesis strategy. My CNN application kept me updated, and I was actually more comfortable using that application rather than the Internet or watching the news. The graphics were very sophisticated and the application was easy to use.

Shanen wrote:
What I love about the tablet is how simple, yet useful, it is. I use the tablet for a variety of things such as keeping myself organized with lists and notes, quickly searching something up on the internet, keeping up with current events, easy references using the periodic table and the dictionary, and more. I also have a couple of apps that supplement the learning done in class through amazing pictures, news articles and even actual magazine clippings. Having the calendar is great because it keeps me organized and helps me to plan what I have to do accordingly. One of the greatest features is simply the notepad that is already installed on the iPad. I keep a “to do” list, prom expenses list, a 'do now' so I don't have to carry around an extra notebook for biology, and more. Also, I use the mail app to check my college mail, yahoo and Gmail accounts and even to converse with Mrs. Keesing about my VHS project. Speaking of VHS and the independent learning opportunity project, I found this app called 'CNET Exposure' which is pretty much an exhibition of professional photographer's photos and the techniques and inspirations behind each photo; this app is especially important to me because my VHS course is called photography as a means of personal expression, and it is good to be exposed to different photographers' shots. As I stated earlier, having reference apps such as the periodic table and dictionary/thesaurus are great because you can access them quickly. One reference app I downloaded is called elementals, and even though it is pretty much an interactive periodic table, it is even better because the interface is fun, yet very informative and you can even understand the periodic trend of atomic radius better. I also downloaded an sat vocabulary app and a geography quizzes app to brush up on knowledge. Apps such as the Discovery Channel app, National Geographic magazine and VideoScience are great apps to supplement the learning done in AP biology and chemistry classes because there are a lot of articles and pictures that make our classes much more real and purposeful. As a student hoping to enter the medical field one day, I found myself in the 'medical' category of the app store. Here I found a couple of apps that were really interesting such as the MCAT Question a Day which was interesting because I answered a couple of questions and to my surprise I knew the answers from my chemistry and biology classes. I also found an upper respiratory virtual lab, which is pretty much a virtual walk through of your upper respiratory system. As Mr. Fiscina said, the 3D brain was pretty cool, but I also found another app called 3D medical images. This app has some of the coolest pictures ever, even if you don't want to go into medicine. Lastly, there are a bunch of anatomy apps and a dictionary for general diseases and syndromes called Eponym.

Alvin wrote:
The Samsung Galaxy tablet is very convenient when it comes to note taking. Sometimes, I've typed my notes on the tab instead of writing them down on paper. This is convenient because I don't have to worry about loose papers. Everything is organized and structured into one application. If there's anything I need to look up, I can use the 3G connection to Google my query right from my desk. ThinkingSpace is a brainstorming application that allows me to list my ideas in a web. I used it recently to organize my thoughts into a research paper. It's a great app for planning and studying purposes as well. I'm thinking of using it to outline study guides for any tests that I may have. ThinkFree Office is an app for the Android tab that acts as a word processor. Whenever I'm away from home but I want to get work done, I activate the app and continue typing up any documents. The app also works well with Google Docs, so I can make sure that my work is saved online if I need to work on it from a computer. ES File Explorer is a great app for managing my files on the tabs. I can manage downloaded content right from the file explorer, which is really convenient if I want to clean up the memory. Another useful app I have used is Google Sky, which maps the positions of objects in the sky according to my location. This application was particularly useful in my VHS Astronomy Course, as I could locate stars and planets from my tab even when the skies were cloudy.

Mr. Jeff Fiscina wrote:
I have downloaded many apps that assist with notetaking, document sharing, and organization. Dropbox can be used to send documents to one another to share assignments, tests, projects, and other assessments. Any kind of pad or note taking app is great for organizing all your notes into one place, and saving on paper. You never have to worry about not having a pen, running out of paper, or losing something. It’s all right there for you to keep in one space. Organizational apps, such as Stickyboard, keep you organized as a person. You can make post it notes for yourself, reminders of dates, tests, and meetings, and lots of other stuff. I downloaded an app called SAT from and it has videos on anything you can think of in math. Very basic, short, and to the point. It’s great for extra help outside the class such as reviewing for tests and doing homework. Another app I downloaded was color effects which takes your pictures and makes you redecorate them in color and black and white and is great for art projects. Other apps I downloaded included 3D Brain in order to help in science/pyschology to identify parts of the brain, CNN which can keep you up to date with current affairs in social studies, and Free Translator or foreign language.

How do you see 3G tablet devices extending learning beyond the classroom?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Perspectives - Looking Back...Thinking Forward

The following is a summary by New Milford High School teacher Colleen Tambuscio on this year's Holocaust Study Tour.  The post speaks for itself in terms of the impact this authentic learning experience has on our students as well as people all over the world.

The Holocaust Study Tour always provides new and exciting learning opportunities because, although there is an itinerary, the schedule flexes as new educational experiences arise. However, this year, our group expanded to 22 students, the largest ever. While learning about the history of the Holocaust, we became more than just a group of students and teachers. We became a family.

One of the many highlights was the opportunity to meet Eva Vavrencka, the daughter of Felicitas (Lici) Wolf Garda. Lici was the sister of Otto Wolf in theDiary of Otto Wolf (required reading prior to the trip). We are so grateful that Eva, who has never spoken in public about her family's history, was willing to meet with us at our hotel in Prague. We discovered many new aspects of the story including that Otto's diary was smuggled out of Czechoslovakia and brought to America in the 1970's by Lici's half brother, Thomas Mandl. Eva was able to give us insight into Lici's post-Holocaust life, and we are incredibly grateful to Eva for bringing this history from Salvaged Pages to life.

As always, Pavel Stransky continues to inspire us each year telling his story and guiding us to Theresienstadt, the camp where he and his wife, Vera, were interned before being sent to Auschwitz. As Pavel talked to our students, all 22 pairs of eyes were riveted to his face. Pavel, now 90 years old, compassionately and bravely tells of his time in both Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. Tears flowed down the faces of our 22 teenage children, who are now barely younger than Pavel was when the Holocaust began. All day our students approached Pavel and gave him hugs, posed for pictures and asked questions. We are thankful for Pavel’s friendship and the important historical and personal lessons he gives us.

This year the Olomouc Jewish Community invited us to celebrate the Passover Seder with them. Welcomed by Petr and his grandfather, Milos Dobry, our own Sarah Schrenzel sang the four questions in Hebrew. What an incredible evening: first listening to Milos tell his story of surviving Auschwitz; then celebrating what, for many of us, was our first Passover Seder; and finally, being able to share in this experience with the Jewish Community of Olomouc, which includes many of the Holocaust survivors that we interviewed during last year’s Holocaust Study Tour. How thankful we are that the Olomouc Jewish Community is helping us next year with our dedication at Trsice.

A new facet to our relationship with the community of Trsice was the presentation of a special pin by Colonel Zuffa-Kunci of the Czechoslovak Legions in Olomouc, to our group’s leader Colleen Tambuscio, in recognition of the special relationship which has developed between the Czech people in the Olomouc region and American students through the Holocaust Study Tour program. We have been working with the local community to further commemorate this story by building a memorial to mark the site of the underground hideouts in which the villagers of Trsice hid the Wolf family for three years during the Holocaust.

The most unexpected learning opportunity occurred inside the villa of Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow Concentration Camp, where Spielberg filmed parts of Schindler's List. After visiting the area of the camp where today lay the ruins of the Jewish Burial Hall and a memorial to Sarah Schenirer (this is the area of the camp that the HST 2009 participants cleaned up), we walked to the villa of Amon Goeth. While looking at the house from the street, we saw a gentleman come out of the doorway and wave us up the walkway. We, of course, approached the house with Shalmi, our historian for the trip, and Ewa, our Polish guide, and immediately took him up on his offer to come inside. This was an incredible chance meeting that demonstrates the importance of experiential learning and its possibility for rare opportunities that become profound teachable moments.

New this year was our overnight hotel stay at Auschwitz--actually in the town Osweicim. We entered the town, passing by Auschwitz I, which is now a museum, and also passing through Auschwitz III, the industrial complexes of Monowitz and Buna. The hotel and town center are just down the street. It is impossible to believe that anyone who lived here during World War II can say they didn't know what was happening in these camps. By the time our group reached Auschwitz, we had bonded completely. Before dinner, we debriefed about our visit in Trsice, and ended the session with a giant family hug.

Each night we ended our day of learning with journaling and discussion, and of course, the blog. Our blog has taken on an important, impactful role in the Holocaust Study Tour. Not only is the blog a way for us to focus and communicate what we are learning as we travel, it is has tremendous impact on student learning. Each night we choose students to post their reactions to the day, using their reflections from their journals. Our followers post comments, and students react and really process their learning.

The Holocaust Study Tour is unlike classroom learning not only because students experience the history through firsthand encounters, but also because they learn that history is dynamic, and that as time passes, we unearth more of the history. History is not just about the pages in a textbook. History is the story of real, living people, like Pavel Stransky, Mrs. Ohera, and Eva Vavrencka. The history lessons will continue to impact all of us who journeyed together in our Holocaust Study Tour 2011 family.