Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Worthy Widget

Dell has been identifying new ways to support the education community on the web. One of their developments is a Wordpress plugin called Education Connect that will help connect education blogs to each other. With the help of some of the top education blogs in the industry they have come up with a great tool to link bloggers to each other.

Let me first explain how it works. Education Connect is a widget/plugin that helps connect education blogs around the World. The widget is a content aggregator that takes articles from the highest quality EDU blogs and presents the titles within the widget. The widget has a special crawler that goes to a pre-set list of education blogs that are selected based on content quality. It then takes the title of the latest articles written by that blog and populates the widget sitting on the installer’s website. Articles within the widget are then ranked based on a variety of social media factors to present only the best, freshest articles.

  • Special crawler goes to a pre-set list of education blogs that are selected based on content quality.
  • Crawler takes the article titles back to the widget installer’s webpage.
  • Drops the article titles in the widget or installer’s web browsers to discover new educational material.
  • Create an educational community that is connecting and innovating the EDU World.
  • Ability to select which blogs you want to pull articles from.
The goal of the EDU connect widget is to help users and publishers discover new content and better connect with the EDU community. With the widget you can discover articles about educational technology, education news, education lessons, and more.

So what are you waiting for? Help connect the EDU World and install this Wordpress plugin. Visit any of the following links to get started.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Using Innovation to Combat Texting While Driving

The following is a guest post by Doreen Zacher, New Milford High School's Student Assistance Counselor.   She recently collaborated with graphics teacher Walt Pevny and NMHS students in the U Got Brains Challenge 2nd Annual Champion Schools Program. Their efforts resulted in NMHS being selected as a champion school in the battle to stop students from texting while driving.  NMHS is now competing against other champion schools for a driving simulator.

Distracted operation of a vehicle occurs when the driver is engaged in non-driving activities, which hinder their overall ability to operate the automobile in a safe manner.  While all distractions can endanger the overall safety and well being of occupants, texting and the use of cell phones are by far more prevalent.  “Twenty percent of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving.  Of those killed in distracted-driving-related crashes, 995 involved reports of a cell phone as a distraction (18% of fatalities in distraction-related crashes)” -NHTSA.

New Milford High School wants to assure that our students arrive safely at their destinations and do not make a fatal decision to use cell phones while behind the wheel.  New Milford High School was an active member in the 9th Annual “Get It Together” Challenge.  The “Get It Together” challenge was a local competition between high schools designed to increase seat belt usage.  The faculty and administration championed this competition to assure the safety of all New Milford students, families, and community members.  There were two unannounced checks for seat belt compliance.  The first was September 28th, 2011 and the second was October 6th, 2011.

To continue our dedication to the overall safety and well being of our students, and community members, Mr. Walt Pevny developed the “Safe Box” which was entered into the “U Got Brains Competition”, sponsored by the Brain Injury Association of New Jersey.  This revolutionary device helps to promote “text free” driving among teens.  Upon entering into the automobile, the students place their cell phones into the “Drive Safe Box”, the phone will be automatically charged and the student will not be able to remove the phone.  The driver will be unable to text or use the phone with hands; however they can still utilize and enable their blue tooth systems.  The “Drive Safe Box” can only be opened from the rear with a key, which has been attached to their car key ring.

Mr. Pevy’s multimedia class is developing a “Public Service” video on the dangers of texting while driving (to be included with every product sold).  Also, his Advanced Desktop Publishing class will develop a “marketing campaign” for the product (ads, brochures, website, etc.)  The prototype will be manufactured by Dr. Asa Awuku and his engineering club.  New Milford High School has received notification that the “Drive Safe Box” was selected as one of the top ideas and was awarded the $1,000 stipend to develop our product.

“Let’s not have a life stolen from us, use the DRIVE SAFE for a safe and hands free environment.”

Besides the initiatives listed above NMHS has joined a campaign sponsored by My Parking Sign and received two FREE signs seen below (pictured are Doreen Zacher and Walt Pevny).  These signs will be placed on two areas of our campus where they will be clearly visible to our student drivers.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

It is Time For Schools to Seriously Consider BYOT

This piece is cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

As we continue to move even further into the 21st Century, technology becomes more embedded in all aspects of society.   As a father, I see this firsthand with my son, who is in first grade.  The gift he wanted the most this past Christmas was an iPod Touch, which Santa was kind enough to bring him.  Then there is his younger sister who will regularly ask to use my iPad so she can either care for her virtual horse or dress Barbies in creative ways.  As I download all of the apps on these devices, the majority of their time is spent engaged in games that require thought, creativity, and sometimes collaboration. My point here is that many children across the world have access to, and are using, technology outside of school in a variety of ways.  Not only do many have access, but also older children possess their own devices (cell phones, smart phones, laptops, tablets, e-readers, etc.).

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As society continues to move forward in terms of innovation, technology, and global connectivity, schools are being stymied by relentless cuts to education.  This has resulted in the reduction of staff, larger class sizes, lack of follow through to repair aging buildings, and the inability to keep up with purchasing and replacing educational technology.  It is essential that we rectify all of the above mentioned impacts of budget cuts, but when it comes to technology the perception is that it is the least important area in which to invest precious funds.  This is why the time is now for districts and schools to seriously consider developing a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative.

The world of education is often defined by the “haves” and “have nots”.  It is this separation that ultimately drives decisions when it comes to educational technology.  Why should students in less affluent districts not be afforded the same opportunity as those with large budgets to utilize technology as a learning tool to create, collaborate, connect, communicate, and develop essential media literacies?  A BYOT initiative makes sense as we can now leverage a variety of devices that many of our students already possess.  It is how we utilize these student owned devices in schools that is the key to a successful BYOT initiative.

There are many well-respected educators that I greatly admire who feel that BYOT has no place in schools.  Their main reasons for this are equity in terms of students that have devices and the belief that it is each district’s responsibility to provide all technology to be used by students in schools.  I wholeheartedly agree with their positions, but those of us in the trenches must play with the cards that we have been dealt.  As educators, it is our duty to do everything in our power to provide our students with the best learning opportunities possible and in many cases allowing students to bring their own devices to school assists in meeting this lofty goal.

We launched our BYOT program at New Milford High School this past September after just piloting it with the senior class last spring.  There have been many lessons learned from this journey, the most important being that the students have greatly appreciated this shift.  Policies have been developed for students to bring in their own computing devices, a ban on cell phone use during non-instructional time has been lifted, and educational programs have been put in place to teach our students about digital citizenship, responsibility, and footprints.  We did not let excuses, such as equity, stop us from moving forward with an initiative that is turning out to have real value to our students and teachers.  Key components of a successful BYOT initiative include the following:
  • Begin to change the way students view their devices by changing the language when they are referenced.  Students need to fully understand that they are tools for learning.  Make consistent efforts to refer to them as mobile learning devices.
  • When using these devices in the classroom, the teacher must ensure that there is a specific learning outcome connected to the device.
  • Ensuring equity is important and we must be cognizant of those students that might not own a device.  Determining those that do not in a confidential manner is very important.  If using mobile phones, teachers can easily pair students up.
  • A BYOT initiative can actually supplement what a school might already have in terms of technology and increase access.  For example, let’s say a school has a laptop cart with only 20 devices because that is all that could be afforded, but there are 25 students in the class.  Student owned technology could then be utilized to close this gap.
  • Develop appropriate support structures that align with current Acceptable Use Policies.
  • Provide professional development and resources to teachers so that they can be successful in implementing mobile learning devices.
  • Treat students like 21st Century adolescents.  Many of them own and use these devices outside of school.  If we can focus use on learning, then why would we not allow them to bring these tools and use them in school? 
  • Unacceptable use is dealt with accordingly based on a school’s discipline code.  This should not be considered different than any other infraction.  When it comes to off task behavior in the classroom, this is most likely the result of a poorly planned lesson or ineffective classroom management techniques.
  • Promote use of student owned devices for learning during non-instructional time.  At NMHS, one can now routinely see students using their devices during lunch to conduct research for projects, complete homework assignments, and organize their responsibilities.  Additionally, we have seen a dramatic reduction in behavior issues.

Instead of bashing BYOT and coming up with ideas on how and why it won’t work or how it is unfair, we would be best served to brainstorm ways in which it can become an educational component of our schools.  The excuses to write off BYOT only serve to undermine the students that we are tasked with educating.  A BYOT initiative will be unique to each district and should be carefully constructed based on socioeconomics and community dynamics.  To begin the process students should be asked for their input.  What are your thoughts on BYOT in schools?  If it has worked for you, please share your experiences.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Getting Started With Web 2.0

The following is a guest post by Wendy Mackey, one of my Special Education (English) teachers at New Milford High School.

The problem with Web 2.0 is that it takes time to understand! There are so many great technology programs out there to choose from, that it can be very overwhelming for us teachers to narrow down exactly what to use. I, however, feel like I hit the nail on the head with Glogster.

My students just finished reading an alternative novel by MT Anderson called FEED. There were many themes that the story dealt with, but one that I found the kids most were interested in was the fact that a teenage girl was dying, and she was making a list of the things that she still wanted to do while she was alive. This chapter prompted a class discussion, and I explained to the students what a “Bucket List” was. They all discussed their ideas of what they wanted to do during their lifetime, and I knew that this was my opportunity to create a meaningful project for them.

Glogster, an online poster website, was the perfect forum for my students to create their Bucket Lists on. As a teacher, I took a week or so and created my own poster, simply so I could show the students how to navigate around the website. I was able to set up a free (for 30 days) teacher’s account, and I added my students on my page. They were all given nicknames and passwords, and I had the control to see what they were working on every step of the way. Once I presented my Glog, and showed them all of the fun options that were available, they were off and running. I wasn’t surprised to see that they picked up on it immediately. (And I’m slightly embarrassed to say that they even showed me some features that I had missed!) We spent two class days working on brainstorming ideas and finding graphics to portray them. I then allowed the students one extra week to work on their Glogs from home. During my personal trial run, I recognized that once this concept was in my brain, I kept coming up with new ideas each day and wanted to add them to my Glog, so I gave the kids the same opportunity that I had - the gift of time.

I am proud to say that all of my students did very well with their Glogster Bucket Lists. Many of the students had ideas that made me laugh out loud, while other students gave me a deeper understanding of who they were through their posters. Below you will find links to view some of the Glogs that my students created. All in all, I am extremely pleased with this authentic and meaningful project. 

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.
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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.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Creativity Fuels Innovation

I am a firm believer that creativity fuels innovation.  The problem though is the the majority of schools all over the world work as hard as they can to get learners to conform to a curriculum and standards while preparing them to perform at a level on standardized tests.  This is as uncreative as it gets. In the age of misguided reform the challenge becomes transforming institutions of learning and steering away from irrelevant pedagogical techniques in a way that not only meets the needs of society, but most importantly that of our students.

At New Milford we have taken a big step in placing creativity at the forefront with the creation of our Academies at NMHS as well as the introduction of new courses such as Digital Journalism, Digital Photography, Business Practice Firm, Engineering, and Biotechnology.  Teachers are also beginning to embrace a variety of Web 2.0 tools and integrate them in a way that allow students to unleash their creativity (see this Glogster example).  The PLC I am a part of with the rest of my administrative team focuses on a classroom walk-through process targeting student-centered instruction.  This is a small snapshot of what we are doing to promote creativity.

I am hoping the video above can become a catalyst for a more detailed discussion on the following: How can we nurture creativity in educational contexts?  What has to be done to transform schools in a way that embraces creative instructional strategies and thought amongst learners?