Thursday, May 31, 2012

Flipping Instruction in a Captivating Fashion

Mrs. Kanchan Chellani, one of our math teachers here at NMHS, is very enthusiastic and creative.  To engage students in her classroom, she has developed an interactive, student-centered learning environment.  Through the use of technology, collaborative learning, and teaching mathematical concepts in the real-world and interdisciplinary context, she has managed to successfully work towards creating this desired positive and energetic blended learning environment.  Some of the many methods Mrs. Chellani has employed in her daily instruction include integrating Smart Board interactive review games and videos to reinforce prior learning, case studies performed in the computer lab so students understand the significance of the material taught, and team assignments to foster a collaborative working environment.

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Since the “flipped” approach to instruction has been a hot topic in modern education, especially at NMHS, one of Mrs. Chellani’s recent initiatives has been to integrate Edmodo into her daily lessons.  She searches on the Internet for videos on the relevant content, posts them on Edmodo for her students to view, and creates polls (guided practice problems) for her students to complete in order to foster discussion on the topic the next day.  Although Edmodo and the “flipped” approach to instruction has transformed the way material is taught and comprehended by students, Mrs. Chellani noticed that it is very difficult to find videos on the content that are truly engaging.  As a result, she has decided to create her own video content using the software Adobe Captivate

Adobe Captivate is a highly, user-friendly digital content creation software that fosters interactive eLearning content.  Mrs. Chellani refers to Adobe Captivate as a “PowerPoint on Wheels.” In other words, this software not only allows one to either import or directly create a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate content, but it also provides many features that transform a simple presentation into something engaging, interactive, and stimulating.  Some of these features include integrating background music, voice-overs, the timing to which the content is displayed, videos, screen captures/simulations, and formal assessments such as quizzes that automatically track results.

Through research and the aforementioned features that the software offers, Mrs. Chellani came to the conclusion that this is one of the best tools to create digital eLearning content that would support the “flipped” approach to instruction. She has made use of the tool to create learning modules that teach the basic mathematical concepts, provide practice problems, real-world examples, and assessments that allow for better comprehension of the material in an organized fashion.  In these learning modules, instruction is provided using digital content, simulations, videos, screen captures, voice-overs, etc. to meet the visual, auditory, and tactile needs of the diverse student population.  Once the instruction has been provided, guided practice problems and real-world examples are then discussed to reinforce the learning of the mathematical concept and to illustrate its significance.  A variety of prompts and formal assessments are also embedded within the project in order to ensure learning has taken place, to foster higher-order thinking skills, and to facilitate discussion in the classroom.  Using Adobe Captivate, Mrs. Chellani has been able to create an engaging experience for her students that not only helps them understand complex mathematical concepts, but also helps them understand the real-world significance of those concepts. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Learning Should Be Creative

Allowing students to create content not only fosters creativity, but also makes learning engaging and meaningful.  Many of my teachers at NMHS embrace this ultimately rewarding challenge.  Joe Andolino (Applied Music Theory teacher at New Milford High School) and his class routinely hit upon a subject that every teen is interested in: cellphones. In previous classes the students created their own original music tracks. Building upon this experience they wanted to have ownership of something that is in their everyday lives. Mr. Andolino devised an innovative a way to connect with sound on a portable level by challenging the student to apply what they had learned in class to create an authentic ringtone using Mac Books and web 2.0 applications.
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In creating a custom ringtone a few parameters should be kept in mind. Mr. Andolino highly recommends creating something that is not too long or that has an elaborate, busy musical arrangement. It should be identifiable and catchy. Due to the mono nature of most cellphones, a clear simple track should be produced so that the sound projects. Students also needed to consider looping the song piece so it repeated for up to 30 seconds. If one desires you could even add your own voice!  Several audio techniques can be used to develop the tone. Transfering the tone to the phone can have some variables depending on the phones capabilities. Specifically, iPhone and iPods are great and most phones accept Mp3 files.  Check out two student ringtones created by Gerwin Marca and Brian Drew that were eventually uploaded to their personal cellphones.  Brian actually came to my office with Mr. Andolino to share the ringtone with me that he had created.  If you could only have seen the joy and pride on his face!  Now this is what learning is all about and the reason why we decided to pursue a career in education!

The graphics department at NMHS, led by Walt Pevny, has long been a hotbed for student-created content as a means to demonstrate conceptual mastery and learning. Mr. Pevny extends his expertise well beyond the courses and students he teaches to other disciplines.  Using Adobe Creative Design Suite, specifically InDesign and Photoshop, students from our Holocaust Study Tour work with him to create a reflective book documenting their learning experiences.   You can view the book that was created last year HERE.  This particular book was created in Adobe CS4.  With Adobe CS6 now available for our students Mr. Pevny and I can only image how awesome upcoming books will look.

Give teachers the tools, freedom, and support to be innovative and they will develop learning activities that allow students to demonstrate mastery of concepts in a creative fashion.  Yes, this type of learning can be messy at times and not always work out as planned.  However, the result will be something that stays with them for years to come and could possibly be a catalyst for even greater things....a love for learning.

Please consider sharing your stories and examples of creativity in the teaching and learning process.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Twitter: A Tool For All

For those of you who regularly read my blog you know how passionate I am about Twitter and its positive impact on my professional practice as a school leader.  I am constantly advocating for other school leaders and educators to embrace this powerful tool to improve communications, enhance public relations, establish a positive brand presence, grow professionally through the formation of a Personal Learning Network (PLN), increase student engagement, and discover a world of opportunity. Currently I manage two separate Twitter accounts (@NMHS_Principal and @NewMilfordHS) to meet the objectives stated above.

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My message is plain and simple - Twitter should be a tool utilized by all educators.  I recently did a webinar for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit #22 in Pennsylvania.  Check out the archive HERE and learn how you can easily and freely harness the power of Twitter.  Below is a brief description of the webinar:

Whether you are a teacher, administrator or classroom assistant, Twitter is an excellent resource to connect with other educators, follow experts in a particular field, share and exchange ideas, and learn from others at your own pace.  Join us for an exciting session about Twitter and its impact on education.   

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Taking Schools and Education to Another Level With Digital Publishing

On Thursday May 17, 2012, I was fortunate to attend the Adobe Digital Publishing Summit in New York City. I was accompanied by NMHS Adobe guru Walt Pevny, who consistently integrates technology in his classroom to allow students to create artifacts to demonstrate learning. Through the use of iMacs, Adobe Creative Design Suite, and digital cameras, students flock to his courses to unleash their creativity and partake in innovative learning activities.
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The summit focused on the rise of tablet devices and to advances in their ability to create digital content. This is extremely relevant as about 1/3 of Americans and 760 million people globally will own a tablet in 2016. This statistic has major implications for schools. If so many people are going to own a tablet device in the near future, it is imperative that schools and educators make content discoverable and share it. Businesses have already realized this shift and have begun to intensely focus on the evolution of tablet devices and apps. Tablet apps can get schools and educators closer to their stakeholders on a device they love. Students and schools can create content, share it, and have it available for all stakeholders to consume and to interact with it. Once the content is created, it can be downloaded onto a tablet and viewed with, or without, an Internet connection.

Schools that invest in tablets should prioritize iPad first, as it currently dominates the market place and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but should eventually scale across devices and platforms. The exciting challenge then becomes creating authentic apps for the school and classroom. Isn't this what education today is all about though? Follow this link for some great resources to begin creating your own apps.

Sotherby's talked about moving over their paper catalogues to digital. When you consider that they were printing 15 large paper catalogues a year this proved to not only save a substantial amount of money, but also increased consumer interactivity with their products. Schools could easily create their course of study catalogues, curriculum guides, and sports programs in a similar fashion using tools found in the Adobe Digital PublishingSuite (DPS). Another innovative idea would be for schools to create interactive guides for their learning and athletic facilities where stakeholders can rotate images 360 degrees. Additionally, features could be added where anyone with the app could touch specific areas of the image and receive detailed information about how certain forms of technology are used to enhance the teaching and learning process. Think about how the course of studies catalogue could come to life with short video clips of teachers in action or discussions as to what students will learn and do in the course.

Taking this idea a step further, I envision art students creating a portfolio of their work prior to an art show or even as a culminating project. Stakeholders can then view the works that students have created before, during, or after the show from anywhere in the world. Students could even add descriptions and personal reflections on their art or even video clips taking viewers through the creation process. I can even see the use of apps by teachers to display student learning portfolios for all to see in the future. School newspapers and magazines could be taken to an unparalleled level with Adobe DPS.

Digital publishing tools will function to bridge the gap between websites and traditional apps. In conjunction with apps, they can be used to improve recruiting students that are thinking about attending private schools, improve mobile presentations, improve stakeholder experiences with the school, create a content distribution channel, enhance public relations, improve tools for teachers to share what their students are learning, push notifications out, and deliver real-time information. From what I know and have seen in my own school, Adobe provides some of the best digital publishing tools available to schools. Their recent release of Creative Design Suite 6 and numerous tablet apps provide all the means for schools to produce authentic digital content. The possibilities are endless, but what is needed is a change in mindset amongst many schools and educators. We need the will to accompany the means.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Social Media For School Leaders

Last week I had the honor of presenting a webinar for NASSP, my national association.  This was the first of three in a series presented by the 2012 Digital Principal Award winners.  

Below is a synopsis of the webinar I did:

NASSP Digital Principal Award winner Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford (NJ) High School, kicks-off the Digital Principal webinar series with his presentation on ways school leaders can effectively use social media in their schools. The educational landscape is changing thanks to continuous advances in technology. As a result, school leaders must recognize this shift and lead by example in order to meet the diverse needs of key stakeholders in the 21st century. Using the why, what, how, and who of NASSP’s Breaking RanksComprehensive Framework, learn how to harness the power of social media today to improve communications, enhance public relations, establish a brand presence, increase student engagement, and grow professionally like never before.

The complete archive of the webinar is available for free by clicking HERE.  This is a great webinar to share with any school leader who wants to begin to harness the power of social media or is skeptical about how it can be effectively used to improve schools.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

School Should Reflect Real Life

Many of us firmly believe in the potential that technology has to transform the teaching and learning cultures of schools.  Whether it is used to enhance lessons, assess learning, engage students, or unleash creativity, technology has a defined role in a variety of school functions.  Even though I am preaching to the choir, many schools still treat education as an effort in preparing students for a world that no longer exists.  Technology is viewed as either a frill, distraction, or a non-factor in improving student achievement.  The video below from Power On Texas provides a fantastic snapshot on how digital technology is transforming teaching and learning in Texas.

The video hammers home the point that for many students school does not reflect real life.  The question then becomes how do we move those schools that are the most irrelevant in terms of meeting the diverse learning needs of their students to being the transformation process? This, in my opinion, is pivotal if we are to truly begin to reform education in a way that is meaningful to our students.  Our students want to be creative, collaborate, utilize technology for learning, connect with their peers in other countries, understand the messages that media convey, and solve real-world problems.  Schools and systems of education that do not embrace digital learning and place a high emphasis on standardization will always fail to resonate with our students.