Thursday, January 31, 2013

Learning Math Should be Fun and Engaging

Kanchan Chellani, currently a math teacher at New Milford High School, is a strong believer in making the learning process fun, interactive, and meaningful for students. To engage students in her classroom, Mrs. Chellani has utilized a variety of tools to help her develop an interactive, student-centered learning environment.  Through the use of technology, collaborative learning exercises, 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.

Since the “flipped” approach to instruction is proving to be a key asset in modern education, one of Mrs. Chellani’s recent initiatives has been to provide students with a means to learn independently utilizing digital content.  Starting in December 2011, she began using Edmodo, an online platform that enables innovative and social learning, as a way to share online videos and content on the relevant topic for her students to view and assign online polls to complete in order to foster discussion on the topic the next day.  Although enabling the “flipped” approach to instruction using Edmodo has transformed the way material is taught and comprehended by students, it has been difficult to find resources that combine curriculum delivery, real-world examples, and assessments in a cohesive manner.  As a result, she has started to create her own online learning modules, using the software Adobe Captivate.

Adobe Captivate is a highly, user-friendly digital content creation software that fosters interactive eLearning content.  Mrs. Chellani has made use of the tool by creating learning modules that teach the basic mathematical concepts, as well as, 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 that the learning has taken place, to develop higher-order thinking skills, and to facilitate discussion in the classroom.

Here’s how it works! 

  • Students go onto and select the assigned video for homework.
  • Students view the instructional portion of the video (both mathematical content and real-world applications) and complete guided practice problems, prompts, and formal assessments embedded within the video.
  • Students come into class the next day with a solid foundation on the mathematical topic.  The teacher utilizes the aforementioned prompts to facilitate class discussion and assigns polls via Edmodo to ensure that the learning has taken place.
  • SMART Board interactive review games, case studies, collaborative learning exercises, group projects, quizzes, and tests are assigned in class to reinforce the learning in a differentiated fashion and probe deeper into key mathematical topics. 
Using Adobe Captivate, Mrs. Chellani has been able to create an engaging and interactive learning 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, January 28, 2013

The Lowell Milken Center Discovery Award

Innovation and creativity are at the core of the American spirit and they are the qualities that build the foundation for progress in education, technology, business, and, well, just about everything. As a principal, I often write about of the importance of creativity, innovation, and discovery in the classroom.  

When it comes to innovating in the classroom, project-based learning has gained increased attention as teachers and reformers seek ways to the move our classrooms away from the often mundane textbook-based lesson plan and lecture structure. Giving students a more open path and an interactive way in which to make their journey can be the key to unlocking their creativity and engagement with learning, regardless of the subject.  

With this in mind, I wanted to share an exciting new opportunity to energize your students to try project-based learning for themselves through the Lowell Milken Center Discovery Award.  The Lowell Milken Center was named for and founded by education philanthropist Lowell Milken in 2007.  The Kansas-based organization has been churning out rather impressive projects that have resulted in  national and world news coverage ever since.  They are now offering students the chance to win a whopping $10,000 for their efforts in uncovering an unknown historical figure.  The winners of the Lowell Milken Center Discovery Award will be announced in September and I can't wait to see what history students and teachers have come up with in pursuit of this goal.  If you haven't yet heard about this award, the Lowell Milken Center asked students across America to create projects around the story of an unsung hero who has changed history.  Students can present their discovery as a documentary film, a performance, or a website, giving them the freedom to harness the best multi-media format for their projects. 

I encourage parents and teachers to share this opportunity with their kids. I'm certainly planning to promote this organization and its award to my students and colleagues. The Lowell Milken Center Discovery Award is the kind innovative contest that makes learning come alive for students.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Altering the Path to BYOD

The following is a guest post by Sherry Spier, a K-12 Media Specialist Coordinator in the Cinnaminson School District (NJ).  In this post Sherry reflects on here recent visit to New Milford High School, which took place on January 11, 2013.

For the last year, myself and four other members of the Cinnaminson School District staff worked relentlessly to start a pilot Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) program at Cinnaminson High School. We worked together to create an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) and a FAQ sheet for students and parents. We researched how other school districts began their program. We asked for volunteers.  I thought we took all the necessary steps to pilot this program. After meeting with Eric Sheninger and touring New Milford High School, I now recognize that we share similar goals for a successful technology program, but our steps have not overlapped to make the same progress. 

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The technology committee took all of the necessary steps, but maybe not the correct path in implementing our BYOT program.  Our first steps should have involved our key stakeholders, the students. We did not ask them key questions which should have driven our implementation. We should have asked them what devices do they currently have and what are they using their devices for?  What can they show the teachers and administrators that we don’t already know?  What do students need to be able to do when they graduate that they can not currently doing that involves technology?  All of these questions (and more) should have been our first steps in the path to developing a BYOT pilot program.

As we forged our way ahead, the technology committee should have made a greater effort in enlightening the educators and administrators who are stakeholders in this process.  By not providing adequate support, in-service training, brainstorming, or sometimes an ear just to listen, we may have missed key components necessary for our goals to be met.  Most importantly, a level of trust amongst all stakeholders through proven accomplishments will move the pace of the program ahead by leaps and bounds.

The most important lesson I learned while meeting with Mr. Sheninger that will help guide us back on the right track is that I need to be the catalyst for change. My schedule allows me the freedom to pop into classrooms and assist teachers as needed.  I need to model what I know about technology and share that with administration and my peers.  I need to build enthusiasm for this program. 

Maybe the path we took to get where we currently are in our pilot is not the same path NMHS took to get where they currently are, but you can not change history.  Now is the time to retrace our path, make the necessary changes to continue to journey ahead, and move together to make Cinnaminson’s BYOT program a growing success. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Communicating a Concept With Instagram

The culture at New Milford High School empowers teachers to develop creative pathways for students to demonstrate conceptual mastery.  Joanna Westbrook, one of my first year English teachers, never shies away from this.  Earlier this year she experimented with using Twitter to foster creative thought.  Well earlier this week Mrs. Westbrook was at it again.  On Monday she enthusiastically entered my office to share a new project she was working on that was going to integrate Instagram.  As she explained the project to me I immediately asked her if she could email it to me so I could not only share it, but also gather some feedback for her from my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  Below is the assignment, which she has begun to implement in class.  Please note, however, that it is still a work in progress.  

The aim of the Instagram Project is to challenge you to communicate a concept from A Raisin in the Sun through the use of visual images.  You will choose a theme/concept statement from the statements we generate or address in our Socratic Seminar at the end of the play. Once you have chosen that statement, you will produce a series of photos that you will post to Instagram in the form of a photo essay. The requirements are as follows:

  1. IDENTIFY THE CONCEPT IN THE PLAY. The first two photos will portray the concept as it is expressed in at least two specific lines from the play. In your comment for both photos, you will quote the lines accurately and include the parenthetical documentation for the act, scene, and page number.  The group members will be the “characters” in the photos and the tableau you create must be true to both the stage directions and visual “SPECTACLE” of Hansberry’s play.   
  2. CONNECT THE CONCEPT FROM THE PLAY TO YOUR WORLD/LIFE. The next three photos will portray the concept as it is demonstrated in the world around you.  In your comment for these photos, you must articulate how the concept is connected to the play AND to contemporary society.  Note you can EITHER agree OR disagree with the statement.
  3. PORTRAY HANSBERRY’S SPECTACLE. On the day we take the photos, you must have assembled and planned the props you will use to convey both the details of the play and the ideas you want to communicate.  YOU MUST BE PREPARED FOR THE PHOTOS.
  4. DIVIDE RESPONSIBILITIES. You will work in a group of three.  Each group must have at least one student with a smart phone.  Each group member must be responsible for the planning/staging/arrangement/comment of at least 1 photo in the collection you submit. Divide tasks and be fair. DO YOUR BIT!

Theme /Concept Statements 

  1. If you work hard enough, you can achieve your dreams. 
  2. Discrimination is a reality in our world.
  3. Men and women have equal opportunities.
  4. Success is having a lot of money.
  5. It is honorable to sacrifice for the sake of someone else. 
  6. Sometimes we have to make a morally questionable choice to do what is right. 
  7. A family not having extra money is more difficult on a man than on a woman. 
  8. Poverty level has little impact on quality of life. 
  9. Meeting family obligations is more important than individual desires.
  10. A person should be willing to do a job he/she hates to provide for their family.


*Note each theme statement can also be negated.  For example, “Hard work is not enough for us to reach our dreams….”

A rubric as well as the Common Core Standards that are to be assessed can be found HERE.  So what do you think of this project?  Do you have any constructive feedback that I can share with Mrs. Westbrook?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Making Teachers' Lives Easier

The following is a guest post by Jessica Groff, an English teacher here at New Milford High School.  In this post she discusses her experience with a cloud-based technology solution called ClassLink. Jessica also teachers Digital Journalism and has worked with her students to create The Lance, our school's digital newspaper.

Four years ago, I left a desk job to become a teacher.  In my previous life, I would turn off the computer in the office at 5:00 and go home, not thinking about the files left at the office again.  When I began teaching, my world changed.  Although school ended at 3:00, my work continued.  From extra help, to grading papers, to creating assessments and coming up with activities, my profession reached far into my home life.  

I quickly realized that saving work on my computer at work was not going to be good enough anymore.  How could I open up a document and work on it at home at 7:00 at night when a great idea came to me if it was something that I had saved on my school computer during my preparation period at school?!

The first thing that I did was invest in a good flash drive.  It had lots of space, and it was handy because I kept it on my keychain, something that goes everywhere with me.  I began saving all of my work to my flash drive.  I could easily work on a document at home OR at school.  It was simple, lightweight, and convenient.  And then one day, my world came crashing down.  My flash drive had fallen off of my keychain.

Hours worth of work were lost forever.  

After this traumatic experience, I caved in and started emailing myself documents.  I would have different versions of the same document at home and at school, taking up space in my email, and I was always unsure of which version I had used latest.  It was confusing, but the only way that I could get done what needed to be done!

And then I came to New Milford High School, a school that has invested in and uses Classlink.  My life was saved!  With Classlink, I am able to save my documents to my personal drive on the school’s server, and access them from ANY computer with Internet capability.  I can download the document, work on it, and upload it back into my personal drive at work, even from home or on the go.  

Also, with Classlink, there is easy one-click access to various websites that we use the most often here at NMHS, such as PowerTeacher, SchoolDude (our work order request website), Google Apps, and virtually anything else that we may access on a regular basis.  It is a one-stop shop for all things education and ed-tech.

What I like the most about Classlink is that I can access it from anywhere.  My responsibilities at school do not keep me chained to my room all day.  I often move to different rooms, and sometimes I cannot just log on to the school server using my unique username and password.  At times like this, I can simply go to any computer that’s logged in and go to the Classlink website.  For example, today I was working with my Digital Journalism class in the Mac Lab on the lower level of our school.  A student needed a permission slip that I had drawn up on my computer on the third floor.  I simply logged onto Classlink, found the document, downloaded it, changed it to reflect what he needed, and printed it out on the spot. 

For the Apple users out there, there is an iPhone/iPad application, as well.  With the app, I can download documents into Evernote, or any other compatible processing app, and view or make changes to anything.  I often access my personal drive from the application during meetings to discuss projects and assessments or curriculum with colleagues, which makes on-the-spot collaboration much more interactive.  Instead of saying, “I’ll email you the document,” or running to my classroom to print it out and run back to my waiting colleagues, I can open any document on my cell phone and show it to my colleagues at that very moment, and we can move forward with our discussion.

I really cannot say enough great things about Classlink.  It has made my life so much easier in so many ways when it comes to planning, preparation, and collaboration, the three keys to being a teacher.  I know what life was like before, and I’m so glad that NMHS found Classlink!  

We are also using ClassLink here at NMHS as a cloud-based Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) solution.  It is a fantastic resource for schools looking to streamline their BYOD initiatives

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Right Way is Your Way

I have read some very thought-provoking posts and associated commentary over the past couple of weeks focusing on how particular educators use social media.  What I have found interesting is the powerful opinions as to how one should use social media.  I think it is great that so many people have focused opinions on what social media should, could, or should not be with a considerable emphasis on specific do's and dont's.  These specific methods and techniques work for them and it is important that all of us have some sense as to the why and how when it comes to our own social media use.  It is these opinions that always force me to reflect on my own use, objectives, and goals.

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To make things clear there is no guidebook out there that educators must abide by when it comes to using social media.   Social media is like the "Wild West" in that there are no overbearing rules, which is why I love it so much.  I can be brief if I want to.  I can comment on a post or tweet if I want to.  I can share something if and when I want to.  I can follow or unfollow whoever I want at any time.  I can recommend educators to follow if I want to.  Heck, I can post pictures of my kids if I want to.  The only firm rule I would encourage all educators to follow is to use common sense when posting to the Internet and always remember your role as an educator in the community you serve. Everything else is basically up to you and your specific preferences.

This has led me to think about how I use a myriad of social media tools with Twitter being my main go to resource.  To put it simply here is how I use social media as an educational administrator and learner:
  • Acquire, share, and curate resources
  • Discussion forum and engage in conversations of professional interest
  • Elicit feedback on ideas and initiatives I launch at my school
  • Support
  • Ask questions and receive answers
  • Track conferences
  • Digital newspaper
  • Connect with practitioners as well as experts in the field of education
  • Build, cultivate,and interact with a Personal Learning Community (PLN) to grow professionally and do what I do better
  • Promote my work and the work of others
  • Share the great things my students and teachers are doing
  • Public relations
  • Enhance communications
  • Develop a positive brand presence for the school
Is there a right or wrong way to use social media? I personally don't think so. The beauty and power of social media is that it is adaptable to fit our particular needs and goals at a given time.  As our goals and needs change our use of social media will evolve.  My point here is that any way an educator decides to use social media is the right way. What are your thoughts on this? Should there be specific rules or guidelines for educators to follow in online spaces?