At our most recent faculty meeting at Black River Middle School we had several staff members share some of their favorite tools that enhance student learning experiences. Social studies, science, language arts, mathematics, and special education were the disciplines that shared their tools of the trade. All of the "featured presenters" spoke to the importance of collaborating with our technology coaches to ensure successful implementation of educational technology. In fact, it was our wonderful tech coaches who came up with this idea of staff members presenting at faculty meetings. Another theme that popped up throughout the faculty meeting presentations was choice. Providing students with an opportunity to show what they know about the topic on their terms is pretty powerful. Two of our teachers shared their experience on a project where 6th and 7th graders taught each other utilizing various technologies. Students in 7th grade biology would teach students in 6th grade global connections about DNA. To flip things around the 6th grade students taught the 7th grade students about mummies. Web applications like Google Hangout, PearDeck, and Kahoot were used to communicate, assess, and learn. PlayPosit, formerly EduCannon, was shown as a way for teachers to engage students more deeply in videos they watch. This is a tool that allows teachers to embed questions through a video clip in order to better inform learning. Another teacher provided insight on the Orange Slice Google Doc Add-On. This tool helps teachers create rubrics that will score students work. FlipGrid was shown as way to provide students with a chance to express their knowledge in language arts class through recorded video clips. It gives reluctant students a chance to shine and all students a chance to improve their virtual speaking skills. Finally, one of our math teachers shared her notes from a recent math workshop she attended. One tool in particular, NearPod, was shown to staff as a way to engage learners through a presentation in real time. As you can see there are so many wonderful ideas and resources shared at our faculty meetings. The next step will be to provide staff members time at the next faculty meeting to sit down with these "featured presenters" and really get into how these tools can be applied in their very own learning environment. The more staff members share best practices, the more student success will be impacted.
This past week I was fortunate enough to conduct a site visit, with a handful of fellow colleagues, at Byram Intermediate School in Byram, New Jersey. John Fritzky, who I initially met on Twitter, is the building building principal. I learned so much from the classroom visitations and conversations with staff. Usually I am in the opposite position and hosting schools from various parts of New Jersey and around the world. Either way I think it's a great practice to host and visit schools as much as humanly possible. It provides everyone involved an opportunity to learn new things and reflect on how they are impacting student success at a classroom, school, and district level.
One takeaway from our visit to Byram Intermediate School included experiencing the monthly Spotlight Assembly that highlights subject and grade level student and staff achievements. In visiting over twenty classrooms, we were impressed with how students were learning at their own pace and collaborating on assignments with and without technology. Their 1:1 Chromebook environment was really inspiring and gave us some ideas on how we can improve in this area moving forward. In particular students owned their learning by curating content to make sense of the topic at hand. Their Mass Media class was really something special and provides students with an opportunity to create the morning announcements virtually and push out on YouTube. I also learned about a math review game called grudge that incorporates shooting a ball into the garbage can. Most importantly I was able to have healthy conversations with my colleagues on what we experienced and how we can make our school even better than what it is now. I really believe that schools should visit other schools and host other schools on a monthly basis. Everyone can learn so much and improve as an educator in order to continue to promote the success of students in new ways.
It's imperative that your school open it's doors to other schools. The feedback and insight provided can move your school from good to great. The pride that comes from other educators being impressed with how teachers teach and students learn in your building goes a long way in boosting morale and strengthening culture. The experience also brings about a feeling of "hey we have it pretty good here" and it also brings about another feeling of "hey we need to be doing what they are doing."
The picture of a water fountain I embedded into this blog post is something that I found very interesting during our visit. I guess way back when people use to wash their hands in the same place from where they would drink? Don't worry, the water fountain did not work but thought it was a pretty cool artifact. So what do you say? Think about some schools you would like to visit or start planning for your very own open house and make it happen. Celebrate your students and staff by putting them on display so that they can inspire another group of educators to be better than they were yesterday.
Brad Currie is the author of the new released 140 Twitter Tips for Educators. His other books include All Hands on Deck: Tools for Connecting Educators, Parents, and Communities and Personalized PD: Flipping Your Professional Development. He is one of the founding partners of Evolving Educators LLC. Brad is a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader and Google Certified Trainer. Brad currently serves as a K-8 Supervisor of Instruction and Dean of Students for the Chester School District in Chester, NJ. He speaks and presents nationally about technology integration. Learn more about Brad by following him on Twitter@bradmcurrie or visiting his website at www.bradcurrie.net.