Friday, June 6, 2008

The Power of 21st Century Teaching and Learning Brought to Life at Bronx Middle School CIS 339’s Open House

Today I had the pleasure of attending an open house at CIS 339, a middle school in the Bronx that shared how they were using 21st Century learning tools to engage students and staff in all content areas across multiple platforms (iBooks, Asus Eee PCs, iPods, Dell laptops, SMARTBoards).


At the helm was the school’s technology coach, Christina Jenkins who did an incredible and professional job of putting this event together. Ms. Jenkins put together a program for the day that included the opportunity for visitors to see how a variety of tools such as blogs, digital video, SMARTBoards, Garageband, Google Docs, Google Maps, SMARTNotebook, and more were used in lessons to enhance instruction. Pulling off the event was not a difficult feat since the staff was showcasing the work that occurs on an ongoing basis at the school, and inviting the outside community to take a peak is what made this event special. Under the leadership of principal Jason Levy and AP Dan Ackerman, Ms. Jenkins with support from Cyber Consultant Pat Wagner spent the year putting the structures and professional development and support in place that was necessary to enable visitors to walk into an environment where it was instantly evident that 21st Century tools have transformed the way teaching and learning occur. This has become ingrained into the fabric of the school to the point that this is just the way they do business. What has become second nature to the school in a short time is something that few other educators, administrators, or community members have seen or could even imagine. In addition to taking visitors on a learning walk to see how technology was used in lessons, the visit also included a comprehensive presentation that provided an overview of how they are enhancing teaching and learning with technology.


While talking about, reading, and attending professional development are all valuable endeavors, there is little else as powerful as seeing this in action to open other’s minds to the possibilities and clear many fears and misconceptions people have about using 21st Century tools. You could see an example of this as we entered one classroom that was using wikis. Visitors were able to see how this teacher was using wikis to enhance instruction. Many people did not know that wikis could be used as a free content management system full with the ability to have unlimited file storage, and allow students and teachers to have moderated and private discussions about their work. To many, wikis had only the association of Wikipedia and they saw them as simply a tool to collaboratively write entries about various topics.


Showcasing A 21st Century School is A Win-Win
CIS 339 invited educators and administrators interested in using 21st Century tools from across the city. Not only did CIS 339 gain a tremendous amount by hosting this open house, they also gave a tremendous amount back. Hosting this open house provided staff and students an opportunity to share and celebrate the great work they have been doing all year. It also provided them with a realization that they are engaging in 21st Century education in unique ways that others are interested in and hungry to learn more about. Additionally, by inviting the public to this open house they make a clear case that demonstrates how 21st Century infrastructures such as ubiquitous computing and laptops for all is transforming education. This type of showcase also informs the way schools can be doing business. For instance visitors could see that they have transformed the work they do using mostly a full suite of free applications including email, word processing, presentation software, excel etc. They really do not need to buy any applications and don’t need a server for students to access their work anytime/anywhere. Google serves this need for them. Taking note of things like this informs visitors in ways that will transform the way they operate and the school makes a case for ongoing support and funding to keep 21st education going. Here are some other lessons learned.


Web 2.0 Tools Enable Ongoing Feedback and Dialogue for Teacher Professional Development
Visitors also were able to see how the school uses collaborative documents to simplify and enhance administrative duties such as providing teacher feedback and professional development. All the school administrators and coaches have a feedback sheet that is shared with teachers. The feedback language is consistent across the school. When visiting a class feedback can be instantly provided for the teacher and the sheet is created in such a way that it is interactive and the teachers can respond to coaches and others so that dialogue and coaching can occur long after the lesson is over.


Asus Eee PCs in Action
CIS 339 is among the first schools to use the new Asus Eee PCs in the classroom. They have a couple hundred devices. A visit to the school enabled attendees to see first hand their effectiveness. I spoke to a couple teachers and several students who were very happy with the devices. Despite the reaction of some adults, the kids did not take issue with the keyboard or screen size. Many of them said they preferred the small size of the device and it fit their needs well. The class I visited keep all their work in Google Docs and that is where all student work is stored. All students share their documents with their teacher and the teacher explained how much easier it was for students to manage their work and for the teacher to find work from students because he could get all student’s work by simply typing their name in the search field of his Google Docs site.


Cyber Consultant
CIS 339 truly embraces and models 21st education practices in much of what they do including with cyber consultant Pat Wagner who is based in Australia. While Pat does spend time across the year when he is physically at CIS 339, he also stays in constant connection and contact with students and staff. He does this in many ways including through virtual lessons and messages he provides to students through videos embedded into blogs that they can comment on as well as Skype online video conferencing professional development for teachers. This really drives home the idea of The Flat Classroom as students and teachers can see first-hand how with technology there really are no more barriers to connecting with experts, friends, and others anytime, anywhere, around the world.


Final Thoughts
I was already impressed with how CIS 339 Brought Professional Learning Communities Into The 21st Century. This open house enabled others to see how they accomplish this as well as engage in other transformative educational activities. As a result of this sharing, I am confident the practice of other educators will be transformed and will benefit all who have the opportunity to be involved. What impressed me most was how 21st Century tools were seamlessly embedded into the work they do at the school. It wasn't something that was spoken about it was just there. Like air to a human, it seemed the students and staff would only notice the technology if it was taken away. This school could not operate as it does if not for its leader, Jason Levy, who put together a strong team (tech coach-Ms. Jenkins, innovative AP-Mr. Ackerman, tech savvy consultant-Mr. Wagner, 21st century instructional dean-Mr. Prinstein, and, of course, a staff of dedicated teachers and administrators to support this work. Equally important is Mr. Levy leads by example by creating and integrating these practices and structures into all he does and all he expects from his students and staff.

Visit these links for more information:

339HARDLINE – STUDENT NEWSPAPER
http://339hardline.com

GOOGLE APPS HOME PAGE
http://cis339online.org

PRESENTATION ON GOOGLE APPS AT GOOGLE NYC
http://www.nycempowerment.org/CIS339

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