At the Denton Avenue school, I observed in a 5th grade inclusion classroom taught by twitter friend, @LParisi (blog) and fellow twitterer @csouthard (blog). I actually came to have this opportunity through twits with Lisa and I am very grateful for it. Their classroom is unlike any other that I have yet observed in. I was introduced to the class as someone who wanted to be a "computer teacher" and they all told me that I had come to right class then! They knew that they were doing something special in the class and they loved it!
The day I went was "Flag Day" which is a big deal in this particular school. Ever since 9/11 they have a huge assembly, everyone comes dressed in all sorts of red, white & blue, and they have a barbeque for lunch. Not having much notice, or items in my closet, I wore a black NASA shirt with red, white and blue sequins. The students noticed right away and told me that they had been doing a unit on NASA and the space program that involved multimedia interaction and immediately asked the teachers if they could watch more of it today. But, that was not on the agenda. The assembly took up a lot of the morning. I learned that the flag outside the school was one of the flags that flew outside the capital on 9/11. Kids who were in the band played American songs and the Human Relations club gave some special recognition and awards. The teachers surprised the kids with a slideshow and songs.
When we got back to the classroom, they went to work on their "Cinderella Stories". This came out of a lesson on Settings. They were to write their own story in MS Word and then draw bodies representing the characters in their stories. They were encouraged to use the internet to get styles of clothing, etc... to copy as they drew. Then they took pictures of their fellow classmates and teachers (and even asked me to be in one! - which was really cute) and attached the heads to the bodies. Then they were to scan in each of the characters, edit in Photoshop if necessary, and use PhotoStory to animate the story. They also needed to record voiceovers for each scene. This was a totally impressive use of technology and while the students were at different levels of skills and some more or less ahead of others, they were all enjoying it.
After lunch, we had the "Morning Meeting". They normally do this in the morning hence the name. The first part is the greeting. A few kids have to decide what the greeting will be. Today we all went outside and went around a circle in "snake formation" introducing ourselves and saying good afternoon. This, along with the Human Relations Club, I see as ways to teach respect and kindness (as well as professional behavior). The second part of the meeting is "podcasting". Each day 2 or 3 students will tell a story about something and ask for questions and comments. The questions have to be relevant and not "all about me". The person telling the story is speaking into a voice recorder for uploading to their own personal blog. They use classblogmeister for this. They were very disappointed to learn that they would not have access to edit these blogs after school was over. So, the teachers offered to teach them how to use their own personal blog, assuming they get a signed permission slip from a parent. Part of the lessons they learned in creating their own blogs was about what it means to be a good online citizen and why cyberbullying is bad. For their podcasting, they use Audacity to edit audio and either GarageBand or Gcast to upload student podcasts. I was asked to participate in Morning Meeting by telling my own story of where I was on 9/11 (in the World Trade Center). Most of the students asked a lot of good questions. I was impressed.
At this point it was almost the end of the day. While the students are waiting to be called for dismissal, they play "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?". At one point there is a question on how something is spelled. One child went to the dictionary but another child went right to the Franklin Talking Dictionary on the teachers' desk and found the answer the fastest. These students are definitely comfortable with the integration of technology in the classroom.
This particular class has won several awards for their use of technology which includes such things as a joint project using Skype with a class in the Midwest, among other things. The teachers are well known for the high quality of technology integration. Some things I learned throughout the day include:
- Email is used extensively. They collect emails at the beginning of the year and they are expected to use it to retrieve homework assignments and the like.
- They make extensive use of the SmartBoard. For example, they often play a Jeopardy type game for learning math or science, etc...
- The teachers use a lot of methods that they learned through "Responsive Classroom" training, which they highly recommend.
- The Herricks school district is extremely supportive of this classroom and its teachers.
To get a glimpse of some of projects being worked on this classroom - dubbed South Paris Collaborative - check out their website.
A few notes on my day at Schecter (This is where my husband works). Unfortunately I attended during the last week of school so not much learning was going on. I met with the computer teacher (the students go to the Computer "Special" once per week). This day was 1st graders and they were just playing some online games and also using KidPix. They did crave attention and I helped some of them make Father's Day cards. The rest of the time I spent in my husband's classroom doing low-tech activities like reading them a book and helping them to write letters (with pen and paper!). I was invited back next year to see more of what they are doing with technology.