New Technology Initiative Enhances Dobbs Ferry School Curriculum

A press release from the Dobbs Ferry School District.

Dobbs Ferry Middle School teachers are starting the fall term with a new “bag of technology tools” to incorporate into their classroom instruction to enhance and support student centered lessons and activities.

This summer, approximately 30 teachers from all three school buildings participated in a pilot program to look at different areas of technology and the integration of educational websites, applications, resources and strategies to improve student learning.

Two sixth grade teachers who have been actively engaged in this new initiative are Social Studies teacher Jen Hickey and English Language Arts (ELA) teacher Ed Feller.

While both of them are excited about having more accessibility to educational websites, since the District has relaxed its filters for adult users, they are equally grateful for the increased availability of equipment, including two iPad carts containing a class-set of computers.

“The most important element,” they noted, “is to be purposeful in choosing the technology that is right for your curriculum and your student goals. Some subjects lend themselves more to technology than others.”

“Technology looks different in every classroom and every subject area,” said Mr. Feller. “Right now I’m exploring innovative ways to teach grammar, which is a challenge. Technology is much more suited to teaching reading, writing and is also great for publishing activities. It is important to find a balance. Instruction drives what technology you’re using, not the other way around. You have to use these new tools where appropriate and worthwhile.” 

In ELA, Mr. Feller’s students will be working on “Book Hook” projects, where they will create trailers advertising their summer reading books via iMovie technology.

“Book Hooks” are 30-second to 1-minute mini book reviews which utilize creative images with voice over and text to highlight characters and plot elements from their written book reports. Part of the Common Core Standards guidelines focus on the use of visual elements in assignments like independent reading and the literacy component in other subject areas.

Mr. Feller also uses the school’s internal eChalk discussion board with students to enable them to respond to each other’s posts regarding homework and projects.

Since the pilot training program, Ms. Hickey has been using Twitter as a source of professional development to chat weekly with other Social Studies teachers around the country and share ideas. Recently, the discussion centered on the upcoming elections.

This unit is still being planned, but so far teachers from her chat group will be sharing mock election results via Google Docs. Already 64 teachers from 30 states have committed to the project. From this information, students will be looking at demographics, how people voted and why they voted the way they did. In addition, students will have the opportunity to create a campaign ad for their candidate using the iPads as well as other technology-integrated activities. 

The mock election will be held on November 2nd.

For Back-to-School Night, the sixth grade teachers created a QR code for parents to scan with their smart phones so that they can link directly to the team’s class page/calendar. The team class page lists tests, quizzes, long-term projects and other assignments for all the classes which can be found in one spot…no searching the website. 

To introduce students to the sixth grade Social Studies curriculum and what they would be learning this year, Ms. Hickey created her own iPhoto slide show set to music. The students will be utilizing this specific program for a Social Studies project later in the year.

Assessment is another important area where technology is a boon for educators. Teachers are utilizing the Smart Response tool to administer diagnostic exams in AIS (Academic Intervention Services) Literacy, as well as pre-assessments in several of the content areas. The data can be readily converted into an Excel file, which allows easier reading and data manipulation for the teachers.

Ms. Hickey recently tried out a flipped lesson with her class on latitude and longitude. Students watched a video that she created (using the app Explain Everything) and completed a graphic organizer for students to fill out while watching the video. The following class, based on the completion of their “homework organizer” she was able to group the students, in order to complete an activity, according to their understanding of the concept. Some students needed more direct review of the concept, while others worked on extension or enrichment activities. This proved to be a very successful differentiation activity and lesson. 

“The wonderful thing about technology today is that it enables teachers to augment instruction, develop interactive assignments, evaluate outcomes and enrich the curriculum,” said Ms. Hickey. “We’re not always running to the library to do research; with iPads and SMART Boards the internet is at our fingertips. Technology in schools is about sharing information and best practices, as well as furthering communication and analytical discussion among students.” 

According to Middle School Principal Patrick Mussolini, he continues to “encourage his staff to search out and embrace the possibilities that technology integration presents in transforming instruction for all students.”

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