To know New Milford High School Principal Eric Sheninger is to know how strongly he embraces technology. Sheninger encourages his staff of teachers to become educated in how to bring 21st Century technology into the classroom as an innovative way expand the walls of the classroom.
Sheninger is, after all, the principal who has a Twitter following of 14,674 (as of the time of printing). He is also a Google Certified Teacher, ASCD 2011 Conference Scholar, co-author of "Communicating and Connecting with Social Media: Essentials for Principals," writer for the Huffington Post, and was named to the NSBA "20 to Watch" list in 2010 for technology leadership. His blog, A Principal's Reflections, earned first runner up in the Best Administrator Blog category from Edublogs in 2010.
Sheninger does more than just encourage teachers to embrace technology, he provides them with opportunities to learn how to do so. His high level of commitment to this belief reveals a philosophy that if you don't provide people with tools for learning, the tools you provide them with have little value.
And so Sheninger provided not only New Milford teachers, but teachers from districts everywhere, with "The 2011 Edscape Conference" that was held this past Saturday at New Milford High School.
The Edscape Conference is designed to bring together educators who passionately believe that innovation in the classroom is essential to engaging the students. Edscape provided these educators with a day filled with workshops, strategies for implementing technology into the classroom, and the confidence to effect change because without change there can be no innovation.
Patch met up with Sheninger on the day of the conference. It was clear from the full parking lot and the number of out-of-state license plates, as well as the classrooms filled with eager educators, that this was not your typical professional development day.
The tone of Edscape was set by keynote speaker Chris Lehmann, founding prinicipal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, recognized by Ladies Home Journal as one of the "Ten Most Amazing Schools in the US." Lehmann was also named one of the "30 Most Influential People in EdTech" by Technology & Learning Magazine.
Rather than talk about the effectiveness of Edscape himself, Prinicipal Sheninger directed us to speak with one of the participants, New Milford High School Math teacher, Jeffrey Fiscina, to get an educator's perspective on the conference.
Fiscina said, "I'm finding the workshops incredibly useful because I like to integrate and infuse technology into the classroom. It makes the kids more engaged."
One educational tool Fiscina relies on in the classroom is the students' cell phones. "There's a site I use called Poll Everywhere where I pose a mathematical problem and the students use their cell phones to text in their answers that are then projected onto the smart board." (Texts are free of charge.)
Similar to texting to vote for your favorite performer on American Idol, students in Mr. Fiscina's class text their answers to math problems. This keeps the kids engaged while giving Fiscina an opportunity to use the technology as a form of assessment to see who understands the problem, and who doesn't.
"We know that the kids are attached to their cell phones, so why not utilize them as mobile learning devices?" he asked.
Fiscina believes that if you teach creatively, students will think creatively.
Some of the 59 workshops offered at Edscape included:
- Promoting Early Childhood Literacy Using Multimedia Experiences
- The Mobile, Hybrid Classroom: This isn't your Father's Prius!
- 21st Century Mobile Learning: Paving the Way for Enhanced Student Learning Anywhere, Anytime
- Smart Boards and Differentiated Instruction
- Innovative Teaching, Thinking and Technology: The 3T Learning Enviornment
Edscape also included an all-day "Innovation Center" where Dell, Teq, Verizon Wireless, Panasonic, EdKnows and Safari Montage displayed and offered hands-on demonstrations of their new classroom technologies.
The goal of Edscape is to expand learning beyond the classroom walls. But how are schools to fund all this technology?
After listening to some of the presentations, it's clear that textbooks are the dinosaurs of 21st century education. By the time a new textbook arrives at the school, the information is already dated. Verizon Wireless Education Account Executive, Orestes Alvarez, said that some school districts he's worked with are re-allocating money in their budget from the purchase of textbooks to the purchase of iPads or android tablets. And the savings extends to other budget items.
"Whereas, school districts historically had to budget $120, or more, for each scientific calculator supplied to students, they can be downloaded for free onto the iPad or android tablet," he said.
To pay for iPads or android tablets, schools can use the money budgeted for textbooks, calculators, and other educational supplies that the iPad or android tablet would replace. Alvarez said that an iPad or tablet can replace a number of line-item budget expenses.
Teachers weren't the only ones participating in Edscape. New Milford High School student volunteers were on hand to assist the vendors and the visiting teachers in navigating the hallways. As a group of them were paging through the conference agenda reading the names of the workshops, one of them commented, "This is so cool."
There are many ways to describe the impact of Edscape, but perhaps Alvarez said it best as a group of student volunteers walked past him, "We want the world to be their school."