Saturday, February 26, 2011

More Schools Embracing iPads

This week featured the launch of the much-ballyhooed Motorola Xoom, the tablet PC which industry analysts claim poses the biggest competition to the Apple iPad. However, I was struck by a front page story in Monday's Providence Journal, "Electronic Tablets Break Down Barriers in RI Schools." The piece highlighted recent efforts in some Rhode Island charter schools and districts to integrate this technology into the curriculum.

The story highlighted iPad use at the Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts, a brand new charter school in south Providence for students in grades 7-12. Over the Christmas break the school purchased the tablets for all 34 of its students and its six teachers. (The school has such a small enrollment due to the fact that it is only in its first year of existence.) The seventh grade students there use the iPads in all content areas- from doing research and essay writing for their ELA class to blogging about the political upheaval in Egypt in social studies. As a major tenet of the school is parental engagement, the school wisely established an online portal that allows parents to review their child's math homework assignments nightly. As standard protocol, students upload their work through the use of the iPad, adding to their sense of responsibility.

Critics such as Stanford University's Larry Cuban state that tablet PCs are just the latest technological fad and there is no solid research yet that shows the benefits on improving student learning. He further states that districts should be investing resources into more human capital, i.e., providing more funds to recruit, hire, and train more teachers, particularly in these economically challenged times.

I don't necessarily agree with that notion for several reasons. First, schools cannot be oblivious to emerging technologies. We need to train our students for the 21st century workplace, one where these technologies are omnipresent. (In fact, you could easily make the case that our kids already have these technologies in their homes!) The real challenge is integrating this technology into the curriculum so that it is not just a "flashy fad" that grabs students' attention, but is a meaningful tool that enables the use of higher order thinking. As I said in an earlier post, the use of a technology like the iPad is only as good as the skill of the teacher who is facilitating its use.

The teachers at Trinity Academy are also using the iPads as e-readers, citing the cost-effectiveness of using it instead of purchasing paperback novels. In fact, many of the books (such as the complete works of William Shakespeare) are in the public domain for free, which could be an opportunity for considerable savings. Also, as yesterday's Wall Street Journal reported, two of the nation's largest textbook publishers are dramatically expanding their textbook offerings for the iPad. This surely is a sign that the tablet is becoming more mainstream in K-16 education.

This is good news from a pragmatic standpoint. But are we there yet?? With a $500 base model price tag, it would be a cool $750 K to outfit all students at MHS with an iPad. Licensing fees for downloaded textbooks would also be a large expense. I believe that like most technologies, the price of the iPad will eventually come down (witness the now-$49 iPhone). We will reach a point in time where it will make more economic sense to go the tablet/e-reader route rather than make a significant annual investment in textbooks. This is the future.... and we are almost there.

Besides.... don't we want to save the backs of a future generation??

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Roll Out the Barrels!

Kudos to MHS parent Neil Rhein and Keep Mansfield Beautiful for keeping the Trash Can Be Beautiful program going this year! As it was very successful last year, the program allows residents to put their own creative stamp on the town's trash barrels. The project aims to keep our town cleaner and greener. Here's some of the specifics:

  • MHS mom and local artist Kristi Johnson will conduct two barrel-painting workshops on March 20 and March 27, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the DPW Garage on Route 106 in East Mansfield.

  • KMB will provide each participant or team with a town barrel that has been cleaned, sanded, and primed.

  • At the March 20 workshop, Kristi Johnson will get you started and offer suggestions and ideas. You have the option of taking your barrel home to work on it, but you must bring it back for the March 27 workshop.

  • KMB will provide basic paint colors and brushes, but you are encouraged to bring your own special colors or artist’s brushes. The paint must be an exterior acrylic latex. Please check the label to ensure that it works well on metal surfaces.

  • Barrels will be deployed in the spring to locations on town-owned property, as determined by Keep Mansfield Beautiful and the Mansfield DPW.

For more information, visit the program's web page or download and complete the registration form. The program has limited space, so register early!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thinking Outside of the (Black) Box

MHS Visual Arts Department Chair Scott Brigante had a problem. A big one.

Last spring when scheduling his department’s courses, he noticed that he had 40 students signed up for the popular and rigorous AP Art History class. With the loss of a teacher in his department due to budget cuts, he only had the available staff (himself) to offer one section of the class. As the course was a considerable source of pride for Scott, he had seen the enrollment grow from 11 to 40 in two short years. Turning students away by limiting the enrollment was not a tenable option.

He was committed to teaching all 40 in one section…. But where to put them?

Scott quickly thought of the Black Box Theatre of the MMAS (Mansfield Music and Arts Society) on North Main Street. This intimate, 75-seat black box theatre has been serving the southeastern Massachusetts community for 18 years, and as Scott points out, “It’s absolutely perfect space for the nature of the AP Art History class, where we frequently lecture, show slides of great works of art, and provide multimedia presentations.” He also notes that the pace replicates many of the larger lecture-style classes that students may experience in college.

MMAS Executive Director Ken Butler was very quick to agree to allow the AP Art History class to use the space on a daily basis. “It was a simple decision, as this partnership is part of our mission to foster the arts within the community. It has been great to offer this opportunity as the kids have been great… and it has also broadened the horizons for people who didn’t even know we exist.”

Thus, since the start of the school year the period 1 class meets either at the start or end of the day depending on the week’s schedule rotation. All of the juniors and seniors in the class arrive or leave using their own transportation. Scott is quick to point that all of them have lived up to the level of responsibility and freedom that they have been given, as attendance and punctuality have been outstanding. This is understandable, as they are committed to the course. However, the off-site learning environment also provides a nice variety to their day.

The MMAS recent expanded its space to include the Morini Gallery (for emerging artists to display their work) and studio space for rehearsal and educational needs. This allows for the students to spread out should they need to, particularly if they are conducting project work. For example, last month the students constructed models of classic Greek temples as they were studying the Ionic and Doric order of architecture. The additional space was invaluable for this purpose.

The non-profit MMAS also owns an undeveloped 10-acre parcel of land along Rt. 140. The AP students have also used that space to create some great photographs in a natural setting.

The bottom line is that this has been a great partnership for both MHS and MMAS. I see it as a win-win for the arts in our community. Kudos to Scott and Ken for thinking outside of the box. Let’s keep this going!

Above: AP Art History teacher Scott Brigante conferences with Ashley Upham and Amy Sterling in the Black Box Theatre.

Above: In the MMAS studio space AP Art History students Josh Marohn, Julia Ready, Megan Alksninis, and Jess Visconte create henna tattoos as part of their learning about Hindu culture.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Be You" Offers Plenty of Insight

With all of the recent attention on bullying, never has it been more important to start at square one with students and have the conversations about the things that really matter. I'll call them the "other three r's": reality, respect, and relationships. With that in mind, the Qualters Middle School Parent Advisory Council (PAC) has been planning for the past year to provide programming for both students and parents to start this dialogue.

With that goal, the PAC sponsored nationally-renowned author and parenting expert Rachel Simmons to present to girls and parents. Ms. Simmons, the author of NY Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and The Curse of the Good Girl, is an educator and coach that strives to help girls and young women grow into authentic, emotionally intelligent and assertive adults. She delivered a workshop entitled "Be You" to over 500 MHS, QMS, and JJ parents and daughters on Thursday night and then to all girls in grades 6-9 on Friday morning. In all three workshops Rachel shared honest and open information on topics such ranging from friendship breakups to social media use/overuse. The feedback from participants has been outstanding!

Rachel is an engaging and dynamic speaker as she aims to relate to girls on their level, frequently citing examples from her childhood in exploring the dynamics of BFFs, or close girl-girl friendships. She used humor in describing how girls frequently "erase" hurtful comments/actions against one another and then ugliness manifests itself through later passive-aggressive actions. The key, according to Rachel, is practicing the expression of emotions through thoughtful, deliberate language. This is the essence of being a confident, assertive person. Moms and dads must also be cognizant that they are modeling these types of behaviors for their daughters at all times.

A tool she shared with girls- and one that could be applicable to anyone, for that matter- for conflict resolution with friends can be summed up with the simple acronym "GIRL": G-ather your choices, I-choose which one, R-easons are for my choice, L-et's think about the outcome. This process allows young girls to think about how their decisions will pan out and serves to make the right choice clearer.

Many thanks to the QMS PAC for all of their hard work in planning and organizing this timely and relevant event! Also thanks to Rep. Jay Barrow's Together We Can Foundation for co-sponsoring the event, and Glee Gifts and the Mansfield Savings Bank for their support. Great work!