Sunday, June 27, 2010

Integrated Studies Program in the Latest Issue of ISTE Newsletter!

  So, I wrote an article about the Integrated Studies Program and it was published in the latest issue of the ISTE Newsletter, which is pretty cool because now our program is getting the national exposure that it rightfully deserves. As a result, I have received emails from across the country with questions about the design and function of our 21st century styled program and the challenges that it faces with standardized testing and other traditional measures of success.

Here are some of the questions I've been asked along with my responses to each:

1) Do you have a defined curriculum that includes fact-based, testable knowledge? If so, how do you include this into the project based, constructivist approach? If not, how do you avoid or prepare students for the ever-present standardized testing that is implemented through programs at the state and national level?

 We do not have a standard “curriculum”, because it is ever-changing based upon student needs. We do, however, maintain a strong focus on the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards, and that guides much of what we do in the ISP. Students are responsible for devising their own rubrics, but also have the task of selecting what standards they are going to address. Of course, teachers are very involved in this process, and the selection of standards to be addressed in a respective project are negotiated through a series of questions and answers. Thus, the teacher, through careful guidance and facilitation, ensures that the student achieves mastery of the standards being addressed in a project, and ultimately completion of all standards by graduation.

2) How does this model impact your students' ability to compete for scholarships and accepted positions in more prestigious colleges?

 Since the ISP students are essentially doing the same thing that traditional education students are doing, striving to meet state and federal standards, and receive grades to track their progress throughout their time in high school (thus, providing a GPA), they are able to compete for scholarships and acceptance into prestigious colleges and universities just the same as any other student. In fact, if anything, the ISP students have a competitive edge, because most of their projects are geared toward real world learning and developing skills that will lead them to success beyond the realm of secondary education. Thus far, we are batting 1.000 with the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) in both English/LAL as well as math and we have sent every single one of our graduates into a college, university, or branch of the military.

3) Specifically to the point of students setting their own achievement levels, how do you avoid the inevitable: a student that does not push himself/herself to achieve their full potential? I understand that this varies for every student, and that each student can give their all in one class at one time of the year and their all in another class at another time of the year. However, I would assume that you still encounter some student apathy that becomes problematic when continued throughout the year/years. If you see this, how do you deal with it and still maintain the basic principles of the constructivist approach?

 I love the fact that you used the word push, because I am always using that word with my students. Motivation is important when it comes to a unique learning environment, such as the ISP. There is a great deal of independence involved with what we do in the ISP and students must push themselves to achieve their full potential. As facilitators of student learning, we are there to provide them with a nudge whenever it is necessary. The ISP is organized into different advisories. Each teacher in the ISP maintains their own cohort of students to which they serve as advisor. The job of the advisor is to maintain active communication with the parental unit at home to ensure that they are receiving support from both sides of the bus ride. Furthermore, parents and legal guardians actually serve as team members on certain projects. We try to incorporate the parental unit into the ISP as much as possible so that students cannot tell the difference between school and home. We are not big on physical settings, since we exist in a web-based world. A traditional classroom has walls, a ceiling, windows, and a door. The ISP is located in a similar type of setting, or so it would seem. Allow me to explain. The ISP is like NASA. We have our launch site, which has all of the physical characteristics of a traditional classroom. However, we have computers; a lot of them! These computers are like space shuttles for the students. They jump on the computers and take off, each moving at different speeds but with the same destinations – the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. What students do at each one of those respective destinations may be uniquely different, but as long as their visit can be verified as valid and meaningful, they have accomplished the objectives of their mission. The ISP teachers and the students’ parental units are the systems control base. We are there to help the students navigate their way through a galaxy of learning, but it is incumbent upon the student to discover, deduct, and build in order to grow and develop as an explorer. Like space, the internet is infinite, and so is student learning in the ISP.

 Many cities in the US are attempting to climb out of an outdated 20th century traditional model of education. In Philadelphia, the present has caught up to the future of 21st century education, and programs like the Integrated Studies Program at Camden County Technical School are leading the way! I am not by any means going to pretend or attempt to argue that the ISP is the 21st century learning environment perfected. We have our problems. We are still young. We are learning and experiencing growing pains like any other new program would. However, I will say that our goal of creating a 21st century edutopia is a realistic one. We are striving toward excellence, and it is only a matter of time before we achieve it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DO YOU HAVE THE TECH EDGE? Check out these web 2.0 tools!

"Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye. It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture." -Thomas Edison

 I thought you might be interested in checking out some awesome web 2.0 tools and resources that I learned about at the Tech Ed Conference at Stockton.  Lisa Thumann presented all of these web 2.0 tools with great enthusiasm and detail! I wish all of you could have been there, but since you were not, here are the tools that were discussed. These tools are bound to give you the tech edge in the classroom. Check 'em out!

(basically it's a free version of Adobe Photoshop)

(a great place for digital storytelling info and examples)

 (check out 50 different ideas for digital storytelling)

VOICETHREAD.COM (present with your voice and scrolling pictures)
What is a Voicethread Anyway?

(digital storytelling alternative to Voicethread)

(a place to get free music)

(create a podcast)

(make a web comic book)

 These sites are just a fraction of the latest and greatest web 2.0 tools that are available to teachers. There are many others that are just waiting to be discovered. I hope that you find all of these web 2.0 sites useful and perhaps worthy of using with your students.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

WIMB-AHHH! When the Tech Goes to Heck!

   Ohhh Wimba...

 Wimba is a web-based tool that allows educators to give their online classes a voice through communication technology that is similar to Skype and Illuminate. It is perhaps the ideal web tool to use for language learning and/or creating vocal exercises in any subject. Wimba's web-based voice tools "facilitate and promote vocal instruction, collaboration, coaching, and assessment." Using Wimba is said to have an impact on the interaction and level of student engagement in any online class. I do not doubt any of this.

 HOWEVER, working with Wimba over the past so many months has proven to be very challenging, not just for myself, but for the other members of my MAIT cohort. We have faced problem after problem after problem, and these repeated issues have frustrated me to the point of punching the computer screen. Luckily, I have self-control. Furthermore, I understand how very important the technology is and thus I am willing to keep the faith and deal with the technical difficulties. Digital literacy is of the utmost importance in the 21st century learning environment, so be patient and don't take a bat to the learning tools of the future.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

MAIT Pop Culture Project



 During the 1970’s, many of Hollywood’s finest directors, including legends such as Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Roger Corman, Billy Wilder, and Robert Wise to name a few, entered into the twilight of their respective careers. They still continued to produce meaningful works of cinema, but the film torch was about to be passed to a new class of directors, fresh out of film school. In that same decade, directors such as Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brian De Palma graduated from film school (not to mention Steven Spielberg, who majored in English) and went on to produce some of the most important films of all time. The 1970’s is widely considered the greatest decade in the history of cinema, and it is because of these filmmakers that it receives this distinction. Now, these directors continue to produce important works of cinema, but there is a new school that has been making waves since they arrived on the scene and they didn’t need a degree to ride into Hollywood superstardom. Directors like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, and Spike Jonze didn’t go to film school and they are A-list filmmakers today.


 Sean Connery was perhaps the first action movie star, and he owes much of his fame and success to Ian Fleming for creating the irresistibly charming and equally dangerous character, James Bond. During the 1960’s, Connery played 007 a whopping 5 times and then once again in 1971. To date, there have been 6 men to play the super spy in 22 films, all of which have been smooth and sophisticated types reliant on brains over brawn to get the job done and save the day. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the new action hero model was introduced: large, hulky, musclebound men strapped with the most advanced weaponry, capable of taking out the biggest and baddest of villains. Here are just a few names that have become synonymous with the term action hero: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Dolph Lundren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, and Bruce Campbell. The action hero was the key ingredient to making a successful action film during the 80’s and 90’s; attitude and arsenal. These days, that is not so much the case. Action films are more focused on chance circumstance and natural disaster and how common folk rise up to meet the challenges with which they are faced, usually involving excessive amounts of computer generated imagery, or CGI; A lot of CGI! Shia Lebeouf is no Rambo. The new breed of action film values humanism and vulnerability over super-exaggerated macho men that are impenetrable. Look at Avatar, the biggest action film of all time. The hero, Jake Sully, is wheel-chair bound for most of the film. Action heroes would never have such a debilitating physical handicap, because it would compromise their raw power and ability to kick butt. Comic book superheroes, who are the biggest action heroes these days, have super powers, but even they are very humanistic as well and flaws are common. Yet, with the re-emergence of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky and Rambo franchises and the entrance of actors like Jason Statham and Jet Li, there might still be hope for the action hero.


 50 years ago this year, Alfred Hitchcock made perhaps the greatest horror film of all time. The film was Psycho, and it would forever change people’s opinions about family values and cleanliness. It made people feel unsafe to get in their own shower before Jaws ever scared us out of the ocean. Norman Bates was a deranged, psychopathic killer, but his executions were very artful and almost poetic. Psycho is considered the “mother of all slasher films.” The interesting thing is, the slasher film did not really crystallize as a genre until the birth of its first born, Black Christmas, a 1974 holiday hell-raiser that generated much controversy because of its depiction of Santa Claus as a maniacal killing machine. Parents and esteemed members of communities across the country went into an uproar. Tis the season to boycott the theatres. Ironically enough, the director of the film, Bob Clark, would go on to direct one of the greatest Christmas films of all time, A Christmas Story. In any case, the commercial success of the 2 films that followed would usher in the slasher film movement: Halloween and Friday the 13th. These films made good money at the box office. Many films of the slasher film era focused on holidays or special occasions, such as My Bloody Valentine, New Year's Evil, Happy Birthday to Me, April Fool's Day, Prom Night, Christmas Evil, Mother's Day, and Silent Night, Deadly Night. Over the past decade, slasher films have made a comeback, but in the form of remakes. Some of the remakes have been interesting, offering new takes on the traditional storyline, such as Rob Zombie’s remakes of Halloween 1 & 2, but remakes of films like My Bloody Valentine have turned out bloody awful. It takes a lot to make a great film, but even more to make a decent remake.


 In 1937, Walt Disney produced his first animated feature, Snow White, and thus, a juggernaut was born. Many classics followed over the next half a century, but not without a lot of crap as well. During the 1960’s and 70’s, there were studs, starting with the perennial classic, 101 Dalmations, followed by The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and The Rescuers, as well as plenty of duds. Nonetheless, the good was good enough to make the bad forgettable. In the 1980’s though, this was not the case. There’s was nothing but crap! I enjoyed The Black Cauldron, but that didn’t make it good. It wasn’t until The Little Mermaid when Disney truly put themselves back on top of the animated feature world. The 1990’s were marked with beloved classics, such as DuckTales: The Movie, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Pocahantas. These films would change the film merchandising world forever. Then, in 1995, Disney changed the game and blew audiences away with a new breed of animated feature, telling stories through CGI instead of traditional cartoons. Disney and Pixar’s film Toy Story launched a new era of animation. It was followed with box office success and a slew of new CGI animated classics into the 2000’s, such as A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2 and 3, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up.

2010-2060: THE NEXT 50 YEARS...

 Obviously, not every film from the last 50 years of cinema was included in this pop culture crash course, because that was not the goal. The goal was to highlight the most important filmmakers, genres, and movements since 1960. Was this goal achieved? That is for the audience to decide. As with any film, the audience is the most important element. Audiences determine what is popular and important. In cinema, there is a marriage between art and commerce, and the audience is the child that binds the two. Like any good parents, they want what is best for their child. They want their child to have it better than they did.

 So, the question is, how will cinema grow and develop over the next 50 years? Will art and commerce get divorced? If so, who gets the child? Time will tell. I’ll see you at the movies!