It started with my questions, “Hey Mr. Silvers, what’s new? How has your school year been going?” I hadn’t seen Mr. Silvers in a few months. But our daughters are the same age, hence we run in the same circles. That night it was an elementary school Valentine’s Day dance. As Miley Cyrus played and our kids danced and ran around the gym, Mr. Silvers, a seventh grade Science teacher at Olean Middle School explained to me that his class had been studying the Gulf oil spill and their effects on the sea food industry.
“Cool,” I responded politely.
“So what exactly do you do at BOCES?” Mr. Silvers asked me in return. It was either keep the conversation going or join our 7 year olds on the dance floor. We opted for further conversation, as Taylor Swift was next on the playlist.
“I work in distance learning, you know, connecting schools for classes and video conferences.”
Then the idea came. “Hey,” Mr. Silvers said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could get a leading Environmental Scientist or a famous Environmentalist to speak to my class about the oil spill?” Without knowing or ever meeting an Environmental Scientist I enthusiastically responded, yes!
The distance learning team at CA BOCES went to work. Over the next few weeks we scoured CAP Space, a classroom networking site, twitter and friends and relatives looking for an Environmental Scientist who would be willing to speak to a group of 175 seventh graders. It wasn’t an easy find. About a month later, I found someone and excitedly sent his credentials to Mr. Silvers to see if he would fit the bill. Mr. Silvers wasn’t impressed with my find and in return sent me a list of names in return. He was hoping to get some of the most highly regarded environmental researchers in the county. We contacted everyone on Mr. Silvers’ list. Including, First Lady Michelle Obama, number 3 on the list- no response.
A few days later we met with Andrew Whitehead, Associate Professor and Environmental Scientist from UC Davis over some email exchanges. He had been studying the Gulf spill since it occurred and is a leading author and researcher on the subject. Over the next few weeks the Distance Learning team worked with Mr. Whitehead to test the technical aspects of connecting into Mr. Silver’s classroom. What most people do not understand about distance learning is that with all the firewall, content filters and security measures in place to protect students, connecting someone from the outside internet to our district’s secure and safe internet can be tricky at times. Luckily we have our team dedicated to making that happen. That’s why when we on the Distance Learning team hear, “Can’t we just Skype,” we on the Distance Learning Team often offer a wry smile before answering.
Finally, the day of the connection was here. The seventh graders filed into the auditorium and took note of Dr. Whitehead on the large screen. “He looks awesome,” noted one student. For the record, Dr. Whitehead is young, hip, funny and relaxed, all of which are highly prized attributes by middle school aged students.
By Brian Crawford, CABOCES Learning Resources
Over drive is another powerful tool has been added to the School Library System's Database CoSer. It will engage our students on every reading level with a digital lending library chosen by their school's librarians. Each participating library will have access to a shared collection that will have sustained growth and their own individual school library collection. We are putting digital resources in the hands of teachers and students to support: an individual school's curriculum, instruction goals, best practices, and student achievement. According to Carl Harvey, school librarian for North Elementary School in Noblesville, Indiana and EdWeb instructor, there are many ways the Common Core will shift current ELA classroom practices, and eBooks can help guide these shifts better than traditional printed textbooks. Harvey believes that eBooks balance informational and literacy text better than paper and with this format teachers can take full advantage of spanning texts across disciplines. Many features associated with eBooks can also help students better understand complex texts without becoming frustrated or relying on extra assistance from teachers. eBooks are interactive, not only can students look up the definition of the word, but in some advanced settings, they can look up its synonyms, antonyms, root origin, and other examples. Finally reading text online or in a digital format actually does take practice and students will soon be expected to take state tests on line.
By: Mary Ann Hebert, CA BOCES
You may wonder what the phrase, “All Schools Day” means. Well, if you are a guidance counselor or principal in one of the Cattaraugus-Allegany school districts you will know immediately that this designates a collaborative day whereby schools can choose from hundreds of Distance Learning/video conference classes from all across New York State in which to enroll students for credit. Student enrollment across our region will vary from those with a niche interest for courses such as Game Design, Business Law, Hot Topics in Science, or Latin. Then to reach students requesting high level High School courses, they can take advantage of Physics or Mandarin. Then to broaden their depth of transcript, a wide variety of college credits from JCC, ASC, GCC, Syracuse University, SUNY Albany, are available in Psychology, English, U.S. History, and more. The course opportunities for students are endless.
At the All Schools Day, after a discussion of how Distance Learning can save teacher jobs, bring revenue to a district, and greatly expand elective and core offerings, the counselors explore the Regional Database of courses and have the opportunity to “claim” receiving or hosting of a course/connection. Working together, the counselors talk across the room and via videoconference to other school officials from across New York State. Classes and times are discussed...but we all know that before the start of school each year, many changes and minor tweaks will be made before satisfied students begin their semester-long or half-semester courses.
To see the full list of course offerings that are shared throughout NYS, go to: http://dlcourses.e2ccb.org and login in with UN: distance and PW: distance
By: Betsy Hardy, CABOCES Learning Resources
Students are meeting the demands of CCLS with the work being done in reading workshop as well. Like the writing workshop, during reading teachers are developing targeted and rigorous mini-lessons, selecting texts that challenge all learners, and including student choice in leveled reading materials designed to build a lifelong love of reading. Units often are built around a central text supplemented by relevant, nonfiction materials that build students’ background knowledge base on the topics or themes of the central text. Opportunities for students to engage in text-based conversations both in whole groups and small groups reinforce the skills being taught at the time, and those skills are then applied to the students’ independent reading selections. Ultimately students’ time with eyes on print is greater than ever, and that time will pay off as they progress through school.
Teachers who are looking for the right fit for their classrooms may very well find that reading and writing workshop is an instructional approach worth pursuing. A workshop model provides a balance of structure and flexibility that responds to student needs while targeting the various standards.
By: Amy Windus, Pioneer Central School and CA BOCES