Transforming education to meet the needs of today’s students is a long-term process that requires close and effective partnerships between schools, teachers, researchers and non-profit institutions. In White Plains, New York, the New Learning Institute has forged exactly that sort of successful long-term partnership with the White Plains School District. This ongoing relationship has enabled White Plains schools to take a qualitative leap in the integration of 21st century literacy skills into their curriculum and at the same time has allowed the New Learning Institute to deepen its understanding of the best practices to use in bringing those skills to today’s classroom.
Since 2008, NLI has worked to train a core group of educators who are motivated and have the skills to use digital media technology effectively in the classroom. NLI has also been able to help the district by bringing in partners from the greater Westchester community including local community-based non-profits, city and county governments, after school programs, and volunteers from the corporate sector
“This partnership has helped us think more deeply and more broadly about our entire approach to infusing our curriculum with technology,” says Margaret Dwyer, White Plains Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction. “It has provided professional development for a cadre of teachers, which has really allowed them to own a repertoire of skills that a more superficial kind of training might not have allowed them to develop.
A Core of Educators
Central to the success of NLI’s partnership with White Plains schools have been a series of professional development workshops for faculty. Through these workshops, teachers become familiar with both the technology and methodology that the New Learning Institute brings to the classroom,
In a typical workshop faculty learn step-by-step to produce their own digital arts projects, duplicating the process that students go through in an NLI classroom program. They learn the basics of mobile technologies like geo tagging, podcasting, blogging, and more importantly, they learn strategies for incorporating these tools in their curriculum-based projects that are relevant to their students’ educational and personal needs.
The first NLI White Plains professional development was offered in June 2008. The three-day intensive course helped prepare teachers to lead the out-of-classroom summer programs along with classroom residencies planned for the following fall.
A second professional development workshop was held in June 2009 at Nokia’s North American headquarters in Westchester, NY. Close to thirty White Plains educators attended the three-day event and several Nokia employees attended parts of the workshop. They brought their expertise and enthusiasm about Nokia technology to these sessions and helped inspire the educators to think about the learning opportunities that these technologies can bring to their classrooms.
White Plains teachers who took part in the professional development workshops had the training and support to begin implementing NLI methods in their classrooms. Working with the NLI New York team, they began planning a series of in-class programs at the town’s Eastview and Highlands middle schools beginning in February 2009.
These residencies centered around the creation of digital media projects, usually a digital story (a short 3 to 5 minute film). To create their projects, students worked in teams to shoot video and still images, record audio narration, search the web for public domain photos and music, and learned to combine these assets using film editing software. They also learned to geo tag their images, create interactive maps and investigate web publishing strategies for their finished projects including pod casting and blogging.
At NLI residencies at Eastview Middle School, sixth graders created digital stories about ancient Rome and Greece, explored their study of poetry and told the stories of important moments of social change. At Highlands Middle School, five classes used their digital stories to report on Latin American culture and history. Other classes at Highlands created digital biographies of famous African Americans or women in history. Altogether, 17 classes at the two schools have taken part in the residency program to date.
Although these projects were curriculum-based, students in the program acquired much more than knowledge of the subject matter or technical expertise. Lucy Roman, District Coordinator of Technology, White Plains School District explains it this way: “The technical skills gained are minor compared to the 21st century skills acquired through the process of the writing and editing of their scripts, as they struggled with their team members to come to consensus on different aspects of their projects, or as they analyzed their information to determine what should be included in their projects.”
In partnership with the White Plains city government, the White Plains School District and several non-profit community-based organizations, in 2008 NLI launched Envision 2020, a series of summer camps in White Plains and other Westchester communities. These two-week summer programs gave 120 middle school students the opportunity to create digital stories depicting their life in the year 2020. This curriculum was designed to help students imagine a positive future living in their community as successful young adults.
In August 2009, young people in the Envision 2020 program were asked to think beyond their own lives to the future needs of the entire White Plains community. Working in small groups, participants created personalized 3-5 minute digital stories that reflected their vision of the future of White Plains. Experts in the field of urban design and officials from the City of White Plains visited the students and helped them identify issues in urban planning to as focal points for their stories. Many of their ideas focused on improving environmental conditions in the city, with suggestions that included bike paths, green markets, and green rooftops.
In the fall of 2008, the completed Envision 2020 digital stories were presented to the White Plains community in an evening celebration at the Westchester County Center. To insure family participation, invitations were sent out early and then followed up with phone calls. Bus transportation was also provided for those who needed it.
Over 300 people attended the event, students were joined by their parents and extended families as well as officials of the White Plains School District and government. The guests were served a buffet dinner, and then watched performances by a local dance group, Free Diversity in Motion, and Hip Hop Artist Chris Kazi Rolle. Speakers at the evening included remarks by the Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, Mike Quesnell Senior Manager Community Involvement from Nokia and Timothy Conners, Superintendent of the White Plains School District. The student projects were presented in a special viewing room set up for the occasion and lucky raffle winners won mobile phones donated by Nokia.
An Ongoing Relationship
The New Learning Institute’s ongoing work with the White Plains School District demonstrates the advantage of a long-term relationship between the NLI and a group of educators. This kind of relationship allows teachers to strengthen their grasp of mobile learning technology beyond the introductory lessons of one professional development workshop. Returning to the same schools over a period of years reinforces the concept that digital technology and 21st century literacy can play an essential part in transforming education.
“Partnership is going to be the key to transforming education,” says Christohper Clouet, Superintendent of the White Plains School District. “It’s no secret that the world is undergoing huge transformations economically technologically and in all sorts of ways. Education has to change as well. In order to do that we need partners, we can’t do it alone. So working with the New Learning Institute is something that’s very important to us in terms of training staff but more importantly, allowing students to have access to the tools that will really transform what training means and how they can ultimately compete in a new global society.”