Alex Weeks graduated from New Tech High, Napa in 2015 and is currently a Plumber's Apprentice.
I was a student at New Tech for all four of my high school years, and truly I couldn’t imagine having gone to school anywhere else. New Tech was unique in its ability to prepare you for working with others. From what I have heard and seen of other people my age who graduated from more conventional schooling New Tech was one of a kind. It took me out of my comfort zone and taught me valuable skills that have applied to close to everything that goes into adulthood.
The most valuable skill I gained from New Tech was the ability to work with others. It is impossible to know everyone in every new situation, or in every new job you may apply to, but the core skills of how to work around others is something that is universally applicable. I have worked a total of four jobs since my time at New Tech and all of them required me to know how to get along with the people around me. On top of that they required me to rely on other people, instead of just myself. Whether you’re working on a school project, or a construction site the most important thing everyone has to learn is that you aren’t one person anymore. For however long your shift is, or for however long the project was you are a cog in a machine and you have a job just like everyone around you.
Communication is everything in the professional world and it goes hand in hand with learning how to work with others. One of the hardest things I had to learn in my time at New Tech was how to communicate with those around me even when I had a polar opposite opinion. Learning how to respectfully tell someone you do not agree with them is not an easy thing to accomplish and while I am still working on it every day. What’s even harder for me than just being respectful and communicating my difference of opinion is trying to find a compromise. Or in certain situations even stepping down from my own opinion and recognizing where I may be wrong. I am constantly learning and improving on this everyday, but New Tech planted the seeds.
New Tech really did pull me out of my comfort zone and taught me how to be successful when working with others. The responsibility, accountability and critical thinking I learned from New Tech also play a part in my everyday life. But to me, knowing how to work with, or around others, and even just knowing how to ask for help when I need it is the most valuable to me. I use the interpersonal and professional communication skills New Tech taught me every single day. I’m so grateful to have learned such valuable lessons so early on in life. I truly feel set up for wherever my career takes me, and for any new situations life may throw my way.
We Make Special Scaffolding for 504/IEP students, But Why Don't they Access Them? Note taking is the surprising key!
How do we associate the practice of notetaking with getting good grades? As teachers, we know there is a clear correlation, but do the students? How do we make the relationship between scaffolding and assessment more explicit with students?
We decided that the students who needed this connection the most were students who had IEP’s and 504’s, but that whatever practice we chose, we could then apply that strategy to all students. This particular audience often has a hard time with short and long term memory as well as organizing or retrieving information taught from the front of the class.
How do we help students to access scaffolds,so they can own their own learning, instead of being “done to” by the teacher or being swept away by a lesson that is going too fast or is too complicated? A logical place to start for us was in teaching those students how to take notes in class in their own words, so they could access information according to their own needs.
In Spanish class I started by asking students to write instructions on the assignment so when they were completing the assignment they knew what to do. Now, that they write the instructions on their own words I see that it is easier for them to complete their work.
In Digital Design Class we often learn about procedures that get a certain result. Push this button and make this thing happen on the screen. Special needs students often would get lost in the long line of procedural thinking, either going too slow and getting lost, skipping steps or forgetting what steps needed to happen to achieve a certain result.
I decided to use the new Note taking feature in Echo, our Learning Management System. I taught a lesson in photoshop, but instead of having students simply watch me, or follow along with me, I instead had them write out each step in their notes in echo. I paused after each step shown and asked them to then write in their own words, what I just did on the board. I then had them take a survey about how that process went for them. I also made observational notes about how the special needs students were doing, as well as how other students in the class were accessing their notes.
What it was like in the classroom before implementing the strategy
Before implementing this I used to explained to students what was expected from them in that class period. I offered help and clarify instructions when ever they asked me. Some of the students used to take photos of the examples written on the board.
Before implementing this strategy, I often created scaffolding in the form of video tutorials, written notes and slide shows that offered step by step instructions. Students often did NOT access my scaffolding. What I hoped is that because the notes were in the students own words, AND they had been the creators of the notes, that they would go back and access the information.
After implementing this: now I see that students take notes without asking them to do it. Also I noticed that special needs students are completing their assignments on time without asking for extra time or reduction of the assignment.
Many of my special needs students, after taking notes, seemed more willing to go back and access the information in ways they simply would not, if the notes were provided by me. I also noticed that students with special needs were better able to follow the lesson, because we slowed it down, so that everyone in the class could take notes together. I often repeated steps several times before moving on to the next step. Special needs students seems to stay more engaged throughout the whole lesson, following along from beginning to end.
The overall confidence level in the room went up. There were still more detailed instructions and scaffolds created by me in echo, if students wanted to skip ahead, or they wanted a different form of support. But the notetaking seemed to be a great foundational option that got ALL students looking toward echo for answers to their questions.
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“I am so inspired by this project. Everything in this project was authentic and mirrored a real-world working situation from daily scaffolding to benchmarks and the culminating product. I could go on and on and on about this project – I am in complete awe that this connection was possible. I feel that this facilitator and the learners truly deserve to be recognized for all of their effort…I’m beyond impressed.”
“When I review a project and think, “OMG, I wish my own children would have the opportunity to experience this project!”, then I know that it would be an excellent NTN Best in Network project. I feel like the entire learning experience allows student choice, exploration and ignites a passion for learning….This project has so many valuable pieces that open doors to experiences that envelop everything that New Tech represents.”
“This project required students to demonstrate professional level graphic design skills to create a product that would be shared with their community. Students used time management strategies such as Scrum that mirror what is done in the real work world. Students had the opportunity to work with a mentor who is a professional graphic design artist. I also really liked the use of “pay days” as a model for students receiving feedback and the facilitator encouraging the creation of valuable work.”
“What a beautiful gift to the Napa community. The collaborative effort was enormous.”
At New Technology High School in Napa, one of the first ever Project Based Learning schools in the country, presenting to the class and to community partners is a regular part of the curriculum. Students are expected to present during idea pitches, classroom critiques, as well as formal learning defenses at the end of the project. But what happens when a set of students refuses to present due to undue anxiety, or fear, speech impediments, lack of social skills, being on the spectrum, or just plain shyness? This year in my Game Design and Visual Effects class, I decided to experiment with Character Animate as a tool to help students get over their resistance to doing live presentations.
As a part of the Game Design curriculum, students write a Game Design Document, a long document that speaks to what a video game might look like, how it's played, how characters progress to different levels, who the target market is, and a complete backstory for the main character. This year I decided to have the students present their game concept from the front of the classroom, but this time, do so through a digital puppet of their game's main character. The puppets were created in Character Animator and then were projected on the smart board behind the puppeteer (presenter.)
Students were asked to further develop the persona of their character through exploring their accents, gestures, appearance and personal interests. They were then interviewed live by a fellow student or by me while we filmed the puppet, the interviewer and the puppeteer. Students then edited the three-camera shoot into one video using the format of a game review TV show or youtube channel.
What Students Said About it
"In my class, a lot of students are rather introverted, so we don't like presenting or speaking to more than a small group. In order to make up for this weakness, I think that proper use of Character Animator can help a student out quite a bit, especially if the puppet is displayed, not the speaker. As long as students have access to this tool, I think that students will be able to make some interesting innovations if they are given enough time to do what they want." -Jackson
"I feel like once I completely finish my whole character, it will feel like I am him, but at the same time someone completely different. If I can become my character, I will do it without a second thought, and I will have Adobe to thank if I ever have that opportunity to come to me." -Ajay
"I guess its good that you'll have a puppet to speak through rather than just presenting in front of everybody. I feel like people would be less nervous to present." -Jaime
The great thing about using Character Animator is that any student at any level of technical skill can create this project based on what they already know or don't know. Some of my students created their characters from scratch, going into great detail while building on their existing skills in Illustrator or Photoshop. Other students, who were more beginners, found that using the characterizer or an Adobe-provided template was a great place to start. Every student had some success no matter what skill level they brought to the table.
Prior to this project some of my students simply refused to present, and instead take the zero. With their puppets, every single student in that class presented live and did so successfully and without anxiety, frustration or resistance. I heard loud, clear voices full of confidence during their interviews. As educators, we must always be looking to integrate tech in the classroom in a way that supports deeper and more successful learning. In this case, using Character Animator helped a very specific group of students who have been too shy to develop their public speaking skills. It's been wonderful to see such strong success for students who classically struggle with speaking skills and I will continue to integrate this software into future presentation projects.
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Lisa Gottfried is a CTE teacher with 20 years experience as CEO of her own Video and Motion Graphics Production house. She currently teaches Intro to Digital Media, Video Production and Game/3D Design. She loves her job and her students!