“I was blown away with what I saw in the several classes that I visited today,” stated Evo Popoff, Assistant Commissioner and Chief Innovation Officer of the NJ Department of Education in describing his February 10th experience at Westfield High School. Mr. Popoff and Takecia Saylor, the DOE’s newly appointed Director of School Innovation, witnessed first-hand how technology was being infused into the curriculum of 9th and 11th grade English/Social Studies interdisciplinary courses.
Mr. Popoff, who spoke with last year’s 11th graders at Westfield High School, decided to return again this year. “I was impressed with how technology was incorporated and how it influenced student engagement and expanded learning,” stated Mr. Popoff. “This is a new cohort of kids this year and I wanted to know if these students also like it, or is it a novelty? What do they like about it? What are the challenges?”
The answers came easily for many students who acknowledged the critical thinking skills and self-motivation they have achieved using technology (via i-Pads). Eleventh grader Lauren Eschausse commented, “The point of the class is we need to work for ourselves with technology at our fingertips.”
The students praised their teachers for “pushing us into the pool and preparing us how to swim.” They compared their class to the “real world” -- college and the workforce. “We share notes and different ideas through Google Docs – it is more collaborative,” stated Katie Chou.
At the end of his visit, Mr. Popoff remarked, “The excitement I witnessed from the students and their engagement in their learning was impressive. Additionally, the willingness of the teachers to rethink what teaching and learning should be in today’s world is a model for what education should look like.”
The Department of Education officials also spoke to students in Project 79, Westfield High School’s alternative education program.
In an effort to describe broader opportunities and challenges in instructional technology, the guests were provided with information regarding the school’s technology initiative in a meeting with Adam Pizzi - Master Technology teacher grade 8 –12, Mary Asfendis – Assistant Principal, and Principal Peter Renwick.
Mr. Renwick stated, “I continue to be impressed with the manner in which our teachers use technology to improve instruction. Many of our students are gaining invaluable lessons on how to learn and conduct research with modern tools. Having the New Jersey Department of Education acknowledge examples of best practices in instructional technology speaks volumes of the commitment our school community has made in preparing our students for life after high school.”