Westfield High School seniors Sarah Davidson and Samantha Gruskin and teachers Jacqueline Spring and Caitlin MacDonald were featured speakers at a technology workshop held at this year’s New Jersey School Boards Convention. According to Westfield High School Principal Peter Renwick, the high school was invited to present at the convention because of the innovative use of technology Evo Popoff, the Chief Innovation Officer for the New Jersey Department of Education, saw when he visited Westfield’s American Studies classroom last year.
“He was extremely impressed with the collaborative approach that Ms. Spring and Ms. MacDonald took to improve instruction using 21st century skills and electronic tools in their co-taught class,” noted Renwick.
Through a grant from the Education Fund of Westfield, iPads are used in the American Studies class, which is taught in a double period and combines the study of American Literature and American History. The iPads are supplemented with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) which is a pilot program for this class.
In describing her reaction to the technology offered in the class she took in 11th grade, now Senior Sarah Davidson said, “One of the most rewarding things about having the technology was having the ability to take ownership of the knowledge we were trying to develop. We had the world at our fingertips to question, explore, and utilize -- that experience alone was exciting and challenging (two things that school should always be).”
Teacher Caitlin MacDonald added, “Regular access to technology in American Studies has given students a classroom that challenges them to critically evaluate sources, collaborate with classmates, pursue interests and actively engage in their education. Regular access to technology in the classroom has shifted the role of Ms. Spring and I as teachers and also has shifted the role of students. With technology, students are more empowered and active learners.”
At the convention, Westfield teachers and students discussed how technology can transform teaching and learning. “Their presentation was so impressive that educators from all over the state remained afterwards for close to an hour to talk directly with our students and teachers,” stated Board of Education member Lucy Biegler, who was in attendance.
Senior Samantha Gruskin described the experience at the convention in this way: “I think the most rewarding thing about participating on the panel was seeing that our voices actually had an impact on the people who attended. The feedback Sarah and I received from the various educators that attended was extremely inspiring, and we could tell that we had really influenced their views on innovation and technology in the classroom. To know that our passion for learning and improving education actually reached people gives me a lot of hope, because those people then have the capability to take those ideas to their own school districts where students can be impacted by this wonderful technology just as Sarah and I were.
“I was honored that Mr. Popoff was impressed enough to provide a platform for our students to speak about how learning changed for them,” noted Ms. Spring. “It is significant that their voices were honored in a forum such as this because it doesn't happen too often. For me the most special point of the day was seeing these two ladies speak articulately about how learning can be transformative when infused with technology.”