As we embarked on this new school year, this one with students and teachers participating in a hybrid learning environment, the faculty of the Berkeley Heights Public School District have had to come up with new and innovative ways to teach and engage their students. In some cases utilizing and expanding upon favorite technology and programs from the past, in other cases seeking new programs that fit a newly identified need. Through it all, BHPS teachers have continued to show ingenuity and creativity as they seek various ways to make lessons more interactive so that they are compelling to all students - both those attending in-person and those attending virtually. 

James Finley, Supervisor of Science, Art, and Computers told us, "While this has been a challenging time, the collaboration and support amongst staff members have led to wonderful innovation. The teachers are using technology in new ways to connect and engage with their students. They have truly shown enormous strength, creativity, and perseverance." He added, "The Berkeley Heights Education Foundation has been dedicated to providing resources to teachers and ensuring they have the tools needed to navigate this new world of education, and we appreciate their partnership during this critical time."

We wanted to learn a bit more about some of the coolest programs out there, so we went straight to the source and spoke to a few teachers to find out what programs they're using to build excitement into their classes, teach students and keep their courses on track. 

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According to seventh grade Science Teacher at Columbia Middle School, Marcie Hall, "NearPod has been a favorite of mine for about five years now and it has been essential during remote learning.  I use it to introduce topics instead of using guided notes. I can add in short video clips, drawing activities to encourage modeling, labeling activities (labeling a cell for example), determining comprehension of readings/articles/, and pre-lab assessments to see if students understand the goals/procedures of an upcoming lab. What I love about Nearpod is that it allows you to pace the lesson and I can share correct answers directly to each student's screen through the share button. Students get multiple-choice results in the form of a pie graph where they can look back over answers. Most exciting is a new feature, a voice to text option, that allows students struggling with writing to vocalize answers in a recorded message rather than typing out responses. I use drawing tools, open-ended questions, and multiple-choice sections.   NearPod also allows you to go back and view stored work in case teachers would like it graded as a formal assessment."

"EduCreations is another program I really like as it allows you to record videos, just like Screencastify, and talk to students about images, text, calculations, etc. I used this frequently in Connected Math last year to show students how to work through sample problems.  I can also talk students through directions on worksheets and activities through the video options.  It helps students struggling with directions or the big ideas of a task," Hall added. 

Another fan of Nearpod, Staci Toporek, English Teacher at Governor Livingston High School added, "In the hybrid learning environment, Nearpod allows students who are virtual and in-person to collaborate using a few different features. With polls and collaboration boards, students can see each other's responses in real time and that helps to generate discussion. Also the interactive nature of this technology, as well as that of other apps, the students can engage in the lesson rather than just watching what is on the screen."   

Over at Mountain Park Elementary School, our younger learners are benefitting from cool technology, too. 5th grader teacher Stacy Saravay is finding a lot of success with a program called Padlet. She told us, "I have used Padlet with my class, which is an interactive bulletin board.  Students can post videos, photos, or writing on the Padlet in response to a prompt.  They can view each other's work and make positive comments.  It is a great tool, especially in writing workshops since it allows kids at home to interact with kids who are in person.  They can collaborate with each other and offer constructive feedback."

At Thomas P. Hughes, Fourth grade teacher Kate Corcorcan is adding some fun to her virtual classroom by incorporating Bitmoji classroom into the mix. She shared, "I'm loving the Bitmoji classroom that I created for my students. I use it as a "Home Base" for their digital resources. Whenever they need a link to one of our frequently used online programs, homework assignments, or schedules, they can find it there and it's entertaining to "decorate" the space."

Cheryl McKinney, a Second grade teacher at William Woodruff School shared her thoughts on incorporating technology into the new hybrid environment, "Once we started teaching in the hybrid model, we were able to establish our own in-person and virtual routines to help the day run smoothly. The second graders are so resilient; they have learned how to use a Chromebook, how to join a virtual meeting, how to use the Google Classroom, how to type, and how to sign-in to a variety of learning platforms. We broke down each task into steps that the class could follow, we made how-to videos, and we helped families troubleshoot when things did not go quite as we expected. We planned lessons to help foster friendships, respect, and relationships among the students that were in the virtual setting and those that were in the classroom. We continue to work on creating a warm, caring classroom community that feels connected even in this time when we are not all together in one place. In just 4 weeks, we have transformed the traditional learning experience into an effective hybrid experience for our young learners."

Thank you BHPS faculty and staff for continuing to inspire us with your passion and creativity and for sharing your experiences with technology with us.