Warren Integration Specialists Find Common Threads of Learning

Credits: Warren Township Schools
Credits: Warren Township Schools

WARREN, NJ - As integration specialists at Warren Middle School, Cynthia Cassidy and Lynn Alger often start texting and emailing each other at 5 a.m.

“Our days are hectic and our brains never stop,” says Cassidy. “We tend to message one another with items to discuss when we do manage to meet up during the day. And we end up finishing each other’s sentences. The flurry of emails and texts continue throughout the night.”

Both are full time teachers at the middle school. Cassidy is the library media specialist; Alger teaches broadcast journalism and technology courses. The role of integration specialist is a stipend position designed to find common threads across grade levels and subject areas to help teachers increase the quality and effectiveness of instruction.

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We “work with staff members to create common language and common rubrics, keep staff informed of new developments, and work to build consistency,” says Alger. “In addition to these specific roles, we serve on numerous committees, and often attend curriculum meetings and meet with teams, building administrators, and the curriculum directors.”

And, as their title suggests, the pair works closely with staff to create lessons and projects that integrate technology in the classroom, including a robotic video/audio recorder called the Swivl and such educational applications as Pear Deck, Padlet, Kahoot! and EDpuzzle.

“I’ved used EDpuzzle as an interactive device,” says 6th grade social studies teacher Timothy O’Heney. “EDpuzzle prompts students to answer teacher-created questions as they watch a video clip. The students are more focused and interested because they want to answer the question correctly.”

Down the hallway, science teacher Simone Miller used the Swivl last year to record her 6th graders creating impact craters.

The Swivl “was a way to manage discussion about the inquiry after the fact to help draw conclusions about what we learned,” says Miller. “These ‘deep questions’ are hard, but with the video of students actually doing the experiment, we can pause and ask a reflection question like ‘why did we change the height?’ and ‘how did the size of the object affect the diameter impact crater?’ The video helps as a reminder and a prompt.”

David Arnold uses various technological learning tools in his 7th grade social studies
classroom. “Kahoot! Is great,” he says about one digital learning platform. “Quizlet Live is anothe tool I have used. It’s a game where the students work as a team to answer questions. It is set up like an online horse race and you can watch the teams advance across your SMART Board as they answer questions correctly.”

Miss a question and Quizlet Live sends you back to the starting line. Then there’s Pear Deck.

“I’ve used Pear Deck with Cynthia in the library,” Arnold says, about an app that encourages inquiry-based learning through open-ended questions. “We posed a question/problem for the students and we had them give their answer in Pear Deck. It was a nice tool where we could quickly see if the students were on point or if we needed them to revisit material.”

Cassidy oversees “The Tank,” the school’s makerspace with a Lego Wall, green screen, a virtual reality device and movable furniture -- an extremely popular learning space for both teachers and students. Alger is a calming presence as she answers the call of teachers in need of help with teaching strategies, technology or just a little moral support.

“Cynthia is effective at making me try new teaching methods and Lynn talks me down to the ground when I run into trouble flying the plane,” O’Heney says with a smile.

Last year, the two developed lessons and common rubrics for oral and visual presentations. This year, they are “working on common language for finding sources, citing work and lessons on how to write a citation using the MLA (Modern Language Association) format.”

And, because both teach students in all grades, “we also see student needs and can help bridge the gap between grade levels and subject areas by helping students apply skills and strategies across the curriculum,” Alger says. “Our initiatives are always with the students in mind.”

The integration specialists have also created a collaborative website through Padlet for sharing resources with other teachers and staff.

“It has been rewarding to see teachers embrace new ideas and practices,” they say. “When teachers experience success, when they implement new ideas, they often share their success with their colleagues. The result is that more teachers are feeling empowered to serve as mentors or leaders within the school.” 

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