TH considers plan to ‘flip’ some classrooms

CRARYVILLE—Technology was the theme of the September 17 meeting of the Board of the Taconic Hills Central School District.

The technology discussion began with Teacher Leadership coaches Ryan Proper and Beth Flores presenting the results of their workshops on “flipped” classrooms. The term refers to the practice of recording lectures for students to watch at home, so that classroom time can include more interaction between teachers and students and less lecture. “No one ever says lecture is the best use of time,” said Mr. Proper.

Mr. Proper and Ms. Flores emphasized that having flipped classrooms “doesn’t replace teachers.” If flipped classrooms work, they should improve the quality and efficiency of classroom instruction. Time in the classroom becomes “group-oriented and student-led,” according to Ms. Flores.

“Do you think that enough of our kids have computers and Internet access at home?” asked Board member Anna Skoda, referring to the lack of broadband connectivity that continues to plague some parts of Columbia County.

Ms. Flores responded that there are some ways to compensate for limited access such as putting lectures on flash drives, burning DVDs of lectures and encouraging students to access videos during lunch periods and study halls.

After the presentation on flipped classrooms, Director of Instruction and Staff Development Sandra Gardner introduced Pearson representative Jessica Conner—who joined the board remotely through an online connection—to discuss digital textbooks for the sixth grade class. Ms. Conner’s voice greeted the Board through a speakerphone. She walked them through a slideshow that appeared on the Board’s projector screen, which Ms. Conner controlled remotely.

At one point, Ms. Conner got logged out of Pearson’s website. “Oh, it signed me out. I apologize,” she said. Later she said, “Here I’m logging in as one of my fake students.” She entered the password several times and was rejected, to which one Board member responded, “She’s having trouble remembering her fake password.” She did finally succeed and was able to show the Board some of the features of the software.

“This will be new—completely virtual—and we’ve chosen one grade level to try it out on,” said Ms. Gardner.

Pearson, a multinational publisher and media company, offers its virtual textbook with an optional print supplement, which Ms. Gardner said the school will not be ordering. Ms. Conner said that she had included information about the print supplement in her presentation because, “It’s a good idea for teachers to have print material for back-up.”

Later in the meeting, Coordinator of Computer Technology John Dodds said, “We’ve received 100 sixth grade laptops.” Mr. Dodds also discussed a new secure and internal web server for Taconic Hills students. The site will give students Taconic Hills email addresses, with which they will be able to communicate only with other Taconic Hills students or teachers. The site will be “archived and monitored,” said Mr. Dodds. “Stuff’s going to happen. But we’ll see where it came from and what it was.”

“This is a huge accomplishment,” said Superintendent Dr. Neil L. Howard, Jr.

In other business, the board:

  • Heard from Dr. Howard about a possible Columbia Memorial Hospital satellite urgent care center at Taconic Hills. “The governor is encouraging these types of activities,” said Mr. Howard. Ms. Skoda expressed concern about the idea. “We’d have all these people hanging around the campus. I think it’s a security thing—weirdness,” she said
  • Heard from Board President Kevin Maisenbacher about ongoing contract negotiations with the school’s support staff, which have been stalled for months. “We are optimistic that we’ve made significant progress with the support staff,” said Mr. Maisenbacher
  • Approved the “emergency application of pesticides” to the school’s playing fields to deal with what Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds Nicholas Smith referred to as a “significant grub problem.”

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