By Laura Firmani and Keith Fowler (Naugatuck High School) and Peter Lorinser (RISE Network Facilitator)
Laura Firmani and Keith Fowler are Naugatuck teachers, and representatives on the RISE Educator Advisory Council, a group of educators from all RISE Network schools that encourages collaboration across high schools and champions the strategic use of the RISE Educator Innovation to advance our shared student outcome goals.
Teachers at Naugatuck High School (NHS) are working together to ensure that students develop strong connections in high school, including with their educators, the content they are learning, and current issues. NHS Library Media Specialist Laura Firmani and Social Studies teacher Keith Fowler are partnering on “Project Connection” where students in Mr. Fowler’s US History and Contemporary Issues classes are connected with outside experts, industry professionals, and other students. Ms. Firmani and Mr. Fowler’s goal is to maximize the potential of the webcam that Mr. Fowler had funded through the Educator Innovation Fund with his project “Connecting through Conferencing!
Once the project was funded, Mr. Fowler launched a session on the #MeToo movement in December, where students from multiple classes were connected with visitors from New York City and from London, learning about different perspectives and asking important questions. Future planned sessions include conversations with Dr. Allard of Philadelphia Community College leading a dynamic session on race as a social construct, and journalist Mehdi Hasan discussing a variety of contemporary political issues.
With technology becoming a more commonplace thing in almost every classroom, the challenge for teachers is to maximize the effectiveness of any given resource. With the webcam allied to conferencing technology, we are going to attempt to greatly enrich our understanding of the world both past and present, we’re going to use it to break through the walls of the classroom and make connections with people who otherwise would not be able to ever speak to.
Mr. Fowler and Ms. Firmani passionately believe that if educators speak the language of their students, then powerful engagement and learning are far more likely to take place. Digital technology is the catalyst for so many changes in society, politics, culture, and the economy – after all, high school teachers “teach Digital Natives in our 21st-century classrooms,” as Marc Prensky writes. When asked about this project, Mr. Fowler challenged us as network partners to embrace this unique approach to teaching: “It has immense opportunity if we can be bold enough to go for it.”
Through our RISE Network learning agenda and upcoming conferences, we will be asking educators to consider what students are experiencing in their classrooms and what that teaching and learning look, feel, and sound like. We will be challenging ourselves to consider how students can engage in new ideas, master content, and practice their skills. The work showcased in Mr. Fowler’s classroom, and in partnership with Ms. Firmani, is a great example of how educators are being bold, innovative, and responsive to the needs of their students so that their students are both engaged and empowered to learn.