East Williston brings technology to the classroom

Rebecca Klar
Kelly Powers and two of her fourth grade students, Maiya Vohra and Kevin Brennan demonstrate how they use Pear Deck and Buncee. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

East Williston school district’s innovation lab will open at Willets Road School in December, Ed Kemnitzer, director of technology, innovation and information, announced at last Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.

“When technology makes instruction better we invest in technology,” Kemnitzer said.

The innovation lab will feature Spheros, green screens, snap circuits, 3D printers, video game design platforms, and other products designed to inspire children to tinker, create and try, he said.

“We’re going to let kids explore,” Kemnitzer said. “Explore their passions, explore their geniuses and really dig deep into what makes them want to come to school.”

The innovation lab is only one way the district is using technology to help children learn. During the meeting, students from various grades displayed how they use technology in the classroom.

Maiya Vohra and Kevin Brennan, two fourth-graders at North Side School, demonstrated how they use Pear Deck and Buncee, two programs their teacher Kelly Powers called “the next version of Google slides.”

With Pear Deck, rather than just watching a presentation, students can pause, type in answers and even move parts of maps and graphs around. Brennan said he likes Pear Deck because it’s a hands-on way to learn, and Vohra said she likes Pear Deck because it lets her work at her own pace.

Technology also allows students to connect with their peers around the state, nation and world. Dena Ebstein’s sixth-grade class participated in the Global Read Aloud, a program where students around the world all read the same book and discuss it together virtually.

Ebstein’s class was able to connect with another sixth-grade class at Massapequa Middle School through a live stream to discuss the book “Whoever You Are,” by Mem Fox. Next year, Ebstein said, she hopes to connect with classes from other countries.

“One thing that I loved about this activity was it broke down the walls of my classroom,” Ebstein said. “It opened the door to infinite opportunities.”

Dena Ebstein and two of her sixth grade students, Lana Cale and Amelia Crosby, discuss how they used a live stream to participate in The Global Read Aloud.
(Photo by Rebecca Klar)

Jessica Liakonis and Jessica Vacchio’s fifth-grade class also connected with another district though technology. The North Side School fifth-graders used Flip Grid to introduce themselves to virtual pen pals in a fifth-grade class at a Farmingdale elementary school.

By creating a “Getting to Know You,” video for their pen pals, Flip Grid let the quiet students to show their voice, Liakonis said.

Flip Grid lets students, like fifth-grader Emily Solomon, who showed her video at the Board of Education meeting, to film themselves and add stickers and other special effects.

“Flip grid is one of my favorite websites to go on, however I’m not the best at it. Sometimes it takes me eight tries to get it right,” Solomon said. “Creating a video allows you to be yourself and show your personality. Flip Grid may be challenging at first, but it will always be one of my favorite websites.”

Kemnitzer said he has yet to see the technology used as well in a high school as it is in Wheatley. Robert Teseo, secondary chairman of mathematics at Wheatley, presented how he uses Flip Grid to make review videos for his multivariable math class.

Teseo broke his class into pairs, and before beginning a new unit had each pair create a Flip Grid video to review topics they learned last year and would need in the following unit.

Emily Wang and Carol Wu, who showed their video during the meeting, created a video using a parody song of “I Will Survive” called “I Will Derive” to review the quotient rule.

“Using Flip Grid to go over all of these techniques and rules that we learned last year let us look at math from a fun perspective,” Wang said. “In our multivariable class there are only 10 of us … Flip Grid has really helped in that we share these funny little snip bits for math.”

Fifth grader Emily Solomon and her teachers Jessica Liakonis and Jessica Vacchio explain how they use Flip Grid in class.
(Photo by Rebecca Klar)

Teseo said he only assigned five videos for homework, but received 10 from his students.

East Williston school district is in the final year of its five-year strategic plan. Wednesday’s presentation was an example of how the district followed that plan, said Superintendent Elaine Kanas.

“Five years ago the community identified STEM as an area they wanted the district to move forward with,” Kanas said. “Now it is time to decide again, planning what are our community’s priorities for the next five years.”

The Strategic Planning Committee is made up of school administrators, community members, union members and Board of Education representatives. The plan is scheduled to be presented to the board in June 2018, and adopted later that month or in early July.

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