Local Olmsted awards tout investments in tech, STEM and professional development

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WILLIAMSTOWN — The proliferation of technology in education stood out among the next round of projects to be funded through the annual Bicentennial Olmsted Awards for Faculty and Curricular Development presented to seven Northern Berkshire schools and districts through a Williams College endowment program.

During a May 29 ceremony, Interim Williams President Tiku Majumder presented the 2018 round of awards — $5,000 each for professional and curricular development projects — to the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School, Lanesborough Elementary School, McCann Technical School, Mount Greylock Regional School, North Adams Public Schools, and Williamstown Elementary School.

As a professor and a parent, Majumder said he was thrilled to emcee the event and present awards to help schools support professional development, technology, team-building, digital literacy, project-based learning and cultural competency. He also noted that such behind-the-scenes work can be both "stressful and meaningful" for teachers and administrators.

"It's hard for public education, especially in the rural areas that we're in, and especially with limited resources, to do. As a parent, I'm grateful," Majumder said.

Representatives from each school gave brief presentations on how the previous awards were used and how the next round of funds will be invested, as follows:

Adams-Cheshire

As part of the district's plan to be more competitive, the district has been working to enrich its science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM programs. This past year, teachers Eric Brown and Amy Anderson worked at the elementary school level to introduce Project Lead The Way curriculum, developed by a national nonprofit. Next year's plan includes continuing to implement Project Lead the Way's middle school curriculum at Hoosac Valley, and eventually introduce a biomedical science curriculum at the high school level.

"Teaching and learning should be hands-on and student-centered," said retiring Superintendent Robert Putnam.

He said this pathway plan should help the district, "retain existing students and convince others to come back," referring to the revolving door among districts which fall under the school choice program umbrella.

"This show where we're heading to in the future," Putnam said.

BART

Departing Principal April West gave a recap on how previous Olmsted grants supported the school's science fair preparation and implementation program and a cultural competency training at the school, the latter led by local cultural competency coach Shirley Edgerton.

Students now have a science fair syllabus that holds them accountable to each step of developing and presenting a project and deters them from procrastinating and putting a project together the night before.

West also said there has a been an increase of diversity at the school and the evident need for faculty to examine bias and the cultural identities of students and staff. "We developed a diversity council for faculty and a multicultural group for students," she said.

Next school year, BART will use its Olmsted funds to develop an "Academic Master Plan" to evaluate curriculum in its middle and high school programs, determine how to best redefine its academic and elective programs and schedules, and better integrate special education programs.

Lanesborough

Last year, Principal Martin McEvoy, despite his fear of heights, coordinated a team-building day at Ramblewild's aerial park in Hancock for his Lanesborough Elementary staff. "It looks like we're just playing in trees, and we were, but it was such a great, meaningful experience for all of us," said third-grade teacher Anna Mello, who presented on behalf of her school.

"It was really challenging but we learned about each other," she said.

In October, the school is planning to send a team of teachers to the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (MassCUE) Fall Technology Conference slated to be held at Gillette Stadium, so that faculty and staff can learn to advance their use of technology in the classroom.

Whether among the canopies of trees or networked among digital devices, Mello told the audience, "Don't forget to be a lifelong learner."

McCann

Also continuing to expand its technology initiatives, McCann held a professional development day led by faculty who attended last June's International Society for Technology in Education conference held in San Antonio, Texas. Science Department Chair Erin Mucci said the school, which also uses Project Lead the Way curricula, is going into its second year of offering an Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles course and is looking at different methods of teaching coding and how to better use programs in the Google Tools Suite and programs like Adobe Spark for graphics, videos and webpage design.

"We've learned a lot of great new tips and tricks," something faculty continue to share on "Technology Tuesdays and Thursdays" drop-in sessions for teachers.

In the coming year, McCann will expand its technology instruction team to include six teachers who will help others to continue to expand their use of technology tools and programs across all subjects.

Mount Greylock

High school science teacher Daniel Louis detailed how he and his colleagues helped to usher in a new Robotics Club program and also navigate in one of the toughest competitions in the field that same year. "It was a big challenge," he said. But the students, aka TEAM redbot, we're up for it, earning a rookie team nod and getting to compete in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut.

Next year, he said, the school will expand the robotics program while Louis said the students will learn to focus more on elements of strategy, teamwork, design, engineering, electrical programming and mechanics.

"Kids these days are not coming to school with a lot of those skills they used to have. Some don't know what a wrench is and how to turn it," Louis said.

Beyond technical skills, the students are also learning more about "cooperatition," yes, a term that's used across economic sectors to encompass the balance of competition and cooperation to help everyone progress in the same field. It's also a defined core value of FIRST Lego League, which the students compete in for robotics.

The other part of the 2018 Olmsted grant will also be used to purchase a motorized potters' wheel and stained glass cutter for the school's visual arts program.



North Adams


Kimberlee Chappell, literacy and Title I program coordinator for North Adams Public Schools said last year the district introduced an online platform called Realize — produced by textbook, assessment and school resource giant Pearson — to help teachers implement and evaluate students in literacy and computer science standards, only to find out teachers had varying levels of proficiency with the program. "They needed more support," she said.

So the district used its Olmsted award to help create more support and professional develop around using Realize and to survey teachers on other technology training needs.

Next year, the grant will help support the launch of a humanities curriculum with teacher training and support. The grant will also support the district's transition to a new dashboard for using the student data it collects, and how it can be used to inform instruction.

Williamstown Elementary

Speaking on behalf of Williamstown Elementary, technology teacher Tom Welch said the Olmsted funds give schools and districts the green light to try new innovations. "The result is a great richness added to the community and to our school," he said.

Last year, the school's Olmsted grant went to providing a two-day Google Bootcamp for 37 teachers to better help them use the digital learning platform. One result was creating a Google form for parent-teacher meeting sign-ups. "It helps push efficiency," he said.

This coming year, the district will use the funds to immerse teachers and families into the trending field of education through social emotional learning. The school is planning to host a series of presentations on topics including anxiety in children, trauma-informed teaching, and digital citizenship.


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