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Amherst Tech Students Featured in National Publication!

I'm pleased to share the great news!  My students and I were featured in T.H.E. Journal this past month.  It is a national publication featuring Educational Technology topics.  Our "Teaching The Teachers" Screencasting project was highlighted as an innovative way to flip the professional development model and learn new technologies.

(Below article originally posted in T.H.E. Journal on November 13, 2012)

FETC 2013 | Profile

In This Flipped Class, Teachers Learn From Students' Video

As many students can attest, video creation doesn't have to be difficult and it certainly doesn't have to be scary. One teacher shares how the flipped classroom can be a lesson in media literacy for students and teachers alike.
New York technology teacher and trainer Rob Zdrojewski is flipping the flipped classroom--or, rather, his students are.
Using a video technology known as screencasting, Zdrojewski, who will host two workshops at the upcoming FETC Conference in January, turns the popular phrase on its head by asking his students at Amherst Middle School to create instructional videos for their teachers. 
"The term 'flip your classroom' is really for the teachers to flip the classroom for the students, but this is like flipping the professional development for your staff--but having students teach the teachers," Zdrojewski says. "It's another catchphrase we've been using."
He calls the student productions "Tech Under 90 Sec" or, alternatively, "Teaching the Teachers." The content focuses on educating teachers on how to use everyday technological tools like Gmail and Google Drive in under 90 seconds. Zdrojewski first assigned the projects this year when he realized valuable staff development days--the time when teachers typically receive technology training--were put aside in favor of sessions on Common Core State Standards, performance review, and teacher evaluation systems.
"We talk about not having enough time in our day to do stuff; well, now if you can find those pockets of time and you have 90 seconds or less, you can scroll through our mobile blog site, check out different videos, and learn something right on the spot," Zdrojewski says. 

FETC presenter Rob Zdrowjeski
Zdrojewski is a technology trainer and frequent workshop presenter who has produced a number of  training DVDs on video production. He will present two workshops at FETC 2013, which starts Jan. 28, 2013 in Orlando, FL:

  • Digital Video: How to Screencast
  • iPad Video Production

In the first, he covers the ins and outs of screencasting technology, highlighting several different tools and platforms. His second workshop is a BYOD session that details apps and accessories for digital storytelling projects on the iPad.
For more information, visit Zdrojewski'swebsite or the complete list of FETC workshops

This kind of exposure gives students' work--and knowledge--an integrity that goes beyond the typical homework assignment and even transcends the physical boundaries of the school itself.  
Students post each video on Zdrojewski's blog, so teachers can access them outside of school, and so that anyone who searches for the information on the internet has the potential to find it.
"The kids are really proud of knowing they're not just teaching kids in Amherst Middle School," Zdrojewski said. "It's on the web, so anybody that searches 'how to share a Google Doc' potentially could come across their video and learn it from there--and it's all thanks to screencasting technology."
The term screencasting refers a video of one's computer screen activity layered with a step-by-step audio explanation of one's actions.
"It records exactly what you're seeing on your computer screen, with your mouse movements and your keyboard as you're typing, and you're wearing a headset at the time so your voice is being recorded," Zdrojewski explains. 

The technology, and the flexibility it creates, will be one of the topics Zdrojewski covers at FETC, particularly as it relates to the flipped classroom. The New York native and father of two began using screencasting in 2005 with a tool called Snagit (the industry standard)--before the term "flipped classroom" was coined by Colorado teachers Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams--as a way for his Lego Robotics students to have 24/7 access to instruction-heavy lectures.
From there, the concept transformed into students watching the lectures at home on their own time.
"We've heard of movies on demand and sports on demand; I call this teacher on demand," he says. "You can pause me, fast forward me and rewind me as much as you want, which puts the student in the driver's seat so they truly own the learning."
Student agency is one of the biggest draws of screencasting for Zdrojewski, who continued to use Snagit for his lectures even as the subject matter evolved from Lego Robotics to Google Docs and Evernote--today's technological tools.
But Zdrojewski hasn't given up all administrative control. He stresses that for screencasting and the flipped classroom to work, there has to be a feedback loop. If his students watch a video outside of class, he requires them to come in the next day with questions or to answer five questions through an online survey tool like Google Forms.
He also uses Edmodo, which he likens to a "Facebook for schools," with its teacher controls and built-in grade book, as a platform for hosting his videos and assignments and for launching class discussion.
"If you have Edmodo, you can have students post three comments or a question on the wall and you'll be able to visually see who watched the video," Zdrojewski says. "One kid will post a question and the other will respond… and the learning kind of spirals from there."
Zdrojewski calls a tool like Edmodo "almost a requirement" for teachers practicing the flipped classroom, and he actually prefers the discussion encouraged by online learning. 
"When I require everyone to post on Edmodo or come in with question it lessens that intimidation factor, especially for seventh and eighth grade kids, where they know no question is a dumb question and that the question they ask might be answered by another student before the teacher," he says.
Establishing this expertise early--and online--is a crucial part of Zdrojewski's curriculum, which emphasizes building students' digital footprints. As students cover the topics of internet safety, media literacy, and video production, Zdrojewski encourages them to "think before they post" and teaches how to label videos and content properly to "game the system," so that when they Google themselves, their best work appears at the top of the search result.
"We're purposely making good digital footprints of them so that now someone can say--'Oh, it looks like you were interested in building Legos in middle school and now I'm going to hire you to build airplane parts for my engineering firm'--or something to that effect," Zdrojewski says. "We're kind of future-proofing them."
Preparation for the future doesn't end online; all of Zdrojewski's students see their videos broadcast live on the school's morning TV news show, which he has worked to build for the last 12 years. For every eight to ten minute show, Zdrojewski estimates about 80 percent of the content is pre-recorded as part of his class curriculum.
"There is a purpose behind it," Zdrojewski says. "When kids ask, 'Why am I doing this?', I say 'Because there are 800 kids that can see it, plus everyone in the world that wants to tune in on the website,'"
Video production is Zdrojewski's other passion--one he has pursued since he was a kid making commercials with his parents' Camcorder. When he attended Buffalo State College he blended his love of learning and technology to land his current position, and it comes as no surprise that it took only a few years before Zdrojewski began using video to change the structure of his classroom.

"I started seeing that there was a great need [for teachers] and it wasn't expensive to do," he says. "You just had to know where to start and what to buy. So I started blogging more and more and showing people what we've done and it grew into something that is feasible."
Zdrojewski's other FETC workshop will delve into his knowledge of digital storytelling, this one specific to iOS video apps like VideoliciousDoceriExplain Everything, and Coach's Eye--apps tailored to creating near professional-quality videos and screencasts in a few easy steps.
Both of his workshops will not only illuminate the importance of their topics and provide examples of apps and tools to use, but also give attendees a crash course on how to use these tools and apply them to any subject matter. In one, teachers will actually make screencasts on their favorite thing to do online. His goal is for attendees to "walk out of the workshop saying 'I'm confident, I know how to do this.'" Because if they don't, Zdrojewski believes, teachers aren't doing their job.
"If you took an oath to do what's right for kids and you believe that oath is to prepare kids for the real world, you have to get over your fears and concerns about mobile devices," he says.
He recommends the book Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, by Bergmann and Sams, for teachers unable to attend one of his workshops and as a good place to start, emphasizing the mantra "pedagogy first, technology second."
"Years ago we were saying stay off the web," Zdrojewski says. "Now we're saying get on the web, as much as you can, in a positive way."
(Above article originally posted in T.H.E. Journal on November 13, 2012)