Monday, May 18, 2009

Today Deb Perry, technology teacher at CMS, and I visited Suffern Middle School in New York, primarily to see students working in Second Life (on Ramapo Islands) with Peggy Sheehy, library media specialist. (If you do a search on Peggy Sheehy on this blog you will find links and more information about her in two other ITL posts.) We learned a great deal from our visit -- about student use of Second Life and so much more!

(Peggy Sheehy, LMS, working with a class in Second Life)

Early in the day we met:
  • Dr. Robert MacNaughton, school superintendent
  • Mrs. Judy Barbera, assistant superintendent for instruction
  • Mr. James Yap, director of instructional technology and data
  • Eleanor Schuster, library media specialist
  • Brian Fox, principal
  • Teresa Ivey, assistant principal
We learned that the superintendent's vision includes exploring new technologies that support his view of a "flattened world." This includes trusting Peggy's abilities to align curricular goals and objectives with the student work in Second Life.

James Yapp has provided considerable support and has worked with Peggy Sheehy to find solutions to any problems that had to be considered over the 4 years since Peggy introduced Second Life as a learning vehicle in the school.

We observed two groups of students working with Peggy Sheehy and Gayle Yodowitc, Family Consumer Science teacher, working on their private islands in Second Life. Students brushed up their avatars, sent an IM to become a member of a new group, and heard the plan for their upcoming work to prepare for a debate on" Should teens have credit cards?" Both teachers worked with students in Second Life, and it was clear that the work in Second Life was motivational and focused students on their debate research.

(Student preparing avatar for a debate.)

We learned about other technology initiatives in the library media center and the school. There are 3 class sets of computers available in the LMC - one MAC lab and one PC lab in the LMC, and one more MAC lab in a separate room in the LMC. A glass wall will soon be built around 2 of the computer areas in the LMC to make the labs more private, and another class set of computers is going around the more flexible area in the LMC where large group activites can take place with a Promethean board available. The former TV studio in the LMC is being rebuilt as a video conference center. The school is completely wireless with many laptops available.

There is a 40 week technology program for all students called Gateway to Learning: Gateway to Technology. Two former wood-working rooms now have full computer labs in them. 6h graders have 10 weeks of technology classes, with a class every day. 7th graders have 20 weeks of technology classes with a class every day, and 8th graders have 10 weeks of technology classes with a class every day. The focus is on critical and creative thinking and problem solving.

During our visit students were creating podcasts in Garageband with the 2nd library media specialist, Elenaor Schuster.

We also learned about Saywire,which is currently being implemented K-8. Saywire is a secure social/academic network. Peggy talked about her use of Quest Atlantis as another MUVE (multi-user virtual environment). We learned about Peggy's work with Bernajean Porter, author of the book DigiTales: The Art of Telling Digital Stories (who visited Suffern Middle School and worked with 75 students for 4 days last year). We viewed an amazing and powerful digital story that Peggy created in a DigiTales workshop, called All that Glitters.

This post does not cover all that we experienced and learned on this incredible site visit, but you get the idea! It was amazing. We plan to further synthesize our experience and determine if and how we can implement a student presence in a virtual environment.

Thanks to Peggy Sheehy and all the incredible staff who welcomed us to Suffern Middle School today!!!


  1. Wow! This sounds like an inspiring and exciting day!

  2. Thanks for the kind words Bill, and for recognizing what a thriving, creative place Suffern Middle School is. I so often say, were it not for the visionary administrative leadership AS WELL AS teachers who are willing to explore new horizons we wouldn't be where we are. James Yap has brought us forward under Dr. MacNaughton's vision and my principal, Brian Fox, and Asst. Principal, Teresa Ivey support us in every way. This combination of top-down/bottom-up synergy allows for innovation and movement into new arenas for learning. We are looking forward to the opportunity to visit Westport! Best to Deb.. She is a gem!

  3. Ramapo nourishes individuals (adults and students) through a multitude of inspiring experiences - everyone is encouraged to learn, play, collaborate and live into their potential - I have rarely visited a culture like Ramapo middle school! It lives and breathes what many only talk about - the kids captured my heart in our storytelling projects in SL! Let it be known that we can take care of test scores and the spirits of our kids!

  4. Visiting Suffren has had a lasting impression! After time to digest all that was presented and discovered, I'm still in a 'wonderland' of thoughts and ideas. With ultimate hospitality Peggy shared valuable information teacher to teacher. What did I learn that day? First, new adventures are successful because of interested teachers and supporters. A team of believers can help to ease doubt and worry, allowing us to teach forward. Also, we don't know it all, but we can share what we know - and together we will learn more. That's a wonderful gift. Most importantly, I've witnessed actual and virtual student engagement and motivation... it's key to true learning. So, overall our visit was another great opportunity to learn more - with a cherry on top (her name is Peggy)! - DPerry