Henry Winkler, most notoriously known for his role on Happy Days as the Fonz, was the Key Note speaker on Friday, November 11, 2011. Mr. Winkler is an author and child advocate for children with learning challenges. He refuses to call these challenges disabilities. We don't refer to someone who can not paint as art disabled. We need to start looking at our students as individuals who need help or tools to over come the things that they find difficult. Mr. Winkler has dyslexia and graduated in the bottom 10% of his class. He said that many of his teachers asked him, "What is wrong with you?" He responded with, "I have been asking myself the same question!" Mr. Winkler gave a truly inspiring speech and shared excerpts from his latest novel, Ghost Buddy. He has truly become a voice for dyslexia and students with learning challenges. He has co-authored an entire series called, Hank Zipzer: The World's Greatest Underachiever. These are 18 novels in the series, and I can't wait to use them with my students!
Dan Jones, Ideas for teachers' administrator and middle school teacher from the Richland Academy School of Excellence, had the opportunity to go to Louisville, KY for the National Middle School Conference. This was the first year he had attended the conference, but he was not just going to attend the conference, he was going as a presenter. Mr. Jones has been using technology as a learning tool in his classroom for the past three to four years. Last year, he took a leap of faith and decided to submit a presentation to the Ohio Middle Level Association for their annual conference. He was selected to present at the OMLA conference and had a wonderful experience. Mr. Jones figured, why not aim big and try to present at the National Middle School Conference. After tweaking his presentation from the OMLA conference, he submitted a presentation about effective technology for the classroom. Only about 15%-20% of individuals who submit an application are chosen to speak at the conference, and when Mr. Jones received his letter of acceptance, he was thrilled. “I immediately began planning and fine tuning my presentation,” he said. He also went on to say that his passion for the use of technology has led him to want to tell and encourage as many educators as possible about the many ways in which teachers can begin to engage their students by bringing their students’ world into the classroom. “Our students’ world is made up of Facebook, Youtube, texting, shopping, movies, music, and more. So we as educators need to bring these things into our classroom and figure out how to use them for an educational purpose. I have students creating websites, portfolios, and video book reports. We use Skype in the Classroom as a tool to connect with other schools across the country.” Mr. Jones Skyped with Ford’s Theater last year when his students studied Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War as part of the eighth grade curriculum. Another interesting component of Mr. Jones’ attempt at bringing the students’ world into the classroom is his use of green screen technology. “I use YooStar with my students. YooStar is a company that started off making a fun sort of movie karaoke product that was designed to remove a character from a movie such as Casablanca, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or The Matrix, and allow you the chance to step into the movie and read the lines. The PC version also comes with backgrounds that you can use. When looking through the backgrounds, I realized that the YooStar had a place in my classroom. I can take students on location to The Great Pyramid of Giza, The Great Wall of China, the moon, or even under the sea. My students are now using the YooStar to report on ancient Egypt from The Great Pyramid of Giza. He can see a difference in the amount of effort his students are putting into his projects because of the mere fact that technology from the students’ world is a major component.
Because Mr. Jones wanted to ensure that his presentation at the National Middle School Conference was successful, engaging, and effective, he contacted YooStar to see if they would help in the planning process. Ben Friedberg, YooStar’s Vice President of Marketing, began working with Dan of the course of the past 7 to 8 months. Dan also reached out to Microsoft to help him plan this presentation. Last year, Mr. Jones had done a great deal of research to see if there was a way to bring an Xbox 360 Kinect into the classroom to engage students from more of a gaming angle. Alex Games, Microsoft’s Director of Education Development for Kinect, began to collaborate with Mr. Jones about an educational piece Microsoft was going to be launching in October of 2011. Since the national conference was in November, Mr. Jones asked Mr. Games if he would care to join him at the conference and share this information with his audience. Mr. Games said that they would love to be there and talk about their launch of what Microsoft calls, “Playful Learning”. Mr. Jones also reached out to YooStar’s Ben Friedberg about also attending the conference. Mr. Friedberg also decided that he would love to come and support Mr. Jones at the conference. Mr. Jones commented, “I have been talking to and working with both Alex and Ben for some time, and it was great to finally meet both of them at the conference.” Mr. Jones said that he was thrilled with how the presentation went at the National Middle School Conference. It was wonderful working with Alex and Ben, and when our session was coming to a close, Ben stood up and told everyone in attendance that for being at the session, he was going to be giving each one of them a YooStar to use in their classroom. “Those in attendance were in shock. One attendee came up to me afterwards and told me she felt like she was at the Oprah Show. It truly was a wonderful gift from YooStar to donate an entire unit (Green Screen, Camera, and Software) to each attendee.
The presentation, though a large portion of the reason Mr. Jones was at the conference, was not the only reason for attending the conference. Mr. Jones said that he is always looking for ways to grow and improve as an educator. He wanted to be able to bring new ideas back to the Richland Academy School of excellence so that he and the other teachers could provide the most effective education possible. Mr. Jones was able to attend the Key Note Speaker’s presentation on Friday, November 11, 2011. The speaker was actor, director, producer, author, and child advocate, Henry Winkler. Though most of us know him as “The Fonz” from Happy Days, his work to bring light to the understanding of students with learning challenges has been recognized by the Queen of England. Henry Winkler has co-authored a series called Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever. Mr. Jones had an opportunity to meet Henry Winkler and made certain to thank him for all of the work he has done for students with learning challenges and for being a voice for dyslexia. “The National Middle School Conference was unbelievable. I am really looking forward to sharing with my teammates all that I have learned. It was truly an experience I will never forget.”