Technology Takes Off in Long Island Classrooms

NewsdayOctober 7, 2019

With technological advancements, teachers and students in elementary and secondary schools across Long Island have more opportunity than ever to develop innovative approaches to learning, whatever the subject area. More than half of the Island’s 124 districts have received funding under the state’s Smart Schools Bond Act for technology improvements, connectivity and high-tech security. Newsday asked Long Island superintendents what steps are being taken in their districts for 2019-20 and beyond. Here are responses from 15 school chiefs in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Joseph Famularo, Bellmore Union Free School District

As the first district in New York State and the second in the country to be named a Lighthouse District for Leadership by FranklinCovey, the Bellmore Union Free School District has continued to demonstrate that its star staff and students are leaders in technology.

Bellmore’s implementation of Digital Citizenship earned each of its schools, as well as the district, certification for digital citizenship by Common Sense Education. Digital media is utilized daily to explore, create, connect and learn in a safe manner while preventing loss of privacy and cyberbullying. Google Classroom’s G Suite for Education is utilized for instruction and differentiated learning in grades 2-6. Students are also taught coding and computational thinking in all grades.

In addition to iPads, Chromebooks, zSpace technology, videoconferencing capabilities, Apple TV technology and robotics, the Innovation Starlab is an interactive and kinesthetic environment which is a classroom-sized, transformational 3D learning space. Students surround its floor mat projector and operate it with wands, participating in teacher-created lessons which reinforce all curriculum areas through interactive games. For example, students tested their knowledge relating to Otzi, Europe’s oldest known mummy, through spinner-based questions and memory and true-or-false games.

During the 2018-19 school year, students in grades 3-6 participated in more than 30 videoconferences where they explored the world outside of their immediate surroundings. Sixth-grade students participated in a virtual field trip to the New Orleans National World War II Museum, where they analyzed artifacts to explore the chronologies, strategies, motivations and outcomes behind WWII history, learning how the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into WWII.

We will continually develop innovative approaches to learning that build a solid foundation and at the same time prepare our students to adapt to technological changes and challenges in their future.

Laura Seinfeld, Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District

In the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District, we are excited about using virtual reality (VR) technology to enhance learning in our classrooms. This technology will provide students with a realistic 360-degree sensation of being in another place — such as the Great Barrier Reef or inside an Egyptian pyramid — and will immerse users in experiences such as “A Day in the Life of a Surgeon” while providing a sense of scale, depth and wonder that two-dimensional audiovisual technology cannot.

Our investment in VR hardware stems from an innovation grant secured by second-grade teacher Brian Agostini and rising sixth-grader Luca Verbanac, who conducted an independent project on virtual reality last spring and pitched it to administrators. At Luca’s suggestion, our sixth-grade teachers will be using VR to enhance their lessons on Ancient Civilizations. Mr. Agostini plans to use the technology during second-grade “Genius Hour” — a time when students enrich their learning through independent projects, and for geography lessons and scientific investigations of experiences otherwise inaccessible.

As the program progresses, we hope to put cameras in the hands of students so they can create their own VR educational experiences. Our goal is to maximize the use of the devices and use teacher leaders to integrate the opportunities we are implementing in grades 2-6 and in Maker Space.

Al Harper, Elmont Union Free School District

The Elmont Union Free School District believes that its primary responsibility is to build a foundation for our children to not only embrace what the future holds but be able to change its course. With this philosophy as our guiding principle, we have leveraged the Smart Schools funding to support wireless infrastructure improvements and a 1:1 technology initiative placing an iPad in the hands of all students and teachers in grades 3-6 — including English-language learners and teachers. In addition, we provide our primary grade students with laptops, STEM labs, Maker Spaces and computer labs. This access enables our teachers to pull down the walls of their classroom and expose our students to solving real-world problems. Thus, our students will become digital citizens who can effectively use technology to expand their learning opportunities.

By establishing professional learning networks, our teachers have become fully familiar with and embraced the notion that our children are growing up in a digital society that requires a different set of skills to master. We have promoted the infusion of technology (green screening, stop-motion, programming, coding, robotics, etc.) within the construct of project-based learning. Students, now more than ever before, have the ability to take ownership of their educational experience and apply technological skills using a variety of devices to reach their potential.

Linda Rozzi, Babylon Union Free School District

The Babylon school district is committed to preparing students to be “College & Career Ready” and to compete in a 21st-century job market. We believe that as digital skills take over this market, it is imperative that we as a district integrate them into our curriculum to not only expose students to instructional technology, but to teach skills that will make them global leaders in an ever increasingly competitive market. Two years ago the district launched a 1:1 platform that has changed the way instruction is delivered and learning is assessed.

With the integration of our 1:1 world computing initiative with Microsoft Office 365, our teachers and students can collaborate by utilizing “Teams” and “Class Notebook” to further our instructional programs. Babylon’s teachers share class notes electronically with their students, have the ability to provide instant feedback on individual work and collaborate on instructional strategies based directly upon each student’s needs. This digital environment allows students the opportunity to have a voice in their education, without the typical social constraints some students feel in a classroom environment of their peers.

Paul Defendini, Farmingdale Union Free School District

At Farmingdale, we’ve prioritized staying ahead of the curve when it comes to using the power of technology to transform teaching and personalize learning. We’re heading into our fourth year of the One-to-World Learning Initiative, providing students in grades 3-12 with their own Chromebooks and instructing them on how to become smart and efficient consumers of information. We have plans to redesign our high school television studio to operate in high-definition, with live switching and streaming capabilities, a multi-camera setup, an upgraded master control room, and an LED lighting grid.

The Innovation Lab (a flexible learning space for students to engage in inquiry and self-directed learning activities) in our middle school has added zSpace technology, which allows students to interact with simulated objects in virtual environments as if they were real, providing them with the opportunity to study subjects ranging from art to engineering. Future projects also include a refresh of our middle and high school interactive classroom displays, and the implementation of technology that will improve the safety and security of every school in our district, such as the use of ScholarChip and student ID badges.

Kishore Kuncham, Freeport Union Free School District

The Smart Schools Bond Act enabled Freeport Public Schools to accelerate implementation of the district’s technology plan. With over 4,300 1:1 Chromebooks in grades 5-12 and over 1,000 iPads/Chromebooks in all K-4 classrooms, Freeport schools continue to provide more opportunities for stimulating shifts in classroom instruction and learning. We are very excited about expanded augmented reality opportunities for our students. This year, Freeport schools will utilize 4DLibrary, an augmented reading program that will enhance instruction through virtual 3D models. Students will also engage in Mobile Application Development (MAD — learn), a unique web-based curriculum program that teaches students to learn mobile app development, inspiring student creativity and fostering entrepreneurship. Students will plan, create, launch and market their own mobile apps.

Districtwide learning labs, along with our Tech Roadshow 2.0, will provide professional development opportunities to build instructional capacity through modeling and collaboration for implementation of technology-infused lessons and learning tasks that are differentiated, inquiry-based and student-centered. There will be continued focus on digital citizenship with instruction on the importance of being a safe and responsible digital citizen. New and emerging technologies have brought exciting blended instruction and learning opportunities that inspire Freeport Public Schools students and teachers beyond the school day.

Kusum Sinha, Garden City Union Free School District

Garden City Middle School will be introducing a new course to its sixth- and seventh-grade students in computer science called “App Creators.” This course will expose students to computer science by computationally analyzing and developing solutions to authentic problems through mobile app development, and will convey the positive impact of the application of computer science to other disciplines and to society. The students will learn to develop apps using a program created at MIT called MIT App Inventor that uses block coding language to create programs that will run in real-time on Android devices.

This course builds on computational thinking skills being introduced to our students in grades K-5 through teaching simple computer science concepts and coding languages. Computational thinking is a set of problem-solving methods that involve expressing problems and their solutions in a way that a computer can execute. The App Creators course helps to bridge the more introductory coding skills at the elementary level to the more complex courses that are available to students in our high school.

Joseph Bond, Bay Shore Union Free School District

The Bay Shore school district creates opportunities for students to dream, lead and achieve while utilizing technology in a safe and secure environment. Our “One-to-One Learning: Transforming Our Future” initiative, which places laptops in the hands of every incoming ninth-grade student, has allowed our students to increase their organization and collaboration while receiving real-time feedback from their teachers. The devices have been utilized by all of our departments to enhance the learning experience. In our math department, for example, students have been able to complete more than 100,000 additional practice problems using the laptops.

Middle school and elementary school students have access to computer labs, devices in building libraries and carts of devices that are used in many ways to help students learn how to responsibly use technology to find and share information. In addition to offering students access to technology, Bay Shore provides a learning space that is safe. The district has changed visitor procedures at all of its buildings to prevent as many individuals as possible from entering during the school day. We have also joined programs created by local law enforcement to increase partnership and information-sharing.

Patrick Harrigan, Half Hollow Hills Central School District

In Half Hollow Hills, we always strive to use innovative technology to offer our students the best educational opportunities. During the 2019-20 school year, we are introducing a new Learning Management System to enhance communication with parents, organize curriculum and deploy software and services for students. Our new Portfolio Development for the 21st Century class will teach techniques for art students to create digital portfolios of their artwork, including interactive websites and marketing tools.

Science students at West Hollow Middle School are using technology to explore alternative agricultural practices by engineering and coding their FarmBot to automate a community garden. Last year, they were able to grow and harvest 20 pounds of food to donate to Island Harvest. The Project Lead The Way Principles of Engineering classes at our high schools are investigating alternative energy technologies by using solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells to create automobiles that run on light and water.

We are also employing technology improvements to keep our students safe through security upgrades. In 2019-20, we are adding card access and lockdown capabilities to our interior doors. Looking ahead, our Smart Schools Bond Act application includes vestibules, enhanced video surveillance and a central command station.

Lucille F. Iconis, Massapequa Union Free School District

The Massapequa school district is committed to 21st-century technological advancements and developing innovative approaches to meeting the needs of all our students. Our approved Smart Schools Investment Plan for school connectivity allowed our school district to enhance and expand our wireless network to successfully support our 1:1 technology “Learning … Anytime, Anywhere” Chromebook initiative. Our district’s next steps with our new Smart Schools Investment Plan proposal for classroom learning technology will allow us to replace our current interactive boards with advanced interactive displays. Our new displays will transform our classroom technology and allow teachers to further integrate our Chromebooks and various digital resources into student learning to enhance creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. We are extremely proud of all our staff and students and their use of new technologies in our educational programs.

Michael Nagler, Mineola Union Free School District

The Mineola school district has been identified as one of the top 25 Most Innovative districts in the United States. We earned that designation by thinking differently about school. We define innovation as the ability to teach and assess content looking toward the future of work in the fourth industrial revolution — the computing and digital age.

In Mineola we focus on how students interact with technology to solve complex problems — the type that computers can’t solve. We believe this is what the world of work will look like for our students.

We believe the areas of focus should be collaboration, computational thinking and grit — all of which are hard to assess in a traditional model of school. To accomplish this we have shifted our approach in five key areas: 1) Curriculum: Our teachers designed a K-7 integrated curriculum that uses technology to track student progress in standards; 2) Concepts over Content: We have de-emphasized content regurgitation in favor of Application of Knowledge Assessments; 3) Computer Science: We have a robust K-12 embedded curriculum for computer science and computational thinking; 4) Environment: We have instituted flexible classroom spaces that encourage conversation among students; 5) Mindset: We teach and practice growth mindset as a community of learners.

Jennifer Quinn, Comsewogue Union Free School District

Five years ago, Comsewogue began its 1:1 Chromebook and STEAM initiative in an effort to give students the experience and skills they will need for college, careers and life. Comsewogue has recently implemented PBL (Problem Based Learning) in all schools — a mindset shift that puts learning as the product of a journey, not a destination. Technology has proven to be an essential ingredient to make PBL successful. For example, our students use 3D printers to take an idea through the iterative design process.

Students at the high school in Intel class are developing a vape detector for schools that is patent pending. Boyle Road Elementary students in Nicole Taormina’s library can take virtual field trips anywhere in the world with Google Expeditions. At JFK Middle School, students interact with a surgeon performing a live kidney transplant as a culmination of their initiative to raise awareness of becoming an organ donor. Our Smart Schools Bond Act plan has helped provide additional technology support to our amazing students and teachers. As we continue to utilize our SSBA monies over the next few years, our teachers and students are now free to design personalized learning experiences only limited by the imagination.

Thomas Rogers, Syosset Central School District

In Syosset, we are developing a new literacy using computational thinking and coding. Our goal is to ignite curiosity by challenging students to think in new coding languages, and apply mathematics, science and logic to solve complex problems. In primary grades (K-2), our students plan, anticipate and demonstrate understanding through block coding and robotics. Then each progressing grade level builds on the last as students move from block coding to more complex languages.

The new coding literacy is developing strong skills that will prepare our students for a rapidly changing workplace. Last school year, Syosset elementary students coded simulations of electricity generated by windmills; middle school students designed and programmed a can counter for their annual food drive; high school students designed, 3D printed and operated their own drones. An Innovation Lab was created to provide students with access to advanced technology tools to bring their ideas to life, including video editing, virtual reality, robotics and coding software to use alongside traditional building tools and materials. And our teachers have embraced this new literacy, using technology to elevate and support Syosset’s exceptional instruction.

Eudes S. Budhai, Westbury Union Free School District

The Westbury Union Free School District’s commitment to innovative approaches that bolster learning in and beyond the classroom focuses on building leadership skills and lifelong learning. The STEAM approach, in all classrooms, promotes a student-centered space in which critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration are at the core of teaching and learning. Through dialogue, listening to each others’ ideas, connecting to real-life problems and experiences, and then writing about this process, our students are able to make meaningful, cross-curricular connections.

The following will enhance our innovative approach in and beyond the classroom: 1) Nureva Span Walls: Large capacitive touch walls and visual collaboration tools allowing students to share ideas, interact with one another and bring the thought process together; 2) Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR): Students use merge cubes (augmented holograms that students hold to observe, move and manipulate) and AR apps to learn about science, history and math topics. Students will design their own video games using VR software based on the subject matter being learned; 3) Breakerspaces: Applying reverse engineering techniques to take apart objects to examine function and design; 4) Dynamic Dioramas: Using green screen and video techniques, students place themselves inside their dioramas and science projects to report on and explain what they created or researched; 5) Amazon Future Engineer Program: Curriculum to prepare high school students for college and career paths in computer science.

Cynthia Seniuk, North Merrick Union Free School District

North Merrick is focused on integrating technology across the curriculum with research as an inherent foundational skill in grades K-6. Computer centers were transformed into innovative Learning Edge Labs as flexible and interactive learning spaces that reflect 21st-century learning. Nureva Span Boards, fully interactive surfaces that provide multiple points of touch and link to cloud-based software for real-time collaboration, were installed in the hallway of each building and allow for brainstorming and introspection beyond the classroom walls. Our elementary students have become fluent with the use of SMART Boards, Chromebooks and Google Classroom, and they also have access to 3D printers through the library/media centers.

With technology deeply embedded in the district culture, our teachers have found creative ways to utilize it. For example, students in all grades and schools teamed up through the Span Boards to generate a robust dialogue relating to Earth Day. Likewise, first-graders in an embryology unit used QR codes on their Chromebooks and the Buncee presentation tool so parents could access the final projects on their cell phones. While we have not yet received the Smart School funding, it is targeted for infrastructure and connectivity to further support and sustain our students’ technology skills.

This article was written by Michael R. Ebert from Newsday and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to