For most educators, summer is a time for vacation. But in Mahopac, many teachers were engaged in Breakthrough Bootcamp, a crash course in the Breakthrough Classroom philosophy rolled out last year by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development, Dr. Adam Pease and a team of forward thinking Mahopac educators.
“We had such an incredible amount of interest in our Breakthrough Classrooms initiative last year, and we were getting requests from others to participate in some Breakthrough professional development,” said Pease, adding that they had to hold two sessions to accommodate teachers, who came in for the workshop over the summer.
The Breakthrough Classroom concept seeks to embrace whole-student learning, and includes mindfulness; creating a community-based classroom climate; physical space to maximize learning; a culture of rigor and excellence; engaged and empowered learners; differentiated learning and assessment; and seamless technology integration.
“Our initial goal was to pull isolated pockets of innovative educators together so that we can share best-practices,” said Pease. “We wanted to create the future classroom of Mahopac.”
Austin Road Elementary School math-intervention teacher Amy Morrison said that the bootcamp helped her and co-teacher Jenna Jaramillo set up their classroom in such a unique way that “when the students walked in the first day of school, their faces lit up!
“I have been teaching for 34 years,” Morrison said, “and I always believed that for intervention to work it had to be fun. This has been remarkable. I couldn’t wait for school to start once we had set up our classroom!”
Jaramillo agreed. Since the bootcamp, she said, “We have a creatively arranged room, with flexible seating. We have high desks for students who do better work standing, stools with wheels, and a corner set up with curtains. It just works better!”
The bootcamp consisted of workshops on things like creating HyperDocs, or interactive web-based documents; learning QR codes, which can be placed on ordinary classroom objects and scanned through devices that take you to a website or an online video; and mindfulness in the classroom, among many others.
Technology is a key part of Breakthrough Classrooms, and Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Personnel and Educational Services Greg Stowell said that the district plans to ensure that in grades 4-12 there is one Chromebook per student and one per two students in Grade K-3 this year. The district should receive the Chromebooks as part of the New York State Smart School Bond, with State Education Department approval expected this winter.
“In addition,” said Stowell, “we are implementing Web 2.0 tools, which are transformative for teachers and students.” This type of technology will enhance both collaboration and creativity among students and teachers, fostering the Breakthrough model. Web 2. 0 includes interactive tools such as weblogs, interactive websites and HyperDocs—documents with links to the Internet.
Chrissy Czuy, who teaches second grade at Fulmar Road, introduced HyperDocs to her students this year after the bootcamp.
“It has been amazing to me how independent these seven-year-olds are and how expertly they can use the technology,” she said. While last year Czuy’s students were able to share slides and incorporate photos on their documents, the bootcamp brought even more technology to her classroom. “This year students were able to log in and work on HyperDocs,” she said, “a format that makes it easier for the children to use different resources in the same document while allowing them to show their learning as well.”
In addition, Czuy, a 27-year veteran teacher, said she likes how her classroom looks now—and so do the students. “We used to have rows, but now we have all types of seating,” she said. “We have exercise balls, stand-up desks, beanbag chairs—and it works so much better for collaboration. It makes students active participants in their learning.”
This type of excitement, where students recognize that they have a say in how they learn, has been apparent to all teachers involved in the Breakthrough initiative.
Mike Douma, who teaches high school history, said that his students are enjoying the interactive lesson plans that come with using QR codes. “You can put a code on almost anything in the classroom, and students can scan it with their devices, and it links to videos,” said Douma. “It gets them to work more digitally and become more diverse learners.”
High school music teacher Jennifer Vara said the bootcamp helped her modernize her classroom. “There is so much out there that is especially useful in music education,” she said. “You can take standardized music notation and make it digitally interactive.” The mindfulness aspect also struck a chord. “Deep breathing, like yoga, really helps with my singers,” she said.
Vara also appreciated the collaborative aspect of the Breakthrough method. “It really makes it so we are all able to share the best of our ideas,” she said.
Pease is quick to point out that Breakthrough does not seek to replace all traditional practices. “We are not taking away things that work,” he said, “but rather seeking to share best practices so that everyone learns from each other.”
The district has big plans for their unique Breakthrough initiative and plans to scale it up over the coming years.