Creating a parent-school web site that can be accessed through computer kiosks in local grocery markets, developing historical virtual field trips, and redefining what it means to be media literate in today’s world: These are among the effective uses of technology recognized by the cable industry’s fourth annual Leaders in Learning Awards.

Ten educators and three national policy makers were honored for their outstanding vision in promoting 21st-century teaching and learning in a June 18 ceremony sponsored by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and Cable in the Classroom (CIC), the cable industry’s education foundation.

The awards ceremony was held after-hours at the Library of Congress, where guests were awed by the elegance of ceiling murals housing decades of written history and delighted at the abundance of free-flowing wine and sparkling water.

Each winner received a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with cable industry leaders, such as C-SPAN President and Chief Executive Officer Brian Lamb, as well as Congressional representatives and other innovative educators. Winners also received a $3,000 cash prize.

"I loved … that our guide told us if you know the language, you can actually read the room," said David Considine, media literacy professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. "In the Jefferson building, the art, sculpture, architecture … reflects particular views and values at the time the building was constructed. In other words, we were not looking at a building–we were given a way to read text and its context."

Considine has conducted media literacy programs for parents, teachers, students, administrators, and many more in 38 states and four countries. His articles have appeared in several publications, and his textbook Visual Messages has been described as the first comprehensive media literacy textbook in the country.

Considine, who won an award for Media Literacy Education, will host "Media, Diversity, and Democracy," a staff development program open to educators across the country who are interested in media literacy. This special summer institute will run from July 21-24, fusing media and technology with the teaching of social studies.

Guests were ushered from refreshments to an awards presentation hosted by journalist Nick Clooney, host of AmericanLife TV, complete with multi-colored stage lights and thunderous applause as each winner’s video documentary played.

"I was so inspired and humbled as I heard the stories of the contributions for which each of the other winners was being honored," said Donna Bownds, campus instructional technologist for Clear Creek Elementary School in Fort Hood, Texas.  "To be chosen among some of the most innovative, caring educators in our nation is the greatest honor of my educational career."

Bownds served three years in the U.S. Army before becoming a teacher. Last year, her school had the opportunity to collaborate with Time Warner Cable and host The History Channel’s new event, "Take a Veteran to School Day."

In November 2007, local veterans visited Bownds’ school to share stories about their service and discuss their military experience with students. The veterans spoke about the importance of education in their lives and the contributions veterans have made to the country.

The activities included a picnic and presentation from author and former West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Dave R. Palmer (ret.). Bownds recorded the presentations and published them online as podcasts with the help of equipment and staff from Time Warner Cable.

For her efforts, Downds received the Cable Partnerships for Learning Award, and she plans to use her prize money to help send her daughter to college.

Chuck Estep, curriculum resource consultant for the Monroe County Intermediate School District in Michigan, was a winner of the General Excellence Award for enlisting the help of his local community to organize Virtual Field Trips (VFTs), through which students can visit battlefields from the War of 1812 from their classroom. Soon, they will be able to view an operating room during surgery.

Estep and his colleagues worked with local historians and the Monroe County Historical Museum to create programs and lesson plans that fit into their state curricula. To date, more than 70 classes and nearly 2,300 students have been virtually transported to battle sites through cable TV for a lesson in the region’s history through movie trailers, film footage, music, animated presentations, short video vignettes, and a dynamic presenter.

"I’ve seen the research on how positively [technology] affects our students for learning," said Estep. "Our students are more technologically savvy than many of our teachers and the methods they employ. When we make technology a part of our methodology, our students are engaged in ways that otherwise would nearly be impossible. We have a responsibility to provide students with the opportunities to access, utilize, create, and learn using technology. It’s malpractice to do otherwise."

Estep wants to take his VFTs even further by creating "on demand" trips this year, so that teachers who aren’t part of the network can use the materials and students can watch the presentations any time. He also plans to stream out some of the productions to the internet, such as the school’s spelling bee and Quiz Bowl.
 
The cash prize will buy monitors for Estep’s studio, which he says will enhance the production capability of his VFTs and other work his team is doing.

After the awards presentation, guests were ushered to a reception through the marbled corridors and past a harpist, up to a buffet consisting of filet au poivre and red-peppered salmon.

"My hope in being recognized with this award is to raise awareness of the incredible possibilities of children," said Diane Downs, artistic director of the Louisville Leopard Percussionists in Louisville, Ky., and another General Excellence Award winner. "Often, children aren’t given the credibility they deserve because they are young and small. They are capable of accomplishing great things when given the opportunity–you just have to believe in them."

In 1993, Downs was digging through a storage closet in her school when she came across some old percussion instruments. That discovery has evolved into her school’s percussionist band, a music education and community-building program that seeks to educate 7- to-12-year-olds.

In the band, students from diverse backgrounds learn to improvise, compose, teach, and care for instruments, resulting in skills and experiences that help build creativity and confidence while they also learn personal discipline, cooperation, and leadership.

The percussionists appear around the city and nationally. They also were the subject of HBO’s family documentary Music in Me: Leopards Take Manhattan.

Don Cerrone, a teacher at Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications in New York City, was another winner of the Cable Partnerships for Learning Award. He was honored for creating Cablevision’s "Triple Play for Education" program, which brought students to the Bronx to document the borough’s history.

"I have watched how [this experience] has affected our students," Cerrone said. "I have watched their excitement and self-esteem soar. This award has reinforced their own feelings about being able to express themselves … and I thank you for that."

Links:

Cable’s Leaders in Learning Awards

Cable in the Classroom

National Cable and Telecommunications Association