We have many interesting Showbie users and the Newark Boys Chorus School is high on the list! All of their thirty eight grades 4-8 students are also part of the Newark Boys Chorus, an internationally-known traveling choir. The boys spend much of their time traveling and Showbie helps them keep on top of their schoolwork when they are on the road.
Showbie recently talked with Krystina Mcgee, a teacher at the NBCS, here’s how the conversation went.
Showbie: Tell me what makes your school special.
KM: The Newark Boys Chorus School is located in Newark NJ. It is a very unique school because all of the students are also part of the Newark Boys Chorus, a traveling choir. They are well known all over the world. The school day is half music and half academic. Aside from the usual courses- math, language arts, science, and social studies, students also take piano, music theory, voice lessons, choir practice & music appreciation. We also offer students elective courses which include art, advanced art, sign language, theater, African drums, film production, speech class, and soccer. The students travel all over the US and every third year they travel internationally to sing. They have performed in many countries and at many important events. They have been featured on TV numerous times, most recently at the 9/11 memorial in PA. As I write this, they are preparing to leave next week to go on a one- week tour in Florida. They just came back from a five-day tour in Georgia last month.
Showbie: How long have you been teaching?
KM: I have been teaching at NBCS for just over three years. I began here in January 2014 as a student teacher sent from New Jersey City University. I quickly feel in love with the small family feel and the high level of academic work. On my first visit to the school I was invited in to listen to the choir practice and I was amazed by their behavior and incredible voices. When my six-month internship ended, I did not want to leave and was offered a part-time position for the following school year. The next year I was placed on full-time status and am currently on my second year as a full-time NBCS employee.
Showbie: What grade and subject do you teach?
KM: Being part of a small school with only seven staff members means no one teaches only one subject. Currently, I teach fourth to seventh grade science/STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), fourth to eighth grade art, advanced art, and physical education/health.
Showbie: What’s your favourite part about being a teacher?
KM: I love to teach- that is my favorite part about being a teacher. I love to see people, especially young impressionable students, learn. It is an incredible feeling to know that I have been able to open their eyes to something new. I enjoy seeing them succeed and knowing I was a part of it.
I love being a part of their lives; for example, one of my art students (who I pushed and pushed to keep painting) entered an art contest in the town of Newark and won first prize. He personally invited me to the award ceremony because he wanted me there when his name was called for his award. This was a huge moment for me.
Last weekend, seven of my science students competed in a science fair at Drew University called “Drew Fair for Emerging Researchers” I worked many hours, both in and out of school, (thanks to the ability to send photos and data through Showbie) to get things ready. The event had a total of 126 students, 78 projects, and three of my students placed within the top 10 of the event. One of my students received the first place grand prize of the overall event – $500 and a trophy. This is why I teach-I teach for moments like this when they turn around and say “Thanks Ms. McGee I couldn’t have done it without you”.
Showbie: Is your school 1:1?
KM: Our school is 1:1. In May of 2016, our students were preparing to go on a two and a half week tour of the Northern US and Canada. We knew they would be missing a lot of academic classroom time on this trip. It has always been expected that when our students tour the teachers provide work to send with them. Since this would be a long trip, involving multiple methods of transportation (airplanes, trains, buses, taxis, etc), the students would be carrying their luggage with them from place to place. The teachers did not want to force them to carry textbooks, notebooks, and papers, which could easily be lost, for all that time. Our school applied for and received a grant which provided enough money to purchase every student an iPad. The students used the iPads to complete assignments on tour and, upon returning, we continued using them to assign and collect work as well as keep them notified of school happenings. When the 2016-2017 school year began, we hoped to reduce the amount of paper used and switch to a paperless classroom setting.
Showbie: Why is it important that you incorporate technology in your classroom?
KM: Being that my class specifically is a STEM-based class, I was especially challenged with incorporating technology into my curriculum. I find it important that students have a device to use for research when needed, and the iPads also provided a good platform for STEM-based apps. I love that the students have a device handy to take photos during labs and upload them to their Showbie accounts when submitting data and they can always use the group chat to discuss any work with their lab partners. Working with middle school boys, you quickly learn that their focus is all on technology, games, cell phones, etc. I have learned that I can utilize websites like reviewgamezone.com to create review games, and then make a group post on Showbie saying “Hey class! Our test will be this Thursday. Please use the review game on review game zone to study. The game ID # is 32245″ and the students all know when the test is and how to prepare for it.
I have an art class code on Showbie where I can upload images of artist work that we are going to be studying. This allows the students to prop up their iPads and always have the inspiration work at hand while we paint. I can also post links to artist biography videos for them to watch at home before they come in for the artist study. Students use Showbie to submit art ideas and images of their rough drafts to me, whenever they complete them.
In health class I have been able to post images of the muscular system in the health folder and then they can use these to study from. The students were asked to create a total body workout that includes two exercises for each muscle group. They worked in pairs and submitted it through Showbie. Then, during the presentation, other students could make comments or give encouragement in the class discussion. I have also used Showbie to upload a recipe after we make it in health class so the students can share with their families at home.
Showbie: What problem/s were you trying to solve with a classroom engagement platform?
KM: We wanted one central location that all of the students can use for every class that would allow us to fulfill a number of functions- message students in real time, post homework assignments, have students complete and submit assignments, and allow us to grade assignments. We were hoping to find all of this in one place.
Showbie: How did you hear about Showbie?
KM: Before our students left for the Northern US and Canada tour, we were doing a one-week test run using the iPads in the classroom. Every teacher was using a different app/method for assigning, collecting, and grading work. I was having students receive and complete assignments through email and then send them back. I would save, print, grade, and return. This process was time-consuming and all of the emails were coming at various times and classes were mixed up (most students don’t use easy to identify subject lines in their email) and I was overwhelmed. I HATED the new iPads and I missed pen and paper work. I actually missed having a full folder of handwritten (illegible) things to grade. I was so frustrated. Some teachers were using Google Docs and Google Classroom to assign work, others used email. Some downloaded free apps that allowed them to send PDFs or talk to students in real time. The students were confused. We were all confused. The first week was a mess. I figured there HAS to be an app out there that allows us to assign and grade work, where students could see their grade and corrections, and we could reach out to students if needed. I Googled “app that allows teachers to assign collect and grade work” and the first search result was Showbie. I looked over the website and watched the intro video. I quickly ran to my administrator and other staff members with my computer and showed them the app. I was told to contact Showbie immediately and set up a free trial for our school.
Showbie: What do you like most about Showbie?
KM: I love that I can do everything in one place. I can see what is happening in all of my classes. I can keep the classes organized with folders and assignments. I love the group chat where I can have conversations with my students outside of the school building. I enjoy the simple, easy to follow platform and the ease of collecting and grading assignments. This year I moved to eBooks for all my classes. Thanks to Showbie, I only had to purchase one copy of the eBook PDF, and then upload it in chapters into the app. Now all students have the “book” with them, wherever they go. This is a great way for me to always know that students will have a way to complete work in and out of school, without forgetting to take their books home. I use the group chat to notify students of school and class happenings, and send reminders anytime I think of something. If I am running late for work, which happens in the busy city of Newark and high morning traffic, I quickly open the app, send a group message letting the class know what to do upon the start of class, and when I arrive they are already working without me having to be in the room.
Showbie: What do your students think of Showbie?
KM: My students like having all of the textbooks for their class in one device, rather than carrying a huge number of books around all day long. They definitely take advantage of the discussion feature and ask each other what the homework assignments were, or get clarification from me or each other. They do find it a bit difficult to try and complete assignments on the app while going back and forth to read the books, so for this reason I usually assign the questions in Showbie, but then have them complete and turn it in on paper to avoid the hassle of flipping back and forth through documents.
Showbie: What do parents think of Showbie?
KM: Parents love that at any time they can look through their son’s iPad and know what is going on in every class. They can easily see their son’s currently- assigned and already-graded work.
Showbie: How has Showbie made you a better teacher?
KM: It has helped me to be more organized and efficient during the school day. It has allowed me to reach out and communicate with students more frequently than I was able to before.