Get to know a CBE

Coding with CBE of the Month Helena Tamasco

Posted by cemignano on

We’re very excited to welcome Helena Tamasco of Montclair, NJ as January’s CBE of the Month. This inspiring educator isn’t just our first 2018 CBE of the Month – she’s also our 1000th CBE overall!  Thanks for sharing your story with all of us as we mark and celebrate these milestones, Helena!

Writing about myself was a bit of a challenge.  I don’t usually like to focus on myself, but rather on others, like my students or my two sons. This was a refreshing experience.

I started teaching 24 years ago after graduating with my Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and English from Seton Hall University in NJ. My first experience was in a K-8 grammar school teaching 6th grade.  Education in 1994 was very different from what it is today.  The first set of learning standards were introduced in NJ in 1996, so my first two years teaching felt mundane. I was expected to teach through the textbooks and make sure every page in the workbooks were completed by the end of the year.  Imagination, creativity and thinking outside the box was not expected.

I started to reflect on whether education was the right fit for me.  I thought back on why I had decided to major in education in the first place and remembered my favorite school experience.  My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Fraiser was my inspiration.  She was kind, thoughtful and made learning fun and engaging, even back in the traditional 1980s, I wanted to be able to do the same thing for other young learners.  I recalled that her lessons were interactive, we worked with partners and in small groups.  I also began to realize that the way I was teaching my own lessons needed to change. I worked in three different schools between 1994 and 1999, finally settling in to a wonderful K-5 elementary school in Montclair, NJ in the Fall of 1999. I had supportive principals in each school I worked in, but I just hadn’t found the right fit. In the second district, I worked in I had the opportunity to join the RST2 – Revitalizing Science Teaching with Remote Sensing Technology program.  This was the ultimate hands-on experience for the classroom.  As a member of this program I participated over the course of two summers in 3-4-week training sessions on the topics of meteorology and watershed health.  I was excited to teach Science in my classroom.  I was taking my students down to the local water source to collect samples for experiments back in the classroom.  We were downloading live satellite images of cloud formations and weather patterns using a satellite dish installed on our school, with our class computers and dial-up modem provided by the collaboration with the RTS2 program.

RST2 program led me to the opportunity of being part of the first class at Ramapo College to graduate with a Masters in Educational Technology.  I was excited to teach and to share my knowledge with my students and also to turn-key information to my colleagues.  At that time in Montclair I found a learning environment where technology was a priority in the classroom. I had classroom computers, I was displaying presentations from my computer onto the large screen television in my classroom.  I had my students researching online, completing web-quests, word-processing, creating outlines using Inspiration or Kidspiration. Fast-forward to the last ten years and taking a few years off to be a mom with young boys. I have worked as a school technology teacher/coordinator and as the school Dean of Students.  These positions have given me the opportunity to utilize technology, continue to develop my own skills and bring my expertise to the classroom and share with colleagues.

This fall I began my 21st year teaching and I was excited to start the CBE training program in October.  I had registered for the program at the end of the previous school year. I was looking forward to using BrainPOP and BrainPOP Jr. with my students. I believe my excitement about BrainPOP was evident in my lessons. My students were excited to come to class each week and work on their lessons. For my 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students the popular lesson was coding. We spent several weeks learning about coding, coding in the real-world and why coders are important in various different fields, such as medical, movie production and of course the all so popular field of gaming. Students worked on the “Creating a Meme” project and really enjoyed it.  It was great to see them concentrating on each step, sharing ideas with each other and asking questions when needing some guidance to move on to the next step.

I feel honored to be a CBE because BrainPOP has been a great resource for learning in the classroom, I had no idea how extensive of a tool BrainPOP was until I participated in the CBE program earlier this school year. I was out of the classroom for four years while working as the Dean of Students and I didn’t realize how much BrainPOP had expanded over those years.  I have spent a great deal of time reviewing various topics and resources available on BrainPOP. I really like that BrainPOP is easy to use as a student, as well as the teacher. My students were able to quickly learn how to use the platform and access their assignments. I can assign lessons to entire classes in a matter of minutes and it is just as easy to review student progress, export the data to my gradebook and comment on student assignments once they have been submitted. I am working hard to make my classroom a comfortable learning environment for all my students, this also includes giving each student what he or she needs at their own pace. I am able to circulate the classroom and conference with students to facilitate their learning. My passion is to keep my classroom environment comfortable enough to all of my students to feel good about their technology skills so they learn how to use technology to facilitate their learning.  Technology class is so much more than just learning how to use a computer or playing games, it is about the process of students using the technology to create and construct their own projects using the technology.

BrainPOP is a platform that allows me to take on the role of facilitator.  Gone are the days of direct instruction, I spend a small portion of each new lesson giving direct instruction, instead I spend most of my time circulating the classroom and meeting with the students to address their individual needs. I am also able to assign students the lesson components that meet their individual needs. One of my favorite additions to the BrainPOP platform is the access to the Newsela articles.  I am able to choose the article length that best suits the individual learners in each of my classes.  The articles are also interesting and relevant.

I look forward to seeing additional resources in BrainPOP, such as new topics, possibly a graph creation tool and survey capabilities, as well as the continuation of BrainPOP’s excellent customer support.