Marc Seigel: Chemistry Teacher

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Marc Seigel and I teach CP and Honors Chemistry at Middletown High School South in Middletown, NJ.  Before landing at this school, I, well, bounced around a little.  I’ve taught at a Magnet school, been an Director of Instruction for Math, Science and Agriculture, and served as a head fencing coach.  This is my 13th year in education.

What hardware do you use?

The device that I absolutely can’t live without (my baby) is my Lenovo Tablet PC.  It combines everything that you want from a tablet with the computing power of a laptop.  Using the stylus, I can annotate on PowerPoint slides, create answer keys write in Word documents, and even grade papers digitally.  To allow me to be wireless in the classroom, I connect my laptop to a Warpia wireless VGA adapter which duplicates my computer screen through the projector.  There are several benefits to this setup.  First, it eliminates the need for an interactive whiteboard (actually insulted my supervisor when I refused to let him install one in my classroom) which saves the schools thousands of dollars.  Second, because I am wireless, I am not tied to the front of the room to teach.  Being both Italian and Jewish, I have no ability to talk to a group of people without wild gestures nor without pacing, so this lets more of my personality shine in the lessons.  Sometimes I teach from the front, the back or even at the desks alongside the students.  The Warpia can plug into any projector with a VGA port so I have actually taken my classes to different parts of the school and still conducted class the way I would have had we been in the classroom.  

Finally, and definitely the most important, it makes my students more willing to participate in the lesson because they don’t have to raise their hands nor go to the front of the room to write out the solution to a problem.  As I am walking around, checking for understanding, I simply put the computer in the middle of one of my pods (all of desks are grouped into 4-5 person pods instead of rows) and have all the students in that group write their answers on the screen while everyone else keeps working.  I can even freeze the screen so the rest of the class can’t see what they are writing.  It gives the students who need it a little more time to process.

The 2nd piece of hardware that I can’t live without is my cell phone, a Samsung Galaxy S3.  I can document lessons and activities using the camera, share documents through Google Docs, check email and answer questions on Twitter from my students.  My students are encouraged to use their phones as often as possible in class.  Regularly, a student will ask a question that I don’t know the answer to, so my immediate response is “Take out your phone and Google it.”  My phone has even served as a hotspot when the school’s Internet wasn’t working and as a way to Skype with a reporter who wanted to interview some of my students for an article she was doing.  

And what software?

I live on Google Apps.  I have eliminated almost all paper for my chemistry labs by putting all of the documents in a Google folder that I share with my students.  When they enter the lab, they log into their school Google account, access the lab sheet, and type all of their answers directly into the document.  When they are finished, they simply drag it to a folder I created for them and it is the same as putting it in the basket on my desk.  My students also use their phones to document their lab results and insert the pictures into the Google Document.  After the due date has passed, I go into each students’ folder and grade the labs using the comments feature.  I have found it allows me to give greater feedback and correct mistakes as they are occurring.

Except for the usual Microsoft products (which I am trying to move away from), most of what I try to use are free web tools.  Evernote is my go to for organizing important links from around the web; it is also the easiest way to share things I find with my administration.  My students are huge fans of Prezi and Animoto for their presentations.  They are a way to take traditional projects to the next level by allowing students a greater use of their imagination in the design process.

But, the program I can’t live without is Camtasia Studio made by TechSmith.  This is a video editing and screencasting tool that I use to create instruction videos for my classes.  There are a bunch of free screencasting web tools, but none have the functionality of a full program like Camtasia.  I can record anything on my screen (on the fly if necessary), edit out my mistakes, add callouts or arrows to highlight important information and then upload the file directly to YouTube or save it to my computer.  I am not a video editing wiz so it is perfect that the program is extremely easy to use for any ability.  

What would your dream set up be?

First, I would just love for a steady wireless Internet connection with a large amount of bandwidth.  But, more specifically, I would love a classroom that was flexible to any learning environment that my students wanted that day.  Currently, my room has 4-5 desks arranged in pods, with a couple of bungee chairs for relaxed seating.  I would love to remove the individual desks and put in curved desks that could seat students more students with comfortable chairs that were on wheels to facilitate easy movement.  Actually, I would love individual desk units on wheels to manipulate the seating arrangement.  

The class would have a classroom set of Chromebooks available so that we can record our labs on Google Docs easier, submit files online instead of on paper, and quickly find answers to questions online.  My students need to be connected, whether to each other in class or to the world outside our walls.  I want students to be curious about science and not just want to get good grades.  It would also be a dream for all of my students to have smartphones to help them access information, organize their lives, and document the learning they are doing every day.  Too much to ask?