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Think, Pair, Share: Former Educators Join EdSurge Editorial Team

By Tony Wan     Feb 1, 2017

Think, Pair, Share: Former Educators Join EdSurge Editorial Team
Edtech Reporter, Jenny Abamu (L) and K-12 Assistant Editor, Jen Curtis (R)

Good things come in pairs, and we’re delighted to welcome two former educators on our editorial team!

Jenny Abamu (@JennyAbamu) will be our education technology reporter, based in New York City. Yes, we’re incredibly excited to expand our coverage (and yes, also jazzed to have someone on top of those early-morning, Eastern Time press calls!)

A former English teacher in Turkey, Abamu’s dabbling with edtech tools inspired her to launch a blog on international education. She’s also built storytelling chops as a broadcast journalist, researcher and assignment editor for NY1 News, covering everything from sports, politics and education to the bitter winter and other grisly events. Abamu most recently profiled edtech products, companies and ideas for New Learning Times, an online publication from the EdLab in Teachers College at Columbia University.

Also joining us as our K-12 assistant editor is Jen Curtis (@jencurtis0345), who comes to us from Oakland Unity High School in California, where she taught high-school English for the past four years. She’s flipped classrooms (with technology tools, not literally), served as a leader in the English department and helped colleagues as a professional development coach.

Expect to hear—and read—plenty from them in the coming weeks and months. To get us rolling, here are some “get to know you” questions as they share their thoughts on working with edtech, annoying buzzwords and what they like to read most.

What’s your most memorable (either good or bad) experience with technology in the classroom?

Abamu: I was teaching English in Istanbul, Turkey in 2011. It was a developing nation, but I worked in a private school with a plethora of resources. I remember being shocked at how many tools I had, but how mismanaged those resources were. It was the first time using a smartboard. Many teachers defaulted to using the smartboards for internet-based activities when they had extra time in class, which encouraged poor planning on their part.

Curtis: Every year I assigned a project where students had to pick a social issue they cared about. Students would research that issue and then interview a local organization working to address it. For example, someone who might be passionate about childhood literacy would interview a nonprofit that provides free books to low-income schools.

One year I had students use iPads to conduct and record, edit and share interviews with their classmates. Many uploaded them to YouTube or Vimeo. I remember one student telling me that two years later, he still had the link to his video in his Instagram bio. Without technology, the project would have been markedly less engaging for them, and nearly impossible to share on that scale.

What’s the one thing that edtech entrepreneurs should know about working with educators?

Abamu: Nobody wants an app or device that requires tons of work to implement. Your technology needs to simplify the educational process, not make it more difficult or requires hours of professional development to use.

Curtis: A lot of teachers feel edtech entrepreneurs are out of touch with the realities of working with students. Teachers spend most of their time and energy thinking about kids, not the exciting things happening in the “edtech space.” When I hear about a new innovation, my first thought is: “How are students going to respond to this? How engaging is this going to be for them?” If entrepreneurs don’t know how students are using and reacting to the product, they should make it a priority to find out. It’s both incredibly relevant and demonstrates respect for the work teachers do.

What do you miss most about the classroom?

Abamu: For many of my students in Turkey, I was the only black person they ever met face to face. I was not only teaching a language, but I was teaching a culture as well. Their entire understanding of America and black American culture was through their interactions with me (and sadly television). It was powerful to be able to share stories about American history and culture with them. They were very curious about civil rights and other similar topics.

I remember hearing an anti-Semitic comment in class one day and having to stop the lesson to talk about discrimination. The next day, the student came to class with the book, “A Diary of Anne Frank.” I asked her why she bought it, and she said she wanted to learn more because of our conversation in class.

Curtis: Is it a cop out to say my students? Because I’m going to anyway: my students! For the last four years, I spent every day with some of the smartest, most genuine people I’ve ever known. Watching them graduate will always be a high point in my life. I’m thrilled to be writing for EdSurge and working with teachers, but there is nothing like watching a student grow from an insecure 9th grader into an adult who knows his or her value.

I also miss my teaching stool. I felt very regal perched on that thing.

What education buzzwords get on your nerves?

Abamu: “Personalization.” I have seen this word tossed around to the point that it almost seems meaningless. Also, it is important for educators to be careful when using the word because I have also heard the term used in a way that purports the notion of “customization.” Like you can personalize a lesson the way one customizes a car—just for you, just for comfort, just to make you happy. Education is something that challenges our ideologies and helps us grow as individuals, which is not always comfortable.

Curtis: Any word, if you say it enough, starts to sound hollow. “Rigor” is a great example. Or “grit.” I love when people talk about what rigor looks like in the classroom, or what the value of building grit in students is. However, when these words start to serve as easy answers to complicated questions, the conversation around finding real solutions stops. Describing a lesson as lacking “rigor,” or a student as needing to build “grit,” doesn’t help unless conversations are happening around the definition and value of these concepts.

We tend to write like those whose works we read. Who’s your favorite writer? Or what's your favorite publication?

Abamu: I always dislike choosing one author or publication. However, I have to say that I am a fan of PBS NewsHour. In the era of clickbait and hyperbole, they seem to have a level head about things. There is just something great about not having a flush of emotions or sense panic when I read the news. I just want the facts, and they do a great job balancing stories and avoiding unwarranted speculation.

Curtis: Lately I can’t get enough of George Saunders. His stories are not only pee-in-your-pants funny, they challenge the reader in the most surprising ways. He can be a little kooky for sure, but his stories have made me a better writer and more empathetic person. Try the collection “Tenth of December” if intrigued.

Community

Think, Pair, Share: Former Educators Join EdSurge Editorial Team

By Tony Wan     Feb 1, 2017

Think, Pair, Share: Former Educators Join EdSurge Editorial Team
Edtech Reporter, Jenny Abamu (L) and K-12 Assistant Editor, Jen Curtis (R)

Good things come in pairs, and we’re delighted to welcome two former educators on our editorial team!

Jenny Abamu (@JennyAbamu) will be our education technology reporter, based in New York City. Yes, we’re incredibly excited to expand our coverage (and yes, also jazzed to have someone on top of those early-morning, Eastern Time press calls!)

A former English teacher in Turkey, Abamu’s dabbling with edtech tools inspired her to launch a blog on international education. She’s also built storytelling chops as a broadcast journalist, researcher and assignment editor for NY1 News, covering everything from sports, politics and education to the bitter winter and other grisly events. Abamu most recently profiled edtech products, companies and ideas for New Learning Times, an online publication from the EdLab in Teachers College at Columbia University.

Also joining us as our K-12 assistant editor is Jen Curtis (@jencurtis0345), who comes to us from Oakland Unity High School in California, where she taught high-school English for the past four years. She’s flipped classrooms (with technology tools, not literally), served as a leader in the English department and helped colleagues as a professional development coach.

Expect to hear—and read—plenty from them in the coming weeks and months. To get us rolling, here are some “get to know you” questions as they share their thoughts on working with edtech, annoying buzzwords and what they like to read most.

What’s your most memorable (either good or bad) experience with technology in the classroom?

Abamu: I was teaching English in Istanbul, Turkey in 2011. It was a developing nation, but I worked in a private school with a plethora of resources. I remember being shocked at how many tools I had, but how mismanaged those resources were. It was the first time using a smartboard. Many teachers defaulted to using the smartboards for internet-based activities when they had extra time in class, which encouraged poor planning on their part.

Curtis: Every year I assigned a project where students had to pick a social issue they cared about. Students would research that issue and then interview a local organization working to address it. For example, someone who might be passionate about childhood literacy would interview a nonprofit that provides free books to low-income schools.

One year I had students use iPads to conduct and record, edit and share interviews with their classmates. Many uploaded them to YouTube or Vimeo. I remember one student telling me that two years later, he still had the link to his video in his Instagram bio. Without technology, the project would have been markedly less engaging for them, and nearly impossible to share on that scale.

What’s the one thing that edtech entrepreneurs should know about working with educators?

Abamu: Nobody wants an app or device that requires tons of work to implement. Your technology needs to simplify the educational process, not make it more difficult or requires hours of professional development to use.

Curtis: A lot of teachers feel edtech entrepreneurs are out of touch with the realities of working with students. Teachers spend most of their time and energy thinking about kids, not the exciting things happening in the “edtech space.” When I hear about a new innovation, my first thought is: “How are students going to respond to this? How engaging is this going to be for them?” If entrepreneurs don’t know how students are using and reacting to the product, they should make it a priority to find out. It’s both incredibly relevant and demonstrates respect for the work teachers do.

What do you miss most about the classroom?

Abamu: For many of my students in Turkey, I was the only black person they ever met face to face. I was not only teaching a language, but I was teaching a culture as well. Their entire understanding of America and black American culture was through their interactions with me (and sadly television). It was powerful to be able to share stories about American history and culture with them. They were very curious about civil rights and other similar topics.

I remember hearing an anti-Semitic comment in class one day and having to stop the lesson to talk about discrimination. The next day, the student came to class with the book, “A Diary of Anne Frank.” I asked her why she bought it, and she said she wanted to learn more because of our conversation in class.

Curtis: Is it a cop out to say my students? Because I’m going to anyway: my students! For the last four years, I spent every day with some of the smartest, most genuine people I’ve ever known. Watching them graduate will always be a high point in my life. I’m thrilled to be writing for EdSurge and working with teachers, but there is nothing like watching a student grow from an insecure 9th grader into an adult who knows his or her value.

I also miss my teaching stool. I felt very regal perched on that thing.

What education buzzwords get on your nerves?

Abamu: “Personalization.” I have seen this word tossed around to the point that it almost seems meaningless. Also, it is important for educators to be careful when using the word because I have also heard the term used in a way that purports the notion of “customization.” Like you can personalize a lesson the way one customizes a car—just for you, just for comfort, just to make you happy. Education is something that challenges our ideologies and helps us grow as individuals, which is not always comfortable.

Curtis: Any word, if you say it enough, starts to sound hollow. “Rigor” is a great example. Or “grit.” I love when people talk about what rigor looks like in the classroom, or what the value of building grit in students is. However, when these words start to serve as easy answers to complicated questions, the conversation around finding real solutions stops. Describing a lesson as lacking “rigor,” or a student as needing to build “grit,” doesn’t help unless conversations are happening around the definition and value of these concepts.

We tend to write like those whose works we read. Who’s your favorite writer? Or what's your favorite publication?

Abamu: I always dislike choosing one author or publication. However, I have to say that I am a fan of PBS NewsHour. In the era of clickbait and hyperbole, they seem to have a level head about things. There is just something great about not having a flush of emotions or sense panic when I read the news. I just want the facts, and they do a great job balancing stories and avoiding unwarranted speculation.

Curtis: Lately I can’t get enough of George Saunders. His stories are not only pee-in-your-pants funny, they challenge the reader in the most surprising ways. He can be a little kooky for sure, but his stories have made me a better writer and more empathetic person. Try the collection “Tenth of December” if intrigued.

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