We Ask Teachers: How Has Edtech Made a Difference in Your Classroom?

Movers and Shakers

We Ask Teachers: How Has Edtech Made a Difference in Your Classroom?

By Jen Curtis     May 10, 2017

We Ask Teachers: How Has Edtech Made a Difference in Your Classroom?
Clockwise from Top Left: Michael Hernandez, Mikala Streeter, Paul Kim, Claire Shorall, Sydney Chaffee, Chrissy Romano, Alice Keeler, Mike Lang

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we asked educators from around the country to share their most transformative edtech moments. We discovered that while tech can certainly bring engagement and efficiency, it’s ultimately the teachers—and students—who make the magic happen.

Here's what some of our favorite educators had to say:

Sydney Chaffee (@SydneyChaffee),
9th Grade Humanities Teacher, 2017 National Teacher of the Year

A few years ago, I had an English Language Learner (ELL) in my 9th grade class. This student had come to America only a couple of years prior and struggled tremendously with reading, both in terms of decoding the text and comprehending it.

The ESL teacher and I worked together to give him access to a digital audiobook so he could hear the text read aloud fluently and be provided with definitions of unfamiliar words. This technology opened a door for him to interact with the text and his peers, who were native English speakers. After learning to use the audiobook, he was much more confident in his ability to read, understand, and discuss the same texts as his classmates.

Mikala Streeter (@MikalaStreeter), Founder and Principal of The LIFE School
, Former Computer Science Teacher

As a project-based high school, LIFE focuses on providing a space for students to pursue their individual interests. I've found some of the most transformative technologies to be productivity tools like Slack and Twitter. My favorite, however, is Trello, which we use for project management.

Before founding the LIFE School, I managed student grades and projects using a top-down approach that didn't fit with my goal of giving students more ownership over their education. Now, we use Trello to collaborate across our school. Students track their projects on shared boards by storing files, caching links, and discussing ideas, building their organizational and project management skills. Each student also has a board shared with their parents that tracks attendance, student goals, conference notes, and ongoing discussions between students, parents, and teachers. Staff map out curriculum, store meeting notes, and plan events on Trello, too.

Michael Hernandez (@cinehead),
Cinema and Journalism Teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator, 2015 PBS Digital Innovator

When four deaf and hard of hearing students enrolled in my high school filmmaking class this year, I found myself confronted with pre-conceived notions about what my students could or could not achieve. Since half of filmmaking involves sound (think dialogue, music, sound effects), I was sure this wouldn’t turn out well. The solution: feeling and visualizing sound.

Without modifying my lessons or project expectations, I sent my DHH kids through a sound recording assignment and a music video project. By touching the speaker to feel variations in sound level, my kids were able to find sounds and compare relative sound strengths. Using the audio meter on the camera and waveform in our editing software, the students knew exactly where to make edits, and at times were more precise with their sound editing than my more “able-bodied” students.

The process helped my DHH students gain confidence in their ability to function in a mainstream classroom, and earned them the respect of their other classmates.

Mike Lang (@Chclteteacher),
Technology Specialist, 2017 PBS Digital Innovator, and Apple Distinguished Educator

The ubiquity of the camera at times belies its power. In reality, it is the most transcendent tool I use in my classrooms each year. It helps give voices to the silent. It translates light and shadow into every language. It changes moods with a flicker. It bestows the power of storytelling to anyone who uses it. It empowers. It directs. It amuses. Witnessing the camera coerce dormant talents from the minds of my pupils continually makes my job worthwhile. Be they native English speakers, English learners, or recent immigrants, the camera gives each the feeling of exhilaration that accompanies creation. Conversations are had, smiles are exchanged, friendships begun and school becomes a canvas.

Paul Kim (@pjikim), History Teacher, REDI Lab
Founder and Co-Director

When I began redesigning the 9th grade Global Perspectives course at my school five years ago, some of my inspiration came from working with the great Kimberly Jans, our K-12 computer science department chair. Kim is collaborative generosity incarnate and her support helped me understand the power of technology as a tool to position students to produce work that “always delivers more than expected.”

Over the years, Kim and I developed a number of projects together, and the work students produced formed my rationale for creating curriculum that is more personalized and driven by self-directed learning. In one of those projects, students used Photo Story and Audacity to develop complex, nuanced historical narratives which helped me realize that using the right tools allows a greater range of students to demonstrate their learning more effectively and more creatively.

As technology continues to dramatically transform human experience, our classrooms must also be transformed. This can be a daunting task, but teachers like Kim Jans will always help us navigate the journey.

Chrissy Romano (@TheConnectedEdu), 3rd Grade Teacher, Google for Education Certified Trainer

This year, after 15 years of teaching middle school English, I moved to a 3rd grade classroom. In the past, I've used a lot of tech, but I shied away from it this year; I was seriously overwhelmed so I stuck to what I knew. That is until a friend convinced me to try out SeeSaw.

In a nutshell, SeeSaw allows my students to share their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and demonstrate their knowledge while having fun. They love taking selfie videos where they talk about their favorite books and try to convince their classmates what to read next. They make shapes out of Cheez-Its, take pictures of what they created, label the sides and calculate the perimeter and area. Then they can blog about anything they want and share it with the class (or world) with a click of a button.

This platform has been a total game-changer for my students. It allows the quiet kids the opportunity to share without pressure and gives the outgoing kids an outlet for their energy and enthusiasm.

Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler), Google Certified Teacher, Author of
50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom

Teaching is improved when we develop relationships with students and provide them with high quality and fast feedback. Nothing I have used does this better than the private comments feature in Google Classroom.

Through the feature, I ask students to communicate with me about how things are going. I don't just encourage it; I make it it's own separate assignment. I also create assignments so I can view private comments separately rather than through a document I need to open, which slows me down. I also set a filter in Gmail to star the incoming private comments so I can respond NOW, not later. Even tomorrow is too late. After all, the faster the feedback, the more motivated the student.

This is hands down the best thing I've done for myself as an educator. It’s helped me to prioritize interacting with the individuals in my class, something I otherwise couldn't do when I only see students for an hour a day.

Claire Shorall (@cklshorall), Manager, Computer Science at Oakland Unified School District, Teach For America Excellence in Teaching Awardee, Former STEM Teacher

To say that people were skeptical of our plan to expand Oakland's computer science program by 1000 percent would be an understatement, especially considering we were on the lookout for the best CS teachers we could find. “You'll never be able to lure them from industry,” some told me. The others questioned, “Even if you find them, how will you train them?”

Although these concerns were valid, one year later, Oakland Unified Computer Science is thriving, with 34 teachers of diverse backgrounds facilitating learning with the help of quality tools, most notably, Code.org.

Code.org’s platform allows our team to leverage our individual strengths and support us in our areas of needs. We've been able to create a robust community of practice that meaningfully incorporates industry and education experts, serving over 3,000 secondary students.

But although we owe a lot to Code.org, ultimately our computer science program is about humans, not machines. To each and every one of them who is a leader of this movement, I am indebted and forever grateful.

Please share your own transformative edtech moments in the comments section below!

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