Transforming classrooms through technology is not a new practice for Mrs. Lisa Mims, who teaches 5th grade at a public elementary school in Delaware. Long before Dropbox--even long before flashdrives--Mrs. Mims was engaging young minds with a different technology for storing important artifacts: the cardboard box.
"I'd turn off all the lights and all of the students would make a humming noise," recalls Mrs. Mims, reflecting upon her NYC teaching days and the magical time machine that transported her and her social studies class. When the student designated as the time traveler climbed out of the box, the lights would go back on--and the class would proceed as if they were all in a different time and place.
These days Mrs. Mims has traded in the cardboard box for a laptop cart but her desire to think outside... ahem.. inside the box to engage fully with her students is stronger than ever. At any given time you can find the 28-year teaching veteran using any of more than 20 tools in her fifth grade classroom at Pleasantville Elementary in Newcastle, Del. (You can follow her on Twitter @BriteEyes49).
When school starts again this autumn, Mrs. Mims' classes will begin every morning as they frequently have--with a five-minute exercise, courtesy of Discovery Education. She finds it's a sure-fire way to engage students, whether she pulls up the site on her SmartBoard or whether the laptop cart is available for students. Her students are comfortable with Discovery Education, as Pleasantville uses it and BrainPOP schoolwide.
Like many teachers, Mrs. Mims is required to use district materials for all of the
subjects in her syllabus--but she likes to weave in other tools and digital
materials that to enhance or supplement her pedagogy.
Even though Mrs. Mims relies heavily on district-provided kits for day-to-day
instruction, she has also taken time to use her Twitter Personal Learning
Network (PLN) to find and invite a marine biologist to chat with students via
Skype. When doing social studies units, Mrs. Mims has found out-of-state
teachers willing to participate in "mystery Skype"-- a game where
students in each classroom provide clues until students in the others can guess
in which state they are located.
The majority of edtech tools in Mrs. Mims's classroom, however, are targeted to helping students learn mathematics and writing.
instruction, for example, Mrs. Mims incorporates TenMarks, which she finds
helps her gain a better understanding of students' strengths and weaknesses.
She was initially drawn in by its alignment to the Common Core curriculum but
now also appreciates the reports she can generate for herself and for students'
On a less formal
note, she employs SumDog and MangaHigh for supplemental instruction. Both allow
her to create competitions that help students practice specific mathematical
skills. Students take the competitions "very seriously" she notes,
often competing with one another--and with students at other schools-- outside
of school walls. She's proud that her students have really met the
challenge: three of her students have finished in the "top 10" in
individual SumDog competitions held across the state of Delaware.
When it comes to
writing, Mrs. Mims is a huge fan of Kidblog. The simple blog site lets teachers
create an umbrella account for a class and assign students individual blogs
without the hassle of creating individual email addresses or accounts. As the
only administrator of her class' Kidblog, Mrs. Mims can okay or veto any post
or comment before it goes live. She can also issue temporary "guests'
accounts" for parents and other non-classmates to view students' blogs.
Mrs. Mims doesn't
find any value in formally assessing blogging. "I just want them to enjoy
writing," she says. She does try to create many opportunities for
feedback. By relying on her Twitter PLN, Mrs. Mims reaches out to teachers
whose students will comment on Kidblog using the hashtag, #comments4kids.
Her classroom is
also entering its second year in QuadBlogging. The service, masterminded by
UK-based educator Mr. David Mitchell, connects four classrooms around the
world, and gives students opportunities to receive and provide comments on one
another's blog posts. It falls right in line with Mrs. Mims' stance that edtech
provides previously impossible exposure for students: "The most important
thing is that it opens them up to the world," she says.
comprehensive teacher in an elementary school, Mrs. Mims is faced with two
unique challenges that our previous DILO portraits have managed to avoid. First:
all of her fifth graders fall squarely under the jurisdiction of COPPA and CIPA
legislation, making it difficult to use many online services that require
social networking logins.
helped alleviate this problem. Mrs. Mims, who's in her second year of using the
so-called "Facebook of education," concedes that she "completely
and totally loves it." The biggest draw for her is the ability to embed
virtually any video, image, web app, or other digital media resource she wants.
Edmodo lets her gather her resources in a central location that students can
safely access, eliminating the hassle (and distractions) of navigating between
challenge lies in the very nature of her job: Because Mrs. Mims is a
comprehensive teacher, she switches daily between teaching math, arts, social
studies and science. Accordingly, her edtech expertise--as well as the tools
she uses in class--must extend across multiple disciplines. She solves that by
tackling every class with zeal, a skill or talent that owes nothing to
recalls an epiphany back in 2002 when she began applying in class some of what
she had learned from an Integrated Technology program. "It changed my
classroom.. my students were engaged and it gave them a chance to practice
critical thinking," she says.
Ever since that
year, she's been on a quest to build the next iteration of her cardboard box.
With two school wide "Teacher of the Year" awards and one district "Showcase Technology Teacher of the Year" award under her belt, it appears she's making great strides.
students, Mrs. Mims also finds that tinkering with the latest and coolest
edtech tools provides another level of job satisfaction. As she writes in her
Diary of a Public School Teacher, integrating technology brings "some 'ooomph' to what could be a boring day-to-day job."
Her advice to teachers
wary of using technology in the classroom is threefold:
Don't let the
edtech-teacher stars who use tons of edtech products intimidate you. (They had
to begin once upon a time.). "Just try one thing, get your feet wet,"
If you're stuck,
get help. She fesses up to relying heavily on her school's IT specialist and
anyone who will listen on Twitter. "Many educators out there who are more
than willing to help," she notes.
Finally, if it
doesn't work the first time--don't give up. After all, asks Mrs. Mims. "Would you
want your kid sitting in a classroom where the teacher quits after the first try?"
Mrs. Mims' Toolkit
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