"I believe that students learn best by doing and creating, and technology provides so many more opportunities for just that."
Third Grade Teacher
Wheeler Elementary School
Onondaga Central School District
Sarah is a third grade teacher at Wheeler Elementary School in the Onondaga Central School District, where she has taught third and fourth grades for six years. She is also an Adjunct Lecturer at Nazareth College where she has taught three semesters of Assistive Technology and two semesters of Web Design.
What are some of the innovative ways that Sarah integrates technology into her curriculum?
Sarah consistently looks for ways to integrate technology into her teaching. In particular, technology supports Sarah's efforts to encourage creativity and enthusiasm among her students to create quality products that demonstrate learning. She has leveraged the CNYRIC's Ensemble Video service to share custom videos with students and families, offering a window into her classroom. "When students know that they have a larger audience than just handing a piece of paper in to their teacher, the quality and creativity of whatever they are producing increases tenfold," said Sarah. "For example, teaching helping verbs to my students in the past has been like pulling teeth. Now, though, when the students need to remember what a helping verb is, they immediately break out into song, since they “made” me show the The Helping Verb Song video that they created to them every day at snack for days (weeks?) after recording it." Further, Sarah encourages her students to create their own video content, which offers opportunities for students to extend their thinking and understanding. "Technology allows us to stretch students’ minds to take that 'next step' into deeper thinking. For example, rather than simply creating a study guide for an upcoming science test, technology allowed my students to create their own science vocabulary videos, where they had to verbally explain and physically show the meaning of each word. I believe that students learn best by doing and creating, and technology provides so many more opportunities for just that."
Sarah also integrates Google Apps for Education (GAFE), which facilitates collaboration among her students. "One of my favorite parts of becoming a GAFE school is the true collaboration that it allows among students. Partners no longer have to sit idly by as one types at a desktop PC in the library. Groups of students can now co-author newsletters, create dynamic presentations, peer-edit each others’ writing, and offer suggestions to enhance the quality of each others’ work. Since all students are engaged simultaneously, each student can be held accountable for contributing their personal best effort and ideas to the project at hand."
Building a home-to-school connection to support the common core
One of Sarah's goals for her co-teacher, Erin McKenna, and herself is to find ways to increase the communication between home and school. Since third grade is the first year at a new building, Sarah and Erin have found that the parents are often more anxious than the students about transitioning to Wheeler. In additionl to regularly emailing parents to answer individual questions, they have created a class blog so that students can show their parents pictures and videos of what they have been working on at school. Almost every parent in our classroom has also signed up for the Remind website/app so that we can send out quick reminders and updates about upcoming events and projects.
Further, since the Modules are brand-new to both students and parents, Sarah and Erin wanted to make that transition go as smoothly as possible. Unfortunately, there is no textbook for students and parents to reference at home, and it is difficult for parents to support their children when they don’t understand the new strategies. The pair joined a PLC with teachers from each grade level at their school, where the goal is to create at least 2-3 screencasting videos per Module, to walk both students and parents through some of the more complex topics. "At parent-teacher conferences, almost every parent (without prompting!) thanked us for providing that resource, since it helped to alleviate both their frustrations as well as any anxiety that their child may have on completing a certain assignment," said Sarah.
How have students benefited from technology integration initiatives?
Sarah believes that instructional technology has fostered a sense of perseverance among her students in addition to supporting their problem solving abilities. "Once students become comfortable with the different forms of technology, their confidence grows and they are much more likely to try different avenues to success without fear of failure. For example, with our Hour of Code activities, the students immediately became little de-buggers. Whenever a set of code didn’t produce the desired results, the students dug right in and tried different outcomes until they figured out what didn’t work. Their level of excitement was infectious when they were finally able to problem-solve their way to a solution, and they were even more excited when able to help a fellow classmate who might be having a similar difficulty."