Teachers Prove to be Technology Trailblazers

Central Academy art teacher Dora Green talks about how technology

Central Academy art teacher Dora Green talks about how technology can make a difference even in courses such as pottery.

Educators from all over the district are flocking to Hoover High School today and tomorrow for the second annual showcase event staged by the DMPS Office of Innovation. TechCon 2016 features an agenda packed with workshops, presentations and keynote addresses aimed at sharpening technological tools for teachers to use in developing personalized instructional strategies and improving student achievement. TechCon has doubled its capacity and tripled session offerings since last year, with 75% of the presenters being current DMPS employees.

They include six Instructional Technology Coordinators from the Office of Innovation and representatives from a group of teachers called the Trailblazers. A panel of Trailblazers will deliver the keynote presentation that will begin the second day of TechCon on Friday morning.

The first year for the Trailblazers was 2014-15, and they numbered 15. Their ranks more than tripled to 50 in 2015-16 and collectively they represent a vital cog in disseminating tech innovations outward from the OOI to the schools where they work. They are the field agents.

Thursday morning one of them, Dara Green, delivered a presentation on “flipped classrooms.” She teaches pottery at Central Academy. That doesn’t sound very techy which did make it sound intriguing on the menu of an event like TechCon.

First, some background: “The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions.”

A couple of years ago Green had an emergency. Her kiln broke down in the summertime. Lots of students still had pots to fire. She needed to reach them all quickly, but how? A private Facebook group was hastily formed and voila, the word spread to all of her students like wildfire. Wow, she thought. Social media are powerful. How can I make regular use of them in my teaching?

Next thing she knew she was doing demo videos recorded on her smartphone and uploading them to her studio’s YouTube channel. Then came Instagram, Snapchat and Periscope.

“It was like cloning myself,” she said. “At first I did it for selfish reasons. The demo videos made it easier on me in dealing with absent students. But then I realized I could meet my students where they live and engage them in so many other ways.”

What’s happened since amounts to extended schooldays and school years. Classroom time is more hands-on with more time for one-on-one instruction. Periscope enables Green to effectively bring professional artists into her classroom – for FREE!

“Now we are a real community; a family,” she said about her relationships with students. “They share with one another like never before and the demo videos make me feel more effective; like I’m available to them 24/7. The pottery they produce is better too.”

Green also raved about the support she gets as a Trailblazer.

“Melanie (Gildharry) is my Tech Coordinator. I get weekly personal attention from her to help me customize tech support to accomplish my objectives.” In Green’s case that includes iPods and iPads for her classroom. “There is no red tape. The district is big and busy, but when I need something I have a direct line of communication with Melanie. That’s the best thing about being a Trailblazer.”

The district’s goal is to have at least one Trailblazer in all 60 schools ASAP, according to Gildharry. “I am thrilled to hear positive things about our support…as we work hard to offer these teachers everything they need to be successful in implementing their action plans,” she said. There may not be a Trailblazer in every school in time for the start of the 2016-17 year, but one IS coming soon to the school nearest you.

Green’s experience is just one of many that will be shared during the two days of Tech Con as teachers across the district “scaffold their skillsets” in sessions ranging from “Coding & Robots” to “Collecting Digital Evidence from Elementary Students.” But it’s a revealing one. There she stood in a classroom at the newest of the district’s five comprehensive high schools (Hoover’s half a century old), a pottery teacher whose own “classroom” is an art studio, using slides beamed up on the magic Whiteboard at the front of the room to lead cheers for technology as a teacher’s best friend. On the side wall, defunct and ignored, was a blackboard with a stick of chalk in the tray.

“I used to go home feeling defeated,” said Green, who’s been in Des Moines for 10 years after teaching for seven in Chicago. “There was always the student I felt like I didn’t have time for or couldn’t get to. Same thing as a parent. I could never go and help out with my daughter’s kindergarten class because I was busy teaching other people’s kids.” Not anymore. “We did a ‘flip’ video for her class too. It feels great!”

Technology: there’s an art to it. And that’s what TechCon is all about.

Photos from TechCon 2016

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