Experiences in Instructional Technology
From novice teacher to technology director
As a student teacher in Spring, 2000, I taught chemistry with a whiteboard and markers and felt like I was pretty lucky that I didn't have to use a chalkboard. I had access to a home computer that I occasionally used to look for resources, make worksheets, or fill in gaps in content knowledge.
In the fall of that year, I accepted a position teaching 9th Grade physical science in Ohio. I shared an office space that doubled as a lab prep area with four other teachers. We had one Windows PC and one older Apple computer for the five of us. My daily lessons were written out on overhead projector sheets or on a chalk board, although we were required to check email and copy grades into an electronic gradebook.
Such a scarcity of computers was starting to become unusual in surrounding districts, and it certainly marks an early stage of what has become a rapid, widespread modernization of educational technology tools and integration. During my three years in Shaker Heights, I found ways to push experimental technology into my classroom despite a district-wide indifference to the coming wave. I applied to be part of a beta-testing group that used PDAs, , or personal digital assistants, to take attendance and track grades.
I used both Palm Pilots and Texas Instruments Graphing calculators in conjunction with cutting-edge Vernier motion sensors to collect data with my students in speed and velocity units. I learned that such instruments could bring real-world science into the classroom in ways that were inaccessible before. I also learned that technology can be novel and motivating for students. I created review games on our one computer and wheeled it into the classroom so that we could play "real" Jeopardy on our 12" square CRT monitor prior to test days.
In 2003, I began a five-year hiatus from the classroom, and when I returned in 2009, it was in Macy, Nebraska to teach middle school science and high school chemistry. I found that my experience in multicultural classrooms in Cleveland served me very well and I experienced a deep camaraderie with my students in Macy. I also recognized the implications of the technology leap that had occurred during my hiatus.
I had access to a Windows desktop computer and could take the students to a computer lab when it was available. Early in my first year there, I noticed a SMART Board sitting in a storage room on a wheeled rack and I asked permission to use it regularly in my classroom. I began to absorb as much as I could about how to use SMART boards to engage and teach science. I was thrilled to be able to show and discuss YouTube videos, practice with virtual frog dissections, and create interactive Smart Board lessons. Other science resources were scarce and the students were challenging at times, but they loved it when I learned a new way engage them in interactive lessons. Learning how to use the SMART board facilitated a marked improvement in my pedagogical skills as I learned to weave relevant examples throughout our lessons. I attended the convention for the Nebraska Educational Technology Association for the first time in Spring, 2010, and it was an eye-opening look at new possibilities, including a growing trend referred to as "1:1."
(“SMART Board 680 Smartboard Review,” 2010)
During the interview for my next job teaching secondary science in Pender, Nebraska, we discussed the district's plan to provide each 9-12th grade student with an Apple MacBook computer. Near the end of the interview, the superintendent asked me "What makes you stand out? Why should we hire you?" My response to him was, "Technology. As you go 1:1, you need people who will embrace it and figure things out. I'm really good at that."
When I accepted a science teaching job in Pender, I was delighted to be able to teach with more computers. I explored what it meant to go paperless and began by substituting paper worksheets with digital assignments and tests. I looked for ways that I could create authentic learning experiences for students using their MacBooks. My students used their computers in my classroom daily and I loved it. I find technology in my classroom saves time, adds richness and depth, and teaches kids practical skills. One of the challenges of creating such a classroom has been making sure that students really have the opportunity to interact with science content in meaningful, long-lasting ways. There is always the possibility that using a particular technology for a certain activity may be possible, but not necessarily useful.
I used learning management systems from my first year in Pender, starting with Edmodo, then Schoology, and then Canvas--which we adopted four years ago. The screenshot of my 8th Grade Science course is shown at the right. I experimented with interactive presentation methods with technologies like Peardeck, Nearpod, and the SMART suite. I explored new ways for learners to discover information and communicate it it. I looked forthe kinds of digital assessment that can inform instruction, and considered which assessments were accurate and fair. The questions embedded in all of these investigations boil down to figuring out what technology experiences are most efficacious in teaching science. This fundamental question is a large part of what has driven my desire to work towards a doctorate degree.
Pender - Technology Director
In spring of 2017, I was offered the position of Technology Director for our district. This came about after an independent assessment of our district's technology implementation was completed. Teachers were frustrated because they did not have consistent help with everyday technology issues or with professional development involving technology. As a member of the technology committee, I assisted with the creation of the list of district needs (at the right). As we discussed the list in a meeting, I blurted out something along the lines of, "I could do a lot of these things." I went on to spontaneously suggest that the district hire the student teacher that had been with me the previous spring, and allow me to work half time in science teaching and half time in instructional technology.
The next day, the superintendent offered me a full time position that included instructional technology, networking, systems, device deployment, and all the other things that we'd put on our wish list as a committee. I reminded him that I had no formal technology training in networking, information systems, or hardware. He expressed his confidence in my ability to learn and reassured me that they would provide the resources to supplement wherever I might need it. I accepted and the district swiftly hired a replacement science teacher
Since then, I have simultaneously been working toward my doctoral degree and learning an entirely new job. The instructional technology component was natural for me. I already had experience with teacher trainings, classroom implementation, and being the teacher in charge of resetting everyone's password when they forgot. Learning networking, systems management, and device deployment has been exhilarating and exhausting. I have never regretted accepting the position.