Creating an edtech consulting and professional development business has been a dream of mine for many years. My passion is working with teachers and students on projects that incorporate technology, but there is so much more to it than that.
As a young student, I struggled in school. In the fifth grade I started at a new school and on my first day was given a quick reading test only to be placed in the “low group.” I don’t remember how these groups were identified, but it was obvious to all of us that there were the above average kids, the average kids, the below average kids and then the super below average kids. I was put in the below average group and remember feeling horrible about it – like I had failed on my first day in a new school in a new town and that life was pretty dismal. Not only had I said goodbye to all of my friends in my private school, but now I was labeled “below average.” I remember teachers getting frustrated with me in school because I just didn’t “get it.” These were usually the classes where the teacher stood in front of us all and lectured the whole time. I truly struggled here.
My most memorable classes where learning truly took place for me, were my Science classes. There was one lesson where we made “Oobleck,” think Bartholomew and the Oobleck, and I remember thinking that school was fun! I also remember another Science class where I was asked to research an invention and explain how it worked. I took apart my hair dryer and looked at the parts, read up about how it worked (probably in some encyclopedia since the Internet didn’t have much at this point) and then presented my findings to my class. I was learning and I didn’t feel dumb.
It’s probably very hard for some of you to believe, if you know me at all, but I was super shy in elementary school and dreaded being called on. I rarely raised my hand because I felt like I’d get the answer wrong and be chastised by the teacher and my peers. I learned to lay low.
Thankfully I had many teachers throughout my education that made a point to praise me for my strengths, to find out what I enjoyed and apply it to the content they were trying to teach. One year, in high school, I had a math teacher that truly differentiated and made learning fun – we could collaborate with others on exciting things like proofs (lol) and share how we found our answers. Working in small groups was less threatening and I remember feeling this love of learning building up inside of me like I did with the hair dryer project. I was getting things right.
When I decided to go to college to become a teacher, I kept my past experiences in my mind and vowed to make learning fun and focus on project based learning (I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but knew it worked!) I was fortunate to have attended the State University of New York at Oswego where I was part of the Goals 2000 program. In this program preservice teachers, like myself, learned to effectively integrate technology into lesson plans. Almost every lesson I created during my student teaching experiences in a third grade and then a fifth grade classroom incorporated web tools in some way. This was before Twitter really took off for teachers, so I used sites like Teachers.net to gain ideas. Truthfully, technology integration that was not consumption based was new territory. My students researched online and created PowerPoint presentations on rain forests; used KidPix to explain how simple machines worked; manipulated clay to create stop motion movies on the butterfly life cycle and more! I was learning, my students were learning and I witnessed engagement and happiness. It was similar to my experience with that hair dryer and I saw within my students this love of learning developing that I had within me.
My experiences as a student and a teacher have developed my philosophy on teaching and learning that is completely defined by CREATIVITY. I like to say, “let them create” because there were so many times in my education that I should have been creating a product to demonstrate what I was learning (or not learning for that matter).
I went from that shy fifth grader on the first day in a new school feeling sorry for myself for being in the “below average” group to a member of National Honor Society in high school. I graduated from high school with honors and then graduated summa cum laude with a Master of Science in Education from the State University of New York at Albany. I owe this growth and change to my mom and stepfather who never gave up on me and to several amazing teachers and professors who strived to find the best in their students and reach beyond the labels. To all, I am forever grateful.
In my 13 years as an educator, I have seen technology impact student engagement, learning and even relationships. Free web tools, apps, iPads and computers give students a voice and allow them to create innovative products to demonstrate understanding. The products students create continue to impress me, their parents, their teachers and their peers. I sometimes wonder what my education would have been like if I had had access to an iPad. We must utilize these tools of today to help our students develop their strengths and passions, which will help them grow into the professionals they will one day become.
You may one day have a student that tests into a “low group” – please remember – that is only part of their story.