In this Educator Spotlight, Debbie Clement shares her teaching experiences and gives an inside look at how blended learning works in her classroom.
Debbie Clement has been a Second Grade General Studies Teacher at Seattle Jewish Community School since 2008, and has been teaching for more than 20 years. She earned her Teacher Certification from Seattle University and received her B.A. in Society and Justice from the University of Washington.
When did you realize you wanted to be a teacher?
I participated in a year-long program in Israel called Sherut Le’am, and part of the experience was working in Ashkelon. I taught English to third graders and high school aged students. I really enjoyed the experience, so when I returned, I decided to earn my teaching certificate. You could say I got my experience before I earned the degree.
How have the Samis Technology Initiative and the DigitalJLearning Network helped you to learn with a community of practice?
I was fortunate enough to be able to participate all of the last school year in the Samis Technology Initiative. I was one of 12 teachers, representing Jewish day schools in the area. The most valuable learning happened when we could all get together and talk about our practice at our own schools. The group was heterogeneous in terms of grade level, subject area, and technological experience, but that didn’t matter because teachers always have an automatic connection just because they’re teachers. We discussed and learned about different topics, such as blended learning and flipped classrooms. We also had webinars with guest speakers. One speaker told us how he flipped his classroom and we were able to ask him questions live. Having this community of practice was also great because we were able to share resources with each other. I learned from a colleague about the tool Actively Learn when he showed it to the group, and I got inspired and wanted to give it a try myself. Other sessions involved trainings in how to use Twitter and how to create videos using TechSmith Relay. In addition, we all traveled to Los Angeles together and visited five Jewish day schools that are very much on the forefront of integrating technology school-wide, so we were able to observe students and teachers in action. Lastly, we all had an independent project we were working on in our own practice. The project came from thinking of a challenge in the classroom where technology could help. I chose to work on using technology to create videos for math lessons where my more advanced learners could watch the videos and work independently.
How do you use blended learning in your classroom?
I have used blended learning primarily to differentiate math for advanced learners. A core group of students were needing more enrichment. When we were doing a unit on multiplication, I placed the students into groups based on those who needed more conceptual work, those who were at grade level and just needed more practice, and those who needed more of a challenge. The advanced students clearly understood the concept of multiplication, so they were to work independently in a “Blended Learning Center” to complete a math project. I used TechSmith Relay to make videos of myself that challenged the students to apply their understanding of multiplication with more problem solving type activities. The videos were interactive, so the students had to watch the videos, pause, do some work with pencil and paper, go back to the videos, and watch some more. When the advanced students were watching the math videos, that enabled me to work with the students who needed more support.
I’ve also use blended learning for literacy lessons. One group of students was reading the book Trumpet of the Swans. Using the app Actively Learn, I was able to embed questions into a nonfiction article about swans. The students also had headphones so I added sound, and the students could listen to how trumpeter swans actually sound. Actively Learn also allowed me to watch, from my own laptop, as the students worked on their assignment. I know it is very important that when I give my students a video to watch, I need to make that experience as interactive as possible. I do not want students watching videos passively, even if they are educational. Apps like Actively Learn are really great because they encourage engagement and accountability. This app in particular has really been valuable in teaching nonfiction texts.
Lastly, this year, since we have acquired iPads, I plan to use the blended learning model even more by having iPad stations with various activities.
How else has EdTech helped you with differentiation?
With Actively Learn, I can see how long it takes students to answer a question, so I can tell if a student is struggling or if a student is breezing through the material. I can also have iPad stations and purposely group students at certain stations by setting up activities that fit their instructional levels. Technology also promotes some independence, so while students are working on their devices, I can work with other groups. There are also certain apps that organize information about students very effectively. One such app I’d like to try this year is called Confer. Teachers use Confer to take notes on students during reading and writing workshop. It is a really wonderful assessment tool and also makes it easy to group students by the skills they need to learn, thereby helping teachers to inform their instruction.
What are your go-to places to find new resources to support blended learning?
Twitter is one of my go-to resources now. Hashtags I follow are #BlendedLearning and #Edtech. I also follow Tony Vincent, a teacher, who is very innovative, and Kristen Wideen, who is an Apple Educator. She has some amazing ideas for using iPads in the classroom. I also subscribe to freetech4teachers.com, as well as various blogs about technology in education.
What kind of support are teachers looking for with regards to blended learning and EdTech?
As far as helping teachers get comfortable with integrating technology into their classrooms, it is really crucial that there is someone on staff who knows the faculty and curriculum, and can provide that support. For example, I know that the fourth grade teacher in my school does a social studies unit on Washington State. Knowing that, I can be on the lookout for software or apps related to that subject area and let her know. That is part of my role as the Technology Integration Specialist. At the same time, it’s important to have someone who can troubleshoot the technical problems and fix the glitches. That would be the role of the IT, and in our school, these two positions are different. One of my responsibilities this year will be to help and support the science teacher. I’m already looking for ways to make science more of a blended experience, moving away from students receiving information from the teacher, and finding more ways that students can discover information on their own by using technology. The science teacher doesn’t have time to research how to go about finding apps or software, so I will be the one to help and support her. That will involve meeting with her outside of her teaching time so she can try out some things, or it may involve me coming in to science to demonstrate how to use certain apps. I’ve been at the school for a while and know the curriculum, so a lot of my work will be talking to the teachers and finding ways I can support them in what they’re already doing in the classroom. I’ve already had teachers approach me asking about things they want to try, or they see other teachers using a tool and they want to give it a try. There’s no better motivation than seeing another teacher using the technology.
What are some new projects you’re excited about doing in the future?
Our school has purchased iPads for the K-2 classrooms, so integrating iPads will be a big project this coming school year. I would like to integrate iPads into Reader’s Workshop by having stations where students can practice reading fluency by recording passages of themselves reading out loud. I also want to create more video blogs for parents where the students are talking about their learning, and parents can watch the videos to stay updated about what is going on in the classroom. I also plan on creating a classroom Twitter account where students send out daily tweets. Lastly, our school will be participating in the Global Read Aloud. I have already connected with a teacher from New Zealand and a teacher from Ohio. We will be reading the same book to our classes at the same time, and we will be communicating via Skype, Kidblog, or Edmodo about the book.
What is your favorite part of using technology in your classroom?
Learning about various apps and tools has opened up a whole new world of teaching. I felt like I really needed to get on board because this is the 21st century, and this is another way students are learning. I am now convinced that if teachers use technology in a smart, intentional, and purposeful way, students really benefit. Students will not only be more motivated, but technology can promote creativity, more choices, and higher level thinking skills. With technology, there is a whole world yet to be discovered. There are so many great resources and the possibilities are limitless. We can study the rainforest by talking on Skype with someone who is actually standing in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. Technology can bring the world into your classroom, and that’s really exciting.