This month’s Educator Spotlight is a special one with the spotlight on two educators! Lauren Roisman and Laura Pachter discuss how they’ve benefited from DJLN’s JBlend Miami and how they’re using technology to enhance learning in their school.
Lauren Roisman is in her second year of teaching 5th Grade Math and Science at Jacobson Sinai Academy, and previously taught Kindergarten for two years. She has always been interested in teaching older children and has found it a fun and rewarding experience. She received both her Bachelor of Science and Master’s Degrees in Elementary Education from the University of Florida. Teaching is her passion and she tries to be "current" with her students, constantly using technology and learning new methods to enhance their experiences.
Laura Pachter was born and raised in Argentina and obtained a B.A. in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Teacher’s Training College in Buenos Aires. In 2001, she moved to South Florida and began working at Jacobson Sinai Academy where she was first an ESOL specialist for 5 years and has now been Curriculum Coordinator for 9 years. Laura earned a Master’s Degree in Education in the field of Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology from Nova Southeastern University, is a certified Instructional Coach, and has been a participant of Project Day School Excellence with CAJE-Miami since 2007. Laura firmly believes in ongoing professional development and is currently participating in JBlend Miami through CAJE-Miami and The DigitalJLearning Network.
When did you decide you wanted to be in education?
Lauren: I always wanted to be a teacher. My sophomore year of college I had to volunteer in classrooms for sociology class and thought, “I should do this for the rest of my life.” So I changed my major to become a teacher.
What prompted you to join this year’s cohort of JBlend Miami?
Laura: Our school has been working with the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE-Miami) for eight years. They’ve previously offered a number of professional development opportunities - academies, workshops, coaching, mentoring. We know the quality of all CAJE-Miami initiatives, and if we can, we jump into every opportunity they provide. This time they were offering blended learning, which sounded very interesting. They sent a video that explained blended learning, and we wanted to go in that direction. We wanted to make changes in instructional design and methodology, and JBlend Miami has given us lots of insight into these topics.
What have been the highlights of your experience so far as part of JBlend Miami?
Laura: We have a team of seven from our school participating. The presenters are engaging, and the interactions with other schools give us different insights. We also have time to work with the team from our school and set our own goals about what we want to see happen. We can determine areas in which we want to carry out changes in how we’re teaching and learning. The experience has so far been enlightening for the participants and the faculty at large. We came back after the first session and had a faculty meeting where the seven JBlend Miami participants presented their learning in a blended learning format so our colleagues could see the methodology.
What element from JBlend Miami are you most looking forward to putting into action?
Lauren: I started being more aware of the methodology behind blended learning. Now I’m making a conscious effort to give more choices to my students. I’m putting more thought into my planning so the students are doing what’s best for them instead of me saying, “Here, you have to do this assignment this way.” I’m making it more open so they can do the assignment in the best way for them, an individualized way. The students are enjoying it. At the last JBlend Miami session, we were shown a picture of a blended learning classroom and it had tables arranged not as a theater style with the teacher at the front, but in groups and circles. My classroom had assigned desks, so the very next day I explained to my students that they no longer had ownership of a desk and that the classroom was more of a community, so they should work wherever is best for them. As a result, the classroom is now more organized and clean. The students are happier because they don’t have to sit in one seat only. They love that they can sit wherever they want. They’re making responsible choices - they know where they need to be to work best and are making those choices themselves.
What’s one of your favorite lessons in which your students used technology?
Lauren: They just learned about decimals - adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing them - so I assigned a Thanksgiving math project. The students researched online how much the ingredients for their Thanksgiving dinner cost and had to decide how much of each one they wanted at their feast. Then they had to figure out how many people would be at the feast and make sure there would be enough servings of the various foods. They had to do the calculations and figure out how much of their “budget” they would spend on the food. They also needed to keep in mind serving pieces and utensils and their costs. These are things they’d never thought about before! Many of the students found out that they bought so much food they didn’t have enough left over for the serving pieces. In addition to calculating all the costs of the food and supplies, they also had to figure out what size table they needed. I gave them a graph and they had to design their table and place everyone on it and assign seats for everyone. This project really helped them to appreciate what their parents do when they’re planning these big meals and all the preparation it takes to make a Thanksgiving meal. The students all wrote a reflection at the end of the project expressing thanks to their parents.
What are your favorite EdTech tools to support blended learning?
Lauren: I use Google Docs a lot; it’s the best that I’ve been using. I’m in constant communication with my class through Google Classroom. The students know they can send me something and get an immediate response. I use Socrative and IXL for immediate formative assessment. StudyJams from Scholastic has short videos that have songs. My students learned the solid-liquid-gas song. There’s also a scientific method song, rap songs, and informational videos with a quiz at the end. Once in awhile I’ll use Khan Academy for math.
What advantages have you seen in using educational technology and blended learning?
Lauren: The students are more organized now. They are starting to become more confident and are really building independence. They enjoy class more and are more excited. It takes me more time to plan, but the students are happier because the lessons are more hands-on and there are more options for ways they can learn.
What EdTech tools would you like to see in the future for teaching math and science?
Lauren: I’d like something that really pulls apart the lesson and makes it into different parts. I’d love a resource that has both visual and kinesthetic activities, like a textbook that has something for all the different learning styles in which each lesson was included in three different ways. The hardest part about using technology is that it takes more time to plan, so if there was a tool that had these features already, if would be easier for teachers to build on them.
What do you envision for the future of blended learning in your school/classroom?
Laura: Definitely more professional development and opportunity for collaborating with colleagues. I would like to see teachers planning together and visiting each other’s classrooms to understand each other’s instructional methodology better. That’s the “Gradual Release Model” - I do, we do, you do - where you model, co-teach, then release the teacher who’s learning once she feels comfortable teaching by herself after having the coaching and guidance. For example, I modeled a lesson setting up a station rotation model of blended learning. One station had iPads using Popplet and EduCreations, another had index cards for the students to practice and apply their knowledge of definitions and concepts, and the third station had posters so the students could condense the information learned into an illustration or diagram format. What I want to see for our school is everyone being capable of doing blended learning in the classrooms, but also understanding exactly when it’s the best option for students.
Lauren: I want my students to be more independent. I also want them to be learning based on what’s best for them and their needs, so they’ll get more out of it. I want to see them engaged, and the technology often makes this easier and makes the learning more meaningful. I want to blend the learning more often, because I see that it makes a difference. On the days when we do a blended learning activity they’re much more engaged and excited, and they leave class with a better understanding of the lesson and a totally different mindset about learning. They’re curious and they want to know more. The blended learning generates curiosity and an inward desire to continue learning. They’re owning the material rather than the teacher simply giving it to them. They want to look something up online and problem solve. I want to create this kind of curious learners who are intrinsically motivated, generate their own areas of interest, and who take ownership of what they want to learn. That’s the ultimate goal.
What’s a highlight from your time teaching with technology?
Lauren: The Thanksgiving project - I grouped the students and made sure to make each group diverse in skill and interests. When I saw the groups working together, students were saying, “I’m the artist” or “I’m the writer.” They sat there and figured out who had what strength. They really understood that dynamic of working with a team, and it helped them succeed.