How does ongoing support help teachers integrate technology? Alisa Rivky Watman talks about organizing professional development that really works for teachers and how they're bringing technology back to their classrooms to enhance learning. She also shares key takeaways from her time as an EdTech integrator.
Alisa Rivky Watman is Educational Technology Integrator at Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls (SKA), which is part of Hebrew Academy of Long Beach. Previously, she was a computer teacher and robotics program director at Yeshiva of South Shore. Rivky received her B.A. in computer science from Queens College of the City University of New York and her Masters in Educational Leadership and Technology from Adelphi University. She is an active swimmer, spinner and runner, wife to hilarious husband Rob, proud mom of five terrific children, and one adorable grandson.
How did you get into the educational technology field?
I went to Queens College and was a computer science major. It was very different from what coding looks like today, and I received a strong foundation in computers, programming and database design. I had a job in which I worked to develop the computer systems for ATM machines. I also worked for a company that automated warehouses. It was there that I developed an interest in robotics and computational thinking. Years later someone asked me to teach an AP computer science class in high school and that sparked my interest in education. I saw the future of educational technology was emerging. I earned my Masters degree in educational leadership and technology and a certificate in online and blended learning design. Four years ago, the leaders of Hebrew Academy of Long Beach decided they wanted to explore the idea of using technology to enhance student learning and staff instruction, and I was hired to facilitate that initiative at SKA.
What’s your role as educational technology integrator?
We have so much technology in the school - Chromebooks, iMacs, MacBooks, SMART boards, iPads - and we expect the teachers to integrate it into their classrooms. My job as the instructional technology coach is to make sure teachers are up to date on the latest technology and how it can support their teaching. I’ll learn about new iPad apps for encouraging creativity, or apps for assessment, blended learning, or flipping the classroom. I’ll share those with teachers and students and ensure they use them properly.
We have a staff development period every Thursday. I’ll introduce new tools or talk about an event I went to and how something I learned there can be helpful for the teachers. During this time, we also have workshops broken up by subject, so team leaders can share how they’re using technology with other teachers. When one teacher came back from ISTE, she introduced Showbie and Desmos and empowered other math teachers to use them.
How do you also work with students?
Students take notes on iPads and I work with them to make sure they’re using the devices properly, backing up their work, updating to the latest iOS, and learning to be creative. We use the LMS Haiku and Google Apps for Education, so I encourage students to use those platforms to share work with their teachers and classmates. Going paperless in many math, history, and language arts classes has also saved on our paper expense! We have an IT person who is skilled, smart and friendly. He takes care of any technical problems, which enables me to focus on integrating technology for learning. We recently started using Google Expeditions. I purchased 40 Google Cardboards and joined a history class where the students were studying the Great Wall of China. We had the students join virtual expeditions on iPads or their smartphones to the Great Wall. We also ran a similar virtual expedition to the International Space Station. In 9th and 10th grade we have a 1:1 iPad program which helps individualize learning and has made a difference in student engagement. Students can play with what works and decide “This app works for me. I’m going to use this” or “This doesn’t work for me so I’ll use something else.”. We teach digital citizenship to our students, which creates a positive school culture, supporting responsible and safe technology use.
What are some other ways you support teachers in integrating technology?
For the past three summers, the edtech team at HALB has hosted a Staff Development Summer Institute. Teachers don’t always have time during the year to learn the tools they need, and there’s a lot for them to explore, so we created this program. Our technology based classes include Math Tools for High School, iMovie: Lights, Camera, Action, The Paperless Classroom, Social Media for Educators, Screencasting 101, Google Drive and Google Classroom: Move Your Classroom Into the Cloud, and many more. My colleagues, Estee Lightstone - Director of Educational Technology of HALB middle school, Rabbi Aaron Fleksher - Director of Educational Technology at DRS and SKA, and Ruthie Seidenfeld - Haiku/DDC/Google Integrator, and I teach these mini courses. We’ve also invited guest speakers and principals of different divisions to present. All new teachers are required to participate at the institute while it is optional for others. We have received positive feedback from teachers and administration about the institute, especially when we see the application in the classrooms. After three successful summers, our challenge this year is to develop our schedule with the 4 Cs of education in mind - communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration.
Last year we had a full day of professional development in January. Teachers from all divisions worked through a number of stations, each of which demonstrated how to use different apps and tools. Everyone was able to explore tools that might work in their classroom. Last spring we hosted a ‘technology sharing conference’ at SKA. We had 45 participants from 35 different Jewish day schools throughout the New York Metro area. The day was a fantastic opportunity for EdTech leaders to discuss "what's next" in EdTech and to speak about our challenges and successes in our schools.
What are the biggest challenges related to integrating technology? How do you help teachers overcome them?
The biggest challenge is that teachers can be hesitant to try something new, especially when their teaching methods have proven successful. If technology doesn't come easily, many teachers get frustrated quickly. I think there should more of an emphasis in graduate schools on teaching the benefits of 21st century technology in the classroom. I think new teachers would be more inclined to include project based learning, blended learning, and flipped lessons, if they study the pedagogical advantages in their graduate program.
What are your hopes for the future of technology at your school?
I want to inspire teachers who are not experimenting with technology to want to use it. I want them to learn how technology can be part of lessons and doesn’t have to be a big deal. I also want to see more blended learning and enable more collaboration amongst the students. I’d like them to see that the “sage on the stage” model isn’t the best way for learning and can be improved. I’d also like to continue investigating what other tools and strategies are available to teachers.
You recently attended our JEDTech Experience workshop. What were the highlights from that experience and what was your main takeaway?
I thought Rabbi Fein was excellent and presented very well. The small groups and station rotation we did were very smart. I had time to start developing my ideas and to assist my colleagues. Small group time with Rabbi Fein was also helpful. Before the workshop I didn’t know about wizer.me, and I’m going to be bringing that and other tools back to SKA.
What has been the most rewarding part of integrating technology into learning at your school?
I love any time my students say to me “This is great” or “This really works” or “I love coding. I can’t wait to be in coding next year.” I like to know students think what they’re doing is cool. Teachers can say “Rivky, this is so helpful” and appreciate the new skill, but the positive feedback I get from students and the smiles on their faces really make all the difference.
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