DJLN Educator Spotlight: Creating Student Leaders with Nancy Penchev

| By Yonah Kirschner, Project Manager, Digital Content and Communications

In this Educator Spotlight, Nancy Penchev explains how students are demonstrating their learning and creativity in the I LAB and beyond.


Nancy Stone Penchev is the I LAB Teacher and Instructional Technology Coordinator for grades K-5th grade at Scheck Hillel Community School. Nancy has shared her knowledge of EdTech by presenting at local, state, and international conferences and publishing articles in Teaching in the Middle magazine, Association of Middle Level Educators, and ISTE point/counterpoint. She was the focus of an article from Coca-Cola on 9 Ways Technology is Transforming the Classroom. She is an ambassador for Weebly, Commons Sense Media, and Wonder Workshop. In 2016 she was a local award winner for the National Council for Women in Information Technology. Nancy has a B.A. in Elementary Education from North Greenville University, a master’s in Elementary Education from Francis Marion University, and a master’s in Instructional Technology from Grand Canyon University.


When did you realize you wanted to be a teacher?
I think I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I’m not Jewish - I loved going to church and helping my mom with her Sunday School class. Teaching is always something I’ve done. After my 5th year of teaching, I actually quit. I found another job where I had an office and I could come and go anytime I wanted, but I just couldn’t stay away from the classroom. I did some long term subbing and kept going back to teach at the elementary school where I had gone. They kept calling me to help out, and I fell in love with teaching again. Nothing else gives me the joy and excitement I get from teaching.


Can you tell me more about your role and how you support teachers in your school?
As the I LAB Teacher, I take what the students do in the classroom and help them explore what they learned and figure out how to share it with others. I teach maker, robotics, and anything involving technology. As Instructional Technology Coordinator, I support teachers and help them figure out the best way to go about integrating technology into the classroom. We use technology to help students demonstrate their understanding.

I also oversee many school clubs in which students teach each other, including robotics, Minecraft coding, STEAM, and maker. The students come in and lead the club; I’m just there to take pictures and tweet them out. I also coordinate the Girls Building STEAM program. They’ve investigated heat and figured out what temperature melted crayons so they could make crayon art. They also came up with superheroes to save our world: Envirogirl to deal with pollution, Upgirl the upstander who looks out for bullies, and Medigirl to take care of children. They created themes, songs, and costumes for these.


What’s an example of a successful lesson you worked on with a teacher?
I provided feedback to a 1st grade teacher on a maker unit. Every Thursday the students would work on a maker project and I was there to support and give ideas, but I mostly just stood back and let the teacher take initiative. They didn’t always use technology. Sometimes technology is the way to go and sometimes it needs to take a back seat. The teacher asked about getting a robot, so I found a robot mouse for her class. One of the student groups wanted to create a home for the mouse, so they had to figure out how to build a home for the mouse in the right size. They also were programming the mouse to move around the house. I was there to support and be in the background; my goal is to not be so visible. I should not be the focus. My job is to encourage the teachers and student to figure things out on their own and to say “My gosh, that’s amazing!” when they do.


What are some other makerspace projects students have done?
There was a Grade 4 maker project on Spanish missions. They studied them in social studies so when they got to my class they worked in groups to build models of the missions. Some were huge and some were the size of a shoebox. One student made a digital version with a Jeopardy game. For a Grade 5 project on the 13 colonies, one student made a phone case with a map of the 13 colonies on it. She recorded a song about the 13 colonies and added that voice module to the phone case so you could both see it and hear it. It’s amazing to watch them come up with a million different ways to show their learning. It’s always nothing like I anticipated they would do. In Grade 2 they made habitats based on what they learned in science. They covered boxes with paper and then put in an animal, plant, and a non-living thing into the habitat. It’s beautiful to watch them figure things out. In Grade 1 they worked with a Lego wall and built examples of living and non-living things. So they had the sun, and fish, and a ladybug, and made labels so everyone would know what they were. I was impressed watching them come up with their idea of what living thing they wanted to make and how and what colors they needed. If they didn’t have the exact shape, how could they create it and make it come across as that thing? It was really amazing to watch their thinking.


I heard about an interesting blended learning lesson you did on maps. Can you tell me about that?
This was part of a Grade 3 project to build map skills. We integrated mapping with coding and robotics. There was one group that had a grid on a table and they had to write code for getting an animal from one place to another on the grid. We had the robot Bee-Bot go through the maze in the grid that the kids designed. Another group did an EDpuzzle video which others then had to watch and answer questions. The classroom teacher did small group instruction and helped the students learn vocabulary words for measurements and other words involved in mapping. Another small group worked with with me on robotics with the Wonder Workshop Dot robot. The students had to program the robot to do different things and see how far it moved. Once everyone had done all four stations, we went outside and measured each building of the school and tried to program the robot to go from one part of the school to another. That really helped them to see things more clearly. For instance, the robot couldn’t go down steps, so how could we get him to the other side? We worked on problem solving.


How are Judaic Studies teachers using technology to support learning?
We tried iTaLAM and are always on the lookout for more, so we got a trial from JITap. Our lower schools Judaic Studies program has really embraced Google Classroom and GAFE. They use Forms for testing and use data to differentiate and create small groups. They’ve also really embraced Google as a way of communicating with students. Students use features in Slides and Docs to communicate with each other and with the teacher.

I also did a robotics collaborative project with Grade 4. They had to teach something about Pesach through a robot. They had to decide whom they wanted to teach, fill out a lesson plan form and hand write a letter to a teacher whose class they wanted to visit to teach. They could choose their props and some wanted to do a lesson with the Dash robot, Bee-Bot, Ozobot, Sphero, Codeapillar, or Sphero Ollie. They made an oven, put matzah in the oven, and had the robot carry the oven, while telling the story of the Jewish people and how they didn’t have time to wait for the dough to rise. Other students focused on the parting of the Red Sea. They made waves out of construction paper and had friends hold the waves open so the robot could come through. Some programmed the robot to speak. Others programmed him to turn red and talk about the plague of blood or turn blue and talk about the sea. Another group of students made augmented reality with Aurasma so when people would scan a picture, the video would say “Don’t forget to clean all the chametz!” I’m always overjoyed when the learning goes farther than I think it might. They came up with so many things I hadn’t thought of. The project was not just about STEAM but also about building the self-esteem to go out and teach something.


What advantages do you see in using technology in the classroom?
Our kids are digital natives who were practically born with devices in their hands, but they don’t know how to turn those devices into learning tools. For instance, they all have PicCollage but my job is to highlight it as a tool that can be used for learning. In Kindergarten we took pictures of shapes around the school and then made a collage and labeled all the shapes. They had collaged, and they’d taken pictures, but they had never thought of doing that together in a school project before. Students really take ownership of their learning when doing blended learning and using technology, because at some point they will be sharing what they’re doing with other people. They take it to a higher level and want to push themselves to show their learning in the best way. Kids working on a project doing Hamilton musical recordings came during recess to work even more because it was something they loved and they wanted to share it with others. They had found a common passion.


What have been your students’ reactions to technology and blended learning?
Our teacher Jenna Kraft presented a diary of blended learning at a conference with some of her students, for which they had interviewed their peers in my classroom. All the students said some variation of, “Before in math class everyone had to do the same thing at the same time, but now if I know something I can move on and the teacher will give me what I need to learn. It doesn’t matter if everyone is doing the same thing. I can do what I need to do to learn more.” This was the best thing I heard. They didn’t get bored and have to do the same thing as everyone else. It was based on what’s important to them and they could help others with what they had already mastered. Then they could get help with something from others that they hadn’t yet mastered. Students are figuring out “This is MY learning” and are taking responsibility and demonstrating learning in their own way. I’ll say to a student, “You’re great at using Google Sites, but if you’re a master of that, here’s another tool and maybe you can push yourself to learn that instead.” It’s not just the content they’re learning in the classroom, it’s what they’re learning about themselves as well.


I heard you have some fun ways for students to know what they should be doing with their devices in the classroom. Can you tell me about those?
From what we saw on our JBlend Miami NYC school visits, we realized we needed a common language, because we were going from no devices to being 1:1. If we had too many sets of rules it would be confusing. So we waited until the beginning of the year and sat down with all the kids and teachers and made this common set of terms.

For laptops:
Pac-Man Go = open your devices and get to work
Pac-Man Pause = close your devices, stop to listen and get feedback or instruction
Pac-Man Game Over = shut your device and get ready to go to the next class 

For iPads:
Apples Go = open your devices and get to work
Apples Up = pause (turn iPad over so apple faces up)
Apples Clear = close your apps and get ready to go to the next class

Jenna made signs for these and shared them with the Hebrew department, which put in the Hebrew text. Every classroom had these posted and we used them throughout the year. Kids were clued into those words and as soon as they heard “Pac-Man” they listened for what to do next.


What have been the highlights of participating in JBlend Miami?
The best part has been working with our team outside of school. When we’re at CAJE-Miami, we’re able to have that time as a team and really get into it without distractions. I’ve also enjoyed working with other schools who are in the same boat as us. It’s helpful to see what’s working for other schools and what could work for us. The NYC school visits helped shape our thoughts more. We connected with The Moriah School and they’ve helped us to build up our blended learning process. What started with JBlend at CAJE-Miami has now expanded and we’re honing those ideas first developed there. Our team took our idea of blended learning and submitted it to the US Department of Education and got to sit with experts there and educators from 50 other schools. We worked on the idea of blended learning and how to get buy-in from parents and teachers and how to be realistic about our goals. We’re not just working on our goals when at CAJE-Miami. We’re really investing in them and in our growth and how we can move it forward. It’s been amazing to watch and be a part of.


How are you bringing that learning from JBlend Miami back to your school?
Last year, we had professional development time and had 17 teachers volunteer to come and learn more about blended learning. We set up sessions for the administrators and for the teachers. We did a model blended lesson on blended learning. We had another session in which teachers discussed where they were on the blended learning spectrum. In a hands-on session, they built a blended learning classroom based on what they thought they would need. During the year, we have PD every Tuesday and we changed our approach to be blended; we do small group instruction and use the rotation model, so teachers will spend 10 minutes at stations and then we’ll come back together and they’ll express what they learned and are taking away. In our approach to PD now, teachers are experiencing blended learning themselves while learning about how to do it. That experiential piece has really helped us, because it’s not just us standing there saying “you should be doing it this way.” We try to follow that model in everything we do now. We’re practicing what we’re preaching.


What’s been the most rewarding thing about teaching with technology?
One of my goals is to develop student leaders, so I have started taking students to present at the ISTE conference. I took a student who figured out the Dot and Dash robots on her own, a student who leads the Minecraft club every week, and another who participates in Girls Building STEAM and wanted to share her favorite projects. My biggest goal is promoting that student leadership. There was one very quiet Grade 5 student who loved the makerspace. I suggested he be the leader of the Maker Club and he said “I can do that.” Now he leads it every Wednesday and comes to me with technology ideas he’s developed at home. He has become so vocal about what he loves. Now he’s sharing his work at conferences, and he absolutely loves it. The four core students from the girls’ STEAM Club were graduating from elementary school, so they went to the middle school principal and said they wanted to continue. Now they’re making plans for a new STEAM Club there. My goal is to create those student leaders and technology has helped us do that. These students want to create something and get others excited about it, too. I want to get those kids who don’t always stand up in class, but who have these amazing talents, to develop their skills. I do that with our teachers as well. I find something they’re good at and ask, “Can you show others how to do this?” Then, they get that feeling inside, “I can do this, I can do this.” I want everyone to get excited and share what they love.


Related Reading:
Educator Spotlight series
Seven Makerspace Tools to Make Your Sukkot

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