In this educator spotlight, Tziri Lamm discusses how incorporating EdTech changed her teaching style and why she believes technology fosters creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.
Tziri Lamm is the EdTech Integration Specialist at Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York. As the EdTech Integration Specialist, Tziri meets with teachers and students to increase comfort and proficiency with technological tools. In addition to her EdTech responsibilities, Tziri also teaches an english class, a writing course and two computer science classes . She received her B.A. in Liberal Arts from Edison State College. Tziri completed both her M.A. in Teaching English for grades 7-12 and her M.S. in School Leadership and Administration at Brooklyn College. She has worked as a teacher for 11 years and is in her fourth year at Yeshiva of Flatbush.
When did you realize you wanted to be a teacher? How did you know you wanted to work in education?
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little kid. I was playing teacher long past when it was socially acceptable. I had a rule book that I would stash under my pillow. I would dream up names of students and subjects that I would teach. I knew that being a teacher was what I wanted to do.
What interested you in teaching English and Language Arts?
I have always been a huge reader. It is always what I loved, but, I didn’t always like English class. Then I had one great English teacher, and once I met her, I wanted to become an English teacher so I could also do things differently and make sure that students’ experiences in English class were better than the one I had had in the past.
How did you get into EdTech?
I had started reading online about education technology. I was reading about the idea of the paperless classroom. I was thinking while reading ‘what does that even mean?’ Then I bought myself an iPad and was like ‘this is cool.’ I transferred over to Yeshiva of Flatbush and was told this is a 1:1 school. Then I discovered a new passion.
Much of my class is digital. I tried running a paperless classroom but now have drifted back to a class that is more hybrid. I love Google Docs for writing instruction, as it allows me to communicate with students in real time. Because of technology I have been able to shift where I am able to give students feedback long before an assignment is submitted…I find Google Classroom is really excellent for developing relationships with my students. I rely on the private comments to communicate with my students.
What technological tools do you use in your classroom?
One of the books we read is the Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It is a book about poverty. I found a website called playspent.org in which students can choose their life circumstances and it walks them through a month of making ends meet in order to create a sense of connection with the characters. Students have consistently chosen that as one of their favorite activities of the year.
How did integrating technology into your classroom change your teaching style?
It changed everything. I now stay very focused in a 40-minute lesson. If I am talking for 10 minutes that is too long. Learning is now entirely driven by students, it is an interactive experience. It is about giving them tools to make it feel relevant and authentic to them.
What are some things you stopped doing and what are other things have you started doing?
I stopped being the source of all information. We live in a world where the teacher is not always the most knowledgeable one in the classroom. If the students have devices, it’s the devices or it’s the cell phone in the pocket or hidden in their lap that is the source of information. A lot of the thinking has been for us to redefine what knowledge means and where it comes from. When I first started, it was the teacher who needed to know everything. My job, as a student, was to get as much out of the teacher as I could. Now my role as a teacher is much more about pointing students toward the resources and the tools so they can become independent, self-motivated learners and problems solvers.
What changes did you notice among your students once you started adding technology to your classroom?
I have seen that engagement has spiked. We are having a lot of discussions about creativity and problem solving and we develop those skills. One of the things I am interested in is how do I think differently and how do I reach goals that I couldn’t before. I have found EdTech makes that possible. Class is no longer only about content. Now class is about how we are going to manipulate content, and how we are going to rethink things and work with what we have in front of us.
What is the biggest challenge teachers face integrating technology into their classrooms?
Mindset, above all else. I think it’s a really big shift. Yes, learning the tools can be challenging depending on the teacher’s background but I think the real power of technology comes from shifting the power balance in the classroom. That is a huge step to take. In my own journey, when I looked back, it took self-reflection to say “I did things that worked, but maybe I need to be doing things differently.” That mindset is challenging.
What is the biggest challenge for students with EdTech?
I think it is a similar kind of mindset shift. There is a lot of conversation around innovation for students. The strongest students really struggle, because they have gotten really good at taking in information and spitting it out and not really doing a lot of real learning and thinking. When they are asked to take a more active role, I think that shift is hard for students. On the opposite side it is encouraging to see how many students are excited by that as well.
What is a day in your life like as an EdTech integration specialist?
I work mostly with teachers. I have some teachers who have some standing appointments with me. I always start with their learning goals. What are they doing with the students and what are their goals? There is one teacher I am working with on how to email and communicate with students. There are teachers I work with on becoming Google certified teachers. We run student programs and train students on using apps. Sometimes, I push into whole classrooms. For example, I did a full day of freshman training. Whether I am working with teachers or students, I strive to have very interactive hands-on programs, less of me talking and more of the people doing.
What are your goals for EdTech at Yeshiva of Flatbush?
I’d like to see more technology use to enhance student creativity and critical thinking. Any of the four C’s: Collaboration, Creativity, Communication and Critical Thinking. I think EdTech in its current version is so well suited to enhancing all four of those. With the rapidly changing job market, and changes in how we express ourselves, I think we need to be shifting to match those changes. I think EdTech empowers us to ride the tide.
A lot of kids see academics and EdTech as separate. I think we need to be integrating the two. It is not about throwing out the old stuff, it is about connecting it and making sure learning is powerful to students.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.