I’d like to introduce you to Laura Collins. I had the pleasure of chatting with Laura a couple of weeks ago at the Ontario Summit in Cambridge, Ontario. Her journey as a new teacher and EdTech leader inspired this post. Take it away, Laura!
Tell us a little about yourself. What do you teach? Where do you teach?
I currently teach Kindergarten/Grade 1 in Section 23 Programs in the TDSB. I work at an offsite location in an Agency that specializes in supporting families and other care providers and provides treatment for young children to strengthen their social, emotional, behavioural, developmental and adaptive functioning in all of their environments. I have 6 students all whom have IEPs. This is a central position in our school board. I have two more years in this special education role before I return to my home school where I teach Grade 8 Math, Science and Music.
In a conversation that we had not too long ago, you mentioned that you haven’t been teaching for very long. How many years have you been a teacher? What did you do before entering the teaching profession?
I graduated from the BEd program at York University in May 2013! I have been teaching just over 4 years. Prior to teaching, I ran my own daycare for 14 years. I am also an Early Childhood Educator.
You’re an Ontario Google Educator Group leader, but I know that you haven’t always been passionate about infusing technology in your classroom? What ignited that spark?
When I owned and operated my own daycare business there was really very little need for me to use technology other than send out the odd email from time to time. I didn’t even have my own cell phone! I sent my first text with my first smartphone when I was in the BEd program in the fall of 2012.
It wasn’t until the 2015/2016 school year when I secured a contract position as a Grade 7 core teacher that I started to think about using technology in my classroom. This was a particularly tough teaching year for me because my school was high on the LOI and my students were disengaged learners.
My school board uses the LOI system to help ensure that children who have access to fewer resources at home and in their neighbourhoods have increased access to available resources in their schools. As a result of this special funding for my school, a new Promethean board was ordered for my classroom to use with my students, but… there was one problem! I didn’t even know how to turn it on when it finally arrived in January 2016!
There were 3 catalysts that ignited the spark for my infusing technology in my classroom:
I have been fortunate to have wonderful mentors who have helped me on my journey in becoming more tech savvy. The first amazing individual is my NTIP mentor Rob Kahlon who is an itinerant technology resource teacher for Section 23 Programs. I met Rob when I taught first taught summer school in Section 23 in the summer of 2015. I asked him if he could help me learn how to use the Promethean board and provide suggestions on how I could integrate technology into my programming for my students. He has been incredibly kind, supportive and has always provided me with ongoing tech support when I really needed it. I am forever grateful for his continued patience and willingness to take time from his busy day to help me. It was through learning how to use the Promethean, the suggestions he provided, and implementing this new learning with my students that helped me realize the potential of technology and how it can be used to support student engagement and learning.
Another individual who impacted me greatly is Sandra Chow. Sandra was a friend of my administrator during this time. I was introduced to Sandra in early 2016 when she stopped in at our school to showcase Google Expeditions with our students along with Sylvia Duckworth (whom I did not know and did not realize was famous!). After I met Sandra I had the opportunity to attend some of her Math and OTF workshops and webinars. As we got to know one another, she invited me to come out and join her at pub pd where I met other amazing tech educators just like Sandra! It was here that I learned about Google certification and what Tweetdeck was! I was very inspired by the educators who attended these meetings and listened in awe as they shared their stories of how they were using tech in their classrooms. It was Sandra’s ongoing encouragement and support that motivated me to get my Google Part 1 certification!
The other catalyst was attending our board’s version of Google Camp where George Couros was the keynote speaker in February 2016. After listening to George speak and being completely uplifted and inspired by his keynote, I was motivated to learn more about how I can engage students through the use of technology.
You’ve come a long way in a short time. What were some challenges you’ve experienced along your journey in creating a technology rich classroom?
Some of the challenges for me have been not having someone in my school to help support me directly with technology, as well as having limited access to board professional learning to help me better learn how to use technology effectively with students. It was mainly Rob who helped support me during this time and my ongoing efforts to find YouTube Videos, and webinars to help me learn more.
The other was access to technology. My classroom only had a Promethean board. There were no shared laptops or iPads in this school, which made it challenging to use G Suite or other technologies. Apps like Kahoot helped because I could create games for students using the team mode feature because I had a number of students who did not have cellphones so grouping them helped.
What would be a good place for teachers to start if they wish to integrate more technology in their programming?
I would recommend starting with apps. There are a number of simple, easy to use apps that you can use with students from K – 8 that are not too complex to use for those who are just starting out using technology. I also recommend asking colleagues about what they use with their students and ask them to show you examples. I love it when other educators show me what they are doing with students using different apps. This usually inspires me to at least try it with my own students and it helps knowing that there is someone who can help me if I get stuck. When using a new app, I usually download it on my own device and play around with it for a little while to get comfortable with it before I start using it with my students. I also try to stick to using the app in a very basic and simple way. It really helps if you simplify how you use the app until you are comfortable and then try something a little more complex when you are ready.
We need to go beyond using technology for the sake of using technology. It cannot be something that we do in addition to everything else. We need to focus on the opportunities that are created by the use of these tools. How do you see this happening in your classroom? What opportunities have been created in your classroom that could not have existed otherwise?
When I first started using technology, I was using it in a very limited way and I believe that this is perfectly acceptable when we first start out using technology in our classroom. I needed some time and space during this period to learn and grow and to become comfortable integrating technology in my programming. My technology integration was a simple form of substitution (the S in SAMR) since I mainly provided students with access to programs like Math prodigy or used apps to support their learning in a passive way where they basically consumed information.
Now that I have had the opportunity to become more comfortable using technology I have been looking at how I might create deeper and rich, learning opportunities for my students using technology. This year I have also focused on how I might close literacy and numeracy gaps by encouraging my students to create using technology.
I started by setting up my Kindergarten/Grade 1 students on Google Classroom and have developed a number of lessons using Docs and Slides for them to create projects, and/or take photos/videos of their learning. Our classroom iPads are out and available anytime for students to use (I have 3). They are encouraged to scan QR codes in the classroom, use apps like Book Creator to create books for peers, stop motion or green screen videos to narrate or make movies about their own stories, procedures and/or retell stories they have listened to in class. They also use Augmented and Virtual Reality to go on virtual field trips to learn more about the world they live in, as well as coding apps and robotics to support their learning of key concepts and to develop their critical and problem solving skills.
I have been amazed at how much my students have learned over this school year! Their reading assessments, their understanding of numeracy and their overall ability to think critically has greatly improved. What makes it most worthwhile is the fact that they look forward to coming to school! This is pretty incredible since many of my students have significant needs and their needs can be a barrier to learning.
You have children. What do they think of your newfound love of technology?
They don’t believe me when I tell them I am going away to a conference to provide professional learning sessions on technology. The ongoing joke in our home is how can Mom possibly help other people with technology when she still hasn’t mastered how to use the remote for the TV?
All kidding aside, my family is very supportive and excited about what I do and often can’t believe some of the things I am doing with students, especially some of the robotics and STEAM projects I am working on. My daughter loves to help me prepare materials and play around with some of the tech tools I bring home to experiment with.
What are your favourite EdTech tools?
I love G Suite and my absolute favourite is Slides! I use Slides for pretty much everything. I love it because it is easy to use, I can place images in the deck without any formatting aggravation, and I can download the finished product as a pdf. I use Slides to create storybooks, graphic organizers, flyers, resources for students as well as for presentations and lessons. There are so many different ways that you can use slides both with students and as a tech tool for teachers. I decided last year that I would minimize the amount of apps I would learn and try to stick to focusing on G Suite tools. I found this to be very helpful in my learning and ability to master using these tools.
Your story is unique. To end, what advice would you give to other teachers that may give them a nudge to try new things, to take risks?
I would encourage other educators to just focus on learning one new thing. It can be incredibly overwhelming when you think about all the tech out there, where to start and what to start with. I recommend starting with what appeals to you the most. It could be an app, it could be mastering a Google tool. Whatever that thing is, choose one and practice using it to build up your confidence and proficiency. I would also encourage you to ask your students to help. My students always knew that I was not the ‘expert’ and that I was learning to use the tools with them. I would share what I found out with them and they would share with me. I still remember the very first time I created my very first ‘gif’! My students were so excited because they were the ones who taught me how to make it! Students feel empowered when they know that you are also willing to learn with them and allow them to mentor you.