“...if we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” This quote by John Dewey provides much of the motivation for this month’s Innovative Educator - Sharon Cunningham. Mrs. Cunningham continually strives to offer as many creative and purposeful experiences to her 3rd grade students at Marshpoint Elementary, as possible.
Often, one doesn’t realize until later in life that they belong in the educational field. This is certainly the case with Mrs. Cunningham. She began her career as a conference planner in New York but returned to school to become a certified teacher and has made the most of the opportunities for herself and her students. She considers herself to be somewhat of a ‘nerd’ because “I am addicted to learning - I read about teaching for fun”, and through this reading, Mrs. Cunningham discovers more ways to meaningfully integrate technology into her lessons and activities.
Successful ESPLOST Mini-Grant proposals have made it possible for Mrs. Cunningham to have a 1:1 classroom this year and she and her students have taken full advantage. Google Classroom, Google Docs, Slides and Forms, Seesaw, QR Codes and other digital resources are seamlessly blended in with daily lessons. Mrs. Cunningham’s first mini-grant proposal was written with a co-worker and Mrs. Cunningham says it really helped to have another teacher to work with to begin technology integration. She said it is very helpful to be able to bounce ideas off one another, brainstorm the hiccups, and celebrate the successes. “That and the support of my Instructional Technology Coach has been critical! It is so nice to get excited about a new approach to learning a new topic or unit, and then have someone who understands how technology can enrich the learning, to talk it over with. It makes you feel like - yeah! We can do this! - and that is very empowering!”
Changes and choices within the realm of technology can seem intimidating and overwhelming and Mrs. Cunningham knows this first hand, but she suggests that if you just jump in and start - “You will be amazed! Using technology in my class has hands-down changed the way I teach, BUT it does not take the place of the teacher.” She adds that she still has to make wise choices so that her students remain clear about the objectives and understand the types of resources available to them. Mrs. Cunningham also realizes that in order for students to make technology a part of their educational repertoire they need exposure and practice.
Technology integration has allowed Mrs. Cunningham to present information from multiple angles, which in turn has reached a wider variety of learning modalities within her classroom. She also states that even though technology can be ‘fun’, she loves it because it provides efficiencies, motivation, and can also equip students with the tools they need to create student products that seamlessly integrate higher order thinking skills.
When asked to describe an innovative educator, Mrs. Cunningham replied, “Innovative educators are learners by nature. They are reflective and open-minded. They are willing to get a little uncomfortable and try new things. Innovators keep what works and is proven but are always looking for new applications that can deepen learning for students.”
True to form as an innovative educator herself, Mrs. Cunningham is following suit by never ending the learning. There is never enough time to do all the things she wants to do, so she is currently exploring Blended Learning and Flipped Classroom approaches and devising a plan for implementing these next year. She also continues her search for digital lessons, writing journals and interactive notebook opportunities with Google Drive and how these can be incorporated into her favorite addition this year - Seesaw Digital Portfolios.
Staying current with blogs and educational research and practicing with the technology prior to introducing it to students are some suggestions Mrs. Cunningham offers to those wanting to begin integrating technology into their lessons. “The more YOU use technology, the easier it is to teach students. Play with the applications, set up a ‘test student’ and experience it from the student perspective.” She also adds that being a 1:1 classroom is great, but it is NOT necessary. When she began integrating technology, she was not 1:1, so she had to strategically plan how all students would benefit. She accomplished this with a set rotation for her students.
Mrs. Cunningham has successfully begun her journey with technology integration and is hooked! She is convinced that as she continues to look for innovative uses of technology, not only will her students become more engaged in their learning, but they will also become 21st Century learners.