Ray Huard...Make learning more fun, was part of the message to about 150 teachers and administrators from across the country during a recent three-day “Rock Star” training camp recently at Rancho Minerva Middle School in the Vista Unified School District.
That can mean everything from using Twitter to communicate with students and each other to playing Internet games that connect their students to people and places around the world.
“It gets them to put the learning in the students’ hands,” said Tara Linney, an education technology coach at Singapore American School and one of 11 teachers who led a series of two-hour training sessions at the “Rock Star” camp, sponsored by CUE (Computer Using Educators).
CUE, a nonprofit educational foundation formed in 1978, promotes the use of technology in schools and personalized learning in which lessons are tailored to meet the needs of each student, according to its website.
Linney had about a dozen teachers play a game where they were connected through the Internet to a class of middle school students. Each group tried to guess where the other was from just by talking to each other and asking each other questions.
The teachers determined that the students were in Canada, and the students figured out that the teachers were in California, but neither group got any further before time ran out.
“It was really fun,” said Teresa Ozoa, an English teacher at University High School in the Irvine Unified School District.
Along with having fun, the teachers in Vista and the students in Canada shared information about their culture and community – sort of a living geography and sociology lesson.
“Instead of reading something in a text book, which they forget, they get to interact with people,” Linney said.
Like Linney’s game playing, “All these sessions are designed to get these teachers hands-on, doing things that are useful in their classes,” said camp director Kevin Fairchild, a district coordinator for instructional technology at Saddleback Valley Unified School District in Mission Viejo.
“The people who come to this range from very tech savvy to not at all tech savvy,” Fairchild said.
A common theme was getting students more involved in what they learn.
“We’re looking at the teacher breaking out of the traditional education where the teacher is the center of attention,” said Reuben Hoffman, digital learning coach at Grossmont Union High School District in El Cajon and vice president of San Diego CUE. “The goal is to turn things around.”
Erin English, who arranged for Vista Unified to host the CUE Rock Star camp, said that the sessions give teachers a chance to learn from each other to “bring a little excitement into our lessons.”
“The bottom line is, it has to be teachers who transform what’s happening in the classroom,” said English, principal of Vista Vision Academy and district director of on-line and blended learning.
Sarah Thomas, regional technology coordinator for Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, led a session on “flipping” classroom instruction.
Rather than teach lessons in the classroom with follow-up homework, Thomas said she presents her lessons on video that students watch at home on computer tablets so that she can spend more time working in class with students who need help.
“That would just free me up in so many ways,” Thomas said. “It worked wonderfully in my classroom.”
As an added benefit, parents could watch the video lessons with their children, to better understand what their children are learning and be able to help too, Thomas said.
Several of the educators said that the Rock Camp sessions were invaluable.
“You learn new things and your eyes are opened to the possibilities,” said Colleen Hutchison, a fourth grade teacher at Mission Meadows Elementary School in Vista Unified.
Hutchison said that she liked a session that showed how to create digital notebooks for students to record what they’re learning using computer tablets.
“I find, when you make the paper journals, kids don’t refer to it much,” Hutchison said. “The digital notebook just kind of draws them in.”
Christa Noetzel, a teacher in the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, said she’s inspired by the work other teachers are doing.
“We wouldn’t be getting this training, going and looking things up on our own,” Noetzel said.
She was particularly interested in a session on digital citizenship geared to teaching students to properly use social media and to beware of using copyrighted material.
“In the upper grades, I think students need to know how to interact with each other online,” Noetzel said.
Kathy Driver, a science teacher with the Chaffee Joint Union High School District in Ontario, said that she plans to do “a digital citizenship academy” for her students based on what she learned.
“I now have some resources I could use that I didn’t have before,” Driver said. “It’s kind of a wild west out there, they’ve got so much access.”
Mission Meadows Principal Bill Porter said that the Rock Star camp gave him a chance to catch up on the new technology teachers are using.
“It’s important for us, as administrators, to know how to best support our teachers as they introduce it in the classroom,” Porter said. “As an individual, you can’t keep up with the pace of technological changes. You come to conferences like this, you get to tap into other people’s expertise.”