Oregon Writing Project

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A Teacher's Ed-Tech Journey ...

as written by OWP Teacher Consultant Matt Hurst, Fall 2012

                                                                                                                                                                                      Matt Hurst

In 2007, I moved back to Oregon after five years of living and teaching in California's central valley.  My first year back in Oregon was the worst year of my teaching career.  My English Language Development (ELD) classes at Claggett Creek Middle School were large and unruly.  It seemed like every day I would confiscate gang-related paraphernalia, break up fights, and have students cussing at me for asking them to sit down and follow directions.

The following year I reluctantly returned to the classroom.  My strategy was to divide and conquer.  I revamped my classroom structure using a blended learning model where students rotated between computers, independent activities, and small group instruction, much like Read180.  My classroom bank of ten computers, which collected dust the previous year, became an essential component of my classes.  The change worked wonders.  Students were engaged and on task at each station, and I began to enjoy teaching once again.  Blended learning saves time and paper and enables me to spend more time providing individualized and relational instruction.

Using Digital Literacy to Engage English Learners

For the computer group, I created much of the curriculum.  In 2009, I attended the Oregon Writing Project's Summer Institute.  The experience fueled a passion in my to write.  So when I taught a reading intervention class for struggling English Learners, I wrote and illustrated a blog of fiction stories called Devious Devin's Blog of Pranks.  I posted the chapters to a site, adding reading comprehension questions and an option to leave comments at the end of each post.  For other classes, students used the computer rotation to create their own multimedia blog posts, websites, presentations, digital stories, and comics.  Instead of hearing students ask, "When does this class end?",  I often hear, "Class is over already?  That went fast!"

Student Achievement

After changing to a computer rotation model, students performed better on the English Language Proficiency Assessment (ELPA) and state reading tests, which are both taken online.  In 2010, when the state awarded Claggett Creek Middle School for "Closing the Achievement Gap", the school's English Language Learner (ELL) population met on all of the Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAOs)  Last year, Claggett Creek was named a "Continuing Success School".  I believe that a contributing factor to the success of our English Learners has to do with using computers to enrich learning, differentiate instruction, and provide familiarity of the device in which the assessments are taken.

Collaboration and Networking

The success of my school's Engiish Learners did not go unnoticed.  During the past few years, I have been given several opportunities to lead staff trainings and teach technology-related classes, including Technology in the K-12 Classroom at Willamette University.  District administrators have asked me to pilot several technology tools, such as Learning Management Systems and iPod Touches.  Due to numerous inquiries related to technology, I decided to create a blog of teacher resources where I could share ideas with my colleagues or anyone else interested.  My blog address is: http://MullOverThings.com.  As I researched all the best new ed-tech tools for my blog, I became an early adopter and Beta user of many new ed-tech tools.  I began conversing with ed-tech entrepreneurs regarding their products, writing reviews, and creating video tutorials.  I've also worked with a company to develop educational iPad/iPod apps.  The more I've been able to work with talented and creative ed-tech entrepreneurs, the more I've wanted to develop one of my own ideas into a product.  I read about how several ed-tech startups got their starts at a weekend event called Startup Weekend.  Startup Weekend is an intense 54-hour event where entrepreneurs and web developers form teams to create web-based companies over the course of the weekend.  They occur in major cities all over the globe (http://StartupWeekend.org).

From User to Creator

When I learned that there was an education-specific Startup Weekend event within driving distance, I jumped at the chance to attend.  At the end of February, I attended Startup Weekend EDU in Silicon Valley, CA.  I received mentoring from brilliant entrepreneurs and got to work with talented web developers.  By the end of the weekend, my team of two teachers and three web developers had created a working prototype of an idea I had pitched on the first night of the event: an audience response system in which student responses on computing devices create graphic organizers on the teachers' screen.

After the Startup Weekend event concluded, my team dissipated as members returned home to their jobs in three different states.  Not ready to give up on the idea, I resorted to posting the idea on Kickstarter, a popular crowd funding website.  If I can raise the funds, I will publish the Devious Devin novel I've written with collaborative response activities embedded at the end of each chapter.  As far as I know, audience response has never been embedded into an eBook.  You can learn more about the project here:  http://kck.st/eldbook.

One of the primary attributes of our current generation is connectedness.  Lately, I've attempted to connect with other educators passionate about using innovative technology in the classroom.  Networking has allowed me to learn from, and be challenged by, a diverse group of educators from across the globe.  Networking can lead to increases opportunities.  If you want to learn more about ed-tech, or incorporate technology into your classroom, you're not alone.  My advice is to get involved in an online community.  You will find lot of supportive people who value educators.  My favorite professional learning networks are Edutopia, Edmodo, and Twitter.  You can start by connecting with me.  Look me up on Edmodo or connect with me on Twitter: @MullOverThings.

I look forward to collaborating with you!