A flood of new technologies can change how people learn, live and work nearly overnight. For educators like Elzena McVicar, who teaches elementary English language learners in Seattle Public Schools, it's easy to feel overwhelmed.
"I know that I’m expected to teach 21st century skills to my students, but I only have four computers in my classroom, so I had a big problem of practice," McVicar said.
While McVicar said professional development is available, those opportunities are frequently presented by consultants and others who are years removed from the classroom and don't understand the specific challenges that are present in her own school.
The solution: tapping the expertise of teachers themselves.
McVicar is one of more than 20 elementary teachers from Seattle area schools who recently participated in the first Education Design Lab sponsored by the UW College of Education's INSPIRE project. For a week in July, McVicar and her colleagues co-designed, tested and refined learning experiences that use technology in a purposeful way.
The theme for the teacher-led Design Lab grew out of a one-day workshop on classroom gamification that INSPIRE held for graduates of UW's elementary teacher education program last fall. McVicar and four of her fellow UW alumni helped plan both the gamification workshop and the Design Lab with support from INSPIRE in resourcing the work and fostering the collaboration process.
Steve Harvey, a 5th grade teacher in Bellevue and one of the Design Lab's organizers, said the collaborative nature of the workshop made it more meaningful than traditional professional development.
"It’s more creative when you have teachers leading the professional development," Harvey said. "The environment is more like a sandbox, where we all have a chance to explore what we think can make an impact in our classrooms."
After learning from a variety of technology experts about using blogs, podcasts, stop motion animation, gaming applications and a host of other technologies during the first part of the week, participants designed and presented lessons to elementary students participating in a Girls Rock Math program at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center.
In one lesson, McVicar had her students use Doodleinator to talk about bubbles and how they make geometric shapes when placed on paper. The girls used Doodleinator to create flipbook-style animated doodles that turned into full-motion videos.
"They were able to describe each step and tell me a story, so I was able to look at what they did and quickly get a good idea of what they learned," McVicar said.
INSPIRE director Elham Kazemi, Geda and Phil Condit Professor in Science and Mathematics Education at UW, said one of the key aspects of the Design Lab was preparing the participating teachers to take what they learned back to their own schools.
"We're really excited to see teachers brainstorming what they can do to build on their work here," Kazemi said. "Technology is constantly evolving, so we want to help educators keep pace. Working together in professional learning communities to think about how they can bring new tools into the classroom is a powerful way to do that."
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