(Photo credit: Brad Flickinger)

(Photo credit: Brad Flickinger)

A new trend is emerging in the Teach For America corps, one that capitalizes on our energy, our willingness to learn, and our drive to do whatever it takes to help our students succeed: the adoption of technology tools in daily instruction. As Teach For America’s Director of Educational Technology, I talk with corps members daily, and their stories of technology use and its outcomes are remarkable. I want to share these stories, because one teacher’s work could benefit corps members nationwide.

I think it’s time we all connect.

Stephanie Linka (Baltimore ’12) encouraged 20 other teachers to adopt Kaymbu—an i-Pad-based teacher documentation system that captures student development through pictures and video and ultimately strengthens the relationship between home and school—and get free iPads after signing up for Imagine K12’s beta-testers program, which allows teachers to give valuable feedback to EdTech startups. It’s one of her top two favorite tools, along with Edmodo, which she considers to be the “gateway drug” of EdTech products. “This tool has allowed learning and engagement to go beyond our four walls and to students’ homes, to the point where parents have come to me emotional about having seen their child read for the first time on a Kaymbu video,” Linka said.

Devon Cantwell (Alabama ’12) also experienced the accelerative potential of EdTech tools in her Algebra II and AP Statics classes. After realizing the huge amount of content she needed her students to master in just one year, she began using Schoology, an online learning management system that allows her to easily share resources and facilitate collaborative learning. Devon has adopted this tool so completely that she now runs a “flipped classroom,” an inverted teaching model where lecture-based learning takes place at home and activity-based and independent learning take place at school.

“I record conceptual videos of a problem or idea and post it on Schoology—along with some notes—and require students to watch it, complete a set of practice problems, and use the interface to help each other out,” Cantwell said. “Then, when students come in the next day, we hit the ground running by addressing more targeted questions and by engaging with the material in a way that promotes a more multidimensional understanding.”

Some districts require teachers to incorporate technology into classroom instruction. For example, all classrooms in Huntsville, Alabama, come with one-on-one devices, where each student has a laptop. Kapil Melkote (Alabama ’12), a 12th grade science and theatre teacher, used this to his advantage when he began running an experiment at his school based on a study he had heard on TED Radio. The study involved placing computers in the most rural communities across India, then observing that in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other—if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest.

“We started by basically bribing random students in the hallway with pizza after school and asking them broad questions in small groups and seeing what they came up with,” Melkote said. “For example, we’d show them a picture of the World Trade Center and ask, “What were these buildings and why are they gone?” and for two hours, amazed, we’d watch them self-organize and come up with the most robust, academic responses. I remember one group of students stating the World Trade Center was perceived internationally as a symbol of the modern economic world and was attacked based on the neo-liberal views it stood for.”

Melkote’s weekly experiment grew into a school-sponsored program called the Butler SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environment) Project, which will soon be spreading to other schools and districts. The latest iteration of the project involves bringing together 12 students weekly to address the questions: What is education inequity? Why does it exist? And can it be fixed here in Huntsville? The program has gotten national attention, and Melkote and his students will be taking a trip to D.C. to meet and discuss their findings with leaders from the U.S. Department of Education, Congress, American University, and TFA’s regional D.C. office.

Like Melkote, many corps members who have successfully integrated EdTech tools into their classroom and school have shown tremendous leadership in spreading their knowledge and best practices. Cantwell has created several modules on digital citizenship, and is giving students the language and skills to positively engage with technology in the 21st century. Additionally, she is working with veteran educators to compile a comprehensive curriculum on this topic to ultimately circulate it within the educator community.

Given her extensive engagement with EdTech resources, Linka was chosen to be the tech lead at her school and acts as its liaison for district-wide EdTech initiatives. She also began a teacher-centric EdTech e-mail blast, Syllabyte, which sends information on the latest EdTech tools and tips for incorporating them to 300 subscribers.

“I have no doubt there are a ton of corps members across the U.S. that are using EdTech and leading on projects like this,” Linka said. “It’s unbelievable to think of the kind of impact we could have collectively, if all TFA corps members were sharing our resources and stories of success.”

Cantwell agrees. “From a practical standpoint, coming together means we would have infinite resources and more effective models for how to actually use these products,” she said. “We’d also be able to exchange ideas for when we come across challenges.”

It’s clear there are many EdTech enthusiasts out there, including corps members, alumni, and TFA staff members, and we need to connect. You can join the conversation by joining our Facebook group, following us on Twitter @TFAEdTech, subscribing to Stephanie’s Syllabyte blast, or e-mailing us at EdTech@teachforamerica.org.