For digital learning coach Jennifer Schlie-Reed, educational technology is all about helping kids find their voice.
“Technology is about creating more engagement for students, providing choice,” she says. “Once they learn the tool, they decide how they’re going to use it. They all have the same goal, but they decide how they’re going to get there.”
While working as a library media specialist at Stocker Elementary School in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Schlie-Reed supported teachers by showing kids how to use media and research tools. Among her favorite projects was having second graders write their own fairy tales and then use the animation app Puppet Pals to record their stories and share them with other students.
She didn’t stop there. Schlie-Reed then made a video in which her students explain in their own words what they got out of the project. Her YouTube channel is full of such instructional videos designed to help other educators implement technology.
Take, for example, her tech buddies project, where she paired older students with younger peers to teach them how to use apps and answer questions. In this video, she explains how to implement tech buddies.
Watch the video below to see how Schlie-Reed uses technology to promote authentic learning experience for her students and then read on to learn more about her story.
She didn’t start out proficient in technology
When Schlie-Reed started out her career as a social studies teacher, she and her students had trouble even making PowerPoints. She went back to school and got her master’s degree in instructional technology. As her district made cutbacks, she moved to the library and she fell in love with it.
“Many of the things I loved about social studies, like critical thinking, were also applicable in my new job,” she says.
Schlie-Reed moved to the School District of New Berlin in Wisconsin and became a digital learning coach working with elementary, middle and high school teachers across six schools. The district is embarking on a 1:1 program, and her role is to help educators embed technology into their lessons using the ISTE Standards as a guide.
“The standards are an essential part of education, no matter what you teach,” she says. “It’s important for teachers at all levels be aware of them and integrate them. That’s what’s cool about my job; I can be a champion for those standards and teach teachers how to apply them.”
Tying technology to learning goals
She starts by asking teachers to identify standards-based student learning goals, and then she helps them created lessons aligned with best practices.
One of the math teachers she worked with took a diagram that students would normally draw on paper and had them use Lucidchart to draw it digitally instead. Even though every student’s chart represented the same thing, each one was different based on how it was represented.
The kids uploaded their chart and created a word problem. Each student shared their problem with another student, who then answered the question in different ways.
“You could tell they hadn’t been asked to learn at this level,” says Schlie-Reed. “This wasn’t just a worksheet. We had started this cool process where kids had to think about learning as they were doing it.”
Book Creator is another app that Schlie-Reed put to good use in the classroom. Students take pictures of themselves demonstrating an action and then narrate that action, such as how to sit in a chair or how to wash hands properly.
Students love it, she says, but they are also “building lifelong skills, like how to communicate better or talk on a discussion board, skills that can be used in the job market. It’s really preparing them for that lifelong learning.”
Helping teachers see how tech can take their students to the next level of learning is a vital part of her job, Schlie-Reed says. She is guided by the four C’s to ensure that the kids are focusing on collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. In fact, her projects often end up incorporating all four. She has created YouTube videos on the four C’s, as well as on promoting collaboration and communication.
“When I come in to a school, I’m the computer lady,” she says. “I have to earn buy-in so I document and showcase what we have done with other teachers involving digital tools,” she says. “We’re not just here to do a math learning program.”
If you are using digital technology to transform learning, you might be one of the next ISTE award winners. Why not apply?