This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Ana Klemm
According to my mother, my passion for technology began very early in life as a kindergartener who was “magnetically attracted to the computers” in the classroom. The year was 1996, so computers did not do nearly as much as they do today, yet I was enamored with them. Sure enough, I grew up with constantly improving technology, and was fortunate enough that my parents created access to multiple types of computers and devices at home. When I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to work with computers and I was encouraged to try education, which I had never even considered before. I came to the realization that the whole purpose of going to school for this emerging world of digital citizenship was to LEARN how to do it, so I enrolled at West Liberty University (WLU), and never looked back.
I quickly found that, not only could I dive into my newly found love for education, I could also pursue my passion for technology. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work in the WLU Center of Arts and Education right after graduating with my Bachelor’s degree. While pursuing a Master’s Degree in Technology, I had so many amazing opportunities to work with technology. I developed skills I could use in my future experience in teaching and I started my career in a position where I led STEM activities. Integrating these technology tools was new to the students, and with time, the digital tools we used were natural to implement. This was across schools of varied socio-economic situations. Our success with technology implementation occurred with most, if not all, students in multiple school sites. I never really thought this development was significant until I changed teaching positions.
After 3 years of teaching, I began my “dream job” as a Digital Citizenship and Project Lead the Way (PLTW) App Creators teacher. I teach computer ethics, skills, coding language, and a PLTW curriculum designed to engage students in building their own apps. I was beyond excited, my two passions merged into one: technology and education. I enthusiastically came to my new classroom ready to bring and implement my life experiences with technology. What I learned quickly was that my students came to the classroom with varying levels of technology fluency, were very adept at logging into their own domains on the computers, accessing their files, and at logging into their emails.
When I began, I decided to do things the way I knew how to do, and I asked students to submit work digitally. These were computer classes I was teaching, surely that made sense. I began the year showing students how to login and set up the course just as I had in past years. However, I noticed that my students were struggled immensely getting everything set-up. Now, I certainly have had my fair share of struggles logging students into e platforms, but this was abnormal. All students, even those who were listening and following directions, were not figuring it out. I tried again, this time I created their logins for them, all they would have to do is get into it. This worked to log in, until I assigned them to do something. I asked them to complete an assignment on the platform and again, it was like I was speaking another language. I have had issues and struggles, but nothing to the magnitude I was facing. I could not figure out what was going on. I sat back and used my resources to help myself reflect on what I was doing wrong. Why had this worked before in prior situations, but was failing here?
As I was reviewing notes from Fluency, I came across the word “Equity” and the meanings behind it. I then realized, my students came from far different backgrounds than the students I had worked with before. I conducted an interest inventory with them, and my suspicions proved accurate. Though there were students from suburban backgrounds like mine and those of my former students, there were many that came from rural backgrounds with whom I had little experience. These students had interest in video games and sports like I was used to and I found there were a large number of students who don’t have internet access at home because they live in geographic areas with no signals. I realized that I was not being “equitable” in my approach. Many students had probably only used technology in their schools, not at home.
I decided to scrap everything I knew about submitting assignments. Instead, I acquired notebooks from the school and gave them to my students. I explained to them that they would still, of course, be accessing their course and their app creator’s software with the computer, but the questions, the thought process, and the journaling would be done in a notebook that would stay in the classroom. When I did this, I saw a dynamic shift in my classes. Students were focusing on the content and less on figuring out the e platform. Also, I encouraged them to draw in it and make it their own, so that it would help them in their thinking process. The students loved this, and I was able to get a lot of quality visual thinking from them as they designed their apps.
It was definitely much harder for a technology focused person like me to go back to paper and pencil, but I saw such a positive change among my students, it was well worth it. One student stands out in particular, she was new to the school and was incredibly disruptive while I was trying to get the digital platform set-up and had several attention-seeking outbursts. After we switched to notebooks, not only did her behavior dramatically improve, but she even brought her own colored pens to organize her thoughts in color-coded fashion. She went on to take the app idea she had built in my class to a competition for another class where she won an award for it! It was this moment that made me recognize how crucial really looking at making sure to evaluate students’ backgrounds before implementing anything. We, as teachers, need to be equitable in our approaches if we want our students to succeed.
It is important to note here that I had a pretty rough start to the school year. The first day of school, my grandmother, with whom I was very close, passed away suddenly. Just a few weeks later, my husband (a football coach) experienced a horrible injury which required major surgery. Therefore, he was immobile for a long time and unable to attend his school to teach. My work-life balance was disrupted as well. At that point, I simply was not prepared with access to the resources I now have. However, the more I reflect back on this, I still do not think the outcome would have been much different. I faced struggles which brought me to this conclusion. What matters is meeting the students where they are, not where I assumed they would be. Though, as I mentioned before, I have a rich technology background, not every student I work with does or will. There may be classes in the future when I can implement my online platform submission style, but that may come after working with this group, learning their needs and preferences, and develop my work to truly meet them where they are. By doing that, my future students may become even more technology literate than even those who I have taught in the past with more technology-based experiences. My goal is to ensure every student feels comfortable working with technology and be ready to use it in the 21st century world in which they will live. This may require some more “primitive” technology AKA pencil and paper, but that very well may be the exact technology they need to be successful with the more “high-tech” ones they will use in the future.
Anastasia (Ana) Klemm, a member of the Data and Technology Fluency Project, Cohort 3, graduated with a B.A. from WLU in both Elementary Education and General Science (5-9). She furthered her studies with a M.A. from WLU in Technology Integration. She served as a Graduate Assistant in the Center of Arts and Education, a CREATE lab Satellite, for two years focusing on science education programs and technology education.
Ana has been teaching in public school settings for 4 years, specializing in STEM, Middle School Science, and Computer Science. She currently serves as a leader in Digital Citizenship, App Creators, and is a Project Lead the Way Teacher. She ascribes to the following teaching philosophy with amazing results, "Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results." ~John Dewey