There’s no looking back for innovative teachersAug 03, 2022 07:11PM ● By Jet Burnham
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
When the pandemic forced classrooms online, many teachers got a crash course in using digital teaching resources. While some went back to traditional methods once they could, others never looked back.
Fifth grade teacher Kelli Cannon embraced the many digitals tools and resources available in 2020. She earned her Educational Technology Endorsement and then also became a Nearpod Certified Educator, an Apple Certified Teacher, and a Level 1 and 2 Good Certified Educator.
Cannon opted to teach a virtual class during the 2020-21 school year before returning to Ridge View Elementary last year. Cannon, who was named 2022 Innovative Teacher of the Year by the Utah Coalition for Educational Technology, said she would not be the teacher she is today, using the resources she is today, if not for the pandemic.
“I never would have signed up for the endorsement classes and gotten better if I didn't need it,” she said. “I was teaching online and I was getting tired of the same old three things—Canvas, Kahoot and Google Slides—and I needed new material. And so that got me excited about trying different things.”
One of the new things she tried this past year was purchasing a 3D printer for her classroom.
“Learning how to use this 3D printer has been the highlight of my students' year,” Cannon said.
Cannon and her students experimented with various prints, creating simple pencil toppers and then moving on to more complex 3D maps for social studies lessons and 3D viruses for science lessons. Cannon printed detailed 3D hands and hearts, instead of using pictures of body parts to review for the year-end science test.
“The result was phenomenal,” Cannon said. “The students started asking questions like ‘What does that vein do?’ or ‘Wow, why is it shaped that way and not like a regular heart?’”
Jared Covili, administrator of Jordan District’s Digital Teaching and Learning Department, said Cannon is one of the most innovative teachers in Jordan District, one that will be a guest on the department podcast which will launch this September to highlight outstanding teachers.
“She's somebody who found a niche with technology very early in her classroom and saw the benefits of it,” he said. “The biggest thing that sets Kelli apart from a lot of teachers is that she's willing to experiment and try things and see how they play out in her class because she has a real commitment to the notion that technology will answer students’ learning.”
Covili said most teachers have incorporated some digital resources into their classroom because even those who prefer more traditional methods must be prepared for virtual learning days in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak or bad weather, such as the snow day last winter that transitioned into a virtual learning day for JSD students.
JSD’s Digital Teaching and Learning Department actively supports teacher innovation. Through the state legislature’s Digital Teaching and Learning grant, they provide technology devices, support personnel and training.
Every JSD school has access to digital learning specialists, IT support and digital coaches to help teachers integrate technology into their instruction. Tech tools engage students but digital learning specialist Deanna Taylor emphasizes that they should be used to enhance instruction, not replace it.
“Technology does not need to be used if it is not the best tool to teach students to learn,” she said. “There is a balance between creation with technology and simply using technology.”
She believes the best uses of technology are for accessing and reviewing information and for allowing students to show what they’ve learned by creating a video, designing a virtual website or creating an infographic instead of just writing a report.
“Technology gives students another way to access information and to be creative when showing what they understand and can do,” Taylor said.
Technology tools also allow students and teachers to connect with places and collaborate with people outside their classroom, Covili said. He said resources such as Canvas Commons and Open Education Resources, where lesson materials and ideas can be shared, have become invaluable for teachers.
“It's a huge time saver for teachers, but also a great collaborative effort for people so that they don't all have to recreate the same content,” Covili said.
Cannon is a regular content contributor.
“Once she's learned how to do something and sees the impact on her students, she doesn't want to keep it just for herself and in her classroom. She wants to help others do it, too,” Covili said.
To help teachers utilize the many digital tools available on the Google platform JSD uses, Cannon restarted the Utah Google Educator Group, which has been inactive for several years, but now has more than 100 members statewide.
One tool Cannon has shared on the forum is Google Translate, which she uses daily.
When nine new students from Venezuela joined her class last spring, Google Translate helped the students, who didn’t know English, to access instruction in real-time in their native language, preventing them from being left behind.
Cannon said her non-English speaking students can also participate more fully in lessons when she uses 3D printed materials.
“I think it is really cool to use the 3D printer because then they can see it and touch it, and that doesn't have to be in a certain language,” she said.
Cannon looks forward to utilizing her 3D printer even more this coming school year as she gets more experienced using it.
“It opens up a whole new world of possibility,” she said. “I will see what I can incorporate into the curriculum.”