In a time when teachers are being represented as lazy and lacking in innovation, the reality is often missed that many educators are exactly the opposite. Rather than shying away from extra work or a challenge, educators for the most part model best practices when it comes to helping students and meeting classroom needs.
Here are some representative examples of dedicated, innovative teachers.
Kindergarten teacher John Kim and some of his colleagues at Donald Grahm Elementary School in Wildomar, California, decided a couple of years ago that their students could improve their reading skills by means of Apple’s iPad; however, they would be too expensive for the school budget (Klampe, M., 20 March, 2011). Therefore, they held a recycling drive and bought two of the smaller iPod Touch devices; soon they were able to buy four more from money saved by helping the school reduce its energy consumption and via a grant (Klampe, M., 20 March, 2011). Most of the apps are free, and most students know how to use the devices from playing with their parent’s mobile devices (Klampe, M., 20 March, 2011).
Now students rotate through an iPod Touch station set up in the classroom where free apps with learning games help students improve their skills in reading, writing, and math (Klampe, M., 20 March, 2011). The success quickly trickled outside of the classroom as students would want to check out books from the library because they had read them on the iPod, and parents began asking for help downloading additional apps for home use (Klampe, M., 20 March, 2011).
But that’s not all. During the 2011-2012 school year, Kim created four education apps of his own for his students to use, and he plans to create more now that he is retired (Bentley, A., 21 May, 2012). The four apps, “Sound Sorts,” “Sound Sort Blends,” “Word Family Sorts,” and “Rhyme Sorts” are available from the App Store for $1.99 each (Bentley, A., 21 May, 2012). Kim’s apps help students read, and they have been created in order of progression from individual letter sounds to learning to read rhyming words (Bentley, A., 21 May, 2012). The first one took him 100 hours to create, but the next only took 50 (Bentley, A., 21 May, 2012). With additional fundraising, the school now has 60 Apple iPads for student use in addition to the iPods (Bentley, A., 21 May, 2012).
As a high school economics teacher in Akron, Ohio, former pro soccer player, and fitness enthusiast, Steve Neid could empathize with students’ love of pizza. He was, however, concerned about the high rate of obesity and what could develop into a lifelong habit of unhealthy eating (PR News, 18 November, 2011). Therefore, he invented Pizza Fit’n Free, and began a side business two decades ago selling healthy, tasty versions of pizza that are fat, sugar, and cholesterol free (2012).
Neid initially had his pizza manufactured and distributed by a third-party, but now he self-produces and distributes his product via the Internet and two centers, one in Akron, Ohio, and the other in Ferndale, Washington (“Our Story,” 2012). This led to the first franchise being opened in 2006 in South Africa, features in national magazines (e.g., Newsweek and Men’s Health), and television appearances from “Pizza Steve” on stations like QVC (“Our Story,” 2012).
Ron Chang Lee
The number of English Language Learners (ELL) among students is increasing, and Pasadena City College professor, Ron Chang Lee, who has a Ph.D. in Educational Technology combined with over two decades of ELL teaching experience, created a website to help these students (Lucas, G., 29 August, 2011). As part of what began as a class project in 1994, Lee used artificial intelligence software to create two robots, Mike and Michelle, who can converse with ELL students about 25 different subjects and hold 2,000 different conversations (Lucas, G., 29 August, 2011). Mike and Michelle can “hear” about 800 of the most common grammatical mistakes ELL students make, and they offer both explanations for grammatical/mechanical issues and suggestions for additional English language learning resources (Lucas, G., 29 August, 2011). The site is free to users (Lucas, G., 29 August, 2011).
Lee said: “I always wanted to create something to help students, like a tutor. It’s a talking robot, so students are not afraid of asking anything… It’s just like having a native speaker—they correct mistakes, spelling and grammatical errors” (qtd. in Lucas, G., 29 August, 2011). Having robots to interact with also sets students at ease as they are less intimidating than speaking with a live college professor for many students who are struggling to learn English (Lucas, G., 29 August, 2011).
Dedicated and Innovative
Faculty like Kim, Neid, and Lee are only a small sample of the innovative teachers who work in our schools each and every day. That gaming and artificial intelligence are best practices for learners is well known. So is the connection between learning and good nutrition (c.f., “Role of Nutrition in Learning and Behavior: A Resource List for Professionals,” USDA, August 2011). Furthermore, teachers like these three educators not only help their students learn, but they also model ways to take knowledge and apply it to concrete, real world situations that not only better life for themselves, but also for their local and global communities.
The next time you hear of any teacher described as lazy or lacking innovation, please share these three examples and remind detractors that teachers may inspire thousands during their careers. Their achievements benefit us all.
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