Teachers at Work
A column about teaching
Energize Your Classroom
Elementary school teacher Brian Crosby is a technology-in-the-classroom innovator whose efforts have earned him an Apple Computer "Apple iLife Educator Award" honor. He's also the author of a popular educational blog called Learning Is Messy, the tagline of which is, "rollup your sleeves and get messy." It's a credo Brian puts to work at the Agnes Risley School in Sparks, NV, where he teaches at-risk students with the help of a wireless connection and seven-year-old laptops. Reading his blog, we were impressed by Brian's creativity, determination and passion for teaching and technology. When we contacted him we found his enthusiasm infectious -- and deeply inspiring. Here's our conversation:
VT: How can technology energize teaching?
Brian: The key is using technology as a tool, getting it to the point where a pencil is, so you naturally use it to do the things you already do, but in more transformative ways that allow you to process and share information in ways you couldn't before.
For example, in the 4th grade we study animals as part of our science curriculum. So my kids went to a local animal park here called "Animal Ark," and did web pages for every animal in the park with free software called Filimentality. It didn't take long after we posted them that we were getting emails like one from Korea that said, "I was looking up stuff on coyotes and found your website. I'm a university student in Korea and it was a good way to practice my English." We got emails from Florida, New Jersey, and other places. The website won a couple of awards, and my kids testified before the Nevada State Education Committee about what technology meant to them.
VT: These are at-risk kids, right? It must have been tremendous boost.
Brian: Exactly. Many had parents who don't speak English. The kids brought them to class and showed them the Internet pages they created, with their first names on the website. They told their parents, "I worked on this" -- they were proud of their accomplishments.
VT: What other Internet projects do your students do?
Brian: My kids are making digital video, too. You can download all the videos my kids have made over the year at my Learning Is Messy website. About four years ago my 4th graders even made an award-winning music video about bullying called Don't Laugh at Me. Apple computer has made it available on their website, too.
VT: Sounds like these projects have given you an outlet to teach more creatively.
Brian: That's right. And guess what we were doing while we were doing that music video project? The kids were reading, writing, researching, discussing, role-playing, designing scenes, critiquing their work and more. I have a high number of ESL kids so one of the first things I did was make sure they understood every word in the song. They also wrote journal entries and shared ideas with the other students -- doing all the things we want kids doing, but in a way that became a resource for the world, basically.
VT: Seems like they're learning in a way that sticks.
Brian: Absolutely. Because it's more engaging, even the lethargic kids who don't really do much are all of a sudden leading their group. I have this happen all the time. When you do problem-based, project-based activities, you're often surprised by who takes the lead.
VT: The technology itself seems important, too.
Brian: Technology has become the new literacy. When at-risk kids graduate high school and go to college, where are they compared to middle class kids who have computers in their home 24 x 7? That's my big concern and that's why we need to be doing this with at-risk kids.