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Jamie Ewing: Education + Corporations + Standards + Change = Makers of Success

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by Jamie Ewing
Expert Educator Columnist, USA

The proudest moment for any teacher is hearing the words my former student once told me, “[Technology] made me feel smart.” Then learning a year later, that student, who is in special education and an English Language Learner, has become more confident and is thriving in the 6th grade; performing at grade-level in math and above grade-level in reading.

I don’t think you are gong to find many arguments against the basic idea that the state of education is ready for change. Change, in the truest sense of the word, is wanted, needed and happening. The arguments become heightened when you start to discuss how it is happening.

Our students are falling behind not because there are too many high stake test, not using enough or using too much technology, that they come from high income or low income homes, or that their teachers is only being evaluated on test scores: they are falling behind because they are bored!

We can’t continue to think that what was good for us it good for them and what worked yesterday is going to work today. It’s not. All of the changes that are being discussed can actually happen, work together, and support the New Classroom of the 21st Century: The Maker Classroom!

The ‘Maker Classroom’ is all of this and so much more! The Maker Classroom takes all the best of what educators do, embraces our new standards (CCSS, NextGen Science, and 21st Century Learning Skills) blends it with technology and hand-ons explorations and engages students with the support from outside businesses, non-profits and private donations! I do all of this in my classroom and so can you! AND we’ll do it together with ease!

The Common Core standards are primed for students to be collaborating and exploring in a Project Based Learning Environment. Blending rigorous standards with hands on learning experience, throw in integrated technology and a global connection to real world problems and you have the Maker’s Classroom. Now if you want to blow it up a notch you add partnerships. You have now taken bored students and turned them into innovative thinkers.

The classroom is no longer four walls, one teacher and a classroom filled with disengaged students. The classroom is a lab. The classroom is a field of exploration. The classroom is an open environment where students rise to greater levels of engagement and learning then we’ve ever seen.

The power technology provides teachers to impact student learning is undeniable. But not all schools and teachers have an abundance of technology resources at their fingertips; despite teaching in the backyard of some of the world’s largest technology companies and most innovative startup brains.

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I teach at an urban public elementary school in White Center, WA. Our students are over 90% Free and Reduced, 74 home languages identified, high needs and some are homeless. Most do not want to be at school on any given day, and our technology at school is basic and antiquated. Most of our students have limited–to-no access to computers or internet at home. In my classroom, I have a desktop computer that’s a decade old, 4 Surface RT devices: one personal device, one given to me for a photo shoot and two donated through DonorsChoose. I also have an Xbox donated by a Microsoft employee (the same employee that supports my afterschool program through Microsoft’s matching program), classroom laptops from Technology Access Foundation, grant money from the Highline School Foundation for Excellence to buy robotics and a lot of money from my own pocket to support the needs of students.

Despite limited resources; it is my job to prepare my students with the skills and knowledge to thrive in not just the next grade, but throughout their life. It will be the year 2020 by the time today’s sixth graders graduate from high school. Today’s jobs will change and there will jobs that don’t yet exist today.

It is possible to have a big impact in student learning, no matter how few or how old the technology resources available are in a classroom. It takes a community and a focus on connecting student learning to real experiences outside the classroom. I rely on my community here in the Puget Sound, and my community of innovative, passionate, and creative teachers that are part of Microsoft’s Educator Network (formerly Partners in Learning Network) of 11 million teachers around the world. Microsoft’s continued support of teachers has kept them quietly on the forefront of innovative and inspired learning and teaching. Asking nothing more than to be able to connect amazing educators together to make sure we are doing the very best we can for every single student around the world.

Teaching Community

Over the last three years, the colleagues I’ve met through Microsoft’s Educator Network and annual Microsoft in Education Global Forums have provided support and resources from around the world. This year, I had a vision for my after-school program students to produce a stop motion video. I called on my community of teachers for help to figure out how to make stop motion videos with the limited technology I have and collaborate on the soundtrack to accompany that video. As a result, my students used the computers in our class and Movie Maker to produce Why I Matter and worked with a class in Germany via Skype to produce the video soundtrack.

This is my classroom. I am not afraid to say that I embrace all of the new standards. And, yes they are rigorous and high but I thought that is what we want for our students. If we continue to set the bar at average then we are going to get average learners but if we don’t set a limited how high will they go? And, yes I have no problem making connections and partnerships with corporations/businesses and non-profit organizations!

Educators need to forge ahead and find a way to embrace these changes so that we can work together for the betterment of our every single one of our students. ALL students! Yes, when these components are segmented they may not have merit to stand alone but my Maker Classroom proves that they can all work together with great learning outcomes. Yes, my students come from very diverse, high poverty, ELL backgrounds but by embracing a climate of change ALL of my students are successful. Isn’t this what we want for every single one of our students?

Every school here in the greater Seattle area can have an impact, even with limited resources. It’s time our community stands behind every school and every teacher to give students the opportunity to feel smart and have the confidence to thrive.

Every student should start and end every day saying, “I AM smart!”

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