PARKER – Sitting in a Challenge to Excellence Charter School classroom Friday, Debbie Fox-Gliessman and Ellie Foust’s conversation touched on Instagram, Pinterest and an upcoming Google Hangout session. But the two aren’t students, and they weren’t discussing the latest gossip or their weekend plans.
Foust and Fox-Gliessman, both Mountain Ridge Middle School teachers, were attending the Douglas County School District (DCSD) “Geek Camp,” an initiative designed to provide teachers with up-to-date information about new technology and online tools, and how best to apply them in the classroom.
“With technology constantly evolving, its no wonder that staff can get overwhelmed and confused by all the different tools out there,” said Kim McMonagle, DCSD’s Director of Educational Technology and Geek Camp facilitator. “Geek Camp aims to help all DCSD staff embrace these new technologies to make learning in the classroom more fun and interactive. Our only prerequisite to attend Geek Camp was that you know how to click.”
Teachers from Douglas County — as well as those from other school districts — attended the week-long workshop, which provided educators from different schools with a chance to learn new skills, exchange ideas about their own experiences, and formulate new approaches to educating students.
Many of the camp’s sessions also count toward teacher re-licensure and their Professional Growth Incentive (PGI), a district initiative to improve professional development and teacher effectiveness.
Foust talked about the importance of integrating online tools into classroom instruction.
“Students are asking ‘What can I do to make a difference? Why does the world need me?’” said Foust. “These are new tools to get through to students – to make learning relevant.”
Foust discussed using Instagram with her students as part of their Internet Club – allowing them to share their ideas with a larger audience, draw more participation in the club and network with other students.
But Foust also pointed out that integrating those tools into modern classrooms in a connected world isn’t as simple as some might think.
“Being connected also means making sure kids are safe,” Foust said.
Making sure students use the tools the right way is also something teachers have to worry about, added Fox-Gliessman.
“As we connect students to the world, we need to make sure they are responsible digital citizens and that we consider the safe environment of our digital classroom as seriously as we do our physical classroom,” said Fox-Gliessman, adding that expanded technology in the classroom is as important for educators as it is for students in an increasingly connected and competitive world.
“Tools like Google Plus and Google Groups allow us to ask [other teachers] questions about what works and what doesn’t – to collaborate,” Fox-Gliessman said. “Pinterest is another one. It allows teachers to look for new ideas and ‘pin’ their own.”
“That’s right,” Fox-Gliessman quipped. “Pinterest is more than just a platform for 21st century housewives to enter into the global marketplace.”