2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I'll Meet You There.

Sometimes teachers who incorporate technology into their teaching can't understand teachers who don't (or administrators who don't encourage technology use in the classroom).  I hear the frustration from teachers who say, "It's a new era of teaching.  Why won't people just give it a try?"  I get it.  We have discovered a new world, one that is both stimulating and frightening, and we want everyone to get on the roller coaster.


Roller coasters can be more than scary; they can be dangerous.  They can make you sick, or at the very least give you a headache.  The key is knowing what you can handle and taking one. tiny. step. beyond that.  Unless you are like me, and you just jump in the front seat and strap yourself in with that flimsy lap belt.  Jump first; panic later--that's my motto.

This is what ed. tech. looks like.  Does it frighten you?

There are times when I talk to my colleagues, and I mention projects I'm doing in my classes, and they are horrified.

"You let the students USE THEIR PHONES?  All the time?  Why would you do that?  They are just texting."

"I couldn't spend all that time putting notes and lessons on Blackboard.  If the students want the notes, they have to pay attention when I present."

"Why should I spend all that time creating an online quiz/game when we all know the site will go down as soon as I need it?"

"What do you mean, you let your students re-do assignments until they have 'mastered' them?  How much grading do you do?  How do you keep students accountable?"

I get it.  I do.  Sometimes I say the same things.


I think those people secretly want to get on the roller coaster.  I think they are afraid of failure, that failure of a lesson means they are failures.  I know this feeling, and my goal is to help my colleagues overcome it.  The question is. . . how?

This month PBS Learning Media informed me that I am a 2015 Lead PBS Digital Innovator.

Stephani Itibrout



Read the Full Bio
Stephani is an English teacher and blended learning teacher at Medina High School in Medina, Ohio. Stephani knows that learning is messy, and Blended Learning is especially messy. She loves seeing the light bulbs illuminate above her students' heads when a seemingly chaotic project suddenly clicks into place.
Favorite PBS LearningMedia resource: Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure: Paris

This means that I am lucky enough to join twenty-nine colleagues who are committed to learning more about effective integration of ed tech in the classroom.

It also means I get to attend the first day of ISTE!
Because I am sure I have impostor syndrome, I have been asking myself why I have the honor of receiving this award.  I went over and over my video and essay submissions, and this is what I have decided:  I am a 2015 PBS Learning Media Lead Digital Innovator not just because I want to share my digital learning discoveries with my students, but also because I desperately want to share the roller coaster fun with my colleagues.  I've figured it out: one tiny step beyond your safety line, that's all it takes to hook you.

I'm going to try to hook you by meeting you where you are, just like I do with my students.  You like to lecture?  Ok, let me show how to backchannel using  Today's Meet, a great way to collect students' questions and reactions during your lesson.  You can archive the whole thing--no risk.  If it doesn't work, dump it.

 Do you like bell work?  Let's talk about Answer Garden; you can poll students online before class and discuss their answers as soon as the bell rings.

My point is this: we "digital innovators" need to realize that baby steps are necessary.  Offer one thing only, and if that one thing works. . .offer another.  Years ago, my very wise department head told me, "Students can only really process one lesson at a time.  Teach them ONE THING.  When they have mastered it, move on."  And so it is with teachers.

Where are you on the path of digital innovation?   I'll meet you there.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The "New" Paper

My sophomores finished their persuasive research papers in February, and they presented them as speeches in March.  This took more than a month of preparation: how to research, how to document sources, how to prep a paper, how to edit and revise, and finally how to turn a persuasive paper into a speech for a cause.  It was exhausting for all of us but totally worth it.  I feel confident that my students have practiced good research and writing technique, and I hope they will tap into this process the next time they have to write a formal paper.


Our next composition is a comparison paper, and I thought, "What do students normally compare and why should they care about it?"   The answer is this:  Students are consumers, as any marketing agency knows, and they compare EVERYTHING.  What kinds of research do students do before they make a purchase or use a product?  They read reviews on Amazon, or they watch them on YouTube.  So, I decided to tap into their natural curiosity about the products they consume.  Our comparison paper became a comparison consumer review.

The easy part was teaching them comparison format, and the fun part was showing them embedded YouTube clips of comparisons of fast food.  See James Norton, who used to be Supertaster for Chow.com, review burgers in this clip:

The students loved watching Norton review peanut butter, hot chocolate, you name it.  I loved that we could talk about the structure of his comparisons: Does he use block style or point by point?  How does he remind you of the purpose of his comparisons?

The students also had time to browse written consumer reviews on the web to see what was interesting to them as readers and helpful to them as consumers and what was not.

Then the writing began, and honestly, I thought this would be the easiest part.  Oh, they did a great job with outlines and research, but when it came time to put it all together, they started constructing typical five-paragraph essays.

"Hey!  What are you doing?" I asked the class after seeing students type up neat paragraphs with good topic sentences and quotes from sources to support their points.  "Is this what you would like to read online if you're researching products?"

"Well, no, "they replied, "but isn't this how you write a paper?"

This. Isn't. A. Paper.

It took a class period for me to convince them to support their ideas in other ways than quotes and parenthetical citations.  I reminded them of the pictures and video clips they saw when browsing reviews.  We practiced hyperlinking for the consumer who might want more information.  Finally, I saw some light bulbs going on above students' heads.  Finally, the consumer reviews became relevant to them.

Our next step is publication, but we aren't there yet.  When the editing is done, the students will load their reviews into our Blackboard blog, where they will see all the posts and comment on them.  My hope is that seeing their blog posts online and seeing comments from peers attached to those posts will drive the point home that writing is relevant, and not all writing has to be a formulaic five-paragraph essay--although I'm not knocking formulas or five-paragraph essays; those definitely have their place in the teaching of writing, just not every kind of writing.

Oh, and there is one last benefit to writing comparison consumer reviews:

I don't have to lug these around with me.
Like what you read?  Follow me on Twitter @itibrout!