Educator Spotlight: Building a Class Community with Anna Greenberg
Back in March, we interviewed Hanna Shekhter, Education Technology Specialist at Brauser Maimonides Academy, who shared her innovative methodology for Embedded Professional Development. In this new Educator Spotlight, you’ll get to hear from one of the teachers on Hanna’s team, Anna Greenberg. Anna explains how Embedded Professional Development has helped her bring technology to the classroom. She also shares how technology is motivating her students to learn and helping to build community at the same time.
Anna Greenberg is a native of St. Louis who attended Brandeis University, graduating with a dual degree in Near-Eastern Judaic Studies and Elementary Education. She has a master’s degree in reading education from George Mason University. Before coming to Brauser Maimonides Academy (BMA), Anna spent nine years teaching first and second grade at various Jewish day schools in Annapolis, Washington D.C., Memphis, and Aventura, Florida. She is proud to have been part of the BMA faculty in Hollywood, Florida for the last 14 years, where she lives with her husband Ben and three children ages 14, 12, and 9. At BMA, Anna has taught grades 2 and 3, and also worked as the writing specialist for grades 1-5 for 3 years. Currently, she is in her fifth year of teaching 5th grade.
When did you decide you wanted to be a teacher?
When I was very young - 3rd grade. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher!
How did you learn how to integrate technology into your classroom?
One of the most effective ways I’ve learned has been the Embedded Professional Development with Hanna. She’ll come up with resources she knows about, and then we’ll work together on preparing everything. She’ll come into the classroom and lead the way, and then I’ll own it eventually. It’s very effective to have professional development live-action in the classroom, with support from someone who has more expertise. Hannah provides that for us.
I’ve also learned from workshops outside of school. I’ll hear about how to use tools like Nearpod and will work to figure it out. I’ll then come to Hanna with it and we’ll work together on figuring out how to integrate it into the classroom. I’m very open to trying new things. I’ll find out about new tools from Hanna. She is great about seeing what’s out there and sending us an email to tell us about it. Sometimes I’ll find out about tools from conferences, but most of the time it’s from observing another teacher using the tool or hearing about it from Hanna.
Can you walk me through some ways your students are using technology for learning?
On a very basic level, they all have Google accounts with their own email. They use Drive to publish and do their own drafting for assignments. Using Drive means their writing is now editable and revision ready. They can share their writing with me, we can have a text conversation in the comments, I can share ideas and suggestions, and so on. That’s been a great addition to our writing program.
We’ve also used KidBlog. The students set up blogs and complete different responses. They create a dialogue with each other. For example, we’ll go on a field trip and afterwards they’ll post something about the trip and will respond to each other. When we read novels, I’ll post a question and they have to respond to my question as well as have a dialogue with their peers.
To build a reading community, we’ve used Padlet. I set up a contest as a way to get them to read outside of school. When they finished reading a book, they would then post about it on Padlet and write who they think will also like reading it. It’s my way of getting feedback to see if they read the book, and it’s also great because they can see what their friends are reading by checking the Padlet “bulletin board.”
I hear that your students do fun webquests. How do those work?
I’ll go online and find a great website they can explore. For example, for Thanksgiving I had the students go to the virtual website of Plimoth Plantation. They’ll go to different areas of the website and answer questions. As they go through eventually they’ll do more self-propelled research. We also do the same kind of webquests for the 13 Colonies unit. Computer-based research is important, so I make it a center activity as well. I’ll give them a specific website to visit, and they’ll just grab an iPad and work on their research. We’ll have open classroom time where five students might be in a corner with iPads, and then I’ll be able to work with a small group.
What are some advantages of using technology in the classroom?
Students can have more choices. For instance, at the beginning, everyone will learn how to make a Glogster, Prezi, PowerPoint, etc. Then once they learn the basics of those tools, it’s another tool in their belt and another choice they can make in how they want to make a presentation. Especially as I move toward UDL (Universal Design for Learning) and differentiation, I definitely give them more and more choices.
Differentiation is much easier with technology. We use IXL a ton and for differentiation, it’s huge because of all the data. I’ll have students practice previously learned topics in IXL to help them keep up those skills while they continue to learn new ones. Then I can use the data there to see if they’re doing the practice and if they’re making progress. The program informs my own teaching and how I’ll assign them work in the future. If I see children excelling in skills, then I can give them more challenging work. So IXL is something I use for practice, motivation, data collection, and assessment.
The most obvious advantage of technology is that it is highly motivational to the students. It can be very interactive for them; therefore, they have to be more active learners. They can’t be passive. Students also have instant access to the material. You can give them all subjects, in different modalities, on all levels. Technology is also their language at this point. You have to speak their language. It will be the language when they head out into the world, and you have to prepare them for modalities and language that they’re going to encounter out in the world. It’s important for me to go out of my own comfort zone, so I can be where the world is at this point and help my students be there, too.
What have been students’ reactions to using technology for learning?
It really depends on the student. They do take a technology class that includes simple learning, because they need basic tech skills like how to use Gmail, attach a document, create a link, etc. The students who know more become the helpers. So we don’t assume they know how to use everything, but those who know it very well quickly become helpers. They’ll put images in, attach video clips, and more to help their friends.
What has been the most rewarding part of teaching with technology?
I have loved the blogging. It’s really inspiring and exciting when the students dialogue with each other about different topics and are debating on the blog. I’ve also loved seeing them so involved and super excited when we use Kahoot! I also like when the students feel like IXL is exciting and they want to do more there. Voki, Powtoon, and Prezi are another highlight - to see the students’ creativity, and excitement about their creations is really fabulous.
Yonah Kirschner, former Project Manager, Digital Content and Communications at The Jewish Education Project.