Laura Rahn: A Year of 1:1, and How It Helped Me Grow as an Educator!

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We are pleased to introduce Laura Rahn, our latest Accessibility Sunday guest blogger! We first met Laura as a fellow participant at the Microsoft Partners in Learning U.S. Innovative Education Forum in 2011 and have crossed paths several times as colleagues at Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia and through our continuing relationship with Microsoft.

Laura was featured on Anthony Salcito’s Daily Edventures blog in July 2013 at http://dailyedventures.com/index.php/2013/07/03/laura_rah/

Here’s her bio! Laura Rahn has been a classroom teacher for 24 years. She has taught 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. She recently switched to the middle school level, and is currently a 7th grade English teacher. She has been involved with Partners in Learning since 2011, when she was invited to participate in the Microsoft Partners in Learning U.S. Forum. She just recently received recognition as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and will be traveling to Barcelona, Spain in March 2014 to participate in the Microsoft in Education Global Forum. When she has time, Laura blogs about her professional experiences at_ http://myadventuretomakeitreal.blogspot.com/

Note: To view any of the graphics in this blog in a larger size, click on the graphics in the photo gallery at the end of the blog. Pic 6e Laura photo

A Year of 1:1, and How It Helped Me Grow as an Educator!

Innovative Educators think outside the box, and find ways to make learning real for their students. In my classroom, I allow my students to feel empowered in their learning. I guide them and provide opportunities for them to create and collaborate with each other. I am not the only teacher in the room; my students know that they are able to help each other. We explore the world. They ask each other questions, and don’t wait for me to lead them. They are decision makers. My most innovative teaching practices vary day to day.

Having taught for 23 years, I was at a transitional time period in my career. I was at a crossroads; trying to decide how to challenge myself, yet also provide opportunities for my students to become 21st century learners and develop technology skills that will empower them in the future. Through a pilot program with Microsoft and Dell, I was able to create that climate for my 4th grade students during the 2012-13 academic year. Each student in my classroom had a Windows 8 device on their desk and had access to it at any time during the school day. We were creating a 1:1 classroom, and all of the possibilities that came with it!

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4th grade students displaying their personalized start screens on their Windows 8 laptops

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The learning that took place that year, and the higher level skills that were being developed were incredible. What I witnessed during this past year wasn’t just about professional development for myself, but about what students are really capable of, if they are given the tools and the opportunities!

I am a classroom teacher of all academic levels of students. Differentiation of instruction is the key to reaching all learners successfully. Through technology, I have witnessed student learning transform before my eyes. The gifted students are no longer bored, and are being challenged in creative and innovative ways. The remedial students are doing the same assignments, alongside the gifted students and no one sees the differentiation that is happening because of the technology. I have seen self-confidence increase. I have seen off task students complete assignments at a faster pace. By using technology as another tool in my classroom, my students are working at their level, utilizing their individual strengths to improve, and are proud of what they are accomplishing. They want to share with their peers, and are not embarrassed by what they are doing. Is every student accomplishing the same thing? No, but is every student demonstrating academic growth and improvement? Yes!

The progress and success that all students experienced was definitely due to the accessibility of the curriculum through technology. With this video game generation, students who were identified with special needs academically were excelling with the technology. There were cases where the lower level students were providing instruction and guidance, with the tech tools, to the higher level students. The barriers were erased and peer interaction and the ability to achieve was on an even level for all.

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The students were able to collaborate and create in a variety of locations.

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Student choice was a big part of our 1:1 classroom.

Here is a link to a video that was created by Loudoun County Public Schools highlighting the project that my fourth grade students were involved in: http://vimeo.com/68643894

As the year progressed, I was again looking for new challenges for myself, and chose to apply and transfer from the elementary school level to middle school. I am currently teaching, during the 2013-2014 school year, 7th grade English at a neighboring middle school. I was not able to take the Windows 8 devices with me to the middle school, but I was able to take everything that I learned during my year of being immersed in a 1:1 setting.

The experience I had and the knowledge I gained about how to use technology as a tool have enabled me to innovatively use the laptop carts, and provide some similar experiences for my middle school English students. Again, I have noticed that if you provide the opportunities, the students will embrace them and create their own challenges and opportunities.

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Middle school students blogging, while using the laptop carts that travel around the school

In 7th grade we have created student blogs, and have reached beyond the classroom, to the world. My 7th grade students are writing for authentic audiences, and have connected with other students as close as Georgia and Illinois, and as far away as Vietnam. We have found other ways to share our knowledge, beyond the traditional paper/pencil. The students are being given an open ended task and are told to “create.” The creation, through PowerPoint or Word or even a movie file, becomes their own and they have ownership. It is not just an assignment to be handed into the teacher. The final products are being posted on their blogs and being shared with their new audiences.

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Middle school students engaged in differentiated instruction using the laptops

A goal of integrating technology tools into a classroom is to weave the tool into the instruction, and not as an add-on. The technology becomes part of the instruction. The students receive the instruction from the teacher, and then apply what they have learned in unique and differentiated ways using technology tools, whether it be websites, productivity tools, or social learning sites such as Edmodo or Kidblog.

I am a teacher that likes change! From my first day of teaching 24 years ago, I have never been scared to do something no one else was doing. I try to be an innovator, always on the lookout for new ideas. I am not hesitant to ask questions. As a self-proclaimed Disney fan, I live by Walt Disney’s famous quote, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I have high expectations for myself and big dreams – and I believe in setting high expectations for my students and encouraging them to follow their dreams. I like to say my classroom is an example of structured chaos. To the casual observer my classroom might look noisy and unruly, but when you enter you will see that every students is on task and focused on their job, and collaboration and peer-to-peer interaction is abundant. I help my students to see that We Are All Teachers – each with our own unique strengths and weaknesses. I am not the only teacher in the classroom, and we can all learn from each other… and the world around us!

Pictures and videos

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