Synthesis Essay

Starting With a Spark and Building a Fire…

By Kimberly Powell

A spark begins…

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to be a teacher.  One of my favorite things about my career is that I have always enjoyed the adventure, and looking forward to what is yet to come.   Students are my inspiration and continue to push me to provide the best learning experience in the classroom.   When I first began exploring with technology in my classroom, a new wave of enthusiasm came over my students.   They were engaged, creative, and curious!  Seeing content through digital tools, and connecting with students throughout the country allowed them to experience an urge to dig deeper into their content.  Learning didn’t begin and end by the school bell.  Rather, they were going home and extending their learning outside of the classroom.   They were beginning to navigate their own learning, while also becoming proficient in their grade level skills.  Their enthusiasm sparked my passion for learning.

 I wanted to discover how to create blended learning opportunities for my students, as well as effectively integrate digital technologies  that would prepare them with the skills that were needed in the future.  I was excited to deepen my own understanding of educational technology, and immediately began looking at Michigan State University and their course offerings. After graduating 16 years prior from Michigan State University with a degree in Elementary Education, I was ready to return and begin a new journey into the Master’s program in Educational Technology.

Flickers of Success…

Throughout my program, there are a few main components that continue to develop and evolve in my growth as a teacher and learner.  These components include the importance of a professional learning network,  providing differentiated learning opportunities using Universal Design for Learning principles to best meet the needs of all learners, as well as successfully integrating technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge to provide the ultimate learning experience for students.  There are several examples of these elements in my coursework.

The summer of 2011 I spent my first semester in the Master’s program in the East Lansing summer cohort. During that time I was able to connect with my classmates on campus for direct instruction for two weeks, which then led to four weeks in the online environment.   The first essential element of establishing our professional learning network to communicate with one another in the online environment became an integral piece of the program that continues to help me grow as a professional.  Using social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, provided connections, collaborations, as well as sharing of professional resources.  Crafting a social presence continued to build throughout the summer as our professional learning network continued to grow.

Throughout the summer cohort, I worked on coursework from CEP 810, CEP 811, and CEP 812 with instructors Jodi Spicer and Allison Keller.   One of the assignments that focused on the importance of differentiated tools and learning, was the Multi- Genre project.  During this assignment we were to explore a variety of technology tools to show a multi-representation of a piece of literature.     This gave us the opportunity to showcase this piece of literature through multiple perspectives.  This correlates to differentiated opportunities we want to provide in our own classrooms.  Students come to our classrooms with particular strengths.  It is important we provide extensions that build upon their strengths and demonstrate creativity.   I created a website to showcase the different digital technologies I chose to represent the story Extra Credit, by  Andrew Clements.  This website showcases graphic organizing tools, creation of animated avatars, a multimedia poster, as well as an iMovie .  Each tool demonstrates a different perspective on the story.  This, in turn, allows the reader to get a deeper understanding of the elements of the story.  I continue to model and share this website with students and teachers to demonstrate all the possibilities and opportunities that technology allows us to share in ways that simply aren’t possible without it.   I also created an “I believe” podcast to share our beliefs on the importance of integrating technology, pedagogy, as well as content knowledge to provide the best learning experience for our students.   I believe that providing 21st century learning in classrooms today is essential for students.  Fostering creativity, collaboration, and connections are just a few of the benefits.  In order to provide a high standard of learning, I believe we must first look at our goals. Punya Mishra states “Teachers are designers of the total package”.   Presenting this total package provides the best experiences for our students.  Our goal should combine our use of technology, the pedagogy of teaching, as well as our content knowledge into a “sweet spot” for learning.   This concept is otherwise known as TPACK.  The idea of TPACK should be the focus of all educators to examine the total design of the learning experience in the classroom.

My professional learning network continued to grow and provide resources as I began creating my own online course in CEP 820, Teaching K12 Students Online,  with instructors Michelle Hagerman and Sarah Beauchamp Hicks.  This was my first experience in creating a course through a learning management system.  I researched, examined, and explored a variety of learning management systems that could be effective in created a blended learning opportunity for my classroom.  I created a course for my social studies content, which would provide students the opportunity to experience a blended learning curriculum.  Students would build digital literacy skills, as they navigated the course.  Throughout the class work, we continually examined best practices for online learning, as well as evaluating content by universal design for learning principles, use of digital citizenship,  as well as the best use of the NETS, or National Educational Technology Standards.   Throughout this course I highlighted the research, pedagogy, and skills used in the blended learning course in a notebook  that demonstrates the incorporation of these elements, as well as my rationale, that I will continue to use as a guide to create  online/blended opportunities for students as well as educators in the future.  This coursework contains all the essential elements to extend professional learning communities, differentiated learning opportunities, as well as the TPACK model into an online course that I had created for the students in my classroom.

The 2012 East Lansing summer cohort program focused on courses CEP 800, CEP 815, and CEP 822, facilitated by instructors Punya Mishra, Laura Terry, and David Goodrich.   Throughout the six weeks we examined  pedagogy and learning in various settings, leadership in educational technology, as well as approaches to educational research and transformative learning opportunities. One project that encapsulates all of these areas, was the Dream It Project, which shares a proposal to provide a transformative learning experience for the classroom.  My particular project focuses on our school improvement goal to enhance our students use of details in their writing, through varied online resources accessible through mobile devices.  The particular proposal examines the context, content, pedagogy, and technology to provide transformative learning in the classroom.   It shares the development of digital literacy and technologies, meets diverse needs of UDL principles, develops the social and ethical uses of technology, builds creativity and critical thinking skills, as well as demonstrates effective uses of professional development and educational leadership.   This project has students building their own learning network to collaborate and create differentiated writing assignments to best meet their needs, while also modeling the TPACK framework in the classroom.  Throughout our summer coursework we also gained extensive knowledge in specific technology skills such as video editing, design, and multimedia representations that is demonstrated  in the Understanding, Understanding project.  This was a collaborative project  built upon researching misconceptions and its impact on the understanding of a rainbow.

As I approach the end of the program, I am able to reflect and synthesize all of my coursework during CEP 807 with Matthew Koehler.  Examining common threads throughout my coursework and how they are strengthened in each course, provides the ideal setting to move forward and advance in my career . Demonstrating my knowledge that I have gained throughout the program, as well as evidence of these skills is essential to share with my professional learning network in a way that is effectively designed. These skills allow me the opportunity to share and model what I have learned in my new role as a leader in educational technology.    Building a resume to demonstrate the skills that I have learned and mastered, as well as the opportunities I have gained in educational leadership, clearly provide a clear picture on how the MAET program has impacted my life as an educator.  Evaluating and designing an effective display to showcase the projects I have created is an essential element in modeling effective integration of educational technology, that I hope to share and model with other teachers.  My technology showcase exhibits collaborations and connections that I have build throughout the program. Growing and sharing in the power of a professional learning network, will allow for collaborations  and creations of differentiated learning opportunities for students, as well as teachers through a blended learning environment.  Finally, modeling and sharing the importance of integrating technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge  with teachers and students, which is demonstrated in my coursework examples,  completely encapsulates the ideal learning experience that will prepare students, as well as teachers, for the future.

Blazing ahead….

In my new position as an educational technology consultant, I look forward to applying my educational leadership skills.  I will model and share not only what I have learned from the MAET program at Michigan State University, but also from the network of educators that I have connected with throughout the program.  Staying active in the social media community through chats, collaborative projects, and conferences are a few ways that will continue to keep the spark alive to grow as a learner in educational technology.   Meeting with teachers and sharing the importance of TPACK, as well as the unlimited possibilities to differentiate instruction with digital technologies is essential in my role as a leader.   In a society that is constantly filled with change and technological advances, it is important to stay current on trends, tools, as well as educational movements that are impacting the use of technology in the classroom.   I hope to pass along the spark my students initiated in me, and begin building fires of inspiration to other educators as I continue on my journey in educational technology.

Photo taken by Andrew Malone

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