Ashley and Chris used to teach kindergarten in the Midwest. Now, they both work at eSpark. In the following interview, find out what inspired them to work in edtech and why they're so excited about classroom technology. This is the second installment of a series of interviews about the importance of technology in education. To read part one, click here.
What is the biggest challenge that you faced as a teacher?
Ashley - One of the biggest challenges I faced as a teacher was differentiating instruction for ELA. There was a lot of pressure on kindergarteners to be able to read at the end of the year. The huge range in abilities, from students already reading well above grade level to students who didn’t recognize letters, made differentiation challenging.
Chris - Differentiation. When I taught fifth grade, I had students who came in at the beginning of the year not understanding two-digit addition while others were solving algebra problems in their free time. Trying to meet each student at his or her level was exceptionally challenging.
"I had students who came in at the beginning of the year not understanding two-digit addition while others were solving algebra problems in their free time. Trying to meet each student at his or her level was exceptionally challenging."
When did you feel most successful as a teacher?
Ashley - I felt most successful as a teacher when students applied the skills and strategies they learned during language arts to their own reading without having to be prompted. Reading is a huge factor in supporting a student’s success in school and later in life. Seeing students reading independently is so exciting because, to me, it shows a developing independence.
Chris - Kindergarten graduation. Though the planning process was often chaotic, the process always demonstrated just how far each student had come over the course of one school year. Compiling work from August to June and seeing how my students progressed from not being able to write individual letters to organizing their thoughts and writing stories about their life was incredible. The amount of growth possible, in both academic and nonacademic areas, never failed to amaze me.
What led you to eSpark?
Ashley - While teaching, I started to realize how common it is to find technology in classrooms. I had access to an iPad cart and used it often with my students. This really sparked an interest in instructional technology. During this time I was also going to grad school and ended up writing a thesis about how the use of technology affects literacy in elementary students. My interests in effective technology integration is what lead me to look at what edtech companies are doing. eSpark’s holistic approach to purposeful technology use caught my eye.
Chris - Serendipity. While on a retreat for former volunteer teachers I met Maren, then on the Learning Design team, who enthusiastically described eSpark and her role. I was immediately fascinated and we kept in touch. Eventually a position on the team opened, and I jumped at the opportunity. I was, and still am, fascinated by and passionate about how students learn. In my classroom one of the biggest hurdles I faced was time. There wasn’t enough time in the day to plan meaningful lessons for every subject, particularly for the wide range of needs in my classroom. eSpark is a place where I am able to take my time and think deeply about every activity, question, and feature students will see.
"I think that while it’s important to remember that instructional technology isn’t going to be a panacea for student achievement, the right technology will empower teachers to give each student the support and attention that she or he needs."
How has your time in the classroom influenced how you think about edtech and the importance of technology in education?
Ashley - My experience as a teacher means that I’m very aware of implementation details and what it takes to introduce new tools, solutions, and ideas in the classroom. Adopting and embracing change and new ideas can be hard when you already have great procedures in place. I think it’s really important for administrators and teachers to all be on board when trying out new technologies. How will administrators support new instructional technology so that teachers are successful when using it with their students? How will teachers integrate these new tools with their vision, procedures, and existing culture? How will students respond? I think that while it’s important to remember that instructional technology isn’t going to be a panacea for student achievement, the right technology will empower teachers to give each student the support and attention that she or he needs.
Chris - Since differentiation was one of my biggest challenges, it has had the biggest influence on my views of edtech. Using outdated, static textbooks or basals are not effective or engaging methods of reaching every student in a classroom. Technology is a dynamic way to engage students, understand their needs, and provide them with on-level content that’s both up-to-date and relevant to their interests. This is not to say technology solves every problem for a teacher, but when effectively used in tandem with great educators, districts can see some really powerful results.
Recognizing the importance of technology in education, Nekoosa partnered with eSpark to differentiate learning.
Click below to read their implementation story.