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8 educators share back-to-school priorities

Common Core, technology use and integration are among back-to-school goals for the new school year

teacher-schoolA new school year brings with it new priorities for school administrators, teachers, and ed-tech leaders. Focusing on Common Core learning goals, integrating technology into lessons, and expanding students’ opportunity for project-based learning experiences are just some of the new initiatives and objectives educators have identified for the 2014-2015 school year.

eSchool News asked a range of educators, including our own Advisory Board members and educators belonging to the Discovery Educator Network (DEN), to share their own goals for the new year. Using their responses, we’ve compiled a quick look at some of the top back-to-school priorities.

What are some of your top priorities for this new school year? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, or tweet Managing Editor Laura Devaney @eSN_Laura.

(Next page: The top back-to-school goals)

Ian Jukes, eSN Advisory Board Member, Teacher, Administrator, Co-Developer of the K-8 Technology Framework TechWorks

The point I always try to make at the beginning of a school year is that technology is not a curriculum. It’s not a subject–it is a tool to facilitate the learning process. Using technology in the classroom is not about showing students how to use PowerPoint or Word–it’s about helping students to learn all of the things that make up the essential new basics for the 21st century. We could put a state-of-the-art tablet, laptop, or other such device in the hands of every single student, every single teacher, every single administrator–and if that’s all we do, the only thing that will change is that the power bill will go up.

The killer app, best one-to-one device and most powerful technology in the classroom for the 21st century is and will continue to be a classroom teacher. But not just any classroom teacher–it must be a teacher with a love of learning, an appreciation of the aesthetic, the esoteric, the ethical and the moral, a teacher who understands Bloom, Gardner, and Piaget, an individual who understands that different students learn at different rates and in different ways.

For that reason, the fundamental issue we’re facing at the start of the school year has far less to do with a focus on hardware than it has to do with a focus on headware—creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, global awareness , digital collaboration…all of the new basics for the 21st century. The use of technology must align with our learning intentions, not our learning intentions aligning with our technology intentions.


Shannon McClintock Miller, eSN Advisory Board Member, District Teacher Librarian and Technology Specialist, Van Meter Community School, Iowa

One of the things we are all hearing a lot about is Makerspaces. We got rid of our library office last spring and had the kids create a new Makerspace there. We just started adding things such as a 3D printer, LittleBits, and LEGO Robotics at the end of the year. The students loved coming to the space and are very excited to continue their creating and collaboration there this fall.


David Tchozewski, Director of Information Technology and DEN Member, Jenison Public Schools
District, Michigan

In the last three years, we have been able to significantly improve and increase our educational technology resources in our district. My biggest priority for this year will be to assist and support our teachers and students in making the best use of the available technology to improve teaching and learning.

I want my fellow educators to know that they are not alone in their educational journey. My technology department is ready to assist classroom teachers with seamlessly delivering technology enhanced lessons.

One of my goals is to help our staff and students make better use of the resources in which we have invested. That includes getting all of our teachers and students to regularly access online services to which we have subscribed. Another goal is to develop a plan for technology device replacement when we have a very limited budget.

Our biggest challenge will be to try to keep up with current trends in educational technology (Maker Movement, 3D printing) with limited financial resources.


Jennifer Wagner, K-6 Lab Instructor and IT/Help Desk and DEN Member, Calvary Murrieta Christian Schools, California

My emphasis in the computer lab will be CREATIVITY. We have painted the wall green (for video), we have rearranged the room so that students can work in groups, individually, in chairs, and in comfy areas. We will be involved with a lot of software on our laptops, many apps on our iPads, as well as play-doh, clay, crayons, straws, and more.

There are hundreds of educators with brilliant ideas, suggestions, and help available through Discovery Educators and Twitter. Don’t be afraid or reluctant to ask for help–and also be willing to share ideas as well.

This year, one of my top goals is to start editing video. Start creating original music for video. Not be the SAME teacher with SAME exact lesson plans from 2013-2014

I think Common Core will still be debated. Project-based learning will become much more noticed by many. Collaborative learning will be a “buzz” word and many will be looking for ways to connect.

I believe we will see a shift in BIG conferences to “build your own” professional development and will see many BIG companies adapting to shift their focus from creating ideas for the masses to increased personalization. As we shift to “build your own” professional development, I believe we will also see students start expecting “build your own” school curriculum & study.


Dacia Jones, Area Instructional Facilitator and DEN Member, Durham Public Schools, North Carolina

This year, my priority is encouraging every teacher to build relationships with each student and define the relevancy of what they are going to teach.

We MUST build opportunities into every day for students to learn how to critically think. This can be through designing, creating, and sharing. Failure is always an option. (First attempt in learning.)

Teachers are going to be working on the “sharing” part of ed tech. We want our students to know how to publish their works and reflect on it. (Blogging and SKYPING opportunities.)

Time management and teaching in the moment will be among the biggest issues. Testing will always be the stumbling block.


Nancy Sharoff, Teacher on Special Assignment and DEN Member, Ellenville Central School District, New York

I’m making it a priority to embark on a learning journey with my students into the world of coding. I want my students to see that I continue to learn and struggle and seek help and that through supporting each other we will make great things happen!

Educators should most definitely be aware of coding and Maker Faires–the potential of having our students excel in these two arenas is so exciting!

I will be teaching technology to all 4th grade students one day a week this year and I plan on developing learning experiences which embed Digital Citizenship into every lesson, rather than teaching that topic as a stand-alone unit.

How to creatively fund existing and new projects will be among the biggest issues — so many of the applications and websites that were once free are now embracing a subscription model.


David Fisher, STEM Resource Teacher/Learning Team Facilitator and DEN Member, Whispering Pines Elementary School, School District Palm Beach, Florida

As I’m implementing a STEM Resource classroom in a school that didn’t have that before, I’m focusing on increasing the use of technology across the curriculum in grades 3-5 through the activities that I will be doing in my classroom during the time the students are with me. I’m part of the fine arts team and will have classes every 6 days for 30 minutes. In addition, I’m the school’s learning team facilitator and will run all of the learning team meetings. In this role I will be focusing on assisting the teachers with a deeper understanding of our standards, our units of study, and helping them gain some balance throughout their reading blocks.

I want fellow educators to be cognizant that they don’t have to go it alone. There are great resources out there for the asking. Join a PLN, like the DEN, or any other. Ask for ideas, suggestions, thoughts, etc. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Ask someone who’s done it how it was done.

Moving from a 1:1 iPad school where I was in charge of that program to a school without iPads, my top ed-tech goals are to increase my use of great web based tools and apps, have students create videos and digital photo projects that show mastery of the concepts of my classroom, mentor the teachers at school in designing and implementing ed-tech projects in their classrooms, and to work with the administration to continue their ed-tech growth over the year.

I think the big issue this year will be getting teachers to understand that it’s really easy, and effective, to connect technology to mastery of the standards.


Cheryl Lykowski, 2nd Grade Teacher and DEN Member, Monroe Road Elementary School, Bedford Public Schools, Virginia

My priority for my classroom this year is making sure my students make as many connections to real-world experts outside of their classroom. I want them to understand that they are a small part of a larger community and there are so many things for them to learn outside of our classroom walls.

I want other educators know that even on the busiest, most hectic day in the classroom, try to find a little time to explore the passions and joy that each of their students hold inside.

My biggest ed-tech related goal for the year is not only use Skype and Google Hangouts to make connections outside of the classroom, but to record the students experiences and learning and share that out to the world as well.

Time is the biggest issue. As educators, we have a specified curriculum to teach within a specified amount of time and we are more often than not, caught up in the ‘required’ moment. We struggle to slow down to savor the real moments and the joys that are happening within our classroom.


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