How do you keep up with the Joneses when the Joneses are 5th grade tech wizes? Such is the dilemma facing many teachers in schools throughout the U.S. In order to run an interesting and effective classroom, teachers need to integrate technology that educates but also does not bore students. Teachers need to consistently change their approach to the classic model of teaching by adopting interesting technology and altering learning methods to their curriculum.
One such teacher is Alicia Moss, 5th grade instructor at Meadowlark Elementary in Andover, KS. Moss has been using complex integrated technology in her classroom recommended and shaped by her technologically savvy students. Together, Moss and her students have created a culture of exciting learning in an environment that is both mentally and physically active.
Rod Berger: 5th grade is such a pivotal time. I think back to when I was a 5th grader and understanding what it must mean for young people at this stage of their education and how they relate socially. What’s it like for you to teach 5th grade when you think about all the things that 5th graders now are exposed to – with technology and the different ways to connect with the world. I know I didn’t have the opportunity to utilize the technology when I was in 5th grade. What is it like for you being their teacher and seeing that world?
Alicia Moss: Honestly, there was a huge shift in mindset for me last year. My kids were very cutting-edge, and they knew so much technology that there was no way that I was going to be able to do the things I did the year before because they would have been bored and it would not have worked for them. That’s when I had to push myself and think outside my box to make them think outside their box. They were like no class I’d ever had. The amount of technology that they had in their homes was crazy. They had stuff that I said, “Oh, cool. Let’s get this to our class.” They replied, “Oh, yeah. We have that.” And then I said, “Oh, no!”
RB: You were late to the party, right?
AM: I was. I am not like that. I do not want to be late. I’m very competitive; I want to be first to everything. We can have so much fun because they’re independent and have very young minds. They want to take in everything. And that’s the reason why I will never go to middle schools because I feel it stops at 5th grade. They want to know everything and they get excited when I brought something to the table last year. I was excited because I knew they were excited.
If you could see my classroom, it has changed this year because I feel every year I have to change. I need to keep getting better, and the new thing is flexible seating, and I noticed that is a big deal. I had so many kids that wanted to stand, and not sit. That doesn’t bother me but it bothered me when they were in the middle of my classroom, and they were blocking somebody else. This year, I made that not an issue. We have all kinds of seating options here, and when they came for “Meet Your Teacher Night” (last night,) they were blown away. They were so excited because they’ve got to pick anywhere, maybe on a couch. Maybe they wanted to sit on the big oversized chair. Maybe they wanted to sit on the ground. I love 5th grade because they are pushing me to push them and there’s never a dull moment. I like change, and we like to flip and move things around, and we change all the time. So they keep me young, that’s why. That’s why I like to be with them.
RB: Do you find that when you’re looking at the technology because they’re bringing it to you? There’s going to be technology that you are exposed to that they are not just because they’re not looking for educational resources in that way. Do you find that you know them so well now that your eye is so much more critical in what you’re looking for in the ways in which you are evaluating technology because you know what they are going to utilize? How has that changed over time based on what you’ve seen from the technology they’ve been bringing to you? It seems like you have to translate a little bit because of what they’re using at home or with their friends.
RB: Here’s what I need them to do. Or something similar –
RB: – And here’s sort of a happy middle. How does that process work for you?
AM: Well, I was able to get their feedback, and specifically, I was looking at Sphero’s and a lot of them had them at home. And I said, “So what do you do with it? Tell me about it? What is it?” So I got their feedback, and then I did my stalking on Twitter. I had to look at what people were doing on Twitter to see how they are making it educational. How are they taking this robot that the kids are using for fun, and they are driving it all over their house? What are they doing? How does that apply to 5th grade? I had to look at – is it worth it? Is it one? Are we going to use it for one activity the entire year or are we able to take it and move cross-curricular to be able to do it? And as my cool background, you can see –
RB: I love that.
AM: Right there. Yes. My kids use Sphero in art to create that mural, and at the end of the year, they wanted to take it with them. I was like, “Oh, but no, I can’t. I love it. Come on. No. Maybe a different time.” And they were like, “Come on.” I have to constantly get their opinion because they are the ones that are interested and then, obviously, they have it at home. What can I do in the classroom now to make it educational with the device they already know?
RB: How have you found technology to change your outlook on the way in which you teach because, now, it sounds like you’ve actively embraced it over the last two years. You’ve said, “Okay, this is the new path I’m going down.” How do you look at it from your profession and the ways in which you look at things you want to learn more about from a professional learning, professional development standpoint? Forecasting out into the world where you’re fully integrated. They’re using the Sphero, maybe they’re presenting and using other technology, and maybe they’re combining group work and sharing that virtually through different means and mediums. How do you forecast out and how do you think about it regarding your role?
AM: I feel like, even when I was a kid, I was more of the vocal one. I like to talk. And therefore, I got put into the leadership role. When I first started in this building, I wasn’t that way because I was getting my footing, getting my groove to figure out what I was doing. Now that I have found this new path that I am very passionate about, I share it all down my hall, down my building, down the district, down the street, and with my friends in other districts, all over Twitter – because I can. I think there is excitement from me that’s transferred to my colleagues, to people in my building, they see it and then they want to do it – a case in point being the flexible seating.
Over the summer, it was being documented that my husband was making tables for me and this was what I was going to do. We came back, and the 4th and 5th grades in my building, all of them, are doing flexible seating this year. They didn’t want it to be only my room that had flexible seating, so they had to jump on board with the idea. When you present the research, and you present the opportunities that are out there, it’s kind of hard to argue. It’s hard to say, “Oh, that’s not a good idea,” even though they’re going to get a lot of movement and they’re going to stay awake longer. It’s hard to argue with what’s best for kids.
RB: I hope it’s obvious to the audience the energy that you bring even just to this interview. I can only imagine what it’s like for the 5th graders to experience. There are terms like, “trailblazer” and “change agents,” those are important terms out there when we’re talking about an industry that sometimes just needs a little bit of a nudge and a push to provide thoughtful resources and ideas. There’s so much going on at all different points in the school year and even during the summer trying to prep for the next year. Your husband making tables is a good example.
Well, it’s been great to get to know you, and I look forward to following you. You just talked about social media. Where can people follow you and your energy in social media?
RB: Wonderful. Well, keep up the great work, and I do love that artwork behind you. That’s great, and it’s a terrific example for the next incoming class.
RB: Thank you so much.
AM: Thank you so much.