These days, keeping the attention of a group of teenagers can be a struggle—especially in the classroom. At a time when tweets, pins and viral videos are just a click away, how can teachers compete with technology? For Kelli Etheredge, the answer is simple. Embrace it.
Etheredge is a 10th grade World Literature teacher, mentor instructor and Teaching and Learning Resources Director for St. Paul’s Episcopal School. In her classroom, technology and academics go hand in hand. So much so that she was selected to take part in Microsoft's Expert Educator program, a program created to recognize educators and schools worldwide who are using technology to transform education.
Etheredge was selected by Microsoft for her use of technology to drive student attainment, specifically the “Don't Bog the Dog” campaign she and her students created last spring. As part of the program, Etheredge will have the opportunity to work closely with Microsoft to lead innovation in education, mentor other educators and attend the Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Barcelona, Spain this month. During her trip, Etheredge will present the work of her students from the “Don't Bog the Dog” project to a global audience on March 11.
Here, we sit down with Etheredge to talk more about her teaching style and the project that earned her a ticket to Spain.
What are some of the most effective ways you’ve integrated technology in the classroom?
Technology in my classroom is ubiquitous. It isn't an add on; it is simply how we accomplish our goals. The most effective use of technology integration is the use of OneNote and OneDrive in the classroom. These programs allow me to create a collaborative environment where we can all share our work immediately both in and out of the classroom. Our work is not limited to the 50 minutes we spend in class; we can work whenever and wherever we want.
Tell us a little bit about the “Don’t Bog the Dog” campaign and how it came about.
It all started with a writing assignment. I assigned an informative research paper with a philanthropy focus and told the students I wanted them to choose an environmental topic that interested them. As they researched, I challenged them to find a local tie. When the research was complete, they wrote an informative essay on their chosen topic. They went through five drafts of their paper before it was ready for publication. They found pictures to complement their articles, and then we combined the essays together to make a class magazine.
I am sure the students thought they were finished at this point, but instead I asked them to share their findings about local environmental concerns with their peers. Then, we decided which local concern we would tackle by creating a media campaign. One class chose to break up into four groups with each group focusing on a different topic; my other class decided they wanted to work as one large team on the litter problem in Dog River. The class broke into subcommittees similar to a real work force – logos, social media, fundraising, copy, news/ads – everyone worked together to build the campaign. The teamwork was amazing. Each subcommittee worked toward their goals and then reported back to the larger group for final approval.
During the process, working with adults in the community was an incredible boost for the students' confidence. Kinnon Phillips was kind enough to visit the class to teach the students more about media campaigns and offer feedback on the products they were creating. Alan Tolson, manager of Carpe Diem, was an absolutely amazing mentor for the fundraising committee and worked with them to coordinate a fundraising project.
How do your students respond to your method of teaching?
My students respond positively to problem based learning. Everyone wants to have a purpose, and they love it when they feel their school work is meaningful. When we started the “Don't Bog the Dog” project, many of the students questioned whether their work would really have an impact. One even asked, “Who is going to listen to a bunch of teenagers?”
By the end of the project, they saw the power of their work. They were so energized by their work and the results that many of them continued the work even after the school year ended, organizing a clean-up day at Navco Boat Launch on Dog River in June and promoting the sale of their coffee blend in August and September. It became clear that getting a grade wasn't as important as making a difference.
In 140 characters or less, tell us what you love about teaching.
I love helping students see they are smarter and stronger than they ever imagined.
Aside from the forum, what are you looking forward to most about traveling to Barcelona?
When I ran track at Auburn, I dreamed of being in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. I didn't get there obviously, but I feel like I am finally going to the Olympics. I cannot wait to be in the place I have dreamed about visiting since I was in college.
text by Abby Parrott