Garth Holman and Chardon’s Michael Pennington quickly found out how hard it was to coordinate an effective Skype lesson between their respective classes. There were the typical roadblocks, like scheduling, Internet connection and getting a sufficient camera — and then there were the kids who, naturally, acted like kids once they saw themselves on camera.
“Once we got over the initial shock value of kids being kids on camera it really took off,” Pennington said. “A lot of our students made deeper connections than we thought they’d make with kids in the other buildings.”
Two kids made such a connection that they recognized one another in and befuddled their parents as to how they knew so much about one another despite going to school in different districts.
The Skype lesson is just one of the things Holman and Pennington discuss on their blog, Teachers for Tomorrow. The two utilize the website to showcase new ideas, mainly revolving around technology in the classroom.
“Mike and I started it ultimately as a way to collaborate and communicate with our classrooms,” Holman said. “In that process we began to get a large following and turned into a resource for other teachers.”
Holman and Pennington try to utilize technology to bring the world into the classroom in a variety of different ways. Kids no longer have to learn from a textbook; rather they can see firsthand how their education applies to life.
“Technology is a way to engage kids in a real-world application of what we’re learning,” Holman said. “They can go anywhere in the world on any given day and we’re able to take them places that are much more engaging than looking at a textbook.”
One of those ways is with the online textbook Holman and Pennington’s students have developed over the last five years. It started as an idea when Pennington student-taught at Beachwood and has come to fruition now that students have put their handprints on it.
The concept was the classes were going to take a textbook written by students based off of the state standards. In the first three years, they developed an outline of the entire standards with written work done by their kids.
As the years progressed, they found errors in the textbook and added information to make it better. They added links to items for more learning opportunity and kids began to produce more visuals, like PowerPoint presentations on vocabulary, graphics, political cartoons and movies.
“Technology brings a relevance to their schooling,” Pennington said. “Kids now have a way of communicating and bringing their voice to the actual world. Not only are they seeing the importance of themselves within society at large, but that they can make a difference at a young age.”
Kids do not receive a grade for the online textbook, but that hasn’t stopped nearly all of them from participating in the process.
“Kids become motivated because it is a real-world thing that lives on,” Holman said. “It is a public presentation of their work that lives on forever. It’s their legacy.”
Holman and Pennington are not going to stop trying new things to advance education. One concept they want to experiment further with is flip teaching. The two will pre-record a lecture as a conversation with one another. The kids' homework is to watch that lecture online. So instead of receiving a lecture in the classroom and doing homework, they come to class with the knowledge and work with the teachers to further understand it.
“If kids have misconceptions or problems we will be able to help individual kids right in class,” Holman said. “That gives us the time to work with individual kids to clarify misconceptions and help them go deeper into information.”
Holman’s kids already spoke; he said they overwhelmingly picked flip teaching as their favorite project on their evaluations of his class.
*The original version of this article incorrectly reported that Holman teaches at Beachwood High School.