Kids today have access to technology all the time. And for students at Isenberg Elementary School in Salisbury, North Carolina, students have access to technology whenever they want it with their school-supplied iPads. So when Anthony Johnson, a fourth- and fifth-grade science and social studies teacher, wanted to better connect with his students, he turned to technology to make it happen.
Classroom or Community?
Using a project-based model called “Johnsonville,” Mr. Johnson encourages his students to spend their year in his classroom learning about the real world of adulthood. Each student is given $1,000 in Johnsonville cash to begin their lives, where they must either buy a house or rent an apartment, earn their own wages, and manage their own finances. In addition to worrying about their own work and their own bank account, they learn about different levels of government and hold elections for positions such as president and city council. All in all, it’s an excellent way to teach important real-world concepts, all while meeting the standards set by the state of North Carolina.
But as an Apple Distinguished Educator and TED-Ed Innovative Educator, Mr. Johnson travels quite a bit to give presentations and keynote addresses. He wanted to stay connected to his students, even while on the road. Enter BlueJeans.
Incorporating Video into Education
During the 15-20 days that Mr. Johnson is traveling each year, BlueJeans allows him to continue to speak to his students as though he is in the classroom. He can view the room to see how the students are behaving, and work with his substitute teacher to ensure that materials are being taught. And even when he’s not traveling, BlueJeans gives him access to his students (and his students access to him) at all hours of the day. In fact, he often sends messages to his students via the learning management system, and has them jump onto BlueJeans for a quick group call, even when it’s after school hours.
Perhaps even more exciting for his students, BlueJeans allows them to partner with people all over the globe for additional learning. Students at Isenberg Elementary recently worked with a 5th grade classroom in Ireland to complete science projects with students in a different part of the world. And because they were able to see one another in action over the video call, the fifth graders were able to speak about much more than science; it gave them the opportunity to learn about another culture as they compared everything from popular music to school uniforms.
BlueJeans also provides a solution that allows parents to be more invested in their child’s education, without having to take time off work to drive to the school and meet with teachers. With video conferencing, Mr. Johnson can set up quick calls to speak with parents—both when students are misbehaving and when they’re performing well. And because it’s so easy to stay involved, parents are increasing the amount of time they spend talking to the teachers, ensuring that students are held accountable for their work both in the classroom and at home.
The Future of Technology in the Classroom
Anthony Johnson is doing his part to get his students ready for the global learning environment by helping them with the tools they need to collaborate with people all over the world. Students born in the twenty-first century have spent their entire lives surrounded by technology, and Mr. Johnson believes that this technology is changing the face of education. After all, if students are accustomed to using technology at home, but then are not given those same opportunities in the classroom, it can quickly lead to boredom and misconduct. However, when teachers turn technology from something that should be avoided (no phones in the classroom!) to something that should be embraced, students have the opportunity to learn from all the digital content available to them.
And as students learn that they can have an impact on their own learning, and on the world, through technology, they will continue to grow. This is why Mr. Johnson has done everything from launch a weather balloon 24 miles into space and film the journey to create a weekly #worldwidewednesday weather report with participants from Mexico to China to England. His next project? STEM Empathy.
This student-led initiative is designed to promote collaboration, exploration, and a love for one another. Through this project, the students in his current class are teaming up with local children’s hospitals and pediatric wards to allow patients to use BlueJeans to view what is being taught in Johnsonville during the week. Then, students will spend part of their weekend at the hospital, taking the equipment from their classroom to allow the children in the hospital to participate in the same science experiments they viewed online the previous week. In this way, Mr. Johnson’s students are providing an opportunity for patients at the hospital to attend school, even when they are not physically able to be in the classroom.
After failing four grades and dropping out of high school, few thought that Anthony Johnson would be the one to inspire tomorrow’s generation of leaders. But his educational background is exactly what keeps him going—he wants to be sure that his students have the skills and opportunities they need to succeed both in school and upon graduation.
That is why he’s doing everything in his power to ensure that his students are involved in their lessons, take pride in their work, and understand the realities of adulthood. In his words, “The future of education lies in embracing technology and equipping children for a life in the digital economy. By leveraging technology as a learning tool in the classroom, educators around the globe can bring students together to learn from one another, develop empathy, and be prepared for their future place in the workforce."