E15 - Elevating Learning through EdTech, AI, and the 4Cs with Tasha Burton

Episode Music Credits:  Old Love Instrumental by Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers, 100% Clearance through Musicbed 

On this episode of Blending In, I chatted with middle school Social Studies teacher Tasha Burton from Diamond Valley Middle School.  In our conversation today, Tasha shared how she developed her passion for “blending in” technology and AI platforms into her classroom in order to cultivate the 4Cs - creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking - to engage and empower her students.

At the start of our conversation, Tasha shared how an administrator at one of her previous schools was the catalyst that propelled her from using solely traditional, analog instructional practices to begin using technology in her classroom with students. She shared how, through her PLC at that school site, her team began utilizing new technologies (ie. Promethean Boards), to elevate their lessons and engage students with the 4Cs - creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

Ms. Burton's students actively engaged with multiple tech tools/platforms

Our conversation led to a discussion about how the pandemic essentially forced all of us to embrace new technologies and platforms so that we could meet the needs of our students through online and hybrid learning landscapes which we had never encountered before.  We spoke about learning how to use Google Meet and platforms like Kami which are now part of “normal” tech tools that are used in classrooms across our district and beyond.  We also talked about how the pandemic shed light on the achievement gap and equity issues that are prevalent in public education and how since being back to in person instruction, Tasha is able to utilize technology in new ways to help make learning more equitable for her students and try to close learning gaps that are present. Tasha shared how accessibility tools build within in various technologies have been helpful to her in providing scaffolds for struggling students to help support learning needs and bridge learning gaps.  Although it was a very hard time for teachers, we both agreed that some really cool things came out of it, and for many teachers who remained in the classroom post-pandemic, it fostered a new sense of creativity in lesson design and deliveryTasha has discovered lots of virtual tours, interactive games, virtual field trips, etc. to help her students virtually explore the world and learn Social Studies content.

We also discussed how Tasha has been using Screencastify (her favorite tech tool) to record videos for her students to essentially duplicate herself and flip her classroom.  Students are able to catch up when they're absent, learn the content at their own pace, reference the videos if needed, and more.  She mentioned how she combines video instruction with digital/analog notes or a self-paced PearDeck so she can track and assess student learning as they progress through content at their own pace.  Tasha also spoke at length about how watching herself on video has increased her self-awareness of her teaching “performance” and how she’s able to be reflective of her own practice and make changes that make her a better teacher for her students. A “light bulb moment” for her during the pandemic was when she realized that she could use Screencastify to record and send updates to parents on their student’s performance rather than sending lengthy emails which can be easily misinterpreted!  Feedback from parents who are on the receiving end of her Screencastify communiques has been very positive! 

We spoke about additional tools that have been a game changer in her classroom, and in addition to those already mentioned, she mentioned the Chrome Extension Dualless which allows students to split their screens.  In her classroom, this is helpful for if they are watching a video and need to access digital notes simultaneously which is why it is her favorite tool that she teaches students how to use.  She is intentional about embedding digital skills that will help her students be successful when using technology in her classroom and beyond.

Students utilizing Dualless in learning activities involving multiple technology platforms
Dualless split screen, up close - Google Form & Google Doc

For days where Tasha does direct instruction with gradual release, PearDeck is her go-to tool.  She is able to use this tool to strategically plan for how students will “chunk and chew” information, incorporate formative assessments to ensure that her students are understanding the content as they go so no one is getting left behind in their learning, and then use the real-time data that is generated to inform her next immediate instructional moves.  She also appreciates the digital accountability that PearDeck provides which helps prevent student misuse of the platform. 

Tasha shared that she stays up-to-date with edtech by networking and watching/listening to content that is produced by people/platforms she follows.  She also shares and encourages others to share about new technologies they come across in their PLCs (which are sometimes virtual on Google Meet). Her PLC is where she learned about the Hello History artifcial intelligence platform where her students can have life-like conversations with historical figures produced by AI!  These collaborative moments with her colleagues not only help her discover innovative tools and platforms like this one, but they also help to inspire creativity amongst the group.

Her advice to other teachers about trying new technology in the classroom: “Have your panic moment, but then just try it! Don’t let yourself hold you back.”

Do you know an innovative educator who should be a guest on the Blending In podcast? Nominate them HERE.

You can follow or subscribe to the Blending In Podcast on any of the following platforms: 

Spotify | iHeartRadio | Anchor | Google | Apple | YouTube  | Stitcher | Pandora | Pocket Casts | Amazon Music