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“I feel that teaching a lesson is analogous to directing an orchestra. Sometimes you need the percussion to be forceful or the wind instruments to lead the overture. I take that same approach with software and hardware.” Tanesha Dixon, teacher at Wheatley Education Campus, D.C. Public Schools

Some of the most effective teaching practices come from classrooms where technology is used as a tool for teachers, not a substitute for them.

Just like Tanesha Dixon’s 8th-grade U.S. History class at Wheatley Education Campus, in District of Columbia Public Schools. While each teacher is provided technology by the school and district, Ms. Dixon adds to that an entire toolbox she’s assembled on her own.

During a recent class, Ms. Dixon guided her students through a lesson on the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Saratoga. Using Discovery Education Techbooks on their iPads, students made their way through a multimedia lesson, highlighting text with their finger and completing questions provided by Ms. Dixon.

After the reading, students explained that the battle was a pivotal victory for the Colonial forces. But, next, Ms. Dixon wanted students to go deeper – beyond the basic facts to how and why they won?

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She had students navigate to Google Earth on their iPad, and search for Saratoga, NY. Students swiped and pinched the map to view the battle site at all angles and depths. Compared to other sites, Saratoga had a denser, more difficult-to-navigate terrain surrounded by lakes and rivers, one student illustrated on the TV monitor. There was no direct route for the British to attack, his classmates jumped to point out. Sure enough, they learned, the Colonial forces used the forest cover to interrupt the British path to Saratoga, diminishing their supplies and disrupting their plan. Rather than read about it, the students could envision the tactical approach on their own.

This lesson is an example of how Ms. Dixon constantly works to make learning relevant. Using text is not enough to engage her students – they need interactive elements “to see, touch, feel and manipulate history to understand it,” she says. “It has to become real and relevant for it to stick.”

(Read Ms. Dixon’s blog post “Let the Cat (and All of Your Students’ Papers) Out of the Bag” at BlendMyLearning.com.)

Ms. Dixon calls her classroom the “learning lab.” She uses Apple’s wireless Airplay feature to mirror students’ screens, projecting them on her interactive whiteboard to increase engagement and keep them on task. She provides immediate feedback through Google Drive and uses analytics to track student progress in different apps and digital curricula.

“I feel that teaching a lesson is analogous to directing an orchestra,” she says. “Sometimes you need the percussion to be forceful or the wind instruments to lead the overture. I take that same approach with software and hardware.”

It is the district’s goal to spread Ms. Dixon’s approach to other classrooms. She is both a CityBridge Foundation Education Innovation Fellow and a Teacher Leader Innovator within the district. Through those distinctions, she is given opportunities to learn about innovative education practices around the country and also spend part of her time mentoring other teachers in how to best use technology to help make every classroom a learning lab.


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