Byron's Babbles

Baby Boomer Turned Digital Native

Posted in Uncategorized by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 22, 2011

Baby Boomer Turned Digital Native: One Teacher’s Journey into 21st Century Learning


Educational spaces need to be smart, technology rich, adaptable, and configurable in order to meet the needs of today’s students. If the desire is to put students first, it has to be more than just unloading crates of technology into a room for the teacher and saying, “Have at it!” At the same time educators must provide inspirational learning spaces on a limited budget. Technology is everywhere in today’s educational environment. This technology is important not only for engaging instruction, but also for creating a collaborative environment with other educators both inter-school and intra-school. This well planned environment allows the teacher to individualize both in manner of instruction and type of technology appropriate to the student. Solutions that address these needs are imperative to give educators the tools and facilities they need to assist learning, and students the tools necessary for engaging learning. When all these needs are met classrooms become collaborative student learning places.

Let the Journey Begin

As an agriculture educator who never used a computer (because they were not available) for his undergraduate and Master’s studies, or first two years of teaching for that matter, it seems an odd fit to be what I call a “digital adoptee” in my high school. Even though many the same age and older in my profession are apprehensive of technology, I have always been a believer in what it can do for the student. Experience has also taught me how important the physical lay-out of the room and furniture is to the educational experience. I recently had a graduate student visit me for a day, and she said, “Coming to your class is an event!” It is an event because students love coming to class and immersing themselves in the educational process through collaborative learning and use of technology.

When I started the agriculture science program at Lebanon Community School Corporation seven years ago the goal was to give our students the technology and environment they deserve for maximum learning. The environment, not the technology is what is most important. I was able to provide our students with one on one wireless laptop capability, but I also knew that the old five by six (five student desks in a column by six student desks in a row) model would not fit my pedagogy either. The ultimate goal must be that instruction and student learning drives the design, and that the classroom inspires learning (Demski, 2009). Therefore, we kept this in mind when designing our model learning lab which I call the SWELL (SMART Worldwide Effective Learning Lab) classroom. In my room it is tables with rollers and swivel chairs on rollers that give the students the flexibility to configure and reconfigure multiple times during our 87 minute block classes. Tables with four students each allow the teacher to pull up a chair and give assistance, monitor learning, and differentiate activities. This configuration also allows for readily forming important relationships with the students. Dr. James Comer said, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship” (quoted in Payne, 2005, p.9). When designing learning places we must remember that positive relationships between students and their teachers are crucial to learning.

Designing SWELL

Because of SMART Technology’s generous donation of SMART Board technology to me as 2010 Indiana Teacher of the Year (SMART donates these packages to all State Teachers of the Year each year), my school decided to use my room as a model for designing a learning lab, and for action research (Stringer, 2007) to help guide technology decisions for our school corporation. The decision was made to gut the room, which was formerly a science room, and start from scratch. The goal was to design an environment where students use the technology to carry out collaborative lessons not being taught by me, but being facilitated by me for student managed learning. What George Wood called, “Learning to learn” (Wood, 2005). The vision was to have an interactive agriculture science classroom equipped with SMART Board technology.

In order to investigate about the learning lab environment we formed a team and made many site visits. The visit that most intrigued the team was to Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management and Economics Library Interactive Learning Lab (Bush, 2009). Our team really liked the triangulated interactive boards, positioned to be visible from any angle in the room. This truly made the lab engaging as there was no front or back of the room. Another component that really fit my pedagogy was the Steelcase Huddleboard. These 32” X 42” portable white boards enabled collaborative group work. The instructor said, “huddle-up and discuss…” The groups then discussed their topic and wrote their thoughts and diagrams on the Huddleboards. After all groups had presented, the boards were placed on a rail and the Steelcase CopyCam took a picture which was sent to all the students via a website. The CopyCam also allowed pictures of the Huddleboards to be downloaded directly to a usb flashdrive or sent directly to a printer. Students were able to listen and be engaged in the discussion as opposed to taking dubious notes. The Huddleboards and CopyCam were a must for the SWELL Classroom.

Enhancing the Student Learning Experience with Technology

It cannot be stressed enough that the digital revolution is not about the teacher using technology, but enabling the student through their use of technology. Even though this author’s school district grapples with the same issues of funding and policies, we are still moving forward to put in place the technology that provides our students the digital content and open resources they need and deserve. Indiana has changed the definition of textbooks to include electronic materials (Fletcher, 2010). Digital resources can now be used to provide for curriculum enhancement (Fletcher, 2010).

In my SWELL classroom we are using Apple iPod Touches to provide reading resources. I am able to push books out to the entire classroom set of iPods at one time. This is a great tool for doing book reads utilizing Socratic seminars. Students are also using the iPods to record data from labs. When left to the students, they find appropriate apps that help engage them in the learning process. Students are allowed to download apps and then at the end of each week all apps not downloaded by me and pushed to all iPods are wiped off. Through our action research the iPod has been identified as a great way for students to access information quickly. Additionally, each class has developed an iTunes song list to play during work time. We are now in the process of testing a set of Apple iPads. The apps that are coming out for the iPad are very innovative and useful to students.

Now with the SPARKvue app, students in my Advanced Life Science courses are doing real-time measurement, data visualization, and analysis. Students can use the new PASPORT AirLink 2 Bluetooth interface to connect to over 70 PASCO sensors, measuring a wide range of phenomena, including pH, temperature, force, and carbon dioxide levels. SPARKvue is designed for scientific inquiry in biology, chemistry, earth science, environmental science, physics, and physical science. SPARKvue can record data from the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

By going to a Mac platform our students have been able to use FlipVideo to make movies using Apple iMovie. Students this past year were able to report real-time research done in conjunction with a partnership formed with AgReliant Genetics. This research was reported with the use of movies and wiki sites (a Web site where anyone can edit anything anytime they want). Wiki’s make perfect sense in this environment because the students work collaboratively, can edit each other’s work, and pages are easily added (Richardson,  2010). Additionally, the wiki can be shared with any audience, as in this case, researchers at AgReliant Genetics (Richardson, 2010). The key to using this technology is that the students are doing all of the work. Although formal written reports are useful in some contexts, these new and innovative uses of narrative texts, staged performances, and electronic productions made by the students enhance the learning even further (Stringer, 2007). They take great ownership in the process and have the desire to do outstanding work. Using technology in this manner pushes the students to do a greater share of the thinking (Lemov, 2010).

With SMART Response I am able to pretest, practice, and have useful reflection. Each student has their own response tool. This allows for quick feedback (assessment for learning) and allows the students to remain anonymous. All of these tools are really about increasing student engagement.

A Typical Day in the SWELL Classroom

            It is first period and time for Advanced Life Science – Plant and Soils. This is a dual credit course with Purdue University’s Botany 210. Students are met in the hallway with a handshake and then proceed to pick-up their Macbook and log-on to their wiki site where they find a link I have put on for their daily current event reading. This current event reading could have also been shared electronically with the students’ emails using the USA Today app on their iPods. Today’s article deals with resistant weeds due to chemicals developed through biotechnology. Students then journal the main points of the article onto their wiki site and do a summary paragraph relating the article to class work presently being done. Then students pick up their iPod Touches and proceed to the greenhouse to collect data on the 240 corn plants being grown to do actual Bacillus Thuringiensis bacterium (Bt) research for AgReliant Genetics. Data on rootworm damage is collected using the iPods. Students then return to the classroom and upload the data to their computers. Students are then asked to produce presentations on either Huddleboards or SMART Boards related to the following topics of economic impact of Bt corn, environmental impact of Bt, genetic markers, or corn rootworm lifecycle. Students then present, and the presentations are uploaded to their group’s wiki site.

Professional Development for Digital Learning is a TALL Order

Dialogue that always occurs when discussing the proper use of technology and the 21st Century learner is that of how should schools provide the necessary professional growth necessary for teachers to provide a rich digital learning environment? One of the major factors at play is the vast array of differences in where staff members are on the digital/technology learning curve. A one size fits all system of professional development will not work where technology is involved (or any other educational subject for that matter). Lebanon High School has developed a process that has proven very valuable to meet this need. In order to eliminate the traditional “one-shot” professional development time where information is thrown out to teachers and hopefully some of the material is caught, our school implemented TALL (Tiger Academy of Lessons Learned).

TALL was started in the spring of 2009. This process was a product of the studies of Garvin (2000) in the area of the learning organization. TALL is modeled after the U.S. Army’s Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL). It is a process with no hierarchy which has teachers working in groups of like interest and knowledge to learn new techniques, study research, try new practices/technology, and book readings. Groups meet formally every week during time set aside in the morning, and have a reporting form on our shared network file that is used to report to the entire staff along with having Ning (internet social network) forums and we are now using our state’s new Learning Connection Network (Indiana Department of Education, 2009). Many groups meet outside the normal school day to work. Groups can start up and dissolve as necessary.

This strategy enables teachers to use the group genius created to improve teaching skills and gain best practices from each other thus improving student achievement. These self-directed professional development (Mohr, et al., 2004) groups provide for teacher-researcher-based discourse about teaching and learning (Weinbaum, et al., 2004).  TALL teacher inquiry groups allow for both knowledge production and sharing (Weinbaum, et al., 2004).

As of the writing of this article, Lebanon High School has TALL groups specifically relating to technology including, basic computer usage, Mimio use, web 2.0, and teacher blogs/websites. When it comes to technology, many of our more seasoned teachers who were having difficulty moving toward a more digital environment say that TALL has given them the confidence and skills to match the technology with their pedagogy.

A SWELL Vision for Providing Innovative Technology Solutions

            Through the SWELL Classroom and other duplications throughout the school, the Lebanon High School Agriculture Department is a leader in providing innovative networking and information technology solutions to student learning. By proceeding in stages, Lebanon will be able to develop staff, so first round teachers will be able provide support and training, and share lessons (Fishtrom, 2009). The SWELL Classroom allows for designing each lesson to meet the individual student’s needs, and then deliver that lesson in such a way that is effective for that particular child (American School Board Journal, 2009).

Students are always found coming to class enthusiastic and ready to connect to a global society brought together through technology. The plans are to add remote and self-guided learning through technology to further differentiate learning and offer an even wider range of classes. With SMART technology it will even be possible to do distance learning with other schools. The SWELL Classroom vision embraces the idea that one-size-fits-all schools do not work for all students. Because the same teaching techniques do not work equally for every student, SWELL Classroom technology can be matched with the appropriate pedagogy to meet the educational needs of all students.


Bush, J. (2009). Purdue libraries celebrate new interactive classroom, start second of three-phase renovation. University News Service. Retrieved on September 3, 2010 from:

Demski, J. (2009). Space craft: Innovative architecture is bringing form to the function of 21st– century learning. The Journal, 36(7), 34-38.

Fishtrom, R. (2009). Best in tech 2009. Scholastic Administrator, 9(3).

Flether, G.H. (2010). A revolution on hold. The Journal, 37(6), 21-23.

Garvin, D. A. (2000). Learning in action: A guide to putting the learning organization to work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Indiana Department of Education (2009). Retrieved on August 13, 2010 from: http.//

Lemov, D. (2010). Teach like a champion: 49 techniques that put students on the path to college. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Murphy, C.U., & Lick, D.W. (2005). Whole-faculty study groups: Creating professional learning communities that target student learning (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: CorwinPress.

Moore, M.M., Rogers, C., Sanford, B., Nocerino, M.A., MacLean, M.S., & Clawson, S. (2004). Teacher research for better schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Payne, R. K. (2005). A framework for understanding poverty. Highlands, TX: aha! Process, Inc.

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Stringer, E.T. (2007). Action research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Weinbaum, A., Allen, D., Blythe, T., Simon, K., Seidel, S., & Rubin, C. (2004). Teaching as inquiry: Asking hard questions to improve practice and student achievement. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Wood, G.H. (2005). Time to learn: How to create high schools that serve all students. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

2 Responses

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  1. custom writing said, on August 30, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Thanks for the helpful blog.


  2. […] digital adoptee and believe in the power of what technology tools can do to enhance learning. Click here to learn more about my journey and click here to learn more about SPAN™. I do need to explain the […]


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