First graders are eager, they’re charming, and they’re a handful. Give them a song, they’ll sing it; give them a phonics lesson, and they’ll chant it. And put them in front of a camera, and — at least in Ashley Judd’s Jackson County classroom — they’ll take you to Disney World, Texas, and San Francisco.
“If you make the lesson something that is hands-on, then the material you’re trying to teach them is going to be memorable as well,” said Judd, a first-grade teacher at Tyner Elementary School and Kentucky’s 2017 PBS Digital Innovator. She and others like her around the country were honored earlier this year by PBS for innovative use of technology in the classroom.
One morning last May, on one of the last days of the school year, Judd’s classroom buzzed with cowboys and princesses, all eager to create videos to tell about vacation possibilities for the upcoming summer break.
Such videos, says Judd, give students the opportunity to use a variety of skills, such as research. So, the cowboys read up on attractions in Texas including Space Center Houston, the Alamo, and longhorn cattle. Public speaking skills were in evidence as well for the “program host” and reporters who discussed the fireworks and the castle at Disney World.
In another project, creating a stop-motion animated movie using Legos, involved numerous pre-production skills, such as writing a draft, small-group dynamics, and final proofing. When the video was made, the kids learned green-screen technology (which allows different backgrounds to be displayed) as well as the basics of stop-motion animation.
“I want to give my students memorable experiences. “Now, I am teaching in an age that is immersed in technology. Ultimately, I’m preparing these kids to go out into the world and become successful adults. And, in order to do that, they have to be able to use technology.”
As a PBS Digital Innovator, Judd becomes a member of a professional development community of highly engaged PreK-12 educators. These teachers use digital media in innovative ways to create exciting learning experiences for their students, and through networking and conferences sponsored by PBS, they widen their horizons even further, sharing what each knows with colleagues throughout the nation.
In Judd’s case, she’ll bring what she learns back home to Jackson County, where she already is part of a network of tech-savvy teachers with similar goals of creating fresh opportunities for their students.
“I was selected as a PBS Digital Innovator, but I work with colleagues that are doing the same great things in their classrooms. They are always looking for ways to better their students. We get together and talk about these resources that we’ve found, share them, and take them back to our classrooms.”
Beyond offering students familiarity with computers, hand-held devices, and other media, using technology offers Judd engaging ways to instruct students no matter what their style of learning. And KET, Kentucky’s largest statewide classroom, is replete with resources to help teachers like Ashley accomplish that goal.
“At the beginning of each week, I look at my curriculum and I immediately go to KET and PBS resources to look for digital media that supports the lessons I’m going to be bringing that week,” she said.
“It’s just a rule of thumb for me that, if I’m going to teach something, I’m going to find some kind of digital format to present it, because kids learn in different ways. I want to make sure I’m hitting all my learners.”
As a teacher in a county struggling with poverty, Judd says she wants to give her students as many opportunities as she can to use technology. She knows technical competency is becoming increasingly necessary.
“Many of my students have technologies at home, but there are a lot of our students who do not. I feel like if we can expose them to technology, we can be ‘chain-breakers.’ They don’t have to live in poverty,” she said.
“They can decide for themselves to make goals, to pursue college and education,” she added.
“And, in order to be successful, they’re going to have to have a foundation in technology.”