Shelby County science teacher James Wampler has one wish for his eighth-grade students.
“I want my students to explore,” he said. “I want them to ask questions, I want them to chase those answers. I want them to be wise.”
Wampler’s exploring nature was fostered early, when as a kid he ventured into the woods near his family’s home, set up a bird blind, and wrote his questions about birds into a little notebook, complete with drawings.
“When I was a kid, I was very into science. ‘Let’s go exploring’ is kind of my mantra,” said Wampler, who, in his second year of teaching, now keeps that mantra on the wall of his classroom for his students to emulate.
After earning a Master’s in Teaching, he began devoting himself to communicating to students that sense of wonder and exploration he treasures.
This year, Wampler’s use of technology to enhance his classroom led him to be chosen as a PBS Digital Innovator, which he explains involves appropriate use of technology so that it augments learning.
When deciding on a classroom innovation, Wampler evaluates it in terms of its value as a communication tool and its ability to deliver content in an authentic way. He also judges its effect on organization and its ability to encourage student engagement. Educators, he notes, sometimes fall into the trap of applying a technology that may be really cool, but for no real purpose.
“My district is doing a lot of really exciting things and I love it here,” he said, noting that every student has access to a Chromebook and that he himself runs a paperless classroom.
“Shelby County encourages us to be bold, and I love how it builds on itself and creates more excitement. And that leads to more ideas. It’s a very positive environment. And that trickles down to the students, and it has a big payoff, if you let it.
“So I break down technology in those terms,” he continued. “I ask the question: does this technology augment what I’m trying to do in this area or does it distract?”
Digital resources provided by PBS and KET provide that positive effect on learning, Wampler adds.
“KET resources are definitely in my bag of tricks. I just attended the PBS Digital Innovator conference in Denver. If I have an ‘I need inspiration moment,’ what I’ll do is pull a list of resources and decide what will be helpful.”
One of those lessons, he said, is when he and his students study human biology.
“When we do our unit of DNA, chromosomes, and alleles, I am able to pull up a lesson on PBS LearningMedia. They do a good job of mixing content with the questions and inquiry.
“It’s not overwhelming, it’s not an hour of video,” he added. “It’s quick and it starts the fire for learning.”