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Making a Difference: Susan Cintra

Remaking Education

Susan Cintra’s sophomore pre-AP English looks a lot like a regular classroom. They still study great works of literature like “Night” by Elie Wiesel and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

They write, they debate, and they analyze. But what isn’t the same is how they accomplish these tasks—and the classroom Cintra creates is remarkable enough that she was named a Lead Digital Innovator by PBS, an annual award recognizing top educators throughout the country for their use of technology in the classroom.

“We write and we share our writing, and create apps and websites to present our products, and think outside the box to make happen what we want to happen,” said Cintra, a Madison County native now in her 11th year of teaching at her alma mater, Madison Central High School.

“My kids are engaged and having fun, and the technology is the bridge to the content and the ideas that we explore,” she said.

A graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, Cintra uses the latest technologies to connect with other teachers around the state and even the world, helping her students to experience new ways of communicating, learning, and collaboration.

“My classroom is totally paperless,” she said, emphasizing that this means more than substituting a computer for a typewriter, or an iPad for a desktop. In Cintra’s world—and her students’—it means that iPads have become part of the learning process and not merely tools for research or something to use to type an essay.

“We use Google Drive [online documents] as the basis for everything they submit in the class,” she said. “So, for instance, they just turned in essays they wrote on ‘Hamlet,’ which they write in class. So they would be working, I would be here, and I could jump onto my computer and type as they’re typing, entering comments … and they have my feedback immediately.

“And they do that with each other’s papers,” she continued. “They share files to work together to write the pieces, or edit them, to do peer revision. All of that stuff happens digitally in this completely timeless zone, where it can happen at any point.”

This collaboration, which all goes through Cintra’s website, extends into every aspect of her students’ learning.

“We use devices and programs to share and edit our work, to submit work, to connect with each other, and with other students outside our classroom,” she said.

“When you come in my classroom, you see kids on their iPads, posting responses, photos, or videos to my class website. You’ll see kids on their phones, backchanneling our class discussions. You’ll see kids leading the class and in charge of their own learning.”

Cintra’s passion for new, creative ways of teaching extends beyond her own classroom. She regularly leads teachers in her school down new paths of technology, as well as educators from around the district—and works with teachers around Kentucky to design and facilitate professional development technology academies.

Twitter keeps her in touch with these teachers throughout the world—and it’s this love of engagement she most appreciates about her selection as a PBS Lead Digital Innovator.

“While there’s still so much more work to do, I love connecting with and learning from other teachers and contributing my ever-growing knowledge to this broad community of educators,” she said.

As a “Lead” Digital Innovator (the top 30 among 100 innovators nationwide), Cintra will receive an all-expense paid trip to Philadelphia to participate in the 2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Summit.

“Through becoming a PBS Digital Innovator, I want to gain connection. I crave this experience for my students and for myself,” she said.

“With the guidance of PBS and the vast amount of resources and knowledge available through PBS LearningMedia, magic can happen. That is what I want from this experience; I want that magic.”

KET’s education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.