Talking about technology makes Laura Howell downright giddy. From i-Pads to laptops, microblogging to Skyping, Howell’s excited voice fills the classroom as she runs down the list of her favorites. And if you get her going about Twitter, she will simply squeal with delight.
“Twitter is my hangout,” she said after a burst of laughter. “It’s like my own guilty little hash tag pleasure.”
Howell, the computer resource specialist at Kellam High School, can certainly give you an earful about how social media and technology has changed the way teachers teach and students learn. She uses words like “transformative” and talks about how — when used effectively — technology can “help integrate curriculum with the pedagogy in the most amazing of ways.”
Technology is nothing short of her passion. But it wasn’t always so.
Howell spent the first 14 years of her career teaching Earth Science at Kellam. She used technology when she could find time to fit it in to her lessons, but was often scared to venture out too far into the ever-changing technological world.
Ten years ago, however, Howell stepped into a CRS position and forever changed her outlook on the very tools that once scared her. Last year alone she attended five conferences and more than 270 webinars; all in an effort to become a resource and resident expert for the teachers around her.
“Technology can be very powerful when you use it correctly, but if every time you try to use a form of technology it fails, you stop trying,” Howell said. “I prepare, work, study and learn because I won’t suggest anything to my teachers that I don’t already know how to use and how it will work in our building to the benefit of our students.”
That’s why Howell strives to be a visible presence in her building; continuously showcasing ways that even the most timid can venture into technology and allow it to transform learning in their classrooms.
Last year, Howell facilitated Kellam math students’ participation in The World Education Games, an annual global online challenge designed to get students excited about learning and to give students an opportunity to see how they measure up against the best in the world. Howell’s students were part of the more than 5 million students from around the world who logged-in to compete.
And that’s just par for the course.
Instructional Technology Coordinator Kimberly Adams said Howell sets the example for others to follow.
“Her students are so engaged with the technology that she has introduced into their curriculum, they can hardly contain their excitement,” Adams said. “She is doing absolutely wonderful things with her students.”
For instance, Howell once organized an online exchange with students in Poland. Kellam students traveled to Washington D.C. to visit the Holocaust Museum and came back to exchange information with Polish students who visited a similar museum in their own country; then, Howell’s students Skyped with two holocaust survivors.
Another time Howell’s students collaborated with children in Africa, Germany and France on a project about Jamestown. Her students traveled to Jamestown, collected answers and then reported the findings back in chat sessions with their foreign-based friends.
She has helped English, history and foreign language classes connect with as many as 370 countries via the Internet, talking in their target languages, comparing cultures and exchanging information.
“I think it’s important to make things available that give our students the opportunity to become ready for global collaboration,” Howell said. “Technology really does enable our students to bridge the cultural divide and learn that they can travel around the world and find other children just like them. It’s humbling.”
What comes next, Howell says, only time and technology can tell. She does know though that the promise of new technology that the new Kellam High building will offer has her giggling.
“I might just have a bed in the school so I can eat, sleep and breathe it all in,” she said. “I really love technology that much.”
Compass Keeper Q&A:
What is your favorite subject?
“I love using technology to enhance science lessons because science is where my heart is. But, if you tell me today we are focusing on English, I am like ‘Bring it on!’”
What do you love the most?
“I love learning new things. I feel I need to be a model of life-long learning for my teachers so they in turn can be examples of life-long learning for their students.”
What do you hate the most?
“I hate having my picture taken. I have actually scheduled myself to be at a conference on picture day just so I don’t have to have my picture taken for the yearbook. I’ve been pretty successful at avoiding having my picture in the yearbook almost every year.”
What is your pet peeve?
“I don’t like to hear ‘I can’t’ from teachers or students. Everyone has to keep an open mind and remember that at one time we all thought we couldn’t do something but look where we are today.”
What advice would you give to others?
“Embrace change and never be afraid to try something new, that’s what learning and life are all about.”
*Do you know someone who should be featured as a Compass Keeper? Send your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.