Julia Breen, who won an Innovative Educator Award at the 2011 New Zealand Partners in Learning Forum, doesn’t take “no” for an answer when it comes to innovating in the classroom. After being told her plans to bring television studio technology to the classroom were out of reach, the Physical Education teacher secured low-cost resources (and took advantage of students’ own mobile devices) to meet her objectives.
Using a technique called “green screening” to assess leadership skills, Breen’s year-12 students recorded each other leading year-9 students in team-building exercises. They then recorded evaluations of each other, and using green screens, added the critique on top of the raw video. This helped students who were uncomfortable with giving and receiving criticism and taught collaboration and critical thinking.
The results speak for themselves, with “excellence” grades increasing to 33 percent from 21 percent the previous year. Today, Breen shares her tips for innovating in the classroom…even when you’re told you can’t.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
By changing perceptions about physical education, I am encouraging others to improve authentic teaching and learning experiences for students while engaging in technology. Other teachers have seen this engagement and want the opportunity to develop and engage their learners. Being involved in professional development conversations and leading others to enhance skills has led to innovations in the classroom environment.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
By engaging the learner, their academic attainment has increased significantly. They are more collaborative in their learning and have taken greater responsibility in their learning. Other teachers are keen to use the innovation in their environments and I have led a number of professional development sessions to improve their skills.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
I was told what I wanted to do was not possible for a number of reasons. One of them was cost for the software and the resources to complete the task. So, I went out and researched low cost solutions and found them! Then I did a trial run and proved it could be done. Microsoft Moviemaker (free) and a green sheet with a spot light cost $50. What I learned was to never take no for an answer. If it’s going to improve student learning and engagement, don’t give up. Once you have trialed it, don’t be afraid to show what you have achieved and then ask for support. Once you have got the evidence to show students are going to benefit, who would say no?
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
Technology is constantly changing and being able to adapt to the changing needs of students is a key focus for my innovative practices. I utilize social networks, blogs, and mobile technology to engage the learner. Having a large component of our subject practically-based, it’s important that all innovation enables students to succeed without taking away their enjoyment of the practical component.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Like everyone, resourcing and access to technology is a constant funding issue. Budget cutbacks and resourcing of schools in a tough economic time is a big obstacle.
What is your country doing right to support education?
Our assessment practice and NCEA allows for individual schools to meet the needs of their students.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
Greater funding for schools.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Increasing access to Internet speed and having policies for students to BYOD (bring your
own device) will allow greater engagement in education.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
You must be passionate about what you are doing. Teaching is not a 9 to 5 job. Constantly up-skilling and looking for ways to engage students takes time. As a new teacher, get the basics right first, and then worry about the innovations.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
Bring your own devices is a trend that I think will assist in student learning. My worry in regards to this is that education starts to become more entertainment without the quality learning.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
A structured thinking strategy that will focus the learner to achieve and instill a passion for lifelong learning. I currently use SOLO taxonomy. The Structure of Observed Learning Outcome (SOLO) taxonomy is a model that describes levels of increasing complexity in student’s understanding of subjects (John B. Biggs and K. Collis). Once you have a thinking strategy with clear outcomes, students are able to use a wide variety of tools to enhance their learning.
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About Julia Breen
Teacher of Physical Education and Health, Howick College Auckland,
Birthplace: Melbourne, Australia
Current residence: Auckland, New Zealand
Education: B.Ed (Physical Education), Ballarat University Victoria
Website I check every day: MSN NZ
Person who inspires me most: People that don’t take no for an answer!
Favorite childhood memory: Aussie summers at the beach
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Wellington, New Zealand
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Laughter is the indicator to life! Everyday!!
Favorite book: The Quiet Game by Greg Isles
Favorite music: Rock, but listening to Adele at the moment!
Your favorite quote or motto: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” George S. Patton