“Now that I am teaching I also want to inspire other teachers to think further than just their classroom so that we are creating opportunities for our students to be their very best — to be LIFE ready.” – Jamie Ewing, USA

As we celebrate teacher innovation this month on Daily Edventures, I’m thrilled to introduce you to a teacher who thinks about innovation all the time, then applies technology and sound pedagogy to engage his students in 21st century learning. Jamie Ewing didn’t start out as a teacher – he was a high-end menswear designer for Barney’s New York. “I knew in high school I wanted to teach but it took almost 20+ years to get me there,” he says. But once he arrived at this career destination, he quickly made his mark.

Ewing’s e-Labs digital science fair project took him all the way to the Partners in Learning Global Forumv, and led to meaningful improvements in student engagement and test scores. “Technology is just one tool that I’ve employed to support my work,” Ewing says, “I think the biggest tool is really project-based learning, blended with technology, that springboards all the innovation that happens in my classroom.”

You may have spotted Ewing in a recent code.org video with Bill Gates, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and others, which I blogged about earlier this year (here). Today, he shares with us his unique perspective on teaching, his enthusiasm for what he does and a few ideas about how to get the most from students. Enjoy!

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?

I had some amazing teachers throughout my educational experience and I wanted to be one of those teachers that inspire students. I wanted to give back the same opportunities to my students that my teachers gave to me. Now that I am teaching I also want to inspire other teachers to think further than just their classroom so that we are creating opportunities for our students to be their very best — to be LIFE ready. Life Ready = ready for whatever life brings their way. I don’t promise to need to make students college-prepared or college-ready; I need students to be ready for life when they walk out of those doors in high school. I need them to be ready to take it from there.

Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

I am fortunate to have been inspired by many different people and to just name a few is tough. My mentor in school, Stevie Bravmann, I think has been the biggest inspiration in my current life. She believed in me and my abilities to be a great teacher. I really respect her abilities so that belief in me pushed me to go farther than I thought I was capable of going. The other teachers that inspired me were my middle and high school teachers. In such a wacky period of one’s life, middle school teachers have a tough job to inspire, but they found a way to make me want to really learn, not just make it through. My high school teachers just helped me put it all together! I also have to mention my parents who always believed I could do anything that I set my mind to doing; for this I am forever grateful. I think parents sometimes do not realize the part they really play in a child’s life.

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education.  What has changed as a result of your work?

My most important professional achievement so far is my work with Partners in Learning and the Global Forum, where I was honored to represent the USA! Through this work, many opportunities have opened up for me. I was the only teacher featured in the www.code.org video that promotes the use of programming in the classroom. These achievements push me every day to rethink what I do in my classroom and how I can engage more of my students.

I think there’s a big misunderstanding about innovation and being innovative. Innovation is not using the best and new equipment and technologies. Being innovative isn’t about using the newest software or the most up-to-date programs. Innovative is not about, ‘hey, look at this really cool thing I did,’ and then never doing anything else.  Most innovative people would not tell you that they are innovative because as soon as they have accomplished one thing they’ve realized that there are 10 other things they haven’t done yet. Innovation is about rethinking what you do, making do with what you have and thinking about how you can push your own thinking further every moment of the day.  The achievements I have earned and worked very hard to gain help keep my mind in this mode of innovation.

The face of education is changing and educators need to keep up with that change. Our students learn more outside the classroom and are bored in school. My achievements have made me realize how important it is to rethink how I deliver information. The information hasn’t changed since the beginning of education but the way students gain understanding of that information continues to evolve.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

This generation of students has grown up with technology in their hands so to expect them to sit still and learn like I learned would be preposterous thinking on my part. I also know that sitting my students in front of computers or hand-helds and expecting them to learn is just as absurd. Every day my personal challenge is to rethink learning. What can I do better, different, or newer that is going to engage more minds around my classroom? Currently I am taking old-school, stop-motion animation and turning it into multi-media history videos, the projects my students are creating are crazy cool.

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

Technology is opening all kinds of doors for cross collaboration across this globe. What is done one day in Finland can be instantly done the next day in Seattle. Co-projects are possible with classrooms around the world. Collaboration! Teaching can be such an isolating job, we come to school and close our doors… technology is taking down the doors, windows, walls… it is blowing the roof off our classrooms. This is scary for some teachers! It blows my mind thinking about the opportunities that are endless. This wasn’t possible 10 years ago… it wasn’t even possible five years ago! Think of where we’ll be in five more years.

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

I am passionate about critical thinking and collaboration. Oh I know you said to pick one, but they go together! When you have both of these running in one room… WOW! Kids are unstoppable when they can acquire both of these skills. Everything I do in my class combines these two skills every day.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

I would give them a tool that convinces them that they can do anything once they let go and go with their imagination. Every other tool out in the world is powered better by imagination. I want every student out there to be able to out-think me, rethink everything I’ve done and imagine a world that is different than the one I am trying to create.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

My country is doing testing really well, so well there is little time for anything else. This is where being innovative comes into play in the classroom.

How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?

Educators aren’t changing fast enough. We keep thinking that if we change the curriculum then the test scores will get better and our students will be smarter.  The problem is the students have already changed; they are moving ahead and living in a world that I could not have ever imagined. They are seeing more of life at 10 then I saw at 25. Education needs to rethink the classroom; we need to rethink where our students are learning and how they are taking in knowledge. We also need to think about what skills they really need to be successful in our new world. Teachers can’t be teachers anymore. We need to be coaches, we need to be guides and we need to be comfortable with stepping out of the way of their learning!

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

The biggest obstacle I have to overcome in my classroom is myself. In order to ensure that my students are receiving the best education I can provide I have to not think like the student that I was but more like the student I would be if I was a student in my own class. What would I need to be successful today? This would be a great place to talk about all the disadvantages I have as a teacher working in a Title 1 school with little to no extra budget, but these things make me a better teacher.  These are the things that push me as a teacher. I don’t have obstacles in the way most think of obstacles; those are just complaints. My obstacle is: How can I be better than yesterday?!

How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Forget Fear, Implement in small pieces, See the big picture and Don’t forget your audience. Be proud to make mistakes and celebrate them. If you are trying to be a movie star in education you are in the wrong business. If you see someone doing something that you aspire to be, are jealous of, or want to be doing: ASK THEM TO HELP YOU!

About James “Jamie” Ewing

  • Birthplace: USA
  • Current residence: Seattle, Washington
  • Education: BFA in Fashion Design, Master in Education
  • Website I check every day: Huffington Post
  • Person who inspires me most: My students’ dreams
  • Favorite childhood memory: Spending hours a day dreaming in a world away
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Some place for sun!
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? EVERYDAY, I have to or I’ll go crazy…wait I already am crazy — just ask my students!
  • Favorite book: Anything that’s Edwardian, yes I said Edwardian!
  • Favorite music: Vocal dance/club music and bluegrass
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? “Be True to Yourself.” -Mom
  • Your favorite quote or motto:We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

Are you or is somebody you know an Expert Educator? The Microsoft Expert Educator program is an exclusive one-year program created to recognize global educator visionaries who are using technology to pave the way for their peers for better learning and student outcomes. Experts start the program by coming together for the annual Partners in Learning Global Forum.

To apply to the Expert Educator Program, and win a free trip to the next Partners in Learning Global Forum, go to www.pil-network.com/expert

Applications are being accepted through September 2013. Apply today!

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