Technology Inspires the Youngest of Learners – Lizabeth Conklin, USA
Valentine’s Day has been the inspiration for many a poem, love song and wedding engagement. For Lizabeth Conklin and her class of kindergarteners, it inspired an entirely new way of teaching and learning. “We sent a ‘virtual valentine’ to a kindergarten class in New Hampshire and they sent one back,” says Conklin. “We met through Skype to share the moment and comments of the children. The children had enjoyed recording and helping produce the valentine, but it wasn’t until we actually made the Skype connection that they fully realized the whole concept of the lesson. They had just reached out to children miles and miles away from them to exchange a message of friendship and love.”
This activity was both an eye opener and a spring board for Conklin. “Never did I expect their reaction or their enthusiasm, but that is exactly what happened,” she says. “They didn’t want the learning experience to end, so the lesson continued as they chose to research and map the distance to New Hampshire by bus, including the cities, rivers, mountain ranges, historic sites, we would pass on our journey.”
Together they created a virtual map, and the children produced and recorded their journey. The whole class then met with their New Hampshire counterparts to exchange the virtual map. “My children could hardly contain their excitement,” says Conklin. “They were so proud of their map and the information they had learned and to watch them teach other children was an unbelievable experience. This was a learning moment generated and motivated by five- and six-year-old children on their way to learning with technology.”
Since then, Conklin has used Skype in her classroom to introduce new topics, add information to activities, meet other teachers, scientists, classes, and to “make any learning experience exciting and fruitful,” she adds. “We have had virtual field trips to meet Jean Pennycook in Antarctica, a chicken farmer in Illinois, penguins at SANCCOB, South Africa, and soon we’ll be in North Carolina at the Museum of Natural Science for ‘unhuggable’ animals. We have Mystery Skyped with a leprechaun, ‘Mr. Turkey,’ and have had several Q&A Skypes with kindergarten classes in Kansas, Tennessee, New Hampshire and Texas. Each meeting brought another connection, another question, another lesson, and another child that was enjoying school and learning.”
Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Lizabeth Conklin.
What inspired you to become an educator?
I was the oldest of seven children so teaching my siblings to tie a shoe or comb their hair or fly a kite came naturally. I loved to be helpful, so one day I had attended a Christmas party and had spent most the day playing with a little girl, Blanch, who had Down syndrome. It seemed she had been known to be a little rough, but we played the whole day and I enjoyed every minute. It was then, at the ripe old age of seven, that I proclaimed I would be a teacher for children who had problems learning.
Teaching definitely seemed the direction I was going. I helped the 4th grade special ed. teacher with arts and crafts through most of my elementary years, belonged to the “Future Teachers” club in high school and taught mini lessons to the school’s daycare. I worked every summer as a camp director at a local park housing 125 children ages 3 -15. Yes, I was born to be a teacher.
When the question of college came around, I must say I was shocked when I was encouraged by my parents and grandparents to enroll as an engineer in Earth and Mineral Science at PSU. They felt that woman in engineering could excel financially and they wanted the best for me. I spent two years in engineering and spent every summer as camp director at the park.
Upon entering my junior year of college, I ran into Blanch. She was grown and shopping with her mother. She remembered me and gave me a hug. She told me I was her best friend and that was all I needed. That September I returned to PSU as a student in education.
I graduated a teacher in special education and I have never looked back.
What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?
Teaching has always made me proud and I have had many wonderful experiences with parents and children over the years. It was my sixteenth year of teaching and I had just changed school districts and teaching fields. Formerly an elementary teacher, I now began the school year as a special education teacher at the Wallenpaupack, North Intermediate School teaching grades 3-5.
My class consisted of 12 learning disabled children with a variety of special needs and an even larger number of special labels. Two of the children were twin boys who were both diagnosed with Down syndrome. They had limitations in verbal communication and academics. For them, school had become a nightmare. They were known to create as much turmoil as possible to resist any contact with learning and with their teachers, and their poor behaviors were directly related to the frustrations they met daily. School had failed them.
Since the boys hated school, I spent most of the year looking for ways to make learning interesting and fun for them. I was determined I was going to make a difference, so I changed their schedules, used manipulatives to relate information and I developed a means for them to communicate by using Microsoft Word and Publisher. I used Power Point for picture sequences and routines and created number slide shows. Soon we could communicate to each other and their message was loud and clear and quite disappointing! School was torturous to them and not very engaging. I needed to find a way for them to have the opportunity to succeed.
One day while they were playing in the dirt of an old garden, I noticed the intense interest they had in moving little stones and smoothing the dirt with their hands while sometimes even rolling on their backs to feel the wind blow over them. They were relaxed and at peace while they played and for the first time I realized they were telling me how they could learn.
The school had a section that was once a science garden. It was long forgotten and overgrown, but soon with the help of my class and the twins in particular, we were measuring the length of flower boxes and height of bean plants. Counting seeds became fun instead of a chore. We planted, shoveled dirt, used wheelbarrows to move rocks, and used levels to line up our borders. Learning was no longer a closed door, but instead a welcomed new adventure. They were being noticed by their peers and my fellow teachers for their outstanding work and not for their bad behaviors. School now had a purpose and a real-life connection for these boys. They were excited to come to school and couldn’t wait to get back into the garden each day. They were having success and they were loving every minute of it.
The children, teacher aides, and I and went on to build a new “Forget-Me-Not” garden with stone retaining walls, plants we had started from seed, bushes were planted, a bird bath added, and fencing we actually installed ourselves. My boys and the rest of the class received an award for their commitment to improving the community called the Pride & Progress Award from the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. I couldn’t be more proud of the work they had done, the real-life learning they had acquired and the smiles on their faces!
In June 2014, Michael and Christopher invited me to their graduation. I was so honored and so very proud that these boys who hated school had succeeded and graduated!
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
Currently my class has taken on the quest of understanding the value of having “compassion for others” and technology is our operative tool. My children had created a book of cards for a sick child in Utah. They used Microsoft Word and Publisher and then posted their cards on our Kidblog and Weebly. I recorded the children singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” and attached a QR code for the song to the book and sent it. The children were so thrilled and excited by their gift of love that we went on to find another source to spread their feelings. This time we located a troop in Iraq, wrote words of encouragement and followed the same format, but this time I encouraged the children to post on their own and to help with recording and taking pictures. We again sang, recorded a song, “Jingle Bells and Peace on Earth”, and added a QR code.
My children love to learn with technology and they especially enjoy viewing themselves and reading their blogs. They have now begun looking for new problems or situations where they feel they can make a difference. Our latest endeavor is to connect regularly with St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. We have already sent cards and decorations. I am in the planning stages for a virtual tour of the facility and in the spring we have scheduled a Trike-A-Thon to raise money for the hospital. With each new project and adventure my children are learning about the world, connecting to real-life situations, practicing the skills they need to succeed, and using technology as the tool to explore, create, and become productive children of the 21st century.
Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?
A parent’s perspective on technology in the classroom is probably the biggest obstacle we face when educating today’s child. So often parents see technology as just another babysitter. They see children using cell phones for chatting and Facebooking with their friends or they hand the device to their two year old to entertain them. Rarely do they realize the capabilities that the tool has when used for learning. For this reason, I feel we need to educate the parents in the opportunities technology could offer to their children.
We expect parents to trust us with their children and the decisions we make about their education and their future, but like anything new and different in our lives, we need to be convinced it is right and beneficial. Parents need to feel the same empowerment their children do when they utilize technology in their learning. They need to understand the desire it creates to learn more and learn freely. For this reason, I feel it is our responsibility as educators to involve the parents in their children’s education.
This year, I invited each parent to join me on a technology tour using our classroom computer and the programs/web sites their Kindergarten child may access. I guided them through the websites that are freely used, but I also took them to our Kidblog and Weebly sites. They viewed their child’s writings and pictures along with Animotos of lessons, PowerPoints of books we recorded or had written, recorded songs accessed with QR codes, numerous Skype meetings that had been videotaped and a quick “how to” lesson on utilizing our Kindergarten Facebook. Many of these parents had never viewed the sites before and they were extremely impressed by what their child had produced and accomplished.
We know that the power of technology opens the door to a child’s world of learning, and I think, as educators, we need to help the parents of our children find a way to peek into that door.
In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?
When I realized the impact technology could make on a child’s education and future learning opportunities, I realized there were no limits and no boundaries to what a child could accomplish in life and there were no limits and no boundaries to what I could teach!
I’m excited to know that as educators, we are moving in a direction that allows our children to guide and channel their own dreams and hopes for their futures. We are teaching them how to use the tools of technology, and by using them we are allowing them to flourish. I have observed a new “passion for learning” from the children of today. A passion that is contagious. A passion that is observed when a child is self-motivated to investigate an experiment and excited he’s able to use web sites to seek this information. A passion that wiggles from a child’s body as he finally gets to connect with another class miles and miles away through a Skype lesson. Or the passion that’s felt as a child creates his first Animoto, PowerPoint, Publisher, or Excel to present a report or idea and the desire to create this report was not an assignment from the teacher.
I can feel this passion when a child can’t wait for the virtual field trip of the day, because they get to help solve a world problem about migration and the monarch butterfly or the passion a group of children may display as they wait anxiously for a conference call from a scientist in Antarctica who is studying global warming. I hear the passion in their conversations when they are offered a chance to change history by writing a new ending to a war and they are the producers of a green screen podcast. This passion is learning. It’s embracing learning and it is fully internalizing learning and this is the hope and dreams I wish for the children of the 21st century. I wish for them to “learn with passion” and to have the world of technology to be their tool!
About Lizabeth A. Conklin
Kindergarten Teacher, Grade Level Leader
Wallenpaupack South Elementary School
Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, USA
- Blog URL: kidblog.org/SouthKC14
- Birthplace: Ryslip, England (U.S. Airforce Base)
- Educational background: Bachelor’s Degree – Ed. of the Exceptional Child K-12, Pennsylvania State University; Masters of Elem. Education K-6, Marywood University; 57 additional graduate credits and more to come.
- Website I check every day: My blog, my Weebly, my kindergarten Facebook – WASE Kindergarten, Tweetdeck.
- Favorite childhood memory: My greatest memory would be when my six siblings and I went to see “The Sound of Music” and spent the whole next week climbing and hanging from the maple trees in our driveway while singing “Doe a Deer”!
- Favorite book: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Skype, Microsoft Word, Publisher, PowerPoint and its Voice thread. I have learned to use them all through my projects!
- What is the best advice you have ever received? Never give up and always do your best!