life-changing, inspiring, amazing, awesome… I could go on forever.
Making Education Relevant and Interactive through Technology (MERIT) is an educator professional development program at Foothill College’s Krause Center for Innovation. It is a year-long program in creating fun, engaging, learning-filled, student-centered environments in classrooms around the world. While most of the teachers accepted into MERIT are located in the San Francisco Bay Area, we had teachers from Italy, Brazil, and Korea!
I started integrating technology in education the first day I worked in an educational setting, and at the time, I thought this was what normally happened in classrooms. I soon found out that those shiny computers in the back of the classroom were in the back of the classroom for a reason: they were never used, except maybe by the teacher who needed to print an online worksheet. SMH
When I taught middle school language arts, I was able to convince the principal at the time to let me open a Google Apps for Education account for my class. I created my own domain, signed up and implemented GAFE, and started blogging on Edublogs for homework. I saw my students become even more engaged, writing more, interacting with each other using academic vocabulary, and shhhh… don’t tell them… they were learning. I was able to increase the quality and quantity of my students’ output, and they were having a great time doing it. But, again, I was alone. I was an island – no other teachers I knew used technology to improve their teaching. I had a quote that I stated often, “A monkey with an iPad will still be a monkey.” Technology does not change bad teaching, bad pedagogy.
Fast forward 4 years. after being the Director of Technology at the K-8 level, I was able to help a handful of teachers use technology in significant ways. The science teacher at the K-8 was amazing with her science fair projects being completely done through GAFE. After her first year of doing it, she improved it even more the 2nd year, and I have no doubt it will constantly improve with her familiarity and passion for good teaching skills. But I still felt like an island… who was going to share ideas with me? Who would teach me new and super shiny cool things?
I applied and was accepted to the program. On July 22, 2013, I no longer was an island. Bridges were built. Teachers became friends. People Tweeted. My PLN grew exponentially.
First off, let me say that every single person that was at MERIT (instructors and learners alike) helped me in some way. Whether it was the feedback on my mini-presentation, or asking a question during the program, or just by nodding in agreement when something profound was happening. We all had a-ha moments, we all laughed a ton, and we all cried during a video or two. We all came in as great teachers; we all left as great learners.
One of our projects we could choose was to make a site that was a basic e-portfolio of our time at MERIT. Mine can be found here. My final project, the Diva Dialogue Social Justice Projects was something I developed during the summer institute. It incorporates a lot of new things I learned at MERIT, and it embraces student choice, student collaboration, and as Kevin Brookhauser says, human-centered learning. I am now ready to start my new job at the high school level as the Director of Instructional Innovation, Resources, & Media, and MERIT gave me the tools, skills, and collaboration time to come up with my course content. You can see my final project here.
Did I already know how to use Flubaroo, Twitter, and screencasting apps? Yes. However, I didn’t know how easy (and fun!) it was to use Haiku Deck, Voice Comments on Google Docs, and iMovie Trailers. I learned way more than I could ever list because I witnessed and participated in collaborative assignments, saw extra stuffs at lunch, and I made friends I know I’ll keep for the rest of my life. The most important things I gained from MERIT were a renewed sense of pride in being a teacher (and a lifelong learner), knowing I’ll never be alone – my friends are only a Tweet away at #MERIT13, and that there are teachers out there who deeply believe in innovation, change, and student-centered classrooms.
And, oh, before I forget: Swag happens at MERIT. Every single day of the summer institute. Not only did everyone get a cool Samsung waterproof video camera, a microphone, 4GB SD chip, and a tripod; but I also was lucky enough to get a $299 ticket to IntegratED SF. Awesome-sauce since my school was planning to send six of us – and now a 7th teacher at my school can attend because I’m going via MERIT swag. (Thank you, Darren Hudgins from OETC for donating that to MERIT!)
If you’re feeling like an island, or if you just want to embrace your inner geek and become the cool teacher that does all the cool things that kids like (and learn from!), apply to MERIT. It will be something that sticks to your teacher soul for life.