Science teacher wins trip to San Diego for technology fair
Earlier this year hundreds of teachers entered a contest sponsored by TeachersFirst to win the opportunity to attend the annual International Society for Technology in Education conference that took place in San Diego at the end of June.
The three winning teachers received free admission to the conference, along with funds to cover part of their travel expenses. The teachers were asked to submit an essay detailing the ways in which they thought they would benefi t from the experience. Two applicants won by gathering votes online, another was chosen by TeachersFirst based on the strength of her essay.
The leading vote getter among the hundreds of applicants was Jamestown resident Kelly Grennan Smith, who teaches seventh-grade science at Cole Middle School in East Greenwich.
Smith grew up in North Kingstown, where she graduated from high school, and got her college education at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. She married three years ago and moved to Jamestown with her husband, who grew up here. She credits her top vote-getter status to “shameless self-promotion.”
“I dug deep into my contact list,” Smith said. “I emailed everyone. I used Facebook. I had some of my teacher friends ask their students to vote around Rhode Island. My students went home and asked their parents and their grandparents.
For my students it became like their challenge.”
Although Smith spread the word around Rhode Island, the online comments she got on her application came from all over the country. “I got over 2,000 votes and I don’t personally know 2,000 people,” she said. Deborah Gist, Rhode Island’s education commissioner, even put posts on her Twitter and Facebook about it.
The essay that helped Smith to get votes spoke about the opportunity to speak with teachers from around the world and to hear what they are doing in their classrooms with different technologies. That networking was the part of the trip that most excited her. She also hoped to demonstrate to her own students that learning doesn’t end.
“This was an opportunity for me as a teacher to continue my searching of the intellectual boundaries,” Smith said. “It shows my students that this is something that I still think is important.”
The technology conference lasted four days. The free entrance that the contest winners received was a $400 value, and they also received $500 to help defray from travel costs. Smith used the opportunity to extend her trip so that she could spend some time with her college roommate who lives in San Diego, someone she hadn’t seen for three years.
Smith described the conference, which was attended by 20,000 people, as overwhelming. Each day began at 8 a.m. and ran until 5:30 p.m. The activities were a mix of panels, workshops and poster sessions, a term that goes back to the days when people presented posters of their findings, although these days such things are more likely to be found on smart boards.
“I thought the poster sessions were fabulous,” Smith said. “They were usually run by different schools.” At the sessions ,Smith spoke with presenters from Mexico, as well as Illinois. Some of the schools brought students with them, and the students presented what they had done in the classroom. Although each session lasted approximately 90 minutes, Smith didn’t remain at any one for that long, preferring to bounce around to 30 or 40 different sessions.
“For example, I spoke to one group of fourth-graders who were doing podcasts for their school,” Smith said. “They were actually doing them right there. They used it to summarize what they were doing in their classrooms. Their principal would put it up on You- Tube, and then the parents could see what was happening.”
Smith also spoke to another group from a girls’ school in Mexico. They were combining their technology class with their science class. So while they were studying the elements of the body in their science class, they were creating animations, giving the elements personalities with superhero characteristics.
The conference also featured an exhibit hall with a wide array of vendors. One of Smith’s favorites was from the website BrainPOP, which features a character named Moby and short informational videos. She had been a fan of the site since she taught in Jamestown seven years ago. She also got a chance to troubleshoot some of the equipment that she has in her school in East Greenwich because the company that makes it had representatives on-site in the exhibition hall.
The networking that Smith looked forward to was available to her in San Diego. “Everyone that was there, was there to learn, but they were also there to share what they already do,” Smith said. “I don’t think I sat by myself for more than five minutes at a time. You could strike up a conversation with anyone.”
Smith said that there were so many great ideas in the air that realistically she couldn’t look into them all. So she created a to-do list of things that appealed to her so that she could address them at a later date. A lot of the discussion revolved around social media.
“The role of education is changing,” Smith said. “I think that teaching social media responsibility is falling on the schools. That needs to be a priority because it’s not going away. It really has changed everything for the better.”
As for what Smith will bring back to her class from the conference, she said that one of the things she wants to do is to start using both student-made and teacher-made podcasts to flip the classroom, a concept that involves having students do some of the work that they normally do in the classroom at home, and some of the work that they usually do at home in the classroom.
And that’s just one item on the long to-do list that Smith developed as a result of her trip to San Diego.