Rock Hill teachers learn how to teach better

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comOctober 4, 2013 

— This summer, Rock Hill High School teacher Edwina Gramuska spent an entire week at the Jewish Museum in New York, taking a class on non-military resistance during the Holocaust.

She was fascinated by what she learned and on Friday, she condensed five days’ worth of lessons down to an hour to show other teachers how to incorporate what she knew into their curriculums.

Gramuska was among more than 100 presenters at the Rock Hill School District’s seventh annual Student Engagement Conference at South Pointe High School. While students across the district had the day off, 1,700 teachers, support staff members and administrators spent the day in keynote presentations and break-out sessions.

“This year, we’re focusing on three main things at our conference,” said Chris Smith, the district’s director of staff development. “It’s all about Common Core, iRock and challenge-based learning.”

Each of the hundreds of sessions was about “best practices,” Smith said. Many of the presenters were Rock Hill teachers, but some came from around the country.

In a session called “The Modern Science Classroom Experience,” representatives from Discovery Education led more than 40 science teachers through a lesson in erosion and weathering to show how to incorporate more traditional classroom techniques, like reading passages, with hands-on tactics, like shaking containers full of rocks and water, and more modern exercises with technology, like following learning modules on a computer and completing glossary activities on an iPad.

Many of the sessions centered on the use of the iPad in classrooms. Thousands of students in the district were given iPads this year, so classrooms across the district are using them on a daily basis as part of the district’s iRock technology initiative.

Each teacher also has one, and most could be seen using them during the conference.

Martha Compton and her classroom intern, Jordan Clark, work in a self-contained special education class at Finley Road Elementary. They attended a session on non-oral communication and learned about programs and applications on the iPad to help their students who can’t speak.

“It gave some people a good idea of how to use the device with kids who are nonverbal,” Clark said.

Although they look for these types of tools on their own, she said, the conference gave them a lot more information than they could find on their own.

“It’s nice that our district has these experts available to us to help us do better in our classrooms,” Compton said.

For Scott Long, a teacher at Rock Hill High School, the transition to increased levels of technology has been smooth so far, but he wanted to learn more about how to incorporate it into his English classes.

“It’s a little bit frightening because I’m old-school; but then again, it’s exciting because this is what the kids need to learn,” he said of technology and iPads in the classroom.

Not all sessions focused on the iPad.

In Gramuska’s session on teaching about the Holocaust, she made a point of showing how a traditional lecture can be enhanced by technology at the front of the classroom, like showing videos of testimonials of survivors or playing music samples related the lesson.

Teaching traditional humanities like history and geography are as important as technology, she said. Teaching about the Holocaust from different perspectives, such as art and music, is a great way to implement Common Core standards, she said.

“We want kids to think and see there is more than one side to every story,” she said. “We also need to show them, ‘What can history teach us today?’”

Teaching methods like this get kids interested, said Kirk Robinson, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Saluda Trail Middle School.

“History is more interesting when you can make it personal,” he said.

Steve Dembo, the director of social media strategy at Discovery Education, challenged the teachers to teach their students how to market themselves and to market their own classrooms, because it’s important to help kids develop a positive online portfolio.

He rejected the notion that schools should “protect” their students’ privacy. Instead, he said, they should be looking to celebrate the unique things that children are doing both in and outside of school.

There is often resistance to advances in technology, he said, but they’re eventually accepted and embraced, and these changes in education will be, too.

Dembo knows a good deal about adopting new technology early. He was the first educator to create a podcast and the first educator on the social networking site Twitter back when it had fewer than 1,300 users.

“It’s blazing that trail forward in hopes that people will follow behind,” he said.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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