Name: Ben Smith (@edtechben)
Organization: Red Lion Area School District
Current title: Physics Teacher / Consultant
Selected accolades: 2011 Making IT Happen recipient, ISTE PK-12 representative for the Board of Directors (2008-2012)
What is your key to personal growth as an educator?
What we want students to be able to do? I figure out what I want from students first – this is both content plus those 21st century (or science) skills. Then I work backwards.
I encourage teachers to use a less formal structure with students (Don’t Worry, Be Vague). I think this loose structure allows and encourages students to be creative and gives teachers a chance to work more closely with their students.
What skill(s) do you feel are most important for today’s students to explore in academic settings (tech or non-tech related)?
I have four goals for my students. I want them to be able to communicate, collaborate, be creative and solve problems. I use physics as the vehicle but the emphasis is truly on the skills students need to be successful. As a science teacher, this comes naturally to me as it is important to not only “know” science but also “do” science.
For a teacher looking to use technology to connect with students, enhance learning or embrace 21st century skills, where do you suggest one begin?
I would have to say the place to start is with ISTE (or one of the affiliates). Get to a conference – it can change the course of your career. The other place is to find an online community. I use Twitter to find a lot of information and share thoughts.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job occurs when the bell rings. I really enjoy the interaction that occurs in the classroom. Although there is not really a typical class, it often starts with announcements to students and then putting them to work. I move throughout the room talking, encouraging and working with students wherever they are in the unit. Students work on the activities that are best for the classroom. Sometimes this involves homework problems, asking questions, working on labs, etc. I always look forward to challenges. Last school year I took over our TV Studio. We broadcast a morning show (https://rlasd.eduvision.tv/) but have transformed the studio into the communications center for the school. We cover news, Tweet events and announcements, and work to shape the message about the great things going on in our school.
What was your path to your current position?
I have been teaching for 23 years in the same room in which I started. This seems a bit unusual but the school has seen a lot of growth and several construction projects…but it all happens around me. My room has been transformed – they knocked out the wall and replaced the furniture. At the time, although it was a difficult task to convince the architects, I had them take everything out and put in tables and chairs. The tables all move and we often rearrange them. Students will put them together to work around, move them in the hall at times, and put them in a place to take advantage of what they are working on.
I also serve on the ISTE Board of Directors as a PK-12 representative. My involvement with ISTE began when I was named a Keystone teacher in Pennsylvania. At the state level they held a summit which I attended as a participant before becoming an event instructor. It really started me down the path of using Ed Tech (hopefully effectively). I began working as an ISTE faculty member. My travels as a consultant have taken me to Singapore, USVI and all over the US to work with teachers, schools, and corporations. So while I have not left the room I started in, I have expanded my world-view and brought many ideas back into my own teaching practice.