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Best in the State: BC teacher has no fear of using technology

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Some high school students don’t like it when a teacher gets too technical with them.

That’s not the case in Angela Cunningham’s Social Studies classroom at Bullitt Central, where students actually look forward to it.

Cunningham is always processing ideas to implement state-of-the-art technology into lesson plans to boost student interest and participation. The efforts earned her the 2013 Outstanding Teacher Award presented by the Kentucky Society for Technology in Education (KySTE).

The award recognizes teacher achievement in implementing technology into various lessons in non-technology classrooms. 

“I try to use technology as much as I can, even when it’s limited,” Cunningham said. “I’ve done a lot of work with ways to integrate it into the lesson plans.”

Susan Jenkins, a Technology Integration Specialist with Bullitt County Public Schools, praised Cunningham for taking her own initiative and working with technologies available in her Bullitt Central classroom.

“She implements a lot of social media and keeps in contact with professional colleagues from throughout the country,” Jenkins said.

One of Cunningham’s most successful efforts was implementing an online chat room for students during recent Presidential debates, as well as during the State of the Union address.

According to Cunningham, live chat allowed real time educational opportunity, with students discussing thoughts and ideas immediately, while allowing more time to focus on and revisit specific topics.

“It was a chance to extend the learning beyond the classroom walls,” she said. “It brought a relevance to these events. There was opportunity for specific questions, and (students) would not forget them by the next day. They could also find more information online to share.”

Cunningham prepared a Twitter account for her classroom, allowing students to prepare and share topic thoughts and ideas.

“I had a list of students on the board, and they knew when it was their turn,” said Cunningham. “They prepared their own Tweets based on lesson plans. We turned a textbook chapter into 25 Tweets that they could understand. They did an incredible job of breaking down to essentials.”

Students implemented Storify, a newer technology that adds video to Tweets.

“When a new person was mentioned (in the lesson plan) a video was added, or news articles, and then embedded on our class website,” Cunningham said. “It took almost no class time. I kept teaching, students took turns Tweeting, and we finished the chapter in one class.”

Jenkins credited Cunningham with using Twitter in 2011 when the Egyptian government was overthrown.

“She used Twitter when a lot of those people involved in Egypt were Tweeting live,” Jenkins said. “For her classroom topics in Social Studies it’s been a great tool.”

As a Social Studies teacher, Cunningham does not have a full technology background. She believed that implementation was important if it enhanced student knowledge.

“If the textbook is not working, there’s another way for them to get it,” she said.

When a new technology is implemented, Cunningham said it usually took about five minutes to orientate students.

“They usually dive in, they’re good to go,” she said. “They can focus on content, they figure out the technology, and they’re comfortable.”

Another strategy Cunningham brought to the classroom was allowing students an opportunity to make “Facebook-like pages” for various historical figures.

“One of the things they had to do was like people from the same time period,” she said. “It helps students make the connection over time, that’s harder to do without the technology.”

Cunningham’s teaching background is in History and Government. The technological side came from an event hosted by the state’s former Office of Civics Education.

“We had content experts and spent one day on technology,” she recalled. “We had sometime to play with it. Once I started I didn’t stop. I started to think of how technology can enhance knowledge.”

Prior to her personal awakening, Cunningham said the bulk of her technological use was an overhead projector. Eventually a class website allowed class information and links to professional colleagues who could help students further understand certain topics.

“A technology change (at Bullitt Central) had questions, but no real resistance (from the administration),” she said. “On the district level there were questions, primarily about safety. There were tools that I knew, but others didn’t.”

“A lot of teachers are not at that level, to try something new,” Jenkins said. “(Cunningham) has been more willing to try things. She’s been a good innovator and a pilot for us.”

The bottom line for Cunningham’s technology implementation is always enhancing student knowledge.

“We never use it because it’s cool,” she said. “Technology offers more learning opportunities for the kids and more opportunities for me to enhance lesson plans. The technology offers us an opportunity to create something better, something interactive. There’s more opportunities to enhance what we’re doing.”

Cunningham will receive her award at a special ceremony at the Galt House in Louisville March 15. She will then represent Kentucky for a chance at the national award.