Technology teacher brings life to learning

Prairie Crossing educator says engagement key to pupils’ retention

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Kelly Cargo displays a wide, gap-toothed smile when she talks about her favorite technology project.

“The Best Part About Me,” the Prairie Crossing Elementary fourth-grader said. “You’ve got to choose three things you like about yourself.”

With help from technology teacher Debbie Blair, Cargo learned a computer program that allowed her to create a video and zoom in on Cargo’s favorite physical feature — her big, blue eyes.

Like Cargo, Parker sixth-grader Jordan McDonald doesn’t need time to recall her favorite. Though it was nearly three years ago, the memory is fresh.

“It was what our passion is,” she said. “We did a video of what we really like to do.”

For McDonald, that was karate.

That near-instant recall is among the ways Blair sees technology changing education, and why she believes so fiercely in what she does. It also has her chomping at the bit to start the 2013-14 school year.

Blair's son, a Prairie Crossing student, created a virtual scrapbook on astronaut Neil Armstrong.

“This was done in March or April and I know my son could still tell me about Neil Armstrong,” she said. “That’s because of the level of engagement.” 

Initially a third-grade teacher at Prairie Crossing, Blair was named the school’s technology teacher seven years ago. The floating position takes her into every classroom, working with kindergartners, sixth-graders and all levels in between, on projects related to their studies. Classroom teachers work alongside Blair in a unique, shared teaching style.

“We were the first school in the district to adopt the co-teaching model for technology,” said Blair. “It’s essentially embedded staff development. Teachers are learning to use the tools, too.”

Second-grade teacher Brigitte Cranmer said some teachers initially were hesitant.

“Debbie has pushed, prepared and given a lot of support to the teachers,” she said. “It took years to accomplish, but I really think Prairie Crossing leads in technology.”

Blair’s position melds perfectly with the concept of 21st-century education, and her projects typically include the four C’s emphasized as part of the Douglas County School District’s curriculum: Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication.

“I think we do a lot of things at Prairie Crossing technologically that other schools may do, but maybe not to the same extent,” Blair said. “The different ways to use technology are built into the kids here.”

Students typically work in small groups, creating multi-layered presentations. Fifth-graders last year wrote songs about the U.S. government’s branches, recorded those songs with an audio program and uploaded them to a video program. Such projects create memories students retain.

“We don’t just want them to regurgitate information,” Blair said.

Each student also has an e-portfolio of projects they’ve done throughout their years at Prairie Crossing — “a living history,” Blair said, of all they’ve accomplished.

Blair’s job, like the e-portfolios, is ever-changing.

“I love how technology evolves,” she said. “What I did even five years ago, I would never think of doing with students now. The expectations I have for them change, too.”

What remains constant is Blair’s goal to blend information students need to know with methods they’ve known their entire lives. 

“These kids are truly digital natives,” Blair said. “We need to capitalize on that.”

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