IN CLOSE WITH | Andy Plemmons
As a media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, GA, Andy Plemmons is focused on giving students a voice. Here, he talks about the technology and pedagogy he uses to inspire those voices, and to share them beyond the walls of the classroom. Andy is the 2017 American Association of School Librarians Social Media Superstar for Sensational Student Voice, a 2016 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, a Google Innovator, and an NSBA “20 to Watch” honoree.
GETTING STARTED How did you get started as an educator, and how has your job changed over the years?
I began my career in 2001 as 3rd-grade teacher in a classroom with a chalkboard and two really old computers in the back corner. Part of my educational philosophy has always been about giving students a voice, but over the years it has evolved into harnessing the power of technology to get their voice out into the world, as well as collaborating with the world.
Miraculous things really do happen every day in education. It’s up to us to keep our eyes and ears open for the miraculous and shine the light on those moments, no matter how small.
INSPIRATIONS What inspires you about teaching? Do you have a slogan or mantra that guides you?
My mantra is to “expect the miraculous.” These inspiring words came from Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses. I know for myself that it’s easy for me to think about what isn’t going well or dwell on the long list of ideas I have that I just can’t get to. However, miraculous things really do happen every day in education. It’s up to us to keep our eyes and ears open for the miraculous and shine the light on those moments, no matter how small.
FAVORITE TECH What is your favorite tech tool right now and why?
Flipgrid remains one of my favorite tech tools because it brings student voices together in one place and allows me to easily share those so the world can hear them. For example, our 2nd-graders create a project called the Barrow Peace Prize where they research people from history via Capstone’s Pebble Go and other resources. They craft persuasive pieces to convince an audience that their person is deserving of recognition. Their writing is recorded and shared via Flipgrid, and people around the world vote on who should win.
RECENT EVENTS What memorable edtech conference have you attended recently?
I’ve really enjoyed attending some of the state and regional technology conferences, such as Dynamic Landscapes in Vermont and NCCE in Seattle. This fall (2017), I’ll be a featured speaker at MassCUE at the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. I’m looking forward to learning with the educators of the northeast.
What was your greatest educational moment?
Really any moment where students are empowered is a great moment for me. Each year, I do a project where I give students a budget in the library. They create a Google form on reading interests, gather answers, analyze data, set goals, and meet with vendors like Jim Boon from Capstone Press and our local independent bookstore, Avid Bookshop. They order books for our library collection that are completely selected by students. These books remain some of the most circulated books in our collection.
What was your most embarrassing educational moment?
I prefer to call them learning opportunities because if you don’t take an embarrassing moment and learn from it, it remains an embarrassment. The very first time I used Google Hangouts was to facilitate a Picture Book Smackdown between schools in four states with two authors. It wasn’t horrible, but there were so many things I didn’t know about how to make the hangout run smoothly, such as audio tips, time limits, and dividing out responsibilities. A hangout that large was a bit ambitious, but we pushed through the audio feedback, poor connections, slow transitions, and long-winded speakers. Since that moment, I’ve participated in many Google Hangouts, but that first one always helps me in preparing as much as possible ahead of time for a smooth conversation.
PD FOR ME What makes for great tech-related professional development?
There are days when I just like to sit and listen to someone talk about tech tools, but nothing beats diving into the technology and using it in order to learn about it. I’ve jumped into new technology with students in the library without really knowing everything about it, and as the classroom teacher co-teaches with me, he or she learns about the technology in action and also sees that students are capable of figuring out many of the bells and whistles for themselves.
BRING IT ON! What’s the next technology you want to bring to your school, and why?
I’ve been a Flipgrid user for a few years, and I’ve collaborated with many teachers in my school to use it in projects. However, as a school, we aren’t using it consistently across classrooms. This year, all teachers in my school will have a Flipgrid Classroom account, and we’ll explore how to hear from all student voices and how to connect those voices with the world beyond our walls.
NO THANKS What educational technology do you wish had never been invented, and why?
I don’t know that there’s any technology I would wish away, but there are some concerns that I see lately that I want to address with students. Social media and the ability to comment on anything have created an environment where people are quick to judge, criticize, and bully one another. This includes adults, probably even more than students. We still need to debate and be critical of what we read and share, but it’s time that we all step back and listen, consider someone else’s perspective, and learn how to build on one another’s strengths rather than break each other down.
FUTURE LOOK What educational technology do you wish someone would invent, and why?
We have so many amazing tools that allow our students to connect, collaborate, and get their voices into the world. However, I think we are still lacking in ways to efficiently find collaborating classrooms, libraries, or schools around the world. Many people are making connections via Twitter, online groups, and at conferences, but we still don’t have a way to find global collaborators in a way that doesn’t take a lot of time and effort.
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