Education majors lead movement to unlock the potential of new k-12 technology

Dash & Dot, new favorites in the School of Education, with Carissa Punkosdy and Brianna Vaughan at the controls

Liz Brennan ’19 remembers when she really started to see the potential of technology as a teaching tool.

“In one of my classes, instead of writing a book report, we had to create a film trailer,” Brennan said. “It was so much fun, and weeks later I realized I still remembered everything about the book. If I had just written a paper, I probably would have forgotten a lot of it.”

Stories like these, where technology combines with purposeful lesson plans to create effective learning experiences, are increasingly common in contemporary k-12 classrooms. As schools and districts acquire more tablets, laptops, apps, 3D printers and other smart learning devices, educators with a talent for integrating technology into the curriculum – and showing other teachers how to do the same – are in high demand.

“A lot of schools now have technology, but teachers often have to work on their own to learn new materials that are consistently changing,” Brennan said. “That’s where we step in – our job is to help teachers in districts and faculty here at New Paltz learn how to use these tools.”

“At the end of the day, I believe in using technology in the classroom because it benefits those who need it most”
– Liz Brennan (right), pictured with Associate Professor Kiersten Greene

The School of Education at SUNY New Paltz is at the center of a new Ed Tech 4 Teacher Prep movement in the Hudson Valley, led by students like Brennan, Brianna Vaughan ’20 and Carissa Punkosdy ’20, and their faculty mentor, Associate Professor Kiersten Greene.

Their goal is twofold: to bring effective, technology-based learning to students and teachers throughout the state, and to make technology training available to both new and experienced teachers who need modern skills to thrive in modern classrooms.

To achieve these outcomes, students and faculty in New Paltz’s School of Education are working to master tools that are becoming increasingly commonly in high-tech classrooms.

That includes the robots Dash & Dot, who serve as a good example of the upside, and the challenges, of bringing new technology into schools.

“Robots are really cool and students love them, but they only have value if you can use them to make the learning experience more memorable” – Brianna Vaughan

“We look for ways to help teachers link this technology to their curriculum – for instance, using them to hold a pencil and draw shapes for geometry lessons, or moving them around a big map to teach social studies,” Vaughan said.

This work is about more than playing with robots. Once they find a technology and an approach that works, the Ed Tech 4 Teacher Prep team takes the crucial next step of delivering their findings to working teachers, SUNY New Paltz students and faculty, government officials and other education professionals.

At the NYedHub Conference at SUNY New Paltz in May, Brennan, Vaughan and Punkosdy showcased their expertise before an audience of nearly 200 veteran educators and administrators.

“The conference was my first time talking in front of a large group of people who are more advanced in their careers,” said Punkosdy. “I was nervous at first, but they were really into it, asking a lot of great questions. It made me step back and realize that I have something to offer.”

The conference was a proud moment for Greene, whose teaching and scholarship focuses on digital pedagogy, education policy and working with future teachers who are interested in technology.

“The thing I’ve seen in these three young women is an unbridled enthusiasm to learn,” Greene said. “They’ve demonstrated where education is going right now, and they’re leaders in their cohort.”

It helps that they believe wholeheartedly in the work they’re doing. New technologies may not solve every problem in k-12 education, but they have a lot to offer – especially to students who learn differently than their peers.

“At the end of the day, I believe in using technology in the classroom because it benefits those who need it most,” Brennan adds. “Taking different routes may help more students get to the central focus of the lesson. If it’s memorable, and if it’s meaningful, that’s good for learning.”

The Ed Tech 4 Teacher Prep team presented to nearly 200 professionals at the NYedHub Conference in May 2019.
Pictured with Amy DelCorvo (right), CEO and executive director of NYSCATE

Brennan, Greene, Punkosdy and Vaughan will continue their work this November as presenters at the 2019 NYSCATE Conference, which will be attended by more than 1,500 education professionals.

The Ed Tech 4 Teacher Prep initiative is funded in part by a SUNY Teach NY grant. Follow the Ed Tech 4 Teacher Prep team on Instagram, and visit the School of Education to learn more about opportunities for present and future teachers at SUNY New Paltz.