Dr. Rayna Freedman does not see herself as a teacher, but as a facilitator of learning. A fifth grade teacher at Jordan-Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, she has always been progressive and student-centered. She knew from her early days of teaching (when she supplied her own box computers for her classroom) that technology would open doors for her students.
“I’ve always been sort of rebellious and pushing the envelope when it comes to technology,” Freedman says. “I saw that technology could bring things to the classroom and connect people in ways that I couldn’t. Technology makes it possible to support all learners in so many ways.”
An early adopter of Google, Freedman would recommend Google for Education as a good place to start when it comes to technology in the classroom.
“I could not do what I do in the classroom without Google for Education,” says Freedman. “Students can work in Google Slides and you can assign them each a slide or they can create their own slideshow. They can add text, images, audio, video – there’s so much you can do.”
Freedman’s students even use Google Slides and Google Sites (which she says is an underrated tool) to create portfolios and present their work to their parents/guardians in student-led conferences – replacing traditional conferences.
“I would highly suggest teachers look into student-led conferences – even as early as kindergarten,” Freedman says.
Freedman uses Wakelet to curate TED talks and podcasts that the students can listen to and then reflect in a Google form. It can also be used by students to pull together research articles. She uses Screencastify with students to create podcast episodes based on vocabulary words. She says the combination of the traditional, workbook approach and the podcast help kids really understand the words. Students are allowed to choose 15-20 words and work in groups to come up with a podcast episode using the words. Recent episodes included: “Who is Michael Jackson?” “Facts about Lions,” “Ice Cream,” and “Why Art is Fun,” all from the same words.
“It’s a great way to teach kids how to write succinctly and to show they know the material,” Freedman says of podcasting. “They learn their Tony Wagner survival skills: how to be flexible and adaptable in their thinking.”
Throughout the year, Freedman focuses on STEAM-based learning and investigation. In fact, her students are not just students, they are Secret Agents.
“JJ Secret Agents starts on day one of the school year. The students become investigators. We do all sorts of things to build community,” Freedman says.
Freedman brings authors, scientists and other experts into her classroom virtually so the students can conduct their own investigations. They share their ideas with the world through the JJ Secret Agent blog. The approach has been so successful, that she keeps in touch with many past agents, some of whom return to the classroom to help with projects. She points out that another benefit of the approach is that each student is assigned a number and everything is labeled with that number, so she never has to re-label anything. It also gives students a bit of confidentiality, since those outside the classroom don’t know which student goes with which number.
“It’s an entire area of the conference dedicated to student voice, which I’m super excited about,” Freedman says. “They will be sharing projects in a showcase and in a panel, where educators will have the chance to talk to them in a more intimate setting about what they are doing.”
Freedman is a past president of MassCUE who enjoys providing professional development to other educators, while always seeking it herself. She is a big believer in sharing what works among educators.
“I have a real passion for PD,” Freedman says. “Getting other educators excited and getting them comfortable with trying something new, that impacts kids beyond just my secret agents.”
Her advice to educators looking to improve their practice: you might not have to look far.
“Your PD could be someone right in your building. So go out and talk to the people in your building about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it because you might gain something from that,” Freedman says.
She points out that specialists (or elective subject teachers) and library media “humans” are often overlooked but can be a great source of information.
For Freedman, the best thing about teaching is that every year the students are different and her projects are different. She has the opportunity to create and challenge herself to try new things.
“I really enjoy getting to know my kids and building that community and supporting past Secret Agents,” Freedman says. “I feel very grateful to have set up the Secret Agent community. I don’t know many professions where you can say, 24 years in, that it still brings me so much joy.”
Dr. Rayna Freedman is a 5th grade teacher at the Jordan/Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, MA. She has taught grades 3-5. Rayna has a B.S. in Education from the University of Vermont and a M.Ed in Educational Technology from Lesley University. She received her doctorate through Northeastern in teaching, learning, leading, and curriculum. Rayna is the Past President of MassCUE and has been presenting at the annual conference since 2010. She is a Google for Education Certified Trainer, Google Level 1 and 2 certified educator, a BrainPOP consultant and certified educator, Flip Ambassador, Fablevision Ambassador and Wakelet Ambassador. Rayna has presented for ISTE, Ed Tech Teacher, Vietnam Technology Conference, CUE Nevada, NYSCATE, Tech and Learning, Medfield Digital Learning Day, FETC, BPLC, and BLC. She believes in student agency and the power of building relationships and community.Print this post