Shelby Harris' 7th grade classroom at a public school in Kuna, Idaho, was featured in Davis Guggenheim's documentary TEACH. Shelby faced the challenge of starting to use Khan Academy in the spring for 3 months before state testing. She transformed her teaching as she learned about using technology as a tool, not a replacement for teaching.
I am Shelby Harris, a 7th grade math teacher at Kuna Middle School in Kuna, Idaho. I’m entering my 14th year of teaching in this rural town right outside of Boise. Our school serves 7th and 8th grade students and has a population of roughly 800 students. We have sizeable ELL and low income populations and, like all buildings, instruct to an enormous range of student abilities.
I’ve always been a very traditional teacher; in the front of the room, captive audience, putting on a show. I managed behavior with ease, entertained my crowd, delivered lessons meant to inspire to the masses. I loved my job. I also knew I wasn’t doing it very well. I knew I had highly capable students who were bored but well behaved, so they politely smiled through my lectures. I knew I had a not-so-tiny group who was completely lost.
I needed a solution. I needed fewer students. I needed more time. I needed an assistant teacher. None of these needs were easily met. Until Khan Academy.
The day the students were assigned their one to one devices and we started using KA, they were so excited! Partially because of the new technology, but mostly because they knew that math as they knew it was going to be changing. What they knew before was a class where they were either the bored kid or the lost kid. I had a prescribed curriculum to get through in a prescribed amount of time, even though there were students who needed two minutes on a concept while their classmates needed two days (or two weeks!).
I was excited too--but also very nervous. How do you take a mostly traditional teacher like myself and suddenly take my soapbox away and give kids a bunch of screens to look at? I felt lost and out of place. I wasn’t sure where I fit in, nor how to behave.
Fast forward: I’m figuring it out. I am pulling small groups based on KA data and observations. I’m able to give personalized attention to students and focus on the unique needs of each individual. The kids are all engaged and helping each other. And there are smiles. Lots and lots of smiles. The change in atmosphere is palpable. I don’t stand at the helm and drive the boat along while all my disciples row in unison. I am rowing with them. Constantly checking data and redirecting the crew. When a man goes down, I am using data to send aid. When there is a group off course or in uncharted waters, I am pulling them aside to guide their next direction. It’s beautiful and fluid and looks like….well, chaos. But within this chaos there are students learning with a renewed enthusiasm for math, tackling their fears, and supporting each other.
At the end of a few short months, I was doing a lot right and still doing a lot wrong. I know my implementation is still a work in progress, but I know I’m moving in the right direction. The smiles on those faces and improvement in their scores tells me so.