By Brian Barrett, Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings
As many of you know, for the last few years we have been training groups of teachers and juvenile justice agency administrators from across the country, on how to use instructional technology as a lever for radical change inside of their schools. Recently Brian Barrett, who has participated in our trainings over a number of years, shared his thoughts on his experiences with us.
I remember getting an email from my supervisor asking if I was interested in this opportunity to go to a training about all these technology-based resources to use in the classroom with my students. The training, called "Unjammed" was going to be in Portland, Oregon and I was going to be one of 4 representatives from Massachusetts. I jumped at the chance, not really knowing what being an Unjammed Fellow would be like, but excited at the possibilities and what it would mean for my students. From the minute I landed, I knew that this experience was going to greatly change both my teaching and my students' educational experience. From the introductions where we received our own Chromebooks to work on, to the Paper Plate Awards at the closing ceremonies, to everything in between, I was blown away. We learned about coding, digital storytelling, web-based programs for presentations and instructions and tons of other tools for both teachers and students alike.
The help and opportunities didn't end with Unjammed. Throughout the year, we participated in virtual trainings and shared resources each month. We learned about, and our students participated in, contests–that they have loved–like the Words Unlocked poetry contest and Unbound reading contest (which my students won). The entire year as a Fellow allowed me to learn and try strategies and tools with my students that made me a better teacher. My students learned a wide variety of new technologies that are key to the jobs of the future and learning today. I remember one student telling me that he didn't feel like he was "locked up" and that instead, he felt he was a "real student" when we were working with the tools I learned from Unjammed.
Two years later, I was asked if I wanted to be part of The Center for Excellence's (CEEAS) blended learning training again, this time for something called "G Suites". This time we were in Baltimore, and we learned all about Google's Suite of educational tools–Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, and Sites. It was 3 days of intensive learning and experimenting that left me in wonder and again excited at the prospects of what this meant for my students. During the year we again had the contests that CEEAS sponsored, and the monthly trainings as well. My students loved using G Suite in the classroom. I even had 2 students design and run a website for the basketball league we were running between my program and other local DYS programs. The site included rosters, stats, weekly game recaps and even an all-star ballot. I was also given the opportunity to take the Google Certified Teacher Level 1 exam as part of being involved in G Suites. I eventually also took and passed, with the help of CEEAS, my Level 2 Google Certified Teacher exam.
Just this past year I was given the opportunity to be an Ambassador for G Suites. This meant I got to help run the trainings and help the next cohort of teachers from around the country learn about G Suites and how they could use it in their classrooms with their students. Helping other teachers improve their practice is something I am passionate about, so this opportunity was fantastic. I learned so much about how to be a presenter and coach to a wide range of teachers with a varied range of learning styles. If a teacher were to ask me whether or not they should be part of a CEEAS program, I would say jump at the chance, you'll love it. I know I have.
The Center for Education Excellence and Alternative Settings is a grantee partner of ECMC Foundation. In 2016, we provided a grant to its program Unjammed 3.0, which launched in 2014. Funding from our Foundation supports the program's expansion and data collection efforts.