Sam Leach is a third grade teacher at James John Elementary School in St. Johns. He is an extremely passionate individual, who through empathetic listening and creativity, aims to equip his students with the ability to identify and develop their strengths as they uncover new and unique pathways to learning. Mr. Leach uses his classroom blog to chronicle the work of his students and also as a resource for families to stay up to date with classroom happenings. Take a peek at his blog and follow him on twitter.
Below is an interview highlighting Mr. Leach’s work with social media, blogging and technology in his classroom.
Chalkboard: When did you start actively using social media and blogging as a tool for elementary education? What is your specific goal? Do you use your blog and twitter to showcase student work, as a resource for parents, or as a way to keep track of your work as a teacher?
Mr. Leach: Since starting at James John almost 11 years ago, I’m always on the look out for ways to engage families. I used to do home-visits every August. With the birth of our daughter three years ago, that was not a realistic option anymore.
I started the blog on a whim one Sunday in September of 2010. My goal was to show parents what their kids were up to. It turned out everyone was interested. Not just mom and dad, but grandparents and extended family. Last May, I launched classroom Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages. These are all fed from the classroom blog, so it’s extra social media outlets without being extra work. Facebook has been a great tool for connecting with parents. Twitter is great for messaging companies, foundations, para-educational groups, federal, state and local officials. It has been a beautiful way to celebrate student work / school life and broaden the narrative of public education beyond a test score.
Chalkboard: How do the parents and families of your students respond to your blog? Do you get a lot of positive feedback?
Mr. Leach: My kids feel like rock stars. (Which they should, since their work has a global audience.) Their families and their extended community are very proud of all the hard work they do.
Our families love it. I never have a bad parent encounter anymore. It’s a much easier relationship when both parties know what’s going on. I think they feel more like a partner in their child’s education as opposed to a spectator. I try to give them a variety of ways to connect with what’s happening at school. This summer I launched a Parent Group on our class Facebook page. I have 14 of my 25 families connected with Facebook. They have been a great resource and huge encouragement for me this year.
Chalkboard: Can you tell us a little bit about the school environment at James John School? Have you ever taught at another school? If so, how does James John compare?
Mr. Leach: James John School is nestled in beautiful downtown St. Johns. It is a really diverse area. This diversity is what first drew me to James John eleven years ago. Like probably every school, we have our challenges. I substitute taught for a year before landing my first job here at James John. I subbed everyday around seven different districts. I think there is this feeling you get when you walk into a school. It’s a feeling that gets released into the ether that everyone can sense. I always knew right away when I walked into a building if it was a good school or not. It’s a feeling that comes from a group of caring adults coming together to help kids learn. That’s what we have at James John. Hard working parents, caring staff, committed volunteers, and a very supportive principal all working together for the same goal. It feels like a place I’d want to send my kid.
Chalkboard: From your photos, it looks like you are using the iPad as a resource in your 3rd grade classroom. How is this going? Can you tell us a little about how you use it?
Mr. Leach: Our school received seven iPads this year and our class has been piloting them. We have downloaded games that we use to help us with spelling, math computation and geometry. We also started to use a few games that are proving very helpful for our English Language Learners. All of these apps are self correcting and timed.
We also use the iPads for research. We are learning about the planets and our solar system. Last week I was able to show the kids the concept of orbit by using the an app on the iPad. We were not only able to manipulate our perspective of the solar system and the size of planets, we were also able to increase the size of the sun and show how that would effect the orbit of planets. For some reason they loved watching all of the planets burn up. This week we will be watching daily updated screen shots from one of the Mars Rovers.
We love to share our learning in Room 12. Anytime kids come across anything they want to show the class, we are able to plug the iPad into the projector and show the rest of the class. I think we’ve yet to scratch the surface on how iPads can be used in the classroom.