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Micek: Student ownership, technology use grow with gradual release

Teachers in Action: Rob Micek

This is a new weekly series of stories we will publish focusing on ways GIPS teachers are putting new skills in action to grow student achievement.

As Rob Micek speaks with a visitor to his Howard fifth grade classroom, a student politely interrupts to ask a question.

“Mr. Micek, my device stopped working,” she says, the top half of her face hidden behind a Google Expedition VR device.

Micek looks to another student nearby.

“Mr. Zane, technology expert, would you like to help?” he asks.

“Sure,” Zane responds, quickly walking across the room to the student in need.

This is an example of student ownership in Micek’s classroom, he says.

“Student ownership highlights kids’ different strengths,” said Micek. “It’s not just academic success. All kids can find ways to be successful here. Zane is great with technology and likes to help.”

This is confirmed a few moments later.

“Her phone battery died. Can I grab her another phone?” Zane asks his teacher.

“That would be great,” Micek says, before turning back to his visitor. As he continues his conversation, students continue to explore the world through these virtual reality devices. Today they are exploring caves, checking out beaches and witnessing storms as they learn about water. Students are engaged in conversations with each other as they use the devices and log notes about what they are experiencing.

Students use technology in Rob Micek's fifth grade class.

This isn’t what Micek’s classroom has always looked like.

“He has shown growth this year, more than in previous years,” said Julie Schnitzler, Howard Elementary principal. “In the past, it was hard for him to want to incorporate technology. It wasn’t an area of strength for him personally, so he didn’t always feel comfortable utilizing it in his classroom with students.”

She said he may have felt hesitation to show a weakness to the class or to struggle through technology hiccups that may derail a lesson.

“Julie has preached gradual release to student ownership in the classroom,” Micek said. “It’s let us feel free to let go and give kids the ownership. I can struggle and kids can struggle, but it’s to the betterment of the classroom.”

Schnitzler said Micek now has given up some of that control, such as letting Zane help when there is a glitch - or a dead battery. It has given a student some ownership, and allowed his entire class to try new things without fear.

Schnitzler and Micek credit two trips to Walnut Middle School to observe instructional rounds.

“It really started to click the second trip,” Schnitzler said. “He brought back some strategies for teaming.” He had new confidence to try to incorporate what he saw in his own classroom.

Students use technology in Rob Micek's fifth grade class.

Micek said he took a lot from the Walnut visits, and recommends other teachers take the opportunity to observe students learn in other teachers’ classrooms.

“It is always good for teachers to watch other professionals,” he said. “What can you learn from it? What can you take back? If each time you make a visit, you can take one or two things back to help your kids take ownership, it’s worth it.”

Micek also credits a strong Howard fifth grade team. And it isn’t just in technology he has seen a change.

“Everyone brings something to PLCs” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from the team; I’m more open minded. I’m taking more risks in the classroom. If kids are willing to take risks in their education, they will take more ownership.”

Schnitzler said Micek now has the confidence to put students in charge, to use student ownership and technology to support learning.

“He is excited about technology,” she said. “I have brought other teachers into his classroom to see him teaching with it and growing student ownership.”

Micek said he has noticed a more positive learning environment this year, both among the teachers and the students.

“Just as the fifth grade team has learned from each other, this class is learning from each other,” he said. “I have seen kids who don’t usually talk step out of their shell to share with the class. They seem to feel more comfortable with their roles.”

As for Zane, the unofficial resident technology expert, he’s happy - both to assist his classmates and to prevent barriers to success.

“I like helping people,” he said. “It keeps things moving in the classroom.”

Rob Micek teaches in his Howard Elementary fifth grade classroom.

After finishing the conversation with his visitor, Micek pulls the class back together. They discuss some of their findings and make plans for their next lesson. As students show their enthusiasm for what they just learned, he makes a quick adjustment and offers up a question to the class.

“Do you guys want me to use these devices for ...”

The answer comes back before he can finish the question.

“YES!” the students reply in near unison. Micek acknowledges their request - their ownership of the learning - and makes a note to adjust a future lesson.

“If they make the choices, they are more apt to own their learning,” he said.

Rob Micek teaches at Howard Elementary.

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