April 3, 2013

Whitfield teachers named to ‘dream team’

By Christopher Smith

— Rayda Reed is still pinching herself today to make sure it’s not a dream.

That seems like a proper response to being selected from more than 3,000 teachers nationwide to join the 2013 LearnZillion Dream Team.

The group of 200 teachers who submitted teaching philosophies to LearnZillion were picked by a selection committee because “(they have the) ability to create high quality, highly conceptual lessons that are easily understood by students,” a LearnZillion press release stated.

LearnZillion is an online organization that lets teachers and parents share lessons with “more than 100,000 registered teachers and 1.5 million students,” according to its website (learnzillion.com).

“I’m shocked. I really am,” said Reed, who teaches at Cedar Ridge Elementary. “It’s just so hard to believe that this is real.”

What makes it even more unreal to Reed is she is one of two Whitfield County Schools teachers to be chosen. James Morrison, a math and science teacher at New Hope Middle School, was also “shocked” by his selection.

“I personally want to thank Whitfield County Schools,” he said. “I love the county I work in. They (school staff) are very supportive ... I do try to design work that makes kids want to learn and the (administrators) just always support me and let me be creative.”

How can a teacher be creative? By “not shutting down technology,” Morrison said.

“Technology hasn’t really shaped me. It has just become part of how I teach,” he said. “I could do without it ... without digital devices ... but I guess my philosophy has been to train students to contribute to society, especially the local community. And rather than remove technology, I show my kids how to use it responsibly ... in a way that will further their knowledge of math and science.”

Part of being on the team is an all-inclusive trip to San Francisco in May for TeachFest, an education conference funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Reed and Morrison will spend three days learning about the Common Core State Standards.

Common Core is an umbrella term for state-specific education standards being used by 44 states. The Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS) replaced the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) in 2012 to put more emphasis on readying kids for college and work. It’s also something Reed and Morrison had to be familiar with to be eligible for the dream team.

“It hasn’t been too hard to pick up,” Reed said. “CCGPS has been more focused than the prior standard (GPS). Like with math ... students really have to know mathematical practices now ... fluency with basic facts, being able to solve problems in multiple ways. GPS felt like it was a mile-wide, inch-deep kind of thing. The new standard is narrowing content to create critical thinkers.”

Morrison says adjusting to the new standards “hasn’t been — well — I wouldn’t use the word easy.”

“But the Common Core seems simpler to understand than previous standards,” he said. “It just took a lot of time to learn. I tended to get bogged down in the intricacies of GPS ... I’ve spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with Common Core to understand what it is. I’m in support of it.”

Reed says education standards aren’t the main focus of education anyway.

“It’s about the kids,” she said. “I feel like every child can learn and can grow and succeed in what they’re doing if we all work together ... teacher, parent, student ... all working together to find a student’s strength and working with them to pull down any barrier they might have.”

That’s something Reed says she has seen locally.

“I’ve been here for the last 10 years and I came from Delaware,” she said. “And I have thoroughly enjoyed living here ... working with wonderful people. The kids are fantastic. It’s just a great community. People really pull together around here, at least in my experience.”