By Carley Dangona
BOSTON – A West Springfield High School geometry teacher has recognized for his creative use of digital media and technology in the classroom.
PBS LearningMedia selected West Springfield High School geometry teacher Mark Vasicek as one of the 100 educators from across the country named 2014 Digital Innovators Program.
Vasicek described his reaction upon learning of the recognition. “I was really surprised. I’m energized by the opportunity to work with another 99 innovators,” he said.
“Technology is to enhance, not replace [teacher instruction],” Vasicek said. “As an engineer, I’m not afraid of technology. Could you reach as many students without technology? Absolutely not.”
He explained that technology engages students that might not learn best from a lecture format. The use media such as illustrations and videos provides another means for teachers to communicate the lesson to their pupils.
For example, Vasicek plays a clip of the movie “Holes” to illustrate a math problem where the students have to determine how much less dirt is dug when one person uses a shovel shorter than the rest of the workers. “I couldn’t do this without technology,” Vasicek said.
“The use of technology is a critical part of teaching in the classroom. Recognizing these innovators is right in line with our mission. Education is in the DNA of PBS. It’s an opportunity to shed light on teachers and how they work to engage 21st century learners,” John Sessler, manager of Program Engagement for PBS Learning, said.
PBS LearningMedia is a free media-on-demand service offering more than 35,000 digital resources to educators and students from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade. The service provides public media resources and research-based, classroom-ready digital learning experiences to engage students in exploring curriculum concepts that align with National and Common Core State Standards.
WGBH serves as the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) lead for PBS LearningMedia.
The PBS LearningMedia website describes the benefits of being chosen for the program. It states, “The 2014 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovators Program is a year-long, free professional development program designed to foster and grow a community of highly engaged, tech-savvy kindergarten through twelfth grade educators who are effectively using digital media and technology in classrooms to further student engagement and achievement.
“The 100 selected 2014 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovators will receive one year of free professional development and benefits including virtual trainings, access to premium and exclusive resources, invitations to special events, membership into a robust professional learning community and networking and engagement opportunities with peers and thought leaders,” the site concludes.
Sessler said PBS is looking forward to the “inspiration” of working with the 100 educators. “We look forward to them sharing their insight,” he said.
“You may never use it [advanced math concepts], but the thought process is applicable in life. The kids make the teaching happen. If they do the work, they have the ‘aha’ moments. That’s why I’m teaching – to see the ‘aha’ moment,” Vasicek stated.
“I’m here because I want to be,” Vasicek said. He has taught for the past 10 years. He was a process engineer and a project engineer for 20 years in the private sector. Vasicek left engineering to take care of one of his children who had a life threatening illness. He chose to become a teacher when re-entering the workforce.
One of Vasicek’s favorite PBS LearningMedia resources is this interactive entitled “Reroofing Your Uncle’s House,” an exercise where students must figure out the materials needed to re-roof a house using their math skills.
“Mistakes are expected, they are respected and they are inspected and corrected,” he said. His goal is to keep students “engaged” and “enthusiastic” about the material he teaches.
“I want to give the kids hints to jumpstart their engines,” Vasicek said. He stated that the online practice examples he uses not only gives instant feedback to the students and sharing capability with parents, but provides examples to show the kids how to work through similar problems. He’s even developed his own practice set for each topic he teaches.
To practice for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, Vasicek posts a weekly open-response question where students solve and write out their explanation to that week’s problem. He posts comments and tips to each students’ attempt. The students then have the opportunity to rework the example.
To view the biographies of the 100 educators selected as this year’s Digital Innovators, visit www.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/digitalinnovators_2014