Connecting With the Past

a story from Matt Macfarlane

“Our test scores were already really high, so we weren’t trying to fix something that was broken. We just saw this as a better way to teach.”
Matt Macfarlane, History Teacher
Templeton Middle School, Templeton, CA

Preparing Students for Class, and Life

Whether coaching basketball skills on the court or leadership skills in the classroom, Matt Macfarlane loves mentoring young people. “Teachers have the opportunity to have a big influence on young people’s lives, because we get to see them every day. You get to teach character and how to make good decisions about things coming up in life. I’ve had people do that for me, so now I’m passing that wisdom along.”

Macfarlane teaches US History to 8th graders, but it’s clear that his students do more than just study events from America’s past. For Macfarlane, each encounter with a student is an opportunity to prepare them for life.

Two years ago he was looking to provide students with more autonomy and to better prepare them to succeed in class. Recognizing his students’ interest in digital media, he turned to technology for a solution. “Kids are so visual now,“ he explained. “We need to use the things that they’re inclined toward to strengthen their abilities to learn.”

“Our school has always tried to push the envelope in terms of technology. A couple years ago we were considering purchasing some interactive whiteboards, but my principal said, ‘I think I may have found something better. I can get you iPads and an Apple TVs, and there’s this great app called Educreations...’ That’s how I discovered the app.”

Even working at a high-performing school, students enter Macfarlane’s US History class with a wide range of background knowledge about the subject. He began using Educreations to create video overviews of historical events for students to watch before coming to class. “It’s not that kids aren’t smart. Some kids just don’t come in with the pre-knowledge they need to succeed in class. I use Educreations a lot for previewing the material, so everybody knows the basic information for us to be able to have a meaningful conversation about it in class.” Now, his students spend most of their time in class discussing and debating the historical significance of events, rather than hearing about them for the first time.

Macfarlane assigns the video lessons as homework, and requires his students to take notes as they watch. He doesn't allow students into his classroom until they can answer a question about the previous night’s video. “Students do their homework more often, because it’s doable for them. It’s something that they can understand. I’ve found that they’re much more engaged and likely to do their homework if they’re looking forward to it and find it valuable.” photo

Keeping Parents Involved

“When I see parents at an open house, they’re always really positive about Educreations. They see that their child can be successful in my class. This is something that’s doable. Parents tell me they sometimes sit down and watch the videos with their kids. It’s almost like the parent is sitting with them in the classroom, and they can work on the lessons together.”

“Students really like it. I know that, because I’ve given them class evaluation sheets, and they say that of all the things we do, not only is Educreations something they really enjoy, but it’s also something that really helps them. And both of those are important. You can do a lot of things that students will enjoy, but that don’t add a lot of value. To have something they enjoy that’s also beneficial for students and the teacher, that’s a win-win for everybody.”

“Each student can use it as much as they need. That’s the great thing about it.”

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