If chemistry is the study of molecules and how they bond, then chemistry teacher Scott Norman’s teaching strategies are a study of how technology and social media can combine to strengthen bonds with students.
Through an array of social media platforms and apps, Norman, who teaches at the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), keeps students engaged during class and stays connected with them long after dismissal. For Norman, now in his 27th year of teaching, it’s about creating new points of connection with young people who are digital natives.
“It’s how they live,” Norman said. “We’ve got to embrace the tools they use. It keeps them engaged, and they see that you care because you are reaching out to them.”
Norman manages two Twitter accounts — @Scpaelementz14 and @Scpaelementz — which he uses for class updates, homework assignments, lab videos, projects and handouts. His @Scpaelementz14 account also is linked to Scientific American, Wired Science and New Scientist, making it easy for his followers to broaden their exposure to industry publications. His YouTube channel showcases video productions created by students who turned class presentations into engaging lessons loaded with graphics and music.
Norman also blasts out class updates using the Remind101 app. And in class, students will pull out their smart phones for a round of chemistry trivia using the PollsEverywhere app.
“The principle behind all of this is to stay connected, not to replace traditional teaching,” Norman emphasized. “We have to teach kids to understand how they got an answer. They need to understand the sensibility behind what they are doing.”
The approach aligns with Cincinnati Public Schools’ new My Tomorrow*ed initiative. Launched in August 2014, My Tomorrow aims to ensure that all seventh-graders graduate high school ready to pursue the career paths of their choice. The initiative is equipping students with both the knowledge and the tools they need for success in college and the work force. This includes teaching students how to appropriately use technology, embrace new approaches to technology and critically evaluate the information they uncover — elements that are on display in Norman’s classroom.
“It’s the way the world is, and we have to expose them to technology,” Norman said. “Colleges expect students to be well-versed in technology. Digital classrooms are coming. Even everyday banking is digital. Kids need to have a very fluid approach, and they need to have teachers who can guide them in the use of technology.”
CPS also is expanding its efforts to make real-world connections into the classroom. This semester, students in Norman’s class will have a chance to see technology development in action. Norman is such a heavy user of Remind101 that the company has invited him to beta test a new app.
“I love teaching,” said Norman. “I’m meant to take students further along in life and get them excited about learning. Whatever I need to do to accomplish that is how I approach education.”