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Incorporating technology into his classroom lessons is nothing new for Justin Eames, an eighth-year teacher beginning his first year teaching at the SEED School.
Eames, 30, has been teaching technology classes—the ins and outs of hardware and software—for the last three years.
Because he holds his classes in a computer lab, the student-to-computer ratio is virtually one-to-one. This year, Eames has a brand new 3D replicator from MakerBot to use. He also boasts what’s known in the education technology realm as a flipped classroom, where students work on a variety of projects and lessons at their own pace, something Eames facilitates through video presentations accessible through his Edmodo site. (For examples of Eames’ tutorial videos, check out his website.)
“For most of the fellows, the best part of the summer was being exposed to a lot of things that they might not have thought existed,” says Eames. “I had sort of a leg up. I had been exposed to almost all of the things that we talked about.”
During EdTech fellow training this summer, a sizeable portion of Eames’ time was spent building a game-based classroom management system.
His students navigate a game world where they encounter the different assignments they’re supposed to complete. Once students have completed the assignment and turned it in to Eames outside the game world, Eames gives students a code that allows them to unlock new levels in the game world.
The game itself was something Eames developed with the help of a game engine. While the classroom management game has the look and feel of games designed for Super Nintendo, he says, designing it was drastically different from what Eames studied as a philosophy major at the College of William and Mary.
“I’m thankful that I learned critical thinking [through philosophy],” says Eames. “Technology is a tool for critical thinking. … I’ve always been pretty proficient with computers and games. So it wasn’t like I suddenly discovered it—it sort of got thrown into the forefront of my career.”
Originally from the Richmond area in Virginia, Eames came to Baltimore by way of Teach for America. His first four years teaching were spent in second- and third-grade classrooms. At the SEED School, where students live on campus each week and spend weekends at home, Eames teaches technology to students in sixth through tenth grades. (The SEED School only goes to grade 10 currently—grades 11 and 12 are forthcoming over the next two years.)
A colleague introduced him to Andrew Coy, co-executive director of the Digital Harbor Foundation, whose mission was something Eames easily latched on to.
“I felt like for all the years I’ve been doing technology in the city, there hasn’t been a culture built around technology and its use in the classroom,” Eames says. “[You] just put a smart board in the classroom [and] suddenly think the classroom is technological?”
Although he is only a few weeks into his new teaching job at the SEED School, Eames says the schools’ administrators appear “really interested in incorporating technology.” And the 3D replicator from MakerBot, he says, has his students “mesmerized.”
“They go nuts [for the replicator]. They cannot wait, because it’s tangible—it’s something they can do that they couldn’t do before,” says Eames. “Once that sinks in that the technology and the tools can expand their own horizons, [students] go with it. And once they buy into that, the sky’s the limit.”