5th Grade Teacher at Eastern Elementary
Washington County Public Schools
"Mr. McCray’s way of teaching, due to his own risk taking around technology use, has transformed his classroom. His students are hooked on learning due to the culture of student driven inquiry and research through the purposeful use of technology. "
- Kristi Bachtell, Washington County Public Schools
McCray’s instructional approach has gone through a transformation over the past two years as the seventh year teacher said a colleague “flipped my way of thinking” to updating some of his instructional practices . A self-proclaimed dinosaur at one time now turned innovative teacher, McCray is using virtual reality and blogging to change the lives of his students.
“The world our students are getting ready for isn’t planned yet,” McCray explained regarding the needs of 21st Century learners in his classroom. “If our students are going to be successful they must be able knowledge and able to use different technologies. They are preparing for jobs that we are not even sure what they look like yet, but having these different skill sets will allow them to transfer their skills into any of these unknown jobs that are coming in the future.”
Reworking a traditional reading block, McCray offers students an opportunity to walk into foreign lands typically only a child reads about in a story. Instead, students are exploiting the power of Google Expedition, an immersive app used with Google Cardboard glasses that allows teachers and students to explore the world through over 900 virtual reality tours, and experiencing these locations first hand. McCray offers this experience in one of his small group rotations and employs a See, Think, & Wonder learning strategy that was developed into a graphic organizer by his colleague Adam Geiman, a technology coach in Pennsylvania.
“Taking my kiddos on these virtual field trips has built instant background knowledge. Being able to immerse them into Pearl Harbor, Tuskegee Airmen, and Rosie the Riveter, they read the text with a similar event or setting and remember ‘Oh, I remember seeing that.’ It goes so much farther than a teacher explaining it to them,” McCray explained.
He loves is when children can connect with the question, what did you see in the Expedition to help you understand something in the text? The responses are all he needs to continue utilizing the technology as children come up with ideas and observations that he never thought. Furthermore, when the wonder component is not answered students take it upon themselves to use it as a research prompt wanting to find out more about the topic.
However, the magic doesn’t stop though when the VR glasses come off because McCray believes the connecting to one’s classes with the world must involve writing as well. His core belief led him to students blogging through EduBlogs. To date, his students have connected with 43 countries through his class blog alone by writing short stories and having children all over the world respond.
“Students get so excited to see people respond,” McCray indicated. “It gets them to want to write again and again.”
There are two major blogging events McCray believes that impacts his students the most, Student Blogging Challenge and 100 Word Challenge. The Student Blogging Challenge is a 10-week hosted by an Australian teacher who posts a group of informational texts and asks students to respond to a prompt. Children will read others writing, some ask questions, and they all learn to become more meaningful in their writing The 100 Word Challenge is hosted by a United Kingdom teacher who posts an image or five-word phrase weekly; students must create a blog post in response to what they see or read in only 100 words. McCray says the task challenged his students to be more conscientious about their word choice and forced them to be more succinct in their writing.
“The most exciting piece of the 100 Word Challenge is there is a showcase of student authors and one of my students was selected from students all over the world,” McCray shared his excitement. “My student was now an international author—wow!”
Receiving peer assessments – praise and criticism – about their written work has challenged students to raise their writing level. McCray claims peer feedback from students all over the world is taken more seriously than feedback from him, which he says is okay as long as it helps them put their best foot forward.
"Mr. McCray’s way of teaching, due to his own risk taking around technology use, has transformed his classroom. His students are hooked on learning due to the culture of student driven inquiry and research through the purposeful use of technology," Eastern Elementary Principal Kristi Bachtell stated about her fifth grade teacher.
At the district level, McCray’s success has not gone unnoticed as he is now leading professional learning on virtual reality and blogging. His “how-to” videos on Google Expedition is being used across Washington County Public Schools hoping teachers can replicate McCray’s magic in the classroom.
In the realm of problem solving, McCray pushes the limits as his students are becoming the future of computer programmers as they code with the Swift Playground, an interactive app that allows for coding and problem solving opportunities. McCray utilizes every minute of instruction by teachings students to read and write code. He starts with basic maneuvers showing kids to move an avatar certain directions and moves into challenges – building self-imposed road blocks and “bugs” in the code; each challenge pushes student thinking to a deeper level of learning.
About Digital Learning Showcase
MSET is taking the opportunity to highlight best practices in classroom teaching, leading, and learning with educational technology from around the state of Maryland. The goal is to spotlight innovations of members and nonmembers throughout different public and private school settings. Each month teachers, school leaders, and community members are asked to nominate individuals who support innovation and educational technology in a school setting.
MSET is non-profit organization with the purpose of promoting the improvement of the teaching-learning process through effective technology integration into all curricular areas as well as fostering and promoting excellence technology in education. MSET is an affiliate of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a leading international network for technology professionals.