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Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., STEM | @TammyDunbar

Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., STEM | @TammyDunbar

Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M. teaches 5th grade in Manteca Unified School District and Pre-Service Technology at Teachers College of San Joaquin (Stockton, CA). She is a popular presenter and trainer around the country. She presented at the 2015 Microsoft Global E2 conference (where she earned two global awards for project excellence), and will be presenting at ISTE 2016 (with Angela Maiers), CUE 2016, ETC! 2016 and CTA’s Good Teaching Conference 2016. Follow her on @TammyDunbar or find her at http://www.teachergeekischic.com

Dunbar is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Certified Educator, Master Trainer & Regional Lead as well as a Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Certified Educator, a PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator and an NCCE Professional Learning Specialist. She won the 2010 eInstruction $75,000 Classroom Makeover Video Contest, wrote a successful Enhancing Education Through Technology grant for Manteca Unified School District in 2008, and was Teacher of the Year in MUSD in 2006. She serves on the MUSD Superintendent’s Technology Committee and as a district Tech Champion Expert as MUSD continues their “Going Digital” project.


Do you know what a yottabyte is?

No, it’s not a nip on the knee from a beloved Star Wars character. It’s a measurement of digital information. And one I never dreamed would ever be necessary. When we purchased our first home computer in 1987, we upgraded from 10 to 20 megabytes, because we were convinced that was all we’d ever need.

But now, the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Forecast for 2015 uses the word zettabyte when discussing the amount of digital information in our connected world. Cisco reports that “IP traffic will reach an annual rate of 2.0 zettabytes by 2019.” Zettabytes? Hang in there, I can explain. It takes 1,000,000 gigabytes to equal an Exabyte, and 1,000 exabytes to equal a zettabyte. How much longer will it take us to reach the next level: 1,000 zettabytes, which equal a yottabyte.

A yottabyte, to put things in perspective, equals about 250 trillion DVDs of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

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Successful learning is less about what’s memorized and much more about having the ability to make the right connections.

But should teachers be the ones making all those connections for their students?

TED Prize winner Professor Sugata Mitra talks about creating a “Self-Organized Learning Environment” or SOLE. As he points out, it’s often called “learning on the edge of chaos” because it requires an educator to truly be the “Guide on the Side” rather than the “Sage on the Stage.” Sugata postulated: What would happen if we presented our students with goal-oriented challenges that allow them choice and provide opportunities to solve problems on their own? In a remote village in India, he placed a computer and track pad in a Hole in the Wall three feet above the ground to see what would happen.

What Sugata discovered, as he outlined in his 2013 TED prize-winnng talk, is that if children were allowed to work in groups to solve problems and had minimal supervision, there was no limit to their capacity to learn.

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During this Spring Break, I’ve been thinking about that kidney-shaped table in the back of my room. 

Designed to accommodate one teacher in the main groove and up to six students around the outside, that table has been in my classroom since the first day I taught fifth grade fifteen years ago. Truth be told, that same kind of table was in my classroom when I WAS a fifth grader forty-some years ago.

It’s gone through several incarnations: the back table, the universal access table, the pull-out table. Regardless of the moniker, it’s been the place for small group interventions, meaning everyone knows that if you have been called to sit there, you need help. There’s an unspoken stigma to having to go back to the kidney-shaped table. And I started thinking, when my students see that table, what kind of environment have I created? 

What other messages are we sending our students when they walk into our classrooms?

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“I won’t use technology in my classroom because I can’t use technology in my classroom. I can’t write this reflection, and I certainly can’t do a final digital presentation project that I would use in my classroom.”

That was a strange thing to hear one of my student teachers say in the Tech 110 course I teach at a local teachers college. Usually pre-service teachers are excited by the prospects technology can bring to their future classrooms and are eager to learn more.

But not this particular student teacher. She was adamant. And she was right. She couldn’t use technology in her classroom because she was teaching culinary arts at the local prison. She wasn’t allowed to have any technology in her classroom and neither were her wards. Not even a cell phone. It’s considered contraband.

Since the coursework assigned the rest of the class didn’t seem to work with her teaching situation, she wanted to know what she should do.

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Coding is as simple as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Or IS it?

I remember going to The Tech in San Jose (CA) many years ago and walking up to a silent docent at a table with all the appropriate ingredients. There was a paper on the table, explaining that all one had to do was give the correct commands to the docent “robot,” and it would make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

It was fun and much harder than I thought it would be! I recalled the experience when I was trying to craft a great into lesson for coding (The Hour of Code is coming up in December). That well-worn lesson plan (with some adjustments) would be a perfect way to introduce coding to my students.

First I found a talented and willing robot – in this case, my daughter Maggie. To add a technological element and enhance the Robot Maggie experience, we decided she should Skype into our classroom. The necessary materials were set up in the vice principal’s office: a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, a loaf of bread, a knife and a plate along with a Surface Pro 3. Donning goggles and a lab coat, Robot Maggie awaited a specific time to call The Room Nine Kids – giving me time to introduce the lesson, access prior knowledge and set the stage for that exciting sound of a Skype call coming in!

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