03:44 PM

Interview with On the Rise Honoree: Janice Chong, Teaching Garage

The PreK-12 Learning Group's On the Rise program recognizes early career professionals in the educational resource community who demonstrate remarkable leadership and innovation.

What do you consider your biggest career accomplishment so far? What about the biggest challenge? How has it helped shape you personally and/or professionally?

My biggest career accomplishment is the aggregate of moments I've forced myself to follow that still small voice and take risks, despite fear, despite the unknowns, despite my own kneejerk reactions to play it safe. Turning my pilot into Teaching Garage probably was my most recent example of acting in defiance against reason and the natural affinity to safety, because I felt, without tangible reason, that I could make a difference in students' lives by working with schools using Teaching Garage.

But all the risks I've taken have almost always been faced by my biggest opponent and harshest critic: myself.

Even as a natural risk-taker, I deal with doubt and get hard on myself when I don't meet my own goals and expectations. I've learned that no man is an island, and it's sometimes unhealthy to think, act, and work alone - and so I couldn't have continued moving with my feet set on sturdy ground without the support of my networks.

The genuine relationships I have with my family, friends, community, and mentors unfailingly gave me strength, time and time again. They helped me guard my "true north" and reminded me to act with kindness and integrity, especially in times of trial.

Where do you see the future for educational resources? How do you see them changing and growing? 

Schools are increasingly integrating technology in the physical classroom with hardware and software, but the integration process has been awkward and inefficient.

As a former teacher, I strongly advocate that teachers deserve the time, training, and consensus to participate in steering their classrooms into the tech space, but this isn't today's reality.

Teachers are instead being swept up in the rapids of today's tech policy rhetoric and tomorrow's up-and-coming silver-bullet programs, leaving our most powerful student advocates - the actual teachers - burnt out and/or caught in a confusing policy matrix.
Janice Chong, Teaching Garage

While tech integration is absolutely vital to the success of our educational system in equipping students for a successful and tech-literate global economy, our teachers are not being handled in the proper way to facilitate this absolutely critical and monumental process of revamping K-12 education.

A successful transformation of schools can happen, though, with a transformation of teacher education programs. By bolstering teacher-ed programs with stronger technology training, where tech instruction also integrates the languages, maths, sciences, histories, and arts, teachers will start their careers with a less steep, less stressful, less terrifying experience. By giving educators the time and training to actually practice new best practices in their training programs, I believe schools will experience quicker, more seamless, more efficient tech integration with less teacher burnout over time.

Why did you decide on an engineering focus for the learning content Teaching Garage develops?

As a former elementary school teacher, I knew there was a vacuum for elementary engineering resources, let alone a proper framework for teaching kids engineering, at a time when the demand for engineering instruction grew louder by the day.

To address this mismatch between the demand and the availability of teaching resources for engineering instruction, I began my pilot, which would later become Teaching Garage, by considering these realities of the classroom:

  1. The core subject areas cannot be displaced;
  2. There is limited instructional time during the school day;
  3. There is limited teacher training for engineering education (especially at the elementary level);
  4. Content must be developmentally appropriate for the child.

I began my pilot with the intention of helping fellow colleagues - other teachers - teach engineering. I decided to create a pilot curriculum on Acoustical Engineering, because I knew that the students in my pilot groups would be learning about sound waves in their science units. This way, there would be overlap in the curricula, saving teachers both planning and instructional time.

To make the content developmentally appropriate for second and third graders, I framed engineering and technology as "the ways we solve problems." I showed teachers how a speaker system, an app, and even a cane and pair of glasses are all technologies because they solve specific problems. Using this definition of technology, I integrated the sciences and the Engineering Design Process (EDP) to make the engineering curriculum a three-point framework.

Through this approach, not only did teachers feel comfortable with teaching engineering, but students were discovering new careers, integrating the sciences into real-life environments, and practicing vital 21st century soft skills using the EDP, such as the ability to collaborate, iterate, and solve open-ended problems creatively.

Teaching Garage has taken the success of this pilot and approach and scaled it to cover ten different types of engineering with the goals of:

  1. innovating the school curriculum to comfortably integrate tech, engineering instruction, career exposure, and iteration
  2. giving all teachers, despite training and experience levels, the ability to teach engineering

For more information about the On the Rise program and a full list of 2016 On the Rise Honorees, visit us here.