Creativity, imagination and twerking robotic dogs: in the Spotlight with Julia Dweck
Hi there! Welcome to the first in our series of Spotlight blog posts, where we catch up with the best and brightest professionals in the field of education and edtech to grab some tips, tricks, tools and insights you can use to make your lessons awesome!
In the spotlight today we have the fabulous Julia Dweck.
Creativity and imagination is the name of the game for Julia, who supports gifted students by day, and somehow also finds the time to be the author of countless children’s books, and the creator of teaching materials and resources available through top-level publishing houses like Random Penguin or Little, Brown Books, as well as through her online community.
So, let’s get straight to it!
Hi Julia! Let’s start off with a little bit about you. What’s a typical day-in-the-life for you?
I'm a support teacher for gifted students in grades 3-5 at a public elementary school. While I do instruct my students, I spend more time researching and planning to ensure that I can provide the most comprehensive support possible. Teaching is more than just a job for me; it's a way of life. I'm constantly seeking out new ideas and technologies that can help my students grow emotionally, socially, and academically, while also addressing their individual needs on all levels.
How did you get started as a teacher? Can you remember your very first lesson?
My teaching career started at the tender age of five, in a basement classroom filled with dolls and stuffed animals. My dad had set up an elaborate chalkboard and rows of seats to create the perfect teaching environment. I spent most of my time leading spelling tests, always eager to show off my own superior spelling skills. But things have changed since those early days. Nowadays, my classroom is all about hands-on discovery and student-led learning. It’s about open-ended questions that lead to lively discussions.
What do you do when things don’t go as planned in the classroom?
Teaching is full of surprises, and yesterday was no exception. My fourth graders were supposed to be programming robotic dogs, but things took a hilarious turn. It turned out we didn't have the app needed to calibrate their ‘pets,’ because I’d forgotten to apply for the district’s app approval in time. So instead of running smoothly, the dogs were twerking their way across their desks - not exactly the high-tech spectacle I’d planned. But you know what? It was a great opportunity for some laughter and learning. When things go wrong, I've learned to lighten up and laugh along with my students. It helps them stay engaged and willing to take risks, even when their robots aren't cooperating.
What are some of your teaching highlights? Any moments of glory you’d like to share?
I'm not after big, flashy moments of glory; instead, I find joy in small moments that prove my hard work and dedication have had a positive impact on a child's life. I once had a student who struggled with anxiety and often took out their frustrations on others, despite being hardest on themselves. I continued to offer support and let the child know they were appreciated and not alone. One day, I saw the same student using some of the supportive phrases I had shared with them while teaching a younger child how to solve a Rubik's cube - a skill this child had learned from me in class. That simple moment meant everything to me.
What's your source of inspiration?
As a teacher, I'm constantly inspired by the diverse perspectives and creativity my students bring to the classroom. Whether they're solving a challenging math problem or designing a complex STEM project, I always try to approach their work with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Sometimes, my students surprise me with a new approach or idea that I've never considered before. Other times, they introduce me to exciting new book series or technologies that I might have missed otherwise. Ultimately, I believe that the best teachers are those who embrace the idea that learning is a two-way street, and who are willing to learn from their students just as much as they teach them.
Did the pandemic change your approach to teaching at all?
The pandemic brought significant changes to the way we teach, as we had to shift to remote instruction and connect with students through screens. Collaborating with peers is a crucial aspect of the learning process, as students learn through exploration and dialogue. Without this essential ‘live’ element, I had to find ways to simulate real-world connections and relational learning through Jamboards. These allowed my students to experience virtual learning in real-time together. Through this experience, I gained an even greater appreciation for the power of the classroom as a learning lab where students can come together to enhance their emotional and academic growth.
Does technology play a part in your lessons today?
As a teacher, I recognize the importance of integrating technology into my students' learning experience. From designing and planning to engineering and programming, my students are exposed to the tools that will be essential to their future success. While we don't know what career paths they will pursue, we can equip them with the skills and knowledge necessary to adapt and thrive in an ever-evolving technological landscape. By teaching them to speak the language of a new era, we are setting them up for success in whatever their future may hold.
What are your top 3 tools, digital or physical, that you couldn’t live without? What do they help you to do?
As an educator, I rely on technology to enrich my students' educational experience. In particular, I find the BenQ Board, laser cutter, and iPads to be indispensable tools. The BenQ Board is a large, interactive whiteboard that supports all subject areas and enables students to work collaboratively. Meanwhile, the laser cutter empowers students to bring their ideas to life by designing and constructing tangible projects. Finally, each student's iPad grants them access to a wealth of information and learning opportunities. When used together effectively, these tools enable me to create an engaging and dynamic learning environment for my students.
If you could give a new teacher that’s just starting out some advice, what would it be?
Advice to new teachers: It's essential to remember that your teaching identity should not become fixed or stagnant. Be open to evolving your teaching style as you gain new experiences, work with diverse individuals, adopt new technologies, and encounter different students. Just because a teaching approach has worked for you in the past does not mean you should continue using it indefinitely.
To be an effective educator and provide the best service to your students, it's crucial to stay informed and adapt your teaching methods to meet the needs of all your students. Keep exploring new approaches, experiment with different strategies, and seek out feedback from colleagues and students to refine your teaching practice continuously. By being open-minded and responsive to the evolving needs of your students, you can grow into a great educator and have a lasting impact on their lives.
If you had a magic wand that could help you in your lessons, what would you use it for? Is there anything you wish you had/could do/get your students to do?
Back in my early days as an elementary teacher, I used to daydream about having a magic wand that could instantly make my job easier. Imagine effortlessly engaging my students, inspiring their creativity, and building a classroom culture with just a flick of my wrist! But then, I had an epiphany: Who needs a wand when you've got years of training, endless hours of lesson planning, and the ability to wrangle a classroom full of squirmy little ones? And don't forget about the incredible powers of patience, kindness, and a well-timed joke!
So, while a magic wand might seem like a tempting shortcut, I'm sticking with the dynamic approach that has helped me over the years. After all, why be a mere muggle when you can become a teaching wizard through hard work, dedication, and a love for learning?
Thanks so much to Julia for being our first guest on the Spotlight blog.
Stay up to date with Julia at the following links:
Thanks for reading and until next time…
CEO and Co-founder at Thinkio
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