Dr. Sarah Irish has been involved with ASSISTments since the Maine Replication Study! Learn about Sarah's experience as an ASSISTments user and teacher mentor.
Can you tell me about your teaching background?
Until this year, I was a middle school teacher. I taught gifted and talented science and math in 6th, 7th and 8th grade in a small rural community in Maine. This year, I made a career change and am now a Technology Integration Specialist at a larger middle school. In this role, I help teachers incorporate technology into their teaching.
What were the specific challenges of teaching at a rural school?
Internet access is always a challenge for our rural students. However, this problem was largely addressed by Maine’s one-to-one laptop program. Maine senator, and at the time governor, Angus King started the Maine Learning Technology Initiative in 2003. This project provided a laptop for every student in 7th grade in Maine. The program later expanded to include students in 8th grade and eventually high school. Because of this program, I have always taught in a one-to-one setting and have never experienced a classroom without the help of technology. I feel that programs like this really level the playing field for our students. These programs are especially important in rural settings, where students might not otherwise have access to devices. I have found that including technology in the classroom can provide students with really creative and innovative learning experiences.
How did you get involved with ASSISTments?
I came on board with the ASSISTments research study in Maine. Andrew Burnett, who worked at ASSISTments and has since returned to teaching, came all the way to my neck of the woods and to show me how to incorporate ASSISTments into my daily teaching. After the study was over, I continued to use ASSISTments in my classroom. Excited by the program, I started to made how-to videos for the ASSISTments Skill Builders (and there are a lot of skill builders)!
While using ASSISTments in the classroom, I made a point to reach out to the ASSISTments team if I noticed a quirk in the system. Additionally, I became one of the first teachers to use ASSISTments for Google Classroom. After getting involved with the ASSISTments team, one of my roles was to try to make sure that ASSISTments for Google Classroom had the same user experience as ASSISTments 1.0.
How do you feel your classroom changed from using ASSISTments?
I have presented on this a number of times, and like to use an ASSISTments logo with an attached superhero cape! I really feel that ASSISTments was a superhero for me. Even before getting started with ASSISTments, my teaching style involved allowing students to work at their own pace. I created a sort of paper version of Skill Builders for my students! For each skill, I distributed three problem sets and students would complete as many as they needed to become proficient. Without ASSISTments, this task was overwhelming for me to keep organized on paper. I spent all my time looking at students problems and saying they were right or not, but now I can really sit down and work through stuff with students. Additionally, students completing traditional textbook assignments were not able to receive immediate feedback. ASSISTments helped me streamline my classroom and continue to allow students to work at their own pace with immediate feedback! When students get stuck, I am able to see that and go help. Using ASSISTments felt like having another teacher in the room: a really smart one!
What is your role as a teacher mentor?
As a teacher mentor, my role is to guide my group of seven teachers along their ASSISTments journey. I help them harness ASSISTments for their specific teaching style, classroom and setting. Being a mentor involves a lot of brainstorming, seeing teachers’ roadblocks and finding solutions. Additionally, I work to share ASSISTments features the teachers may not be familiar with yet. If the teacher is the pilot, I like to think of myself as copilot!