For this interview, I spoke with Diane Taub, Technology Coordinator and Ilana Traub, Media and Technology Specialist at Lehrman Community Day School in Miami, Florida. Lehrman, a pluralistic day school in Miami Beach, serves 465 students from early childhood through 5th grade.

I had heard that these two colleagues are so in sync with each other that they are referred to at the school as “the tech twins.” However, I was still unprepared for how seamlessly they answered my questions, taking turns and finishing each other’s thoughts. I had thought I would delineate who answered which question, but, as you can see, for most of the questions, I have merged the answers since they responded almost with one mind. Thank you so much, Diane and Ilana for sharing your passion for learning with all of us!

L to R: Ilana Traub and Diane Taub speaking with me on Google Hangout

What is innovation?
Diane: Openness to trying new things, no fear.
Ilana: Or trying new things with fear. As an innovator, I have to understand new ideas and then translate those ideas for different age groups to use and use successfully. I have sleepless nights thinking about this.

Describe the innovative work you’re doing at your school.
First of all, it’s important to note that we have committed to creating the infrastructure needed in order to do innovative work. Part of that infrastructure is a robust broadband network. The other part of that infrastructure is that we work on something unique with each grade level. 

Our 1st grade teachers wrote a grant for Dash and Dot robots and Wonder coding. The 1st graders are responsible to teach coding to the Kindergartners. 

Kindergarten Robotics

In 2nd grade, our students focus on keyboarding, Google docs and word processing skills. Our 3rd graders learn presentation skills using a variety of presentation tools. In 4th grade students explore Lego robotics and cup coding.
We got a grant for a robotics team from Israel to do robotics trainings with our teachers, and we participate in a Lego robotics festival in April with 9 Jewish day schools from Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Ilana provides support for all of the teachers in the US who are involved with this program. In 
5th grade our students create eportfolios where they upload work from 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. They also work with Piperkits that use Raspberry Pi and Minecraft as teaching tools. They work in pairs, and each pair, working from a blueprint, builds a laptop computer from scratch.

In addition to all of this, Ilana turns the library into a Makerspace at the end of the school year.

Students Making in the MakerSpace

I know your school is involved in JBlend Miami, using data to personalize instruction for students. Can you say a bit about that work? 

The majority of our teachers are participating in JBlend Miami and are using a rotation model. They divide students into groups based on skills, levels and in other ways. The advantage is that by integrating technology and working with small groups, teachers know that each group is occupied with something independent and personalized. It allows the teacher to also work with a small and focused group. The key ideas for us is to personalize learning….by using new technologies, furniture that helps that happen, and adaptive software that provides data to help teachers know what skills have been mastered and what skills need more work.

Even for the teachers this work is very personalized. Most teachers still continue to do subjective observations, not just relying on the hard data. The data gives them additional, helpful information.

What is most exciting for you about your school’s innovative work?
We look for every possible way to excite the learning in our students and encourage exploration in all the grade levels. Exploring new tools and ideas is a process that we’re doing all the time. We are always learning and reading…we go to FETC each year and bring different teachers each time. We always bring something new back, and our efforts have been very successful. Whatever we’ve brought back to try has had buy-in, and we’ve continued to use it. 

What do you need to be successful as an innovator?
Having a colleague! We work so well together….we think pedagogically and discuss and decide before implementing something new. We want our children to have every possible experience to excite them in learning. It is so important to have someone you trust who wants the same outcome but who will also play devil’s advocate. We are making quite an investment, and we don’t take it lightly.

We also have an incredible head of school who supports everything we do. We know that we have her trust and confidence. We present our ideas to her, and she gives us so much support. It’s the best environment. The tools of innovation are expensive. The administration has to believe in it. Our head of school wants to make sure that everyone has everything they need to improve their teaching. She fully supports professional development for everyone. We’re not tied to a shoestring, which gives us the freedom to dream and to realize our dreams.

What is challenging about being an innovator?
We always want more time! More time with the kids, daily lesson time….our school is lucky to have so much enrichment- music, art, musical theater, science, Hebrew, Judaics. So many specialties. And technology. We’re all competing for time.

How do you continue learning?
We research anything new that catches our attention. If we’re interested in something, we check it out online, watch videos, and ask for demos. When we do the translation, create the curriculum, that’s also a learning experience. For example, I have to learn robotics first then figure out how I’m going to teach it. I have to create something new in order to make it work with the students. It’s all a learning experience- for them and for us. We learn constantly from watching the students. Every day is different. Every student is different.

Where do you reflect on and share your learning process?
We do this continuously. We even reflect while we are supposed to be sleeping. We talk to each other constantly , bouncing ideas back and forth. Teachers come to us with questions and we research together, looking for tools and ideas, trying things, creating samples so that we know what to recommend. We want the teachers to be successful, so we do a lot of the initial work to decide the best tool for a task. That is so important. Making sure that everyone feels successful takes away the fear of trying new things. We never want students or teachers to feel overly frustrated. Everything is planned, and it takes a lot of time and energy. Nothing is haphazard. There is a lot of thought behind it.

What inspires you?
Ilana watches a lot of TED Talks….Diane subscribes to a number of blogs and always shares favorite, relevant blog posts with others.

What inspiration can you share with other innovators?
The key to innovation is excitement. We are looking for aha moments in our students; that‘s how we hook them as lifelong learners. We want our teachers to be learning and to feel like innovators. When we look at new technologies that’s what we think about.