Teachers boost their classroom tech savvy at Camp Mad Media


Reporting by Amber C. Walker, The Cap Times

July 1, 2017


Although summer break is just getting started, some local teachers are already thinking about how to innovate their curriculum for students next year.

On Thursday, We Think Big, a Madison nonprofit dedicated to connecting local educators with public and private sector resources they can use to serve their students, wrapped up Camp Mad Media, a two-week digital media series for educators.

Teachers and school staff from Madison, Sun Prairie, Waunakee, Wausau and other area school districts explored a different skill each day of the camp. Workshops included podcasting, stop-motion animation and virtual reality, each with a focus on how to bring those skills into the classroom to benefit students. The workshops were held at the downtown Madison Public Library. About 70 teachers participated in the eight-part series.

Kathe Crowley Conn, founder of We Think Big, said the goal of the series was to connect teachers with local organizations that can provide instructional resources and help them innovate in their classrooms to improve learning.

“The topics we explore are in the context of helping (student) learners,” Crowley Conn said. “Educators can think about how to incorporate these topics into their instruction and continuously develop. They know we are here for them and their students.”

We Think Big partnered with several organizations to facilitate the workshops, including the Madison Metropolitan School District, the Madison Public Library, Filament Games, Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and DANEnet.

“My sense is that everyone wants to help teachers,” Crowley Conn said. “We Think Big provides a venue for (partners) to play on their strengths and provide teachers with the opportunity to learn about topics they want to learn.”

Heather Zintel, a teacher at Shorewood Hills Elementary School, said she valued the opportunity to meet her peers who are passionate about bringing more creativity into their classrooms.

“A big piece of this for me is networking,” she said. “Coming here and meeting people I can now connect with and learn things from is great.”

The topic of Thursday’s workshop was gaming. Staff from Filament Games facilitated a “game jam,” a brainstorming process where participants are asked to create a game based on a set of constraints. The eight participating teachers had to come up with a creative rift on tic-tac-toe that involved more than two students. They used the jam to design games around learning states and capitals, the coordinate plane and probability.

The topics explored in the series work across a variety of disciplines. Abigail Thomas, a music teacher in Waunakee, has attended We Think Big programming in the past, and is excited to use gaming to engage her students with music theory.

“In the music classroom, it is so easy to be very performance-based and always having the kids playing instruments,” she said. “My idea here is to try to bring as many things as possible with tech and gaming into the classroom to make things interesting and spice it up for the kids.”

Edie Mileham, a kindergarten and first grade teacher at Van Hise Elementary School in Madison, said she also enjoyed the series because it provides teachers with tools to bring more creativity into their classrooms.

“It feels like, in education right now, there is a lot of push towards people following standards, and not about creativity,” she said. “You think, how can I bring these things into my classroom to make it interesting for students, and also hit those content areas and learning objectives?”

Crowley Conn said We Think Big will provide follow-up resources to camp participants throughout the summer so they can continue to expand their knowledge and incorporate what they learned into their classrooms.