We think our Common Sense Ambassadors are worth knowing. Here's the latest in a series of spotlights.
The Common Sense Ambassadors are an exceptional group of Common Sense Recognized education leaders who share their passion and inspiration about our mission with others.
Today we're spotlighting Ambassador Jennifer Liang.
What do you do?
I'm the instructional technology specialist for Cumberland Academy of Georgia. We're a small (fewer than 100 students) independent school just outside of Atlanta. We serve students with autism spectrum disorder and other learning disabilities. I oversee our 1-to-1 Chromebook initiative and train teachers on how to use them in the classroom. I also teach social studies and computer science. I always like to tell people my day isn't boring.
How is Common Sense Education's mission making a difference in your work?
Common Sense has been great! Individuals with autism are more prone to online harassment than their typical peers. But they also are more attracted to online interactions because they're more structured and it's easier to find people interested in your specific interest. So as a school, we are interested in helping our students learn to navigate these interactions. We've been able to use Common Sense's resources as part of our comprehensive social skills program. The feedback from our families has been fantastic.
Describe a digital learning project or initiative that you're currently working on.
Right now Cumberland is developing a computer science program. Many of our students are passionate about careers in this area, and even the ones who don't have computer science as a vocational goal can benefit from learning computational thinking. We started using Code.org's curriculum, with modifications for our elementary and middle school students this year. Next fall, our upper-level math and science teachers will start offering a more formal, for-credit course for our college-prep students. If you'd asked me 10 years ago if I'd ever be teaching computer science, I would have laughed at you. But there's such an abundance of tools out there now, it's easy to at least do the basics.
What's a teaching strategy or tip that you could share with other teachers?
One of the things I always tell my teachers is, "You can't break anything" when they're trying a new tool out. I see so many teachers afraid to try out a new thing because they're uncomfortable, they don't want to fail in front of the kids, they think it won't work, and so on. But each group of kids we teach is unique and needs a unique approach. A willingness to try new things and to fail spectacularly alongside your students is a good trait to have.
What are you most excited about in education?
Right now I'm excited by the blurring of lines between assistive and instructional technologies. Many of my students are college bound but will still require assistance in the college classes. How great is it that they can use an app on their Chromebooks to record a lecture instead of a bulky tape recorder? Or spell-check their class notes? Or email a professor about an assignment instead of trying to speak up in class? These are all things we don't think of as modifications anymore, but for a student with learning disabilities, it can mean the difference between success and failure. And it's embedded in a commercially available device that looks just like the ones your peers are carrying. That's a huge stride toward inclusion driven entirely by the availability of tech.
Why did you become a Common Sense Ambassador?
I became an Ambassador because I know I'm not the only educator out there struggling to find the resources to teach digital citizenship to students with special needs. I want to help connect educators to the resources they need for this population.