"Walls have disappeared, and time doesn't matter" in Jody Bean's sixth-grade classroom at Gardiner Middle School in Oregon City.
Why? Because Bean and her students have mastered technology, which allows them to collaborate with students in Finland, Pennsylvania and Illinois. One device students use is a SMART Board, produced by SMART Technologies.
The board is an interactive whiteboard that allows teachers and students to organize and present content, Bean said.
"It allows the teacher and students to control the computer by touching the SMART Board, [which] is like touching a touchscreen [on] an oversized iPad. You can write on it with an electronic pen, move images, connect to the internet" and more.
Now, she added, "Kids have so many options to learn and show what they've learned."
When students walk into Bean's classroom, they immediately look at a four-part display on one of her SMART boards. There they can see a blog, detailing what students in Finland and two other U.S. cities are doing in their classrooms.
"We came up with the idea to bridge cultures through social media, and my students have led this whole blog," Bean said, noting that she and her students have exchanged Valentine's Day cards with the other students and celebrated a Finnish holiday.
"We researched Finland's Independence Day, we made a blue and white banner and, with the help of a parent, we all learned how to say happy independence day in Finnish," Bean said.
Now, through technology, "they know about other parts of the world; they have friends there."
Bean's students even invited the Finnish students to take part in a "mannequin challenge — a craze on YouTube where you freeze" while being filmed. As Bean used her phone to scan the classroom, students wrote words in Finnish on the blackboard or hung up the flag of Finland.
The Finnish students took up the challenge and sent back a video of them in the classroom holding up signs in English; some students froze while holding small American flags.
The remarkable thing was that all the students in the two videos looked interchangeable, a dramatic indication that they all have much in common, Bean said.
"When my kids grow up and hear Finland mentioned, they will have positive thoughts — that helps the world a little bit," she added.
SMART Exemplar Global Summit
All this sharing is the result of Bean attending the SMART Exemplar Global Summit in 2015 and 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Teachers all over the world applied to attend this event and 55 were chosen; Bean was the only one from Oregon to attend both summits.
"I was able to connect and work with teachers all over the world. It is the best professional development a teacher could ask for," she said.
Teachers who taught all ages and all disciplines came together to find what they had in common and what was different about their jobs.
There, Bean met teachers from Finland, which she said has the No. 1 education system in the world, and other states, and she has worked hard to keep those connections up and running, using social media and SMART technology in the classroom.
The summit gave her "all these opportunities to meet teachers with more technology experience, which lit my fire," Bean said, and she plans to apply every year for the event. As a result of these experiences, she has acquired two additional job titles: technology-integration mentor and SMART Exemplar Educator.
It also was at one of the summits where Bean met teachers who were teaching coding classes to first and second-grade students. She then decided to offer a coding class to sixth-graders during their Cavalier time, which takes place every day for half an hour right after lunch.
"Students don't get electives, so we decided to create our own. Teachers all do something to get kids curious" about a variety of subjects, Bean said. "Coding is the language of algorithms, which governs all that we do on a computer. Everything we do on a computer is coding; jobs coming up in the future are all heading that way."
At the beginning of the year, she had mostly boys in the class, but now 14 of her 34 students are girls.
"Boys are more dominant in the business world, so having girls understand technology in-depth is a better opportunity for equal jobs," said Paige Baker, 12.
"I wanted to take the class because I was confused about it. Pretty much everything we do involves technology, so it was nice to learn about it," said Grace Duyn, 12.
"A computer is just a metal screen, but it is fascinating that behind it is someone who is smart," said Allison Mull, 12.
While Devin Moody, 12, added, "A lot of jobs use technology and [the coding class] will come in handy for future jobs."
Caleb J., 11, is one of Bean's sixth-graders and also a member of her coding class.
He is "on a ventilator, has a feeding tube and is in a wheelchair. He has a full-time nurse and an instructional assistant in the classroom with him," Bean said. "This is the first year he's been in a mainstream classroom. He loves school, and this year is the healthiest he has ever been.
"I want him to realize that without technology he probably wouldn't be alive. Somewhere in the past a teacher gave a student an idea, and that student created the ventilator, the wheelchair and the feeding tube," she said.
"Technology gives him life, and I want Caleb to realize that he could make a living someday creating code. Maybe he'll create a code that is life-changing for another kid."
What Caleb likes best about Bean is that "she makes learning fun.
"Her classroom is different, because she has more technology. [Sometimes] technology can help people more than paper can," he said.
Looking ahead, Bean is putting together a Hackathon for 120 sixth-graders on May 16, 17 and 18.
"A Hackathon is a collaborative event that allows students to come together to creatively problem-solve on an issue," she said. "SMART Technologies [chose] 12 schools in the United States" to have a Hackathon, and "Gardiner is the first middle school to be chosen. During the Hackathon, students brainstorm, strategize, plan and execute via small-group learning and student-led instruction."
Among the topics that students will consider is how to design the perfect school, including what kind of technology would be involved.
On May 18, students will share all their ideas to an audience of parents, school administrators and community members, Bean said.
Bean has been with the Oregon City School District for 18 years; she started teaching second-graders and moved up to sixth grade. In addition to her work at Gardiner Middle School, she teaches "pre-service teachers at Marylhurst. I teach people who want to have a second chance at a career," she said.
Her philosophy is not to teach students about the real world, but instead "to prepare them to create a better world for us together."
Bean said she is always going to be someone who advocates for her students, and her motto is "You got this."
Teaching at the middle school level, she believes in relationships, and as a language arts teacher she is a storyteller who wants to connect with each of her students.
"At Marylhurst, I tell my students that they are human, and they have a life, and if they know how to tell their story, they will make the world a kinder place," Bean said.
She added that technology in the classroom is important, but "storytelling is how we make the world better."
To learn more about SMART Technologies, visit home.smarttech.com.