Connecticut’s 2017 PBS Digital Innovator is Furahi Achebe! She is a technology teacher at the Metropolitan Business Academy in New Haven and she sat down with us to discuss her classroom techniques, favorite digital media, and more.
So you had a previous career as a scientist and you even co-invented five pharmaceutical patents/patent applications. What inspired you to completely change your career and become a teacher?
I was a scientist for 23 years. I worked 19 years in the pharmaceutical industry and then I worked 4 years in the mining industry. I really loved it! I really love science and I just love the challenge of thinking about our world, but I always knew I wanted to be a teacher and it was always a part of who I am because I get so excited about sharing knowledge. So I was spending so much spare time organizing science literacy programs and video journalism programs that when I got my last scientific layoff, I said this is the time for me to live what I have been my whole life. So I decided to pursue teaching full-time!
What has been the hardest thing about shaping your identity as an instructor? How did you become the teacher that you are today?
The biggest thing about learning how to teach is learning how to keep kids motivated because when they lose focus, they’re off task. But instructional hours are the most precious resources of their lives because this is where they’re taking a micro step up in society. So as an educator, we have to value each of those minutes. They’re real, they’re finite, and we have to capture that and let the kids soak those minutes in and make steps up in their knowledge.
With that said, we have to keep it moving in the classroom because in this day and age, we’re competing with so much media and so much social media and so many online games and so much material that moves so fast. We have to get things that are in short clips; we have to get assignments that promote critical thinking and it has to be a multimedia learning experience. It’s really important that we’re able to do that, otherwise we lose their attention and the opportunity to gain knowledge is lost and those classroom minutes can never be replaced.
You are a technology teacher with documentary filmmaking and broadcast classes. That’s pretty unique. How do you use PBS LearningMedia in these classes?
PBS LearningMedia is a great intellectual initiator. Every time we come in to the classroom and we’re ready to introduce a new concept, we don’t want to just walk in here and start discussing the concept. We want to discuss its relevance. PBS has curated resources from all kinds of different sources and that is the most profound initiator. We’re always, as classroom educators, trying to make relevance to our material and so PBS is a strong way to create that initiation for lessons that are going to happen on a particular day.
Why is PBS LearningMedia an important tool in your classroom?
In this era of fake news, misleading information, and statistics that will take you way off track, it’s important to have an intellectual source of information. So PBS caters to an audience of critical thinkers—people who will not only absorb what they hear, but challenge what is said. The work of PBS is carefully done and solidly based, so when I go on PBS Learning Media, it is material I can trust. I can look at a video and know that many smart people have looked at it and that it has been validated. That’s important to me.
What would you to say to other educators that are considering using PBS Learning Media?
Use it—it’s there for you. You don’t want to recreate the wheel, right? The material is there, it’s curated, it’s done well, and it is correct. So use your time to work on other things like differentiating your assignments and creating higher level thinking questions. There are many other uses to our time than to do and create lessons that can be created better elsewhere. And when you find something at PBS LearningMedia, you can trust it, so you should be ready to use it and save that time to direct your efforts to customizing the work for your students.
What are you hoping to do during your yearlong tenure as Connecticut’s Digital Innovator?
As Connecticut’s Digital Innovator, I really hope to communicate cool stuff that makes teachers think about our power and our position in this world. Think about this—we complain about the lack of teachers. What if we take people under our wings as we go through and inspire the next generation of teachers? What if we get kids more excited about technology and areas that are growing in the future like healthcare and wind energy? What can we do as advocates for a better future? That’s what I’m hoping to inspire people to think about as a digital innovator.
What are your favorite digital media tools?
I love that question because you know I have to plug mine! It’s thefittingroom.tv and there we have inspirational media about how to get from where you are sitting in your seventh grade classroom to the career that fits you the best. Kids get to try on different careers, which is why it’s called the fitting room.
I believe web resources can be used to transform lives for the better. So I like free resources such as Khan Academy and Code Academy where people can teach themselves highly valuable technical skills.
I love YouTube. There you can find a tutorial on anything you want to do or information about anything that you want to know about. Lynda.com also has detailed videos about everything you wanted to do digitally and so I use them quite a bit too.