Christia Osborn-Preston is a K-5 technology teacher based in Las Vegas with an infectious energy and enthusiasm for education. She is a Google Certified Innovator, a Google Certified Educator, an Apple Teacher, and a frequent presenter at education conferences such as ISTE and CUE. I recently had a chat with her about her early career as a dancer, her love of teaching kindergarten, the difficulties of educating students about coding and computer science, and more!
A tale of two passions
While she is now an accomplished and experienced educator, it was dancing that was Christia’s first passion. “I started dancing when I was 8, and I immediately fell in love with it”, she says. It was while studying for her bachelor’s degree in dance at the University of Texas at Austin that she got her first hands-on experience as a teacher. She would regularly take student-teacher placements, many of those being for kindergarten. Her energy and enthusiasm were instant hits with the young learners.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Christia got the opportunity to move to Las Vegas and pursue a career as a dancer. She danced for the successful Siegfried and Roy At the Mirage production for over 4 years. However, she never let go of her love of teaching, so while she was dancing professionally at night, she was also studying for her MEd.
When a half-day kindergarten teaching position came up at a school nearby, Christia jumped at the opportunity. “I would go teach an early morning kindergarten class, go home to take a nap, and go dance at night”. Her schedule became even more jam-packed, but she was able to build on the valuable teaching experience she had already gained.
While she would always have a spot for dancing in her heart, with her eyes on motherhood and settling down, Christia knew that permanently switching her focus to teaching would be the most prudent decision. “I was in a show with other dancers that were around 40 years old, and I just knew that I didn’t want to do that”, Christia says. “My back was hurting, my knees were hurting…”, she continues, jokingly.
Christia would hang up her dancing shoes for good not long after, before going into teaching full time.
The joys of kindergarten
“You’re their first teacher, you’re their introduction to school. I really enjoy instilling a love of learning in them”, Christia says, talking about what she relishes the most about teaching kindergarten.
With Christia’s background in dance, there’s never a dull moment in her kindergarten classroom. Christia leans on her experience as a dancer to make her lessons as fun as possible. Talking about this, Christia tells me “We do a lot of singing and dancing, a lot of music, and a lot of art”. While her students learn everything that kindergarteners would normally learn, in Christia’s class, their learning is filled with as much fun and games as possible.
Christia believes that encouraging her students to perform greatly builds their confidence. “They all love singing and dancing, so we take every opportunity to have a performance. For me, it’s important that they all know how to be confident”. Christia doesn’t see herself as only a teacher, she sees herself as a mentor, guiding the young learners to be the best that they can be.
The issues with teaching coding in education
Christia transitioned away from teaching kindergarten exclusively, into teaching technology 2 years ago, after her school’s principal suggested her as the perfect person to take on the new opening. However, the transition wasn’t without its challenges. “When I first started teaching technology, I asked all the kids what they wanted to learn about. I have about 900 students, and most of them said coding and robotics. I had no clue about either of those things”, Christia says, remembering her initial struggles when moving into the technology teaching position.
Talking about whether there is a disparity between the need for kids to become exposed to coding and computer science from an early age, and the majority of educators’ abilities to teach them, Christia tells me “Absolutely. Because we all grew up in a time when coding wasn’t that important. But now, it’s so, so important”.
Christia was quick to recognize that she needed to become adept at teaching these subjects that up until then, she had received no exposure to. “Kids need to learn this. They need to learn how to do it”, she says. While she may have felt like she was thrown into the deep end at the start, it didn’t take long for her to really start to thrive in her new role. Through a lot of research and trial and error, Christia started to become much more confident in her ability to teach these topics.
Talking about her most beloved source for learning about all things computer science-related, Christia tells me that her number one pick is code.org. ”It’s awesome because they really have everything laid out for you”, she says. She uses the non-profit organization’s website for educating herself, as well as finding tasks and assignments for her students to complete.
While Christia is always learning, she loves to share her own knowledge and experience with other educators. You won’t want to miss her talk titled I Want to Teach Coding But I Don’t Know How to Code on Sunday, June 27 at ISTE21 Live. Click here for more information.
Remote learning mindset and secrets
Teaching young learners is difficult enough at the best of times, but teaching them remotely amplifies the difficulty exponentially. “You need to be flexible and ready to pivot and change when something isn’t going well”, Christia says, talking about what is most important when teaching her students remotely.
Christia is of the belief that, when teaching remotely, it’s crucial to understand that not every task or assignment is going to work well with every class. Remembering a recent experience that left her scratching her head, Christia tells me “I did a Jamboard activity with one class, and it went amazingly. I did the same task with another class, and it went terribly”. Outlining her approach to how she copes when a task doesn’t go as well as she would have hoped, Christia says “It’s important to move on to the next day and just try to do better”.
Christia explains to me how it’s important to always have a few tasks that you know your students will enjoy up your sleeve, ready to go at any time, for when things don’t go as planned. Christia and her students are huge fans of Pixton Comics. The website allows students to create their own comics, storyboards, and custom characters. “When things aren’t going too well, I’m like ‘Hey, everyone! Let’s go to Pixton and make some comics!’”. This gives Christia a fallback option, so she doesn’t need to get stressed out about every online lesson going perfectly.
Christia is also a big fan of OKIOCAM. During remote teaching, she has used it to show her students all types of learning materials and objects. However, perhaps the most inventive way that Christia has made use of OKIOCAM recently has been to teach her students how to use their Chromebooks. “With kindergarteners, first-graders, and second-graders, Chromebooks are still so new to them”, Christia tells me. Her district has only recently equipped every student with a Chromebook, so many of the younger students still struggle to use them. To help them learn how to use their devices during remote learning, Christia will place her Chromebook underneath her OKIOCAM and show them which buttons to press and which gestures to make on the trackpad. “I can show them how to double-click, how to two-finger swipe and everything. It works great.”, she tells me.
Hybrid learning on the move
As of March this year, Christia’s district has adopted a hybrid learning model. With some students learning in-person and some online, she can often be found teaching around 100 students at a time. To teach the in-person students, Christia needs to move between different classrooms each period. To make this easier for herself, Christia has made what she calls her “media cart” — a mobile cart on wheels with all the essential technology needed for hybrid teaching. Due to OKIOCAM’s portability, Christia is able to easily transport it on her media cart for use in every classroom. “Because it [OKIOCAM] is so compact and versatile I am able to carry it with me, plug it in, and get it up and running very quickly”, Christia tells me.
With her students having now transitioned from exclusively learning remotely to using a hybrid model, Christia has become extra excited at the prospect of having them all back in the classroom full time. So while she’s definitely become quite adept at remote and hybrid learning, she’s really looking forward to the day that she can teach them all face to face again.
Christia’s Teaching Tips
- #connections: First and foremost, connect with students by building relationships. Then, make learning an experience that connects with students on an emotional level. I use room transformations and gamification to get students involved, engaged, and excited about learning.
- #failforward: It is ok to fail in front of your students. Modeling this will help students develop a growth mindset. It is ok to teach something that you are not an expert in. You can learn together with your students.
- #growyourbestself: You and I have the opportunity every day to be better today than we were yesterday. Learn, laugh, grow, fail, change…it’s all a part of the journey to your best self.
If you want to connect with Christia and hear more of her tips on teaching coding to kids, remote teaching, and more, be sure to check her out on Twitter @msosbornc.