Accessibility in the modern education system may appear to be a lofty ideal, but this inspiring educator believes it to be both necessary and imperative in order to develop impassioned students who thrive well beyond the classroom. Darren Alcala is a District Technology Coach in Rancho Cucamonga, California who places an emphasis on giving students access to technology that offers them unique experiences to broaden their interests.
The Makings of a Techie
Darren’s love for technology stems all the way back to when he was in elementary and middle school. “I got my hands on an old Commodore 64 and I started taking it apart and putting it back together. I really learned through doing, which I believe is where a lot of my own teaching philosophy stems from.” Darren went on to get his computer science degree, but it wasn’t until he taught at a summer camp that he realized he felt most fulfilled when educating others. Darren switched career paths and decided to enter the classroom.
Entering his eighth year as a District Technology Coach, Darren believes he has arrived at his purpose in life. “Combining both the aspects of computer science and teaching, really melded together to bring me contentment and gratification. I am able to assist teachers in utilizing technology to create more opportunities for students to recognize their full potential….and for me that is everything!” Darren strives to use technology in ways that empower students to understand that they are capable of entering into fields that they are passionate about no matter their background.
Actualizing Potential Through Access
Darren emphasizes the importance of making technology and lessons accessible to actualize the potential of your students. Accessible education doesn’t simply mean handing students access to tech tools; rather, it understands the complex problems of learner diversity and emphasizes the importance of teachers tailoring lessons to meet the needs of each learner. Darren believes that technology is a powerful solution to inaccessible education. “A lot of students come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in my district, and so I make it a point to bring them access to high-end technologies. I want them to realize that it doesn’t matter your background, everybody can create high-end products.”
Some of Darren’s most exciting non-traditional projects that he has helped initiate have included filming movies, coding projects, and creating virtual tours! For Darren, all of the hard work is worth it when a student unlocks this newfound zeal for a particular subject. “This one shy and timid student coded this real-life masterpiece. It was a dream sequence video that was truly astounding for her age. I could tell that this project awakened something inside her, and she found something that she can cling to.” Darren thinks the key to this type of success is through stepping away from traditional classroom activities and really utilizing the potential of creative open-ended projects.
Representation for All
Education should not only be a place where students learn curriculum but really where they are guided to have a better understanding of themselves and what they like. “For many students in my district, especially minority students, there are so many external factors telling them who they are and what they can do. I want to be the district that fosters a sense of belonging and purpose.” Darren strives to create experiences for the students in his district that nurture their skills and passions so that they enter into whatever field they choose.
Representation in these fields also plays an important role in students reaching their potential. Darren’s school is comprised of mostly Latinx-of which many are English learners- and Black students; these demographics are dramatically underrepresented in STEAM fields. When there is a lack of diverse representation in a field, the idea of entering that industry for a minority student can seem both overwhelming and impossible. “I believe this is the equity piece as educators we must focus on. Giving these groups of students access to different technology and resources gives them that feeling that it’s achievable and that they are worthy!”
The Go-To EdTech Tool
Darren is a massive fan of the OKIOCAM which he uses throughout all of his professional development! The OKIOCAM’s claim to fame, namely the compact and portable design, is one of Darren’s favorite things about it. “The OKIOCAM is the definition of accessibility. It’s ready to go on the fly and everyone, no matter their comfort level with technology, is able to utilize it. I use it all the time during professional development when I am modeling new technology for the teachers.”
Darren’s use of the OKIOCAM goes beyond in-person modeling. He enjoys using OKIOCAM Snapshot and Recorder to capture images and videos to use in tutorials for students and teachers alike! “I love the capability to zoom on the OKIOCAM because it really doesn’t lose any image quality.” Darren has also had students in both math and science use the OKIOCAM to capture stop motion and time-lapse films!
When asked for a closing piece of advice for teachers, Darren quickly responded that all we need to do as educators is get out of the student’s way. Give them all of the tools that they need to succeed, and then let them do it! “You are their bumper guards. You are there to nudge them in certain directions and give them feedback, but ultimately they must learn by doing. I believe making mistakes is important, and as a teacher, you must recognize when to let those mistakes happen.” Allowing students to have agency helps them build resilience and independence which are skills that will benefit them throughout their life!
Darren Alcala is a District Technology Coach in the Cucamonga School District where he focuses on introducing new and exciting learning experiences to teachers. He firmly believes in the importance of representation and accessibility in education! Check out Darren’s website where he offers tips on how to properly integrate technology into the classroom, and follow him on Twitter where you can stay up to date with everything that he is doing.