When students enter a classroom, they come with varying abilities from disparate cultural backgrounds where each student requires specific educational needs. Balancing the needs of the group with individual students can be incredibly tedious. Kristin Oropeza, a former special education teacher and technology coach, views technology as one of the most critical components in equalizing students’ opportunities in the classroom.
Striving for Accessible Eduaction
Kristin’s journey in education began in the special education classroom which has molded her experience and perspective and the role technology plays in this sphere. “Special Ed teachers are always keenly aware of how to make sure every child is successful in the classroom, regardless if they have disabilities or not. The main question is how can we use the tools that we have been gifted in the classroom in a way that makes the curriculum and materials more accessible to everybody.”
Kristin’s daughter was a huge catalyst in her desire to create more equitable opportunities for her students. When Kristin’s daughter started preschool, she was diagnosed as a select mute-an anxiety disorder where a person is unable to speak in certain social situations. At the time, her daughter was attending a private school where the staff were not equipped to meet her daughter’s needs. “It made me reflect on my own practices as a teacher. I knew how smart she was, she was just having incredible social anxiety. It propelled me to be proactive about sharing the impact technology can have on students with other teachers who don’t have special education training.”
Where Inspiration Meets Action
Fueled with a desire to bring better education practices to her classroom, Kristin began attending smaller conferences in California so that she could optimize her learning environment for all students. While Kristin was receiving amazing information, she wasn’t seeing her classroom represented at these conferences. “There were very few special ed teachers presenting, and even fewer real-life classroom examples from special education classrooms.” There were only a handful of actual classroom teachers presenting, which she found to be a voice that was in desperate need of amplification.
“So, I ran for the board of directors at CUE Los Angeles, and assumed the communications director position where I wanted to hone my focus in on community outreach.” Kristin wanted to offer teachers a space where they could have open dialogue; where no question was considered a stupid question. So she started participating in monthly zoom meetings where teachers could share, support, and encourage each other to become the best teachers that they could be. “This group of educators became my support system. I was at my school diving into EdTech alone, and here I found other educators that thought like me who wanted to become the best possible educators given the amazing technology that is at our fingertips.”
Balancing Tech with Student’s Needs
Technology has so many incredible benefits, but Kristin believes that its power to equalize learning opportunities is one of its greatest strengths. “I think a lot of times, teachers believe that to have a large impact, you must be using high-end technology, but sometimes the simplest tools are the ones that have a transformative impact.” Kristin saw the transformative impact that something as simple as dictation can have on students.
“Students from both gen ed and special ed often get in front of a blank word document and are not able to write anything. Not because they are not capable, but they couldn’t put it into words typing. That extra step hindered them from expressing themselves.” Kristin introduced the voice typing tool in Google Docs, which allowed her students to have a conversation about it while it automatically started populating the document. “That intimidation of seeing a blank document is very difficult for a lot of kids. This simple tool helped them get past their imposter syndrome. They now believe that they have something important to say and view themselves as writers.”
Amplify and Empower
Kristin’s own daughter struggled with this intimidation that so many students experience both in general and special education classes. Kristin has seen firsthand the benefit that comes from using technology to amplify and empower every student’s voice. During the pandemic, Kristin suggested to her daughter’s teacher that she incorporate Flipgrid into the daily lessons because of its accessibility and ease of use. “The teacher decided to start using it, and for some reason my daughter connected with it. She would get on Flipgrid and record her answers and even make videos responding to other students!” This was the first time that many of her classmates were hearing her speak! The power that technology has to give students their voice is so meaningful and should be celebrated and protected.
All things OKIOCAM
One of Kristin’s favorite tools while in the classroom was the OKIOCAM! “The ease of use and accessibility are really its shining features. Not only is it great for demoing or modeling the work for the day, but it works just as well for student use!” The OKIOCAM allows students to create stop motion videos that inspire creativity within the classroom! “Especially for special education classes, it is necessary that technology be completely plug-and-play and user friendly; the OKIOCAM is just that!”
While Kristin loved being in the classroom, she yearned to continue creating places where teachers and technology specialists shared their knowledge and experiences with each other. ”I really missed working with educators and amplifying all these really great things happening in the classroom, so I applied for a position at Common Sense Media, and received the position as Education Marketing and Community Coordinator.” Common Sense Media’s mission is to empower students, teachers, and families to make healthy choices about technology and media use that are in the best interest of the children. “So many teachers get hung up on making these huge leaps with progress and grades. Any progress is good progress, and I feel really happy to be working with a company that is so dedicated to enhancing and improving the educational landscape.”
Kristin Oropeza is currently based in Los Angeles, California where she serves as the Education Marketing and Community Coordinator for Common Sense Media. She is also the current President of CUE Los Angeles. Kristin is a former special education teacher and technology specialist. Be sure to follow her on Twitter where she is constantly connecting and amplifying educators’ voices