"In working with regular classroom teachers and sharing e-mail with other technology teachers, I realized that when we feel hesitant about using technology or trying a particular idea, we just need a little nudge to encourage us to keep going and to take risks," explained Lori Miller. "That's what The Alien Teacher is about. I want to plant ideas and nudge folks into taking an action that they haven't taken before, and to see old material in a new light."
To those who know her, it's no surprise that Miller chose to name her site "The Alien Teacher." Her computer lab at Wacona Elementary School in Waycross, Georgia, is adorned with inflatable and stuffed aliens. She and her students love them! The students continually bring Miller alien trinkets and pictures they have drawn, and she keeps them all.
Aliens sometimes invade classroom assignments, too, such as when the students designed alien pictures with KidPix and wrote stories about aliens visiting the school. Students also have debated whether aliens exist, and in one upcoming unit, students will vote for their favorite alien!
"Aliens are a fairly novel way to make kids excited about the same old stuff they have to do every day," Miller told Education World. "The aliens give us a good common platform to talk about, and they stir up interest and rapport. Once we've established that, it's a lot easier to get my students to do the work I want them to do."
Miller's alien-themed Web site provides support for technology teachers and students through lessons, projects, kid-safe links, and technology tips. Sharing resources with her peers is an important part of a plan Miller has developed for her own professional growth. (Miller's students primarily use the Wacona Elementary Web site, which she also designed, for their work.)
"When I develop technology projects for my students, I ask myself a few questions," said Miller. "Will this project meet the students' and teachers' needs? Could the idea be changed easily to fit other topics? Can the work be modified for individual students without too much trouble? Will the project be easy enough for me to implement, and yet challenging enough for my students? Will the students enjoy the project and learn more than just technology skills?"
If the project meets those criteria, Miller gives it a test run. Her ultimate goal is to create enjoyable activities that teach the curriculum as students learn to use technology. Because the state of Georgia has made changes to the curriculum this year, many activities Miller has used in the past don't perfectly match the new standards. So this summer, she sorted through every standard for the elementary grades and devised technology activities to address them. She has published those ideas on The Alien Teacher.
"Some of the ideas are very simplistic, such as having students reinforce math skills by playing online games," reported Miller. "Others are more involved, like student-created Civil War newspapers with articles about the key figures, causes, and battles. I also share ideas about other projects, because if something works well, it's worth letting others know about!"
Although the activities and pages change, the "alien" theme remains a focus of Miller's class and her online resource. "Two years ago, I tried to decorate with a different theme," she recalled. "The students begged me to bring the aliens back, so I did, and they'll always stay here. It's a way to make the kids view the lab as a fun, kid-friendly place that encourages advanced technology use. After all, who better to teach about technology than an alien?"
So, is Miller herself an alien? She won't confirm or deny, but she admits that she sometimes tells her younger students she has "eyes in the back of her head." She adds, "After that, they always are on their best behavior!"
Photos courtesy of Lori Miller.
Article by Cara Bafile
Copyright © 2005 Education World