I had a special feeling about a teaching opportunity that opened up late this past July, 2022, and it has turned out to be one of my best “spur-of-the-moment” decisions ever. I knew there was something different about this school – Denver Jewish Day School – from the start, when, just a couple of hours after I accepted the position, I received this email message: “Hi Robb, Welcome to DJDS. I have created a new email address for you. If you go to gmail and click add account in the top right corner....Let me know if you have any problems or issues setting it up. I will see you on Wednesday for orientation. Be well. With Gratitude, Josh Lake (he/him/his) Upper Division Dean | Athletic Director | Technology | Advisory | Camp | SEL.”
Josh is what every school needs: a cheerleader who is always present and aware of everything going on with students, ever ready with words of encouragement and seemingly boundless personal energy. You just feel good when you see Josh in the morning or at any time in the day, although of course, with all the hats he wears, including teaching a very popular keyboarding class for sixth graders, he is one extremely busy human being. Josh is also the one who pumps out every Thursday a one-page newsletter with links to all the calendar items and upcoming events, that is, vital information for faculty, students, families, and everyone in the DJDS school community.
Here are his answers to my interview questions from an exchange we had several weeks ago:
Robb Scott: What have been the major developments you have seen in education related to technology over the course of your career so far?
Josh Lake: When I started there were no computers in the classroom. Now we have a 1 to 1 student to laptop environment. Email, video conferencing, collaboration, how images are used (memes and such). The rise of social media and the vice grip it has on our students. How much less connection there is and how much less time kids spend with each other disconnected.
Understanding Technology Needs
Scott: What are the current needs of faculty and students at DJDS related to technology and how are you set up to identify new and developing needs in such a dynamic organization like this one?
Lake: The main needs are faster bandwidth and computers with larger memories and processing capabilities. As technology evolves, the mechanisms that support the technology are the most important to both maintain and support.
Scott: How would you describe your personal and professional philosophy of the interrelationships connecting technology and education?
Lake: I think with every technological breakthrough, there is an application to education. My philosophy is to encourage both students and teachers to fail forward, try something new and see if it can work; if not, no worries. Having the courage to take that risk is what both education and technology are all about.
Thinking about AI and Learning
Scott: Do you believe artificial intelligence and applications like ChatGPT have relevance for teaching and learning? What are your thoughts regarding future challenges facing schools and online education related to either AI or other aspects of IT?
Lake: It is scary, I think it is too soon to completely say whether there is relevance or not to education but I will say it is scary how easy it is to use and how realistic it is. I am concerned as it seems our society always goes too far with new technology and this type of tech is truly frightening
Scott: If you were preparing a new teacher for a K-12, college-level, or adult education career, what would be the foundational concepts and most essential skills you would want him/her to attain first?
Lake: Understanding a kid's point of view and having the teacher understand the concept of community and working with parents, students, and teachers as a team. Technologically, How to master the Google suite of apps, You master that, and you are set for EdTech.
Bringing Positive Energy
Scott: You are so full of energy and you communicate enthusiasm to everyone around you in this school, DJDS. What is your secret? Where do you find your inspiration? What are your tips for new, prospective, and/or experienced teachers?
Lake: Aww, thanks. This place really saved me. I went through a tough personal time at the beginning of my career here and the students and teachers were so supportive and caring, I feel like every day, I owe. I also feel a debt to the teachers, coaches and counselors who helped me when I was a child. I feel that every day if I can help one child with one thing, it is a victory. It fuels the next day and it is like a domino effect. The more I am able to help, the more I want to help. My advice to new teachers is simple. Only get into this profession if you love kids and have endless patience to meet their endless energy. This job is a calling and if you are not all in, it can be almost impossible to do.
Scott: Forgot one question -- please describe the curriculum for the keyboarding class that you teach to middle schoolers at DJDS. :)
Lake: The typing curriculum is Typingagent.com, an online typing program that uses AI to create drills specific to the learner. I also teach projects using all of the Google suites of apps. Parents have told me regularly that their 6th grader knows more about Google tips and tricks than themselves. My goal is to create a sandbox to spark interest in typing and Google apps as these are essential tools in 21st-century educational technology.
As the interviewer for this article, and as a teaching colleague of Josh Lake’s, I would like to add one more comment from a short conversation he and I had following his patient and helpful collaboration on this piece. “I believe that there is a change coming,” he told me, “which you and I may not see in our lifetimes, but which today’s students and their children likely will go through, and that is society and schools setting aside many of the devices and social apps that are so rampant and widely used today.” The reason DJDS Upper Division Dean Josh Lake believes this is inevitable is because many of these technologies today actually interrupt and interfere with our communication and our fellowship with each other as human beings, he explained, leaving me with much to dwell on and learn from, as always has happened this school year whenever I have heard or read his thoughtful messages.
About the Author
Robb Scott has earned a B.A. in English (University of Kansas), an M.A. in Curriculum & Instruction - TESL (University of Kansas), and an Ed.D. in Special Education (Kansas State University), as well as a Certificate in “Negotiating Across Cultures” (The Fletcher School at Tufts University). He has been teaching since 1982 (K-12, university, community college, adult education, and teacher preparation) and retired at Fort Hays State University in 2021 after a career that took him to Ecuador, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, but always returning to his home state of Kansas. Most recently, Robb has served at Denver Jewish Day School as a middle school English language arts teacher, coming out of retirement to fill a need there during the 2022-2023 school year. He is a co-editor of the C2C Digital Magazine and has returned home to Council Grove to continue what he hopes will be a long and eventful retirement season with many more opportunities for learning and growth.