Meet Erik Kellner

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CIRCL perspectives offer a window into the different worlds of various stakeholders in the cyberlearning community — what drives their work, what they need to be successful, and what they think the community should be doing. Share your perspective.

Erik Kelner

Erik Kellner is a 8th grade science teacher at Canyon Middle School, and a summer IISME Fellow working with CIRCL. Erik has a B.S. in Biology from UCLA and an M.A. in Instructional Technology from San Francisco State University. While student teaching, he used lessons from various sources on the nascent internet of 1996, and made his first webpage as an online resource for his middle school students in 1999.

What would you like people to know about you?

I have a passion for student learning and the “aha!” moment that comes with it. That is what keeps me going as an educator, and I try to set up my students as much as possible to get them to that point.

How did you get started in cyberlearning?

As a student teacher at Sonoma State University in 1996, I was already using the internet as a resource for accessing lesson plans and data sets and designing activities around them. I would love to say that I had a prescient view of the future of learning, but the reality is that I was simply young and excited about the possibilities of the internet. It was an easily accessible (albeit slow) resource to help me come up with lesson plans. I wanted to innovate and the internet allowed me to look beyond the curriculum that my mentor teachers had developed.

I think it is this desire to innovate that set me on the path to cyberlearning. I feel that I came into classroom teaching at a critical time that demarked those who entered teaching before and those who entered after me. I looked up some stats and there were only about 200,000 web pages in 1996, which is a ridiculously small amount compared to now, but compared to the year before, it was 10 times more websites, and just over 2300 in June of 1994.

I also feel that this timing positioned me well to be the person to bridge the gap between the old school teachers that developed their curriculum before the ubiquitous web, and those who are digital natives.That’s not to say that those who started teaching earlier than me don’t use or are resistant to technology. Nor do I want to leave the impression that I think that they are poor teachers in any way. I just see when I came into the profession as an inflection point, and I happened to have the mindset to embrace where I was at the time and run with it. I have always had certain teachers with longer service than I ask how to get up to speed with various tech-related issues. So from the beginning of my career in teaching, I have looked for ways in which to infuse technology into learning.

What are you struggling with now?

I am struggling with something that I have always struggled with, and that is the issue of access and equity. I think that it is critically important for all students to be able to develop their technological skills, and have in the past shied away from assigning homework that would require computer or internet access. I assign more projects that are webapp based now, so part of how I address that is by having a good number of decent computers available in my classroom at all times so that students can come in outside of class time to use the computers and internet.

Not every teacher in my school is as aggressive in getting more than a teacher computer for their classroom, so it doesn’t really matter to me if students are working on something for my class or not; the resource is there for them for whatever they need. I try to emphasize that priority should be given to students that have limited access at home, but I also worry about how that information might stigmatize them. I try to get around this by personally inviting students that I know need to use the computers due to equity issues. And if it looks like all of my computers will be used, I stick a “Reserved” card on the them. I do think that the whole “flipped classroom” movement is not adequately addressing this issue.

What kinds of help or support would you like from cyberlearning community?

I have always struggled with networking, and expanding my classroom beyond the walls of my classroom. I want to do citizen science with them, but feel overwhelmed at times about getting my students involved and excited about collecting scientific data outside the classroom. Where do I start? I would like to see a clearinghouse of citizen science projects that students can participate in, having them sortable by both grade level and amount of time commitment and user friendliness. Ultimately, I’d like a citizen science project that could be used both with and without a mobile app, so that students without easy access to the internet can still make a contribution.

In my research this summer, I happened upon iCoast from the US Geological survey, which looks like a cool app to get to know for teachers and students with easy access to a coastline. I checked out the National Geographic site on citizen science and it has a number of interesting projects to get citizens involved, which is a start. They linked me to GalaxyZoo, which is a project that I can see my 8th graders being excited about and involved in. It looks like I have solved my own problem with just a simple google search. So there you have it.!

But this leads to another question, which would be: “What do I do if I, or better yet, one of my students has an idea for a citizen science project and we want to get it off of the ground?” “What researchers can we contact that would be interested in our idea?” A way to make connections easily between researchers and K-12 students who have project ideas would be a fantastic resource!

Who would your ideal cyberlearning partner be and why?

I would say that any organization that does citizen science is a natural fit for where I am with my students. I want students to know they can potentially make a real contribution to science, and be able (or feel confident) to go out and practice it! I am passionate about environmental education, and even took a four year hiatus (2004-2008) from the classroom to work for NatureBridge, where I helped pilot a phenology study. We also had several projects where students gathered data as part of a biomonitoring program in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). One of the studies was to monitor the abundance of giant green anemones versus starburst anemones. The starburst anemones were a Southern California species and NOAA wanted to see how quickly they were migrating north. Students would count the anemones in a given area and the data would be reported to NOAA on a monthly basis. This was one of the citizen science initiatives that NOAA had to monitor global climate change, and I thought it was fantastic. Monitoring global climate change is an enormous undertaking, and requires big data; data that cannot be generated without the help of vast numbers of people. I feel that it is a natural fit to enlist middle and high school science students as part of a global monitoring network. Students can help the goals of the researchers by collecting data, and, in the process, learn about science as a dynamic and relevant field of study that takes them outside of themselves to a larger world.

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