A Conversation with a 21st Century Teacher

James Puliatte teaches business classes at Fort Lee High School in New Jersey. He’s quick to point out he is under the age of 30 and cringes when someone calls him “sir.” He has developed a reputation on campus as the resident tech expert and contributes to the school’s modern methods for educating teenagers.

Tech Staff Developer … Wait, what?

James Puliatte at Fort Lee High’s 2011 graduation

FLHS experienced some budget woes and cutbacks in the recent past but the school was not deterred from its goal of integrating technology into its classrooms. Instead of dealing with the high cost of sending teachers to workshops to learn certain technology, the school named Puliatte its “tech staff developer” and gave him the responsibility to bring teachers up to speed on the usage of certain technology in an effort to modernize the school.

“When I tell people my title I get blank stares. So I just say that I teach teachers how to use technology.” Puliatte says his first job is being a teacher but his side-job involves traveling around the school and getting to know members of the staff who wish to learn more about computers and the internet. He is one of the school’s young guns, teaching the old guards the tricks of the digital age. “One teacher I got to know pretty well told me she did a video podcast with her fifth graders. I looked at her and said jokingly, ‘A podcast? You couldn’t turn your monitor on a year ago!”

Fort Lee High School uses a web-based student information system called PowerSchool developed by Pearson Education. Puliatte facilitates workshops on the system and also arranges for private video tutorials for teachers on a case-by-case basis. He records and narrates himself using the program so the teachers can see how it’s done.

Puliatte also devised a survey that he distributed around campus shortly after taking up his new post. “I asked teachers two years ago about what technology they wanted to use and then I took that data and created a catalogue of my own workshops,” he said. “Instead of sending 20 teachers out to professional workshops and have the district pay for the fee, which is usually $100 to $150 per person, they would pay to just send me. Then I would bring what I learned back to the school and incorporate it into my own workshops.”

Flipping classes and teaching while crippled

Puliatte flipped his accounting class halfway through his last semester of 2011-2012 school year and his students responded well to it. He was drawn to a popular infographic about flipping the classroom, read up about the concept online and decided to try it out for his students.

“Students do for homework what they normally would have had for classwork and vice versa,” he said. “I use the educreations iPad app to create a video of what would have been our class lecture, they watch that for homework, and then we have class discussion the next day and work through the problems and examples. I found this led to a much more active learning environment and it got the kids more involved.”

Joy Cho was one of Puliatte’s student’s last year. She graduated from FLHS last year and is bound for Rutgers, New Brunswick to study business in the fall. Cho says Puliatte’s flipped classroom gave her a good idea of how her college classes would work, and spoke to her friends in college who described their classrooms as being similar to Puliatte’s. She commented on her fellow students learning at home and watching the videos that Puliatte would put together. “I think what motivates people to do the work at home is being on the same level during class time,” she said. By arranging his class in this fashion, Puliatte was able to be more present to his students during sessions.

Another one of Puliatte’s students is Brittany Perone, who is about to start her senior year at FLHS. “I learn more with his techniques and all the technology than I do in a boring classroom with a chalkboard,” she said. “I also feel more productive because I could go over the lesson again if I missed something or didn’t get it.”

Screenshot from Puliatte’s computer during a Skype session with his accounting students.

Puliatte recounted a time when he was out of school for several weeks due to ankle surgery. He taught two students how to set up a laptop with a projector and Skyped with the class from home three times a week. At the same time, the students were in a Go-to-Meeting-style chat room, and he gave them quizzes using Google forms. He was able to use screen sharing, post polls and talk with students individually all from his own home.

“It was very cool of him to take the time out to teach us a lesson while he was crippled,” Joy Cho said.

Always teaching, always learning

During the school year, Puliatte gets up at 4:30 every morning. He walks his dogs, makes coffee, and then sits in front of the computer managing the high school’s various social media accounts and browses the Twitter feed, collecting links and ideas from other educators about using technology in the classroom as part of his morning routine. He uses Scoop.it, a social board for educators, to collect articles and links to bring to school for lessons. He hops on Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook, scouring the internet for innovation and bright ideas. By this time it is 7:15 and school starts in 15 minutes.

“Luckily I live about eight minutes away from the school,” he said.

James Puliatte is a perfect example of a 21st century teacher. As the school’s resident tech expert he contributes to the education of the entire campus, and as a social media and web guru, he is constantly finding new and exciting ways to teach students.

“I always have the kids take a survey on me near the end of the semester. It really helps shape the rest of the year in terms of what will be effective and what won’t. And I also have them give me a letter grade,” he said. “I got straight As and one B+. There’s always one …”