Martone uses technology to make learning fun

— Photo by Katie Kelleher

Tracy Martone makes constant use of technology in her third-grade classroom at Westmere Elementary School and has been honored this year with Guilderland’s Technology in Education Award.

— Photo by Tracy Martone

She’s got the whole world in her hands: Haley Waldron, a Westmere Elementary School third-grader, uses Aurasma, an iPad application, to take a close look at a far off landscape.

GUILDERLAND — Tracy Martone, winner of the school district’s Technology in Education Award this year, says she always wanted to be a teacher.

As a girl, she collected textbooks from her aunt, a school principal. “They were from the eighties, the kind with the answers in the back,” she recalled.

Martone later worked at her aunt’s school, her first job out of college 18 years ago. She earned $14,000 a year and loved it. She then taught in New York City before choosing Guilderland in 2000.

She teaches third-graders at Westmere Elementary School and leads the kind of classroom where students discover solutions rather than finding answers in the back of the book. That fits the model Natalia LeMoyne, Guilderland’s educational technology specialist, has in mind. Last year, when LeMoyne instituted the technology awards, she said the teacher has changed roles.

“She is no longer the source of information or knowledge,” said LeMoyne. “The teacher is a guide that helps students navigate information and to think deeper and use abstract reasoning.”

LeMoyne summed up her philosophy saying, “Given the age we’re now in, having a teacher recite facts and having kids regurgitate those facts is not productive. Facts and information are a kid’s fingertips. A teacher’s job is to teach kids to evaluate, to use higher-order thinking.... Communication amongst teachers is what makes the light bulbs go off.”

LeMoyne said then that teachers can be apprehensive about using technology and she hoped the award winners would serve as models.

Martone, who was nominated for the award by Westmere’s math specialist, Tierney Provost, is immersed in digital technology. She keeps a blog to inform her students’ parents, complete with pictures, about classroom activities.

“I use technology in many aspects of curriculum,” she said. “I’m easily inspired by my colleagues.”

Martone follows teachers from across the country on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, gleaning ideas from them on what works best in the classroom.

Then, she said, “I Google it...I teach myself how to do it.”

She has learned, for example, from a teenager demonstrating a technique in a YouTube video.

“You don’t need to wait for an expert to come to town to teach you” said Martone.

Last year, Martone’s students showed school board members how Aurasma, a free app, works — using the camera in a tablet to recognize real images over which videos can be added.

“I made movies for years where kids dressed as people they researched,” Martone said this week. Then, through a teacher on Instagram, Martone learned of “an augmented reality app that lets you attach an image to a trigger image and up comes the movie.”

So Martone’s students then found images of the famous people they were studying and made their own videos on iPads. When their parents came to school to see the productions, students stayed at their stations as the parents circulated and looked at the videos on iPads.

Later, a Westmere colleague, first-grade teacher Sarah Richardson, became interested in the project. “My kids helped her kids learn how to do it,” said Martone, as the third-graders tutored the first-graders. “The kids got to be the experts.”

Then, said Martone, “I asked, ‘What else can we do?’”

Her students made bulletin boards with interactive trigger images.  For example, with a rain forest mural, each student would research a particular animal or feature of the forest. Then, when a trigger image on the bulletin board was scanned, a video would play.

Brain break: third-graders in Tracy Martone’s class raise their hands in victory as they follow a program on GoNoodle, a free website.— Photo by Tracy Martone


Martone listed some recent projects her students are immersed in. All of them have Google accounts and are learning to use different Google apps. Each student has an e-pal with a third-grader in Annemarie Farrell’s class at Altamont Elementary School. The e-pals send emails back and forth to get to know each other just the way pen pals did in ages past.

Martone’s third-graders are also using Google Earth to “travel the globe” and learn about countries in Asia. “Students get to actually zoom in on landmarks throughout Asia and can share their learning with their peers,” she said. “This creates such a level of excitement in the class.”

In February, Martone will work with LeMoyne to introduce Skype so that her students can interact with classrooms in other parts of the world.

Martone’s students are also using Google Docs and Google Slides to publish and present information in new ways. For example, they recently studied persuasive writing, doing online research to find facts to support their views. They then typed their letters on Google Docs and mailed them out. They have received responses from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office and from the White House.

Troy Hayes wrote to Westmere’s principal, Beth Bini, about the need for a therapy dog at Westmere. “He included convincing evidence he found through his research about the benefits of having a therapy dog in a school setting,” Martone related. “In fact, a therapy dog belonging to the daughter of one of the Westmere staff has been working for a few months in our school for a few hours per week. Today, this therapy dog visited our class...It was such a great experience for the students to see that Troy’s letter had an impact.....”

“It came full circle,” says Tracy Martone of a therapy dog’s visit to her classroom on Monday. Carly belongs to Melia Steed, second from left, the daughter of Merri Steed, Westmere reading teacher, far left. Looking on are Sara Shoemaker, in foreground at right, and, behind her, Gretchen Elliott. — Photo by Tracy Martone


Martone has continued with her innovative teaching techniques despite increased requirements with Common Core Standards and testing. “The past few years, it’s been hard to be a teacher,” she said. “We’re so heavily scrutinized.”

But, she went on about Guilderland, “The district is very supportive of being creative.” Martone chose Guilderland over a job offer at another district, she said, because “I had the vibe this is a cool place to work.”

She concluded, “With the Common Core, it’s been hard to digest all the new information, and it’s hard for the kids to understand. Teachers are always trying to find the ways to bring the fun to learning. This does that. Kids need that.”

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