Inspiring Women Series: Rafranz Davis, Passion-Based Educator
In this second installment of the Inspiring Women Series, I chat with Rafranz Davis, an instructional technology specialist from Dallas and author of the book, The Missing Voices in Edtech: Bringing Diversity into Edtech. She speaks nationally on passion-based learning and as an advocate for diversity in her field.
On her website, Rafranz says that she "frequently draws upon her background as a parent and woman of color to offer ideas and insight into how technology can be used in schools to not only break barriers but to provide opportunities and instruments for diverse learners' voices." Today we explore more about this challenge and how Rafranz is helping educators address it.
Please tell us a little about your background and why you decided to become an educator.
I grew up watching my mother, a teacher's aid, be everything that I wanted in a teacher. She loved the students that she worked with and even today, many are still in our lives. I've always loved math and when I was younger, my mother took me to to church to help tutor high school seniors that were still struggling to pass the test required for HS graduation. It was odd to think that a young girl in junior high could help high school seniors but I did and they graduated. I guess that is when the seed was planted but oddly enough, I didn't choose education right away. I chose computer science, math, music and life. Yet, I was still surrounded by students who looked like me and were not succeeding. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I allowed myself to do what my mother calls "falling into my destiny." I came back to teach.
How did you get into digital learning and technology?
When I was in college, I was in a federally funded teacher quality grant program. In that program, my professor paired us with current teachers and exposed us to new idea like integrating technology into math. Each cycle of the grant, we were given new tech tools like palm pilots, toshiba tablets, camtasia studio and ipods (before touch). We were challenged to research and create lessons integrating these tools. We were also challenged to stay current with research so as the tools changed, so did our approaches to integrating digital learning. We were also expected to train others and submit proposals to conferences. When I got into the classroom, I took all of those expectations with me. It helped greatly that I stayed closely connected to my TQ grant cohorts and professor.
Please help our readers understand passion-based learning and why you think it's so important.
Learning and passion are deeply connected. For me, passion-based learning is about tapping into ideas that students are deeply passionate about and using those ideas to jumpstart learning. It can also mean that students are immersed in an environment where the passion stems from the teacher and are hooked into becoming curious. Passion is what leads to curiosity and innovation and that is why it is so important to everything that we do.
Do you have any examples?
I had a new student that was completely disconnected to our school and every class that he took. One weekend, I came across a LEGO robotics kit and placed it on my "Wonder Shelf" in my room. I had no idea at the time but he was on a LEGO team in his old school and was incredibly thrilled to see one in my classroom. For weeks, he would be the first one in my class working on that robot and his entire demeanor about school changed. As some teachers learned about his interest in robotics, they found ways to bring that into their rooms too. I had another student who was deeply interested in the music business so we used the math of the music business (contracts, CD sales, beats) to study functions in algebra. I could share these all day as there are tons of examples!
You just spoke at SXSWedu about diversity in ed tech. Can you share more about why this is a problem and what we can do about it?
As diverse as this country is, it shouldn't be that a person of color or a woman is still less than 3 percent of the population in a tech-centric area, but it is. To this day, I go to conferences or events and am the "only one" like me in a room and beyond that are too often not seen as a person with valued input. In our schools, decisions are made for people and not with people. There are exceptions, of course ... but not many. In the month of February, a simulation game on slavery appeared on a recommended list for Black History Month. That game had been in classrooms for three years and not one person felt the need to raise a public flag.
We have to stop using "colorblindness" and "gender blindness" as an excuse to rely on ideas and decisions of a small representation of a group and listen to diverse ideas. I don't want to be in a space where I am the red skittle in a sea of yellow. I am a woman of color and in order for me to see that my ideas matter as well, I must see myself greatly represented in groups, rooms, events. The first step is in listening. The next one should be action.
Read more interviews in the Inspiring Women series: