Tapped In Member Perspectives: Meet Derrel Fincher

Derrel (Derrelf) spent fifteen years in engineering prior to becoming a teacher in 1998. He switched careers when he found himself in front of a class of sixth grade math students for nine weeks in 1997 and realized he liked it! Now with certifications in K-12 Mathematics and Elementary Education he is a Math and Technology teacher at the American School in Japan. He discovered TAPPED IN when it was a requirement for his coursework in Pepperdine University's Online Master of Arts in Educational Technology (OMAET) program but he found it so useful he now uses it with his middle school students as well as using it for discussions with other professionals.

Derrel's Perspective

The most significant learning for individuals occurs within a social context, whether it's an engineering team trying to create a new product or authors discussing writing. I try to give my students the same experience of learning within a social context I enjoyed as an engineer.

Synchronous communications supports the social context and it allowed me to pursue two key goals: build on the emphasis on mathematical discourse I had in the classroom and help my students learn how to engage in professional discussions online. After investigating several chat options, all of which had one failing or another that would have made it difficult to use with sixth graders, I decided to try TAPPED IN as I felt I knew the advantages and pitfalls fairly well from my own experiences.

When I first introduced my students to the environment, I gave them some time just to "play." I quickly found myself in the middle of sixth grade virtual reality still sounding just like a teacher: "Jane, please don't get champagne from the vending machine. Tatsu, please don't sic Balrog on Saori unless she wants to play. Bobby..." Well, you get the idea. When I next went into my virtual office, I found virtual toys all over the virtual floor. I started ejecting toys back to their owners, muttering to myself how I would have to remind them they shouldn't mess up my office when it hit me - I was reacting just like they had left toys in a real office! I was seeing the environment as an extension of my classroom. Unlike my classroom, I could build new rooms in TAPPED IN. I quickly built a student plaza off my office and added several additional conference rooms so that students could meet in small groups or gather in one large area without popping into my office when I was in a meeting. Several students saw the improvement in my real estate and wanted their own rooms, which I was happy to give them. Students were soon checking into TI daily to chat with others, with many creating their own objects or rooms, and teaching others how to do it as well.

This was quite an adventure for all of us but was it worth the time we were dedicating to it? I'll let some of my sixth graders tell about how they saw it:

Comments such as these, as well as the interactions evident in their transcripts, showed we had successfully created a viable social context within TAPPED IN that supplemented the classroom. We will be in TAPPED IN again this year.

My learning

It wasn't always a smooth trip in our TAPPED IN adventure and I made plenty of mistakes. If you are contemplating having students in TAPPED IN, the following points are well worth heeding:

Getting Started