Kenai Central High School teacher Greg Zorbas named ASTE* 2014 Teacher of the Year!
“My biggest take away from this award is the fact that the program that Rob Sparks, Gregory Weissenberg, and I started eight years ago has changed the way we teach. With over 80 years of experience we are still willing to look at new ways of delivering history. When Gregory retired it forced us to change again how we are doing things and now Rob and I are team teaching from two different buildings. The use of video conferencing around the world is a means to enhance our curriculum but the collaboration that has happened because of the video has allowed us to develop a new strategy for teaching. The collaboration allowed us to focus on our concept of thinking historically which is continually making kids think at higher levels. A better lesson is the result of three or four teachers working together—who are not afraid to have themselves and their lessons evaluated. We created a history class that kids don’t want to miss; they use the video technology to be in class when they are gone. It’s a class where before the bell rings to begin class, kids start working, and after the bell rings to end class, continue without being told to do so. I think I have always been able to relate to kids and find ways to be a successful good teacher but I have never been more excited and worked harder in my career. We really are developing a strategy that has kids using history to understand the present and in many cases think about the future.” –Greg Zorbas
Mr. Zorbas’ work with his students using technology to access classrooms from around the world is inspiring,” said Dr. Steve Atwater, superintendent. “The learning opportunities that he brings to his class are an excellent way to broaden his students’ perspective on the taught content.”
“Greg Zorbas of the Kenai Peninsula School District is, first of all, a world history teacher. He is one, though, with an affinity for collaborative technology and one who quickly mobilizes those technologies to broadly engage students and foster learning. Today there are fifteen educators in eight Kenai Peninsula schools whose classes routinely connect via videoconference, all thanks to Greg blazing an electronic trail for us. Students now routinely collaborate via their many technology devices with teams from other schools in the district or interact with an expert (e.g., a Soviet gulag survivor) thousands of miles away. None of this would have happened without Greg’s gift for adapting technology to the curriculum. Time and time again, I have seen an apathetic student enter Greg’s world of connected learning, get excited about his technology and opportunities, and then transfer that enthusiasm into lesson content.
I am one of the teachers who Greg has touched and I will tell you that Greg is really not so much about technology–mere bits and bytes–as he is about teaching! Though he and I each have 20-plus years in the classroom, I am a far more effective teacher today than I was eight years ago when Greg started us on our journey. His technology has served as a catalyst for reinventing (and re-energizing!) our instructional methodology. Indeed, his enthusiasm is infectious–how can you do a half-hearted job when you know Greg was in at 0400 setting up your conference?
While Greg is a classroom teacher, you must understand that his classroom is The World. Via videoconference he takes his students across the globe. He also, though, brings an international coterie of technology-enabled educators into his classroom. For instance, in 2013 Greg led a workshop on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) collaboration at the ISTE conference while his students back home presented projects to the distant audience and answered questions regarding the experience. Students learned world history, sure, but they also gained poise and 21st Century skills interacting with a sophisticated international audience.
In my two decades as a classroom teacher, I have never met anyone more committed than Greg to the concept of student success. He has a vision for the future and how his students should have their part in it. He is absolutely tireless in attacking impediments in their way.
On behalf of all of those: the tenth-graders and their parents in Soldotna, the colleagues across the Kenai Peninsula, fellow Alaskan teachers, and the international body of educational innovators who have learned from this remarkable teacher, it is my privilege to nominate Gregory Scott Zorbas as the 2014 ASTE Teacher of the Year.” – Rob Sparks, KPBSD teacher
“I have been invited to the many videoconferencing (VC) events Greg plans for KCHS students outside the school day,” said Karla Barkman, district librarian and technology integration coach. “He uses Polycom’s CAPSpace, Global Nomads, and The Manhattan School of Music to expose his students to people and ideas they would never have access to in Kenai. He most recently arranged four VC sessions in which his students have opportunity to interact with students in Tunisia. Due to time difference, these events are often early in the morning (as early as 5:00 am) and yet students come for the experience.
Besides being an excellent teacher, Greg takes time to provide support and professional development for those he works with. He has assisted teachers in some of our small district schools connect with a class in a bigger school to create more offerings for the small school students. Students who may be the only one in their grade at a small school, join a class at a larger school, via VC, and become part of that class. As a result, Greg has become the go-to person for a lot of educators who are interested in video conferencing. He never refuses his help.
The most recent project I partnered with Greg on was creating a PD event for KPBSD teachers introducing sources that provide quality video conference content. We organized a half-day session where presenters from Polycom, The Manhattan School of Music, and Whirlidurb presented content sources. Participants joined the event live or virtually using Polycom and Microsoft Lync.”
Polycom video: Greg Zorbas Named 2014 Alaska Teacher of the Year