Technology & Learning Innovation Blog

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Innovator Highlight: Ms. Buchner

By: Gary Johnston

"So Gary, since we are in distance learning, I was thinking that Virtual Reality would be a possible platform for my students to showcase their learning for my digital media class. What options are there?" 

This was the catalyst a few months back that resulted in an amazing afternoon of students showcasing their learning yesterday on a variety of topics using a variety of digital tools. These include: 

  • Creating unique visuals using premier pro to help build awareness to the problem of using cooking oil. 
  • Unique videos or virtual tours using 'Poly' 
  • TED Style talks edited in iMovie with advice and honest appraisals on the importance of reading, procrastination, social media and even overcoming test anxiety!
Activating the Coaching Model

Despite being an experienced educator, Ms. Buchner reached out to me to learn about ideas and platforms using VR to bring this idea to fruition. After learning about her project goals and learning standards, I shared some options from the VR/AR page of our 'All Things Tech' website, settling on 'Cospaces'.

As I learned about her time constraints, I was able to move from the 'select' to 'implementation' phase by creating this project planning guide that would scaffold skills gradually while freeing up Ms. Buchner with more time to spend teaching.  

Exhibition

During the exhibition yesterday, students took turn showcasing their learning on a variety of topics, but during the VR presentations in Cospaces, students presented and shared their screens to tell their various stories. These included: 

Simply click on any of the links above or below and use your mouse and 'W' 'A' 'S' and 'D' keys to navigate in the virtual space. 

When VR came onto the scene years ago, who could have predicted it's applications in education. Virtual spaces used to be the haunts exclusive to gamers, but now anyone can build virtual environments to preserve our cultural heritage, tell a historical narrative or transport us to new places! 

Minecraft Passion Project Comes to the Middle School! 

By Gary Johnston

"Our mission is to empower our students to pursue their passion for learning, lead lives of integrity and create socially responsible solutions."

The mission statement above is something that I constantly hear from our administrators and especially Dr. Jacobsen when describing our school's overall vision and goal of creating students of the future. More than any other school I've had the privilege of working at, I hear this echoed over and over at divisional and whole school meetings meaning that it drives what we do and is not merely a 'catch phrase'. 

The 'empowering' part is my favorite and I constantly look for ways to lead teachers to build environments that are conducive to student voice and choice and giving them the opportunity to be an active agent in shaping their environment and being the change that they want to see in the world. 

 

It's for this reason that I want to recognize one of our middle schoolers: 'Sebastian' (grade and last name withheld to protect his privacy) who came to me on his own initiative with the idea of starting a Minecraft club in the middle school. We met a handful of times to talk about access to the Minecraft in education server with FDR email accounts and I advised him to write a project proposal for the middle school administrators as an authentic, applied learning activity. The administration felt this was a great project, but thought that a trial of a three week passion project could be scaled to be a larger club style activity for the next academic year. 

The Passion Project Meets! 

We scheduled 3 sessions on Friday afternoon and sent Google calendar invites to 18 students. The first session involved introductions, signing in with our school created credentials and joining a collaborative world. Sebastian stepped up with some preliminary activities and created norms for working together. 

 

Applications of Minecraft in Education

The ability to collaborate in a 'gamified' environment is a powerful one and being able to channel student interests into an educational project or problem can raise student engagement. Here are some ways that I have seen educators use Minecraft in education: 

  • Recreating historical places and acting out historical events that occurred there.
  • Creating virtual science labs and practicing mixing of compounds and elements.
  • Building utopian societies and practicing new norms of government. 

One year while I was teaching human body systems, I encouraged my 'Minecraft Ninjas' to build a human digestive system (see below) that they could walk through starting with the mouth and ending at the, er, back end. From that they really understood how food was broken down through mechanical digestion of the teeth and then chemical digestion in the stomach and nutrient absorption in the small intestine. 

The application of Minecraft in education are limitless. The only limit is your imagination! 

Innovator Highlight: Mr. Swanson

By Gary Johnston

Everyday I work with faculty at FDR, I am amazed by the creativity and ingenuity of our staff to adapt the curriculum to distance learning. 

In the month of January, I met with Mr. Swanson to explore Ardunios and the engineering and coding capabilities of having students have a programmable computer in the palm of their hand.

Arduino and Breadboard

Arduino and Breadboard

A Changing Future Job Market

Why are such skills being taught at FDR? As our graduates leave for college and their careers afterwards, we are seeing an enormous demand for technical skills and programming experience such as java scripting and python- many positions involving such skills demanding 6 figure salaries. I'm reminded of the time when I had my 7th grade 'typing' class back at Central Park Middle school and a classmate exclaimed: "Learn to type? Why is this important? I'm not a secretary. It's not like everyone will have a computer in their house in the future!" 

I often wonder what happened to that young man, but if we don't adapt our skillset to the changing times we risk losing a competitive edge and relevance for the time and age. We are so fortunate at FDR to have a rich set of resources to teach our students these burgeoning skill sets and a faculty that is just as passionate to show these real world applications. 

Enter Tinkercad

Tinkercad is a great platform for engineers to code, run circuits or render 3D objects for printing. One of the biggest challenges that Mr. Swanson and I had when we collaborated back in January is how to have students work with arduinos if we could not deliver the circuit boards to them or the students were out of country. 

Luckily, Tinkercad had a solution. The platform itself has the ability for students to virtually 'wire' and code with the simulation as shown below. Not quite the same as having actual the actual hardware in your hand, but a remarkable adaptation to online learning environments. See the example below! 

I'm always humbled when teachers can combine ideas, share perspectives and work with one another to adapt their curriculum to online teaching and learning. Feel free to reach out to your innovation coach anytime. We love to help! 

Innovator Highlight: Mr. Kos

By: Gary Johnston

On Wednesday, April 21st, Mr. Kos, our high school IB art teacher accomplished the impossible. 

With distance learning approaching the 14 month mark, he reached out to the innovation team to brainstorm ways for his art students to present their learning in an online format. Typically, art students host an evening for parents and other students that mimics an actual art gallery. Snacks and drinks abound. Artists talk about their influences and their work. This year had to be different. This year we had to adapt and that exactly what the coaches love to do! 

Innovation Coach: A Loaded Job Title

As more prominent schools add 'Innovation' or 'Learning Coaches' to their faculty, some staff are reluctant to realize their role and how they can advance the work of others. Through collaboration, we can propel work forward faster with more ideas, lenses and perspectives. Initially some teachers may feel uneasy about reaching out to a coach because 'I know better' and 'I've been teaching for 20 years. You can't teach a dog new tricks'

The role of an Innovation coach is not that of an evaluator who secretly operates with an agenda and reports back to administrators. On the contrary, our job is to apply the 5 step coaching model to help teachers and teams find solutions to challenges or dilemmas in their practice. 

 

The five step coaching model resembles the design thinking process where we identify a problem, investigate solutions, select 1, implement it, and to finally reflect on it's process. 

Applying the 5 Step Coaching Model

For the task of moving the IB art show online we first investigated the problem. Students had artwork they developed over the last 1-2 years and Mr. Kos wanted it all archived in one centralized hub for easy access and accessibility to parents, teachers and other students. He didn't want students spending countless hours on website development but rather focus on his artwork and their expressions of it. 

After discussing the needs and wants of the students and curriculum with several HS colleagues and students, the plan was to develop a website for the show with an opening video. (See above) Some other key points: 

  • The website needed to showcase all student work and statements while still allowing a spotlight each individual student

  • I sprung the need for video recorded statements on the students in class, with a tight deadline, that they were not prepared for.  

  • The Zoom meeting needed to cater to people within the FDR community and visitors from outside the school

  • The visitors needed to be able to visit with individual artists to discuss their work with them, as they would normally in a gallery setting.

Zoom Meeting Configuration

After a couple of meetings early in the semester we met again the week before to discuss the challenge of how parents would access the different rooms. The wisdom and work of Mr. Javier Rebagliati has been instrumental in helping us as an institution realize how Zoom breakout rooms can be customized to meet this challenge. In the case of the art show, we wanted visitors to be able to: 

  • Roam freely from room to room
  • Come and leave rooms when they please
  • Make sure rooms were labeled with each artist for easy reference

 

Luckily, new zoom updates allow users to use 'pre-assign breakout rooms' and label them with student names. Mr. Kos titled each room with the name of the artist and opened breakout rooms to allow each participant to 'choose' a room to go to. Divisional administrators sent a final email to parents reminding them to update their zoom account to the latest version to ensure that this setting was enabled.

Showtime! An Evening to Remember

The evening was magical. Jazz trickled in between parent welcomes. Students dressed a looked like a million dollars. After a short welcome by Mr. Kos and IB coordinator Mr. Allen, Mr. Kos played a video short compilation showing each student talking about their work and then opening up rooms for parent visits. Visitors went from 'room to room' and the students gave insights to their work, artistic mediums and their message and passions. 

  • Family members and visitors who were not even in the country attended, which allowed the event to reach a larger audience

  • Having the students make a video statement allowed them to practice voicing their ideas and concepts before actually meeting the public

  • The website allowed for people to visit the show for a longer period of time than the usual one week it would have been up in the school gallery

  • Breakout rooms worked fine for meeting with people who wanted to talk, and patrons were able to seamlessly hop from one artist to the next with the click of a mouse.

Reaching out for suggestions is never a sign of weakness. The fact is, we can go faster alone, but farther together. All the moving parts of this event were anticipated and planned for from people that work in systems administration, tech support, art teaching and administrative perspective. Consider reaching out to your divisional Innovation coach for any projects you have on the horizon! 

 

Parent 3.0 Session: Friday, April 9th

By: Gary Johnston

One of the great things about being a coach is the ability to work with stakeholders all across the school. The week before last, the innovation team was fortunate to host over 40 parents for a 'Parent 3.0' session entitled 'Keeping your Child Focused During Distance Learning'. 

Thanks to all who came out and candidly shared their feelings, successes, frustrations and strategies to help support one another during this global pandemic. If you were unable to attend, check out our slideshow below!

Google Level 2 Certification at FDR!

By: Gary Johnston

Last weekend the innovation team led a 1 day workshop for the training and certification for Google Level 2 certification. In total, we had 12 educators who had previously earned their level 1 credential but wanted continued growth in professional development with advanced digital tools. The cost of the certification was free for FDR faculty and is a great way to continue professional growth in distance learning.

                                                  Participants on Campus

Teachers joined either on campus or through zoom while working from home and explored Google's advanced features such a digital portfolios, self grading quizzes, choose your own adventure type resources and advanced youtube applications. Here's what some of our recently minted Level 2 educators had to say: 

"The key to managing the Google Suit for Educators apps is to explore its tools and create activities focused on developing skills in our students." -Liz Pasco

"What I liked the most in this experience was to learn more about google and their tools. I was fascinated to learn each app, page and strategy and at the same time think about the amount of innovative activities I can add to my class especially during this DLP." -Veronica Salas

"One of my favorite takeaways was the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure tools found within both Forms (which I knew but was a very good reminder) and Slides (which was new learning for me)" -Jennifer Stockbridge

"Email templates: a dream come true- who knew it was so easy! Now I can move away from forwarding and then changing info, subject" -Rocio Mendoza

"I would love to see how I could use Google Earth next semester when looking at how culture and geography impact food choices and options." -Jessica Miller

As many professional organizations charge between $400-$500 for certification, this professional development represents a low cost way to earn a micro-credential and keep learning new skills and tools. If you 'missed' this opportunity this semester the innovation team will be offering level 1 and 2 certification next year! Stay posted! 

Innovation Highlights from Semester 1 Distance Learning

By: Gary Johnston

Back in my undergraduate days, I was privileged to meet a famous architect who shared some frank thoughts with me on the challenge of finding compromise with a client. One would think that architects would have free reign to design whatever they wanted, but as the clients would be footing the bill, architects like him had to be able to propose ideas, redesign and mitigate concerns while driving the work forward. Then he said something very profound: 

"Within any problem, within any constraints, there is always room for creativity. If you focus too much on the limits set before you, you will only focus on your own limitations. Find freedom to express new ideas and new ways of thinking within each problem and you will come to see your work as a solution and the walls around you will seemingly disappear." 

As our semester of distance learning comes to a close, I've witnessed an explosion of innovation in my own practice and from others that will undoubtedly continue into the future. As FDR teachers have looked for ways to create products, foster conversations and assess student learning, the eclectic nature of tools, perspectives and skill sets has produced learning products that are exemplary for students and teachers worldwide. Here are some highlights you may have missed: 

First Ever Online Drama Production 

The middle and high school drama department created their first ever drama production that was completely online. On December 4th, drama teachers unveiled a live broadcast of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' that went live through zoom but was recorded and edited before hand. As I was watching the performance, which spliced together movie clips that students recorded and sent to a main editor, the only thing that went through my mind was how much logistical work went into this. Students auditioned for roles and then were sent scripts that they costumed themselves and framed shots that would seemingly splice together with peers who were doing the same within the confines of their homes. 

 

Design Technology Does Bridge Testing

The design department has been busy implementing ISTE standards in our school's curriculum from K-12 but also providing time for students to build and test products as if they were in class. Students created bridges by utilizing both materials and their properties and also the structural components of what reinforcing does to an engineered product. Rather than just having students build and show off such products the design teachers collected bridges from students and took them to FDR to have a virtual test online that all students could see. The dedication to teachers to fully illustrate the design thinking process was commendable. 

 

Virtual Bookshelves in Elementary

One of the more interesting products that I saw come out of the elementary was a grade level that took a Google Slideshow and created a virtual bookshelf with it. Each student had hyperlinks to what they were reading, along with teacher slides for book picks and reading groups. I have never seen a Google slide deck used so creatively as a sort of 'running record' of student reading progress but also in a way that shares and builds a community of readers! 

 

Flipgrid for Science Experiments

Flipgrid has exploded in popularity as a hosting platform for student created videos. As much of our medium of instruction has grown to incorporate video and also offer students the ability to comment on one another's work in a safe and secure environment, Flipgrid allows teachers to create grids that are private and accessible only to their groups of students. In the example below, some science teachers walked students through some of the basics of video editing in 'iMovie' so students could film and share evidence of chemical reactions in their kitchens from home. 

 

Publicly Accessible Writing Products

No other departments have adapted to moving student writing online like the English and Language Arts department. Although 'Google Docs' can be published and made 'public' in their sharing settings, a number of teachers have gotten especially creative by hosting a classroom blog, or have students publish their work to their personal website. One that stood out from me is the MS English department that created a shareable magazine of student writing. (See below) 

These are just a handful of the ways that FDR faculty have strived to provide authentic learning experiences with great aplomb and their ingenuity has been very more than impressive. With the shift from online learning to online 'schooling' the systems that FDR departments have made, driven by administrative leadership and innovation leaders has made FDR a wonderful place to work and allows all students to "pursue their passion for learning and lead lives of integrity". 

I wonder what next semester will bring? 

 

Innovation Highlights from Semester 1 Distance Learning
Gary JOHNSTON

Back in my undergraduate days, I was privileged to meet a famous architect who shared some frank thoughts with me on the challenge of finding compromise with a client. One would think that architects would have free reign to design whatever they wanted, but as the clients would be footing the bill, architects like him had to be able to propose ideas, redesign and mitigate concerns while driving the work forward. Then he said something very profound: 

"Within any problem, within any constraints, there is always room for creativity. If you focus too much on the limits set before you, you will only focus on your own limitations. Find freedom to express new ideas and new ways of thinking within each problem and you will come to see your work as a solution and the walls around you will seemingly disappear." 

As our semester of distance learning comes to a close, I've witnessed an explosion of innovation in my own practice and from others that will undoubtedly continue into the future. As FDR teachers have looked for ways to create products, foster conversations and assess student learning, the eclectic nature of tools, perspectives and skill sets has produced learning products that are exemplary for students and teachers worldwide. Here are some highlights you may have missed: 

 

First Ever Online Drama Production 

The middle and high school drama department created their first ever drama production that was completely online. On December 4th, drama teachers unveiled a live broadcast of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' that went live through zoom but was recorded and edited before hand. As I was watching the performance, which spliced together movie clips that students recorded and sent to a main editor, the only thing that went through my mind was how much logistical work went into this. Students auditioned for roles and then were sent scripts that they costumed themselves and framed shots that would seemingly splice together with peers who were doing the same within the confines of their homes. 

 

Design Technology Does Bridge Testing

The design department has been busy implementing ISTE standards in our school's curriculum from K-12 but also providing time for students to build and test products as if they were in class. Students created bridges by utilizing both materials and their properties and also the structural components of what reinforcing does to an engineered product. Rather than just having students build and show off such products the design teachers collected bridges from students and took them to FDR to have a virtual test online that all students could see. The dedication to teachers to fully illustrate the design thinking process was commendable. 

 

Virtual Bookshelves in Elementary

One of the more interesting products that I saw come out of the elementary was a grade level that took a Google Slideshow and created a virtual bookshelf with it. Each student had hyperlinks to what they were reading, along with teacher slides for book picks and reading groups. I have never seen a Google slide deck used so creatively as a sort of 'running record' of student reading progress but also in a way that shares and builds a community of readers! 

 

Flipgrid for Science Experiments

Flipgrid has exploded in popularity as a hosting platform for student created videos. As much of our medium of instruction has grown to incorporate video and also offer students the ability to comment on one another's work in a safe and secure environment, Flipgrid allows teachers to create grids that are private and accessible only to their groups of students. In the example below, some science teachers walked students through some of the basics of video editing in 'iMovie' so students could film and share evidence of chemical reactions in their kitchens from home. 

 

Publicly Accessible Writing Products

No other departments have adapted to moving student writing online like the English and Language Arts department. Although 'Google Docs' can be published and made 'public' in their sharing settings, a number of teachers have gotten especially creative by hosting a classroom blog, or have students publish their work to their personal website. One that stood out from me is the MS English department that created a shareable magazine of student writing. (See below) 

These are just a handful of the ways that FDR faculty have strived to provide authentic learning experiences with great aplomb and their ingenuity has been very more than impressive. With the shift from online learning to online 'schooling' the systems that FDR departments have made, driven by administrative leadership and innovation leaders has made FDR a wonderful place to work and allows all students to "pursue their passion for learning and lead lives of integrity". 

I wonder what next semester will bring? 

 

 

Google Level 1 Certification for FDR Staff: Saturday, November 21st
Gary JOHNSTON

On Saturday, November 21st our Innovation and Learning Team will be hosting a Google Level 1 Certification session for all interested FDR teachers. The Google Level 1 certification is a course designed for educators for leveraging Google apps in education. Topics include improving productivity and workflow, efficiency and grading shortcuts using a variety of the Google apps suite of tools such as Google classroom, Gmail, Google Drive and Sites just to name a few. 

The cost of the certification is 10$ and our Innovation and Learning team will be communicating and organizing the course through 'Google Classroom'. If you are interested, please look through the slide deck below and join Google classroom with the following join code: shvqodo There you will find all the information needed to help you prepare for the certification and all logistical information such as test registration and procedures. Gary from our innovation team will be organizing optional synchronous help sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the weeks before so be sure to reach out to him at gjohnsto@amersol.edu.pe if you have any questions. You can however do the entire course as a one day boot camp on the Saturday if you're busy.

 

 

Gary will also offer an initial Q and A session Friday, November 13th from 11:30 to 12:00, (Zoom link here) so feel free to stop in and chat if you're undecided and he can give you more information. 

FDR Hosts its First Virtual Parent Teacher Conference!
Gary JOHNSTON

Last week, FDR hosted its first virtual parent teacher conference. I admit, I was a little nervous leading up to the event, but the efforts of the Innovation learning team working with divisional administrators created opportunities for parents around the world to meet with teachers and share their child's learning progress and discuss goals and strategies for the rest of the semester. An under appreciated 'star' of the even was Google calendar. Teachers created a recurring Zoom meeting link with no fixed time and created appointment slots that parents could sign up and RSVP and with the zoom link, join at a fixed time. The waiting room feature ensured that no meetings were interrupted. 

When I first learned about Google calendar's appointment slot feature I thought it would be a fantastic way to host parent teacher conference; sad that it took a global pandemic to realize its utility. I expected my parents to be unhappy with the current distance learning program as every one is yearning for the time when we can be out, free and face to face with no repercussions. 

 

Just the opposite. EVERY parent I met with over the 3 days was so appreciative of our efforts as a school to move not just to online schooling, but to incorporate aspects of social emotional growth, project based and applied learning initiatives into distance learning. They couldn't believe how efficient FDR had developed systems for providing feedback, turning in assignments and general communication. Thank you to all the teachers and administrators that made this event a success!

 

Being a Student Champion in Distance Learning
Gary JOHNSTON

 

A few years ago, Rita Pierson gave a viral TED talk explaining the need for students to have ambassadors for them at every step of their educational journey in a talk entitled 'Every Kids Needs a Champion'. Sadly, she remarked that some of her colleagues have remarked that it's not a necessary ingredient to love (or even like) your students. To them, pedagogy is all that matters. 

Like parents, teachers show their affection in different ways. Some are ebullient which is a necessary ingredient for the younger years and others are more dry and mature in nature which is more characteristic for teachers of high school learners. Still, at the heart of where ever your personality and style mix substance with delivery in an panache of expression that can only be described as 'teaching', at the heart of this delivery is how we build relationships with our students. 

"For this school year, we can either be overwhelmed with the constraints of distance learning, or find new purpose in the creativity of the solution."

 

Building Relationships in Distance Learning

If teaching was hard before, it feels even more so with distance learning. There's a certain element of formality and clunkiness of scheduling all meetings with students and staff at certain intervals of 'Zoom' meetings, but within these constraints, teachers at FDR have found creative ways to reach out to students on a personal level to foster relationships in ways that make every student feel valued and know they have a teacher with whom they can confide. Here are some strategies I have seen in the past 7 weeks of distance learning: 

A Strong Advisory Program Our counselors and activities directors have organized a scope and sequence that not only communicates important news of the school, but also gives a platform for students to share books they read, play games, share with one another and participate in group activities such as 'Minute to Win It' or trivia to build social/emotional skills. The smaller group settings allow for more discussion and more speaking time. 

Starting Class 5 Minutes Early and Hanging Out 3 Minutes After Before distance learning students would come to class early and some would linger late or come in during recess to chat. I never realized how great this was until it was gone: until a co-worker suggested starting class 5 minutes early and staying a few minutes later when possible. I started this last week and it's been amazing. I started by having 1-2 students come early and have 3-4 that come early and we just talk and chit-chat!

Offering One on One Sessions Since I have been offering tech support to a handful of students in the middle school, I realized that I really enjoyed the one-on-one nature of being able to help support and troubleshoot issues, but in this environment I have gotten to know students in a setting not possible in a large group session and found some students really came to look forward to our sessions and were genuinely disappointed if there was nothing on the agenda! (See below) During these times, students have confided some of their hobbies such as books, games and even some of the ups and downs that they have been having at home with a sibling or parent. I have just started to offering 15 minute, one on one sessions with all my students and hope to do at least 1 each semester on Fridays. 

Distance learning is a challenge. But as a network of educators, we can come to learn from one another and find new ways to connect, share and ensure every student feels understood by champions at school who greet them each day and are willing to talk, laugh, confide and listen. 

  • Distance learning
Teaching Social Justice with 'Break the Box'
Dale PLOTZKI

We have all seen the news as of late. Across the United States and many other countries, people are taking to the streets to demand action towards ending racial injustice in society. This is a complex topic that is pushing us all to rethink how we interact with one another and how the power within our organizations and communities is distributed. In Ms Giroux's Humanities 6 class, students are being introduced to complex issues like this through a project centered around stereotyping. They are asking themselves where these labels might come from, how they impact the people who are on the receiving end of them and most importantly, what can we as conscientious citizens do about them. 

Project 'Break the Box' challenges students to create a PSA (Public Service Announcement) to make a positive impact on the issue of stereotypes - by breaking down the boxes we so often put people in. Since students at FDR come from such a  wide range of backgrounds and experiences, the topics being discussed are vast as kids are picking topics which they feel are particularly relevant to their own lives. The project allows students to express their ideas in a myriad of ways and leverages modern tools like virtual reality, video production, visual design and even animation. 

Conversations around race, power and inequality are never easy. But it is clear now more than ever that we as a society cannot shy away from them just because they are hard. By practicing thinking and listening around topics of social justice, like the 'Break the Box' project does for our 6th graders, we are one step closer to making a lasting change in our society and addressing the issues which have been swept under the rug for too long.

  • communication
  • creativity
  • DigitalCitizenship