Georgia’s Fulton County School System is a large district, spanning 78 miles from top to bottom. And as one would expect, with this geographical period comes a wide demographic range. So, how do districts of this size and diversity innovate? And how do teachers share best practices across the region?
In 2013, Fulton answered those questions by launching them Vanguard Union, A group of 25 passionate teachers at the forefront of technology integration and innovation. The plan was to train and support the members of the Vanguard team and in return impart knowledge to their colleagues. This distributed model of education unfolded and over the years grew into a network of about 300 Fulton County teachers who are using teaching technology, testing new tools and bringing new approaches to help others in their schools and communities.
Heather van Louis joined the Fulton County Vanguard team early as a middle school math teacher. She was curious and excited about finding meaningful use of technology in the classroom. This passion bore fruit, and Van Louie first earned a position as an instrumental technology program specialist and now as a director of teaching technology.
Edsurge van Louis, as well as members of the Vanguard team, reached out to discuss the purposeful integration of creativity and teaching technology in the classroom.
Edsurge: How do you go about introducing new technology to students and teachers in a sustainable way?
From Looy: By keeping a checked menu of the tools we support, we are able to really focus on our training efforts. This is not just a matter of time. We can train, and then Vanguard people are available in schools to help with questions and implementation.
It is important to follow people and monitor progress. This can be done in a variety of ways. Other districts may have up to 20 coaches; Our method is the vanguard team. Either way, it’s really important to have an approach that provides resource for ongoing coaching and additional help and ideas.
I strongly believe that educational technology is best when the lesson is not focused. It should be about strong learning and raising children and collaborating with each other. This technology is constantly happening in that background. It’s a fun and exciting way for them to think deeply and use high-level thinking and skills to show what they know.
How does the Vanguard team come together when you start working with a new tool or technology partner like Adobe?
We are gone Adobe Consumer for a long time, but mainly for our high school CTAE (career, technical and agricultural education) courses. We felt that, in times of crisis, we needed to make children creative and show their learning in different ways. We adopted the Nearpod districtwide and extended our Adobe license. Now, Adobe Creative Cloud Available to teachers and students in grades 6-12. Adobe Spark is available to all our students, pre-K-12.
We focused on helping everyone understand that Adobe is available and then helping them understand what tools can do and how creativity can be nurtured in any subject and any category. We sent 140 vanguard members through training where they earned their money Adobe Creative Teacher I and II badges. We have additional learning opportunities that are available to anyone. All 300 Vanguard team members plan to receive their Adobe Creative Educator I and II badges by the end of the 2021-2022 academic year. This will give us experts from each of our schools who can help teachers implement Adobe constructively in the classroom.
How do you think creative digital tools engage students?
When we make children think creatively, it makes learning fun. Whether they are solving problems or creating a product, children can create a love for the learning process, which is really powerful. This engages them in some in-depth kind of thinking that can increase the level of rigor. We’re making kids think outside the box.
You can think creatively in many ways. You can do it with paper and pencil or other means. But there’s really something great about creating a polished, finished product using technology. Like, “I created a web page and it only took me 15 minutes.” Or, “I created an infographic that can be published.” Or, “I made a movie. And it had credits and everything. “The kids really love it. I love it too!
When you take advantage of technology for that creative process, you get a great end product. And you got all those thoughts and fun involved! This is where I think there is magic.