Fulton County Schools teaches students to find their voices in the classroom

In a rapidly changing digital world, one of the most important lessons educators can pass on to their students is how to become creative communicators and problem solvers.

“Creativity is essential for all students,” says Heather Van Looy, director of instructional technology at Fulton County Schools. “It helps them to engage in the lessons. It teaches them to become creators and learn new skills that will help them be more successful in their academic and professional careers.

Fulton County Schools (FCS) is one of Georgia’s largest school systems, reaching more than 90,000 students in 100 K-12 schools. The county is diverse not only in terms of student population – with students coming from all economic and ethnic backgrounds – but also in terms of geography, as it spans more than 70 miles from end to end.

Student success and the community are at the heart of the school system’s mission. FCS aims to help each student succeed in their chosen path and become a responsible citizen. Student success begins with Fulton County’s 10,000 teachers and staff, but enabling so many teachers to innovate and share best practices isn’t easy.

This is where the Educational Technology team comes in. The team works closely with schools and teachers to bring transformative learning software, technology and techniques into the classroom to improve teaching and learning outcomes. Team efforts include partnerships with iTeach specialists at Kennesaw State University, creative outreach challenges, and the Vanguard Program – a peer-to-peer learning model where FCS educators are trained to mentor other educators in their schools.

“There’s so much available with educational technology,” says Van Looy. “We have a huge toolbox of resources that teachers can use flexibly to demonstrate their learning, present a problem or communicate a complex idea. Educator training is a critical part of increasing adoption and seeing the benefits of technology in the classroom. That’s why programs like the Vanguard program are so important in helping us expand instructional practices across the district.

Encourage student expression

FCS now offers Adobe Creative Cloud to all students and teachers in grades 6-12 and Adobe Express across the district to deliver industry-standard creative apps to students, teachers, and staff.

One of the most important roles of creativity in the classroom is how it helps all students find their voice. With Adobe Express, part of the broader Creative Cloud for Education offering, students of all ages can learn to express themselves through photography, illustration, text, music, storytelling, and animation. Unlike other standard Adobe business tools, Express is web-based, making it easily accessible to modern students of all ages.

When teachers at Johns Creek High School want to find new ways to engage students, they contact media expert Meggan Ford. Adobe Express has become one of his favorite applications to present to teachers and students. “I’m always amazed at what students can accomplish with Adobe,” says Ford. “Adobe Express makes education and creativity so much more accessible for our students, which makes all the difference.”

For a Black History Month prompt, astronomy teacher Brenda Paul taught students how to use Adobe Express to create a stylish infographic highlighting a black astronomer and his accomplishments. In a more introspective assignment, students created self-explanatory videos in exactly 120 seconds. Adobe Express allowed students to quickly combine photos, voiceovers, and text to easily create a digital story.

Black History Month Project

Black History Month Project on Michael Philip Anderson.

Schieltz, Grade 11 student, Johns Creek High School

Black History Month Project on Mary W. Jackson.

Meghan, Grade 12 student, Johns Creek High School

Finding a voice can be particularly difficult for students whose first language is not English. Another Vanguard member, Kimberly Gunter, a media specialist at Ridgeview Charter Middle School, knew that many ESL teachers were constantly looking for new ways to engage students with vocabulary. Gunter suggested that Adobe Express could help students visually demonstrate their own learning and understanding, which is especially important for students who are still learning English.

Before starting a new book, ESL teachers usually introduce important vocabulary that students will need. Jonathan Pineda-Maldonado, a seventh-grade student, used Adobe Express to create a vocabulary page that illustrates new vocabulary words with photographs from Adobe Stock in Ms. Parham’s classroom. Other ESL students have used Adobe Express to create a learning journal of new vocabulary words that students have learned throughout the year. Sixth grader Kimberly Morales-Arroyo was hesitant to speak English in class, but she enjoyed working on vocabulary in her learning journal in Ms. Mizell’s class.

“His teacher asked him to add the vocabulary words in English and Spanish to better see his understanding of the new words,” says Gunter. “Working with Adobe Express gave her teachers new ways to see how well she understood concepts by encouraging different ways of approaching English.”

Integrate creativity in the classroom

The instructional technology team works closely with the 300 Vanguard team members across the district, giving them the training and professional development they need to mentor teachers in their own schools. Neil Cole, fifth-grade teacher at Dolvin Elementary, and Kelsey Ferguson, K-5 STEM teacher at Seaborn Lee Elementary, are two Vanguard members who participated in Adobe Creative Educator training over the summer. The training focused on strategies for using Adobe applications to cultivate creative problem-solving skills through visual storytelling and cultivating digital portfolios.

“I thought that was awesome,” Cole says. “There were so many different products, but I was particularly interested in Adobe Express. It has so many features, but it’s easy enough for my fifth graders to pick up quickly. »

Ferguson introduced Adobe Express to his third, fourth and fifth graders using one of the monthly Adobe Express Education Challenges, which provides teachers with ready-to-use lesson plans and templates. As part of the “My Creative Identity” challenge, students remixed the template to create a poster about themselves, including information such as their favorite hobbies, foods and school subjects. Students quickly learned how to add photographs, change colors, and adjust text or icons. A student added random color animation for stunning visuals. Other students layered icons and images to create “self-portraits” showing characters in football gear or smart outfits.

“My Creative Identity” Challenge

My creativity identity challenge.

Zariah, 5th grade student, Seaborn Lee Elementary School

My creativity identity challenge.

Cyle, 4th grader, Seaborn Lee Elementary School

“When I first introduce a new tool or technology, I like to make it very creative and all about them,” says Ferguson. “It really encourages students to explore, experiment and go wild so they’ll be more ready to tackle more structured assignments in the future.”

Cole also introduced Adobe Express through flexible and creative assignments. For a narrative project, he had students complete a story prompt, then use Adobe Express to create a movie poster based on their story. While this first project focused on free-form creativity, subsequent projects have incorporated more structure with grading rubrics that help students focus on demonstrating their understanding of teaching standards. For a New Deal project, students were asked to create a flyer advertising a job created under one of the New Deal programs. Although the assignment still required creativity, students were also required to demonstrate knowledge of grade-level content by including pictures and text explaining the specific New Deal program goal.

Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal project.

New Deal Project, Grace, 5th grade student, Dolvin Elementary.

Creativity for all ages

After starting with posters and infographics, Ferguson and Cole want to challenge students to create web pages, videos and portfolios with Adobe Express. Ferguson plans to rely on activities at different speeds for different age groups. While her third-graders will continue to build their confidence with infographics and posters, fourth-graders will build web pages to collect research on an upcoming spatial unit. During this time, fifth graders will create a video based on the constructive or destructive force of their choice.

“Adobe Creative Cloud allows us to provide students with a consistent experience throughout their stay with us,” said Hoke Wilcox, executive director of accountability and district applications, information technology at Fulton County Schools. “Students can start with Adobe Express in elementary school and learn the basics that will make Adobe Premiere Pro or Adobe Photoshop easy to understand in high school.”

Importance of creativity in modern education

The professional world is changing rapidly and many of the future jobs available may not even exist today. By making Adobe Creative Cloud applications available to all teachers and students, FCS can encourage flexible thinking that will benefit all students, regardless of their future goals.

“Adobe is really pushing the envelope with Adobe Creative Cloud,” says Ford. “They don’t just take a commercial product and try to force it into the educational space. They are really working on ways to adapt it to the needs of teachers and students to make creativity more accessible to everyone in education. »

Adobe Education Exchange is a resource teachers like Ford can turn to. It provides free resources that help educators working at all levels and content areas teach the creative skills needed by the next generation.

Van Looy adds: “Our country is very diverse, but Adobe Creative Cloud helps us bridge the digital divide. By giving students a head start with professional creative tools and creative education, we can create new possibilities for K12 education. »

To learn more about being a creative educator, go here.

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