Creating Community During HyFlex: Using Technology to Care for One Another
In 2020 when it felt like much of the world and especially schools came to a screeching halt, Aspen Academy was tasked with finding new ways to live our mission and work with students and educators to inspire connection and continued growth and learning. To make this happen, our leadership worked closely with Chris Lazartic, the Manager of Innovation and Technology, to utilize new technology and create virtual classrooms. Almost a year later, technology is fully incorporated in the daily classroom experience allowing students to participate from the safety of their homes as needed. Some of the main tools our teachers, students, and faculty utilize are Zoom, Canvas, Google Documents, SeeSaw, Kahoots!, and more. The use of these platforms is evolving and will continue to expand our educational resources.
The focus of Mr. Lazartic’s role has changed throughout 2020. Initially he was helping lead the proactive conversations to make a full pivot and create a new virtual learning model. Now that these systems are in place, Chris focuses his priorities more on providing fast and actionable support to students and teachers. Along with ongoing problem solving, he also manages and maintains the online access accounts of all members of the Aspen Academy Community.
We have made many adjustments to our technology use throughout the pandemic. In a way the first step was to put computers and devices in every kid’s hands and provide “a tool to help our learners become engaged.” But the role of technology in schools is not new and not limited to access to new software. As Mr. Lazartic observes, innovation and technology are really a way of thinking. In past years, for example, the World Peace Game students created playing pieces that were either 3D printed or created with cardboard and hot glue. “In my mind, that's innovation and technology,” said Chris. “Now we also use technology that enables kids to have experiences they otherwise could not have had. With 360° videos or virtual reality we can give kids an immersive experience from the comfort of their own classrooms.”
“With our HyFlex model, our students have the opportunity to get a similar, if not identical, learning experience from the comfort of their home,” shared Chris, “it’s truly amazing.” Just 5 years ago, this would not have been possible. Students can now live-stream class. “They are able to participate and ask questions in real time, and depending on the lesson, they can be immediately heard by their whole class or privately be their teacher with a Bluetooth earpiece.”
As we see in many spheres of life, technology is seemingly here to stay. I asked Chris what he envisions for the evolution of technology in education. Chris shares that his vision for technology usage includes the growth from competence to creativity. “Right now, the world is still very shaken up by the pandemic, but we are doing our best to move beyond the bare minimum of learning and teaching. We are now comfortable with these tools we need to provide a good virtual experience. Now let us get creative. Now let us see teachers start to … use Zoom and new artistic tools, for example, to do something that no one else has done. … Now we can begin to grow.”
Certainly, some of the personal touches of in person school, friends, meetings are irreplaceable, but our HyFlex model and staff do a great job of helping students feel connected. Here are some highlights of things we have seen working well in our school and helping students feel connected:
- Virtual Buddies: Some teachers assign virtual buddies, giving students one-on-one interaction between a virtual and in-person student. Kids love the excitement and purpose of that mentoring partner role. This type of interaction is both empowering the in-person student and helping build relationships.
- At the beginning of the year, STEAM Instructor, Katie Behrmann and other teachers created virtual learning kits for individual students at home. For this unit, she ordered robotic arm kits and all students both in-person and at home were working with the same materials. These personal touches ensure they have the tools to participate are vital to feeling connected.
- Fourth Grade science incorporates games and technology such as Kahoots! to facilitate activities and fun quizzing. With this technology, students all contribute via their devices either from home or in the room. Allie Cooper also purposefully calls on students both in-person and virtually for full participation in discussions and learning.
Check out these recent blogs for more about innovation, technology, and STEAM at Aspen Academy:
- Taking a Trip Through History to Celebrate the Ute & Technology
- School is Virtual in 2020: How can parents and teachers engage students with technology?