by Melika Panneri, Director of Educational Technology and Innovation
What is your role at Wilson and how long have you been with the school?
This is my sixteenth year at The Wilson School. During that time I've had two primary roles; I was a JK teacher for seven years, and for the last nine years I've been Director of Educational Technology and Innovation. This role has seen a drastic transformation from when I first started. Technology is now a vital component in every aspect of a student's day, and it's integrated into all subjects (not just math and science).
At Wilson, we really do it differently than others. I'm not solely an IT person, I'm also a teacher. In addition to teaching kids the nuances and importance of technology, I help other teachers with their planning and curriculum. We have all of our teachers working together, making sure Wilson stays innovative. It's important to us that we use technology in meaningful and impactful ways, not just because we can.
How do students use technology at Wilson daily?
There are many schools in the area that have terrific technological equipment and resources like us, but what sets Wilson apart is how we use it. Some schools have the best stuff and just use it for word processing. We're able to use technology differently and confidently simply because I can collaborate with all colleagues. A teacher can branch out and explore because I'm able to help and teach them. Teachers are focused on students using technology to create and explore, not just consume. The students are almost always using it to make and do. Our 5th graders just finished their "I Am" videos. All year long their studies revolve around the theme of identity. They bring it all together with these videos by learning about themselves and sharing it with the Wilson community. It's immensely impressive, and the kids love doing it.
The 6th graders participate in a project based on the show Shark Tank. Students work together in starting a new business, creating a new product, and pitching it to the "sharks." They make websites, flyers, pitch materials, etc. They identify problems and try to solve them. Most of them got a simulated investment offer and it was a lot of fun for everyone involved.
This year we held a poetry showcase for our 2nd graders. The students write to a real audience, and that's really unique for a 7 year old. We invite families and all the other students to the showcase, and they enjoy watching the kids work at each station as they share their poetry. We even have the poems scrolling on the Immersion Wall. The students choose their favorite piece and then make a piece of art that symbolizes it in art class. Making it even more interactive, visitors to the showcase scan the art with an iPad, and a video comes up with the student explaining what the art piece symbolizes. Since our students start to compose music in 2nd grade, they write a song for this event, and their music is played in the background of their poetry reading.
When our JK students study animals and habitats they connect with a park ranger in The Channel Islands for a live dive. That means we go under the ocean with a scuba diving ranger live! The students get to see what he is seeing, ask questions, and get live responses. It is a very immersive experience with our Immersion Wall.
What ways have you seen students be creative?
I think a great example is the Flex Time in our upper school. Many teachers are available from all content areas and specialties. It's a different topic each year; this year the focus was on creating giant playground games. The students were broken up into teams and had to plan their own budgets, go to The Home Depot, problem solve, measure, build; they had to do everything. The entire experience was amazing. The students had to learn to listen to everyone and rely on the team. Sometimes a student was a leader, other times a follower. They had to solve a real problem, like running out of money and not being able to buy the right part. It was incredible to see the teams develop their communication, work as a whole, and present their final projects. Now we have playground games for other students to enjoy for years to come, and these students can take pride in leaving their mark on Wilson.
We also have our art program where we often use the teach artistic behavior method. TAB is a method of teaching art by offering choices to students. In standard art classes, you probably did the same project as everyone else. At Wilson, students make choices based on their interests and ideas about what to create and what materials to use. The other day there were some students working on building a hockey goal, some were sewing, others were building a house for a cat, and a few were at the computer making cartoon animations with me. It promotes original ideas and provides the opportunity for students to grapple with problems and make decisions like an artist.
Can you think of a graduate who has gone on and done things with creativity or technology?
Wilson students go on to do great things in really interesting fields. A graduate who comes to mind is Robert Kidwell, who now is in college and has been involved with creative problem-solving while interning and working at G.E. Robert was approached by several workers on the shop floor of a factory, who voiced concerns about aches and pains associated with welding in awkward positions. With their help, he designed a set of interactive training stations which were named "Ergo (ergonomics) Event Stations". The result was a multi-million dollar safety instructional course that both reduced injury reports by 25% in the first quarter after implementing them, and also allowed Robert to present and sell them to a large group of companies at a trade conference. Robert certainly is creative and innovative.
What are your goals and plans for future?
We have some exciting plans and goals for the upcoming year, such as increasing digital citizenship throughout the curriculum. We teach creative coding starting in 2nd grade that ties in with social studies, math, and other units. In 4th grade, students learn the historical background and then turn it into a journey of an Egyptologist. We do things other schools just aren't doing yet, and we take a lot of pride in that.
Even in PE, the older kids make sportsmanship videos that are fun and creative. Not only do they show other kids how to be an athlete, but they learn the importance of fair play and being a good role model. At Wilson, each class connects with the next, and above all, we strive to carry out our motto, Make Your Mark a Good One.
Our biggest difference maker is the fact my role exists. It's not always second nature for teachers to try out some of the initiatives we have here, so having this role and resources gives our teachers the confidence and support to try new ideas. They're not random efforts; it's all a part of our plan. Our mission is to prepare students for the ever-changing world, and technology plays a large role in that. We know students need to be able to collaborate and communicate using technology. For us, it's second nature. Our administration supports this initiative in everything we do.
Other schools receive training on using technology but don't often get it on teaching with technology in the classroom, or they just have an IT person who works on hardware and software. Our Head of School made a conscious decision to have a teacher in this position. We're not afraid to fail and try again, and we teach our students that same mentality.
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