As the Program Director of Instructional Technology in the Aldine Independent School District in Texas, Akilah Willery sees herself as a listener, a facilitator and a uniter. A former high school teacher and technology specialist — as well one of the first recipients of a Master’s degree in instructional technology from the University of Houston — Akilah brings a special perspective to her work and emphasizes collaboration, innovation and creativity as top priorities. With a team of 74 technology specialists working in schools throughout her district, she’s always on the lookout for ways to support teachers’ and students’ innovative ideas with the right tools and resources.
When we spoke with Akilah, she shared her vision for her district and her efforts to bring creativity and eLearning tools to all Aldine schools.
Q: What inspired you to start a district-wide Adobe & ConnectED program?
A: In Texas, we’ve always had a big focus on accountability. Now we’re emerging from an era where everything was about numbers, and we’re redefining accountability to include a more holistic view of the child and what he or she needs to experience and attain. Our goal is to create a more collaborative and creative environment that allows both teachers and students to have a voice in defining the learning journey.
Adobe & ConnectED came along at the perfect time. It gives us an opportunity to offer great tools to kids and teachers so they can explore what they want to create. Instead of telling teachers what to do, I can give them a tool and they can tell me how they can use it as part of their curriculum. I also hope our kids will feel empowered to use these tools to create whatever they want, even without guidance directly from a teacher.
Q: What recommendations might you give to other district leaders considering Adobe & ConnectED?
A: Don’t pigeonhole the possibilities by only offering the software to the “creative” disciplines. Make it available to all and gather feedback from teachers to get a sense of what their content areas are demanding, and how you can help them use the new tools to fill in any gaps. Also, take advantage of the free training resources on the Adobe Education Exchange. Free software is great — but the training resources are what will help teachers understand how the software can fit their needs.
Q: What are other ways you’re promoting creativity and innovation in your district?
A: We’re in the process of trying many new things. For example, we’ve partnered with Code.org to integrate computer science tools into traditional curriculum at our K–6 campuses. Teachers are coming up with different ways to use the tools and they’re saying the program is a great way to promote problem-solving and critical thinking. We’ve also been doing some cross-curricular professional development by teaming up our visual arts and science teachers. Together, they’re developing ways visual arts can demonstrate principles of chemistry.
We’re also getting creative about teacher professional development. We offer face-to-face workshops and online webcasts on a variety of topics so teachers can tune in and discuss new instructional strategies. We also support teachers as they explore their own professional learning networks through social media. We give professional development hours for both participating in and hosting Twitter chats with other educators.
I think it’s important to note that teachers and iTechs throughout my district initiated all of these projects. Folks come to me with great ideas and I do my part to connect the dots to make them happen, and then support ongoing experimentation and iteration.
Q: What’s your greatest challenge in your role? How do you work to overcome that?
A: My biggest challenge is maintaining the shared vision. Aldine is a really big district with a large and varied team. Reshaping our district vision means we need to change our teaching practices, and that makes people both nervous and excited. And, as much as we’re asking teachers to step out the box, we’re expecting the same of our kids. We’re creating a culture that makes room for mistakes. We want kids to try and fail and try again until you they get the outcome they desire.
This is an open and ongoing conversation in our district. Previously, decisions were made from the top down. Now we’re reversing it and asking for feedback from our teachers and students. It’s a richer discussion when everyone has a voice. In five years, I think things are going to look really different.
Find out more about the Aldine Independent School District and the Technology and Curriculum Conference (TCCA) in Aldine — the largest free technology conference in Texas.
As part of President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, Adobe is donating over $300 million in software and professional development services to schools across the United States.
Could cultivating creative passion be the key to keeping students motivated? That certainly seems to be the case at Tomlinson Middle School in Lawton, Oklahoma. “A lot of students here are at the age where they will drop out of school unless they find something they are excited about,” says Vanessa Perez, who teaches digital literacy, multimedia, and web design at Tomlinson.
In 2014, knowing that many of her students had big dreams of becoming graphic, video game, or web designers, Perez became determined to create a curriculum that challenged students to go beyond the basics of digital literacy. She also wanted to equip her classroom with tools that would both engage and inspire her students. Unable to afford these tools, she applied for free creativity software through Adobe and ConnectED and received a lab set of Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Premiere Elements, and Adobe Captivate.
So far, eighth graders have used Photoshop Elements for a “Design Your Own Species” project, in which they digitally combined images of several different animals into one. Perez plans to expand her curriculum with Premiere Elements. Each spring, students will create a video memorial about the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Perez says her students’ confidence has soared since she brought Adobe software into the computer lab. “By having access to industry-standard software, students can discover what they really love to do and make their dreams more realistic and achievable.” says Perez.
“Do you want to buy us new drums?” That’s what the very clever musicians and video storytellers at Lawrence County High School (LCHS) recently asked in the Zildjian “My Pit’s the Pits” video contest.
LCHS, a school of 640 students in Moulton, Alabama, was one the first Title I schools to receive free creativity software from Adobe as part of President Obama’s ConnectED initiative. Shortly after receiving their software, LCHS students went to work using Adobe Premiere Elements to tell the story of a talented drum line in need of new instruments.
Students in Gina McCarley’s Multimedia Design class worked collaboratively with the band members on their digital storytelling project. They set a compilation of individual student assignments to music and other audio created by LCHS musicians. The result was a sophisticated video that wowed Zildjian and won the grand prize — $10,000 in new percussion equipment.
That wasn’t the only big win for the students, according to McCarley. “As a teacher in a Title I school, I can’t overstate how important it is to give students creative outlets,” she said. “With the software from Adobe and ConnectED, my students are discovering talents, learning new tools, enjoying class, and getting access to software we otherwise couldn’t afford. Gaining skills using Adobe software opens students’ eyes to new career possibilities and—even more important—gives them hope.”
Looking to the future, McCarley plans to expand beyond video and introduce her students to the other tools LCHS received through the Adobe and ConnectED donation, including Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Captivate, Adobe Presenter, and Adobe EchoSign. Next up is photo editing and stop-motion animation—topics of keen interest to McCarley’s students.
We can’t wait to see what the talented students at LCHS produce next! Read more about Lawrence County High School.
As part of President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, Adobe is donating over $300 million in software and professional development services to schools across the United States.
More information and apply for a ConnectED grant from Adobe here.
Each spring, high school students from around the United States are honored by Congress through a visual art competition. Since its beginning in 1982, more than 650,000 students have participated. Each year, winners from more than 400 Congressional Districts are invited to an awards ceremony in the U.S. Capitol and their works are displayed in the busy hallways beneath the capitol building. Adobe was honored to attend the event and help celebrate students’ creativity and their achievements.
It is particularly important to celebrate creative student work in light of recent study results about the barriers to creativity in education, which revealed that:
– Almost 90% of parents and educators believe that fostering creativity in education will fuel the economies of tomorrow
– More than 70% of parents and educators believe that creativity is not valued by the current education system
As we look to the future, creativity is essential to drive innovation and ultimately to make the world a better place. Innovation is not the sole domain of entrepreneurs, of engineers, or of programmers. Artists create meaning, communicate ideas and help us all see new problems and solutions. To succeed, we must not only invest in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – but also in the arts to grow our economy for the future. We need to expand our focus from STEM to STEAM. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (pictured above), one of this year’s co-sponsors of the event, is also a co-founder of the Congressional STEAM Caucus and has been active in advocating the value of creativity.
These students are already sharing and expressing creative ideas. Their creativity inspires hope and these students will lead the kind of innovation that improves our lives and solves the real problems we will face in the decades to come.
To further inspire self-expression and innovation, Adobe invites students to join the broader creative community by giving each winner a free year-long subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. I want to extend my warmest congratulations to all of the students who participated and shared their ideas with us. We can’t wait to see what you create next!
I wanted to share some exciting news around our continuous work with Globaloria, a national program that teaches kids how to design and program their own STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) digital games. I had a chance, along with Johann Zimmern, our worldwide education program manager, to honor several San Jose Bay Area students at the 2nd Annual Silicon Valley Globey Awards Ceremony designed to recognize the best in youth educational video game design and coding. At the ceremony, top students were awarded prizes for their work based on the technical quality of their game, its educational content, the quality of the original artwork and animations, teamwork, research skills, and the overall production process.
Among the prizes, student winners were awarded a one-year subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud, to support their future game design efforts. On behalf of Adobe, we want to congratulate all of the winners and encourage them to continue to explore their creative talents. To check out all the recognized student-designed games please visit Globaloria’s Game Gallery.
Today, the world needs creative thinkers to help solve the big challenges we face — in our global economy, in our environment, and in social issues. And we need people who are fluent in the latest digital tools that fuel creativity and self-expression. To inspire young women and help them develop skills they will need to become future problem solvers and innovators, Adobe Education hosted a special Tech Girls event at Presentation High School in San Jose, CA. A group of girls, ages 11 to 14, came from all over Silicon Valley to learn how to use Adobe tools including Adobe Edge Animate and Adobe Muse in a series of workshops. Mala Sharma, vice president of GTM and strategy for Creative Pro and Education at Adobe, spoke to these young women about her background and encouraged them to consider careers in technology.
The workshops were led by Adobe Education Leaders; Deila Caballero of Presentation High School, Jeff Larson of Balboa High School in San Francisco and Kevin McMahon of Bellarmine College Prep. All of the presenters were impressed by the knowledge and talent of these young women and praised Tech Girls for providing youth with such amazing opportunities:
“Workshops like this one directly impact the future of STEM fields by planting the seeds of technological inspiration in the minds of today’s young women. By encouraging each generation of girls to be fearless and confident technology users we give them a chance to explore educational opportunities which they may not otherwise have in the standard education model. The best part of this event was watching each student explore a new technology with excitement, creativity and success.” Deila Caballero, Presentation High School, San Jose, CA
“Having the chance to teach Adobe Edge to the young ladies involved in the Tech Girls workshop was a delightful reminder of the capacity of young people to rapidly learn and work with technology. The girls were quick to pick up on the general workflow and then quickly move into discovering things about the software I wasn’t even sure we’d have time to cover. I hope my daughter has a chance to participate in something like the Tech Girls program at some point, as the program is a beacon for encouraging girls pursuit of STEM related interests.” Jeff Larson, Balboa High School, San Francisco, CA
“The Tech Girls Workshop was a great experience. When teaching new apps such as Muse and Edge, students usually require some adjustment period. But these bright young girls were almost finishing my sentences by the time we were done. Moreover, their website and animation work was quite impressive. As a father of a daughter, the Tech Girls program gives me great hope for the future.” Kevin McMahon of Bellarmine College Prep, San Jose, CA
This is just one way Adobe is getting involved in helping youth explore new opportunities through technology and innovation. Share with us how your work inspires kids in new and creative ways.
Improving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills for students is no longer confined to pencils, paper and flash cards. Educators today must embrace the latest technology to equip students with the skills to succeed. The World Wide Workshop’s Globaloria program takes a proactive approach to break out of the traditional education mold and help educators and students meet challenges with an innovative curriculum and social learning platform. With Globaloria, students in grades 6 through 12 learn STEM and computing knowledge through hands-on game design and programming with Adobe Creative Suite – providing students with a chance to build critical skills for college and career success with industry standard software.
“Students on the downside of the digital divide benefit greatly from the blended learning approach that this innovative initiative delivers,” says Dr. Joe Gonzales, school superintendent of East Austin College Prep Academy in Texas. “Globaloria transforms the way they engage with core curriculum, bringing STEM topics to life through game design.”
Students learn to design and program games using Adobe Flash Professional, chosen by Globaloria developers to expose participants to an industry-leading tool that is popular in the job market. At higher levels, students integrate assets created using Adobe Creative Suite, including characters designed in Adobe Photoshop, game elements created in Adobe Illustrator and effects created using Adobe Fireworks. These games are not only fun to play, but are also based on STEM-related or social issue topics. Check out a couple of these games such as House Fixers 2, where players must reduce fractions correctly before time runs out and an animated house collapses, and Tiger Savior, a safari-themed game designed to educate players about environmental threats facing tigers around the world.
“Many students who never learned to code before and who never thought of themselves as programmers are delving into coding through their use of Flash in the course of their Globaloria experience,” said Dr. Idit Harel Caperton, president and founder of the World Wide Workshop. “We have built a highly structured, yet user-friendly and playful environment for youth to take their first steps into computer science and software engineering.”
Research shows that students who participate in the Globaloria game design program gain measurable benefits in the classroom and beyond. They achieve higher test scores in core academic subjects, develop critical digital literacy skills that prepare them for success at higher levels of education and are more likely to gravitate toward STEM topics and IT as areas of educational and professional interest. To learn more about how Globaloria helps students achieve success, read the full story here. Also visit gaming.adobe.com to see what else can be accomplished using Adobe Gaming technology.