At first glance, Microsoft tools and a fine arts program don’t have much in common.
But Jennifer Szynal, a performing arts teacher at Joliet Catholic Academy, has integrated Microsoft tools into the program.
“The performing arts in themselves are collaborative,” Szynal said. “You work together to bring a creative artistic presentation either through music or through a theatrical performance. And [during remote learning] I had to find unique ways with technology to achieve this.
Szynal is also one of three JCA teachers accepted into the Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts Program and one of 27 educators from Illinois who are part of the MIEE Global Program for the 2021-22 school year, said Ryan Quigley, Director of Admissions and Communications at JCA. .
To be part of this program, Szynal demonstrated how she integrated technology into JCA’s fine arts curriculum. For example, the students created a virtual toolkit for future performing arts students and teachers at JCA.
“They had to choose five skills and they had to record two-minute videos explaining the skills,” Szynal said. “And then they created a five-slide PowerPoint presentation in which they embedded the video and accompanying worksheet. It is basically a virtual filing cabinet with video and audio clips.
So far, the toolkit contains 80 videos, Szynal said.
Szynal also uses Microsoft Teams to organize classes. Students can access all class documents and resources once they log in.
“It uses cloud-based storage, so they don’t store anything on the actual devices,” Szynal said.
According to the JCA website, the school completed its 1:1 initiative in the 2018-19 school year. A 1:1 initiative means that students have their own electronic devices to access the internet and digital materials.
In the case of JCA, students have their own Windows laptops to use at school and at home, according to the website. JCA is also a Microsoft school, which means “JCA graduates will be comfortable in both desktop and cloud-based versions of Microsoft,” according to the website.
At the same time, students must continue to develop their social and collaboration skills, Szynal said. And today, many students no longer “respond well to guidance instructions,” she said.
“They like to learn from each other,” Szynal said. “They like to experiment. I wanted to find a way that they could continuously learn from their peers.
Microsoft’s Flipgrid works well for this, Szynal said. Students register with this online video chat platform and then receive instant feedback in the comments section, she said.
Suppose, for example, that a student struggles with a piece of music at home. This student can record a five-minute video and then upload it to the platform.
“Other students in the class provide feedback on how to improve or what they’re doing well,” Szynal said.
Not only are the students getting a “huge influx of support” for each other, but they are also receiving targeted feedback. Additionally, students can make comments at any time. They’re not limited to “a 45-minute class period,” Szynal said.
“It’s really amazing,” Szynal said.
Szynal said today’s students spend a lot of time on their phones and “Snapchatting,” so it’s important for the teacher to find ways to connect with students in the 21st century.
As adults, these students will live with social media, blogging, posting online and sharing information in “milliseconds,” Szynal said. She also believes that technology complements the skills 21st century students need to learn: problem solving, decision making, creativity and collaboration.
“Instead of fighting technology, we need to find ways to make it work for us,” Szynal said. “At least, that’s what I believe.”