Teachers at St. Andrew’s School Collaborate to Make History a Creative Pursuit

Empty desks at school classroom with world map

by Tanya Avrith

posted on 04-29-2020

When teachers think beyond their classroom walls and collaborate across subjects, great things can happen. At St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Florida, teachers are putting their heads together to reimagine their classes—integrating digital fluency and creativity with general education. That approach has given both students and teachers a fresh perspective on learning.

“We want to give students a space to communicate their ideas and show what they’ve learned at their own pace, in ways that are really meaningful to them,” says Cristen Magaletti, upper school history and social science teacher. “By nurturing their creative expression, we’re giving kids a sense of ownership over their learning.”

Cristen teaches World History, AP U.S. History, Social Entrepreneurship, and Honors Business classes— and she’s working to maximize the impact of her classes on students and prepare them for the future. For the past few years, she has collaborated with fellow history teachers Josh Borthwick and Tom Stabb and media arts teachers Tom Nash and Angela Lodato to bring greater digital fluency and creativity into her classes, using project-based learning and digital tools such as Adobe Creative Cloud.

These teachers from different subjects are hoping their successful and engaging collaboration will convince other teachers in complementary subjects to follow suit.

“Teachers can become very siloed and don’t always have time to try new approaches,” says Cristen. “We hope that our collaboration and success can encourage other teachers to think differently about their curriculum and they can continue to build on some of our work.”

History students report on the Gilded Age and The Progressive Era

When AP U.S. History classes covered the Gilded Age, the three teachers decided to try something ambitious and fun that still taught standards within their curriculum —bringing history to life into the school’s production studio.

“We had the kids create newscasts and panel discussions in a format of their choice, either serious or funny like a late-night talk show,” says Cristen. “It was wonderful to see my AP U.S. History students in a production space. Some became totally different kids, coming to life and I wondered if they might even have a calling in media arts that I never would have known about had we not worked together in this space.”

History students wrote and acted out their own scripts and screen direction. Students in the media arts class handled production and editing, using the green screen, professional recording equipment, and Adobe Creative Cloud tools to capture and edit the video live, as if it were a real news broadcast.

“Students got great experience with managing the set, cameras, and lighting,” says media arts teacher Tom Nash. “They also know exactly what it means to ‘fix something in post’ with digital tools—for example, using Adobe Premiere Pro to adjust exposure levels or rescale the shot if the framing is off.” http://cps.adobeeducate.com

“I was fortunate enough to have an AP U.S. History teacher who sought to incorporate media arts into a college level history course. For the Gilded Age TV show project, we recorded our show in a studio on campus, which creates an environment similar to renowned news networks,” said Sophie Gorup, student at Saint Andrew’s. “This assignment behooved all types of learners, such as visual, auditory, kinesthetic. Furthermore, because we put such a profound emphasis on the topic through an elaborate project, it was easier to remember the information than facts and descriptions from lectures and the textbook. In fact, one of the essay questions on the AP exam specifically asked about this period, and this project made it feasible for me to remember and display my knowledge. For teachers who struggle to enrich their classroom experience, I encourage them to collaborate with the cross curricular classes.”

Students design Antebellum-era posters

Another project the teachers covered the Antebellum Period and the American Civil War. The assignment was to create large, professionally printed posters, but there was an entrepreneurial element to the project as well. Not only did students design the posters, they had to act as if they were producing deliverables for a client, clearly articulating their audience, goals, and print specifications.

“Students needed to communicate their visions and design an effective poster using Adobe Illustrator and other Adobe Creative Cloud tools,” Cristen says. “They prepared their work for printing and approached the digital arts teacher, who used the huge printing press machines in his classroom to deliver the final product.”

Student startup tackles the problem of plastic

Cristen is also blending the worlds of academic instruction and digital fluency in her Social Entrepreneurship class, teaching kids how to use business as a force for good in the world. They created a company, attracted shareholders, moved product, and even produced an annual report. Students used Adobe Spark to create logos and to develop marketing materials as they considered how to best share the story of their new brand.

“Students decided they wanted to tackle plastic, so they designed and produced a sweatshirt made from 50% recycled plastic and 50% up-cycled cotton,” says Cristen. “They also visited the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center to study plastic’s impact on local marine life, especially turtles.”

Even better, when students are given the opportunity to explore their passions, they became empowered as change-makers in their community. The kids took what they learned from the project and went to City Hall to advocate for new regulations on single-use plastic. The project made for a good story, and students from the Media Arts class were there to document it, using Adobe Audition to produce a podcast. As Cristen assessed students on work from her class, Tom Nash saw another opportunity to collaborate as his students and examined elements of storytelling through podcasting. These experiences will prepare the students for real world work.

Learning continues, whether in the classroom or at home

Now, with school engaging in distance learning across the country, digital fluency is more important than ever—for students and teachers alike. Teachers at St. Andrew’s use distance learning to keep kids engaged at home, leaning on digital tools and tried-and-true teaching rhythms.

For instance, Cristen and her teammates teaching AP U.S. History meet regularly to plan their lessons, sharing assignments with students in Google Classroom and Google Sites using HyperDocs. They’ve started recording short screencasts to explain topics and to provide guidance for students to perform specific tasks. They also use Google Meet to hold office hours and class sessions. It’s a chance for students to ask questions, but it is also a way to help kids feel connected during these challenging times.

“It’s so important for my students to see and talk to each other,” says Cristen. “We’re providing a digital space to provide some sense of normalcy and to let them know we’re here for them.”

Cristen still has high expectations for her classes—students have deadlines for turning in their work and must demonstrate their learning. But she also knows how important it is to provide extra support and flexibility. “Content is important, but the social and emotional well-being of our students and their families is vital,” she says.

The school closures have demonstrated just how important digital skills are for students and teachers— and not just in the future. Digital literacy is relevant now, and teachers who look for ways to incorporate it into the general education curriculum are doing a powerful service for their students.

Topics: Education, digital literacy,

Products: Audition, Spark, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, Creative Cloud