Fulton County Schools teaches students to find their voices in the classroom

Fulton County School. Where Students Come First.

In a fast-changing digital world, one of the most critical lessons that educators can pass on to their students is how to become creative communicators and problem-solvers.

“Creativity is essential for all students,” says Heather Van Looy, director of Instructional Technology at Fulton County Schools. “It helps them become engaged in lessons. It teaches them to become creators and learn new skills that will help them be more successful in their educational and professional careers.”

Fulton County Schools (FCS) is one of the largest school systems in Georgia, reaching more than 90,000 students across 100 K-12 schools. The county is diverse not only in terms of its student population — with students coming from all economic and ethnic backgrounds — but also in terms of geography, as it stretches more than 70 miles from end to end.

Student achievement and community lie at the heart of the school system’s mission. FCS aims to help every student succeed on their chosen paths and become responsible citizens. Student success starts with Fulton County’s 10,000 teachers and staff, but enabling so many teachers to innovate and share best practices is not easy.

That’s where the Instructional Technology team comes in. The team works closely with schools and teachers to bring software, technology, and transformative learning techniques into the classroom to improve teaching and learning outcomes. The team’s efforts include partnerships with iTeach specialists from Kennesaw State University, creative awareness challenges, and the Vanguard program — a peer-to-peer model of learning where educators across FCS are trained to coach fellow educators in their schools.

“There’s so much available with instructional technology,” explains Van Looy. “We have a huge toolbox of resources that teachers can use in flexible ways to demonstrate learning, present a problem, or communicate a complex idea. Educator training is an essential part of increasing adoption and seeing the benefits of technology in the classroom. That’s why programs such as the Vanguard program are so important to helping us scale instructional practices across the district.”

Encouraging expression from students

FCS now offers Adobe Creative Cloud to all students and teachers in grades 6-12 and Adobe Express across the district to bring industry-standard creative apps to students, teachers, and staff.

One of the most important roles of creativity in the classroom is how it helps all students find their voice. With Adobe Express, part of the broader Creative Cloud for Education offer, students of any age can learn to express themselves through photographs, illustrations, text, music, narration, and animation. Unlike Adobe’s other industry-standard pro tools, Express is web-based, making it easily accessible for modern students of all ages.

When teachers at Johns Creek High School want to find new ways of engaging students, they reach out to media specialist Meggan Ford. Adobe Express has become one of her favorite apps to introduce to teachers and students. “I’m always surprised to see what students can accomplish with Adobe,” says Ford. “Adobe Express makes education and creativity much more accessible for our students, which makes all the difference.”

For a Black History Month prompt, astronomy teacher Brenda Paul taught students how they could use Adobe Express to make a stylish infographic highlighting a black astronomer and his accomplishments. In a more self-reflective assignment, students created personal videos explaining themselves in exactly 120 seconds. Adobe Express allowed students to quickly combine photos, voiceovers, and text to create a digital story easily.

Black History Month project

Black history month project about Michael Philip Anderson .

Schieltz, 11th grade student, Johns Creek High School

Black history month project about Mary W. Jackson.

Meghan, 12th grade student, Johns Creek High School

Finding a voice can be especially difficult for students who don’t speak English as their first language. Another Vanguard member, Kimberly Gunter, media specialist at Ridgeview Charter Middle School, knew that many ESL teachers were constantly looking for new ways to get students engaged with vocabulary. Gunter suggested that Adobe xpress might help students demonstrate their own learning and understanding visually — something particularly important to students who are still learning English.

Before starting a new book, ESL teachers typically introduce important vocabulary that students will need. Seventh-grade student Jonathan Pineda-Maldonado used Adobe Express to create a vocabulary page that illustrates new vocabulary words with photographs from Adobe Stock in Mrs. Parham’s class. Other ESL students used Adobe Express to create a learning journal that gathered new vocabulary words the students learned throughout the year. Sixth-grade student Kimberly Morales-Arroyo was hesitant to speak English in the classroom, but she loved working on the vocabulary in her learning journal in Ms. Mizell's class.

“Her teacher asked her to add the vocabulary words in English and Spanish to better see her understanding of new words,” says Gunter. “Working with Adobe Express gave her teachers new ways of seeing how well she understood concepts by encouraging different ways to engage with English.”

Incorporating creativity into the classroom

The Instructional Technology team works closely with the 300 members of the Vanguard team across the district, giving them the training and professional development that they need to coach teachers in their own schools. Neil Cole, a fifth-grade teacher at Dolvin Elementary, and Kelsey Ferguson, a K-5 STEM teacher at Seaborn Lee Elementary, are two Vanguard members who took part in Adobe Creative Educator training over the summer. The training focused on strategies for how to use Adobe apps to cultivate creative problem solving skills through visual storytelling and cultivating digital portfolios.

“I thought it was awesome,” says Cole. “There were so many different products, but I was especially interested in Adobe Express. It has so much functionality, but it’s easy enough that my fifth graders can quickly pick it up.”

Ferguson introduced Adobe Express to her third, fourth, and fifth-grade students using one of the monthly Adobe Express Education challenges, which provide teachers with classroom-ready lesson plans and templates. As part of the “My Creative Identity” challenge, students remixed the template to create a poster about themselves, including information such as their favorite hobbies, foods, and school subjects. Students quickly learned how to add photographs, change colors, and adjust text or icons. One student added color shuffle animation for eye-popping visuals. Other students layered icons and images to create “self-portraits” showing figures in football gear or stylish outfits.

“My Creative Identity” challenge

My Creativity Identity challenge.

Zariah, 5th grade student, Seaborn Lee Elementary School

My Creativity Identity challenge.

Cyle, 4th grade student, Seaborn Lee Elementary School

“When first introducing a new tool or technology, I like to make it very creative and all about them,” explains Ferguson. “It really encourages students to explore, experiment, and go wild so that they’re more ready to tackle more structured assignments in the future.”

Cole also introduced Adobe Express through flexible and creative assignments. For one narrative project, he asked students to complete a story prompt and then use Adobe Express to create a movie poster based on their story. While this first project focused on freeform creativity, subsequent projects incorporated more structure with grading rubrics that help students focus on demonstrating understanding of educational standards. For a project covering the New Deal, students were asked to create a flyer advertising a job created under one of the New Deal programs. While the assignment still demanded creativity, students also needed to demonstrate their grade-level content knowledge by including images and text that explained the purpose of the specific New Deal program.

Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal project.

New Deal project, Grace, 5th grade student, Dolvin Elementary.

Creativity for all ages

After starting with posters and infographics, both Ferguson and Cole want to start challenging students to create web pages, videos, and portfolios with Adobe Express. Ferguson plans to build upon activities at different speeds for different age groups. While her third-grade students will continue to build confidence with infographics and posters, fourth-grade students will build web pages to collect research on an upcoming space unit. Meanwhile, fifth-grade students will create a video based on the constructive or destructive force of their choosing.

“Adobe Creative Cloud allows us to give students a consistent experience throughout their time with us,” says Hoke Wilcox, executive director of Accountability and District Applications, Information Technology at Fulton County Schools. “Students can start with Adobe Express in elementary school and learn building blocks that will make Adobe Premiere Pro or Adobe Photoshop easy to understand in high school.”

Importance of creativity in modern education

The professional world is changing quickly, and many of the future jobs available may not even exist today. By making Adobe Creative Cloud apps available to all teachers and students, FCS can encourage flexible thinking that will benefit all students, no matter their future goals.

“Adobe is really pushing the envelope with Adobe Creative Cloud,” says Ford. “They’re not just taking a business product and trying to force it into the education space. They’re really working on ways to tailor it towards the needs of teachers and students to make creativity more accessible to everyone in education.”

The Adobe Education Exchange is one resource that teachers such as Ford can turn to. It provides free resources that help educators working in all grade levels and content areas to teach creative skills necessary for the next generation.

Adds Van Looy, “Our county is very diverse, but Adobe Creative Cloud helps us cross the digital divide. By giving students a head start with professional creative tools and creative education, we can create new possibilities for K12 education.”

To learn more about being a creative educator, please visit here.