Like every educator, Frank Pileiro has had to pivot. As Supervisor of Technology at Linwood Board of Education in South Jersey, he has the added pressure of overseeing their robust maker space programs while managing the current hybrid teaching setup.
In this conversation with eSchool News, Frank explains how to keep engaging students, even if it’s from a distance.
eSN: Tell us about your STEM setup.
FP: We actually have our computer teacher at our elementary schools, who has morphed into a STEM teacher as well, which is great. She’s doing great stuff down there. Up at fifth through eighth grade at the middle school, every kid gets it. While a lot of districts are getting rid of shop class or converting it to something where the teachers do it in the classrooms, our district is really committed to keeping it because they see how it reaches across the curriculum and it can reinforce what the other teachers are doing, no matter what subject it is.
eSN: So how do you do this with only half the kids in class at a given time?
Fortunately, we have a great teacher who brought some really great ideas. We speak the same language, being a former shop teacher myself. We’ve worked through things, looking at programs that they can use at home on their Chromebook to do their designs. For instance, one of her programs does car design. The aerodynamic piece of it is all done through an online program. So she’s able to continue with that.
They are also designing an app using sensors and different things that teaches kids how to do CPR and they gamified it. So that’s something they can continue working on. She’s been creative with being able to design lessons that still give you those experiences as best you can. You might be able to make that thing at home if you’re not here, if you’re all virtual too.
The kids have been affected in person a little bit because she’s got a shop. We still have to move the kids down there. And there are a lot of questions: “How do I clean my tools? How do I clean my littleBits robotic sets?” Turns out you can.
eSN: So how do you assess that and how do you think that that might affect the way we assess students overall going forward?
FP: I always remember through my teaching career that when state assessments were over, the teachers were so much more creative in their lessons because they weren’t afraid to miss something that was going to be on the test. They were making videos, doing all kinds of inner cross-curricular things. Last spring, it was almost like a sigh of relief when they said we’re not doing the testing.
These teachers are now looking at their assessment or formative assessment or summative assessment in different ways. They’re looking at it project-based. They’re looking at portfolio-based assessments, looking at the whole body of work instead of that one snapshot or a couple snapshots in time. They’re still doing their diagnostic assessments, so it helps inform them. But again, it’s informing them to go back and help them help the kids. They design the lessons around that and are able to differentiate their instruction, as opposed to thinking, “Oh shoot, if I don’t get to chapter six by December 4th, we’re going to be behind before the test comes up.”
eSN: What else is keeping your glass half full through all of this?
FP: I think this shines a bright spot again on people stepping up to the plate. And I’m not just talking about educators. All in all, people are just doing their best. I know people call it the new normal, but I think the best name I heard for it was the “weirds.” It’s just, it’s just a weird, weird time. And I think this is the positive point—You say to yourself, “Okay. Well, we got hit with another thing. How can we make this work?” That’s the thing—stepping up.