Building airplanes in the sky
In early 2000s, EDS, a technology company in Plano, Texas, released a Super Bowl ad showing workers building an airplane - in the air. Workers held tight to the frames of the half-finished plane while in flight. Attendants served coffee to passengers holding on to their books and coffee cups as the wind blew around them. Among the lines in the ad: “Some people like to climb mountains. I like to build airplanes in the air.” “Sometimes the temperature at this altitude go to 60 below. It’s crisp and refreshing.” “You never know what you’re going to come across out: geese, mallards, owls.” “We’re not just building a plane here. We’re building a dream.”
I am creating instructional videos for the Guam Department of Education/Public Broadcasting System. It’s a lot like building an airplane in the sky.
Why did I sign up to do this? I created instructional videos last year when I taught at iLearn Academy Charter School. I marvel at the foresight of iLearn’s founders in creating this STEM school where all students have iPads and learn Robotics. This is the only school where I caught some of my students googling my name when I first introduced myself to class.
Students who had to travel for lengthy periods did not miss a beat. I was able to assign work through Google Classroom. They created art and engineering projects and sent me pictures and reports from wherever they were. My students were able to greet and encourage classmates who were in longterm absences due to family crises.
I had always been curious about online videos. Though I did not know much (or anything) about it, I started a Broadcast Club at iLearn. I figured I would learn together with my students. It’s how I roll sometimes — blind. As a result, I learned to use iMovie, teleprompters, green screens, workflow, lower thirds and articulation exercises. We created newscasts.
I created simple instructional videos this year. With my laptop I videotaped myself giving a test. I was still walking around in the classroom but each of my four Reading classes watched me give the test on screen. I don’t know if I just imagined it but they seemed to pay better attention to me on screen than in person. I also started to make videos to be used when I went on sick leave. My substitute reported students paid attention to my videos. One cannot underestimate the power of a beloved teacher on screen giving instructions while she is out on leave.
When GDOE called for volunteers in late March I thought of my students without internet access. Though I knew a few things, making videos for television was not something I had done before. This was an opportunity to start learning now.
“Sometimes the temperature at this altitude go to 60 below. It’s crisp and refreshing.” For the first few weeks we had to create three videos a week. (We are doing just one video a week now.) I had to scramble for materials. I had been purging my materials the last five years.
I no longer have the arsenal of instructional materials a typical elementary teacher has. All businesses were closed. We were on lockdown. I could not ask friends for help. It was hard to find a well-lit and quiet place and time to record. I finally decided that between 6 to 7 a.m. was ideal. My neighbor’s roosters were also crowing at that time but my household was still in bed. The only good place to videotape was the kitchen. But it was not well lit and too cluttered. Later on, I decided to use the front yard. Pausing, though, for cars going by and military and civilian airplanes flying overhead.
Morning was also when I looked my best. Some of the videos take 15-20 takes before I could settle on one with the fewest mistakes. But by that time my makeup had smeared, I had more lines on my face from the strain, and my voice was thinner and squeakier than usual. During those first few weeks I sometimes went to bed too weary to even cry.
“You never know what you’re going to come across out here…” I learned how to send big video files. I bought some lamps. My friend Juvy Gao-ay Carino lent me a spotlight. Stores opened and I found a karaoke mic, which I will use in future videos. I broke the screen on my laptop and bought a new one with a friend’s help. Thank you, Jason Pangelinan. I re-learned iMovie which helped my PBS editor Shingpe Wang. I was cranky and mean at home— sorry, Zeni Buensuceso and Doris Sanchez Flores. My school librarian Jamie Mendoza opened the library for me.
As of this writing, I am learning to use a green screen and will do vocal exercise to strengthen my diaphragm for better projection. I got tired of watching myself and invited friends to be in my videos. Chef Kennelyn Miranda of Hyatt (thank you, Vicky Shrage of GCC, who connected us), Dr. Hoa Nguyen of American Medical Clinic, Capt. Kim Santos of the Guam Police Department, and my University of Portland classmate Tillie Blas, came on.
Production coordinator Ernest Ochoco taught them about camera presence. I was honored and humbled when the commander of Joint Region Marianas, Rear Admiral John V. Menoni, agreed to read a book on courage. My deep gratitude to him and to Lt. Cmdr. Rick Moore and Rey Rabara for making it happen. I reread A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and learned many timely practical life lessons. My prayers deepened.
“We’re not just building a plane here. We’re building a dream.” Even without the coronavirus pandemic, it makes sense to use instructional videos. The platform engages students. They get it. It is just one more resource in our toolbox— mine and my students’. The classroom is flipped. Students do not need to be in a specified physical location to learn.
My videos still leave much to be desired. I still have a lot to learn. Not just in the creation of videos but in pedagogy. But if I use best educational practices, students will learn. Assessment will change. There is the matter of screen burnout. A hybrid model— with both long-distance and face-to-face contact with my class — is my ideal. I would like at some point to hug my students. Our students are young and need to learn communication cues through spontaneous human interaction. They need to go outdoors, and argue, huddle, tag, push and shove with each other.
Distance learning is in pilot stage. Maybe it’s not yet flying as it should, but it is in the sky and on the air. While it is being built.
Jeni Ann Flores is a cool teacher - a robotics coach, aspiring drone operator and wanna-be writer. You may read more of her writing at https://teacherseditionflores.blogspot.com/ or tell her what you think through firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and LinkedIn.