Lisa Bohn bring distance learning and #EdTech experience to MCS

By Al Daniel

Photo of Lisa Bohn from the end-of-year celebration, wearing a cloth face mask and green fuzzy pigtails on a headband

After two years at Montessori Community School, Lisa Bohn is a familiar face to anyone stopping by the main office on Pope Road. There is more behind the front desk than meets the eye when one enters to sign-in, drop-off, make an inquiry, get a form, or pick-up a child.

Even while the presence of people on campus is on hold, Lisa is still hard at work behind the scenes. As MCS adhered to physical distancing guidelines while implementing its curriculum for the balance of this past school year, Lisa brought her blended background as a seasoned educator and certified Apple instructor to ensure everyone’s most effective adaptation.

The proud Chapel Hill native and Tar Heel brings a resume rich with 14 years of experience as a college professor (Shorter College and Arkansas State University, otherwise known as AState), a preceding stint in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro public school district, an extensive background in leading professional development workshops, and a fresh, proficient grasp on technology and how it enhances educational experiences.

Lisa served at AState as an Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre and Faculty Fellow in Professional Development through the university’s Faculty Center. Her duties there included leading workshops in instructional technology, online teaching and learning, fostering active and creative learning, improving critical thinking skills, and facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration (among others). She was certified as an Apple Teacher and Apple Learning Specialist in 2016.

Image of the Google Certifications logo

Lisa has applied these skills to the Google platforms MCS has utilized for online learning. In addition, Lisa is adding to her Apple expertise by training through Google’s equivalent certification program. As a Google Certified Teacher, Lisa will learn how to more fully integrate the Google suite of tools into MCS’s existing teaching practices. In addition, she will study to become a Google Certified Trainer, allowing her to train others to become Google Certified Teachers.

In the event distance learning carries over to the 2020-21 academic year, Lisa will bring that mastery of Google for Education to the table. Here she tells us more about her experience and how it is currently coming into play.

In 2016, you obtained certifications as both an Apple Certified Teacher and an Apple Certified Professional Learning Specialist. How have you applied the skills you acquired there since?

In addition to teaching and directing in the Theatre Department, I taught classes and workshops to help other faculty members adopt best practices in technology, teaching, and learning. One of my areas of specialty focused on using technology in the classroom, whether that was a face-to-face or online classroom.

AState started an iPad initiative in the fall of 2013. All incoming students were required to have an iPad when they started classes — joyous news to an Apple nerd like me! When the iPad initiative rolled out as part of the First-Year Experience program (FYE), I was asked to teach faculty about apps to promote collaboration and student engagement, ways to integrate the iPad into the classroom in a meaningful way, etc. I was pleased to be recognized by AState’s upper administration as being an integral part of the FYE program, earning the honor of being an Apple Distinguished Program.

Image of Lisa Bohn at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, CA. Text says, "Apple Campus!" and "#AppleAcademy"

At the urging and request of the Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, I applied and was accepted to attend a week-long training workshop at Apple Headquarters in the fall of 2016. This experience culminated in becoming a Certified Apple Professional Learning Specialist and a Certified Apple Teacher. I used the knowledge gained in that specialized training to enhance my Faculty Fellow offerings.

Apple Professional Learning emphasizes the way those with an advanced grasp on the company’s devices and apps “design and deliver lessons that create more ‘a-ha’ moments for every student.” What “a-ha” moments do you expect to see MCS students and staff experience in the near future?

When people think of a Montessori classroom, they don’t typically think of online learning. So much of a Montessori classroom focuses on the materials that are typically found on the shelves and trays.

I imagine that “a-ha” moments will present themselves to our students and teachers as everyone continues to explore ways to take the unique elements of a Montessori education out of the physical classroom into the virtual classroom. Our teachers and program directors have been working diligently to find creative ways to present lessons and engage students in digital classrooms and meeting spaces while maintaining the Montessori style.

I hope that families also continue to have these moments of discovery with all the ways they can integrate what the students are learning in their virtual classrooms into their lives at home.

Apple also stresses the way technology allows students to “develop personalized paths for understanding and applying their knowledge to the world around them.” Is that — particularly the phrase “personalized paths” — music to a Montessorian’s ears?

That concept is definitely Montessori in nature! A particularly beneficial aspect of online learning via Apple, Google, and other platforms is that work can be differentiated for individual students and their unique educational journey, which is the heart of Montessori work. 

You also have experience in faculty professional development via Arkansas State’s Faculty Center. How does your current work with the MCS faculty resemble what you did at the college level?

When MCS announced on March 13 that we were shifting to distance learning starting on March 26, I quickly got to work preparing tutorials and workshops to help our teachers make a rapid shift to engaging their students online. Most online learning programs have at least a year to plan, build, and execute the class. We had less than two weeks!

Image is Lisa Bohn leading a MCS faculty training for Google Classroom in mid-March

I presented training sessions on our teacher workdays March 16 and 17 to guide them through using Google Classroom, Google Meet, and recording and uploading videos. I’ve continued to help teachers implement the information from the trainings into the work they prepared for the students. And I’m currently deep into research and exploration for how we can further streamline our distance learning objectives as we move forward.

While working with the MCS staff, I do have some flashbacks to my Faculty Fellow workshops. I am an educator to my core, and I love helping others have those “lightbulb” moments, at every level from toddlers to adults.

Can you describe the range of faculty members you worked with in your instructional technology and online learning courses?

In my work at the AState Faculty Center, I worked with educators from all over campus. In a class about integrating iPads into the classroom, I’d have professors from science, math, agriculture, humanities, arts, media, education, etc. Their skill levels ranged from technophobe to technophile. I’d also have first-year teachers fresh out of grad school all the way up through Full Professors who’d been at AState for decades.

I enjoy the challenge of trying to meet everyone where they are, and to show them that, no matter what their discipline or program level, the strategies I teach are applicable.

AState also has Virtual Student Organizations geared toward a “platform for online students to foster a deeper connection with their peers.” Are there ways MCS can emulate that to sustain the same deep connection between students and staff at this time?

This spring, it was really exciting to see the creative ways teachers stayed connected with their students. They didn’t just send home worksheets to do, they recorded videos of themselves teaching lessons, singing songs, etc. Plus they held live, virtual lessons through Zoom and Google Meet so students saw their teachers’ faces and heard their voices consistently throughout the week.

Students also got the opportunity to see teachers in their element. For instance, Primary teacher Adam Miller posted videos from his farm, so the students could see his goats, pigs, chickens, etc. I also enjoyed Tim Daniel’s “Virtual Drop-Off” videos, which were a lot of fun. He typically gets to see students and parents during drop off and pick up, so this was a nice way to stay engaged.

We’ve also continued to step up our social media game with more content. The #ThrowbackThursday #GuessWho challenges were fun this spring, and I look forward to fostering more engagement with and connection to our families over the summer and into the 2020-21 school year.

Image is Lisa Bohn and colleagues at Arkansas State University, at the Learn@StAte assessment conference

Of your takeaways from Apple and AState, besides those we have already touched on, which are the most applicable and crucial to MCS successfully implementing its current adjustment?

Effective distance learning needs to be driven by the mission statement of the school, meet the needs of individual students, and further connect students with content, their teachers, and their classmates. An important element of distance learning is to make sure that the experience is engaging and dynamic. It’s not enough to just post some notes and say, “Now go fill out a worksheet.” The focus is still on best practices in pedagogy. Truly effective online teaching uses technology to redefine and transform the way learning happens virtually, rather than just serving as a method to substitute physical materials with a simple digital version. I’m honored to work with educators who are exploring this idea and are pushing their boundaries and comfort zones to embrace the changes we’re implementing.