E08 - Online & Hybrid Learning with Gerardo Saldana

Episode Music Credits:  Old Love Instrumental by Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers, 100% Clearance through Musicbed 

On this episode of Blending In, I’m chatting with Gerardo Saldana, a Science and STEAM teacher at the Academy of Innovation in the Hemet Unified School District, where he was recently chosen as Teacher of the Year!  Gerardo found his calling in teaching while he was volunteering at a community center 8 years ago as an ESL Adult Learning teacher, and has since devoted his time to teaching students in different academic disciplines and developing STEAM curriculum for different programs at HUSD.  Listen in on our chat today as he shares how he “blends in” STEAM, eSports, and intentional use of SEL strategies and technology to engage and motivate students in online and hybrid learning models. 

In our chat today, Gerardo shares a little bit of his educational journey as an English Language Learner and how he was inspired to become an educator.  We chatted a little bit about how we met each other in our roles at Diamond Valley Middle School, and he explained how he transitioned to his current position at the Academy of Innovation.  He gave a little insight into the online and hybrid models that are in place at AOI and how he helps to coordinate the middle school STEAM elective program with the team of teachers at his school site.  He mentioned some of the activities that the team has facilitated with the students, one of which involved building gingerbread houses and finding surface area.  The day he did this activity, I was there to observe and capture some moments; so here is the TikTok video I made of the Gingerbread Surface Area activity that day!  The photos below are of some of the steam activities that he and the amazing team of educators at AOI have facilitated.  

Gerardo (right) with his principal John Bradshaw (left), who will is featured on Episode 09 of Blending In

Gingerbread Surface Area Activity

Life Cycle of a Butterfly Activity

Making Ice Cream

Building Roller Coasters

AOI Esports

Gerardo went on to discuss some of the technology tools that teachers are using at AOI to facilitate their online and hybrid learning models, including Google Workspace products like Google Meet and Google Classroom.  Because of AOI’s unconventional learning models, Gerardo explained that the teachers are very intentional about the content that they are teaching, as well as the SEL strategies they’re utilizing to connect with and build relationships with their students. An advantage of AOI’s model is also their small class sizes, which Gerardo testifies, are more manageable than the typical 35+ class size that we see in traditional school models. 

To allow the kids to interact and socialize safely online, Gerardo mentioned allowing students to interact on platforms like Padlet, posting discussion questions on Google Classroom, and creating collaborative activities that students can do together inside of a slide presentation.  I mentioned the Slides activity seems similar to the Eduprotocol Thin Slides!  The eSports club, which Gerardo sponsors, is another way that AOI provides an opportunity for kids to socialize in a fun and safe environment. 

When teaching online, in a gradual release type model, Gerardo shares how giving students voice and choice (little by little, with less and less scaffolding throughout the year) keeps them engaged and motivated to complete learning tasks.  He gave an example of giving students choice when demonstrating their learning about natural processes like water or rock cycles.  With a Universal Design mindset, Gerardo allows students to choose how they will demonstrate their learning.  Students are allowed to choose from different apps like Minecraft, or a tool like Google Slides where they can add images or their own audio recorded narrations, or they may choose to draw by hand and upload a photo of their work. This opportunity for choice gives students the creative agency to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts they learned in a way that best suits their learning styles and abilities. Gerardo also shares some tips and best practices for using rubrics and grading when giving projects like this.

Gerardo’s advice to others in the profession is to seek out mentors and learn from others in the profession. He says to observe others and get ideas, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel - I wholeheartedly agree with him on this!  He also says to keep finding something that challenges you every year, and to try to keep learning and growing - he’s definitely an advocate for keeping a “life-long learner” mindset!  A “left field” book he recommended (which I also need to read) is The Art of Procrastination by John Perry (Prof. at Stanford).

If you’d like to get in touch with Gerardo to pick his brain about anything we discussed in this episode, you can email him at gsaldana@hemetusd.org or give him a call at 951-444-8192! 

Do you know an innovative educator who should be a guest on the Blending In podcast? Nominate them HERE.

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