Bill Van Loo
MAKER – TEACHER – MUSICIAN – PHOTOGRAPHER
Many teachers would tell you they have always dreamed of being in the classroom, but that wasn’t the path Bill was on. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan Technological University in Scientific Technical Communication which led him to spend 8 years at a startup web development firm in Detroit. Experiences there led him to the classroom at the College for Creative Studies where he realized that teaching was something that he was interested in. He went on to work through the post-baccalaureate teaching program at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in the Technology and Design program. Bill is currently three quarters of the way through the Masters of Educational Media and Technology program at EMU.
Leveraging his experience in IT from the web development job and lab management while at MTU, Bill landed a position as a Technology Specialist at Honey Creek Community School in Ann Arbor. The opportunity at Honey Creek Community provided him with a range of experiences from IT development and implementation to curriculum design. He spent half of his time in the classroom and the other half as the Technology Director for the school. This was a terrific opportunity as it allowed him teach through Project Based Learning (PBL) and create relevant curriculum for the students. Honey Creek Community school was a wonderful opportunity, but it had it’s limitations.
It was January of 2014 when the new Superintendent of Ann Arbor schools, Jeanice Swift announced that a new program/school was in the development stages. The district was planning on a pilot school that would not only focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics or “STEAM”, but the plan was to integrate that learning strategy across the disciplines. A2 STEAM at Northside was the new name for the building and this is where Bill landed the Technology and Engineering teaching position.
The pilot program known as A2 Steam is a tremendous success. The interest of this educational model has doubled the building’s enrollment.The plan is to grow and expand this open enrollment building from K-6 into a K-8 program. Currently, about half of the students attending are from the neighborhood while the remainder are school of choice students. With the growth of A2 STEAM and the planned expansion, teaching spaces are changing as well.
“The overall focus, the overall driving focus of our school is that it’s a project based learning school.”
Bill has become the lead teacher for the engineering program known as Launch. Launch is Project Lead the Way’s elementary level engineering program. Project Lead the Way is a non-profit organization that provides K-12 STEM curriculum as well as high quality professional development for teachers. The first year of this program involved introducing and co-teaching with the classroom teachers. Each grade level had block scheduling to accommodate the need for both teachers facilitation and to keep the momentum of the project moving forward. Bill and the staff were a ‘all in’ and as such, were willing to make huge transitions and changes to the teaching schedule that was often different each week. A2 STEAM is working as an agile program that is making necessary adjustments to better suit the needs of the learners and their environment as necessary.
As a means to launch the new learning initiatives, motivate and bring the student body into the mindset of PBL, Bill utilized the Global Cardboard Challenge from the Imagination Foundation. This allowed all learners a low entry yet high means for success as there is no wrong way to meet this creative challenge.
“Community is a really big thing for me. Learning in a community, working in a community and being plugged into communities is super important.”
The drive to learn and try new things fuels him personally. He states one aspect of learning is following a bunch of different communities and interacting with them. “Community is a really big thing for me. Learning in a community, working in a community and being plugged into communities is super important.” There are a few communities that have a special interest for him. The Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) is one such group. The connections with Brad Wilson of Jackson and Ben Rimes of Mattawan and the #MICHed twitter chat or going to a MACUL conference or an ed tech camp – these are the opportunities that he has looked for and made an effort to be a part of in his continuing quest to learn and grow. Another valuable resource has been ITEEA, International Technology and Engineering Educators Association where he has attended the national conference for the past 7 years and presented twice.
Apparently these specialized edu-geek communities aren’t enough, though, because Bill also contributes to YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. The various communities that share what they are doing and how they are creating with documentation is of interest to him. He is mostly a self taught photographer, but has learned much through the generous online community Creative Live. He states that this community shares free online classes by professionals, to watch and learn from. This group is very skill specific and it has been a real catalyst for understanding the value of online education. The connection he has made here has him thinking about how can this be connected for K-12 education as well as non-traditional education. The online communities that Bill utilizes provide experiences and skills in very practical ways. He gleans quick tips and inspiration from what he watches others do or talk about and applies them to his personal endeavors or in his STEAM Lab.
“My big thing is empowering students through knowledge and tools and skills. Some are physical tools, some are mental tools.”
For more information about Bill, check out his website: billvanloo.com