Faculty Profile, Daniel Cruz, Educational Technology Coordinator
November 22, 2019
Tell me about your path to Léman.
I was born in Bogota, Colombia, where I started at a bilingual school from an early age and then moved on to Catholic school, which is considered the strongest academic education in Latin America.
I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering at Universidad de América, Colombia, but I also continued to study fine arts, music, and design. After college, I earned a scholarship to go to Mexico to work with artists there. I learned so much in that program that I decided to continue my studies in arts and technology. I went to the United Kingdom to study recording arts, which, there, is considered a hybrid of visual art, media, and music. There I learned a lot about music recording and film production, specifically how to mix sound for film and edit video. I’ve been able to use all these skills in working with kids.
While I was in London, I got the opportunity to briefly work in an international school for a short time. Before that, I hadn’t considered teaching, but rather I wanted to work on the performing side of arts and technology. But once I discovered education, I feel that I was very successful. I then moved to Turkey, where I worked at Istanbul International Community School for almost six years as a technology teacher, teaching fifth through eighth-grade basic digital skills, digital learning skills, robotics. The focus was mostly on how to use technology to express yourself. I learned a lot there about how to work with different kinds of kids and different personalities. It was eye-opening.
I met my wife in Turkey, but after a few years there, we decided to leave. We got an offer to go to Tsinghua International School in Beijing. They hired my wife first as a music teacher and they invited me to teach sixth through eighth-grade technology. There, I also started a digital media elective, which included digital video and graphic design.
After my daughter was born, we wanted to come back to the United States, where my wife is from. We came to Staten Island with the desire of settling down. As soon as we arrived, I got an offer from Lawrence Academy on Long Island to develop a technology program. I was there for three years and developed a similar program to what I did in China. And after that, I came to Léman. What I like about my role here is I am able to work closely with teachers and develop new programs. All my experiences in other places have helped me understand the needs of a teacher in the classroom.
What are your goals for the Educational Technology Department at Léman?
As I’ve worked with the three divisions, Early Childhood, Lower School and Upper School, I have a wide-angle view of where students begin at Léman and how the progress until they graduate. I know what skills I want a twelfth grader to have, so the goal is to develop those skills starting as early as PreK, so they are fully prepared when they graduate. Our goal is to create a sequence of programs that allow us to help the student become an innovator, perhaps the student to become more makers than consumers. Perhaps to help the students be more creative and resourceful in multiple ways. And that's why when we see the work that we're doing in the WonderLab, there is a lot of technology available, but the children are also making materials and working with their hands.
I’m creating a program that supports creativity and gives the student the opportunity to be more active in making their own materials and programs instead of being so dependent on the Internet. That applies to a Lower School and Upper School. And in the Upper School, in particular, one of the goals that I have is I would like to see a digital fabrication lab, for instance, a space where students have a different set of tools, where they can 3D print their own projects, laser record their own work with circuits, robotics and all that, whether it's in one space or whether it's in different places at school.
But I would like them to have access to two different types of technology simply because they want to draw a very thick line between screens and technology enabling occasion. There is so much technology that you can have in the classrooms to support the development of our students. That doesn't mean it's going to be a screen or a computer.
We talk a lot about the importance of physical computing and coding at an early age. Why is that so important for our youngest learners?
When you talk about coding and computer science, people visualize a child in front of the computer. Every year, we participate in the Hour of Code, but I wanted to change it to “Code Outside the Box”. I want our students to experience that detachment from the computer because the Hour of Code worldwide encourages students to sit down and do one hour of moving the character left to right. And I think that is that's not the right approach. And I respect that, but it leaves the students too close to the experience of gaming. I wanted to move it out of the box, out of the computer and start programming code-a-pillars and parameter dash robots and the Keeble robots. And with the little ones playing with cups and their own bodies, like moving two steps forward, one step to the left, one step to the right and applying those early coding concepts that way. So, a student gets to understand what an algorithm is and what is the function and what are instructions and get familiar with that with a little bit of the language.
How do you suggest that parents use technology at home to support what the kids are learning in school?
I start with safety and I think that's more important than helping with the actual instruction. Parents and families could help tremendously with values, being kind, being safe and being brave. I think as parents, we must teach our children how to be safe on the Internet and not to believe everything they see. Teaching the kids values that apply to the physical world and to the digital world. Be safe. Be careful with your password. Be careful with your digital footprint is going to be with you until college and colleges are now looking at social media profiles and all that. Nine percent of applicants have had college applications rejected because they have something in their social media profiles that wouldn't align with the school's values.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that families are facing with technology at home?
Screen time really depends. It's not the same if your child is sitting for three hours straight playing Minecraft or Fortnight or if they are calling on scratch, creating their own program, creating their own game or creating their own, or if they're preparing the presentation for social studies or they're making a documentary. So, it's not the same. The levels of productivity, the effects and all that are different implications and all that. Of course, they shouldn't be sitting there for three hours. They should go outside and have a walk or play with over things and then come back. But I think the screen time discussion needs to be framed in different ways. The other part is the social, emotional framework that we build around screen time. If the kid is enjoying something productive with their time like coding, have the discussion about the right way to engage online, set limits and support whatever they're doing.
Do you think becoming a parent has given you sort of more insight into how to be a better educator?
Absolutely. Even as a teacher, when I was teaching and they were born, I became more patient, more understanding, less strict. It's transformed my view of the world completely in education. Usually, when I'm preparing stuff for the WonderLab activities for the PreK class, I test it with my daughter. And then and then I bring it to the students to make sure that it's flawless is going to work. That is good for the little hands that I'm not I'm not presenting things that are too complicated for the children. It has also helped me understand children and have more of an instinct about how to bring them in and help them participate if they are shy or distracted. It’s really changed my approach to education for the better.