James Yap is the director of innovation and learning for the Garrison school district.
How did you get into teaching?
At age 13, I began working summers at a camp for the deaf near my home in Toledo. I earned my master’s degree in deaf education at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where I was one of only a handful of hearing students. All my classes were taught in American Sign Language. Once, my twin brother visited me from law school and he said it was harder than studying law. My first job out of school was teaching English and social studies at the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Connecticut.
What are your responsibilities in Garrison?
I help students and teachers with technology instruction, data and anything to do with the curriculum. That includes everything from enhancing online registration for new students coming into the district to improving communicating with other districts where we send students, such as Haldane, O’Neill and Putnam Valley. We have also done a lot of technology upgrades and installed more security on campus, such as key fobs and cameras.
Does your experience with deaf students translate at all here?
I taught a professional development class in American Sign Language for the teachers. Many of them use it in different ways in the class. For example, the sign for “I agree” or “same thing” is to make a fist and extend your pinky and thumb. It’s a quiet way for students and teachers to agree with each other without interrupting the speaker. At the lower elementary level, teachers are using the “bathroom” sign, where you make a fist with your thumb tucked under your index finger and wag your fist from side to side. When the teacher sees the sign, he or she can dismiss the student to go to the bathroom instead of interrupting the class.
What new tech is being used in classrooms?
One thing new this year is a program called Reflex Math, which helps students learn how to quickly and automatically answer simple math problems so that they can get to more complex and higher-level ideas. It teaches addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It’s not “drill and kill.” It’s fun and interactive.
Another example is the Hatch Learning Table, which helps pre-K and kindergarten students with executive function and social-emotional learning. It’s like a large iPad where the students play games. One is a farming game where they interact with the tablet by planting a seed, watering a seed, harvesting the carrot and putting it in the barrel. It’s a four- or five-step process in which they learn to follow directions.
What’s the latest technological trend impacting schools?
Artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT are huge. I’m constantly showing teachers software and websites and how to use the technology appropriately. AI can be helpful, especially in lesson planning. You can go to ChatGPT and ask, “Can you give me a lesson plan on the American Revolution?” And it will give you a plan immediately, written in easy, readable prose. Then you can refine it through conversation with the tool. Eventually you have to take it offline and customize it for your students. And, of course, nothing can replace the excellent Garrison teachers!
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