“Technology, to me, is a mediator that can be the interface between students and their daily lives, their interest in new technologies and the knowledge and culture I wish to transmit to them.” – Gaëtan Guironnet, France

Gaëtan Guironnet may be a physical education teacher, but his work is squarely focused on developing students’ minds, as well as their bodies. The Microsoft Expert Educator and winner of the Learn-a-thon at this year’s Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Barcelona believes that education is critical to advancing society, and he’s devised an incredibly creative cross-disciplinary project that leverages multiple technologies to inspire his students.

The project explores the history of an ancient castle (Château de Saint Cloud, destroyed by fire in 1871) through Internet research, video mapping, 3-D modeling, Excel spreadsheets, Movie Maker and written documentation with Word. Guironnet’s students met with local artists to enhance their work, and sparked an interest in the history and heritage of their community.

“My achievement has demonstrated how to implement a connection between different stakeholders (teachers, artists, third parties), and to show students that ambitious results can be achieved with good will and engagement,” Guirronet says. “Through my multi-disciplinary work, I proved that a PE teacher could be involved in complex projects that include new technologies as well.” He notes that this approach is not a common or an institutionally valued practice in the French education system, a fact he’s working to change.  

Guironnet places great value on what he learns through collaboration with other educators, likening himself to “le Petit Prince,” from the classic children’s novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. “Just like him,” Guironnet says, “I was a child for a week during this international expert educators gathering (the Global Forum).”

Inspired by his experience in Barcelona, Guironnet issues a challenge to his fellow teachers: “Utopist teachers, innovative teachers, let’s keep our engagement going to serve our ideas, to make your life a dream and your dreams a reality.”

We’re confident that this innovative educator will continue to make his students’ dreams a reality for many years to come. Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Gaëtan Guironnet.

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?

Education is a fundamental human and humanist activity to me. It enables us to improve ourselves, to become autonomous by acquiring new competencies such as the ability to communicate and learn in order to be active in our community and environment and thus to gain freedom. This engagement allows us to be active, cultivated and autonomous citizens in our community. My objective towards an engaged and assumed teaching is to offer activities in line with our society’s evolution. 

Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

Although I don’t remember her, the teacher who made a difference is the one who taught me how to read, write and count; the one who gave me the thirst for knowledge and the first keys that made me want to continue learning and opening myself to the world. 

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education.  What has changed as a result of your work?

Innovation as creative content corresponds to the need to link the tools that students use for knowledge that is hard for them to access and understand otherwise.

Video mapping, i.e. the creation of an immersive environment, the communication of documents via the cloud and the use of social media, should make it easier and make this knowledge more efficient.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

Technology, to me, is a mediator that can be the interface between students and their daily lives, their interest in new technologies and the knowledge and culture I wish to transmit to them. My role is only to transmit knowledge and to put in place a proper learning environment for my students. The students are then the ones manipulating the different data found in their historical documents in order to assimilate them and link them according to their own sensibilities. The use of new technologies gives them the power to create an immersive environment for historical or scientific knowledge than can seem complex and abstract to them.

In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?

The use of mobile devices erases the gap between the lesson in the classroom and the student’s life outside the classroom. The gap is even more reduced when the device belongs to the student. The access to information is more intrusive in the student’s life as mobile devices follow them wherever they go. With the cloud, the student can have all the data about the ongoing [school] activity at home so they can work and communicate with their peers outside the classroom, without any educator intervention. 

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

To me, the most exciting innovation is the appearance of big data, free access to data but mostly its use. As for education, the challenge is formatting the data in order for it to make sense. Data visualization makes understandable data that are otherwise too complex because they are too varied and interconnected. 

Chronozoom is an app I find interesting in this same vision of organizing and giving sense to a set of data by taking full possession of the possibilities multimedia tools offer. The value add of technology is to offer different ways of thinking, representing and understanding the world in a way paper support cannot. 

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

Creativity is the most exciting, fascinating, and fruitful skill amongst all because it is a fundamental human activity to create and it is not possible to have it replaced by machines as it involves complexity and a unique ground of our identity. Creativity also involves the need to communicate or explain our thoughts to others. Arguing around these thoughts in a group is essential to enforce it and produce through multiple competencies a work that cannot be created by itself. 

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

The Internet is the essential tool for education because it links humans to each other and to the knowledge that will make them autonomous and give them the power to express themselves as individuals in a collective world.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

The creation of a broad pedagogical network that connects middle schools together. The digital work environments are largely developed and create a private pedagogical and interconnected network between all members of the education community.

How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?

I think it is necessary to build an initial training around technology in order to move from an “app consumer” model to a community of app authors, i.e. make teachers real actors in order to have autonomy, added value and creativity in terms of digital use. 

To this extent, the initiative of code.org and more particularly the program Hour of Code is quite interesting as we transition from consumers of digital to real digital actors. This proactive policy illustrated by Barack Obama’s phrase “Don’t buy video games, create one! Don’t only play with your phone but program it!” has not crossed the Atlantic yet and is not a priority in education in France.

The issue is to gain creativity and autonomy for students through digital devices and their ideas, to further personalize the tools and the environment in order to be more efficient in their learning in relation to the virtual world and also the physical world. In their daily lives, it also means it is necessary to specify slots in students’ timetables and add competencies in their program for digital education. That is to say, learn to code a serious game on a historical or literature character, know multimedia and the functioning of social media, and know how big data works to understand their benefits but also their limits. 

Describe your most innovative teaching and learning practices and how they are supported by technology?

My innovative project is to provide an educative environment giving willing students a space to create and express themselves. This is how it works:

The first period is a cultural immersion in line with the theme of the activity (last year, the theme was the virtual reconstruction of the life of the Saint-Cloud castle, now destroyed) through visits of archives, of the garden museums and ancient books.

The second part is a technological and digital immersion in the tools and techniques allowing to rebuild the castle in 3D (3D via Shape by Dassault Systemes), to retranslate units and scales with Microsoft Excel, to communicate and exchange files by mail or cloud.

The video and sound mounting and the graphics work allow students to constitute a set of multimedia files which they can screen on a 3D device at different places: this is called video mapping.

This second part is intensified during the workshop week with a group of artists. And the last part is the restitution of the work during the workshop. Coming from a gastronomic country, this takes shape in the preparation of a nice meal:

  • Quality and fresh ingredients (software)
  • Cooks with great know-how bringing in their sensitivity to the meal by mixing flavors (linking multimedia files together, a.k.a. sound, texts, videos)
  • A chef that can lead the squad to help  avoid approximations, define the rhythm for the rest of the group and the level of requirement, assist in case of difficulties in order to create a friendly work environment.

This is my conception of education. 

Describe how you use your favorite Microsoft technology in the classroom and how that impacts 21 century skills development?

Kinect allows us to change the interface between man and machine and create a proper environment for immersion. As a PE teacher, I am sensitive to the role our body can have in a digital device. The use of the body to control a device makes it easier to immerse oneself and fully feel the effect of the device on the body and the spirit. The brain sends information (top down), but the body and our senses do, too (bottom up). 

This is of interest to me in the sense that it comes close to the concept of phenomenological learning dear to Merleau-Ponty, where body and mind makes one and where each experience enriches the individual. Consequently, we never live a situation the same way twice since our attention and perception becomes thinner and more pertinent every time. This circular relationship between action and perception that mutually enrich themselves has been documented by neurobiologist Francisco Varela under the term “enaction”1, a real inspiring concept to me.

(1) in  Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson et Eleanor Rosch, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, 1991, MIT

Gaëtan Guironnet, Physical Education Teacher, Microsoft Expert Educator, Charles Gounod Middle School
Saint-Cloud, France

  • Birthplace: Valence (Drôme), France
  • Current residence: Saint-Cloud
  • Website I check every day: www.lemonde.fr
  • Person who inspires me most: Edgar Morin
  • Favorite childhood memory: My first piano note.
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