Educator Spotlight: Meet Andy Plemmons
School librarian in Georgia uses Flipgrid for classroom projects that span worldwide
This story is part of a weekly series that celebrates outstanding teachers in our Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
In a bustling school library in Athens, Georgia, teacher Andy Plemmons watches warmly as a student picks up a book from the shelf.
She holds it closely, opens it slowly, smiles maybe, holds it a little longer.
Then, suddenly, he hears a voice. But it’s not her voice. It’s the voice of one of her classmates, speaking excitedly, confidently and genuinely about what the book is about. And that voice is not standing next to her in the quiet library, pushing her to read. Instead, it’s within a little video about the book, maybe thirty seconds at best, that this classmate of hers recorded perhaps long ago, in the privacy of her home, replenished from the last page.
It was enough. The student raises her eyes, exhales, checks out the book and leaves the library, already eager to prepare her own testimony of said book when she finishes no less than two nights from now.
And Andy saw it coming all along.
Embracing Innovative Learning
Andy Plemmons has been in education for nearly 20 years. He’s a teacher in a library, yes — arriving daily to a room filled with used pages and low tables and squeaky chairs, maybe a cozy corner or two. But the learning thrives because of how he chooses to offer that space — not merely awaiting a book assignment, but showing students the many alternative ways to engage in their own learning.
“Early on, I adopted this motto of ‘Expecting the miraculous’ — leaping into things knowing that it may not go exactly the way you plan them, but if you look closely, even in the chaos there are miracles happening around you,” says Andy, who was one of the first to discover Flipgrid over five years ago.
With that optimism at the helm, he embraces technology, collaborative conversation and experimentation in his classroom, and he trusts that new learning platforms aren’t meant to overwhelm his students, but to remind them of their capabilities. Allowing the students to create book reviews on Flipgrid is an example of this endeavor.
“A lot of times, you read a book and return it to the library, but you don’t get to know much about who else is reading that book or what they thought about it,” he says. “So a group of students worked with me last year to create Flipgrid topics for different books — we put a QR code inside each book, so when somebody checks out the book, they can scan the QR code to hear from a fellow student what the book is about and what the previous reader thought about it! It’s been amazing.”
About the Barrow Peace Prize
Instead of coming to any new social platform as an inferior — questioning whether his students will like it, if it’s applicable to his curriculum or whether he even knows how to use it — Andy sees mediums like Flipgrid as a limitless tool to help unlock the possibility he’s seen in students all along.
He doesn’t hesitate when he wonders if Flipgrid could help with this or inform that, he just goes for it, and the Barrow Peace Prize is proof of this appetite.
“The Barrow Peace Prize is a months-long project that our second-graders work on every year,” Andy says. “Each student researches one of four people from black history and then gathers facts through research session in the libraries, online or reading books. They then use those facts to write a persuasive essay, which asks people to vote for their person to win the Barrow Peace Prize.”
It started small, like any project in an elementary classroom, where teachers wanted second-grade students to research a person from history. The project was connected to Black History Month, and there was an assembly at the end, too. But soon, teachers wanted to create an award to go along with it, so the Barrow Peace Prize is now given to a person of history based on presentations given by each of these second-graders.
“And the kids come to Flipgrid to share all of this work,” Andy says. “They record their essay on video, they share artwork using Flipgrid’s sticker component, and I create a Smore page to share of their videos and allow people to vote. Then we start sharing it. A lot.”
Andy says teachers send it out to all of the families through Class Dojo, and he shares the contest on his own blog, Expect the Miraculous, as well as social media. Voting stays open for a couple weeks, and it all culminates with an awards ceremony.
“During the ceremony, we first talk about the importance of student voice,” Andy says. “Then, the Flipgrid team announces over Skype who won the Barrow Peace Prize.”
Andy says every student who researched the winning person of history gets a medal, too.
“By the time we get to this big award ceremony, yes, the kids want their person to win, but it’s such a collaborative project that the winner doesn’t even matter. They’ve had such a great time with the project and love seeing how their voices have spread across the world.”
In any library in any school across the world, students expect to find books that spark imagination. They expect stories, a place to retreat, some quiet maybe, too, but Andy has made his library a place of connection and possibility. From book reviews to a makers space to elementary-grade contests that reach far corners of the world, the library is just the beginning.
“Students simply like knowing they’re being heard and that their voice has a positive influence on somebody else,” says Andy. “Flipgrid has been such a great champion of the work these kids are doing.”