Partner School Stories

The Tech Trek: Grand Blanc’s Journey into the Future

By Caitlin Yancho

Volume IV: Indian Hill Elementary, Positively Amazing (Note: This article initially appeared in the Grand Blanc School District. We are re-publishing here with permission of the author.)

Indian Hill Elementary has had a very big year. Not only has the K–5 school been implementing the new technology shared throughout the district and the new 5th grade Social Studies curriculum and online program, but Indian Hill Principal Jeremy Mitchell also introduced a project solely unique to Indian Hill Elementary within the Grand Blanc Community School district: The Positivity Project.


Principal Jeremy Mitchell while on a field trip to the Michigan State Capitol.

Now, in case The Positivity Project (also known as P2) is unfamiliar, here’s a brief synopsis. P2 is a non-profit movement growing within schools throughout the country. Its basis is that “Other People Matter” and it focuses on teaching children positive psychology’s 24 different character strengths and helping them find their own character strengths. P2 goes far beyond respect and kindness, which have always been taught in schools, and branches out into perseverance, social intelligence and love of learning, just to name a few. The wonderful thing about P2 is that it works — and that the students who are participating in P2 love it (as do their teachers!).

So what does P2 have to do with technology and 1:1 devices? The same thing as every other subject currently being taught at Grand Blanc Community Schools: it enhances learning. Imagine trying to explain to a child what humility or curiosity is. As an adult, these seem like easy enough concepts, but then we’ve had a lifetime to wrap our heads around them. For students who are just hearing the new terminology, that’s all the character traits are to them—terminology.

But what if a teacher could show their students a video on humility? Perhaps a video of a swimmer who always won championships and could easily have bragged about her success, but didn’t and instead chose to be humble about her accomplishments. Or maybe students could use an online puzzle maker to create word puzzles highlighting what curiosity means by using different synonyms.

The great thing about P2 is that it allows complete autonomy for the teachers. 5th graders in Gina Pearce’s class, using their 1:1 devices, search on their own for videos emphasizing different traits. As Pearce explains:

“The nice thing is that I don’t just have to find videos. I can ask the kids to find their own videos because of the technology grant and they can put their ear buds in and you see them looking and searching. They get so excited when they find a good one and then they can share it.”

While P2 does equip teachers with suggested resources via Google Drive — such as videos, books read aloud, and activities — to help teach each character strength and reduce teacher prep time, teachers are encouraged to make it their own. They can use the P2’s suggested resources or do something completely different to teach their students about that week’s character strength. The key is consistency. Every day for 10 minutes, students and teachers explore the character strength together.


Jaylin uses SeeSaw to document his thoughts on reading and share his goals for 2017 after discussing the character strength of perseverance in Katie Todd’s 2nd grade class.

As students learn about character strengths through P2, they are also learning how to be better stewards of their devices and technology in general. There is always the concern with safety and social intelligence, especially when it comes to devices that allow easy access to online content. Yet, even with the best safeguards in place on any device, including those at home, there is always a question of negative content and sometimes it can come from students. As Indian Hill 5th grade teacher Jami Neubecker explains:

“Bullying has been prevalent for many years and, even before we had Chromebooks, it was out there because most kids have devices at home. But just talking about social intelligence, being kind to one another, and not being afraid to talk about those topics in class has helped so much. If something happens, we have a class discussion. Of course no names are used to keep it safe, but having those open real discussions helps and it brings more meaning to them. Then with the positivity character traits, even more discussion comes out. Students will say, wow, that was really brave to share that.”


2nd grader Bethany uses the drawing and audio features of SeeSaw to complete her math problems and record her thinking of how she solved the problem.

Even at the second grade level, students are using their devices to help further their learning in every subject, including learning the character strengths. Using SeeSaw, an online program that allows students to create digital portfolios, students are able to record what they’ve learned, their presentations, and how they’ve problem solved — and then share their portfolios with classmates. Katie Todd, a 2nd grade teacher, remarked on the way SeeSaw helps students recognize their own unique strengths and learning:

“If they’re recording themselves reading a page, they can go back and listen to their fluency, see if they’re reading with expression, kind of monitor their own self learning. It really helps with the creativity as well, they love finding their own things that they want to be doing.”

There is an unknown element when it comes to what the future will look like for kids. People are concerned that technology may be encouraging a superficial way of communicating — therefore making it harder for kids to build meaningful and deep relationships with each other. According to Gina Pearce:

“It’s the whole struggle with breadth versus depth. The relationships formed on social media today are very superficial, so we have to make sure that they’re connecting with each other on a more personal level other than just what they see on social media. Too often they think they know people just from social media. As adults we see that difference. The scary thing is the kids don’t necessarily see that and you don’t want that to become who they are; these superficial, on the surface type people. It’s scary. So it’s all a balancing act. The technology is wonderful, but it cannot replace human beings”

But with the P2 character strengths, students are becoming more aware and appreciative of others. The focus isn’t so much on themselves anymore, but instead on how can they help other students. Jami Neubecker is thrilled with the results that P2 has had on her students:

“They’re more self aware and I have extremely kind students. I have a very anxious child in my room and one of the girls came up to me and asked ‘Is there anything I can do to help? Because I’ve noticed that she has trouble during this time.’ I mean, just that awareness of others, that other people matter, has been so impressive this year.”

An Indian Hill parent shared the following story about P2’s impact at home via Facebook:

“About a month ago, one morning before heading to the bus stop, I suggested to Dominic and Everett, that they should deliver the newspaper to our neighbor’s door, who is a retired school teacher. It has become something they look forward to every Thursday and Friday morning, even on the rainy days! They take turns delivering the paper and ringing the door bell. They’ve been excited to talk about how happy this makes her. #otherpeoplemater Today they worked together to write a Thank you note, for the occasional cookie they receive, all the time talking about #gratitude and The Positivity Project. I think it is so, so wonderful that at 6 years old, these boys are making these decisions and so excited to carry them out!! Thank you, for making our youth conscious and excited to make a difference!!”

The combination of the P2 and the new technology is providing students with the opportunity to learn more about themselves — and to apply what they are learning. While teaching character in schools isn’t a new concept, Jami Neubecker feels that the addition of terminology (giving kids words to associate with different facets of character) and examples via 1:1 devices help her students grasp abstract concepts like perseverance — and then apply perseverance to new learning. The classroom technology is aiding the improvement of students’ knowledge of character concepts and then helping students build upon those concepts and grow.

“Sometimes in the world people just need a little bit more character but also need to embrace the things that are going well. To look at what a child’s strengths already are and to promote those strengths brings a positive spin into the classroom. It’s all about looking at what the kids can do and shining a light on the fact that this is right and good, instead of only looking at the negatives or ways they can improve. Most kids want to improve but they should see that they act and do things correctly too. I think that is very helpful and a confidence builder.” —Jami Neubecker

What are students saying about P2 and the new technology? Below are some of their thoughts!

“Like maybe I don’t have a lot of perseverance because, yeah it’s true I give up a lot. There’s this one motivational speaker, Shia LeBoff, he made a speech it’s called “Do It.” He says don’t let your dreams be dreams. And at the end he says if you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up.” —Steven

“The Chromebooks are good for studying too.” —Arianna

“I really like the tests because they have these tests you do and they show you your top 10 character strengths.” —Jack


From left to right: Marissa, Steven, Jack, David, Arianna, Kate

“There are a lot of good sites, like extra math- extra math is good for math because you can practice your math facts.” —Marissa

“Like if kids don’t know what they’re good at and then they take the test and they’re like, oh, I have a lot of creativity.” —David

“So if bad things happen on the Chromebooks you can use character traits to solve them.” —Kate

A special thank you goes to teachers Gina Pearce and Jami Neubecker (pictured below left to right) and Katie Todd for graciously sharing their time so that Grand Blanc Community Schools can share with you; their community.

These are the volumes of Grand Blanc Community Schools. Its lifelong mission: to explore new concepts, to seek out new learning and new technology, to boldly go where no school has gone before.

Caitlin Yancho