Elisabeth Sepulveda, EXPLO’s Assistant Director of Curriculum and Education Technology Specialist, rarely stops moving. She does aerial acrobatics, dances three nights a week, (having cut back from six so that she could carve out some more time to learn how to code), and can often be found investigating new tech trends while walking on EXPLO’s community treadmill desk.
Q: Before jumping into our five Headquarter Highlight questions, can you tell me a little bit about your role at EXPLO?
I'm the Assistant Director of Curriculum and Education Technology Specialist here. It’s really exciting getting to work with technology for EXPLO because there's just so much to play with and experiment around. A lot of my role is embedding technology into curriculum — whether that’s reading a current curriculum and thinking how cool it would be if we could dream up a piece of technology that could assist with what we are trying to teach, or alternatively how can we use some really cool technology that we currently have access to — like our VR headsets this summer — and embed it into a curriculum in a way that enhances the learning experience.
I’m particularly excited to see some new trends in technology, especially in terms of software development and making coding more accessible to write. Some things that I’m thinking about — and it’s still a little half-baked, but — I really want to design an escape room where students have to play with technology in a really active way, particularly using coding knowledge to unlock clues and things. . . It’s really exciting knowing that there are so many possibilities to incorporate tech in curriculum because there’s just so much out there. It’s a big part of the future of education. Whether we like it or not, technology is going to be a part of that world and kids need to learn how to work both around it and with it. As teachers, we need to educate for that.
Q: Awesome. Let's dive in. If you had five minutes to teach anyone anything, what would it be?
The first thing that comes to mind is dance. It’s not so much that I want to teach the concept of dance itself, like steps and music — that would be very hard to teach in five minutes! But teaching the improvisation that comes with dance. It can sound like a very intangible thing to someone who has never danced before but it really is incredibly playful.
In teaching improvisation, I would probably first teach someone about listening to their instincts. There’s usually a gut feeling you get when you are in tune with yourself, when you feel it. . . Although it might take you working through a lot of bad ideas to get you to that place, once you push through, you fall into this really awesome flow of energy. It becomes joyful and less stressful. And that energy is totally amplified when that improvisation happens when you are dancing with a partner too. . . Yeah, it’s a lot like making discoveries with someone.
Q: What were your four of your "favorites" when you were an EXPLO at Wheaton student's age?
Well, I really had a lot of “favorites” at that age! In thinking about this question, and knowing that our age group is pretty vast at Wheaton, I'm probably going to look back on my fourth grade self to answer it. . . I think it's one of the more transformative grade levels. It’s at an age where you just start becoming a little bit more self-aware and where you can really start practicing self-reflection and making big picture connections. So, as a fourth grader, I’d say my favorite things were:
- Exploring the woods. I grew up in a rural part of Maine so growing up it was always grabbing the neighborhood kids and running around in backyards full of forests. I remember we would play this game similar to the game “house,” but instead of domestic roles, we would actually pretend we were running a town. There was a mayor, a townsman, a grocery store, a barber — It was very elaborate.
- Winnie the Pooh. I know I was a little old but I really loved the characters.
- Gymnastics. I loved having a physical activity where I could move around, be acrobatic, use energy in a really engaging way. That’s definitely a “favorite” that still hasn’t left my stratosphere.
- Writing Books. I loved writing “books” – and I put the word “books” in quotations very intentionally because when I would write books, I would write three pages and move on to the next thing in my life. Very fourth grade of me.
Q: What are three things you can always find on your desk?
Definitely my planner, a hot cup of tea — or anything hot for that matter as I'm always cold — and a Stabilo felt tip pen
Q: What are two things you'd like to see change in the world of education?
I would love to see more projects designed with context and impact in mind. I think it's important to design curriculum where you first have to answer the questions, "what are we learning today and what is the larger context in which we are learning this information?" While also being sure to answer the question, “what can I do right now with the information we’re learning?”
When we design curriculum at EXPLO, we think about this a lot. So, say you are trying to teach about fats and how they interact with heat. It’s a pretty academic-sounding subject. But if you start to see thermodynamics of fats through the lens of baking, you get to make sense of the context. You start to understand why certain recipes turn out the way they do based on the ingredients you’re using. The "impact" is then getting to experiment and design your own recipes. . . It completely stops the whole “I don’t know why I need to learn this” mentality. Context and impact projects really offer a great space for motivation to try it out yourself.
The second thing I would love to see more of in the classroom is teaching students about metacognition. . . When you have awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes, you learn better. . . It becomes much less about rote memorization, but more about how you draw conclusions — whether they are right or wrong.
I actually designed a curriculum for our second graders' EXPLORE! course this summer to have a neuroscience element so our students could learn about metacognition. We represented the subject of metacognition through brain ‘maps’, where when students would make connections between two different conclusions, they would draw a physical line between those two ideas on the map. It was just like creating synapses to strengthen neural pathways.
Q: What the best one piece of advice you've received?
That’s a really hard question. I can’t really think of just one piece of advice! I think I’d have to compile a bunch of different advice from a bunch of different people into sort of a summary end all with: Just go for it. It’s not very profound but I think it's really important. We can get stuck in this thought process of "should I or shouldn’t I?" all the time. . . I think this mentality helps let go of the things we don't need to overthink so we can make room for the things we probably should.
I think someone who really embodies this is Dorry Segev, a dancer I really look up to. He’s a not only a professor, but he’s also a doctor who has actually done transplant surgeries that have never been done before. He pulls doctors into his community who are really diverse, adding a lot of underrepresented minorities to his team. Not only that, but he also travels the world and takes pictures, rock climbs, and ice climbs. And does partner acrobatics. . . I think he’s a really great example of this advice to just “just go for it.” It doesn’t mean we have to quit our day jobs and travel the world or anything! But it does help remind us that maybe there are more space and corners of our lives we can carve out to try things on any given day.
Interested in connecting with Elisabeth to talk all things tech — particularly for students in grades 4-7 interested in EXPLO? You can reach Elisabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, feel free to schedule a call with one of our Admission Officers who can help you get in touch.
There’s a reason why we have over 40 year-round employees (not to mention eight full-time dogs) at EXPLO’s headquarters, comprised of interesting individuals, each with unique passions, pursuits, and stories to share. In this weekly Headquarter Highlight series, with just five questions, get a chance to discover more about the individuals that make up the EXPLO team.