Curriculum and Instruction

Our Approach to Zoom and Lesson Design

Many educators do not believe that students can be effectively engaged virtually, which has resulted in a self-fulfilling prophecy for many teachers, schools, and school districts. In contrast, we began with the belief that virtual learning could be as engaging, if not more engaging, than face-to-face instruction. Over the past 7 years, well ahead of the COVID-19 required move to online learning, we have successfully engaged middle school and high school students in virtual learning. In 2013, we used the backward design approach, pioneered by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe at Vanderbilt University in integrating eLearning into our expanded website design. (Bowen, Ryan S., (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved 7/15/2020 from

The backward design approach begins with identifying learning goals and the knowledge and skills we want students to learn. Once the learning goals have been established, the second stage involves consideration of assessment. The foundational instructional approach is to develop learning goals and assessments prior to developing content. This intentional approach to lesson design results in high levels of student engagement and measurable learning outcomes, particularly beneficial in a virtual learning environment.

Our successful instructional approach to college planning is indisputable. Our Guilford County Schools Program is the recipient of the 2020 Magna Award, awarded by the National School Boards Association to school districts with over 20,000 student enrollment. Our curriculum has guided students from diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds into full scholarships and admission to the country’s most selective colleges and universities. And, our students have developed such a keen sense of leadership and service that they have returned to serve as mentors and interns for our program.

Portrayed in the video is Lake City High School graduate, and current Northeastern University student, Damian Lee. He is one of the many college students whose stories provide cultural relevance in our curriculum. Damian has joined college students from the University of Georgia, George Mason, University of Chicago, Middle Tennessee State, Bowdoin, University of Richmond, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, Dillard, and Amherst College to serve as interns in our Zoom breakout rooms and mentors to current high school students. Our internship team also consists of high school and middle school students in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, and Florida all of whom are currently in the program.

Whether teaching college planning, multiple intelligences theory, math, or science, the approach to curriculum design and instructional delivery is indistinguishable.

  1. Lessons are introduced with Guiding Questions (i.e., questions that students should be able to answer after completing the unit).
  2. Instructional tools are chosen to guide student learning (e.g., videos, lecture, small group discussion, guided research, samples of student work, and supplemental materials).
  3. Assessments are developed to evaluate student learning (e.g., tests, quizzes, student presentations, surveys, narrative and expository writing).
  4. Post-assessments are used to evaluate instructional effectiveness (e.g., surveys, student performance, student work products).
  5. Updates/revisions are continuously made to curriculum and instruction to meet student needs.

Zoom is a tool for delivering instruction in the manner as any classroom, e.g., microphone, speakers, overhead projector, Smart Board, or LCD Projector, with far more benefits.

  1. Unlike the disruptions of students entering classrooms after the bell has rung, Zoom classrooms can begin on time, all the time, with the exact time of students entering a Zoom session being recorded.
  2. With microphones and cameras automatically muted, classroom disruptions are eliminated.
  3. The ability to move students into the Waiting Room means that discipline or code of conduct violations are dealt with immediately, whether temporary or permanent.
  4. Use of the screen sharing function to show powerpoint presentations, while narrating, allows the teacher to keep his/her eyes on the presentation to narrate, without having to scan the room to ensure that students are paying attention.

In response to the question, “How do we know that students are paying attention?” Is this really a new question or is this the same question that would be raised if the lesson was being presented face-to-face? Whether students experience distractions in the classroom or in their households, assessments are still used to measure learning. Virtual assessments can occur as often as deemed appropriate by the teacher, i.e., immediately following a lecture, at the conclusion of each lesson, or at the conclusion of the unit.

The dynamic nature of virtual instruction allows continually evaluation and real-time adjustments to teaching and learning not available when instruction heavily relies on textbooks and other printed materials. Rather than driving instruction, virtual learning allows textbooks to supplement instruction while allowing students to expand competency in technology from developing keyboarding skills to using a plethora of electronic resources. 

Lesson Design

Virtual instruction can remove the barriers confronting parents in high-poverty communities, e.g., transportation, childcare, and taking off from work. Not only can parent conferences occur at times most convenient for parents, but  parents can be engaged in the learning process. The above photograph is of a parent and high school senior working side-by-side in the learning process during a session hosted in the Guilford Technical Community College computer lab. Once our program shifted from on-site to virtual instruction, parent participation increased even more. The increase in parent participation was not limited to parents of high school seniors, but across grades 6 – 12.

Hello Mr. And Mrs. Wynn,

Thank you so very much for the opportunity to have my child, Gabby Felton, join the boot camp program! This experience has been invaluable for our entire family.  

My son, Max Felton, a rising sophomore at Northeast High School, also joined alongside his sister and was able to complete the assignments as well. In the past, he has struggled to find something that would spark his interest in regard to a direction for his future and college. However, with your program, in these four days, using his personality and talents he has pinpointed anthropology as a direction. It’s hard to remember another time he was so excited about something related to school. To say this has thrilled us is an understatement. We would like to foster this excitement and help direct him and *keep* him focused in the right direction.  

We would like to have him officially join the high school program. I believe you mentioned it has yet to be approved by the county, is that correct? Will you send any information regarding this or the email for the person to contact so I may voice my opinion regarding the importance of this program?  

Thank you, again. It has been a joy to watch the kids work so hard on their futures this week!  


Maria Flanagan [Parent]

Supplemental Resources

The migration to virtual learning should not be pursued as a means of replicating the face-to-face classroom experience, but utilizing technology to enhance the classroom experience. Maximizing virtual instruction requires managing the online classroom with similar classroom management practices utilized in face-to-face instruction such as:

  1. Communicate expectations.
  2. Establish clear consequences.
  3. Forge relationships with, and between students.

Best Practices

Effective virtual instruction incorporates live online lectures, step-by-step guidance across any instructional topic, incorporating print and electronic materials, self-assessments, expository and narrative writing, videos, supplemental materials, and small group discussions. The University of Nevada, Reno Department of Teaching & Learning Technologies provides a comprehensive overview of “Teaching with Zoom” and provides references to helpful print materials.

Teachers must plan for email exchanges with students and assist students in developing email signatures and appropriate headings on documents. Our program uses the Purdue University MLA Formatting and Writing Guide. Following are examples of email signatures developed by a high school and a middle school student.

Kalia Early
St. Petersburg High IB Class of 2023
World Languages Pride Award 2019

Briana DeStoppelaire
Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School Class of 2025
First Chair in the All-County Orchestra 

Google Documents

Documents shared via the Google cloud-based document sharing platform is efficient and secure. Setting up documents in advance with appropriate headings and formatting, provides examples for guiding students into developing college readiness skills consistent with those which will be expected of 2-year and 4-year college professors.

Student work can be shared real-time during virtual parent conferences and can be quickly and easily recalled throughout the school year. In our program, students develop a single narrative document, to which students contribute throughout the school year. This document is continually referenced to monitor student growth and to provide evidence of student learning.


The Zoom video conferencing platform requires teachers to select a combination of controls appropriate for their teacher and classroom management style. For example, Zoom provides the functionality to pre-assign or randomly assign breakout rooms. Our preference is to pre-assign breakout rooms with a maximum of 6-8 students, who are assigned to an intern. When working with large numbers of students, it may be more practical for the teacher, or co-host, to physically move students into their pre-assigned breakout rooms.

We have successfully structured breakout rooms around student identities, such as athletes, single-gender, high performing, and aspirational. We closely monitor interns and move students between breakout rooms as needed. While some breakout rooms remain between 6 – 8 students, we have configured breakout rooms that are 1 – 1 based on individual student needs. Our primarily goals are to forge small learning communities, cultivate conversational communities, and forge relationships between interns and students. Following are examples of student/parent comments. The Zoom share screen function allows videos to be used to introduce difficult concepts.

We believe that identifying a co-host, who can be a student, is a critically important functionality of Zoom. The co-host can allow the teacher on delivering instruction, while muting cameras and microphones. Unfortunately, only the host can move students into breakout rooms. However, after the host has moved a co-host into a breakout room, the co-host can move themselves in and out of breakout rooms to assist the host (i.e., teacher) with monitoring breakout rooms.

To reiterate, Zoom, like a face-to-face classroom, can be designed to reflect instructional and class management styles. Due to the short timeframe of a traditional class period or 90-minute block, teachers must carefully plan when to engage students in questions and answers, and when to focus their work.

Demonstration Lessons

In addition to lesson design, we can present demonstration lessons to further assist teachers with their migration to virtual teaching/learning. We believe that lesson design should assist students in leveraging their time, resources, creativity, gifts, talents, and imaginations. Students should have multiple opportunities to present examples of authentic learning, and autonomous opportunities to demonstrate learning.

Overcoming the 6 Problems with Schools


College Readiness and Culturally Relevant

Effectively designed online instruction should meet the standards of ESSA, Title IV, Part A which focuses on increasing student achievement with access to a well-rounded education; increasing students’ technology proficiency and digital literacy; supporting college and career counseling; promoting access to accelerated learning opportunities such as AP, IB, and dual enrollment; promoting parent involvement; establishing community partners; innovative uses of technology; providing high quality digital learning opportunities; and delivering specialized curricula using technology.

However, effective lesson design should not only meet federal guidelines, but inspire. Our curriculum is culturally relevant in both content and student outcomes. Diverse student profiles are embedded in our curriculum so that students see themselves in the curriculum and are exposed to the college and scholarship pathways chosen by students from similar socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Students are exposed to postsecondary pathways into technical schools, community colleges, research universities, liberal arts colleges, military academies, HBCUs, High Hispanic Serving Institutions, and first generation-friendly institutions and support programs.

What do parents and students have to say about our approach to instruction?

Dear Mrs. and Mr. Wynn, 

Good Morning. My experience at this College Planning Cohort camp has truly opened my eyes. I didn’t realize how important it was to plan my future and find ways to receive scholarships. I know I want to go to college and get honors and awards. I didn’t know how crucial having an exceptional resume was, but now more than ever, I am ready to fill it up. After seeing other people’s successes, like your son’s and Miss. Hadaway’s, I am so inspired by them. I now know I should take any and every opportunity I can to make sure I am well-rounded. I must focus on my GPA and test scores, as well. Throughout this process, I researched colleges, found the best options, and learned what type of colleges they were. College planning is invigorating and very essential. Thank you so much for this amazing opportunity. I will definitely follow the path you have made for me. 


Charlize S. C.
Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School
Center for Gifted Studies
Class of 2025


From the beginning, the boot camp started with a strong start that pushed me and motivated me to own the process and take my future into my hands. I really enjoyed not only seeing familiar faces amongst the students in my class but also amongst the interns that were leading my group. It brought me a sense of belonging and created an environment where I could focus on achieving all my responsibilities during the boot camp. Furthermore, the website and classes through which we completed the majority of our work were well organized and filled to the brim with new information. The online text was also riddled with stories of inspiring students who have participated in the program and went on to be accepted into amazing colleges.

The rest of the boot camp continued the process of building my knowledge and motivating me to develop grit in anything I do, whether it be on filling my body of work or applying myself academically. I hope to continue with the program and I have set a plethora of academic, community, and personal goals to pursue for the rest of the year. I would also like to increase my role in this process and obtain a leadership role within the cohort through which I could lead other students towards academic success and college acceptance. Thank you for granting me the opportunity to learn and dedicate myself to the previously inexplicably intimidating process of college application and acceptance.


Hubert P.
St. Petersburg High School Class of 2022
Captain: Public Forum Debate Team
Vice President: National Math Honor Society


Overall, I am more than grateful to have such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be granted to me and others in the Pinellas County Schools because I find it to be a valuable asset in a really pivotal moment of a student’s education. I have gained a lot of insights in the college planning process, especially in the narratives aspect of it. I have also been able to utilize my profile, resume, and my narratives in order to reflect on my progress in my high school career. I was able to think of my accomplishments and how I could build upon that and further improve myself. The biggest takeaway from this program for me would have to be its ability to motivate me to pursue my goals and ambitions. Being able to do research and planning for the future has given me the confidence and courage that I really needed in order to be on the right path and sticking to it.

All in all, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. Words cannot accurately describe just how much you all have helped me learn not only about the college planning process, but also about myself as a student and a person. The boot camp has been so incredibly helpful to me, as well as being incredibly engaging and fun! The friends that I invited, Hubert and Leah, have been telling me that they have been enjoying the boot camp a lot. After participating in last year’s boot camp, I realized that my friends have so much potential, but they just didn’t know where to start planning for college and attaining full-ride scholarships. I am just incredibly glad that I could refer this program to them. Just after 3 days, I can see just how much more confident and excited they have become in taking action and initiative of their goals and college planning.

Anyway, I apologize for the length of this email, but I just wanted to let you all know that you have my heartfelt thanks for everything!

Joanne L.
Class of 2022 | Saint Petersburg High School IB
GPA 4.0 | Top 5% Class Rank
Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholar


In short, my overall experience was astonishing, it was so helpful and inspiring. The interns were amazing and so helpful and it means a lot that they gave us their contact information to contact them any time we need help. I originally quit the program in 11th grade (It was a really stupid decision, yes) and I actually couldn’t get this program out of mind and when I heard that they were doing a summer boot camp I jumped right on it and I’m so glad I did. All the activities and breakout sessions we did were very helpful and cleared up SO much for me as applying to colleges and what I should be doing, I can’t thank you guys, Mr. Wynn and Mrs. Wynn, for offering this opportunity to me not just once, but twice! I would absolutely love to continue this monthly (especially since college is so soon) because I need as much help I can get as a senior. 

Kai W. | GPA: 4.09 | Class Rank: 20/222
Lakewood High School Class of 2021
National Honor Society | Lakewood Key Club Webmaster


I would like to start off by saying I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in this program. I learned so much more in the past four days about college and scholarship opportunities that I have in the past three years of attending my high school. I would love to continue the FGCSA College Cohort program and to continue to learn more about how I can build a stronger resume for the remainder of my senior year. I know my current resume is very unimpressive but I assure you I will work hard to find opportunities to volunteer my time into my community, school, and academics. From this experience, It has become very clear to me that in order to become a successful scholar, I will need to work hard and “own the process.” As a senior, I understand I have wasted a lot of time throughout my high school years, I wish I would have learned about this program during my freshman year because as I listened to your advice to the ninth graders, I couldn’t help but to imagine what I could have done to help shape my future. This program has shown me that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you’ve been through, because with enough dedication and work ethic, any student can create a successful future for themselves. I hope that one day I will be one of those students. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of this Boot camp, I can honestly say this experience has completely changed my mindset for the rest of the year and has opened my eyes to what it takes to become a successful scholar. 

Eliana G. 
Ragsdale High School Class of 2021
GPA: 4.1