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Portage Township Schools teachers will TikTok through Europe, thanks to Lilly grant

Aylesworth Elementary teachers Caryn Rybecki and Kara Orosz are no strangers to TikTok; Orosz enjoys scrolling through the app, and Rybecki has even made a couple of popular videos. This summer, the two will combine their TikTok skills and their love of learning as they create educational videos in Europe, thanks to the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program.

Rybecki and Orosz received a Lilly Endowment grant for their project titled “Educational TikToking Across Europe” so they could create videos that align with several parts of the 4th and 5th grade curriculum. The two plan to fly into Ireland, then visit England, France, Italy, and, possibly, Spain. They will spend anywhere from 14 to 20 days traveling throughout these countries. Orosz’s daughter, who attends Portage High School, will join them and film their TikToks during their trip.

The project came about after the two tried to find videos that supported various aspects of their curriculum to include social studies and literature, but they struggled to find grade-level appropriate content that met their specific needs. They thought back to their time teaching virtually during the pandemic when they would teach inference by filming videos in various landmarks in Portage and ask students to guess their location. They now wondered how they could create their own videos that would also provide students with a frame of reference for learning.

The answer was simple: TikTok.

Their students and families will be able to follow the teachers’ European adventures on TikTok, and the teachers plan to archive their TikTok videos on a website where they and their fellow educators can use the videos to enhance learning throughout the school year. Video topics may include landmarks in Rome for their mythology and “Percy Jackson” unit, the aqueducts in Spain for science, and London to provide reference for the popular “Harry Potter” novels their students often enjoy reading.

Rybecki, who teaches 5th grade, said they are looking forward to making these educational videos fun and engaging.

“It is TikTok, so there will be an amount of entertainment that will be there, because the kids enjoy the silly,” Rybecki said. “So they’ll enjoy the learning part of it, but I think you don’t want to make it dry. You want to make it so they can watch us be silly and they can laugh with us, or at us.”

The grant allows for some flexibility so that Rybecki and Orosz can adjust their trip as needed. They hope that their students’ families follow their journey and help their children post questions that the teachers can answer through additional videos.

“It’s happening as it goes, and they’re not waiting until we get back. They can actually interact in the comments and ask us questions,” Rybecki said.

While the Lilly Teacher Creativity grants provide educators the opportunity to enhance their own learning, the program is also intended to help teachers recharge and explore their passions.

For Rybecki, this opportunity is allowing her to share her passion for learning, history, and culture with her students.

“I’ve lived in two different countries, I’ve taught in two different countries, so being able to get over to Europe and really explore it in a more individual way is going to be huge,” Rybecki said. “I will be able to look into what really interests me and really connect with that.”

Orosz said she looks for ways to grow as a teacher and become inspired, and she hopes their project will inspire her students to find their passions.

“For me, I’m always looking for some better way to do things,” Orosz said. “I’m always on a quest. I feel like this will help me to find those other things, like what can I do that’s interesting, what can I do that’s inspiring. Because they need to be inspired.”