George Lee’s inspiring classroom collaboration story at Balboa High

“I didn’t expect to do my teaching online. For my emotional state, it was almost like a little crisis.” George said. “However, there is a Chinese saying where crisis is a combination of danger and opportunity. I was looking for the opportunity that came from this experience.”.

About George Lee

In his 26 years of teaching, George Lee never expected to be working from home but for educators globally, coronavirus changed everything.

“I didn’t expect to do my teaching online. For my emotional state, it was almost like a little crisis.” George said. “However, there is a Chinese saying where crisis is a combination of danger and opportunity. I was looking for the opportunity that came from this experience.”

A master educator in media arts at Balboa High School in San Francisco, George is an expert in using creative technology to deliver innovative, student-led, project-based learning. In his spare time, he’s sharing with other teachers his experience of the 2020 school year and the lessons he’s developed.

His school is a comprehensive public school in the heart of San Francisco, representing diversity in numerous forms—socio-economically, ethnically, and linguistically. For George, one of the most important things is creating a cohesive unit in the classroom so that nobody is feeling like they are getting left behind.

“Obviously collaboration is the tool for that. So when I first found out Canva has this function called simultaneous collaboration, I was thinking, this is probably one of the most powerful educational tools that I can use to facilitate that cohesiveness”.

Using Canva, George set up his online classroom, a place for all his assignments and lessons he designed within the platform. With Covid restrictions in place, one of the first assignments he created was a virtual field trip to San Francisco’s Deyoung Museum to see the Frieda Kahlo exhibition.

“I still wanted my students to have the experience of visiting a gallery, even if it’s virtual. So I developed this one lesson based on the exhibition.”

Balboa High School utilize Canva to collaboration in the classroom

The Solution

To do this, George provided links to all the resources his students needed in his Canva workspace, including images of artworks where they could click to learn more, and even a virtual tour provided by the museum. This allowed them to explore and gain a solid understanding of Frida Kahlo as an artist— her process, her symbolism, but most importantly, how she developed her own self-portrait so that students could create their own.

“This was important to me as there were students who I had never met in person, some whose faces I had never seen as they cover their faces on Zoom with icons. I always get butterflies meeting students face to face and this year I didn’t get the opportunity. But I still wanted to do that because that’s how I connect.”

George’s students were tasked with creating their own portraits within the workspace, and this gave everyone in the class the ability to see what others were doing. In fact, George actively encouraged his class to visit other students ‘virtual studios’ so they could learn from each other. With Canva, they could simply click to make a comment or direct questions to their fellow students.

Students could also use the comment function to add descriptions of who they were and what they were trying to convey in their portraits. In some cases, they would write in their own language, remaining true to their portrait identity. For others, the element function meant they could pull together existing images to build their story or the voiceover function meant they could record their story and have it accompany their portrait. No matter their technical ability, there was a medium within the platform that worked for them.

Meanwhile, George was able to watch this real-time collaboration in action.

“As I teach them, I’m simply scrolling up and down, seeing the different working studios and the work in progress. The amazing thing—not just for the students but for me—is that I get to see their creative minds in progress.”

Canva’s ability for creative collaboration in the classroom has been a game changer for both George and his students, and this goes far beyond just what he expected. He has since developed assignments based on the art of Kandinsky, and has others planned.

“Canva gives you hundreds and thousands of ways to engage. So even if you don’t know how to draw, you can still access your hopes and dreams and your form of expression in your mind, to find an image that approximates that. Imagine the power of making that connection. Isn’t that what all teachers want?”


If you’re a teacher, you’re eligible for Canva for Education. Access all Pro features, plus creation, collaboration and communication tools – 100% free. Sign up or upgrade your existing account now.

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