At this stage of the edtech revolution, most educators are focused on using tech to enhance lessons rather than on the tech itself. But many times, tech is only integrated at specific points in the classroom or with a specific tool as determined by the teacher. At St. Albans City School in Vermont, SETDA’s 2018 Student Voices Award Winner, educators encourage the students to find places in their everyday work to incorporate digital resources, especially from their makerspace. In the edWebinar “Students Leverage Technology Tools and Makerspaces to Personalize Learning,” Grace Borst, innovation specialist at St. Albans City School, and several of her students explained how they’re using technology for assessment, service work, and more.
St. Albans City School has a dedicated makerspace open to all students from preK-8. In addition to class assignments in the space, open lab time is also available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Students use this time for school and personal projects where tech might not be required but could add value. Although they miss class for open lab, the teachers recognize the benefits of letting students explore technology to help them achieve their personal and educational goals.
Here are some examples the student presenters shared about how they’ve used technology at St. Albans.
1. Developing digital portfolios and personalized learning plans: Every student at St. Albans has a personalized learning plan, which they help drive throughout their time at the school. Instead of traditional report cards, students assemble digital portfolios to show their progress. Students upload their homework, projects, and even pictures. They’re also asked to constantly reflect on their work and submit reflections. For the students, the best part of the portfolios is that they can see how their work and their goals change not just within the school year, but throughout their time at St. Albans.
2. Guiding stewardship projects: All students at St. Albans belongs to a learning community, which covers two grade bands and works on a stewardship project for the whole school year. While the projects are service-oriented, such as building a pollinator garden and bee hive, the students use digital resources at multiple points to complete the project. For instance, students didn’t just research information about bees online. They had a bee robot that they learned to program to better understand bee behaviors.
3. Supporting school activities: St. Albans began a new tradition this year called College Weeks, which celebrated local colleges. Every student was part of a college team and participated in competitions. Two of the presenters were tasked with creating trophies for the winners. They researched trophy designs, used software to create the trophies, and printed them on the 3D printer.
4. Enhancing class assignments: Another student explained how she used the makerspace and digital resources to support her civics project. She started a petition to ban plastic straws in her town and wanted to give signers a sticker to thank them. She used the school’s design software and vinyl cutter to develop and print her stickers. She’s also creating a digital presentation to present to the city council. Technology was not required for this assignment, but she found ways to incorporate it to support her goals.
5. Aiding community activism: The final presenter wanted to raise money to support the local humane shelter. During her time in the makerspace, she learned how to design and create keychains to sell at local veterinarians’ offices and at fundraisers. This was her first time using many of the tools in the space, but now she said she can see herself coming back to use it for school projects.
For Borst, the most exciting part of the students’ stories wasn’t about the technology they used, but what they learned about perseverance and the possibilities for future projects.
“One of the biggest learning curves for students coming into the makerspace has been realizing the amount of time it takes to make anything, especially when you’re doing it from conception to the prototyping and then trying to actually get a finished product after that,” said Borst. “But this has also been what has hooked many of our students. They come in to start one project and they have one idea, but they stick around because they figure out all of the other possibilities that they can use the makerspace for—and they keep coming back.”
About the Presenters
Grace Borst is one of two innovation specialists at St. Albans City School in Vermont. She has the unique role of being able to work with students one on one or in the class setting. She also has the opportunity to collaborate and co-teach with colleagues to integrate technology into their lessons and projects. Technology is so pervasive in students’ day to day lives. Borst believes it is the teacher’s job is to inspire them, educate them, give them access, and help them use technology safely.
About the Host
Christine Fox is the deputy executive director for SETDA. As deputy executive director, she collaborates with the executive director in charting strategic direction, administration, planning and financial decisions involving SETDA. She also facilitates the members’ professional learning opportunities including planning and implementing the content for SETDA’s virtual and in-person events and newsletters. In addition, she manages many of SETDA’s research and product development projects from conception to publication. The management of such projects includes coordinating data collection from all states, supervising consultants and staff, ensuring member input and supervising the publishing process. Recent publications and projects include Navigating the Digital Shift, Digital Instructional Materials Acquisition Policies for States, OER Case Studies: Implementation in Action, The Broadband Imperative and From Data to Information. Fox’s background includes experience in education and consulting. She has worked as an educational consultant and curriculum developer for a national whole school reform model, ESOL coordinator, and 3rd-grade teacher. Fox has a Master of Science in teaching English as a second language from Florida International University and received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from Florida State University.
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