Teacher Spotlight: Ellen Peterson on Technology in the Classroom

People

So, you want the low-down on current classroom experiences with EdTech?

In honor of National Teacher Day, we are thrilled to launch our new Teacher Spotlight series. This ongoing series will highlight exemplary teachers in the field, and give you a glimpse into their tech-savvy classrooms. Ellen Peterson, middle school technology teacher, helps us kick off the series by sharing her classroom happenings.

"As a technology teacher, it is my goal to develop my students into creators versus consumers. I want to give my students the tools and skills they need for real-world problem-solving. It is as simple as that!"

Can you please tell us a little about yourself, the school you work at, and a brief vision of your goals as a teacher?

I currently teach middle school technology, and for the last 12 years before now I have been a science teacher. I teach in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, in a small, rural school district. My school, Smithfield Middle School, draws a wide range of students. I also work with the Verizon Innovative Learning program for rural girls during my summers, which offers girls the opportunity to learn about 3D printing, coding, entrepreneurship, augmented reality, and virtual reality. It was through this program that I became a fan of 3Doodler technology.

Our district is making changes to our programs that support students being college, career, and life ready. In doing so, we are developing our Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, which encompass engineering, mechatronics, computer science, and more. With this push into real-world application of technology skills, my classes have been given the opportunity to expand and make use of tools like 3Doodler pens.

As a technology teacher, it is my goal to develop my students into creators versus consumers. I want to give my students the tools and skills they need for real-world problem-solving. It is as simple as that!

What notable benefits have you found using 3Doodler pens in the classroom?

Most notably, I have my students’ attention! That’s a difficult achievement with middle school students. I start my 3D printing unit with 3Doodler pens. I want everyone to see that making things is possible, even if you aren’t “good at math” or are “not an artist” and “can’t” use computers to design things.

Even before the introduction to how to use the pens, student ideas are flowing. It doesn’t matter if you are a nerd or a jock, a great student or a below average one, etc. Everyone can use 3Doodler pens to create something. My students especially like to chat while they are working. I overhear them sharing ideas and user tips while they create. For stretches of 30-60 minutes, they forget about their phones and social media and just talk and create. I then encourage them to share their ideas and get feedback. I’ve not had a student yet who was not engaged in the process.

What subjects have you utilized 3Doodler pens in? Can you give some examples of lessons you have administered that include using 3Doodler?

I have used 3Doodler pens to reinforce my science content. We’ve “invented” our own organisms and given them adaptations to suit their environments. Using 3Doodler pens, we’ve made models of those organisms, then written “scientific journal articles” about the discovery of these creatures, classifying and identifying them as real scientists would do.

I have used 3Doodler pens in my summer program as a precursor to 3D printing and design with software and printers. Girls in the program were asked to create, prototype, and mock-market a telecommunication device of the future. Though several groups worked solely with the 3D printer, most groups chose a hybrid of technology, using the 3Doodler pens to create what they could not accomplish with the software.

I’ve shared my 3Doodler pens with the History teacher that was on my teaching team. He taught the History, and I taught the students how to use the pens. The kids then used the 3D pens to create “action figures” of historical characters, writing about events like the trials and tribulations of pioneers on the Oregon Trail.

We’ve even used the 3Doodler pens to create “costumes” for our Ozobot and Edison robots to enhance our learning.

You mentioned using Ozobot and Edison robots. What other EdTech do you use in the classroom?

I use anything I can get my hands on! In my classroom, I have two 3D printers, desktop computers, iPads, 3Doodler Creates, various coding robot platforms (VEX IQ, Meet Edison, Ozobots, Sphero, micro:bits), electrical circuitry (with copper tape, LEDs, batteries, etc.), 360 cameras, and a Full Spectrum laser cutter.

Though the bigger pieces have been funded through my school district, a majority of my materials are funded through alternative sources. Funding is slim so I spend a great deal of time and effort securing alternative funding through Donors Choose or grants when I can.

How have 3Doodler pens and other technologies enhanced learning in your classroom? How do you feel that EdTech is impacting the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow?

Above all else, I believe that engagement is key, especially with middle school-aged students. They are so difficult to impress and convince to learn. In their digital world, if it doesn’t do something really cool, RIGHT NOW, it isn’t worth giving it a second look. Most of the tools I have and use are chosen to do that. I find myself constantly looking for the next “thing” to capture their attention. Only when I have their attention can I help them develop skills like creative thinking, problem-solving, and communicating.

The days of learning facts and figures to help you in your daily life, including employment, are long since gone. I believe that adaptability and the ability to learn will be paramount in the jobs of tomorrow. Technology is evolving so quickly that I doubt programming languages that I can teach my students today will be still in use by the time they are employed. What I hope is that I can ignite a passion for learning and discovering how to use tools to solve problems that will take my students into the future.

Are there any classroom success stories you’d like to share with our community?

Ellen in her classroom

I have one student that sticks out most in my head. I had the incredible fortune of being able to teach him for two years in a row due to my changing grade levels. Although he is a smart, capable young man, he hasn’t always been successful in a traditional school setting. Because I had him for two years, he was pretty familiar with the tools and technology available in my classroom.

Towards the end of the second year, our class was working on a project, readying it for presentation in a day or two. A plastic part of our display broke somehow, and we could not get a replacement in the limited time we had left. I sat down at the table for a minute to think about what we could do to remedy the situation. Without missing a beat, he said, “Can’t we just use the 3Doodler or the printer and make a new one? It would probably only take about an hour.”

Please be sure to follow Ellen on Twitter to keep up with her classroom happenings!

Inspired by Ellen and her students? Post your classroom Doodles on Twitter and connect with the 3Doodler EDU community!
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