Not many teachers come home from school knowing their classroom received $60,000 for curriculum enhancement, but thanks to her passion for providing new learning opportunities and her stellar, on-the-fly videography skills, this Northland alum sure did.
Seventh grade science teacher Amanda Petty ’14 remembers the day her boss told her to “wear something nice to work.” She didn’t think much of it, except perhaps that part of her day would include engaging in semi-regular public relations activities with the local press. She was wrong. Instead of talking about school programs and activities at Davila Middle School, she found herself accepting a grant for $60,000.
A month prior, Petty was attending the National Science Teachers Conference in Atlanta when an exhibitor at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education’s booth encouraged her to apply for a CIA-partnership grant to get technology in the classroom. The catch? The application was closing in a few hours.
Armed with a looming deadline and an iPhone, Petty went back to her hotel room and recorded the required video application. “I told them that the only technology currently available to my students at our Title I school is a Chromebook,” she said, “and that I wanted to give them an opportunity to learn more computer skills because that’s the direction our world is going. I outlined all the reasons why I needed more technology and how I would use the technology to better prepare my students to go out and be successful in the world.”
She recorded eight versions of the application before she was satisfied that she’d said everything she wanted to say. “I pressed ‘submit’ at around 10:30 p.m. and thought, ‘We’ll see what happens.’”
One month later, Petty was surprised by a commotion in her classroom. “My principal was there with some public relations people for the district. And then this lady walks in with a giant cardboard check for $60,000! I ended up being one of five teachers in the country selected for the grant, which is still kind of mind blowing to me.”
The money was used to purchase thirty Spheros, robots designed to teach students basic coding skills. Even better, says Petty, “they can code the robots through their phone or iPad, which is great because if I can teach them how to use their phone in a productive way rather than TikTok or Instagram, I’ll take it!”
The robots can be programmed to do things like following a course, solving math problems, and measuring velocity, acceleration, and distance traveled. “The learning curve with these robots is a real trial-and-error process,” says Petty, “which is great because middle schoolers really struggle with the concept of failing.” As they began to experiment with the robots, Petty saw her students quickly becoming more comfortable with the concept as they saw how their failures were essential keys to their successes.
“I get excited about teaching kids new skills that are real-world applicable because I teach life science and, a lot of times, the kids struggle to see the importance of knowing about cell organelles—which I get because not every student is going to be a biologist. But with robots and coding, it’s more than just being able to tell a computer what to do. It’s about teamwork and problem solving, which are transferable skills no matter what they do with their lives.”
The grant also covered a classroom set of thirty laptops, which can be used in tandem with the robots, as well as for other school work.