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Ideas and Solutions

Local Alumna Wins PBS Digital Innovators Award

Andrea Woods (Phoenix, ’09) is a recent recipient of the 2017 PBS Digital Innovators Award representing the state of Missouri for her integration of technology in the classroom.

June 1, 2017

The TFA Editorial Team

The TFA Editorial Team

As an educator who utilizes technology to enhance student learning, Woods goes the extra mile to obtain resources for her classroom. One year, she organized a Donors Choose campaign to purchase Chromebooks

Regularly, Woods attends technology professional development meetings to expand her knowledge and classroom approach with her students. To open doors for her students and other educators of color who are underrepresented in the ed tech space, Woods chose to apply for the 2017 PBS Digital Innovators Award. The award will provide professional development opportunities, extensive digital content and curriculum from PBS LearningMedia and allow digital innovators like Woods to connect with like-minded colleagues who are transforming education.

How did you learn about the PBS Digital Innovators Award opportunity?

I saw an ad banner about the opportunity through a PBS resource that I used for my 6th grade Humanities class' project-based learning unit about ancient Egypt. I was going to apply last year and was unable to do so. I had it on my radar and applied this year. My principal also recommended that I apply, unaware that I was already planning to.  

What subject do you teach?

Humanities for 6th to 8th grade students at Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls. One part is English and one part is social studies. We’re a project-based learning school, and I love using technology to teach predominantly African American girls in a school where 70 percent of students have free and reduced lunch. Many of my students fall on the lower end of the digital divide because they do not have consistent access to technology and the internet outside of school. We are a STEM school, and I believe that the user-end of technology can easily be incorporated into the Humanities classroom. 

How will the award help your classroom?

It will provide professional development, as I learn from other digital innovators during my time at the [PBS Digital Innovator] conference, and access to special PBS resources. Additionally, each innovator receives a digital gift. I chose a drone for my classroom, which my students can utilize for their special projects. The school and students will also receive public recognition and a partnership with a local PBS station (which is very exciting for Andrea.) PBS is actually creating two spots about our classroom that will run on the local PBS station.

What does it mean for you to expand access to STEM for your students?

Everyone thinks kids these days can use technology. Truth is they can use smartphones and social media, but many don’t know how to browse and use the internet. When provided the opportunity to use technology they begin rather timid and after learning the basics, they’re willing to explore and put themselves out there. It’s amazing seeing them by the end of the year show me what they created using technology, compared to when they were first afraid to take the risk. I see my students transform so much.

Do you see women of color, like yourself, represented in the ed tech space when attending professional development opportunities?

I attend a lot of ed tech events and usually find myself being one of few Black faces in the room. I applied for this award because I know a lot of educators of color are doing amazing work in the classroom. We may not apply for these type of awards because we have our heads down working for our kids, and we didn’t seek it or weren’t encouraged to. This award isn’t just for me. It’s for all those Black educators grinding for their kids. We should put ourselves out there so others can know we’re doing something amazing. Teaching is hard and we don’t get paid what we deserve. Whatever recognition we can get in this work will help to sustain us.

How has being a corps member helped you to be the digital innovator that you are?

My Teach For America background is responsible for how I approach teaching so that learning is a transformative experience for students. The mindsets and skills I’ve developed help me to focus on the academic goals that will help my students access greater opportunity personally and take action in their community. Having that foundation from TFA challenges me to be very critical with how I use technology in the classroom.

Read more stories about Teach For America–St. Louis alumni and corps members.