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Hawthorn teacher named PBS Digital Innovator

Growing up, Andrea Woods was the person everybody in her family turned to for technology issues –  whether it was setting up the VCR to record or finding her grandmother’s favorite radio station in the car.

That early problem solving experience laid the foundation for what has become her life’s passion – educational technology or “EdTech.” The humanities teacher at Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls, a charter public school in St. Louis sponsored by Washington University, infuses her classroom with project-based learning and technology. Her innovativeness was recently recognized by PBS who chose her as Missouri’s 2017 PBS Digital Innovator.

“Everyone tells me I’m the EdTech guru!” Woods says with a smile.  However, she owns up to being nervous awaiting her application outcome.

“I work with a lot of amazing teachers in the St. Louis region that do educational technology, so I knew what the competition looked like,” she chuckles.

For the application, Woods submitted a video describing how she uses PBS tools in her classroom along with other educational technology resources to help create a 21st century learning space. Specifically, she highlighted a project where her students created their own civilizations.

Andrea Woods poses with Hawthorn students (from left) seventh graders Mary Scott and Mecca Thompson.

Woods is passionate about making sure her students are exposed to technology in a way that increases their chances for learning and improving not only their reading and math levels, but preparing them for college, careers and beyond.

“I went to John Burroughs School so I know what a top tier education looks like,” she says. “I want my students to be able and confident that they can stand toe-to-toe with any students from a John Burroughs or any school like that.”

Woods explains that there is a constantly growing gap between students who have access to and meaningful use of various technology tools and students who don’t. She works hard at closing that digital divide, and strives to provide access to and meaningful use of technology tools for underserved and under resourced students in her classroom.

“They know how to use their phones. They know how to use social media. That does not mean they know how to use technology,” she says. “I teach them to use different technology tools so they can be creative and innovative.”

As part of her award Woods received a digital gift. She chose a drone, with her students in mind.

“I am super excited to get a drone! I’m excited to see how the girls will use it in their next project based learning unit.”

While Woods is grateful for the award and recognition, she says it’s extremely important for her students to see her accomplishments as a black educator.

“We can sometimes be so classroom oriented that we don’t get the recognition for all our energy and hard work. It was more than getting an award for me. It was about making sure people see black educators and what we contribute to so many schools,” she says.

Ultimately, Woods credits Hawthorn with laying the groundwork for enabling her to win the PBS honor. She says Hawthorn allows teachers to be innovative and provides them the resources to do so.

“Our principal Robyn Wiens always asks us, ‘How can we do school differently?’ Not many places allow teachers to be innovative and that’s one of the things I love about being a teacher at Hawthorn.”

Wiens says it’s a privilege to have Woods at Hawthorn. She says Woods puts tremendous time and intentionality in building a strong sense of community in each of her classes.

“When you’re in her classroom, you know the girls aren’t just learning how to be better readers and writers — they’re learning how to use those skills to make the world a better place and to change lives,” Wiens says, adding that Woods is an incredibly thoughtful and strategic user of technology.

“She’s not a technology for the sake of technology type of teacher. She only uses technology-based tools and resources that she feels will authentically raise the rigor of the learning experience, empower students to take charge of their learning, or build a stronger home-school relationship. Her use of technology inspires the rest of us to be more purposeful in how we use technology in the classroom to improve student outcomes.

As a PBS Digital Innovator, Woods will receive professional development courses through PBS Education, exclusive classroom resources and will attend the 2017 PBS Digital Summit in San Antonio in June. In addition, she’ll partner with the St. Louis PBS affiliate station Nine Network Public Media to do TV spots and other programming.

May 2017 | by, Myra Lopez

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