Cloquet teacher earns award for integrating tech
Washington Elementary School third-graders in Cloquet sat at a table working on their iPads last week as their teacher, Kim Peddle, watched over them and ensured they are on task.
The students were using an app called Bridge Constructor to design bridges they will use popsicle sticks to construct. In the room next door, another group was putting the finishing touches on the real-world work that began on the iPads.
The students' projects are part of a literacy unit in Peddle's class on the construction of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. It's just one example of how Peddle has integrated science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) across her curriculum.
"Throughout the unit, we do experiments on how to use shapes to build strong structures," Peddle said. "They draw, they plan and we get them the materials and they follow their plans to build the bridge. Sometimes they have to modify their plans because the plans don't work."
Earlier in the day, Peddle was named the Ira Bong Chapter of the Air Force Association Teacher of the Year Award. The award recognizes local teachers for their work to engage students about STEM and "preparing students to use and contribute to tomorrow's technology," according to the AFA mission statement.
Members of the local AFA chapter surprised Peddle and her class Oct. 22 to present the award to Peddle, who has been teaching for 24 years. She also received $250, a certificate and membership in the Bong AFA chapter.
Peddle's passion for technology and engaging students with engineering began when she was still in college. In the early 1990s, an instructor gave her an assignment called "Lego Logo" that uses Legos to code.
"It really engaged me," she said. "I would even skip other classes so I could go and do this. In hindsight, I know that maybe wasn't the best idea, but I knew that kind of experience could engage students and that I wanted that in my classroom."
When Peddle first began teaching in 1994, classroom technology was still in the "dark ages," when computers were much less common in classrooms. Teachers were still learning how to use email and understand the power of the internet.
"Now, kids can't even believe that we didn't have phones in our pockets and computers at our fingertips," Peddle said.
Peddle's integration of STEM across her instruction doesn't stop with the bridge projects. A few years ago, she and the Washington music teacher created a lesson called "Music and Math." Musical notes are a good way to allow students to be creative and engage them with fractions, she said.
The students used "boomwhacker" instruments — hollow, color-coded plastic tubes — to make music and iPads to program robotic balls called "Spheros" to flash and move in time with the music.
Peddle's students also participate in the "Hour of Code," a national effort where everyone will code for an hour a day. There are other programs she uses with the iPad or computers, but the practical use is important, too.
"I try to make it all hands on because at this age they need the tactile learning," Peddle said. "They can't just be on an iPad all day. They need manipulatives too."
Peddle also uses technology and engineering to differentiate to build relationships and engage kids, whatever their stage of development or history.
"Our kids come from a variety of backgrounds and have a pretty wide range of abilities," Washington Principal Robbi Mondati said. "She really uses technology extremely well to best meet individual needs and I think that lends itself well to building strong relationships. The kids know that she is in their corner and will do whatever she can to help them find success."
Peddle said she works to incorporate STEM concepts across her instruction because of the difference it can make in kids lives and future success.
"Last year, I had a couple boys that when we did this bridge construction unit, they found a video on YouTube of a hydraulic bridge," she said. "They built it in their iPad, designed it and actually built it from scratch. We had to get them some extra materials, but it worked ...
"Those are the kinds of kids that might become an engineer because of something that they started in third grade," Peddle said.