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Creating a tech-rich classroom on $75

Melissa Hunt
June 6, 2016

Seventy-five dollars a year is all I’m allotted to buy school supplies for my first-grade classroom. Still, I’ve managed to buy an interactive whiteboard, new headphones for the computer lab, a 3D printer, and even a disco ball. How? Outside of being extremely frugal with what Stoddard Elementary gives me and spending a bit of money out of my own pocket (as so many teachers do), I figured out a way to get better technology to engage my students and to connect with the people who have a passion for funding education. Through crowdfunding and grants, I’ve brought in more than $280,000 in new technology for my school. That’s more than 121 projects in the past three years.

Donors choose Mrs. Hunt

When you walk into my classroom, you may see students engaged in a group lesson using my interactive whiteboard, dancing and singing to an educational music video, sitting quietly at their desks using tablets to read digital books, or getting creative with traditional colored pencils and crayons, writing thank-you notes to the generous (and mostly anonymous) donors who have made their interactive classroom possible.

Using DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding website specifically for classroom teachers, I’m able to write a description of what I would like for my classroom, and individuals, foundations or businesses can donate as much or as little as they desire to the cause. The best part is that any teacher can do it, and it’s free.

My first endeavor with DonorsChoose.org was three years ago, when I wanted to buy headphones for the school’s computer lab. In a matter of weeks, the project was fully funded, and 30 sets of headphones were shipped directly to us. I’ve gotten more ambitious since then, funding projects big and small, from winter clothes and African drums to mobile devices, laptops, and my latest purchase: an accessory that links students’ mobile devices to the interactive whiteboard. Then there’s the students’ favorite item: the disco ball, which only took days to fully fund. You may be asking, “What does a first-grade teacher need such a thing for?”

I use it for brain breaks that give students a chance to move around and refresh their minds, and for dance parties to celebrate a job well done. It keeps my first-graders on the edge of their seats, because they’ll do anything for a dance party. Once the disco ball is off, my students know it’s back to business as usual.

Spreading the wealth

As I outfitted my classroom with the latest and greatest technology, I realized that other classes and grades had little to no technology outside of the shared computer lab. I thought to myself, “With all this engagement and technology in my classroom, I can’t imagine sending my students onto the next grade without the same experience. They might start to think school is boring.”

The thought inspired me to apply for a $105,000 Farmers Insurance Thank a Million Teachers Grant for my small school. To my surprise, I won. The next step was to figure out how to spend it. When reflecting on the essential technology I use on a daily basis, my interactive whiteboard was the first tool that came to mind. Additionally, we were able to also purchase class sets of a handheld device that gives students the power to provide instant feedback on lessons while in their seats -- all without making a sound.

Spreading the word

We had all of this new technology, but no professional development to support the teachers. After spending a chunk of the grant winnings on PD, my fellow teachers and I spent the entire summer working together to transform old, outdated worksheets into interactive lessons incorporating flip-charts, videos, and songs to get students actively involved in learning. Teachers learn best from one another, so if one teacher has some tips and tricks to share, why not pass on the knowledge? The collaborative PD model has worked so well, neighboring schools come to Stoddard searching for advice on how to get teachers and students using new technology. The best part about collaborative PD? It’s free.

Truthfully, I don’t see myself as a tech guru or anything more than your average teacher. I’ve just found a way to engage students and to share my passion with teachers across the globe. Without technology, there’s no way I would feel the same way about teaching. It’s the paper and pencil of our time, and it needs to be in the hands of every student and teacher. If I can be part of making that happen at my school, you can be the spark for innovation at yours.

Melissa Hunt is a first-grade teacher at Stoddard Elementary in Blackfoot, Idaho, where she raised funds to purchase a range of tools, including Promethean’s ActivBoard Touch. Donate to Mrs. Hunt’s classroom.

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