Charles R. Drew Charter School Teacher Claudia Fitzwater is one of three Georgia educators to win the 2016-2017 Innovation in Teaching Competition. Gov. Nathan Deal announced the winners on Tuesday, January 17. Fitzwater is an elementary Spanish teacher at Drew Charter School. According to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, this year’s competition rewarded teachers focused on one of the following priority areas: applied learning with a focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education, language and literacy skills, blended learning and innovative practices to close the achievement gap.
Fitzwater participated in the Innovation in Teaching Competition with an interdisciplinary project-based learning unit about Digital storytelling. in this PBL unit with a focus on STEAM education, students participated in the design process to create digital storybooks in Spanish. Fitzwater’s project uses foreign language as a vehicle to learn and connect different disciplines such, literature, art, technology, and engineering design to create a final product. The digital story project has different phases. Students move from text analysis, storyboarding, paper and pencil puppet drafts to 3D puppet prototypes, e-book design using tablets, puppetry performances and finally publication of digital storytelling books on a YouTube channel. Puppetry is a vital element of the project because it helps students get in the role of the narrator and presenter as they prepare and gain experience to use their voices to record their own stories. Rather than only teaching and learning isolated vocabulary in Spanish, students are engaged in a project that allows them to learn and use the language in a meaningful way and participate in the STEAM curriculum.
“My main goal with this project is to provide my students with opportunities to create, communicate and collaborate under the STEAM umbrella by bringing inclusion and interdisciplinary into my class,” said Fitzwater.
As a winner of the teaching competition, Fitzwater will receive a $3,000 stipend and a $4,000 school grant, which will support innovative instructional strategies. Georgia Public Broadcasting also plans to film Fitzwater and other grant awardees teaching their winning units. The video will be made available to the public.
“Effective, engaging teachers are essential to preparing Georgia’s students for the workforce or higher education,” said Gov. Deal. “With the Innovation in Teaching Competition, we are recognizing and rewarding educators who are at the forefront of developing innovative classroom methods. By learning from these teachers, we are building upon their success to improve education in classrooms across the state.”
The Innovation Fund began as a more than $19 million dollar fund under Georgia’s Race to the Top plan. Gov. Deal has continued the work of the Innovation Fund by appropriating state money in Fiscal Years 2015, 2016, and 2017. The goal of the fund is to advance academic achievement for Georgia’s students. Read more about the Innovation Fund on The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement website.