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McAuliffe school tech integrationist to visit, teach in 25 N.H. communities

  • Technology integrator Heather Drolet helps third-grader Mika Taylor simulate the effects of gravity, lift, thrust and drag on the flight of an albatross within an iPad app during class at Christa McAuliffe School in Concord on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Third-grader Julian Dow uses an iPad app called Aero! to simulate the effects of gravity, lift, thrust and drag on the flight of an albatross during a class taught by technology integrator Heather Drolet at Christa McAuliffe School in Concord on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Technology integrator Heather Drolet reviews the concepts of flight with a third-grade class as Mika Taylor (right) controls an albatross on her iPad, which is projected on the screen, during class at Christa McAuliffe School in Concord on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Technology integrator Heather Drolet teaches third-graders about the science of flight at Christa McAuliffe School in Concord on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Third-graders use an iPad app called Aero! to simulate the effects of gravity, lift, thrust and drag on the flight of an albatross during a class taught by technology integrator Heather Drolet at Christa McAuliffe School in Concord on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Technology integrator Heather Drolet helps third-graders Will Corbett (left) and Evie Searles simulate the effects of gravity, lift, thrust and drag within an iPad app during class at Christa McAuliffe School in Concord on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Sunday, May 07, 2017

On a typical day, Christa McAuliffe elementary technology integrationist Heather Drolet will help reinforce what fifth-graders learned about writing an essay by programming a robot, acquaint third-graders with the four forces of flight using an iPad app and get girls to build confidence by writing computer code.

And next year, she’ll take her show on the road.

The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation has awarded Drolet the 2017 Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical. The program was first established in 1986 by the governor and Legislature to honor Christa McAuliffe, the late Concord High teacher and astronaut.

The foundation will reimburse the Concord School District for Drolet’s salary next year while she visits 25 schools across New Hampshire for a week at a time. There, she’ll help fifth-graders create a mobile app that relates to what they’re learning.

She’ll also share the “confident computer coders curriculum” she built while mentoring “Christa’s Coders,” a club for girls who meet once a week during their lunch block to learn how to code.

The curriculum uses online block-programming tools to help students build their coding skills. And along the way, a mascot – Coco – gets outfitted with new items.

“She keeps getting accessories that are kind of symbolic – that teach the girls that it’s okay to be confident and smart and to do things,” Drolet said.

When students start designing their own projects – when they “get a vision” – Coco gets glasses. And then they start learning from their mistakes – or “flipping their flops” – she gets flip-flops.

The lessons Drolet gives and the curriculum she’s built will all go online, and teachers everywhere can use them as they’d like for free, she said. Drolet still has to buy the domain name, but she plans to call the site nhkidscode.com.

Drolet’s parents were both computer programmers, but she didn’t originally plan on going into computer science, or even tech integration. In fact, she distinctly remembers zoning out when, inevitably, dinnertime conversations would turn to syntax errors in programming language C++.

But when Drolet took a teaching job in the Merrimack Valley district, she found herself gradually integrating technology into her lesson plans.

“I noticed that some of my more introverted students would share so much more on a computer,” she said. “I think it speaks to different personality styles and learning styles.”

Eventually, Drolet got her master’s degree in instructional technology from New England College. In 2012, when Christa McAuliffe elementary opened, she took a job as the school’s tech integrationist, tasked with incorporating science, technology engineering and math.

Like most people focused on bringing more STEM into schools, Drolet laments the gap between the demand for computer scientists and supply of STEM graduates.

“We have a lot of opportunity, but not enough kids to fill those opportunities,” she said.

But she also freely admits that not everyone will – or should – go into computer science or even STEM fields. For Drolet, learning computer science is ultimately a vehicle for learning how to apply what she calls “the four Cs” – creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking – to solve problems.

“That process that you go through in STEM and computer science is integral to every career,” she said. “Nursing, journalism, law – there’s problems everywhere.”

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)