This is the second of my ongoing Teacherpreneur Spotlight series on innovative educators who take initiative to experiment with new teaching practices and tech tools. This week we take a look at Angela Estrella, Library and Media Teacher at Lynbrook High School in Cupertino, CA.
Angela Estrella’s personal fascination with technology began during her undergrad years at UC Berkeley, using her Palm Pilot whenever she was riding on BART. “I used that Palm Pilot ALL the time as a calendar, to take notes so that was my first ‘smartphone.’” So when Estrella began teaching at Overfelt High School in East San Jose in 2008, she couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that the district didn’t quite have the resources to match her passion for technology. Still, she quickly noticed that her students were more engaged when she used various tech tools, especially those that involved using videos to demonstrate their learning.
This inspired the savvy entrepreneur in Estrella to seek out tech grants. She collaborated with a visionary principal at her school and was awarded a substantial grant to start a Multimedia Academy at Overfelt through the CA Partnership Academies (CPA) Program.
“I encourage aspiring teacherpreneurs to identify small pots of local funds, such as the SVEF (Silicon Valley Education Foundation) Innovation Grants or funding from your PTSA, to fuel your vision. I’ve also had 3-4 grants funded by DonorsChoose, so that’s been really helpful,” she shared.
She added that starting off small with small grants can create a unique sense of ownership over a goal. For larger grants, the ideal scenario is to collaborate with local schools or educators to apply together. “As a member of SVCUE (the Silicon Valley chapter of Computer Using Educators) I can apply for their mini-grants. I think joining organizations like your local CUE affiliate is a great way to connect with educators and learn more about professional development and grant opportunities.”
Things changed when Estrella began teaching in the more affluent Lynbrook High School in 2010, where teachers and students had more access to the latest devices, such as iPads, Apple TVs and SmartBoards. But new challenges surfaced as few teachers had the knowledge or confidence to integrate them into their pedagogical practices.
So Estrella took it upon herself to create a more collaborative environment among her students and fellow faculty to help one another locate and try out new tech tools. As Lynbrook’s Library and Media Teacher, she’s launched some innovative program, such as the Virtual Vikings, which is essentially a student-powered geek squad that has illustrated for teachers how students can provide real-time tech support and help teachers smartly adopt new tools in the classroom. And through Tech Menu Days, the school’s PD sessions devoted to edtech discovery and exploration, Estrella has tapped into the expertise within her teaching community to showcase best practices on how to use various edtech tools, such as Google Apps for EDU and KidBlog.
Fostering support and buy-in from her district has been a major factor in her success. “I’m working with our Director of Technology at the district to expand what we’re doing,” she says. “That guidance and support is essential to scaling what we’ve proven works at Lynbrook.”
Estrella turns to her extensive online PLNs (professional learning network), mainly via Twitter and Facebook, for sources of inspiration on how to creatively use tech in her class. She’s constantly trying out edtech tools and finding creative ways to introduce those tools and the entrepreneurs who build them to her school community. It’s all part of her larger vision to create a culture of experimentation and embracing of edtech for both students and teachers at Lynbrook.
Hear directly from Angela about her work from this video profile. Connect with her on Twitter @am_estrella or check out her blog.