KENNESAW, Ga. (Apr 4, 2017) — Bagwell College of Education alumna Claudia Fitzwater is an innovative teacher – even the governor thinks so.
Earlier this year, Gov. Nathan Deal announced Fitzwater as one of three Georgia educators to win the 2016 – 2017 Innovation in Teaching Competition. Fitzwater, who earned a master’s degree in educational leadership with a concentration in technology from Kennesaw State University in 2011, is an elementary Spanish teacher at Drew Charter School in Atlanta.
“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.”
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 competition with an interdisciplinary project-based learning unit about digital storytelling. Her 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 as literature, art, technology, and engineering design to create a final product.
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, Fitzwater said. 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,” she said. “We need creative scientists in the future, and I think art is a good way to foster that creativity.”
As a winner of the teaching competition, Fitzwater received a $3,000 stipend and a $4,000 school grant, which will support innovative instructional strategies. Plans call for Georgia Public Broadcasting to film Fitzwater and other grant awardees teaching their winning units, and the video will be made available to the public.
In addition to her Innovation in Teaching Competition award, Fitzwater also received a “Tiny Grant” of $8,000 from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement’s Innovation Fund. With these funds, Fitzwater is creating a Media Art Designs and Science Club. According to Fitzwater, the MADS club will seek to foster creativity, collaboration, co-discovery and experimentation while closing curricular and scheduling gaps in the technology subject and increasing media production and PBL (problem-based learning) products in the digital and arts field.
“I have a lot of gratitude for Kennesaw State University,” she said. “I had a great experience. While I was attending KSU, I was an International Exchange Teacher, and KSU was my first experience in an academic program abroad. I am thankful for all the teachers and support I received. My master’s from KSU has helped me to focus on PBL and technology integration as an educator.”
– Jennifer Hafer
Photos by David Caselli