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September Educator of the Month: Math/Science Specialist Tomika Altman

We have an extra special educator to shoutout as we come to the tail end of September: Ozobot Certified Educator (CE) Tomika Altman. Tomika is the K-5 Math/Science Specialist & Interventionist at Seawell Elementary Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Are you surprised to hear that a Math/Science Specialist can become an Ozobot CE? Don’t be! 74% of our users teach core subjects like Math, Science, and ELA with Ozobot, using our bots to increase student engagement and integrate coding/CS. 

We had the pleasure of getting to know Tomika at this year’s Future of Education Technology Conference in Miami, Florida, and can’t wait to see her in person again some day. In the meantime, here are some insights, funding resources, and words of encouragement from our September Educator of the Month. 

Ozobot CEs Tomika Altman and Nikki Russell at the FETC 2020 Ozobot Dome, with Ozobot Director of Web Engineering P.A. Lava and Founder/CEO Nader Hamda

On what this back-to-school season has looked like for her school…
Initially, my state declared a hybrid model where half of students would be online and half face-to-face, with each district responsible for determining when students receive online and face-to-face learning to start out the school year. My district had opted to have all students in K-12 participate in online learning until January 2020. However, just recently the Governor announced that all K-5 elementary students can return to school, so I’m not sure if my district will continue with our remote learning model or if we will go back face-to-face. Regardless of the format, teachers have been working hard and collaborating to plan engaging lessons for our students.

On her commitment to ensuring equitable math and science experiences for all students…
I entered the field of education via a lateral entry program, and when I began teaching professional development focused primarily on literacy. I noticed that my students had a lot of gaps and in some cases lacked confidence when it came to math. And science was something that they thought only occurred on certain days like “fun Fridays”. I wanted to ensure that all students had access to quality math instruction and science opportunities. I wanted to change their perception from “math is hard” and “science is something we do once or twice” to viewing their importance as equal with literacy.

When I became a gifted specialist, I realized some of the things I was implementing with my gifted students (using various tech tools, gardening, STEM activities, digital storytelling, etc.) should be for all students. 

Tomika has proven especially adept at finding funding resources to support her commitment to equity in education. So we asked her to share! Her are some resources she recommends:
Some funding sources I have utilized to help pay for professional development have included grants I have received from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. They have very prestigious grants for educators ranging from the PRISM (Promoting Innovation in Science and Mathematics) Award worth $4,500 to the CASMT (Career Award for Mathematics and Science Teachers) worth $175,000 and I have had the pleasure of receiving both. I have also utilized DonorsChoose and entered a few contests online. It’s amazing what you can find by googling grants, awards, and contests for educators. And my go-to organizations for professional development are the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Science Teachers Association. These organizations also have grant opportunities. 

On utilizing tools, like LEGOs and Ozobots, to encourage productive struggle…
I find it fascinating when you take a product like LEGOs that students just consider a toy and have played with for the majority of their life and change it into an educational tool where they can demonstrate vocabulary, bring a story to life with stop motion animation, use to solve math problems, introduce coding, and more. When it comes to Ozobots, they’re so affordable and have so many possibilities where you can code with markers and paper or use the online OzoBlockly option. I love how easy they are to use. Now that I’m a Math/Science Specialist/Interventionist, I use them to build excitement and connections with my students. For example, if one of my students is struggling with additional facts, I bring out Ozobot and write down a few equations and have them code the robot to go to the equations that have sums of 10. I love how you can see them using mental math and various strategies that they have been taught so they can have the chance to demonstrate their understanding with the robots. 

Recently, I combined a fourth grade standard on animal adaptations and 5th standard on ecosystems and had students create posters where the Ozobot would follow a path through different ecosystems and change their animal. For example if the Ozobot started in the desert it might not have a skin, then going to the tundra it might have fur, and then going to marine it might develop gills. On the poster, students would have information about that ecosystem or use a QR code to tell more.

On carving out time for self-care during this challenging time…
Maintain positivity. I know remote learning or hybrid learning is different, but think of the new skills and strategies that you and your students are learning. Self-care is key. I’ve been in my home for ten years and I forgot about the gorgeous nature preserve in our subdivision. So about two-three times a week (since I don’t have to commute to work) I wake up earlier just to see the cute little bunnies, etc. 🐰

Connect with Tomika on Twitter to learn more! If your school or district is doing distance learning, in-person learning, a hybrid of both, or–as in Tomika’s case–still figuring it out, the Ozobot 1:1 Program is a new, CARES Act-qualifying solution that can help you engage students wherever they’re learning and drive fast, successful transitions in and out of the classroom. You can also explore our new remote-friendly lesson series to sample some of the 1:1 Program’s standards-aligned, instructional video content. And remember…

Coding is Creative!

Tech skills alone don’t spur big ideas—creative visions do. That’s why education at home and in the classroom should span science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math (STEAM, not just STEM). Whether you see yourself as a future artist, astronaut, or entrepreneur, our goal at Ozobot is to kick start your creativity and coding skills with playtime that strengthens your whole mind.

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