Amanda Petty, seventh grade science teacher at Davila Middle School, applied for the Central Intelligence Agency’s Mission Possible Operation Advance Technology competition the day she heard about it.
She was surprised with a $60,000 check Monday.
The money will fund 30 laptop computers, a charging cart and Petty’s choice of a science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) accessory pack to create a coding and computer lab in her classroom.
Members of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, a U.S. Department of Energy asset that manages the program, and administrators made their way into Petty’s classroom with a giant check and balloons in hand as she heard the news that she had won the generous gift.
Overwhelmed by the moment, Petty expressed gratitude for being selected as one of five teachers to win the competition in the U.S.
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“I’m super passionate about introducing coding and new sources of technology into the classroom, so this is going to allow me to do that,” Petty said. “I feel honored and so excited to be able to bring this technology to my students.”
With an interest in Sphero robots, Petty said she intends to introduce that technology into her classroom to teach basic coding skills and reinforce physics concepts.
“There’s so many different careers in technology and STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields, so being able to bring those ideas and concepts and letting them try it is really going to enforce those differing field views,” Petty said. “One thing that’s really cool when you get technology in the classroom is STEM is not science or technology or engineering or math; it’s all of them put together, so when you get these different materials into the classroom they’re really seeing how everything ties.”
While attending the National Science Teachers Association Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Petty said she heard about the program and was told the deadline to apply was that night.
“I went back to my hotel room and that night put in an application for it,” Petty said. “It’s one of those things that if you don’t try you won’t get it, so you might as well put your name out there.”
Sara Rueda, principal of Davila Middle School, said she is proud of Petty for being selected as the sole southwest region winner and was thrilled about Davila being recognized among other school districts in the nation.
“It’s pretty neat to have our name out there,” Rueda said.
Having nicknamed her a “Silent Tool,” Rueda said Petty does a lot of behind-the-scenes work and training to go the extra mile for her students.
Seventh grader Jashawn Brown emphasized this by stating that Petty is the type of teacher who does not see failure as an option.
“She’s helped me through all my stuff, all my days and all my work,” Brown said. “I’ve always kept a good grade in her class because she teaches well.”
Jennifer Tyrell, associate manager at ORISE, traveled from Tennessee to present Petty with the balloons and check.
Through the use of this new equipment, Tyrell said Petty will have the opportunity to help students develop specific skillsets in technology and universal traits such as critical thinking, teamwork and problem solving.
In the application process, teachers were asked to submit a 3-to-4 minute video describing their current classroom situation and why they wanted, needed or would benefit from the equipment by connecting it to their philosophy of STEAM education. Tyrell said Petty’s video impressed the scoring committee of educators and ORISE staff with her passion for her students.
“I think the scoring committee was very excited to see that she took it upon herself on the same day that she learned about this competition to create an entry,” Tyrell said. “It really showed the passion that she had for education and the needs that her students had for this type of technology that she was willing to do that.”
Tyrell said ORISE will work with Petty to determine what she needs for her classroom, order it for her and ship it to the school with the goal of having everything ready for the 2023-24 school year.
“The overall goal of this program is STEAM workforce development,” she said. “It’s absolutely vital that students get experience now in the types of things that they are going to be using in their careers.”
Seeking to educate kindergartens through eighth graders about STEAM, Tyrell said it is crucial to introduce them to these fields before they lose interest.
“By the time students get to high school, they’ve already decided the path they want to be on many times,” she said. “When we can show young students in elementary and middle school how exciting it is and how everything ties together in STEAM, we can really get them excited about a future career in those areas.”