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Karie Huttner

A Savanna Oaks Middle School teacher was one of just 10 educators recognized nationwide in June for their efforts to incorporate computer science and technology into their classrooms and curriculum, earning a $10,000 grant for the Fitchburg school.

Savanna Oaks’ Design Thinking and Technology instructor Karie Huttner learned of the honor earlier this summer, and she plans to use the grant to leverage several different technologies, including laser cutting and 3D-printing, to infuse design thinking into her students’ maker learning experiences.

Maker learning provides youth with tools, technologies, and materials for constructing, creating, and crafting in the classroom.

Huttner plans to give her middle school students the opportunity to mentor and collaborate with elementary school students with this grant-funded project.

On June 28, New York City-based Infosys Foundation USA announced the 10 teachers nationwide being recognized as the 2022 Infy Makers Awards winners, and Huttner was among teachers from California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to be selected.

The Infy Makers Awards were open to K-12 teachers who aim to engage students in computer science through maker education. Each winner receives a $10,000 grant and the opportunity to participate in the Making Computer Science Inclusive professional learning experience led by the educational nonprofit organization Digital Promise.

The Infy Maker Awards are part of the Foundation’s focus on supporting maker education.

The grant money can be used for a variety of purposes including purchasing materials and equipment, instituting structural improvements, facilitating projects for students, conducting impact and assessment research, or doing community outreach and engagement.

Huttner says she aims to elevate, educate, and celebrate young designers and makers in her classroom by offering 3D printing, video game design, robotics, computer science, and information technology.

“Earlier this spring, I applied to the Infy Maker grant with the help of Kevin Chukel, our building substitute teacher and owner of Picnic Point Productions, to document my dream of expanding Maker Education and Computer Science for both my middle school students but also our neighboring elementary school by having my designers mentor different groups,” Huttner wrote on her classroom blog on June 30. “We started this with 3D printing and design with the kindergartners using the bubble wand project, but this grant will provide us with more materials to continue this mentorship and expand both our technologies and collaboration.”

Huttner said earning this award wouldn't have been possible without the "amazing camera work" of Chukel through his business Picnic Point Productions.

The first phase of mentoring was funded by the Verona Area Education Foundation.

The teachers’ pitches for how they planned to use the grant money were judged by Infosys Foundation based on four categories, which were: innovative approaches to maker education, strength of proposed plans, impact, and quality of presentations.

“These winning teachers have been recognized for creating hands-on, experiential, and inclusive opportunities for students to learn computer science in personally meaningful ways, helping their students to understand how it's relevant to the real world and to their lives,” the June 28 Infosys news release stated. “With determination and a relentless commitment to their students, these educators have been doing this hard work despite the continued challenges of COVID-19 and educational inequity. These teachers are working with underserved students in Title 1 schools and in rural communities. They’re also serving students who are neurodiverse or have disabilities.”

Infosys Foundation USA was established in 2015 with the mission of expanding access to computer science and maker education to K-12 students and teachers in public schools across the United States, with a specific focus on increasing access to underrepresented communities, according to its website.

“Infosys Foundation USA's Infy Maker Awards contest is open to K-12 teachers who are leveraging maker education to create equitable pathways for students to engage in computer science,” the contest’s website states. “Across the U.S., many K-12 classroom teachers are striving to create more opportunities for their students to participate in meaningful making experiences that engage them in computer science. However, these teachers are also facing challenges and obstacles, whether that may be a limitation of resources or opportunities to build relationships with like-minded peers.”

To help them overcome some of their challenges and obstacles with engaging students in computer science, apart from Huttner receiving the $10,000 grant, up to three teachers from Savanna Oaks will have the opportunity to participate in the Making Computer Science Inclusive Cohort. The cohort is a multi-month professional learning experience facilitated by nonprofit Digital Promise, which will take place in August and September and will consist of virtual monthly sessions and one-on-one customized coaching sessions.

"These educators are the heart and soul of the maker community and deserve the resources to provide their students with an impactful hands-on computer science experience," Infosys wrote in a June 28 Instagram post announcing the Infy Maker Award winners. “Maker education provides a pathway for all learners from diverse cultures and backgrounds, to engage in computer science, and it is the mission of the foundation to open those pathways for students who are eager and willing to learn.”

Reporter Neal Patten can be reached at npatten@wisconsinmediagroup.com

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