EdTech Spotlights: Jodi Nierman, of PES, with Innovative Project Designs

“You should know we just had a ‘throw-up in here'” Mrs. Nierman warned.  (Thanks to a great custodian and some open windows we’d never’ve known).   Her 3rd graders had just completed a unit, with the rest of their cohort, on space and were instructed to demonstrate their learning.  ” … [S]tudents got to pick anything about space to research more at home, create a visual, and present it to our class and parents on showcase night.” – Mrs. Nierman

We’d walked to her classroom through the 3rd grade hall, impressed with the sheer variety of projects on display.  Not a single artifact was like another.  I was haunted by the “Cliff Dwellings” unit in my own 4th grade Colorado History unit a decade ago.  At the end students made a diorama to help show their learning.  It’s what’d always been done.  If we’d been able to take a VR field-trip to the Cliff Dwellings and really personalized students’ opportunities to experience and share learning like this PES team planned and carried out with students, I know one thing for sure:  it would have been lots more memorable for students.

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This group of PES teachers made everything come together with the space unit.  Learning targets?  Check.  Cross-curricular connections? Check.  Reading, writing, speaking and listening?  Check.  Thematic room decor? Check.  Technology?  Yes, but not in the way we sometimes think of it in the classroom.  While they regularly use Promethean boards, Chrome books, and other resources to increase engagement, support differentiation, and increase voice and choices in learning, teachers saw another opportunity.   When asked to create a visual, students were allowed total freedom.  Some sculpted, others colored, many cut and glued – almost all projects involved string, and then some like the one we’re about to see, went full-on techie.

First, a little background:  This year I helped host, and attended, the ’17-’18 Super Connected Conference where I learned about a new concept:  programmable paintings.  

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Take a look at what’s behind the scenes:

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TSD students are showing us that this kind of technology is accessible to all of us, not just PhD candidates at MIT.  By participating in a learning community focussed on providing personalized learning opportunities, PES students are free to explore a wide variety of ways to communicate their learning.  What does this PES 3rd grader’s project have in common with the programmable painting idea?  According to Mrs. Nierman:

After exploring the Star Lab, Xylee knew she wanted to study constellations and create her own planetarium.  She took off with it with the help of her family.  They recorded Xylee reading constellation stories and created an electronic board with mp3’s of each story.  Xylee drew 13 constellations with glow in the dark markers and stitched led lights in the constellation shapes with the help of her grandma.  Finally they put it together using black sheets, an umbrella and a lampstand … She took off with this project based learning opportunity.  I am proud of her hard work!

Xylee and her family learned a way of applying the programmable paining idea on their own.  Technology is no longer for the elite, economically or educationally speaking.  Technology is for everyone, everywhere, all the time.  Xylee clearly felt encouraged and supported enough to explore possibilities rather than being confined to random check lists like we used over a decade ago for the Cliff Dwellings unit:
  • Does  your diorama have at least 3 structures?
  • Does it have 6 tools used by Cliff Dwellers?
  • Does it have your name, the date, and your class name?

In fact, I don’t even remember seeing Xylee’s name anywhere on her project.  It didn’t need it.

PES1 Nierman

By Jeannie Sponheim @edtechtsd


  1. This is a great project and Xylee you did a great job. I am personally a big fan of stars and constellations and I think your project represented the constellations great and connected really well to your lesson.


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