Late last year, a group of teachers in the US each got their DonorsChoose.org projects fully funded, thanks to a matching offer from 3Doodler. As a result, students in classrooms across the country got their hands on 3Doodler Start pens, and were able to unleash creativity in the classroom like never before.

In the second of our DonorsChoose.org teacher profiles, we take a look at two more educators, Patricia Dennis-McClung of Sonora Middle School in Springdale, Arkansas, and Christy Marta of Aspen Ridge School in Ishpeming, Michigan.

Ask Patricia Dennis-McClung what it is that motivates her as a teacher, and she’ll tell you that it’s the ‘aha’ moments on her students’ faces. “It’s seeing their faces light up,” she says, when they finally grasp a concept, or when they make that crucial connection from A to B. Throw the same question to Christy Marta, and she’d agree and say that her students push her to be a better person and a better teacher. “They are an inspiration to others even if they don’t know it yet.”

Sonora Middle School has a very diverse make-up, with about half of the students identifying as Hispanic and 15% as Marshallese. “Springdale has the largest Marshallese population outside of the Marshall islands.” Over 52% of students meet the low-income criteria, and 78% of the students enrolled at Sonora Middle School receive free or reduced lunch – “and that’s those that have filled out the paperwork and qualified,” Patricia adds, as many of the parents simply don’t know how.

Aspen Ridge School is, Christy says, a rural school in a remote community. “We have a large preschool-8th-grade population, and with the cost of basic supplies, curriculum materials, and intervention programs, it’s sometimes difficult to meet all current needs.” One of her main priorities is ensuring that her students leave her classroom with a lifelong love of learning. Key to that is having access to proper materials, like the 3Doodler Start EDU bundle successfully funded late last year.

Much like Blair and Connie, Christy and Patricia both came across 3Doodler via DonorsChoose.org. Patricia had wanted for some time to incorporate 3D printing pens into her 3D design classes, and when she saw the matching offer made by 3Doodler, she knew that they would be perfect for the gifted and talented program at her school.

"The pens have turned an everyday assignment into something amazing."

“3D printing is something that a lot of these kids are going to be working with in the future,” she says. “And that’s something that I don’t think people have really thought about at the moment.” The 3Doodler Create Half EDU bundle that they received earlier this year has given her students an opportunity to have a hands-on experience with technology that already shapes the way the world works – from Hershey’s Kisses to homes that have been printed entirely with 3D tech. “It’s just insane the way technology is moving, so I think that it’s important for kids to have exposure to it.”

For Christy, the reasons for choosing 3Doodler were a little simpler – after discovering the Match Offer, she did a little research on 3Doodler and what the pens could do, she realised that they would be ideal for use in her classes.

“I looked into them,” she says, “And loved what I saw. I thought I could use them to help my students visualise shapes in their actual 3D forms in math, make models of plants, cells and planets in science, and write stories and create characters through 3D modeling in language arts. I saw the students being able to bring their ideas to life, and I thought it would add fun and excitement to the curriculum.” It has, Christy adds, gone beyond that – her students absolutely love using the pens. The pens have “turned an everyday assignment into something amazing,” and her students have come up with any number of ways in which to use the pens, which they beg to be able to use every day.

"I’m always just shocked by the people that I don’t know that donate. It shows how important something like DonorsChoose.org is."

It’s clear that this enthusiasm for the pens is shared by Patricia’s students too. “They love them,” she says. “When they see them laid out, they get really excited. The first time we used them, it was in a 45 minute class, and I was just so impressed that they did so much better than I did.” Patricia’s students went from using the pens to weld 3D printed pieces together, to using them to create small-scale models of things they’d create on a 3D printer. “There will be more ways for the students to use the pens than what I’d initially anticipated. I’m going to be creating a makerspace so that more students from the school can use them. I want to be able to provide an opportunity for more students to use them than just my class.”

Both Christy and Patricia have said that the pens, and the use of tactile technology, have been very easily incorporated into their classroom work. “They’re a great motivator for kids,” Christy says, “and are an effective teaching tool. Students are allowed free time to use the pens after all their work is complete, and it has been very effective.” Her students are always thrilled to be able to use them, and whatever they create is only ever limited by their own imagination.

Unlike Blair and Connie, both Patricia and Christy shared their DonorsChoose.org projects openly with their students – Christy’s students are in fact begging her to do another project to get more pens or more of the plastic refills. When it came to getting their projects heard, neither educator did all that much, other than post about it on social media. “Since we do have such an impoverished community, [the children and their parents] were not able to donate to it,” Patricia explains. “I have a classroom Instagram page so I put it on there, and I put it on Facebook too. I’m always just shocked by the people that I don’t know that donate. It shows how important something like DonorsChoose.org is.” Christy also shared her project on Facebook, and adds that this project had been fully funded by two donors. “Normally I’d have parents or companies to thank, but both of the donations were anonymous.”

As much fun as the students have been having with the pens (and both educators have plenty to say on that topic!), for Patricia it’s all about what they’ll take away from the experience of using them. “Are they fun? Absolutely,” she says, “but hopefully it’ll allow them to see things differently.” Tactile technology, and the benefits of hands-on learning with the pens can already be felt, mere months into use for both teachers. “I think they’re a bit more cooperative. There’s always someone that’s willing to jump in and help out another student, or they’ll swap pens and say ‘here, use mine and I’ll fix yours’.”

The possibilities are endless, agrees Christy, and it’s thanks to platforms like DonorsChoose.org, which has allowed educators access to materials previously inaccessible to them. “Every day, the students demonstrate that they are critical thinkers, leaders, dreamers, hard workers, and amazing little people.”

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