MassCUE is pleased to announce Alva Laster as our Featured Educator for November 2022!
As a Computer Science teacher who is also a Technology Coordinator for STEM Middle Academy in Springfield, Alva Laster uses her leadership abilities and her love of technology to help students and teachers gain confidence in 21st century skills. When she isn’t teaching a class, she is working with teachers to incorporate computer science into their lessons. She says one thing she really loves about her job is that computer science skills can really be incorporated into any subject.
“I enjoy being able to incorporate technology into instruction that goes beyond just a Promethean board or a docking station,” Laster says. “I really like working with educational technology that will make teachers’ live a little bit easier and increase student performance and engagement.”
Among the creative projects she has brought to her students is a collaboration with a music teacher at STEM Middle Academy that combines music production, coding and podcasting. Using a program called EarSketch*, the students are learning how to code through music. Laster is planning on submitting the students’ work in a national competition through EarSketch called Your Voice is Your Power in December. Click here to listen to a draft of a 6th grade student’s music production clip that will be entered into this year’s competition. The contest has been a big motivation for the students.
“I had a sixth grader tell me on a Friday that he was going to go home and work on his portion because he is really interested in the competition,” Laster says. “When he showed me on Monday what he had done, I nearly cried. I was really wowed by what he came up with.”
Laster learned about EarSketch after a discussion with a colleague in the district. They were both participating in a Computer Science training through code.org that was funded by a grant. The colleague told Laster about programs they were using from Amazon Future Engineer and from there, she found EarSketch.
Laster has worked to incorporate the popular game Minecraft into lessons in a couple of creative ways. This year, students will use Minecraft in Social Studies to create a civilization from ancient Mesopotamia. They’ll use geographical features and concepts they have been learning about in class and combine it with coding to create the civilization. She’s also used it with science classes, having students who were learning about plants and pollination create 3-D pollinator gardens in Minecraft. This year she plans to work with the students to build their own beehives that incorporate micro:bit technology. Using this tool, the students will count the number of bees, check temperature and humidity levels and record the sound of the bees.
“Technology makes learning fun,” says Laster. “For the child who may not be engaged or the child that is struggling in one area, technology can make the difference.”
Powtoon is another favorite tool that Laster uses with students. Students can use it to create a cartoon to communicate their understanding of a novel (or one chapter of a novel). Laster also likes Flip (formerly Flipgrid) to help students communicate.
“If we use these tools with students working on communication, it will strengthen their writing,” Laster says.
Technology skills are important for instruction, but also for everyday life, Laster says.
“I like how technology can make your life easier,” she says. “I believe that if we incorporate more technology into instruction, we can increase our students’ performance and we can put them on equal footing with their suburban counterparts.”
Ms. Alva Laster is a computer science teacher at STEM Middle Academy in Springfield, Massachusetts, where she teaches Intro to Computer Science to sixth-graders. Alva believes that technology is essential for academic excellence and the development of critical thought in secondary education and beyond. She has a Master of Education in Educational Leadership and Management from Fitchburg State University and is enrolled in a doctoral program to earn an Ed.S in Instructional Technology.
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