October Featured Educator – Jennifer Van Hill

Jennifer Van HillMassCUE is pleased to announce Jennifer Van Hill as our Featured Educator for October 2022!

Whether it’s helping to integrate technology into a lesson plan, supporting a teacher’s technology needs or teaching digital citizenship, Jen Van Hill is always looking for ways to help students, teachers and families better incorporate technology into learning and life. As an Elementary Instructional Technology Specialist at the Glover and Tucker Elementary Schools in Milton, Van Hill collaborates with her colleagues to ensure that her projects, lessons and activities support the lessons that are being taught in her students’ core subjects. All of the lessons she has designed empower and meet the needs of students, while being aligned with Digital Literacy and Computer Science (DLCS) and core subject standards.

“We don’t just teach tech tools for tech tools sake,” says Van Hill. “It’s all about integrating technology into what they’re learning to make it more meaningful.”

As one of two Instructional Technology Specialists serving four elementary schools in the district, Van Hill says it can be a challenge to plan longer-term projects when she sees students every other week. The key, she says, is to be flexible. Van Hill will rearrange her schedule and work with teachers to visit the class more often during a big project, or work to find projects that teachers and students can work on without her once she gets them started. Although it can be a challenge, Van Hill says project-based learning is her favorite.

“I love project-based learning and I think technology is just such a great way to do that,” Van Hill says.

Among the creative ways Van Hill is using technology to back up lessons? Using Stop Motion Studio, she works with students to create stop-motion videos based on things they have learned in the classroom (such as the water cycle). She also teaches students how to create green screen videos on different topics they are studying using the Do Ink app.

“This is a great collaboration with teachers,” says Van Hill. “They work with the students to do the research and we introduce the tech tools and talk about story mapping. They finish it up in class and then they get to film. It’s really fun!”

Van Hill takes advantage of a grant-funded maker space with a 3-D printer to do a variety of other projects tied to curriculum. Second graders learn about insects in science, so Van Hill works with them to create their own insects using the scribble tool in Tinkercad. Once they have their 3-D printed bugs, the students go to the maker space to create habitats for them. In the third grade, Van Hill works with students on a STEM-based challenge using the full Tinkercad program. The students work in groups to build a boat to hold as many pennies as possible. Fourth graders create bookmarks based on a book that they have read. But her favorite is the fifth grade project, in which students design and build an entire city, complete with circuitry and LED lights. Van Hill will be co-presenting on this project at the MassCUE Fall Conference. She says her hope is to show teachers how 3-D printing can be used creatively.

“A lot of sessions on 3-D printing are focused on engineering,” Van Hill says. “I want to show how this technology can be tied into the curriculum as well.”

As for other classroom technology, Van Hill’s favorite tech tool is Pear Deck, which allows you to take a slide deck or worksheet and make it interactive.

“One of the things I love most about Pear Deck is the instant feedback. You can see student answers right away and clear up any misconceptions in the moment,” says Van Hill. “The other thing I really love is the text feature. It’s a great way for those students who are really quiet and don’t feel comfortable raising their hand in class to still have a voice.”

Beyond the classroom, Van Hill works to include families in lessons on digital citizenship.

“Digital citizenship is a skill that should be taught right from the very beginning, when children start to use a device,” says Van Hill. “They should learn how to take care of their device and use apps appropriately. When they get older, we talk a lot about a student’s online life and how to manage that. It’s practicing making those good choices and those good habits now that will save them when they’re older.”

Each year, she co-leads a Digital Citizenship Day, during which parent volunteers come in and do lessons with the kids using the Common Sense Media curriculum.

“This has been a great way to deliver our digital citizenship content and get families involved,” says Van Hill. “It’s important to get families involved so that students can practice the skills at home. The students love being taught by family members. It’s been such a hit!”

Van Hill also works with the school community to educate students and families about digital citizenship through her involvement in several committees. The Milton Public Schools Technology Task Force is made up of administrators, teachers and parents who focus on how technology fits into the strategic plan. This group was particularly helpful during the pandemic, when they set up a boot camp to get kids ready for virtual learning. Van Hill is also a member of the Elementary Digital Learning Team, which seeks to evaluate which tech tools have been the most effective for teachers and students and the Digital Citizenship Team, which aims to educate students and families on how to use devices correctly and responsibly.

As a Technology Specialist who used to be a teacher, Van Hill says the key to her success is meeting teachers, students and families where they are.

“My time as a teacher has helped my perspective. It’s important for teachers to know that they don’t have to have all the answers when it comes to technology,” Van Hill says. “Education is changing and kids are using technology, so if we can integrate tech projects into the things they are learning, I think we can hook them even more.”

Featured Educator Projects

Jen Van Hill has been an Instructional Technology Specialist in Milton for 5 years. Before that she taught 3rd and 4th grade at Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School in Cambridge, MA for 7 years and 3rd grade at Midway Elementary in Anderson, SC for 2 years. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Georgia and a Master’s Degree in Technology from Lesley University.

Attend Jen Van Hill’s session on 3D printing at the 2022 MassCUE Fall Conference!


Print this post Print this post