LAND O'LAKES — Although she's celebrating her eighth year as a teacher of seventh- and eighth-grade language arts, online journalism, Mac applications and creative writing at Academy at the Lakes, Aimee Nadow's appreciation for the technological arts predates her teaching career.
As a child, she took a tape recorder and interviewed her grandmother for a school project.
"When my grandmother passed nine years later, I realized that the recording I took was a record of her life," the Massachusetts native said. "In this way, we still had her voice, a narrative of her life."
Nadow realized the value of merging words and technology in the interest of education. Now the 29-year-old stands among 100 educators named nationwide as 2014 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovators, a group of K-12 teachers selected by the Public Broadcasting Service "for their passion and commitment to innovative teaching practices that integrate digital media and technology in the classroom."
"I decided to become a teacher that merged the classical curriculum with modern technology," she said. "In that way, we can bridge the generational gap in a way that many kids understand."
This merging of the old and new manifests itself in Nadow's classroom, where students use Autodesk 123D Design and a 3D printer to create three-dimensional images of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. They might take a writing prompt from Nadow's Pinterest page and produce their own story on a laptop computer. They can read about Greek mythology, then create a multimedia presentation in which they appear as a god or goddess. Or use iMovie to produce an Alice in Wonderland music video in which they sing, dance and act, or a book trailer about a historical biography.
"When you walk into Ms. Nadow's classroom, there's always something fun happening," said Elizabeth Hannah, 13.
"She's teaching us the skills that will make us into adults," said Carson Passero, 12.
Nadow also is known for her positive, nurturing teaching style. She advises students to "read the directions, then play," when assigning a lesson. She rewards their efforts with positive affirmations like "Bam!" "Props," and "Yeah!" She fills her classroom with stuffed animals and figurines and posts student projects on a classroom Wall of Fame and via two online blogs.
"You don't get stressed out in her class," said Tristen Gittens. "She's a teacher that doesn't scare students."
Mark Heller, Academy head of school, credits Nadow with bringing "light, inspiration, innovation and energy" into the classroom, a sentiment shared by John Pitcairn, middle division director. "Ms. Nadow brings excellence, joy and passion into the classroom," he said. "And she uses technology as one of the tools to bring those human elements into this classroom."
Penny Rogers, director of admissions and marketing at the school, first notified Nadow of the PBS competition and encouraged her to check it out. To enter, she submitted a video and completed two essay questions that described her leadership in digital learning.
As a PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator, Nadow will be an ambassador educator who participates in PBS online and public educational programs.
"As teachers we need to be lifelong learners," she said. "And for me, this honor is a life changer."