Lisa Chavez is not just your average third grade teacher.

Nope — she’s a creative problem solver, STEM inspiring role model, newly elected IA CUE Board Member, and the newest winner of the LeRoy Finkel Fellowship (LeRoy’s Big Idea). Despite teaching in the midst of a pandemic, Chavez – a 20-year education veteran – was able to make more meaningful connections with her students, families, and learning community as a whole, while learning to utilize EdTech in ways she hadn’t previously dreamt about.

Chavez tells OnCUE about the incredible year she’s had and how CUE has helped shape her into the award-winning STEMinist she is today.

You’ve had quite the year – your success with the Snap the Gap program, your winning of the LeRoy Finkle Fellowship (LeRoy’s Big Idea), and being newly elected to the IACUE Board of Directors! Can you tell me a little bit about your ventures this year and what inspired you to pursue these endeavors?

I started being a site coordinator for Snap the Gap in the fall of 2019.  I am always looking for opportunities to bring STEM to my school community. I received an email in October of 2020 from UC DAVIS asking if any site coordinators  were interested in a virtual model of the mentorship program. After seeing the growth in the group of students from the year before, I jumped at the chance. It was a challenge to find mentors for 20 students, but it turned into an amazing opportunity to connect students to female STEM leaders in their fields. It almost didn’t happen, but through the power of Twitter, CUE, and some phone calls I was able to connect students to these amazing mentors.

The virtual mentorship had some other advantages too.  The girls were able to keep their kits at home and had more time to build their weekly Little Bits projects. They could also watch, pause, and rewind the how-to videos that UC DAVIS and Little Bits provided. I linked the how to videos, Flipgrid links for them to connect with their mentors, and Zoom links for their weekly meetings in their Google Classroom. I had mentors from Japan, Hawaii, Texas, Arizona, and throughout California. The girls were able to connect with engineers from Edwards Air Force Base, park interpreters from the PORTS program, EdTech leaders from CUE and ISTE, environmental managers, and other educators/coordinators who donated their time to connect with and mentor a student from our school.

Students utilized Flipgrid to connect with their mentors for the Snap the Gap Program.

Some mentors were able to meet with students via Zoom during our weekly meetings and mentors would also check in via Flipgrid. The students shared their projects with their mentors and also left self reflections in their Flipgrid posts. It was such an amazing and powerful thing to be a part of to watch these students learn and grow each week. I shared how I did all of this during my sessions at CUELA Palooza and Spring CUE. 

Chavez, second from right, with some mentors from Snap the Gap Program at her school site in 2019

After Snap the Gap ended, I began looking at my 3rd grade social studies standards. I faced a new challenge to teach my students about their local history when our local museum was closed and the students were distance learners. I was able to connect with our local historian and he faced a similar challenge. He had a museum of artifacts and was unable to visit local schools. I reached out to some of my mentors from Snap the Gap. One worked at a museum and two others were coordinators for the PORTS program. They were successful at sharing their locations with students and they gave me some ideas. I looked at the different EdTech apps that were out there that I could use to help me connect our local history to my students. 

I also reached out to an old high school friend who was also a third grade teacher at another school within our district. We all worked together to do some research.  She was able to contact some of the long-time residents and get their stories about the local landmarks.  I used Wakelet to collaborate with her and share our resources. While she worked on stories from locals, I went to work on the local historical landmarks. I  looked at our local park district website and it provided the latitude and longitude coordinates for different local landmarks. I put the locations in Google Earth and started creating a virtual field trip of all the local landmarks.

My son was a former video production student and he helped me create some movies about the different landmarks using iMovie. We visited the local landmarks with the historian who shared with us the history of each location. We added the videos and now pictures into the iMovies we created and added them to a Google site for the students to access. While filming, we realized how great it would be to get a drone for aerial footage of some of these historic sites. We also faced problems with sound and stabilizing video while filming.

At that time, I noticed on Twitter that IACUE and CUE were offering grants for teachers. I decided to apply for these grants and see if we could get some help with getting the equipment we needed. While learning about these historic locations, our students now had questions for the local historian too. I set up a Flipgrid so our third grade students were able to leave videos to ask the historian questions. He could then leave videos to answer their questions. The students also interviewed family members to find out why their families moved to our local area too. My students also collaborated on a class book about the history of our city (Google Docs and I inserted pictures of their drawings of local landmarks sent to me via ClassDojo). 

Chavez, pictured here in front of the oldest building in Hesperia. It was the first schoolhouse built in the 1880s and a source of inspiration for Chavez’s LeRoy Finkel Fellowship submission.

When I received an email that I was a finalist for the Leroy Finkel Fellowship, I made a video of samples of work that we did so far and shared it during my pitch to the judges at Spring CUE. I still can’t believe I won the LeRoy Finkel Fellowship (LeRoy’s Big Idea) Award. My IACUE meetup was an hour later and I then learned that I also won an innovation grant from IACUE! After finishing this local history project, I plan to use the video equipment to start a video club at my elementary school next school year. CUE helped me by giving me a place to learn how I could effectively use these EdTech tools and the educators at CUE provided the support when I needed it most. I am so excited to be on the IACUE Board of Directors and I can’t wait to work with this amazing group of innovative educators. 

That is absolutely amazing – that is incredible work you’re doing with your local historian and those girls from Snap the Gap! Now, from our conversations and what I see on the socials, you are always looking for opportunities to learn and grow. Where does that drive come from?

I am always searching for ways I can use Chromebooks with my students for engaging activities. I see the difference in my student’s confidence whenever they are empowered to creatively problem solve or problem solve to create. I have many friends and mentors in my life who encourage me whenever I get discouraged and I also return the favor.  I have a good friend who is an edtech trainer/ teacher from my school district, Debra Peters, who became a member of IACUE board. I also have another friend and mentor who came into my life a few years ago, Jennifer Goodman. Jennifer is a former Apple Genius turned educator, a member of our district’s IMPACT team, and a teacher at my school. One day, at a district competition, we had a conversation about all the things we wanted to see happen at our school. We instantly connected and a wonderful friendship began. We always encourage each other in risk taking and trying new things to effectively engage our students in the best practices. We became more active on Twitter and connected with innovative educators. Sonny Magana talked about “social entrepreneurship” and solving “wicked problems” during a Cyberlab training that I did last fall.

You can look at a challenge as an opportunity to grow. The opportunities come from looking for training, grants to bring STEM to my school, trying to address problems, co creating/ colearning with my students, or just connecting with others who reach out and invite me to join them on a project. The courage or drive comes from just looking for ways to bring opportunities to students and help my community, having the support of my family, friends, mentors, coworkers, Twitter PLN, and administrators.

I’ve noticed STEM is prevalent in your conference presentations and your work with Snap the Gap. Why is STEM important to you?

My daughter was the only girl in a “Gateway to Tech” class at our local junior high. I remember her first day when she came home after attending that class. She was so excited about being in the class. Her excitement began to fade as the weeks went on because she felt  intimidated about being the only girl. She did different STEM activities every day like building mouse trap cars, learning robotics, and more. My daughter was actively problem solving every day and her confidence in her abilities grew with every activity. Mid year something even more amazing happened – she got a new STEM teacher who just happened to be female.  (By the way, that amazing teacher began holding VEX robotics competitions at the junior high in the years that followed!)

I realized, through the eyes of my daughter, how important it is to reach out to those who are underrepresented. Students need to see role models that represent them and these activities are important for students to feel empowered. As educators, we have the power to help make a difference in our student’s lives and what a gift it is to be a teacher.

I am also the science fair coordinator at my school and I love to see the excitement in the student’s eyes and hear about their wonderful projects each year. I  have watched students from our school go on to compete at the county level. I believe students need authentic experiences like these that help them learn and grow. The classroom should be a safe place for students to be able to take risks and try to solve problems that they would experience while engaged in an activity. Students also see the “why” behind learning a concept and immediately apply the knowledge that they are acquiring from a lesson. 

When did you first become involved with CUE? Was it through a conference? What kept you coming back? 

My first CUE conference was the IACUE Tech Fair in early 2020. My friend, Jennifer Goodman, and I  brought a group of coworkers with us. It was at that conference that I first met amazing innovative educators like Sonal Patel, Kim Voge, Kristin Oropeza, Tory Wadlington, and others. I also became a member of CUE. The pandemic hit last March and I became more active on Twitter. I believe that educators should have free and equal access to training. Due to the pandemic, it was easier to find professional development online and travel was no longer an issue. Virtual EdTech conferences were being offered and many for free. I remember seeing Joe Marquez for the first time at a Star Wars themed CVCUE. I had just started using Flipgrid, but he blew my mind on the different ways he used Flipgrid and app smashed too. I wouldn’t have tried half the things I do with Flipgrid (like connecting students to mentors for Snap the Gap) if it wasn’t for that “Hacking the Grid” session. Plus, Joe would also answer questions that I had while trying different things with Flipgrid (long after the session was over).

Chavez presented for the first time at Spring CUE this year, with fellow STEM mentor Jennifer Goodman.

This year was so challenging and the educators and innovators from CUE were really there for me. I would message them with questions and they would provide answers or recommend where to look or who to go to get more information. CUE is amazing because of the support that you find from its members. It doesn’t matter what affiliation you are with either because we are all in this together to try and do the best we can for our students.

Chavez, as one of five newly elected Board Members for IACUE

How has CUE influenced you, your work, and your professional growth?

CUE has intensely multiplied my professional growth this year, from the virtual conferences, connecting with others on Twitter, and sharing what I learned from these amazing educators with my staff and school district. Some of the best ideas for research based practices for engaging students I have learned in a CUE session or posts from educators who are CUE  members. I am a member of my district’s IMPACT team and we are sharing things we learn from CUE conferences. Debra Peters told me about the IACUE election. I decided to run and was recently elected a member of the IACUE board. I am excited for new opportunities around the corner, like working with IACUE, learning Microbits with a group of educators from the Inland Empire, and working with Jon Corripo in Eduprotocols with a group of educators from my school district this Fall.

What are you most looking forward to when COVID restrictions start to lift and things start to return to the new “normal”?

I took many things for granted and I was driven by trying to find ways to connect with my students. I learned a lot this past year and I plan to continue to apply what I learned. I miss doing hands-on activities in the same room with my students. I miss all the district events that were canceled. My son had a drive up graduation last year to get his diploma. A friend of mine retired after 34 years and I set up a Flipgrid for everyone to share messages with her because we couldn’t have anyone visit our site due to COVID restrictions.

I learned that Social Emotional Learning is the most important subject. Lessons must be taught every day and I need to find ways to integrate SEL into the different subjects and the material that my students access. 

I also look at EdTech apps differently now. I quickly learned that if it wasn’t safe, effective, supportive, and easy for my students to use…it didn’t matter how good I was at using it. Students need to be trained how to become effective digital citizens and use technology responsibly. Once you take the time to train students, they become more engaged in learning activities. With programs like Flipgrid and PORTS, educators no longer have limited accessibility to finding mentors, field trips, and learning opportunities for their students due to distance, time, or money. My third graders and I created newscasts by app smashing with Flipgrid and iMovie during the pandemic. I can’t wait to teach and learn with students video production in person.

I also realized I can communicate with parents through Zoom and Flipgrid when meeting in person is too difficult due to work schedules. I guess you could say that the restrictions challenged us all to find the courage to try to overcome barriers that we faced even before the pandemic. I am hopeful for a new normal that surpasses where we were before. My wish is that we all continue to collaborate together and apply innovative ideas to actively overcome the barriers and obstacles we face every day to help our students prepare for their futures.

To connect with Lisa and follow her journey, check her out on Twitter: @chavelishesp

About Kristin Oropeza
Kristin is a full-time special education teacher, contract consultant, and educational content writer. She is a Google Certified Teacher (Level 1 and 2), Google Certified Trainer, and MIE Expert for 2020-2021.