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Elementary special education teacher brings Cubelets to the classroom

Mary Bonnetty receives NEA Foundation grant for collaborative STEM project

Queen Kaahumanu Elementary School special education teacher Mary Bonnetty is always looking for unique ways to engage her students, especially when it comes to technology.

“Words can’t describe when you watch children learn something new,” she said. “It really helps academically, behaviorally. It’s everything tied in, because they’ve found something that hooks them.”

Now Bonnetty, a retired Army captain with 24 years of service, has a new tool to help make learning fun.

Bonnetty recently received a $5,000 grant from the NEA Foundation to purchase a set of Cubelets—blocks that can be assembled to create modular robots that perform different functions. She was among 19 teachers nationwide who received grants for projects targeting student academic achievement.

“What’s great about Cubelets is you don’t have to have a computer to use them. You just need the components, which are separate technology devices, and you can teach geometric shapes, motion, measurement, data, numbers. The blocks are really sturdy, so they’re user-friendly and safe,” she said. “I introduced the geometric shape of the cube and used it as a form of measurement. A couple of the kids built stacks, like a robot, and actually had it in motion, so we could measure the length of how far we wanted it to go. It’s a great way to bring STEM into the classroom, because you don’t have to code or know how to code to work with Cubelets.”

After seeing the Cubelets in action at a technology conference, Bonnetty searched for a way to get them into her classroom.

She discovered the NEA Foundation grant through HSTA’s Member Matters newsletter*. Her joint HSTA-NEA membership allowed her to apply for and ultimately receive the money to fund her purchase. “I didn’t even know I was a member (of the National Education Association),” Bonnetty admitted. "Without the HSTA sponsoring our NEA membership, this blessed opportunity would have not been possible."

Bonnetty says grant-writing came with a steep learning curve. She credits her success to technology coordinator Celeste Endo, who supported her through the process. Both lead the after-school Tink Think Tank Tech Team class for fourth- and fifth-graders.

“It just really helped me opened my mind to research how I can facilitate learning from different angles. Through the scope of your work, you have to apply evidence-based research and explain how you’re going to integrate it within the time frame for the school year. What core subjects will you use it in and how does it meet the common core state standards? How can it help students meet academic, social and emotional learning? You have to find the evidence-based research behind why you think the technology is beneficial,” Bonnetty explained. “I can use it as a writing exercise by asking, 'What would you build with the Cubelets, and how important it is to have technology?' My students can utilize critical thinking and writing skills."

"Mary's passion for her NEA grant proposal energized me to help carry out her vision," Endo said. "We feel that each of us, adults and children alike, are continuously learning from each other. Mary's generosity to share the grant technologies will have broader impact throughout our school as we teach computer science through Cubelets Modular Robotics to all our pre-K through fifth-grade students."

Bonnetty says she plans to do more grant-writing to bring additional technology to the school, and encourages other teachers to do the same.

“You have a global classroom and you have to give students the advantage by bringing that technology inside your classroom,” she said. “It also leads to teacher collaboration, because when you bring extra technology that is user-friendly for both the teacher and the student, that’s a win-win situation. That builds the communication and collaboration because you learn from each other and bounce off ideas, so I’m really looking forward to what ideas we’ll come up with for our curriculum.”

Featured photo: Mary Bonnetty, left, and Celeste Endo showcase a Cubelets Twelve Kit, which was sent by the manufacturer for trial purposes and ultimately gifted to Bonnetty. Her grant-funded Inspired Inventors Pack and expansions will arrive in time for the 2019-2020 school year.

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