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When Andrea Woods addresses her “techsperts”, she doesn’t answer many questions.  Instead, she asks, “Who have you checked with?” and “Where have you looked for that answer?”  Woods is interested in building  capacity within these students to solve their own technical problems by seeking answers through digital means and their relationships with peers.  Only when these two sources come up short does she allow them to check in with her.  

The “Techsperts” are middle school students in Woods’ weekly after-school club.  They play an important role in supporting student-facing technology at Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls, a unique and growing charter school in St. Louis.  The club assesses the condition of the school’s small fleet of Chromebooks each week (they will all complete Google Chromebook Certification), learns all they can about their Google Apps for Education environment, and picks technology projects to pursue throughout the year, in a Genius Hour approach to learning.  

The “Techsperts” are also one piece of a larger, self-sustaining technology model employed at Hawthorn.  The principal, Dr. Robyn Wiens, has worked with Woods and a self-selected group of teachers to create an “EdTech Working Group” to set technology direction and promote thoughtful use of technology in the classroom.  This group, which designated Woods as facilitator, has accomplished a great deal in only a matter of months since the founding of the school.  The team has …

    • led technology-specific professional development at beginning-of-the-year teacher meetings,


    • trained every student in behaviors and practices important to maintaining their Chromebook computers,


    • developed a “Laptop Liaison” program where two students are invested with responsibility for caring for the computers within a given class period


    • created model teacher websites in preparation for mentoring their colleagues in the design and use of a teacher website for communicating and connecting with others


  • managed the school’s social media presence

This model arranges the growth of technology understanding in ways very similar to Woods’ own “Techsperts” program.  Teachers and students work in partnership to increase their comfort and competence with technology while pushing the boundaries of how to learn better through these tools.  As learners push their use of technology, Gadellnet supplies just-in-time support and development, the third tier of support when “ask Google, then ask your neighbor” doesn’t produce an answer.  It is a privilege to serve such a motivated faculty and group of students.

If you’re interested in what’s happening in Hawthorn classrooms, check out their current short-list of great edtech apps:

    • – communicating with parents and students



    • DuoLingo – independent language acquisition


    • NoRedInk – assessments of students’ grammar knowledge



    • Shelfari – tracking reading progress and practice writing book recommendations


    • Nearpod – broadcast teacher presentations to student devices and assess within them


  • Kahoot! – gamify review quizzes or spark student discussion by voting with any device
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