Armstrong Elementary School art teacher Ann Erickson has received an ING Unsung Heroes Award, which will allow her to teach with and about ThinkBlocks, 14-sided magnetic blocks that help children learn about systems, relationships and abstract concepts.
Erickson said she has been experimenting with ThinkBlocks in her art classes, but she has been limited because the school only has one set, which Wolfe purchased for the school. "I am hoping that when students have ThinkBlocks in their hands, students will be able to use them to construct their own knowledge," she said.
With the grant, the school will purchase additional ThinkBlocks and will hold sessions to show teachers how to work with the blocks and incorporate use of the blocks into lessons, said Shane Wolfe, Armstrong principal. Armstrong also offers emotional disabilities and enhanced autism programs, and ThinkBlocks will be a great tool to use with students with disabilities, Wolfe said.
ThinkBlocks are a "simple product that really makes people think," Wolfe said. ThinkBlocks can be written on with dry-erase markers, and teachers can use the blocks to help children better understand relationships by writing ideas on the blocks and then attaching them to each other or nesting them. For example, a teacher could write the names of members of an immediate family and connect the blocks to show the familial relationships.
Erickson said she first learned about ThinkBlocks when she was looking for information on teaching concepts. Laura Colosi, who helped to develop ThinkBlocks, assisted Erickson with her grant proposal to ING. "When I saw the ING Unsung Heroes Award, I looked at the form and decided that if I really wanted to have an impact with the ThinkBlocks that I needed to purchase ThinkBlocks for teachers and provide training for Armstrong teachers," she said.
Wolfe said Erickson is always learning about cutting-edge teaching methods. "If there's something new that's coming out, Ann is on top of it," he said. Erickson has spent 35 years in education and understands how it has changed over time, Wolfe said. "There's not a teacher that I can think of who is more deserving of an ING Unsung Heroes Award than Ann," he said.
Receiving the award from ING makes Erickson eligible for finalist grants of $5,000, $10,000 and $25,000. She said she hopes to win the $25,000 first-place grant, so she can expand the program and perform research on the use of ThinkBlocks. "I hope that Armstrong will become a model school for teaching thinking using the ThinkBlocks and we will get back to preparing our students for the 21st century," she said. The winner of the $25,000 grant will be announced in late September.