Local educator named a PBS ‘Digital Innovator All-Star’

It’s no secret that educator Bobbi Starling knows her way around technology.

When she was a classroom teacher at Woodland Elementary School in Zephyrhills and at Centennial Middle School in Dade City, she was constantly introducing students to technical tools which could enhance their education and broaden their view of the world.

Bobbi Starling has recently been selected to the PBS Digital Innovator All-Star Program. It’s a new program, and only 30 educators nationwide were selected, including just Starling from Florida. (B.C. Manion)

Now, as the magnet schools program coordinator for the Pasco County school district, she has the potential to have a positive impact on a greater number of students — albeit indirectly, she said.

Starling’s classroom teaching work was recognized by PBS in 2015, when she was selected as one of 100 educators across the nation to be named a PBS Digital Innovator. She went on to become one of 30 nationwide to be named a lead Digital Innovator.

More recently, Starling was chosen to take part in a new program called the PBS Digital Innovator All-Star Program.

Thirty educators across the country were chosen for the program, including just Starling from Florida.

Gail Taylor, director of educational services for WEDU, nominated the Pasco County educator.

“She’s just perfect for this award. She’s just so innovative,” said Taylor, noting she wasn’t surprised Starling was selected.

“We thought she was a shoo-in. She’s amazing,” Taylor added.

“We’ve done a lot of work with her over the past few years.

“We did a great STEM fair when she was teaching at a middle school, before she became the magnet school coordinator.

“The kids were actually programming their own iPads to make robotic balls move around a paint tray, and they painted coasters and T-shirts, using those little robotic balls.

“They were playing games, using Gummy Worms as conductors and game pieces,” Taylor said.

As part of the All-Star program, Starling will have access to virtual and in-person events, including the PBS Digital Innovator All-Star Summit, and the International Society for Technology and Education Conference in Chicago, Illinois, in June.

She can’t wait.

This bus has been converted into a Mobile Aviation Lab, to provide more students a chance to get exposure to aviation and aeronautics lessons. (Courtesy of Bobbi Starling)

“At that summit, we’re going to be put on teams with people from other states, and we’re going to be developing some new curriculum — a three-part virtual learning series.

“There will be different focus areas for STEAM, social studies, language arts, digital arts, all sorts of different things. We’ll be developing some new content that will be offered.

“It will be housed on the PBS Learning Media.org website and that’s free for everybody in the state of Florida, including the premium resources,” Starling said.

The educator believes that technology is the great equalizer, when it comes to learning opportunities.

Technology helps children who come from impoverished families to have the same kind of experiences as those who come from affluent households, Starling said, noting that virtual reality and other technological tools can level the playing field.

Starling said she was delighted when she learned of her nomination, and “ecstatic and thrilled” when she found out she’d been selected.

“Reading the biographies of my peers that were also nominated, I was actually blown away by the people that are there,” Starling said. “I cannot wait to make some neat connections and share some interesting ideas, and I’m sure that I will be learning a lot, hearing a lot, and hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute, too.”

In her current district position, she works will all of Pasco schools, but more heavily with the Sanders Memorial Elementary STEAM Magnet School in Land O’ Lakes; the Centennial Middle School STEM Magnet School in Dade City; and, the Bayonet Point Middle STEM Magnet School in New Port Richey.

This student is getting a virtual reality experience on a school bus that the Pasco County school district has converted into a mobile aviation lab. (Courtesy of Bobbi Starling)

Starling also noted that the district has nine elementary schools that have aviation equipment. They are the elementary schools in the feeder patterns for Zephyrhills, Sunlake and Hudson high schools, which each have aviation and aeronautics academies.

But Terry Anchman, the director of career and technical education, came up with the idea of converting a school bus into a mobile Aviation STEM Lab, Starling said.

That way, fifth-graders from other district schools can get their hands on equipment such as flight simulators, 3D printing, virtual reality and drones, the educator said.

“I developed a curriculum for that. So, all of those students get a little bit of a taste for aviation and aeronautics,” Starling said.

She hopes that exposure will spark an interest in students, who can then consider attending one of the district’s magnet middle schools, which offers the curriculum.

She also hopes that parents will become more aware of the district’s educational options.

Taylor, herself a former classroom teacher, is confident that Starling will make a difference in the PBS program, just as she has as a classroom teacher.

“She’s just one of the best teachers I’ve ever been associated with,” Taylor said.

“She’s just what education ought to be,” Taylor added. “If all of our teachers could be Bobbi Starling, it would be a whole new world.”

Published April 11, 2018

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