NextGen Leader Eddie Sawyer emphasizes coding, makerspaces in Washington district


Eddie Sawyer’s title changed as his duties, along with technology, took on a bigger role at Vancouver Public Schools in Washington State.

Sawyer, who started at the district as a summer technology aide about 25 years ago, is now the innovative technology solutions coordinator.

Starting a few years ago, “if weird projects came up or more complicated problems, I would get called to help out,” he said in an interview. “Sometimes they were policy and procedure, and sometimes they were actual technical or network issues. We started working on things that were less about technical and more about innovation.”

Sawyer has been named a 2018 NextGeneration Leader by EdScoop and CoSN, and he was honored at the CoSN annual conference this month.

He oversees the implementation and maintenance of new technologies and supports the district’s massive one-to-one initiative. There are around 20,000 iPads floating around at any given time among 21 elementary schools, six middle schools and five high schools. Students in grades 3-12 have access to the devices, which were chosen after an intensive review about three years ago.

“We were able to manage them pretty well and tie them in with our network infrastructure,” he said. “It seemed like the right device for the direction we were going in.”

Now that the iPad initiative is underway, Sawyer has been able to turn his attention to other needs in the district.

Thanks to a state grant, the district is offering computer science education to underrepresented populations. Second, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, as well as students with special needs, are spending anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes a week on coding.

“What I’m hearing from the project lead is just absolutely elated kids,” he said. “It’s engaging and problem solving that benefits them throughout their educational years. The problem solving in coding is the same problem solving you need for figuring out complex math and anything they need as they get older.”

When a mess isn’t a mess

There are also about 12 makerspaces across the district — some are very advanced, while others are smaller areas that have been rededicated to building and making, what Sawyer calls “makercorners.”

“Schools have created spots that might just look like big messes of cardboard, but they’re actually being used really well,” he said. “And then you see some really pristine with drill presses and sewing machines, and they may not be used in exactly the same way.”

Now, Sawyer said, he is exploring what a district makerspace could look like — how they can replicate all the positive aspects of other makerspaces and replicate that for the whole student body.

The makerspaces are filled with 3-D printers, vinyl cutters, robots, sewing machines and other tools.

Sawyer acknowledged that both he and the district have come a long way since he was running ethernet cables for school networks, and he is excited for the possibilities of even newer technologies.

His main source of motivation is “that idea of what’s next, and being able to help put new things into the hands of students to hopefully improve their education, or provide them with a tool they can use to create something amazing,” he said.

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