Philadelphia teacher is in the running for a creativity prize

Posted: October 10, 2011

With school budgets stretched tighter than ever, an extra $10,000 to use in the classroom sure would come in handy, right?

Philadelphia teacher Mary Beth Hertz has a shot at just that prize, but she has to convince the American public that she deserves to win the money, which she'd use to beef up her school's new Parent Resource Center and add technology in the computer lab.

Hertz, a former district teacher in her second year of teaching technology skills at Alliance for Progress Charter School in North Philadelphia, is one of 10 finalists in the Great American Teach-Off, which encourages votes for "America's most innovative teacher." The contest is sponsored by the University of Phoenix and media group Good Inc. The goal, organizers say, is to find the teacher who best demonstrates how he or she has had a positive impact on students and the greater school community and fostered innovation and creativity in the classroom.

Call it American Idol for teachers. Every Monday through the end of the month, new videos by Hertz, 31, and the other finalists are posted at http://www.good.is/great-american-teach-off. After a week of voting, the lowest two vote-getters are eliminated. The last teacher left standing when the voting closes on Oct. 30 will be declared the winner.

Hertz's credentials are solid. She's a go-to member of the national education community on technology issues. She blogs at her own site and for a site called Edutopia about technology integration at the elementary level; helped create EdCamp, a local, teacher-run series of free professional development sessions that has spawned spin-offs around the country; and is a moderator of #edchat, a weekly Twitter chat for educators that draws thousands of participants from around the world.

"I love the way technology allows my students to have the learning right there in their hands," Hertz said in a video designed to show how she's an innovative teacher. "I love how students can connect with the whole world. . . . Overall, my philosophy is that education should be about developing independent, critical thinkers. Our students learn by doing, and they learn through experience."

The money would make a difference, Hertz said. The school provides the basics, but she has already had to raise money for extras; to start a robotics club for girls, she's taking donations from her online network. She'd like to outfit Alliance for Progress' computer lab with headphones and microphones for podcasting. She wants to buy licenses for software the school can't afford. Hertz also feels strongly about using some of the $10,000 toward parent resources - a fax machine and more computers so parents can search for jobs. "You can't help the kids if you don't help the parents," she said.

New Jersey teacher Terry Dougherty, who works in Galloway Township, is also in the running for the prize.

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