Month: March 2017

Project Slide

Students in their second professional semester (diversity block) will have the opportunity to collaborate with 5th grade students and STEM teachers from Golfview Elementary School in CUSD 300, Carpentersville, Illinois, for two days. This collaboration will provide science literacy hands-on experiences in a diverse environment related to the school curriculum and NIU course assignments.

Golfview Elementary School located at 124 Golfview Lane, Carpentersville, IL, 60110, houses PK through grade 5 students. There are approximately 750 students: 95.5% Hispanic, 1.6% White, 1.3% African-American, and 94.1% of the students receive free or discounted lunch.  All Golfview fifth grade classrooms (120 students) and NIU students (30) enrolled in Dianne Zalesky‘s ESL Methods and Materials course and Gary Swick’s Community as a Resource course will work in small groups throughout the project.

Students would be involved in two visits set for April 7 and April 21. On their first visit, the NIU students will teach lessons related to biodiversity at the Golfview Elementary School site.  On the second visit, students will meet at Schweitzer Environmental Center. The projects will be finalized and left on display for parents and community members to view.

CUSD 300 and Friends of the Fox River entered into a lease agreement with Kane County to operate an environmental center located in Schweitzer Woods Forest Preserve.  Some features of the center are:

  • easily accessible by students to return with their families
  • has the capacity for hosting meetings, classes, and projects
  • features all 3 main habitat types for study on 160 acre property
  • has Kane County Forest Preserve District as a supporter and partner
  • has a variety of educational resources on-site
  • has a strong educational foundation through affiliation with Friends of the Fox
  • is supported through Project Learning Tree activities, curriculum, and professional development

The Golfview Elementary School principal, Lindsay Sharp, is enthusiastic about the possibilities this initial partnership with NIU students can provide.  In addition, this collaboration between NIU students and Golfview Elementary students supports the COE mission as an added value experience by providing teacher candidates the opportunity to plan, teach, and facilitate researched-based lessons, engage in student-centered learning activities, and collaborate in a diverse community.



Digital dilemma: CLS panel to examine children’s ‘screen time’

cellphone-girlDo you think your children spend too much time glued to digital devices? Are you worried that they’re more connected with their phones, tablets and TVs than with their families and friends?

You’re not alone.

Children ages 8 and younger engage with their screens an average of six hours each day, according to a recent study.

For some school-age children, that connection could improve academic achievement, especially language skills and literacy. Others, however, might experience losses in those areas along with higher rates of obesity and depression.

How can educators, parents, guardians and professionals promote the educational promises of screen time while also mitigating the negative consequences?

The NIU College of Education’s spring Community Learning Series will examine this question from all sides Thursday, March 23, with “The Digital Lives of Children: Giving Screen Time a Closer Look.”

Moderated by Dan Klefstad, host of Northern Public Radio’s popular news program Morning Edition, the panel discussion will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road.

Top: Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee) and Ben Creed. Bottom: Lindsay Harris and Amy Stich

Top: Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee) and Ben Creed
Bottom: Lindsay Harris and Amy Stich

WNIJ-89.5 FM is the media sponsor of the event, which is free and open to the public. A networking reception is scheduled from 5 to 6 p.m.

Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee), chair of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, organized the event with faculty members Benjamin Creed, Lindsay Harris and Amy Stich.

“Where does research stand on these questions? To what extent is research considered by technology developers and educational policymakers? How have parents and educators dealt with increased screen time in homes and schools?” Pluim said.

“Our panel will explore these questions through dialogue between the evidence-based opinions of experts in the fields of psychology and educational technology,” she added, “along with the experiences of professional educators and the experiences and perspectives of the audience.”

Panelists will address what current research says about the relationship between screen time and cognitive and emotional development; academic engagement and achievement; literacy, language and communication skills; and physical health.

They also will provide strategies for parents, Pluim said.

Members of the panel:

  • Danielle Baran, a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital
  • John Burkey, superintendent, Huntley Community School District 158
  • Susan Goldman, Distinguished Professor of psychology and education, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Thomas Kim, principal, Huntley Middle School, DeKalb Community Unit School District 428
  • Jennifer McCormick, fourth-grade teacher, West Elementary, Sycamore Community School District 427
  • Jason Underwood, assistant director, NIU Outreach eLearning

wnij-logoThe NIU College of Education’s Community Learning Series brings together experts from various disciplines and occupations to discuss topics that have included public school leadership, innovative classroom teaching, gender, civil rights, concussions, athletic training and more.



Time is short: March 23 deadline nears for award nominations

trophyFinal friendly reminder: If you know colleagues in the College of Education who deserve special recognition for their work over the past year, the deadline is 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, to nominate them for a 2017 College of Education Awards.

This year’s honors come in eight categories, each with specific criteria:

A letter from the nominator and two letters of support are required to complete the online nomination.



P.E. majors flock to Lorado Taft for intense hands-on experience in teaching outdoor education

Bright sun peeked through mist and bare trees just after 10 a.m. on a late February day as the first hints of record warmth boldly unleashed an early spring.

For two groups of students – one made up of 20 fifth-graders from Aurora’s Krug Elementary School, the other composed of 10 Physical Education majors from the NIU College of Education – the appointment with nature couldn’t have come at a better time.

Within a few hours, the skies gave way to flawless blue while the mercury soared past 70 degrees. Birds chirped. Chainsaws growled. Neither a snowflake nor a chilly wind – usually facts of life in a Midwestern February – could be found.

This trip to NIU’s Lorado Taft Field Campus, an outdoor education center located within Lowden State Park in Oregon, Ill., truly offered the perfect conditions for teaching and learning for young children and young adults alike.

NIU Physical Education major Brandon Palmer helps fifth-grader Yvonne Chanda learn how to start a fire.

NIU Physical Education major Brandon Palmer helps
fifth-grader Yvonne Chanda learn how to start a fire.

“It’s just the best experience for our NIU students,” says Gail Koehling, an instructor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “I hear from them, ‘This week really showed me why I want to be a teacher.’ They’ve had this more than 48 hours of working with these groups of children, and it really validates for them why they’ve chosen this career.”

As future P.E. teachers, Koehling says, the students are adding a priceless distinction to their resumes.

“One the major things they learn during this class is, ‘I’m teaching something that is brand new to me. This shows what a great teacher I can be. You can give me anything – any content – and I can teach it. It doesn’t have to be the thing I’ve done all my life,’ ” she says. “These students are ready and prepared to go out and teach any content you can give them.”

Kelly Miotti, a senior P.E. major from Lockport, made progress at Taft toward her goal to “change people’s lives.”

“I’m learning to be able to talk to students. I’m learning to be more calm,” Miotti says. “The skill that you learn at Taft is basically learning how to keep kids involved for three days straight – and that you have to adapt to every situation. You have to go with the changes.”

Nick Wiltsie helps fifth-grader Angelina Sifuentes with her compass.

Nick Wiltsie helps fifth-grader Angelina Sifuentes with her compass.

“Coming out here, you’re testing more than content knowledge,” adds classmate Nick Wiltsie, a senior P.E. major from Elgin.

“You’re testing confidence levels, resilience levels, character-building skills. Their personal character is begin challenged throughout this experience, and so as a teacher myself, I’m able to take notes to help them become a better individual in the future.”

NIU’s students made an initial visit to Taft about 20 days earlier, during Super Bowl weekend, when they took on the roles of the fifth-graders.

Guided by Taft’s professional and enthusiastic staff, the future P.E. teachers explored the beautiful woods while they learned about orienteering, pioneering, birding, forest ecology, survival and Native Americans. They took night hikes through the darkness, played outside games and performed campfire skits about nature.

Most importantly, though, they saw the outdoor education modeled for them while they planned their own delivery of those same lessons.

Such skills were clearly on display when the children from Krug arrived at Taft, which Koehling calls “a hidden gem.”

After whooping up a rousing welcome for the fifth-graders, the Huskies quickly escorted the boys and girls and their backpacks to the cabins for bunk selection and unpacking.

Kelly Miotti works with Angelina Sifuentes.

Kelly Miotti works with Angelina Sifuentes.

Formal introductions followed – the P.E. majors gave their names, revealed their favorite colors and ice cream flavors and demonstrated their favorite dance moves – as did theatrical presentations of the basic rules: Be on time. Dress for the weather. Respect property, others, nature and yourself. Walk. Stay with an adult.

Quick tours of the grounds led to the dining hall, where the campers and their temporary teachers shared lunch, their first of seven meals together.

By 1 p.m., the real outdoor education had begun.

Miotti, Wiltsie and fellow P.E. major Brandon Palmer marched their quintet of fifth-graders to a large field. They opened their lesson on Native Americans with a poll of the favorite family activities of the children – answers included charades, hide and seek, Uno and dancing – and questions about what the children learned from those things.

“Just like you play games with your family, the Native Americans also played games,” Palmer told the group. And, he added, they learned and sharpened hunting skills amid the fun time of bonding.

Dusk falls over the Rock River at Lorado Taft.

Dusk falls over the Rock River at Lorado Taft.

The children then were taught a different way to play tag, one where the tap had to come behind the knee. A player tagged could remain in the game by hopping around on the untagged leg; if that hopping leg also was touched the player still wasn’t “out,” but had to sit on the grass.

After a few rounds, the NIU students asked their campers what they had learned about hunting from playing the game. Be agile, quick and strategic. Stay low. Keep your hands out. Swivel. Face the other players. Don’t let your opponents strike from behind.

Questions about hunting continued with Fox Walking, a game where one child was blindfolded while her classmates tried to sneak up and steal a stick placed at her feet. The child without sight had to rely on other senses to point in the direction of the would-be stick-stealer.

What senses do the prey use? What are some ways that foxes creep up without being detected? How can being slow, steady and quiet apply to rummaging for food? How can we think like a fox?

Gail Koehling

Gail Koehling

Krug children also hurled spears and sticks at empty laundry soap jugs standing in for animals – What were some of the struggles you had while throwing? – and then worked to make fire by rubbing rope against wood. No matter their effort and sweat, unfortunately, the labor produced little more than some warmth in the stick.

Just think, Palmer told the children: Native Americans needed to make fire in this way every time they wanted to cook food or to stay warm – and imagine how lucky we are to simply flip switches.

Lessons in using a compass came next. Children received a crash course in moving the housing and reading the needle before walking around the field in directions dictated in degrees. Later, they worked in groups to tromp through dense woods in search of orange-and-white posts that would disclose the bearings to the next checkpoint.

Success wasn’t easy; many footsteps were retraced and then retried after the compasses weren’t set properly.

“A little change makes a big difference. It’s not only in orienteering. It’s in life, too,” Miotti told the children, then turning to her NIU classmates with a smile. “Yep. I went there.”

During the walk back to the cabins, she offered more wisdom to the girls. “Ladies, we need to talk about respecting ourselves and others,” she said. “Your attitude will reflect your time here.”

And, naturally, this: “It’s OK if we make mistakes. You learn from every mistake you make.”

“I just kept motivating them,” Miotti says.

Wiltsie watches as fifth-graders Cindy Garcia (center) and Bella Davila try to make fire with rope and stick.

Wiltsie watches as fifth-graders Cindy Garcia (center)
and Bella Davila try to make fire with rope and stick.

“This is so real-life,” Koehling says. “This gets them to step up and be the teacher they are – the teacher they’re becoming. They learn about classroom management; about teaching multicultural students; about always being ready to work with other people within your school, whether they’re teaching on non-teaching staff.”

NIU’s course in outdoor education, designed and originally taught by Jenny Parker, an associate professor of P.E. teacher education and now NIU’s acting associate vice provost for Educator Licensure and Preparation, prepares students to teach independently and in teams.

They get the chance to teach curriculum typically not found in the gym, including history and science, along with experience in chaperoning field trips.

“Peaks and Pits” debriefing sessions each afternoon allow them to swap stories of what went right and what could improve with change. It’s important for these almost-teachers to make each other look “golden” in front of the fifth-graders, Koehling says, and it’s already working.

“Our kids are so sweet,” one NIU student shared with the group. “They told us, ‘You’re going to be great teachers.’ ”

For Koehling, who fell in love with this outdoor education course years ago when Parker invited her to Taft to watch for a day, these professional conversations among her students are a joy.

Kelly Miotti

Kelly Miotti

She’s also a passionate participant in the Taft experience.

During the early February weekend, she taught her students the nighttime “Alpha Wolf” game, a non-aquatic version of Marco Polo with howling and jump ropes. No need to keep eyes closed in the pitch-black darkness of a state park.

Koehling also demonstrated to her flock a daytime game that explores survival instincts and the food chain. Players represent herbivores, carnivores and omnivores working to prey on each other – eating down the food chain, or course – while trying to avoid the hunter in search of dinner.

“I’m the hunter,” she says. “We run around like crazy, and I show them how fun this can be.”

Not surprisingly, Koehling hopes to see the outdoor education course expand beyond KNPE to other NIU teacher licensure programs. She also hopes to bring KNPE 200 students to Taft for team-building exercises.

“I just had a former student say to me, ‘I got my principal to OK a trip to Taft for the spring.’ My students know what this experience was like for them, and what this experience was like for these children who get to learn outside of a classroom and away from a desk,” she says. “We’re getting these students outdoors, away from technology and actually moving around.”

Meanwhile, her students are enjoying independence in their teaching for perhaps the first time. They’re being pushed out of their comfort zone, and they’re growing in their confidence and abilities with every happy exclamation from the fifth-graders.

And, even though they’re with the children constantly for three days and two nights, “it’s not about that.”

Wooden stairs meander along a Lorado Taft hill.

Wooden stairs meander along a Lorado Taft hill.

“It’s about all the other pieces that you need to know about as a caring, loving teacher,” Koehling says. “On Friday, when they leave, the students will be crying, and sometimes, my students are crying. The nurturing piece is what I hope they will take with them.”

Wiltsie, who spent four years in the U.S. Army Reserves during his time at NIU, understands. He wants to teach younger generations to become lifelong learners who are physically active while making the most of the gifts and skills they possess.

“If students feel comfortable out here, they’ll definitely feel comfortable back in a gym,” he says. “And if you feel comfortable teaching out here, you can definitely translate that over to the gym setting and the school setting – and be more confident in yourself.”

“I just want to be there to make a difference, even if it’s just one student at a time,” Miotti adds. “(In) physical education, I know that I’ll be able to improve children’s lives by the hundreds.”



Counseling students gain ‘life-changing’ perspectives during mission trips to Guatemala

NIU’s January 2016 contingent of volunteers in Guatemala.

NIU’s January 2016 contingent of volunteers in Guatemala.

Many service-minded NIU students will spend next week’s Spring Break on the road, volunteering their time and labor to improve the lives of people in faraway places.

But that sort of humanitarianism is not constricted to one week of the year.

Just ask Scott Wickman, as associate professor in the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education.

A few years ago, one of his long-ago high school Spanish pupils invited him to travel with her to Guatemala for a mission trip.

Wickman volunteered there under the auspices of Catalyst Resources International, an organization that coordinates teams from around the world to build houses, stoves, water filtration systems, plumbing and other amenities for rural families living in abject poverty among the mountains.

Coming home, he found himself transformed.

“Once you see and meet these children, you’ll never forget about it – and you’ll tell others,” Wickman says. “I was talking about it to a class, and I said, ‘I’m going back.’ And a student asked, ‘Can we go with you?’ That’s how it happens. It’s a ripple effect.”

Scott Wickman at work.

Scott Wickman at work.

He is scheduled to accompany a group of around 10 students to Guatemala during the week of May 20, once again paying forward the gift of sorts he received from his former student.

It’s the second such trip, managed through Huskie Alternative Breaks, during which travelers receive life lessons along with academic learning.

“Our primary purpose is to explore social justice through service learning,” Wickman says. “Last year, we made a hen house the size of a garage, and we purchased 20 chickens for them. That family is now selling the eggs as a way to sustain themselves. We’ve provided a means for a higher quality of living.”

Local Guatemalan carpenters supervise the sawing of boards and pounding of nails, he says. Wickman and the students live in a well-protected residence hall facility, which employs Guatemalans to clean the rooms and make the beds.

Evening hours allow for trips to a nearby orphanage, where the counselors-in-training engage children in adventured-based activities. They also chat with mental health professionals about what counseling looks like in Guatemala as well as what mental health services are available.

They meet children who are bright but not in school; free education stops around fifth- or sixth-grade, Wickman says, forcing many young people to drop out. That often results in adolescent pregnancies while ultimately continuing the cycle of poverty.

Such interactions are eye-opening for NIU students, Wickman says, but so are the heartwarming encounters that reveal “the amount of sharing that takes place” between the villagers.

One hen house, coming up ...

One hen house, coming up …

“There was one day when we had planned a picnic lunch, but on our way we decided to eat at a restaurant instead,” he says. “Our driver saw a local Mayan family walking along the road, so he pulled over and gave them our picnic lunches. He gave cookies to the kids.”

For one of Wickman’s students, that benevolent spirit proved contagious. After meeting a young teen girl who had quit school for financial reasons, the NIU Huskie telephoned her parents and convinced them to pay for the little girl’s secondary education.

His students also see the NIU program’s principles of advocacy, altruism, diversity and social justice reinforced while they gain deeper levels of empathy and new perspectives on counseling.

Most counseling in the United States is practiced behind closed doors during private one-on-one sessions where details are kept confidential, he says. However, given the familial customs in Guatemala, a counselor there might find extended families coming for the sessions.

“This trip helps my students understand how to work with different cultures,” he says. “When we have clients who are Latino, we need to reset ourselves in a way that meets our clients’ needs.”

T.J. Schoonover, a master’s degree student from Sterling, Ill., who participated in first trip in January of 2016, calls it “100 percent life-changing.”

T.J. Schoonover (top center) made some young friends in Guatemala.

T.J. Schoonover (top center) made some young friends in Guatemala.

He remains struck by the reaction by the family who received the hen house – “how happy and grateful they were; their tears of joy” – as well the appreciation he realized for his own way of life in contrast to the extreme poverty there.

“Going to Guatemala was a great opportunity to go and so some service work, to get out of our comfort zone and to challenge ourselves,” Schoonover says. “Seeing how it is outside of America, I know I need to get out and do things in the community, and not just in my community but in other communities.”

Volunteering also improved his multicultural competencies, he says. “It’s more than just reading a textbook,” he says. “It’s talking to people in the community. It’s doing things. It’s putting your skills to practical use.”

In the end, he says, the journey to Central America will make him a better counselor.

“It gave me a whole new worldview,” he says. “I’m reminded that whatever clients I will have, they have completely different stories and backgrounds than me.”

Now that word of the Guatemala trip has spread – registration for this spring is already closed – Wickman has found renewed empowerment in the response of his students.

“Students who go on these trips are interested in being altruistic. They’re willing to get dirty – it is hard labor under hot sun – and they’re willing to be uncomfortable. It’s partly why they went into the counseling program to being with,” he says. “I’m hoping that the ripple effect continues, and that these students who go down there will want to go back again with their own families.”

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.



Yunnan University prof reflects on year spent as KNPE guest

Xia Wen

Xia Wen

Xia Wen, a professor of physical education at Yunnan University in China, teaches one of his school’s most popular classes.

But his intellectual curiosity and professional drive are not nourished by high enrollments alone.

That’s why Xia spent a year – from February 2016 through January of 2017 – at the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education as a guest of Jim Ressler.

“Wen’s area of expertise is outdoor education – we have some common interests in those areas – and he’s here to explore other approaches to teaching and developing curricula in outdoor education,” Ressler says. “We don’t have an outdoor education class, per se, but we do have an adventure education class (KNPE 365) that he regularly attended.”

“NIU has a good research atmosphere,” Xia says, “and I am interested in research direction, a good research team and selfless and useful research support system. I learned a more-advanced administrative system, and cultures and methods of research and teaching at NIU.”

Ressler and Xia connected through the Internet.

“He had a colleague from Yunnan here as a visiting scholar during the last academic year. He did some web-searching, found our program and my profile and, at the time, noticed one of my interests was outdoor education,” Ressler says.

“I have some strong connections with colleagues at other university in the United States that do teach in more-traditional outdoor education programs,” he adds. “We’ve spoken with them, and used some of their materials as sources, to help us mold two new courses that Wen is proposing to his university.”

knpe-tennisVoracious in his reading and journaling, Xia devoured “Effective Leadership in Adventure Programming” by Simon Priest and Michael A. Gass, “Outdoor Adventure Education” by Alan W. Egert and Jim Sibthrop, and “Motor Control and Learning” by Richard A. Magill.

He designed two outdoor education courses. He joined NIU experts, community leaders and visiting scholars for a panel discussion on outdoor education and adventure-based counseling. He observed NIU classes in Exercise and Sport Psychology, regularly attended NIU Athletics events and enjoyed numerous activities in DeKalb in Sycamore.

Ressler and Xia also co-authored a research paper on a water safety education program with data Xia had gathered previously, “but he wanted to write it in English.”

Language presented a barrier at first, Ressler says, but the two worked diligently in the beginning to overcome it.

In the interim, the American learned a great deal from his visitor.

“He is a really nice man, very kind and generous, and extremely committed to his family and his profession,” Ressler says.

“His wife is an elementary school teacher in China, and she stayed behind. He brought their 11-year-old daughter with him because he wanted to provide additional opportunities for her. She went to Jefferson Elementary School last year and Huntley Middle School this year.”

Jim Ressler

Jim Ressler

Professionally, Ressler says, “the experience as a whole was wonderful for me to see how Outdoor and Adventure programming is delivered in other countries and other contexts.”

“I’m fascinated by the structure and expectations of his courses – and how students are engaged and assessed. They seem to have many more grad students deployed to support delivery of the courses,” Ressler says. “I’m hopeful we can continue to collaborate, maybe through an exchange of grad students, continued writing projects and curriculum development.”

Now that Xia is home, he is already sharing what he learned here. “I am preaching my experience and knowledge to my university leaders, colleagues and students,” Xia says, “and I will actively create opportunities for them to visit and communicate to NIU.”