Tag: Jim Ressler

College of Education maintains nearly perfect edTPA pass rates

Sarah Paver

Sarah Paver

When Sarah Paver began her student-teaching class last August, the graduate student in Physical Education quickly became concerned.

“I was very nervous when the edTPA came up,” says Paver, who graduated in December. “A lot of my classmates had said that they had read the handbook over the summer. I didn’t look at anything until September.”

No problem, though.

The now-NIU alumna aced the edTPA with a score of 66 – 37 points or more is considered passing – to earn the highest Fall 2017 mark of any teacher-licensure student across the NIU campus.

Licensure candidates in the College of Education itself posted a 97 percent passage rate last semester, with nearly all of the 70 undergraduate and graduate students who submitted materials earning stamps of approval.

Passage of the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s abilities in planning, instruction and assessment, is required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states.

Candidates must submit video of their actual teaching of between three and five lessons along with follow-up evidence that their students were learning and achieving. Candidates also must supply examples of further support they provided to students and subsequent plans for future teaching based on the earlier assessment.

For Paver, described by a former professor as “focused, hard-working, well-rounded and really warm and good with kids,” the road to edTPA victory was paved in sections.

edtpa-logo“Once I buckled down, I really conquered it one step at a time,” she says. “I did Task One in one week. I just spent one entire week filming.”

Subsequent steps came after short breaks. “Once I finished one task, I didn’t jump right into the next because it was so easy to burn out,” she says. “If I didn’t put it away and not touch it for a couple days, it could be super-overwhelming.”

Although her submission was complete and ready by the end of October, she held on to it. “We still had two weeks before we had to submit, so I went back and reviewed everything,” she says.

Jim Ressler, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, says the motivation of NIU College of Education students to teach fuels their continued edTPA success.

“They understand that their ability to acquire teacher-licensure in Illinois rests on a passing edTPA score, along with all of the other degree requirements we have in the program, so they take it seriously,” Ressler says. “They understand that being an effective teacher includes the things that the edTPA asks of them, which reinforces the things we believe are important.”

Jim Ressler

Jim Ressler

For example, he adds, “that includes having very clear and dynamic lesson plans. It includes trying to meet the needs of every students. It includes supporting your decisions as a teacher with meaningful data from across all learning domains.”

“Because the edTPA is a performance-based assessment, our candidates are being asked to demonstrate more than what they have learned in their teacher-training programs,” adds Jennifer Johnson, the College of Education’s director of teacher preparation and development.

“They are being asked to demonstrate an understanding of teaching and learning within their own context, their own student-teaching experience. This is something that faculty have prepared them for throughout their coursework and early field clinical experiences,” she says. “NIU College of Education faculty are engaged in the process of preparing exemplary teacher-candidates, and I believe that our candidates’ edTPA results reflect that.”

Paver logged her student-teaching hours at Old Post Elementary School in Oswego. She chose lessons in catching-and-throwing for her video submissions, later measuring student achievement in cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains.

“My cooperating teacher there, Robin Ormsbee, was a great resource for me,” Paver says. “She also videotaped me.”

Children provided hard information on comprehension through a written test with questions on offensive and defensive strategies and the difference between the two.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

They also demonstrated their skills for Paver before, during and after her lessons as she walked among them for first-hand observation. She also watched for signs of respect of their classmates and ability to take constructive criticism, factors that satisfied the affective domain.

“I really enjoyed Oswego and the elementary and junior high schools. I really enjoyed the consistency of teaching full time. It’s the first time I’ve had that, considering clinicals are only an hour a day,” she says.

“I also enjoyed getting to know the students,” she adds. “It was quite sad to leave. You build such great relationships with the kids and the cooperating teachers.”

Paver isn’t sure when she’ll enter the gymnasium again.

Currently using her bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training at an OSF HealthCare centers in Ottawa and Mendota, she is open to Physical Education jobs that would begin in the fall and keep her close to home in her native Big Rock, Ill.

“I’m very happy with the job I have right now,” she says, “but I think that my eyes are always open for teaching positions if the right teaching job came along. I really enjoy the middle- and high-school age, and would love to continue.”

gym-ballsMeanwhile, the future teacher has lessons for NIU students still facing the edTPA.

“Conquer in chunks. Focus on one task at a time. Videotape sooner than later. Task One is videotaping, and you just can’t hold it off until the last minute.”

Also, she says, don’t miss the opportunity to solicit support from classmates. “Our student-teaching class met every two weeks,” she says. “I would make sure I had each task completed before I went to class so I could ask good questions.”

Help is also always available from Judy Boisen, the Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation’s full-time edTPA coordinator.

“Judy is someone we’ve asked to make guest appearances in two or three of our program seminars each semester,” Ressler says. “Our students know Judy. She’s been an incredible resource.”



EdLEAD names first cohort

Chad McEvoy

Chad McEvoy

NIU cultivates a dynamic and enriching environment for faculty looking to grow as professionals, but the College of Education believes there is always room for improvement.

“On our campus and so many other campuses, we are very intentional about professional development for teaching. We have resources on our campus in that regard,” says Chad McEvoy, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“We’re also very intentional about research development as, again, are many other universities,” McEvoy adds. “We’re not always as intentional when it comes to developing future leaders.”

The challenge is clear, he says.

“For our college and our university to be successful in the future, we need strong leaders and we need to develop future strong leaders who are going to be our future deans, associate deans, department chairs, program directors and other administrators on campus,” he says.

“But how do we prepare our faculty and others to not only fill these positions but to excel in these positions in the future? That’s a thought I’ve had in my head for a long time.”

Enter EdLEAD, the College of Education Leadership Education and Development Program.

edlead-logoDesigned to invest in the intentional development of leadership skills for faculty who aspire to take on such positions, EdLEAD will present a series of professional development workshops through the spring and summer semesters of 2018.

Faculty in the program then will spend the 2018-19 academic year in hands-on leadership projects that provide practical experience.

Members of the first cohort:

  • Mary Beth Henning, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
  • Steve Howell, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Jim Ressler, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Kelly Summers, Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations
  • Stephen Tonks, Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations
  • Paul Wright, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education

All will find “robust preparation to grow, learn, take on new opportunities and expand their careers in different ways,” says Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the College of Education.

ed-lead-profs

Top row: Mary Beth Henning and Steve Howell Middle row: Jim Ressler and Kelly Summers Bottom row: Stephen Tonks and Paul Wright

“Higher ed is facing a lot of challenges, and having highly qualified leaders who are ready to step in is critical to the health and wellbeing of any academic institution,” Elish-Piper says.

“We want to make sure we are investing in our faculty who aspire to take on leadership roles,” she adds. “We truly believe that professional development of leadership skills will not only enhance the contributions these people will make but also their experiences at NIU.”

McEvoy initiated early conversations with Elish-Piper and associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker, discovering that they shared similar visions and approaches.

“Early in the fall semester, Dean Elish-Piper asked if I would be involved,” McEvoy says. “I’m excited to help build our emerging leaders in the college. I don’t know that any of us would claim to be expert leaders, per se, but we are people who are trying hard to lead the units that we oversee.”

Making the transition to leadership can occur naturally but not easily, he says, further justifying the EdLEAD model.

“We often look at our strong faculty members as strong in teaching, strong in scholarship and strong in the service area, and then we thrust those strong faculty into leadership roles,” McEvoy says.

“The skills and hard work that allowed them to become effective faculty members generally do translate to helping them excel in some of these leadership activities,” he says, “but we need to equip them with leadership training and development that will enable them to excel further.”

Pitney and Walker are confident that EdLEAD will accomplish just that.

Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

“EdLEAD is a way to support and extend faculty leadership development, and I’m excited because it is an investment in our future,” says Pitney, associate dean of Research, Resources and Innovation.

“The program will raise awareness of critical and noteworthy issues facing higher education and its leaders locally and nationally,” he adds. “It will also explore ways to effectively lead during challenging times in higher education at multiple levels: department, college and university.”

Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, is eager to see college-faculty collaboration “to assist in developing future leaders in our own setting and also throughout NIU.”

“I really see this program as a unique set of opportunities to explore and develop, with the support of numerous leaders across campus, in areas such as budget, data use for decision-making, consensus building, communication or working with external constituents,” he says.

“We have a great group of six faculty participants,” he adds, “and we will all benefit from interacting and learning from each other.”



A celebration of excellence

excllence-2College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper, along with associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker, rolled out the red carpet May 5 for the college’s annual Celebration of Excellence.

The event in Anderson Hall recognized winners of the College of Education awards.

  • Excellence in Teaching Award by Faculty/Clinical Faculty: Katy Jaekel, CAHE
  • Excellence in Research and Artistry Award by Faculty: Jim Ressler, KNPE
  • Excellence in Service Award by Faculty: Myoung Jung, SEED (not pictured)
  • Exceptional Contributions by Instructors: Jan Hart, SEED
  • Exceptional Contributions by Civil Service Staff: David Snow, LEPF
  • Exceptional Contributions by Supportive Professional Staff: Susan Schwartz, KNPE
  • Outreach/Community Service Award: Stacy Kelly, SEED
  • Exceptional Contributions in Diversity/Social Justice Award: James Cohen, CI, and Lauriece Zittel, KNPE

Also stepping into the spotlight:

  • Tom Smith, a newly named NIU Presidential Teaching Professor from the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment;
  • soon-to-retire Toni Tollerud (COE personnel consultant) and Susan Schwartz (academic advisor, KNPE); and
  • Rachel Bicksler, Lauren Leifheit and Jacinda Starr, three of the freshmen who were among 2016-17’s inaugural group of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients.

Congratulations to all!



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.”



Belizean Youth Sport Coalition takes next step as project wraps

Paul Wright

Paul Wright

Just look at the numbers.

Three years. Twenty-seven organizations. One hundred and twenty-one coaches, teachers and youth workers trained – 13 of them traveling to the United States for that preparation, partly delivered by three NIU students. Fifteen hundred youth enrolled in summer programs. Three thousand youth in school programs.

Paul Wright could go on about the Belizean Youth Sport Coalition (BYSC) project, which began in 2013 and officially wrapped up this September, but the data speaks for itself.

“I have been amazed and so grateful to the people who have contributed to making this project a success,” says Wright, a professor in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “It’s been about collaboration and teamwork, and the talent, commitment and complementary skills of the U.S. team was matched by our Belizean partners.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s SportsUnited program, the BYSC aimed to promote youth development and social change through sport.



Jim Ressler to examine student-teaching model in New Zealand

Jim Ressler

Jim Ressler

Could an innovative model of teacher education in New Zealand translate to the United States?

NIU’s Jim Ressler is soon to find out.

Ressler, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, will spend six weeks during the spring 2017 semester at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.

He will evaluate “a novel approach to teacher education” offered to the country’s universities by the Ministry of Education. Twelve applied; seven – including Victoria – were accepted.

“The student-teacher is immersed in the school site for an entire year – from February to December,” Ressler says. “The first half of the experience is two or three days each week in the schools, and the other days are occupied with university coursework informing their placement. In some cases, the school sites host university courses.”

Even more interesting, he adds, is that “the Ministry of Education has supplemented this national shift with stipends for mentor-teachers in the schools. In the United States, that would be the equivalent of paying cooperating teachers to host our student teachers.”

Ressler is working with Barrie Gordon, a professor who visited KNPE as a Fulbright Scholar in 2013-14.

Barrie Gordon

Barrie Gordon

“Barrie and I have very strong overlap in our research interests, and since his Fulbright, I visited him in New Zealand in early 2015 to scope out the possibility of proposing this sabbatical,” he says. “I initiated some relationships with local schools and kept in touch, and Barrie assured me we could get access to the sites we visited to be able to investigate both the policy and the practice of what it looks like.”

In addition to a series of school visits, Ressler will interview mentor-teachers – he’s already conducting some interviews via Skype – as well as with key personnel in the Ministry of Education, school administrators and university leaders.

He hopes to apply his findings to NIU, where many of his experiences “have been keyed by strong school-university partnerships, notably with the schools in which our programs hold practicums.”

As a liaison with DeKalb Community School District 428 elementary and middle schools, he has become more adept with the changing needs of students, teachers and schools across all content areas in the district. In some cases, the needs can be met with strengths of the university and teacher preparation program.

“We’re making sure those school-university ties are strong,” he says, “meeting outcomes that are most important to the school and to the university, such as higher expectations for student achievement in and out of the classroom, developing rigorous curricula, superior teacher preparation practices, professional learning and joint research.”

nz--flagNew Zealand has “similar aims, but much different routes to get there,” he adds.

“What’s impressive to me, being well aware that New Zealand is a small country, is how much of an imprint the Ministry of Education holds on a national level for these university program offerings,” Ressler says.

“Coming out with initial teacher licensure at the graduate level is, in their eyes, raising the bar for what an incoming teacher has for content knowledge,” he adds. “Those types of candidates are coveted, whereas in our current climate in Illinois and the United States with public education, those candidates might be priced out of a job.”



A look behind the College of Education’s edTPA numbers

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma felt uneasy when she first heard about the edTPA, the new assessment she would need to pass before receiving teacher licensure in Illinois.

“It was very intimidating at first. It was very scary not knowing what to expect,” says the recent graduate of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “It was new to our professors, too, so that almost made us more intimidated. If they didn’t know a whole lot about it, how were we going to be prepared?”

She needn’t have worried.

With nurturing guidance from her professors, Tuma passed her edTPA – as did 100 percent of undergraduates in the NIU College of Education who submitted their materials in the spring of 2016.

The College of Education’s most recent numbers are well ahead of the state and national results. The college’s teacher-candidates scored higher than the national average in all but one rubric, where they tied, and higher than or equal to the state average in all rubrics.

“My professors took the bull by the horns and were able to break it down, step by step,” Tuma says. “They integrated chunks of the edTPA into all of our classes.”

Most students are “nervous at first” about the edTPA, confirms Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development in the NIU College of Education.

“The edTPA is a high-stakes assessment that could impact your ability to get a teacher’s license. It mandates that all teachers will be highly qualified,” she says. “Attorneys, doctors and accountants have mandated licensure exams, and the addition of the edTPA adds that level of professional accountability to our field.”

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

For NIU, of course, the production of highly qualified teachers is a tradition.

“Our students were so successful on the edTPA because our faculty took a vested interest in supporting them,” she says. “The students practice these skills during multiple semesters, and we will continue to do that. We will keep working.”

Johnson is confident NIU’s success will endure even while the score required for passage continues to rise over the next few years. “The students in our program will receive edTPA preparation all the way through.”

Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education, says College of Education teacher-education students hear “a constant message throughout their course of study” on the importance of edTPA preparation.

Meanwhile, Gregory adds, COE faculty clearly identify aspects of coursework activities and assignments “that mirror or, with a few tweaks, could better mirror the edTPA.”

Students are encouraged to set realistic goals in their preparation, to “break the tasks into manageable chunks” and to attend workshops coordinated through NIU’s Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation.

Preparing for the edTPA enables them to identify instructional needs, to study those in their NIU classrooms, to model them in student-teaching and then, Gregory says, “look to see if their students grow as well. It’s what good teachers do naturally as they gain some experience, and it’s a preview of what they will do consistently.”

Feeling edTPA stress is normal – “With any kind of licensure demand, or anything high-stakes, there’s a lot of pressure,” she says – but that anxiety soon evaporates.

“Just by getting their feet into a classroom space on ‘the other side,’ then there’s no longer that fear of the unknown,” Gregory says. “It becomes, ‘Oh, I can do this!’ ”

edtpa-words

Tuma, the newly minted alumna who now teaches physical education in suburban Yorkville at an elementary school and an intermediate school, is witnessing the value of the edTPA in her daily work.

During every-Wednesday staff meetings with her colleagues from all disciplines, collaborative discussions often focus on assessment.

“That’s what the edTPA was all about – assessments, and what you are going to do with those,” Tuma says. “That’s huge at my school. They want to see data. They want to know numbers. They want to see the success in our students, and that they’re learning.”

For teachers, she says, it means looking beyond the levels of comprehension or mastery shown through testing.

She cites as an example her own edTPA submission from her student-teaching time in nearby Rochelle, where she filmed a unit on basketball skills.

Her submission included her instruction on how to make a layup, video of the students attempting layups, peer observation and paperwork where students reported their numbers of successful layups.

That exercise – something simply required for licensure – now lives and breathes every day inside her gym in Yorkville.

If a student completes five of 10 layups in a basketball unit, what does that tell the P.E. teacher? Is five good enough? If not, why aren’t they making more shots? If no one is making more than five, what does that say about the instruction?

“I always flash back to the edTPA,” Tuma says. “It’s easy to give students a worksheet, or to tell them to do something, but it’s important what teachers take away from that assessment they gave. A teacher needs to reflect on that.”

Her alma mater Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education began piloting some of the edTPA templates in spring 2015 in advance of the fall 2015 implementation, says Jim Ressler, associate professor of physical education teacher education.

“As a program, we made the decision modify our lesson plan template to reflect language used by the edTPA, and we’ve found ways to integrate its components into our methods classes and most of our practicums,” he says.

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma

Physical education teachers historically have organized their content around themes – skills, for example – and then plan related instructional units that might span several weeks.

Regardless of the specific daily tasks is “the domain” – psychomotor, cognitive and affective – into which physical education teachers buoy each lesson.

“All three domains are commonly in play,” Ressler says. “Our students have been trained to do this quite well planning for, and assessing, all three simultaneously.”

But “the edTPA is concerned with your ability to put together three to five lessons in succession that are coherent and that align toward a single, central focus. That central focus is the aim from the first or second minute of the first lesson to the final five minutes of the last lesson,” he says. “That’s been quite a shift for our students.”

However, he and his colleagues in KNPE see benefits to the edTPA’s philosophy and have made it “just one part of the overall process of becoming highly effective teachers after leaving our program.”

“The minds of teacher-candidates are always on the big idea, the real role of planning and how important it is to have adequate preparation to deliver lessons,” he says. “They also need ways to back up their actions of putting lesson plans together in advance, trying to teach them well and having clear systems in place to make sure the lessons went as well as they thought they did. If the lesson didn’t go well, can you reflect on why – and suggest changes?”



Gold medals are not the only reason to get youth involved in sport

Written by Paul Wright, Lane/Zimmerman Endowed Professor

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil have given us the opportunity to marvel at the heights of human potential. We have been able to watch amazing displays of athleticism and skill from the most elite competitors on the planet. As inspiring as these athletes and their performances are, they represent an extremely small fraction of the number of people involved in sport around the world.

The vast majority of youth who get involved in sport will never compete for Olympic gold. In fact, many will never compete outside of their surrounding community. So what other reasons are there for youth to become involved in sport? The benefits are too numerous to mention, but include physical fitness, motor skill development, positive social interaction, mental toughness, communication skills, and confidence.

Dr. Paul Wright and his colleagues in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE) are interested in ways that youth sport programs can be intentionally designed to promote positive youth development and social change. In particular, how can sport be used to teach life skills (such as leadership and goal setting) that youth can use in other areas of their lives? Research shows sport programs that have this sort of focus help youth to reach their potential in life and to develop a greater sense of social responsibility.

In addition to supporting youth programs locally (including Chicago), Dr. Wright and his colleagues are involved at the international level with youth sport research and program development. For example, in early August, Dr. Wright was in Finland working with collaborators to design a training program for coaches who run after-school sport programs. In June, Drs. Steve Howell, Jenn Jacobs, and Jim Ressler, were in Belize consulting on a three-year project the KNPE team has been operating with funding from the US Department of State. This project has involved training coaches and administrators from over 20 youth sport programs and the formation of the Belizean Youth Sport Coalition (BYSC). Also this summer, Dr. Wright was featured in the British Council’s online magazine, Voices. The British Council supports sport for development programming around the globe and invited Dr. Wright to contribute a piece discussing the importance of social and emotional learning, highlighting ways it can be fostered through sport.

The collaborations noted above and related activities are organized under the Physical Activity and Life Skills (PALS) Group that Dr. Wright and his colleagues operate through the KNPE department. Through research, outreach and academic programming, the PALS Group is committed to bridging the gap between theory and practice to make sure youth sport programs live up to their potential in terms of supporting the positive, healthy development of youth and their communities. While this aspect of youth sport does not receive the same level of media attention as the Olympics, the impact it can have on individuals and communities around the globe is felt every day.



Collaborating on Outdoor Education

Professors at meeting

Did you know NIU is home to one of the premier outdoor education facilities in the country, the Lorado Taft Field Campus? In addition to this amazing resource, NIU’s College of Education has faculty expertise and an extensive network of partners working in the areas of outdoor education and adventure-based learning.

Recently NIU’s Physical Activity and Life Skills (PALS) Group, led by the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, hosted a meeting on outdoor education and adventure-based learning. The meeting provided an opportunity to get several area expert collaborators together, including international experts and a local community partner. The PALS Group, represented by KNPE faculty (Drs. Steve Howell, Jenn Jacobs, Jim Ressler, Zach Wahl-Alexander and Paul Wright), is committed to promoting healthy development and teaching life skills to youth through physical activity. Our faculty were joined by three honored guests to discuss current projects and potential collaborations related to outdoor education and adventure-based learning.

Dr. Xia Wen, Director of Theory, Teaching, and Research for the Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China. Dr. Xia Wen is a visiting scholar from China spending a year at NIU collaborating with Dr. Jim Ressler of the Kinesiology and Physical Education Department. During his time here, Drs. Ressler and Xia Wen will be developing course material for an Outward Bound class, which is one of the most popular courses for students to take at Yunnan University. Dr. Xia Wen’s expertise is in water safety education and he is currently working on a manuscript for an English journal about training classroom teachers to lead water safety programs.

Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works of DeKalb County, an organization that seeks to assist youth in overcoming challenges and becoming healthy adults through adventure-based counseling. Adventure Works serves youth ages 6-18 years old, providing individual, family, and group counseling services. The organization is the first non-profit community-based outdoor adventure education center in the US. Adventure Works programs are led by licensed therapists and include prevention programs for disengaged and impoverished youth in the DeKalb area, as well as mental health intervention programs for students struggling with mental health issues. The PALS Group has organized fundraisers in recent years to support Adventure Works and Dr. Ressler is a member of their advisory board.

Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor in the Health, Outdoor, Physical Education (HOPE) program at University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. Thirty years ago, Dr. Forsberg obtained his masters in NIU’s outdoor education program and served as a graduate assistant for the Lorado Taft field campus program. He now teaches several outdoor education classes for physical education (PE) majors at the University of Regina. The classes involve several intense outdoor experiences such as the course “Utilization of the Winter Environment” which includes spending five days in Canada’s Moose Mountains during the cold winter season. Dr. Forsberg described, “This is where the magic happens,” referring to students coming together and understanding the impact that outdoor education can have on learning. He also teaches a course in which students design their own outdoor adventure curriculum and he tells students, “Now that you’ve gone through these experiences, you have a responsibility for future generations. Your purpose is to give back through this special outdoor experience.”

(L to R) Dr. Jim Ressler, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Zach Wahl-Alexander, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Xia Wen, Professor, Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works, DeKalb County Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor, Health, Outdoor, Physical Education Program, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada Dr. Paul Wright, Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Jenn Jacobs, Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU

(L to R) Dr. Jim Ressler, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Zach Wahl-Alexander, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Xia Wen, Professor, Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China
Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works, DeKalb County
Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor, Health, Outdoor, Physical Education Program, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Dr. Paul Wright, Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Jenn Jacobs, Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU

According to Dr. Wright, Director of the PALS Group, “Outdoor education and adventure-based learning are not new topics for the PALS Group. In fact, the Physical Education Teacher Education program in KNPE is one of the only academic programs at NIU that has outdoor education experiences at the Laredo Taft Field Campus built into their curriculum. The same can be said for our Adventure-based learning course. Our faculty have expertise in these areas and a long history of introducing them to NIU students. Now the PALS Group is interested in strengthening our work in these areas by connecting them with our service and research agendas.” In addition to the ongoing curriculum development project underway between Drs. Ressler and Xia Wen, potential action items that came out of this meeting include: supporting an oral history/archival project on the history of outdoor education at the Lorado Taft Field Campus, studying the socialization experiences of teacher education candidates in their outdoor education course, and providing professional development experiences for Adventure Works’ staff in the outdoor environment.

The PALS Group was pleased to host this group of experts and further its mission of promoting healthy development and teaching life skills through physical activity.