Tag: STEM

LEARN-IT conference exposes educators to instructional tech

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LEARN-IT 2017

Advances in technology come so quickly and frequently that it’s nearly impossible to stay on top of the latest innovations and applications.

Yet for teachers, and for IT professionals who work in schools, the integration of technology to enhance learning carries a great responsibility and significance: Students deserve the best education possible, and outdated equipment and programs hinders that.

NIU’s annual LEARN-IT conference, always held on the first Saturday in May, invites educators and school-based tech specialists on a weekend day for keynote presentations, breakout sessions and research roundtables that allow them to improve their knowledge and to better accomplish their objectives.

The goal is simple: to help educators transform the teaching-and-learning environment with “low- cost, high-impact” technologies that facilitate meaningful learning.

“Our overall theme for LEARN-IT has always been a focus on ‘low-cost, high-impact’ instructional technology,” said Wei-Chen Hung, chair of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA), which hosts the conference in the Learning Center of Gabel Hall.

“In many ways, our theme has been prophetic. Today we see more and more teachers using free or low-cost and highly accessible instructional technology tools,” Hung added. “And more than ever, we need to know how to use these tools effectively. I like to think of our LEARN-IT conference as a community of learners, where dedicated educators gather to share and learn from each other.”

Wei-Chen Hung

Wei-Chen Hung

More than 120 people attended the May 6 event, said Judy Puskar, who helped to organize the day with Gail Hayenga, conference and event coordinator in the College of Education’s Office of External and Global Programs.

Professional Development Hours or graduate credit (ETT 592: Special Topics in Instructional Technology) were available.

“LEARN-IT is a day when they’re given instruction instead of giving instruction,” said Puskar, academic program advisor in ETRA.

“With technology changing so fast, people in the classroom often don’t have the time to get exposed to new technologies. This is a chance to explore the tools, learn strategies and practice with new tools,” she added. “A lot of times, we’ll hear, ‘Oh, I haven’t heard of this before’ – and now they want to use them in their classrooms or look more into them.”

Keynote speakers included two new ETRA faculty, both of whom will join the department this fall.

Dongho Kim, who comes to NIU from the University of Georgia, Athens, presented “What Gets Measured, Gets Managed: Data Analytics and Technologies for Teachers.”

Growing use of digital devices in and out of the classroom produces large amounts of data regarding the learning processes of students, Kim said, which in turn creates great potential in K-12 classrooms from data-driven decision-making.

“Educators’ ability to utilize that kind of data enables them to assess various aspects of their students’ learning in a timely manner,” Kim said. “For example, students’ log data in the flipped classroom context reveals students’ engagement with learning content and allows teachers to provide ongoing supports.”

learn-it-logoFatih Demir, joining NIU from the University of Missouri, Columbia, spoke on “EnhancED Teaching and Learning: User eXperience (UX) Research and Design to Enhance Teaching and Learning.”

He challenged his audience of teachers: “Are your learning plans based on your research, insights, trends and innovative concepts or are they generic for all students? Do you fully understand the needs and expectations of each individual student?”

“Teachers as everyday designers are designing curriculum, course plans, in-class activities, presentations and many other forms of materials for a diverse population,” Demir said. “Knowing well about the target audience and understanding their needs and expectations are key in design.”

Both professors call LEARN-IT participants “engaged and interested,” a group that also includes NIU undergraduates, graduate students and members of the Technology Specialist cohorts.

“Many students found the topic very interesting,” Demir said, “and appreciated that User Experience and Human Computer Interaction courses will be offered at the ETRA Department. Some of them indicated that they would like to apply such methods to their dissertations.”

Other presenters were:

  • Andrew Tawfik, “Evaluating EdTech: Evaluating, Designing, and Prototyping”
  • Kristin Brynteson, “Telling Stories with Technology”
  • Jason Underwood, “Effective Use of Video Tools and Strategies in the Classroom”
  • Colleen Cannon-Ruffo, “LEGO Education: WeDoSTEM 2.0” and “LEGO Education: STEM Robotics with Mindstorms EV3.”

Former ETRA Chair Lara M. Luetkehans launched LEARN-IT several years ago through the sponsorship of Bob and Mary English, friends of the College of Education. The conference always welcomes recipients of the Mary F. English Technology Award as honored guests.

LEARN-IT 2017

LEARN-IT 2017

The English family believes in the importance of educators having the tools they need to help all learners achieve their potential – and, Puskar said, it’s a belief that the educators who attend LEARN-IT share with the conference’s benefactors.

“Many of our districts are finding that technology is helpful in delivering content to students,” she said, “and in helping students to become self-directed learners.”

It begins when LEARN-IT participants leave the conference with “new skills, ideas and plans for enhancing learning,” Hung agreed.

“The high-impact strategies and technologies that the ETRA faculty and alums provide,” Hung said, “can enhance your work in assessing learners, engaging learners, producing media and putting the technologies in the students’ hands.”

Next year’s conference takes place Saturday, May 5.



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.



Alumni profile: Meet Mina Blazy

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Mina Blazy

If you had asked Mina Blazy if she aspired to be a teacher back while she was a student at Proviso East High School, she would have told you “no.”

But the fond memories of a 10th grade chemistry teacher at that high school continue to inspire her hands-on approach to teaching – teaching science especially — today.
“You’d go by his class and he’d be lighting something on fire,” she said. “We made candy from a chemical equation in his class. I had the most fun in that classroom. He made science come alive.”

When that teacher retired and learned that Blazy (B.S. Ed. Elementary Education ’99) was teaching, he sent her all of his lessons.

Earlier this year Blazy opened the Gus Franklin Jr. STEM Academy, in Victorville, Calif., where she is currently principal.

“The academy is a huge success,” she said of its launch. “We have students from kindergarten through sixth grade learning and exploring engineering concepts through project-based learning.”

Blazy’s passion for teaching and learning through science is infused into every aspect of the school. Her students are learning about flight in space in third grade, and how to use software in fifth and sixth grades, plus the elementary school has engineering and science labs. This year, the school will launch a new project where students will manipulate a radio telescope as part of the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) Program. The project is a partnership between the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Lewis Center for Educational Research. In addition, they will look at space for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. The data they study will be part of the Juno Project, which is named for a satellite that was launched towards Jupiter and will go live next summer.

“It’s another hands-on science project, where they will get to manipulate it from the school site,” she said.

Blazy’s path to becoming a classroom innovator didn’t happen overnight. After growing up in Broadview, Ill., she attended the University of Dubuque and learned to be a pilot.

“I flew planes for a while, got married, had kids, and just decided to go into education,” she said. “My husband was actually the one who pointed out to me that I had a natural ability to teach.”

Blazy’s mother – a registered nurse – and uncle had attended NIU, so she applied. A counselor told her that she should focus on teaching science or math, so she minored in biology.

After graduation, she taught high school science in the Chicago suburbs for a few years, before moving to Ohio and then California to continue her career. Soon, Blazy will begin pursuing her doctoral degree in STEM education.

“Science helps you think about your thinking,” she said. “That’s why I decided I wanted to focus on STEM.”

Throughout her career, Blazy said she has worked with and observed educators at all skill levels.

“What I have learned is that NIU gave me a true foundation in the education arena, and the necessary skills to help guide teachers to become extremely successful,” she said.