Alumni profile: Meet Mina Blazy

mina-blazy

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.



Supporter of literacy program receives two prestigious awards

award

As the author or co-author of approximately 300 articles, research studies and professional books, Jerry L. Johns, Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus in the College of Education’s Department of Literacy and Elementary Education (LEED), is known in the field of reading education for more than his significant scholarship. Johns has not only been recognized as an outstanding teacher educator, scholar, professional development speaker and leader, he was recently inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame and awarded the William S. Gray Citation of Merit by the International Literacy Association.

“In the field of reading education, the William S. Gray Citation of Merit is by far the most prestigious award given. For Jerry to receive this award on the same day as he was inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame demonstrates the scope and magnitude of his contributions to the field as well as the high regard in which he is held,” said Laurie Elish-Piper, acting dean of NIU’s College of Education. “With these two honors, Jerry has truly been elevated to the status of living legend in reading.”

Jerry Johns 8-24-15

Jerry Johns (and one of his favorite books) at the opening of the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic at NIU.

Johns has had a long, highly respected career at Northern Illinois University (NIU) and has maintained close ties to the university’s literacy clinic, which carries his name. He also has a local, national and international reputation for serving in numerous leadership positions, and has been the recipient of several professional and civic awards. For example, he has served as president of the International Literacy Association, the Illinois Reading Council, the Northern Illinois Reading Council, and the Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers (formerly the College Reading Association). When he was not a president for one of these organizations he was busy serving on the board of directors for each of these organizations.

Johns, who taught undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students, said he enjoyed working with students on publications and seeing students graduate and succeed as leaders in the field.

In addition to the positive effect Johns had on helping NIU students achieve success in their careers, he made time to contribute his colleagues’ careers as well. Elish-Piper spoke about the impact Johns’ mentorship had on her career since she started working at NIU in 1995.

“Jerry was already an internationally known and respected scholar, yet he made time to meet with me and to collaborate on projects with me,” Elish-Piper said. “In fact, he continues to serve as a mentor and advisor, and most importantly a friend, and I can honestly say that my development as a scholar, teacher and leader is due in great part to the mentoring that Jerry has provided.”

Currently Johns serves on editorial advisory boards for Reading Psychology and the Illinois Reading Council Journal. In his free time, Johns enjoys traveling, walking, reading, and driving his sports car.



New book examines impact of rubrics on education

Joseph Flynn

Joseph Flynn

The College of Education’s Joseph Flynn, associate professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF), has a new book out which he co-edited with his colleague Michelle Tenam-Zemach, a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Abraham Fischler School of Education in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Their book, “Rubric Nation: Critical Inquiries on the Impact of Rubrics in Education,” examines the impact rubrics* have on professionals and students across the educational spectrum as well as on modern society and culture.

The idea for the book came up a few years ago at an American Association for Teaching and Curriculum (AATC) conference when Flynn and Tenam-Zemach were talking about how ubiquitous rubrics have become.

“Reflecting on our own teacher preparation experience, Michelle and I realized that we did not use rubrics in college, so the question became when did rubrics start appearing everywhere in teacher education?” Flynn recalled.

“Rubrics are not good or bad in and of themselves,” he said. “On one hand effectively designed rubrics can be very useful for educators in structuring assignments and conveying expectations; yet on the other hand rubrics can also have unintended consequences. For example, rubrics can ultimately minimize students’ willingness to take risks in their learning because they become so focused on what they need to do to get an A.”

Flynn added that their research also found that students using rubrics might be less willing to engage in productive conversations with peers or teachers about their assignments.

Rubrics have also become an issue for practicing teachers as well, according to Flynn. “The use of rubrics in high stakes teacher assessment is also seeing some problems,” he said. “Many states and districts are adopting rubrics for assessing teachers, but they are using them improperly. Rubrics like the Charlotte Danielson rubric were designed to encourage discussions between teachers and administrators, not evaluations that could cause a teacher to lose her job.” These trends encouraged Flynn and Tenam-Zemach to seek out research and scholarship critically examining rubrics.

Flynn said the conversations he had at AATC were key in the development of the manuscript, and — because rubrics are used for almost everything in education from high-stakes testing to tenure promotion and teacher evaluations — he hopes that more research will be done on rubrics in the future.

“We think it is really important that more research is dedicated to critically examining rubrics. Rubrics may have noble intentions, but that does not necessarily mean that they do not have negative consequences.”

* A rubric is a tool used by teachers to define how a particular assignment or activity will be graded; rubrics describe, in writing, not only what a student needs to include in the assignment, it also describes the quality of each of the inputs. If one of the criteria for grading an essay is spelling, for example, then the rubric might state that to receive an “Excellent” the essay must contain no spelling errors; to receive a “Good” it can contain up to two spelling errors. Three or more misspelled words would result in a “Needs Improvement” in the spelling criteria.

 

 

 



Go Teacher project graduates 37 Ecuadorian “Huskies”

Go TeacherThirty-seven Ecuadorian teachers gathered at the Red Roof Inn Aug. 13 for the *Go Teacher project’s graduation ceremony. Go Teacher is a seven-month international education program where Ecuadorian teachers studied ESL methodology, second language acquisition, and culture on NIU’s campus.

James Cohen, assistant professor of ESL and bilingual education in the department Literacy and Elementary Education, secured a $777,000 grant from the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education and Kansas State University that made the Go Teacher program possible.

NIU speakers at the ceremony included Lisa Freeman, executive vice president and provost; Laurie Elish-Piper, acting dean of the College of Education; Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education; James Cohen, and two Go Teacher graduates—Eugenia Pico and Segundo Rea. Graduates enthusiastically lined up to receive certificates of completion, which were handed out by Cohen and Gregory. The ceremony was followed by a buffet lunch and dancing.

During their seveGO Teachern-month stay at NIU, each of the 37 participants logged 615 in-class and clinical hours. In Ecuador, English is required to study abroad, and to gain entry into a master’s degree or Ph.D. program.

“What has happened here is powerful,” said Cohen. “They’re going to be seen as leaders in their small communities. It’s now in their hands to make differences for their students and their families.”

* To see WNIJ radio’s coverage of the event, visit the website.



LEED remains a leader in faculty production

Stack of papersA new study published by researchers in the Department of Teacher Education at Brigham Young University ranks NIU’s literacy faculty within the top-10 most productive literacy faculties in the country for the years 2006 through 2012.

The article, which appears in the journal Reading Psychology, also lists NIU’s literacy faculty as one of only four of the 25 university faculties studied to have ranked in the top-10 in four similar studies dating back to 1972.

Such rankings are important to prospective students, who can use such data in selecting schools to attend, and to those “attempting to navigate the unclear waters of promotion, retention, and tenure.”

According to its authors, the current study is intended to build upon the previous studies and “compare the scholarly productivity of faculty members in universities as represented in nine* literacy journals.” Each of the refereed journals is national or international in scope and uses a blind, peer-reviewed acceptance process; all nine are considered among the best in the literacy field as determined by scholarly rigor, impact and prestige.

“Measures of productivity are indications that faculty members are active leaders in shaping and developing their respective fields,” said Anne Gregory, chair of the LEED department. “To have been ranked within the top 10 faculties in terms of productivity in the nation, speaks to the dedication and leadership the literacy faculty members bring to their work at NIU and within the community.” Anne noted that as leaders in their fields, literacy faculty members provide and promote more educational opportunities for the students in their classrooms and engage students in practices and methods that are on the leading edge of innovation. “They serve as role models and mentors to those who endeavor to become part of the profession,” she said. “It is truly an honor and privilege to work with this dedicated, hardworking group of professionals.”

 

* Journals examined: Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Journal of Literacy Research, Literacy Research and Instruction, Reading Horizons, Reading Improvement, Reading Psychology, Reading Research Quarterly, Scientific Studies of Reading, The Reading Teacher



Are MOOCs democratizing higher education?

Amy Stich and Todd Reeves

Amy Stich and Todd Reeves

Since the term was coined in 2008, MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, have been talked about as a potentially significant democratizing force in higher education. With open enrollment, virtually no limit to class size, and often free, MOOCs seem to offer a cost-effective, convenient and available path to college-level learning to almost anyone with access to the Internet.

Today, MOOCs are offered on just about every topic imaginable and are taught by expert faculty from some of the world’s top universities. Some MOOCs offer certificates of completion and a few even offer academic credit toward degrees. And many institutions of higher learning are using MOOCs with the expectation of expanding their reach to underserved populations and into new geographic regions.

But are MOOCs living up to their democratic promise? Are people who otherwise would not have access to higher education even taking them? That’s what two professors from NIU’s College of Education — along with a dozen of their students — are trying to find out through a large-scale, mixed-methods research project.

According to Amy Stich, assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF), who designed the study along with Todd Reeves, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA), what little research done on MOOCs to date suggests that these kinds of courses might not yet be living up to their initial billing.

“Research done at one institution showed that the majority of those who take MOOCs have already accessed higher education,” she explained. “We wanted to revisit that finding within the context of a wide variety of MOOCs from a wide variety of institutions using a mixed-methods approach, which included survey data from 15,000 MOOC students and in-depth, focused interviews.”

“In particular, we were interested in learning who is taking MOOCs, why, and what benefits they perceive to be receiving from their participation,” Reeves added.

The study also examines how MOOC course design interacts with learner characteristics. “So we can see what works in large-enrollment online courses for whom and under what conditions,” Reeves said.

As part of the research process, Stich and Reeves formed the MOOC Research Group in fall of 2014 as an opportunity for interested NIU students and alumni to gain real-world research experience. Twelve participants were involved in various aspects of the research process from the initial systematic literature review to the data cleaning and analysis. The participants, all from diverse academic and biographical backgrounds, included undergraduates, graduates, international students, as well as NIU alumni.

“We believe that opportunities to engage systematically with data and research are essential for student success in both academic and professional realms,” Stich said.

Reeves explained that the students had the option of receiving course credit for their work and others received funding through an internal Chair’s Grant awarded to Stich through LEPF.

“Students will be availed the dataset to address research questions of their own interest,” Reeves said.

Some of the preliminary findings of Reeves and Stich’s study indicate:

  • that Black/African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos are underrepresented among U.S. MOOC participants relative to their proportions in the population;
  • most participants already have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent; and
  • many participants already have professional degrees.

Reeves and Stich are currently finishing the analyses for their study. They believe the larger implications of the study will point to whether MOOCs are the democratizing force that many claim them to be as well as important information about effective design of online courses for diverse learner populations.



Marian Cheatham – COE Alumni Story

embedMarian Cheatham (B.S. Ed. ’77) might not exist today were it not for an ancestor’s premonition — and avoidance — of the very disaster that launched Cheatham’s career.

Cheatham is a full-time writer of contemporary and historical young adult fiction. Her debut young adult novel, “Eastland,” is based on the real story of the 1915 Eastland boating disaster that claimed the lives of 844 people in Chicago.  As a child, Cheatham learned that her grandmother was somehow linked to the deadly shipwreck, but it wasn’t until she had started her writing career that she learned her grandmother was supposed to be on the ship that day. She had given up her ticket at the urging of her mother, however, who had an ominous feeling about the trip.

Cheatham now lectures about the Eastland disaster to schools, libraries and book clubs, and writes a post on the subject on the Chicago Tribune’s “Chicago Now” blog site. The ill-fated ship’s story became especially prominent this year when a recent NIU graduate discovered chilling original newsreels of the disaster, just in time for its 100th anniversary this summer.

Born and raised in the Chicago area, Cheatham attended NIU, where she pursued a degree in special education.

“I LOVED my time at NIU,” she said. “My friends and family used to say that I should have been the poster child for Northern. I loved everything about college life — the stimulating learning environment, the beautiful campus, the cheese-smothered burgers and fries in the cafeteria. It was all good.”

Cheatham lived in Lincoln Hall for her first two years, and then moved to University Plaza for her remaining two years at NIU.  After graduation, she returned to DeKalb and lived in a one-bedroom apartment off of Annie Glidden while working as a graduate research assistant for the head of the Department of Special Education.

Her undergraduate education was funded by a summer job at the M&M Mars Candy Company in Oak Park, Ill.

“The money we saved making Three Musketeers and Snickers paid for a full year of room, board and tuition,” she said. “It was a sweet job. No pun intended.”

smallCheatham was especially impressed through her involvement in the NIU Honors Program.

“Each semester, I was required to take an Honors class, in additional to my regular course load of 12 to 15 hours,” she explained. “This made for some heavy semesters, but the Honors classes were always the highlight of my year, especially the Greek mythology classes. I lived for them. The professor was one of the most engaging, enthralling people I’ve ever met. To this day, when I think of his lectures, I still smile.”

A trained educator, her eventual writing career may come as a surprise to some of her former professors:

“As for writing, well, I had a terrible time in my literature classes,” she confessed. “I loved reading, but writing papers was not my forte. I had one English Lit professor who told me my writing was so boring, it put him to sleep. Yikes!”

Cheatham said she became a writer anyway, “because I learned from my mistakes.”

After graduation, Cheatham taught special education at the primary level for several years before spending a few more years working in a family business with her father and siblings.

“I eventually left the business world to pursue a career in writing, but I remembered what that NIU professor told me,” she said. “So, I read every ‘how to’ book on the subject, joined a professional organization, attended workshops, conferences, book signings, author lectures, anything and everything to do with the art of writing. And then, I just put my butt in a chair and wrote, wrote, and rewrote until I thought (fingers crossed), I got something right.”

Cheatham recently took some time away from planning the 100th anniversary remembrances of the Eastland Disaster to share about her experiences at NIU. Read on for the full interview:

How did you first become interested in the Eastland Disaster, and how did that lead to your involvement today?

At family dinners as a child, my father and aunts and uncles would often talk about this big ship that had capsized in the Chicago River killing hundreds of people. My paternal grandmother, Grandma Manseau, apparently had some part in this disaster, but I never really understood the magnitude of the tragedy until I grew up. Only then, as a 40-something newbie writer looking for intriguing stories to write, did I discover what all the animated dinner conversation had been about.

From my first day of serious research into the Eastland, I was hooked on the story. Unfortunately for me, my father had already passed, but I was able to learn more about our family’s Eastland connection from my aunt. She told me that Grandma Manseau had a ticket for the July 24, 1915, Western Electric employee picnic. Western Electric Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Ill., had leased six steamships that would depart from the Chicago River and ferry the 7,000 picnickers to Washington Park in Michigan City, Ind. My grandmother did not work for Western Electric, but was going with a girlfriend who was a Hawthorne Works employee.

However, on the night before the big excursion, my great grandmother had a premonition of danger and death and begged my then 28-year-old grandmother not to go on this picnic with her girlfriend. Great-Grandma Savageau’s premonition must have been terrifying because my grandmother conceded and remained safely at home.

Of course, Great-Grandma Savageau had been correct. Something deadly did occur that Saturday morning, July 24, 1915. My grandmother’s decision to forego the picnic had saved her life — and mine. When the realization of that prophetic premonition sank in, I knew I had to write this story.

To you, what is the significance of the clips recently discovered by another NIU alumnus regarding the Eastland?

In my opinion, the significance is huge. It proves that the Eastland story was big news all across the globe. The foreign press in Chicago that day must have rushed to the disaster site to film as soon as word broke. The scenes in the clips are of rescue efforts only hours after the capsizing. Of course, in Chicago the news was unimaginable and devastating. But news of the Eastland had repercussions worldwide. Many of the Western Electric employees at that time were “Bohemian” from pre-WWI countries of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russian, et cetera. Some employees were working here to support family back in the Old Country. Losing that support meant not only suffering emotionally from an Eastland death, but also facing financial hardship.

On a more personal level, watching those film clips made the stories I’d only read about seem more real. Several times, I was moved to tears thinking of those victims being fished from the Chicago River or pulled from within the bowels of the ship. I knew those victims’ names. I’d met family members, visited Eastland graves, but now, it was as though I were watching the scene play out live. Those clips had an eerie 9/11 déjà vu feeling about them — haunting and unforgettable.

What is planned for the 100th anniversary?

The Eastland Disaster Historical Society of Arlington Heights, Ill., the official host of the 100th Anniversary Commemoration Weekend, has been planning for this occasion for decades, and they have many educational and emotional ceremonies planned over the course of a three-day weekend beginning Friday, July 24. (For a schedule of events and details on how to order tickets, visit the organization’s website.)

What can we learn from this disaster?

Urban legends regarding the cause of the Eastland tragedy have circulated around the country for a century – everything from passengers rushing to the riverside of the ship, to the wild story that the tugboat Kenosha pulled the Eastland over. But the sad reality of the matter is that human greed, hubris, and poor judgment caused the disaster.

On the morning of July 24, 1915, a series of events occurred in catastrophic succession, resulting in the greatest loss-of-life disaster in the history of Chicago and the Great Lakes. The news shook the world, but did anything change? Chicago initiated stability testing on passenger steamships after the disaster. Passenger capacity licensing came under stricter government controls. The entire steamship industry went into a steady decline after the Eastland, but that may have had more to do with war and the economy than fear over public safety.

There was an outcry for justice, but no one was ever found guilty. The 844 victims never received a penny in compensation from the owners, and although Western Electric Hawthorne Works suffered greatly over the loss of nearly 500 employees, the company eventually went on to become an American icon. Sadly, in hindsight, nothing seemed to have changed. The Eastland was a sensationalized story that sold millions of newspapers, but as for the survivors and the families of the victims, life went on.

Why do you work so hard to preserve the memory of this event?

I fight hard to keep the story alive because I see the victims as people — real-life human beings who struggled to make a life for their families in the booming metropolis of 1915 Chicago. So many victims were first- or second-generation Americans. They, themselves, had come here or their parents had emigrated here from Europe to forge the American dream. After reading about so many of them, learning their stories, meeting their ancestors, walking their neighborhoods, and visiting the Western Electric museum to learn about their workplace and the products they produced, I feel for these people. They are alive in my mind and my heart. That is why I can’t stop telling their stories. They deserve to be remembered.

What advice do you offer to current students and alumni about building a career?

As Oprah often says, follow your bliss. I’m a firm believer in that philosophy, but I caution that warm, fuzzy sentiment with a cold slice of reality. You may be the best novelist of your generation, but writing a novel can take years. Who’s going pay your bills until your brilliant book debuts? If you don’t want to live in your parents’ basement till your Social Security kicks in, then you have to have a paying day job.

That doesn’t mean you can’t work in your chosen field. If you’re the creative type, you can go into advertising or editing or teach dance classes. Work to pay the bills but save your free time to pursue your artistic dreams. Network to build contacts, take classes to improve your craft, join a critique group of like-minded souls for emotional support, attend workshops and conferences. In other words, nourish and nurture your dreams, and you will be a success.

Learn more about Marian Cheatham at:

www.chicagonow.com/everyday-eastland/

www.facebook.com/mariancheatham.author

www.amazon.com/Ruined-Stratford-High-Marian-Cheatham/dp/1500335444

http://www.niutoday.info/2015/02/26/recent-niu-graduate-uncovers-film-of-eastland



NIU College of Education launches Teacher Leader Endorsement Program

Courses put teachers on path to becoming leaders and administrators in their schools

smallTeachers who want to be leaders in their schools can now take courses designed to empower them for those roles in the NIU College of Education’s new Teacher Leader Endorsement (TLE) Program.

The State Educator Preparation and Licensure Board recently approved the program, which is dedicated to helping build leadership capacity in classrooms, schools and districts. Developed collaboratively with Kaneland Community School District 302, the new program serves as a pathway for teachers who seek to serve as school leaders in a capacity other than principal. (The College’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF) already offers the Principal Preparation Program for teachers who want to prepare to be school principals).

The TLE program purposely blends courses in educational administration with courses in curriculum. Course work in administrative leadership gives students access to principles of effective leadership, school organization, supervisory behavior, and community relations. Course work in curriculum leadership provides students with information to develop competence in curriculum theory and practice, cooperative planning for improvement of instruction, professional development, evaluation of curricular programs, and delivery of induction/mentoring programs for new teachers.

Students can choose to earn the Teacher Leader Endorsement as part of a 33-credit-hour M.S. Ed program in curriculum and instruction or — for those teachers who already possess a master’s degree in education — as a 24-credit-hour, stand-alone endorsement program.

For information on how to apply, contact David Snow at dsnow1@niu.edu or (815) 753-1465.