Judy Schneider named director of College of Ed advancement

Judy Schneider

Judy Schneider

Judy Schneider, a gift planning officer in the NIU Foundation since 2012, has joined the College of Education as director of Advancement.

Schneider is continuing her mission to find the “hope” delivered through donor-funded scholarships and dollars that fuel innovative programs.

“I am excited to work in the College of Education for a variety of reasons,” Schneider says.

“For one, I have met such great alumni and friends from the college over the past 10-plus years. Their work is critical as educators, administrators, counselors and more in improving so many issues this country faces,” she says. “And I really think I can help connect these alumni and friends with the needs of the college and their personal philanthropic goals.”

Coming to the College of Education also will allow her to “narrow my focus a bit” as she collaborates with “a great group of people for a common goal,” she adds.

Meanwhile, the move to Graham Hall 316 surrounds the mother of four – three of her children are enrolled in Illinois public universities, including NIU – with bright, talented and eager students.

“There is nothing more motivating than hearing a young person’s dream for a better life, and helping make that possible. It is their stories that fire me up to do what I do,” she says. “A saying I really like is, ‘By Giving We Find Hope.’ Scholarships, and funds for programs, create that hope. It is what keeps me on task.”

Anthony D’Andrea

Anthony D’Andrea

Anthony D’Andrea, senior director of College-Based Advancement for the NIU Foundation, is proud of his colleague’s new role at the university. Schneider joined the Foundation in 2007 as a development associate and then assistant to the director of Gift Planning.

“Judy is a ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ in our division who rolls up her sleeves and gets the job done no matter the obstacle,” D’Andrea wrote in an email to his staff. “While she will be missed in her formal planned giving role, she will continue to help advance this very important part of our Advancement fundraising model.”

Born and raised in DeKalb, Schneider earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before following her father, Bob Brown, into journalism. She worked from 1986 to 2000 at WCIA-TV in Champaign as a news reporter and community/public affairs producer and host.

“I grew up following my father, a 50-year broadcasting veteran at local radio WLBK, as he interviewed people around the county. I learned that I, too, enjoyed hearing people’s stories, which led me to a broadcasting career,” she says.

“My work today is much the same,” she adds. “I meet some of the most interesting people, learn about their passions and desires and connect them to those areas at NIU.”

Schneider is eager to pair names with faces in the college: “I welcome the opportunity to meet for a cup of coffee to hear your stories,” she says, “and how NIU has made a difference in your life.”



Iowa State honors David Walker

David Walker

David Walker

David Walker’s fervent curiosity about the world beyond the United States has shaped his life.

As an undergraduate at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history, political science and Russian studies. He also studied abroad in the former Soviet Union in 1987.

“I got a taste of being overseas,” Walker says, “and I enjoyed it immensely.”

Following graduation, Walker and his wife joined the Peace Corps, serving together from 1989 to 1991 in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) and from 1992 to 1994 in Mauritania.

Those years in Francophone Africa sparked his interest in the history of that region, and upon his return home, he enrolled at Iowa State University to earn a master’s degree in history. He later completed a Ph.D. there in education.

Since then, as an academic with a dynamic research agenda of qualitative methodology, significant grant funding, a strong record of mentoring graduate students and a platform of promoting international collaboration as president of the Mid-Western Educational Research Association, Walker has undeniably forged an impressive career.

Now the associate dean of the NIU College of Education has external confirmation of that fact.

globeWalker is the 2017 recipient of Iowa State’s Virgil Lagomarcino Laureate Award, which honors graduates of the College of Human Sciences who are nationally and internationally recognized for their meritorious service or distinguished achievement in the field of education.

He will travel to Ames in October for the ceremony, which takes place during Homecoming.

“I feel very honored and humbled that my peers support me. Iowa State is kind of where it all started for me,” says Walker, who came to NIU in 2003 as an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment.

The former Cyclone has dedicated himself to modeling his professors there.

“At Iowa State, I mentored under some of the best in the business,” he says, “and after I graduated, it became apparent to me how privileged I was to study under these great names in our field. I consider it my due diligence to give back to the field, and I strive to do that in my teaching and research.”

Fellow Iowa State alumna Christine Sorensen Irvine, a former dean of the NIU College of Education, nominated Walker for the award. The two also have published together.

Walker is looking forward to his trip back to Ames to collect his Lagomarcino.

“I’ll see a lot of good friends and mentors,” he says. “It’s going to be a great evening.”



NIU connects Downers Grove with eighth-graders in Taiwan

The view from Taiwan: Students from National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School returned late in the evening for the Skype session.

The view from Taiwan: Students from National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School returned late in the evening to Skype.
Teacher Chen Jin-Ting is on the left.

It opened with simple hellos before the conversation turned to favorite foods and hobbies.

Peering into webcams, the strangers made small talk across oceans through the power of Skype. This was only Day One, though; the real conversation would come 48 hours later.

And when that began – at 7 a.m. Wednesday, March 22, inside an eighth-grade science classroom at Downers Grove’s O’Neill Middle School – hour-long scientific argumentation between U.S. students and their Taiwanese counterparts proved lively and educational.

For the next hour, they argued this question: If funding were limited, which form of alternative energy would you select as the best to promote and advance?

“Everything went well. The students were really engaged, and we got lucky – we didn’t get into any technical issues,” said Pi-Sui Hsu, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment.

“They really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to students from a different culture – that’s a really big thing for them – and they were glad to learn some Chinese,” she added. “They were so excited. They kept repeating phrases they learned from me.”

skype-1

The view from Illinois: Eighth-graders arrived early to link up with their Taiwanese counterparts.

Meg Van Dyke, an eighth-grade science teacher at O’Neill, is grateful for her classroom’s involvement in what she calls “a wonderful opportunity.”

“The research project allows students a unique opportunity to receive a global perspective on alternative energy. For example, the students in Taiwan don’t have as much exposure to nuclear energy as students in the United States,” Van Dyke said. “It also forces my students to think about how small Taiwan is and what alternative energy would work best for them.”

O’Neill’s international collaboration with Taiwan’s National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School is part of Hsu’s research project on scientific argumentation, a process which enhances understanding of science, sharpens critical thinking skills and aligns with the “Science and Engineering Practices” dimension of the Next Generation Science Standards.

“Scientific argumentation is a process that scientists engage in by talking and presenting different perspectives to reach consensus,” she said. “We don’t teach science as a mere learning of facts. Our students need to engage in reasoning, just like professional scientists.”

Pi-Sui Hsu

Pi-Sui Hsu

Darby Sawyer, a senior in the College of Education with a contract major, joined Hsu in the early-morning trip to O’Neill.

Sawyer walked around the classroom, checking in on the groups and keeping them on track. Further help came from Lucidchart, a web-based diagramming tool with real-time collaboration that allowed the students to put (and point to) their ideas in flow charts.

“The students were definitely excited to talk to their counterparts in Taiwan,” Sawyer said. “I definitely learned a lot about the scientific argumentation process by watching them engage with the different culture and seeing them put their heads together.”

Hsu’s work is funded by the Taiwan Ministry of Education, which now has put three rounds of money behind the project. She returns to her native Taiwan each summer to provide training in scientific argumentation to teachers there, something that continues online during the fall, winter and spring.

“My goal is encourage collaboration, and I’m interested in cultural differences,” she said. “We train students in the concept of scientific argumentation, and we give them a global view of what goes on in different countries.”

Principal Hsu Chih-Ting and Research Division Wang Hsin-Chang

Principal Hsu Chih-Ting and Research Division Wang Hsin-Chang

The recent collaboration continues her work with Van Dyke, an NIU alum.

In the summer of 2014, Hsu and Van Dyke welcomed 26 young students from Taiwan to DeKalb for the College of Education’s three-week “Argue Like a Scientist” academic summer camp. The two also have published research together.

Students in Hsu’s NIU College of Education classes also are benefiting from the work. The college values and prioritizes research as part of its vision and mission.

“As a researcher, I like to see how technology supports students in their learning,” she said. “In my doctoral-level classes, I share with them about my research design and the successes and struggles. I share project ideas with them, and this gives them ideas about how to use technology to design international collaborations.”

Research Division Liu Hsin-Chi

Research Division Liu Hsin-Chi

Hsu and Sawyer plan to co-publish and/or co-present the results of the project; meanwhile, Van Dyke’s students are writing essays on what they learned.



Community Learning Series: Five ways to make sure kids grow through their love of tech

Parents can’t help but worry.

Phones, tablets and apps galore are competing for the undivided attention of their children and teens – and chances probably seem good to many moms and dads that the technology is winning.

So what can we do to make sure that our kids are getting the most out of their Internet-connected gadgets? Is there a way to promote their educational potential while mitigating the negative consequences?

Five experts convened March 23 by the NIU College of Education to explore “The Digital Lives of Children: Giving Screen Time a Closer Look” offered opinions and strategies that can help parents make sense of it all.

  • Remember that quality of content and user experience matter. All devices are potential tools for learning through their rapid feedback and just-in-time information. Developers of instructional technology consciously design software to deliver active learning that follows educational best practices. Ask yourself: Is this device or app helping my child to learn about the world – and to make sense of it? Is it making a stronger impact than a textbook? Searching the Internet for information can turn users into critical consumers who spend their learning time deliberating what this information means rather than digging for it.
  • Set rules. The American Academy of Pediatrics in October 2016 issued new recommendations for screen time, including zero hours a day for children from birth to age 2 and no more than one hour a day for preschoolers. For school-age children – kindergarten through high school – establish screen-free places, especially bedrooms, and screen-free times, such as family dinner and one hour before bedtime. Parents also must realize that their own digital lives influence those of their children; if they’re watching you, turn off the tablet or put down the phone.
  • Keep a close eye on your child’s digital life. Remind your kids that part of the agreement of supplying them with tech is that you are free to monitor their devices, scroll through their screens and ask questions. Make sure you understand the functions of their favorite apps. If they’re on Snapchat, you should join Snapchat. If you aren’t familiar with their apps, yet you choose not to intervene, consider that akin to allowing them to spend the night at the home a friend whose parents you’ve never met. Network with other parents to stay informed.
  • Encourage active programs. The hugely popular Minecraft – “Legos with no parameters,” said panelist Jennifer McCormick, a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary School in Sycamore Community School District 427 – requires users to think creatively and to interact. Many videos on YouTube are instructional, harnessing the medium of “modeling” to teach viewers to cook, knit, braid hair or thousands of other things in a way that’s far more effective than words on a page. Even video games require players to remain actively engaged by plotting strategies and making and executing decisions. Many video games also spool out instructions as the games progress, something that forces constant attention – unlike presenting all the rules before the game starts and likely causing players to ignore them.
  • Pay close attention for “red flags” of digital addiction. Are their devices getting in the way of their normal activities? Are they choosing their phones over other alternatives for human interaction or physical activity? Are they ignoring you? Do they put up a fight when asked to turn off, or turn over, the tech? Are their grades suffering? Is their use of technology a way to self-medicate for depression?
Panelists, from left: Jennifer McCormick, John Burkey, Jason Underwood, Susan Goldman and Danielle Baran.

Panelists, from left: Jennifer McCormick, John Burkey, Jason Underwood,
Susan Goldman and Danielle Baran.

 

For parents who fear it’s already too late, panelist Danielle Baran, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, has advice: Ask yourself how you got to this place. For example, if your children need screens to calm down, did you instill that behavior?

Baran also agreed with fellow panelist Susan Goldman, Ph.D., distinguished professor of psychology and education at the University of Illinois at Chicago: Human interaction – human emotional connection – is key.

“No technology you can invent has more buttons than you,” Baran said. “You are limitless.”

Other members of the NIU College of Education’s Community Learning Series panel were John Burkey, superintendent of Huntley Community School District 158, and Jason Underwood, senior instructional designer at assistant director of the NIU eLearning and Digital Convergence Lab.



Lone Star stars: Educate U.S. ‘teas’ up for May trip to Texas

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development, talks about Educate U.S.

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development, talks about Educate U.S.

NIU College of Education students selected for the May 2017 edition of Educate U.S. gathered last week in a Graham Hall classroom to learn more about their pending trip to the Houston Independent School District.

Jennifer Johnson, the college’s director of teacher preparation and development, and Portia Downey, professional development coordinator, covered basics such as transportation times, liability forms, ground rules and more.

But the orientation session was mostly fun and festive.

The room was adorned with numerous Texas flags, many taped to the door and walls with others in the forms of paper plates and napkins at the buffet table, which dished up walking tacos, Downey’s homemade Texas Cowboy Cookies, Texas Sweet Tea and drinking glasses in the shape of cowboy boots.

Students also had their choice of Educate U.S. T-shirts and official College of Education red polo shirts.

David Walker, associate dean of the NIU College of Education, congratulated the group for pursuing the “phenomenal program” that sends outstanding pre-service teachers to Texas for donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experiences in a large, urban school district.

Elementary Education majors Marcus Lewis and Abby Spankroy listen during the Educate U.S. orientation.

Elementary Education majors Marcus Lewis and Abby Spankroy listen during the Educate U.S. orientation.

“You made it. You’re the best of the best. We’re really excited for you to be a part of this,” said Walker, who also promoted this summer’s Educate Global program in Taiwan. “When I was a student many years ago, I wish I would have had these opportunities.”

Educate U.S. participants work side-by-side with mentor teachers, observing in classrooms, preparing lessons, and engaging in co-teaching strategies. They also participate with students, host families and community members in a variety of extracurricular and community events, further enriching their experience.

Marcus Lewis, a junior elementary education major, applied for Educate U.S. to glimpse how school is taught outside the borders of Illinois.

“I’d like to experience a different area of the United States, and see how they take on education and pedagogy,” said Lewis, who also is participating in Educate Global this summer. “I value education as a tool for change, and I believe it’s one of the most important aspects of society.”

Lewis, who’s heard “nothing but great things” about Educate U.S., hopes to teach fourth-grade. “It’s a great transition time,” he said. “They’re moving into adolescence. They’re not babies anymore. They’re starting to rationalize.”

Sarah Younglove, a special education major, expects that her week in Houston will provide a view completely unlike her “predominantly white” hometown of Oregon, Ill.

Sarah Younglove (right) and Emma Foelske

Sarah Younglove (right) and Emma Foelske

“I’m from a really small town with less than 4,000 people,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to go to a school district that’s got more than 215,000 students, and to experience different cultures.”

Younglove is equally excited for her future career. “I just feel very passionate about seeing students reach their full potential,” she said, “and I think the world needs as many passionate teachers as it can get.”

Lorena Flores, a transfer student in Middle Level Teaching and Learning, is eager to explore Houston’s bilingual classrooms.

“I’ve never seen that applied at the middle level,” she said. “I want to see how they do it.”

Flores, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who developed a love of teaching as a drill instructor, also looks forward to observing and living “the everyday life of a teacher” who must balance school and home.

Her goal as a science teacher is to emulate one of her former instructors. “In high school, I had a certain math teacher who ended up being my math teacher for three years in a row,” she said. “I hated math – but he made it fun and interesting, and he treated us as people, not just a name or a number.”

texas-tacosEarly Childhood Studies majors traveling in May are Nycol Durham, Malika Lee, Ashley Kivikoski, Wendy Castillo-Guzman, Katelynn Horton, Ashley Hodges, Caroline Stephens and Catherina Rousonelos.

Elementary Education majors are Nicole VanGarsse, Abby Spankroy, Erin Kostos, Sarah Raila, Jennifer Lucchsi and Marcus Lewis.

Middle Level Teaching and Learning majors are Emma Foelske, Samantha Oakley and Lorena Flores. Special Education majors are Bailey Fisch, Rachel Streight and Sarah Younglove.

texas-group



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.