This I Believe 3

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This I Believe 3 The Struggles, Joys & Motivations of 49 STEM Educators

# MSUrbanSTEM, 2015-2016 Michigan State University



This I Believe 3 The Struggles, Joys & Motivations of 50 STEM Educators

# MSUrbanSTEM, 2016-2017 Michigan State University


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit:

Layout & Design Punya Mishra & Candace Marcotte

May 2017


Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny. - Mahatma Gandhi

This book is dedicated to educators everywhere.



Contents Preface




The Fellows Onome Alabi


Joselyn Galvez


Davina Allen


Randi Ginyard


Hallie Askuvich


Beverly Harris


Angela Barrett


Gabriel Hoerger


Tracy Barrientos


Nancy Ibarra


Roshonda Booker


Earl Johnson


Kimlona Brown


Irena Kania


Linda Brown


Suzan Kheireddin


Mike Calderbank


Michael Kolody


Elena Concepcion


Michael Kosko


Kasia Derza


Gerard Kovach


Donna Figenshu


Kevin Lee


Alexa Freshour


Michael Maita


Darren Fuller


Yvonne Nevarez


Helen Galiotos-Noguera


Michael Ng



Contents contd. The Fellows (contd.) Binh Nguyen


Luewilla Smith-Barnett


Jillian Onque


Cody Spencer


Laddie Perina


Robert Strong


Latasha Petty


Annmarie Thomas


Dionne Reynolds


Karen Trine


Nelida Roa


Sarah Tschaen


Jennifer Roden


Katrina Vafakos


Ashley Rose


Cynthia Vargas-Gomez


Les Seitman


Katharine Whittaker


Rashid Smith


Philip Whittles


The MSUrbanSTEM Team


The Instructional Team


Missy Cosby


Rohit Mehta


Akesha Horton


Punya Mishra


Candace Marcotte


Kyle Shack





Preface William James famously wrote, “Psychology is a science, and teaching is an art” highlighting the “magic” as it were in the act of teaching. He goes on to say that the “sciences never generate arts directly out of themselves. An intermediary inventive mind must make the application, by using its originality.” The point that James seeks to highlight is that there is no one road to good teaching. All the psychological research in the world cannot produce “definite programs and schemes and methods of instruction for immediate schoolroom use.” James argues that, “A science only lays down lines within which the rules of the art must fall … but what particular thing he (sic) shall do positively within those lines is left exclusively to his own genius. One genius will do his work well and succeed in one way, while another succeeds as well quite differently.” Good teaching requires, James suggests, inventiveness and ingenuity, combined with tact and sympathetic observation. Teaching builds on the teacher’s connection to the subject matter to be taught; as well as their care for the learners in their classrooms. Research on exceptional teachers has highlighted the importance of this alignment of the personal with the professional. It is a uniquely personal pursuit, built on a foundation of knowledge and expertise, scaffolded by deeply held values and beliefs. And of course, this knowledge, expertise and beliefs are not set in stone. Instead they are continually evolving, as teachers engage with the world, with learners and with each other as they maintain their commitment to the intricate art of teaching. This book is a documentation, in their own words, of 50 STEM educators, of their continual engagement, evolution and growth, as they participated in a year-long professional development program. v

For the past year, the 50 educators who are featured in these pages have been engaged in an inventive, integrated year-long graduate certificate experience aimed at building STEM teachers’ capacity to lead and inspire innovative practices in urban K-12 schools. They were selected by the College of Education at Michigan State University through a rigorous process based on their commitment to teaching in urban schools, knowledge of content, their prior achievement and evidence of promise in the field. This book is the culmination of their year-long experience. Through their writing, our teacherleaders share the thoughts and ideas that have challenged their way of thinking as well as inspired their educational development about the nature of leadership in their disciplines. We are excited to share this diverse collection of thoughtful, inspiring statements. In each case, they look back—reflecting on a rewarding yet challenging career as well as the past year; and look forward—to an exciting future. They also share with us a book that inspired them, a quote that motivates them, and provide links to their websites and twitter accounts. Finally—taking a page from the NPR play-book—each piece concludes with a response to the prompt “This I believe...” We, in turn, believe, that these 50 articles can serve as both a resource and inspiration to those seeking to follow in their footsteps. As you peruse the pages of this book, it is our sincere hope that you are inspired by the passion that emanates from each fellow’s words. At the core of it all is a genuine love for students, the STEM disciplines, the art of teaching and learning, and vision for the future of education. Enjoy!


Acknowledgements This book (and the program that helped create it) is the result of the hard work and effort of a large team of people. First and foremost, none of this would have been possible without the generous financial support of Wipro Ltd. and their commitment to education in the STEM disciplines, particularly in urban districts such as Chicago. We would specifically like to thank Anurag Behar and Kapil Sharma of Wipro and the Azim Premji Foundation for their efforts in making this project a reality. We would also like to thank Chicago Public Schools for their partnership. In particular we would like to mention Alan Mather, Chief Officer of College and Career Success; Aarti Dhupelia, former Chief Officer of College and Career Success; Dakota Pawlicki, former Director of Strategic Partnerships and Projects; and Litrea Hunter, Chicago based recruitment and sustainability coordinator. This has been a genuine partnership between MSU and CPS and these individuals are among many who have made this possible. We would also like to extend a special gratitude to Judy Sunvold and her team at Loyola University for their help with accommodation and classroom spaces for our fellows and instructors. There are numerous people at Michigan State University and the College of Education who have helped in ways large and small in making this project a reality. We would like to specifically thank former dean Don Heller and current dean Bob Floden for their support; Marcy Wallace for helping navigate the intricacies of budgets and other red-tape; and Kelly Loveless, Jessica Pham and Heather Johnson for administrative support.


The planning, technology, and evaluation team at MSU consisted of (in alphabetical order) Inese Berzina-Pitcher, Swati Mehta and Christopher Seals. This book was the brain-child of Punya Mishra and the instructional team, which includes Missy Cosby, Akesha Horton, Candace Marcotte, Rohit Mehta, and Kyle Shack. Swati Mehta and Candace Marcotte took the lead shepherding the writing process, cleaning up and organizing all the documents, photos, text in consistent form. Julie Taylor, Espresso Book Machine coordinator at MSU Libraries, helped with the printing, and kept her calm even under tight deadlines. Most of the photographs in the book were taken by the instructional team, with additional help from Xavier McClair. The book was designed by Punya Mishra and Candace Marcotte with input from Smita Sawai. We would also like to thank the leadership team at MSU: Dr. Punya Mishra, Dr. Sonya Gunnings-Moton and Dr. Leigh Graves Wolf. Their commitment to excellence in teaching in general, and to urban education in specific, can be felt in every aspect of the program. Finally, a heartfelt thanks to the 50 teachers who are the third Leadership fellows. This project runs on their shoulders. The 50 reflections in this book are testimony to their creativity, passion, and concern for excellence in STEM learning. They often work in challenging contexts with multiple pressures on their time and energy. It has been our privilege to work with them and learn from them and we thank them for giving us this opportunity. Sincerely, The MSU-Wipro Urban STEM Fellowship 2016-17 Teaching Team (Punya Mishra, Missy Cosby, Akesha Horton, Candace Marcotte, Rohit Mehta & Kyle Shack) May 2017, East Lansing MI & Phoenix AZ viii

arhsimaynup yb margibma noitcefler -ekal ”ogacihC“ “Chicago” lake- reflection ambigram by punyamishra

Additional resources related to this book and the project can be found at and the project can be found at Additional resources related to this book ix


The Fellows


Onome Alabi

@Zoiestrides \ 2

We will not give up on you, even if you give up on yourself - Steven Rouse, Principal, Carver Military Academy

Onome Alabi Onome Alabi Omovie is the science department teacher at Carver Military Academy located on the Southside of Chicago. She teaches biology to freshmen and forensics to seniors. Onome has 17 years’ experience teaching biology and forensics. She has received recognitions for her contribution to learning to the underrepresented population.

Book recommendation Stuck in the Shallow End by Jane Margolis highlights some challenges faced by teachers and students of Los Angeles Unified School District in teaching computer science to underrepresented populations. LAUSD and Chicago experience similar challenges, such as lack of resources in offering computer science to minority students. Equity in the provision of qualified computer science teachers and lack of funding to purchase computers for students is problematic. In addition, policies of school districts restrict full fidelity to the implementation of change efforts. The key takeaways are that teachers play a great role in influencing change efforts that directly impacts equity reform. Teachers must continue to improve themselves through enrollment in college classes and programs that offer focused professional development that directly affect teaching and learning.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: My expectations going into this program in July of 2016 was to learn about the integration of technology into biology pedagogy. I expected to learn how to use computer software to demonstrate learning in biology. In 2015, my school paid for several teachers to attend a technology professional development for a week. By the end of the week, I was overwhelmed with the amount of technology that was introduced to us. The professional developed lacked cogent instructional application of the technology in the classroom. We learned the knowledge of technology but not how to use it in creating instruction. Where I am now: MSUrbanStem-Wipro fellowship has equipped me with both technology and pedagogy strategies to implement in my classroom. My students enjoy the Quick-Learn activities, Imagine IT project, which has helped them to develop a holistic thinking in biology through “re-seeing� complex topics. The curriculum articles and books have poked my interest in seeking out books and articles that further my understanding of how students learn. My instructional planning has greatly improved due to the application of TPACK Model of planning. Now, my students apply technology in demonstrating understanding. It can be simple as using pipe cleaners to depict chromosomes in modelling mitosis to using the computer to create a Powtoon video about their Imagine IT project.


Looking forward: Moving forward, I intend to use the knowledge gained from MSUrbanStem program to seek out leadership position where I can impact teaching and learning through training of developing teachers. In addition, seek volunteer opportunities where I will directly impact children in the learning of STEM.

This I believe ... learning is lifelong.


Davina Allen

@dtallen00\ 6

Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions - Author Unknown

Davina Allen Davina Allen facilitates in a Creative Learning lab designed for students in middle school. She also coaches K-8 grade teachers on building capacity to design lessons that involve the Engineering Design Process. She is a proud parent of two beautiful children. Davina believes that in order for students to be successful they have to be able to function as a team.

Book recommendation Failure is Not an Option: 6 Principles That Advance Student Achievement in Highly Effective Schools by Alan Blankstein provides practical illustrations of how high performing schools create and maintain a culture of professional learning communities. The information presented is vital to building a culture that can make a difference and ensure achievement for all students. It empowers educators to focus on data based decisions through building their capacity for data analysis. Throughout this book, you will see the components that create great schools and how to yield higher student achievement.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I have been teaching at Jesse Owens/Gompers for 10 years. Previously Jesse Owens and Gompers were two completely different schools and did not function as a unit despite being feeder schools. The past three years we have been working to function as one school, one team, and one vision. Currently I hold the position as a STEM coach where I facilitate a STEM lab and coach teachers on implementing STEM activities such as problem based learning units and interdisciplinary units. I knew in 7th grade I was going to be a teacher. I had a teacher that believed in me despite my behavior issues and SES status. This teacher made me realize that I could accomplish anything. The values that I bring to the classroom are compassion, integrity, and a sense of hope for all students. I believe that all students can learn. Where I am now: When I first started the MSUrbanStem fellowship I was a bit nervous, it’s difficult going into something new and not really having knowledge or expectation of what the program will entail. The program has challenged me to challenge my students and push their thinking beyond measures. I have incorporated more things this year than I had previously. I started this school year feeling refreshed and feeling like I had support not only from the instructors but from the other fellows. The program help me set goals and finds ways to reach them without making excuses. It’s easy in the world of education to start a project and stop because you have limited resources and minimal parental support, this program has taught me to make progress not excuses. Looking forward: Over the next five years I will continue to work on collaborative grouping and learning. This year I have used collaborative grouping more effectively and efficiently. I used a variety of strategies to help increase the effectiveness of collaborative 8

grouping. Kagan strategies have been the most instrumental with helping improve classroom management and promoting cooperation and communication in the classroom amongst students. According to research collaborative learning teams are said to attain higher level thinking and preserve information for longer times than students working individually. Over the next five years my goal is to make sure that my students are 21st century thinkers and learners. I will continue to use critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity to enhance my students learning.

This I believe ... that when there is teamwork and collaboration, the educational possibilities are endless.


Hallie Askuvich

@hmpeskin\ 10

We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There’s something wrong there. - Neil deGrasse Tyson

Hallie Askuvich Hallie Askuvich is a National Board Certified teacher in early adolescent science and has been working in Chicago Public Schools since 2000. She currently teaches 5th and 6th grade science at Sauganash Elementary School and is proud to be serving as the lead science teacher in the school’s participation with the MSI School Partnership Program. Her tenure with Chicago Public Schools includes serving as the the middle school science specialist in the Department of Science, middle school classroom teacher, a citywide science specialist and an area science coach.

Book recommendation The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by Bryan Mealer and William Kamkwamba was such an inspirational and important read because it highlights not only the need for science education, but that every child can be a scientist. It is a refreshing reminder to us as educators that students can accomplish amazing feats when faced with a meaningful challenge and then left to their own devices.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a teacher and I took a pretty circuitous route to arrive where I am today. I discovered my passion for teaching as an outdoor environmental educator and thought, “Hey! I want to bring environmental education into urban classrooms!” I find my naivete in thinking that this was a straightforward mission almost embarrassing. Needless to say, in my 15+ years with Chicago Public Schools I’ve learned a few things from the resulting challenges. I learned that my enthusiasm for an idea or topic is not enough. I struggled to figure out that students get excited when ideas make sense and are relevant to them. I struggled as I negotiated curricula that was not the right fit for my students and learned that as a professional I know my students’ needs best and not only should, but am obligated to provide meaningful learning experiences above, beyond and/or instead of what is placed in front of me. Where I am now: The learning experiences afforded us through MSUrbanSTEM pushed me well beyond my comfort zone and forced me explore technologies that I had not previously considered to include as part of my instructional repertoire. So many professional development sessions provide a wealth of information and potential ideas, strategies, and/or resources but never the safe, creative space to experiment with them in a way that will facilitate transfer to the actual application of them. This is a transformative learning experience. As part of my participation as an MSUrbanSTEM fellow, not only am I able to engage in this transfer of knowledge, but I am now empowered to facilitate such learning experiences for my students.


Looking forward: As a result of participating in this project I have a newfound appreciation for building my professional presence. As educators we often feel that we are not treated or respected as professionals. I’ve learned that we can take control of our professional existence. Through making our ideas, successes, challenges, failures, etc public we continue to build our networks and grow professionally. There is a huge community of fellow educators that we can share with and learn from. To that end, one of my long term goals is to increase my professional presence as a means to relay the critical nature of science education to the larger education community. Another of my goals is to continue to transfer responsibility of learning to the students. Just as I can control my professional presence, I want my students to have more control over their educational experiences in science.

This I believe ... that science education is the right of every child, in every grade, in every school. I believe that students learn best when they are excited and can construct their own understandings. I believe that learning is messy and the sooner we can embrace that, the more learning will take place.


Angela N. Barrett

@AngB9 \ 14

Be the change that you want to see in the world. often attributed to Gandhi

Angela Barrett Angela Barrett is in her twenty-first year of educating children in the Chicago Public Schools. She currently teaches seventh and eighth grade math at Clay Elementary in the Hegewisch neighborhood. Mrs. Barrett dreams of a day when STEM will be in every school, challenging and engaging the future leaders of our world. Her methods and beliefs have been shaped by her years as a Golden Apple Scholar, the process of National Board Certification, and numerous post-graduate educational experiences. Angela has two wonderful sons who inspire her to be curious and adventurous.

Book recommendation The Knowledge Book: Everything You Need to Know to Get By in the 21st Century published by The National Geographic Society, 2009. This encyclopedia-like resource is broken into five main sections: The Blue Planet, Discoveries and Inventions, Social Life, Mind and Soul, and The Arts. There are short articles that could be used to get anyone up to speed on what has been happening on our planet, including everything from Mozart to NASA to architecture. It is a great resource and source of inspiration.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I attended an incredibly empowering, all-girls, Catholic high school, Queen of Peace. My counselor recognized qualities in me that she felt would make a good teacher and she nominated me to be a Golden Apple Scholar, a scholarship which I earned and propelled me into my teaching career. I was in an eighth grade classroom, shadowing an award-winning teacher just three weeks after my high school graduation. These experiences and the people I met through Golden Apple supported me through the challenges of college and inspired me to be a continual learner and motivator in my own classroom. I also worked as a resident camp counselor at YMCA Camp Duncan where I developed a rapport with children, learned the value of boundaries, and stepped out of my comfort zone so often that it practically disappeared. I had all these amazing experiences by the time I was twenty-one and they continue to sustain and inspire me to this day. Where I am now: In the years since my undergrad studies at the University of Illinois, I have earned a graduate degree and numerous certifications from four other universities. After the amazing, reflective experience of earning my National Board Certification in 2003 and earning my renewal certificate in 2013, I felt empowered as a teacher. I have learned how to teach students who speak other languages, explored mathematics in a class taught by the head of the physics department at the University of Chicago, and studied school law to earn my administrative certificate. I am a continual learner and MSUrbanSTEM was yet another opportunity for me to push the boundaries and limits of my comfort zone. This was, however, one of the most intimidating experiences. I am still in awe of the sheer talent and dedication of my peers in Cohort Three. Their knowledge of technology, science, engineering, and math, at first, made me feel 16

incompetent. For the first time, I felt I was in over my head and out of my league. My colleagues, intuitively sensed my struggle, stepped in, slowed down, showed me again, and took me under their wing. I am eternally grateful for their kindness and motivation and I hope that I can honor them by paying it forward and inspiring others on their STEM journeys. Looking forward: By nature, I seek out more knowledge and ways to share my skills. Going forward, my hope is to inspire and unite others in the CPS community to begin incorporating STEM into their classrooms, especially the math and science teachers. We need to get students excited about math and science again; they need to find the use for this knowledge in their lives. Our future depends on their success but we need to first build a learning community that allows for creativity in math and science, not just memorization of facts. It is my hope over the coming years that I will be able to serve as a teacher leader, or perhaps an administrator, working with math and science teachers to build STEM units that follow standardsfocused instruction. It takes time and a cohesive team to build strong instructional units that accomplish many goals simultaneously. I will continue to strive towards implementation of STEM based math and science instruction.

This I believe ... in order to be an effective teacher, you must first be a learner. The world is full of wonder and in that wonder we find knowledge and inspiration. When we make sense of the wonder, then learning begins. 17

Tracy Barrientos

@TracyB4PublicEd \ 18

Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses - learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else. - Leonardo DaVinci

Tracy Barrientos Tracy Barrientos is a seventh grade life science teacher at Dr. Jorge Prieto Math & Science Academy in the Belmont-Craigin neighborhood of Chicago. In 2001, she earned her Master’s degree in Education from the University of Illinois-Chicago, and then taught 4th grade and 6th-8th grade ELA, Social Studies and Science for 12 years at Joseph Jungman Elementary. Tracy has also provided science professional development since 2009 through a collaboration between Chicago Public Schools and Loyola University. Tracy is endorsed in bilingual education and middle school social science and middle school general science. When she is not teaching, she enjoys spending time with her family either camping or travelling.

Book recommendation Problem Based Learning: An Inquiry Approach by John Barell is a very good book I used to get started on using student driven inquiry in my classroom. It is a quick read and gives you a step by step approach to implementation. The author explains the three phases of PBL: the teacher-directed approach, the teacher-student shared inquiry, and finally, student-directed inquiry. Also included are sample units, and opportunities for self-reflection as well as rubrics for assessment.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I always wanted to teach, but I took the “long and winding road”. While all my undergraduate courses lead to a teaching certificate, for some reason I cannot recall, I changed my mind at the last minute and decided to pursue a degree in sociology and anthropology. Go figure. Upon graduation, I worked for a social service organization and then left that for catering. My catering experience soon led me to a management career with a McDonald’s franchise owner and for a few years it was exciting to run such a popular business. The one thing that bugged me the most though, was that my hiring pool for the afternoon shifts often consisted of high school drop-outs. Getting to know these young people and why they dropped out inspired me to quit the business world and pursue my master’s in education. In 2001, I finally earned that teaching certificate! Where I am now: On day one of this fellowship last summer I remember briefly thinking what have I gotten myself into?! Sometimes I cannot even manage multiple email accounts on my cell phone! They want us to make a Twitter account, create memes, and make movies!? All in a few weeks?! The pace was fast, the content deep and engaging, and the opportunities to push myself in new creative ways just kept coming. The prospect of applying technological and pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) to my classroom practice was a naturally appealing one. I needed to make a big change in my teaching. I was feeling stale. This was the biggest change that I’ve implemented - boosting the opportunities for more creative engagement in my classroom using the tools of technology, engineering and math. My students tell me they love my class because we do more than just life science alone. That’s a sign I’m on the right path!


Looking forward: I feel much more confident in my abilities to incorporate technology and creative STEM teaching activities into my daily practice. I’m comfortable weaving these throughout my required curriculum and feel I’m making good strides towards becoming the teacher I dreamed of becoming - one who captures the most challenged student and inspires the highest achievers. I am planning to continue my lifelong journey as a learner and seek out more professional development in the areas of STEM. I hope to work alongside my colleagues in our middle school science department to truly put the science in Dr. Jorge Prieto Math & Science Academy. I believe we can do this by sharing our work here with our school community - teachers, students and parents. And in the next 2-5 years Prieto may become a well-known STEM school here in the Chicago Public School district.

This I believe ... given time, tools, and trust, I can be THAT teacher. The innovative one, the transformative one, the inspiring one, the one where a former student not only remembers your class, but takes what they’ve learned in your class and uses it to create change within their own community.


Roshonda Booker

@shawnessybnice \ 22

Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first. The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior. When our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed. - Marva Collins

Roshonda Booker Mrs. Booker is a 6th, 7th, and 8th grade science and social science teacher at Arthur. A. Libby Elementary and Middle School. She is very passionate about teaching science and providing her students with hands on and real world application activities in her science classes. She has taught middle school science for fifteen years and she continues to be inspired by her students and their thirst for knowledge and wonderment.

Book recommendation I was inspired by The Dreamkeepers written by Gloria Ladson-Billings. Dreamkeepers inspired me because I felt like each story was somehow who I am as a teacher and I could either see myself or one of my former teachers in this book. It was everything that is good about teaching and being a teacher. Dreamkeepers also spoke to my love of school family community which is what I love most about my job. I feel that every educator should read this book regardless of demographic because there are some best practices to be learned.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: Becoming a teacher wasn’t my first dream. I wanted to become a buyer for a big retail chain and travel to the Big Apple and Paris. I loved fashion and wanted to be around it all the time, but 1 fiancée and baby later the two lifestyles didn’t mesh. After having my son and looking at him for the first time, I knew I wanted to do something with my life that made a difference. I always enjoyed working with and helping children and it wasn’t long before I realized that I was created to be a teacher. As a teacher and mother, I bring compassion, empathy, a love for knowledge and growth, and a belief that everyone can succeed. Where I am now: Being an MSUrbanSTEM fellow has definitely opened my eyes to a new world of teaching. Prior to becoming a fellow I looked at teaching as something that was one-dimensional. Now, I’m looking at my lessons to see if I’m using metacognitive strategies and giving my students authentic opportunities to problem solve and create solutions. I view my classroom as a workshop where students can collaborate, feel okay about failing at a task, and work towards understanding the science in everyday life. My overarching goal is to get students to take science beyond the classroom and see the engineer living inside of them. I changed because my students’ lives are changing and I feel it’s my responsibility to ensure that they are prepared. Looking forward: Participating in this fellowship was the best thing that ever happened for my growth as a teacher and to me, as a professional. I definitely see myself as a tempered radical among my peers and my students. How I see teaching today is very different than how I viewed my practice fifteen years ago. My understanding of technology and how science instruction should be delivered is completely revamped from previous years. I’m not afraid to allow 24

my students to have control of the classroom and I spend much less time talking/lecturing because my students are talking to each other. I no longer worry about the appearance of chaos because there’s true learning going on in my classroom. Ultimately in the next five years or more I would like to be a science coach because science often gets pushed on the back burner. I would love to teach other teachers how to teach science in a way that supports literacy and math.

This I believe ... every child deserves a teacher that will go above and beyond to help them reach their full potential because an education is for life and cannot be taken away.


Kimlona Brown

@kimlonabrown \ 26

I’m a teacher. A teacher is someone who leads. There is no magic here. I do not walk on water. I do not part the sea. I just love children. - Marva Collins

Kimlona Brown Kimlona Brown is passionate about inspiring others and helping young people to grow. She earned her undergraduate degree at Southern Illinois University where she studied Workforce Education and Training. As a kid she always knew she wanted to be a teacher. Professional and life experiences led her to pursue her dream. She received her MA in Elementary Education from National-Louis University. She has been an elementary school teacher for the past seven years. Her passion for math is visible in her classroom, after school math club, and as a math teacher leader/facilitator for CPS Department of Mathematics and Network 5. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with family, friends, dancing, and traveling. She has a daughter, Saneit Monae that inspires her and continues to motivate her to go beyond her comfort zone.

Book recommendation Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck. I am a better person and educator because of this book. There are some things you learned early in life that will have you in a fixed mindset, but this book helped me to see things in color instead of black and white. I have a newfound respect for allowing others to grow at their own pace and understanding differences. This book helped improve my classroom management, build relationships with my students, and build teamwork within my classroom. 27

The past, the present, the future Looking back: I returned to my last year of college fall semester to find out I was pregnant. My goal to go to graduate school after graduation was placed on hold. My professors were willing to give me an incomplete until I was able to complete my finals in early summer. I completed finals, summer classes and an internship. I walked across the stage with my baby during the summer graduation. I began in different professions, executive assistant, leading workshops, serving as a small group leader, church youth leader, and managing an atrisk youth program for a brief period of time. It wasn’t until that moment in my life where I felt empty and miserable in my job that I decided to pursue my lifelong goal of a career in teaching. I worked and went to night school to complete requirements for the teaching program. I earned my Master of Arts in Teaching May 2010. Where I am now: MSUrbanSTEM Fellowship Program has taken my creative teaching practices to the next level. My caring and safe environment now shines bright and the students’ energy blooms like a spring flower as their creativity flows. Some assessments are now collaborations, project based, and infused with technology (Google Classroom, Animoto, Kahootit, Plickers…). Many collaborations with colleagues has been refreshing. The math collaborations infused with Technology, Pedagogy and Content (TPACK) includes my 5th grade, kindergarten, and 3rd grade classes has been awesome! I’ve started a STEM club after school and collaborated with Turning the Page Chicago for STEM night at our school. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and begun building a community outside of school. Students have been introduced to professionals via Google Hangout/FaceTime to discuss math, science, and STEM. My social media presence caught the attention of a past colleague who has nominated me for a She Rocks It award.


Looking forward: One of my traits is a learner. I love to learn and MSUrbanSTEM has left me wanting to imagine, leave my comfort zone, and learn more so that I can give more to my students and to people that need a firestarter. This has been a life changing experience. I never knew a program could make such a profound impact on my career. STEM is beyond the new buzz word for me. I want to continue to learn more and integrate within the math curriculum. My goals include mentoring other teachers and sharing ways to include STEM in their classrooms. I am interested in attending a leadership program that will prepare me as an administrative leader. I am looking forward to the opportunity to study abroad and blossom as an educator. One day you’ll see me out there on the speaking circuit giving words of encouragement and sharing my knowledge with the world.

This I believe ... your challenges, weaknesses, and mistakes are ready to be conquered. There is so much more in you to be developed and shared. Time to bloom!


Linda K. Brown

@lk_brown1 \ 30

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. - William Butler Yeats

Linda K. Brown Linda K Brown has been teaching in the Chicago Public Schools for 19 years. She is currently teaching 6th grade earth science at Dr. Jorge Prieto Math & Science Academy. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Illinois Benedictine College and, through the Teachers for Chicago program, earned her Masters in Education at Loyola University. She enjoys incorporating art, poetry, song and dance into her lessons and finding new ways of using technology to enhance the teaching and learning of science. She has completed language immersion programs in both Mexico and Costa Rica to develop her Spanish language skills.

Book recommendation Sparks of Genius: The 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People by Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein really spoke to me as a science educator. Chapter 3: Observing starts with “all knowledge begins in observation” and ends with a call to explicitly teach observational skills, to develop sensory awareness and to challenge learners to see things in new ways. The book’s central theme, that we cultivate play and encourage curiosity and wonder, is inspirational.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I was born to be a teacher and I love learning and teaching. However, one struggle that I was having, prior to my involvement in the MSUrbanSTEM program, was keeping earth science content fresh for myself after 16 years of teaching that particular subject area. Learning new strategies for incorporating technology and methods for encouraging engagement has really helped to reinvigorate my passion! I believe that learning science can and should be fun and accessible to all students. I like to find and capitalize on student strengths to ensure that all learners are able to find ways of learning and demonstrating their understandings. Where I am now: Being an MSUrbanSTEM fellow has truly been a transformative experience for me. I have taken many risks and have experienced many firsts this school year. Inspired by other fellows, I wrote and won my first major technology grant. I also created and presented my first PowToons video for a professional development presentation. I created and edited my first YouTube video to introduce my earth science units. I coordinated the first annual 6th grade cardboard challenge. I used social media to get help and recommendations from colleagues. I had students use stop motion video and Make-a-Movie to create multimodal projects demonstrating their understandings. I participated in my first book club using Hangouts on Air. To sum it all up, I was pushed out of my comfort zone and into the tech zone. Looking forward: I would like to continue, with my colleagues in 7th and 8th grade, to build a solid foundation at the middle school level for integrating technology into science learning. This year, we plan to broaden the impact of the STEM program at our school by having students share their work with the school community at large. Over the next 5 years, students will demonstrate their 32

engagement of using technology in the study of science by sharing their excitement with younger grade levels. Lower grade levels will be invited to the middle school classrooms to work on collaborative projects that incorporate science learning and technology. My longterm goal is to spread the message of STEM learning to other schools in our network. We will arrange visits from other schools to share our STEM learning projects and to host student-led workshops on how to use various technologies such as stop motion videos to create multimodal presentations on science topics.

This I believe ... that all children have an innate, burning curiosity about the world around them. It is up to us to cultivate the wonder, encourage the questions and to grow these thinkers!


Michael Calderbank

@Calderbank160O / \ 34

Teach your students the skills they need to succeed in industries and careers that have yet to be created.

Michael Calderbank Michael Calderbank teaches secondary math at Lindblom Math and Science

Academy, where he is also math department chair. He has been teaching for 6 years, and just finished his first year teaching AP Calculus as well as an advanced proof-based math elective, affectionately known as KAM. He has a MAT from the University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program, as well as a math degree from UChicago. He is originally from New Jersey, but is proud to say that he has lived in Chicago for his entire adult life. When he is not teaching, Calderbank plays on Beachfront Property, a club ultimate frisbee team.

Book recommendation Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. More than any other book, it helped me see power structures within the classroom of teacher to student and also the broader world. It helped me see that there are so many unconscious biases that come with the territory of privilege, class and opportunity and how students learn far more than just content from their teachers.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I was inspired and continue to be inspired by my mother. She is a math professor and she somehow manages to occupy a position where she is respected by her peers for her academic research as well as her pedagogy. She mentors graduate students at a high level, but she also created a class for non-math majors that consistently gets good reviews. My mom and I both believe that education is the most important asset anyone can have, and that anyone is capable of advanced mathematics. I take pride in having a strong math background and providing quality math instruction to students who are under-represented in math-intensive fields. Where I am now: This year as a part of MSUrbanSTEM has been incredible! Actually, more than any particular piece of content or learning, I will forever remember the process: “There is no such thing as education technology, there is only technology that can be repurposed for education.” It’s also a messy process to create with a new app or piece of tech, but that can be more rewarding than yet another worksheet. I felt inspired throughout the summer with my advanced math class, and I’ve made an effort to let students explore the math on their own, while acting more as a steering guide than a complete navigator. I am now math department chair, and I am thinking about ways to bring the MSUrbanSTEM experience to my peers. Looking forward: I hope to continue learning how to be a better teacher and building the pipeline for students to pursue math careers. At Lindblom we are thinking seriously about how to implement competency based learning for our students. I am thinking about how to use technology, like education platforms, to help students show mastery. Standards that have easy to check lower level questions, with more quickfire style and project-based higher level 36

questions. Personally, I hope to become a better AP Calculus teacher, learning from veteran teachers along the way as well as becoming more comfortable with the curriculum. I want to play a role in the Chicago math scene, presenting at conferences and writing math contests. I want to be involved in as many aspects of math education in Chicago as possible.

This I believe ... that I have so much to learn in order to continue being an excellent math teacher. I believe that all my students can discover their inner mathematician.


Elena Concepcion

@EConcepci13 \ 38

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it - Maya Angelou

Elena Concepcion Elena Concepcion is a middle school teacher in Chicago. She teaches 6th grade science and has been teaching for 12 years. She has a BS in Elementary Education from St. Xavier University in Chicago with multiple middle school endorsements and a MSin Teaching Elementary Mathematics from University of Illinois in Chicago. She has taught seventh grade and almost every subject, but feels that mathematics education is really what drives her.

Book recommendation Rocking the Boat by Debra Meyerson. I believe this book has really made me realize that we are always looking to be better at what we do. We have to truly focus on who we are as individuals and stay true to who we are while doing what is right.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I wanted to become a teacher ever since I graduated from high school. I had some amazing teachers throughout my elementary and high school years and truly believe I received the best education as a Chicago Public Schools student. I had the opportunity to go to some of the best school and overall I loved learning. In eighth grade I was the valedictorian and was able to serve as a leader at a very young age. I have always had a supportive family and education was at the center of my life and still remains there. The classroom is where I have found comfort as a student and as a teacher. Where I am now: In the past year, as an MSUrbanSTEM fellow I have been able to visualize myself as something other than a teacher. I have never had such a collaborative, fun and innovative learning experience until I entered this group of educators. We all seem to understand each other and support one another on another level that is immeasurable. I have truly enjoyed each meeting, assignment, and challenge of this program. It has taught me that everyone struggles in extremely different ways, but we can still reflect and learn from each one of the challenges we face whether big or small. As an educator, I have learned that it is okay to be who you are even if you have to reinvent yourself to teach. What I mean by this is that we can still believe what we believe while being transformed into all of the expectations and challenges that exist in the classroom. Looking forward: I have learned that things are always changing, and that as educators we must remain flexible. There have been many changes this year for me including subject change. I have adjusted well though because of the project that I have invested a lot of time and confidence in. I am a firm believer in commitment and I have never been more connected or committed to my beliefs than now. I 40

have noticed growth and change within myself this year that I would have never seen or expected without this project. I will continue to make the changes necessary but not lose sight of what I believe in as an educator or learner in general. I am hopeful for my future and the future of CPS and the students that we teach each day.

This I believe ... that we are a constant reflection of who we are and what we do, there is always room for change and improvement, no matter what.


Kasia Derza

@MrsDerza \ 42

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery. - Mark Van Doren

Kasia Derza Kasia Derza is a K-8 STEM Educator at Mariano Azuela Elementary School in Chicago. She is well into her 5th year of teaching. She has been recently recognized as an Apple Distinguished Educator 2017. In her classroom, students get to explore a variety of content. In K-5 grade classrooms students work on coding and creating with robots and tinker tools. In middle grades, students engage in Project Lead The Way curriculum, as well as in Apple Swift Playground programming.

Book recommendation Everyone Can Code: Learn to Code 1 & 2: Teacher Guide by Apple. This interactive book merges the coding skills for beginners with real life examples that students can apply and learn from.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I have always had a love for children, with an intention of going beyond playing with them and actually teaching them and letting them explore. I don’t have one special day that inspired me to become a teacher, but rather a combination of love and passion for teaching. There is something magical about it when you let a student explore and figure things out on their own as you guide them through the process. One of the biggest values that I bring to my professional work is giving students a chance to be creative, think outside of the box, and not have one specific solution to a problem. I believe that the best learning happens when students are exploring, engaging and showing interest in what they are doing. That’s what I strive to have in my classroom every day. Where I am now: My experience as an MSUrbanSTEM fellow has changed me both personally and professionally. I have really been taking a lot of chances and trying new things in and out of the classroom. I was pushed by MSU and my colleagues to start a Maker Space for my students and it is already in use. I have really enjoyed taking challenges, embracing them and learning from them. I cannot even express how many ideas I have taken back to my classroom from the summer experience, tried them myself and students just love them! In addition, I applied for an Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2017 knowing it might be a far shot, but challenged myself to do it. Recently I found out I was accepted into the program. MSU has given me so many opportunities to learn and explore things I would have never been able to do before. Looking forward: MSUrbanSTEM has challenged me in so many ways. I have become a lot more confident in what I do and brave to explore other options. Recently, I have had few opportunities to teach other teachers that are inspiring to do great things in their 44

classrooms. I really enjoy doing that and sharing all the wonderful content my students are learning. Over the next few years, I plan to continue sharing my work and helping other teachers explore how to incorporate STEM in their classrooms. I really love how this fellowship has taught me to be courageous and I will continue to instill this in my students as well.

This I believe ... great educators explore, wonder, create, try, and learn something new every day and are not afraid of change. Great educators push students to think outside the box and to believe in themselves.


Donna Figenshu

@DFigenshu \ 46

It is not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless. - L.R. Knost

Donna Figenshu Donna Figenshu is a chemistry and physics teacher at Walter Payton College Prep. She coaches girls’ basketball and Science Olympiad at Payton and recently led a student exchange trip to Melbourne, Australia. Donna has been teaching at Payton for five years and earned a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Science Education. She has been focusing on making science more accessible to all students by connecting it to their everyday experiences.

Book recommendation The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley. The author looks into what schools in other countries are doing right that makes them more effective than American schools. Ripley conducts interviews and observations in South Korea, Finland, and Poland, but also recognizes the importance of the student perspective. To complete the picture, she also follows three exchange students from America, which gives a perspective that policy-makers and educators don’t always see: that of the student.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: Early on in my own education, I found that I enjoyed and was skilled at explaining some challenging, abstract concepts in a simplistic way. It was how I made sense of my own world and connected all of the pieces I was obtaining in various courses. This drove me toward a career in secondary education since I preferred to focus on content rather than social and emotional skills. My first few years of teaching were typical, but my weakness in the social-emotional piece was becoming more apparent. I believe it is important to present content in a way that creates a need to learn and makes the learner crave the answer. In order to do that, I needed to know much more about my students on a personal level to determine their own values, while also illuminating those values for them to see what drives their own actions. Where I am now: In the past year, I have been working on my weakness in social-emotional teaching and learning. I have not been working under that title, but it essentially describes all of the new techniques I have been trying in my classroom. By nature, Project-Based Learning (PBL) forced me out of my comfort zone by requiring reflection and learning about what drives students. Reading relevant research and literature on education through the MSU fellowship rekindled my own love for learning. It has helped me see this career from a new perspective which is something I want to share with my colleagues. The more I am able to learn about different techniques and what works best for different types of learners, the more confident I feel sharing my ideas with others as a teacher leader within my school. Looking forward: My entire perspective on education, teaching, and learning has shifted in the past year. I always believed content was of the utmost importance, when in reality, content comes after 48

setting up an environment conducive to learning. That environment is very complex and not only includes the physical environment of the classroom, the school, and the people in the room, but also the social and emotional environment created through peer and teacher interactions. My goal over the next few years is to learn as much as I can about the external and internal factors that affect how a person learns (areas of psychology, sociology, learning theory, pedagogy, etc), and apply what I learn in my classroom to become a more effective teacher of science.

This I believe …that teachers and parents both have a responsibility to teach the whole child. To allow a student to graduate from high school and hand them a diploma is to say, “We have prepared you to successfully navigate nearly any situation you will confront in the world beyond high school.” This cannot be achieved through content alone, or by the parents alone. Adults have a shared responsibility to provide experiences to children to help them grow physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally so that they can be successful in life after high school.


Alexa Freshour

@alexafreshour / 50

We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future. - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Alexa Freshour Alexa Freshour is the 7th Grade Life Science teacher at Marquette School of Excellence & the school science coordinator. She has been teaching for five years while mentoring AUSL Residents for the past three. Alexa’s passion is to challenge students critical thinking through real world science phenomena.

Book recommendation The Growth Mindset concept is becoming a more relevant component of my education philosophy. I like how this book is organized monthly, with very attainable chunks. The Growth Mindset Coach by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley provides you month by month guide with activities and accompanying lesson plans to implement with your students. Many educational texts are completely overwhelming and bog you down with too much to do. While I’m still in the midst of using it this school year, I’ve made some minor tweaks to align it to my middle school students, it has helped refocus my passion for students’ overall education experience.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I was inspired to be a science teacher because of my first science teacher in fourth grade. Mr. Burke made science come alive through hands on and investigative learning. Having a teacher that made a connection to the way I learned pushed me to want to be a teacher like him. I have a passion for challenging students to be their best as a person and then as a student scientist. Over the past five years, I’ve experimented and learned a lot within the realm of teaching. The biggest challenge I’ve experienced is building units that fit the needs of my students without a curriculum. I now practice with the Model Based Inquiry instruction model. For the majority of my units, I’m able to alter and differentiate some high school and middle school resources. I have found that teaching with this model engages students in all components of the NGSS. Where I am now: The past year has been invigorating. Within the walls of my classroom, mentoring often wears me down and provides some stress related t pushing my student’s growth. However, this year, I’ve structured my schedule to dedicate my solo day of teaching to innovation and cultivating student passions in the science classroom. We’ve been able to dive into some societal issues that relate to the topics we investigate in the science world. While mentoring, I’ve also lead our content clusters for science teachers from grades 4-8th. This is an exceptional opportunity in which we highlight teaching strategies and provide feedback, develop tasks together, and provide each other feedback for next steps in refining their practice based off student work. The other teachers in my cluster have been inspired not just by our group work but the integration of societal issues that correlate to science.


Looking forward: Before this year, I was ready for a change, whether it was school, content, or role, I needed something new. After learning in this program, I have found my passion for the classroom again. I felt empowered to bring in more student voice and societal issues into my class to make connections to our content. By doing so, students were more engaged in how science affects their daily lives and how they in turn affect the progression of science. Over the next five year, I would like to continue pushing my practice and the incorporation of issues in society. I’d also like to begin coaching other teachers to teach science and make the connections to students lives as well as other content areas as well.

This I believe ‌ students interests and experiences must be integrated into their learning to be meaningful and authentic. I have to try and fail with my students in order to grow as an educator.


Darren R. Fuller

@darrenrfuller \ 54

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results. - John Dewey

Darren R. Fuller Darren Fuller is a middle school science teacher, father of two, avid gardener, and a lover of all things Lego. After graduating from college, he joined the US Peace Corps in Tunisia which is where he met his wife, a fellow volunteer. He and his wife then spent over 10 years teaching ESL in South Korea and Indonesia. Since returning in 2006 from his adventures overseas, Darren has taught in the Chicago Public School System. He is passionate about teaching science and feels that helping students act and think like scientists is what drives him to be the best that he can be.

Book recommendation From STEM to STEAM Using Brain-Compatible Strategies to Integrate the Arts by David A. Sousa and Tom Pilecki. A great researched-based book outlining the value of integrating the arts into STEM education. This book is both informative and practical with a very authentic approach geared towards bringing art into the world of STEM. The book is filled with ideas and suggestions for all grade levels with many examples and suggestions for every teacher to put into action. I highly recommend this book for any educator looking to bring creativity and the arts into the classroom. 55

The past, the present, the future Looking back: Looking back, while I did not set out to become a teacher, my path inevitably led me to where I am today. In college, I intended to enter the world of politics, but the Peace Corps shifted my entire focus. My time in Africa revealed the value of education and its transformative power. For years after college I wandered the world, to find support for my new world view. As an educator, the biggest challenge I faced was returning to America and finding that while I had the passion and drive to teach, I did not have the professional qualifications to be an effective teacher. The past 11 years I have had to seek out opportunity to gather the tools and knowledge to reach this goal. I bring this enduring struggle and belief that education has the power to change the world to my classroom each and every day. Where I am now: Being an MSUrbanSTEM fellow has been a truly transformative experience. How I approach teaching and my students has changed because of my involvement in the program. The program has pushed me to find different approaches, use different tools and ways of expression to present ideas and learn new things. We were placed in stressful, time sensitive situations (think quickfires!) that require collaboration, innovative, and problem solving skills. One of the most transformational experiences was the panel that was conducted in the fall with my students. Having an honest and open discussion with my students showed me the value in what I was doing. A comment that stuck with me was from a student sharing, I put her in stressful situations, but that it was the good kind of stress that made her think and act like a scientist. This is exactly what MSUrbanSTEM has done for me as an educator.


Looking forward: My main goal moving forward is to continually find ways to make my students think like scientists. I will strive to find new ways, to use new technology (and old technology repurposed), and innovative ideas to help my students become young scientists. I want to inspire my students to be curious, question the world around them, and make connections between ideas. I want to help them learn to think critically, use evidence to make arguments, and constantly think like scientists. Our world needs a new generation that is passionate about science, can use critical thinking skills to solve real-world problems, and lead us into a bright future. This of course is a truly audacious goal, and one that I cannot attempt on my own, but knowing that there are other inspired educators out there doing great work, gives me hope that together we can achieve this goal.

This I believe ... that teaching students to think critically and to value their own and other’s’ thoughts is the greatest gift we can give as educators.


Helen Galiotos-Noguera

@hgaliotos \


Children must be taught how to think, not what to think. - Margaret Mead

Helen Galiotos-Noguera Helen is a Chicago Public Schools 8th Grade middle school mathematics teacher with 15 years of experience within the district and surrounding suburbs. She has earned a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership (Type 75), Master of Arts in Mathematics, Bachelor of Arts in Education, and an Associate of Arts in General Business and Business Administration. Helen thrives on making a difference in her students’ lives by fostering their education, social, and emotional needs, while making learning accessible to all students by maintaining rigor in the classroom and making connections in the real world.

Book recommendation I would recommend Making Thinking Visible, by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. This book is a great resource in establishing “thinking routines” through effective questioning, listening, and documentation “to promote engagement, understanding and independence for ALL learners.” Understanding is an outcome of thinking. “When we learn anything, we rely on models.” (p. 29)


The past, the present, the future Looking back: It was my last semester at Oakton Community College earning my AA degree in General Business/Business Administration, when I realized that I wanted to become a teacher. I had taken an Education 101 course as an elective back in 1998. I went to a school board meeting and felt this connection. Being in an elementary school brought back memories of when I was in school. I remembered my 6th grade math teacher, Sr. Marie, and how much I loved math and had fun. She had engaging activities that made me think and be able to present my work on the board. Oh, the games we played and the technology we were introduced to! My elementary school years are my fondest memories. I want to create those memories for my students and prepare them for the future - have a voice, be leaders, and respect themselves. They are our future. Where I am now: What an experience this has been! With the amount of hands-on learning that I have gained, activities I participated in, projects I created, and professional networking, I was able to bring all of these back to my students through my ImagineIT project. These tools that I have gained from the fellowship allowed me to continue to meet the learning needs of my students in innovative ways, incorporating more technology and student created products. My students strengthened their mathematical discourse and use of vocabulary by integrating technology to enhance learning with a variety of student created digital vocabulary projects.


My ImagineIT grew and came to life! My students persevered in creating memes for our Thinking with Mathematical Models Unit, wrote Raps, rewrote TV Theme songs and modern songs for the Pythagorean Theorem unit, and created Flipped lessons on Exponents. Looking forward: Looking forward, I want to take what I have learned in this STEM program and partner with a MSU fellow at my school to provide professional development and cycles for professional learning to strengthen and increase STEM in our building. All of our resources and experiences combined, with the support of the administration, can build on our school’s understanding of STEM and how it can be enhanced in every classroom. I would like to sponsor after school enrichment programs that entail STEM activities, such as Lego robotics and coding. I believe this will provide our students and families with opportunities to explore and understand the meaning of STEM through hands-on approaches, enhancing creativity across the disciplines.

This I believe ... with a positive mindset, we reflect on the past, live for today, set goals for our future; and surround ourselves with those who believe in us.


Joselyn Galvez

@perfectsquare25 \


Mathematics knows no races or geographic boundaries; for mathematics, the cultural world is one country. - David Hilbert

Joselyn Galvez Joselyn Galvez graduated from Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) with a degree in mathematics and secondary education. She has taught 7th grade math for four years at Frank W. Reilly Elementary School. She is endorsed in English as a Second Language and Bilingual-Spanish Education. Joselyn has served as a lead teacher with DePaul’s Professional Learning Community. Her passion for STEM grew while teaching Summer Academies with GEAR UP Chicago. She has a strong background implementing project-based learning involving STEM. This year, Joselyn started an after-school Engineering Design Club to promote authentic learning where students tackle real-life problems. Her students have worked with engineer mentors from the Northwestern University chapter of Engineers Without Borders. She has presented her work on multiple occasions at the iMATHination Conference, part of NEIU’s Center for College Access and Success.

Book recommendation Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario exposes the critical need to uphold the human rights of undocumented migrant children. It tells the story of a courageous Honduran boy who ventures into a treacherous journey to reach the United States. After an eleven-year separation, Enrique hopes to be reunited with his mother who fled the country due to extreme poverty.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: Looking back to the time when I came to the United States as a child, I can see myself lost in a new country. The first years were difficult because I had to adapt to a new educational system without speaking the English language. The sacrifices my family made gave me the strength to persevere. Trying my best was not enough because I did not know what it meant to dream. It was not until my high school teachers took a unique interest in me that changed my mindset towards a future full of possibilities. They gave me hope and discovered my potential in mathematics. This I believe illuminated my decision to become a teacher. My goal as an educator is to serve as a role model to my students so that they can be inspired to achieve their goals and set higher expectations in life. Where I am now: The MSUrbanSTEM fellowship transformed me as a teacher by reinforcing my commitment to provide high quality education to all students. My experiences expanded my knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and math. I have a solid understanding of the technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge (TPACK) standards needed to develop rich learning opportunities. I established an Engineering Design Club and implemented a projectbased learning unit to learn about bridge designs. I also oversaw the middle school family math night, which was led by students in the club. In addition, the fellowship helped me define my role as a leader. I presented my work at the iMATHination Conference giving other teachers and administrators an opportunity to role play as students and participate in team-building and hands-on activities. The greatest benefit from the program was the strong network of support that motivates me to continue my growth as a teacher.


Looking forward: Looking forward, I will strive to be an agent of change. The community of students that I serve has demonstrated their determination to overcome obstacles they face in school and in life. My role as their teacher is to empower them with knowledge and prepare them for successful careers. There is an imperative need to teach students 21st Century skills to fulfill the global demand in STEM fields. In the United States, the demographic disparities in STEM employment show that minority groups continue to fall behind. I want to address this social justice issue and use the credibility of my position as an educator to advocate for change. My students will be exposed to this reality in order to build resiliency. They will be given access to the tools and resources needed to claim their rights for equal opportunities in order to maximize their potential in life.

This I believe ... that high quality education in STEM can empower students to overcome life challenges in order to achieve their full potential and be able to compete globally.


Randi Ginyard

@randigin \ 66

The function of education is to teach one to think intensely and to think critically. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education. - Martin Luther King Jr.

Randi Ginyard Randi Ginyard is a Mathematics Teacher at Carver Military Academy High School for Chicago Public Schools currently teaching ninth and twelfth grades focusing on exhibiting a collaborative learning environment while examining a mathematical concepts that connect mathematical concepts the real world. Mrs. Ginyard has a B.A in Mathematics/Mathematics Education from Purdue University and holds a M.A in Educational Leadership from Concordia University.

Book recommendation Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. The book deals with the realizing, coping, accepting, and embracing “change�. As we get older change becomes an inevitable part of life and this book gives a funny yet real account of how change moves through our lives for the better. As educators, we have to adjust to the ever-changing needs of the students we serve in order to produce the next generation of thinkers and problem solvers.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: Looking back on how I got to this juncture in my life, I would have to say that I wanted to come into a profession where I could have an impact and a contribution into society to make it better. Early on I was not sure how to do that simply because I changed my college major four times before I landed in education. I thought this profession would give me the most flexibility to do just that. I learned to love mathematics in all its beauty and chaos, so being a Math Teacher seemed like a logical choice. However, after graduation I struggled to enter the profession. I thought that I needed some real-world experience and that I was missing something by working a traditional 9 to 5 corporate job. Working became mundane and unfulfilling. It took ten years to mature and for me to become a working Math Teacher. Where I am now: My experience with MSUrbanSTEM has been phenomenal. It has invigorated my love of teaching and the discovery of teaching a new way. My thoughts around STEM has been changed and I am open to what the STEM classroom really entails. During the program I had encountered training, technology and pedagogy that has made me reflect on my teaching practices and the way I view how students learn. Innovation and creativity are a vital part of a robust classroom and that what I am aspiring to achieve. During the implementation of my project students are starting to realize that problem solving is the real focus of STEM. I have been able to incorporate creative ways to display mathematical content.


Looking forward: My goal is to begin leading the work in my school regarding STEM engagement and its practical applications. I aim to take more coding classes so that I can implement a coding club for my students. Students will have a STEM extracurricular activity that could potentially allow them to immediately contribute to their community. I can then implement more technology into my classroom instruction to increase student learning and engagement.

This I believe ... change is necessary and an efficient way to

invoke innovation. Therefore, STEM is the present and the future.


Beverly Harris

@bevharris \ 70

Beverly Harris Beverly Harris is a Chicago Public School math teacher currently teaching geometry at Carver Military Academy. She is a creative math teacher who enjoys using hands-on activities, unusual artifacts, rhymes and games to increase her students’ mathematical knowledge and confidence. Beverly has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum & Instruction from Saint Xavier University.

Book recommendation I would highly recommend The Dreamkeepers by Gloria LadsonBillings. This book was filled with stories of many successful teachers who found interesting and sometimes very unusual ways to connect with their students. What I liked most about this book is that while reading it, I felt like I was listening to stories told to me by a lifelong friend. I felt an emotional connection to the teachers and their stories and found them to be motivating.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: My parents were educators, but while growing up I never thought about becoming a teacher. A life challenge, however, caused me to change directions. I was going through a divorce with a small daughter and facing decisions about what I would do with my future. I took my mother’s advice to go back to school and earn a teaching certificate and a graduate degree. Her suggestion proved to be a very valuable one because it took my mind off of my troubles and focused it on something positive. It seemed that once I began teaching, I felt renewed. Something awakened inside that I never knew existed. I felt as if I had found my purpose in life and I enjoyed developing and creating new ways to teach mathematics from the very beginning (even while student teaching)! I bring creativity into my math lessons (i.e. rhyme, rap, etc.) and I enjoy making the students laugh. Where I am now: I have learned so much this year as an MSUrbanSTEM fellow! I never could have imagined how many new things we would be learning and especially each time we met as a group, we were exposed to new and improved ideas to share with our students and colleagues. What makes this experience so unique is that everyone was able to benefit from learning new material, whether one was a technological expert or more of a novice. At some times I felt like the diverse learner amidst an inclusive class, but when I shared with my students some of what I had learned, it seemed to impress them immensely! Looking forward: I would like to continue with the theme “Geometry Goes Green” over the next few years. For several years, I have taught all of the geometry classes in my school, but by adding many of the projects from the MSUrbanSTEM project -- from making memes to studying green roofs to learning about serious environmental 72

justice issues happening right within our school’s community -these projects made the mathematics come alive and become more personal than what was written in the textbook. During the summer as I plan for the next school year, I now have many, many new ideas (both high tech and low tech) that I may weave into our curriculum map that will enhance the geometry experience for our students for many years to come. I have also shared several of these ideas with my colleagues, many of whom are using some of the tools shared (i.e. Kahoot, meme making, etc.) within their respective classes.

This I believe ‌students are much more receptive to learning more difficult concepts and rising to meet rigor when we prepare ways to make the lessons fun and engaging, when we connect with them culturally, and realize that each student brings some unique quality to our classroom. I also believe that as long as we are teaching, we, too, should be willing to stretch ourselves to continue to learn new and innovative ways to connect with our students so that they can have the best possible learning experience while in our care. In fact, I believe we owe this to our students.


Gabriel Hoerger

@HoergerBurger1 \ 74

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. - Benjamin Franklin

Gabriel Hoerger Gabriel Hoerger is a fourth, fifth, and sixth grade mathematics teacher at Disney II Magnet Elementary School. He teaches in a math lab where personalized learning drives the instruction and curriculum. This is Mr. Hoerger’s fourth year of teaching, but first year at Disney II and he loves it! He is also completing his master’s degree in Principal Leadership through Concordia University, due completion by June 2018. Mr. Hoerger hopes to take his expertise in mathematics and new STEM skills and use it to become a STEM coordinator or take on an administrative role in the future. He also enjoys coaching and has coached volleyball and running programs.

Book recommendation Teaching with Fire by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner. Sometimes educators have one of those days. This book helps to remind teachers why they chose this field. Through stories from other educators and poetry, this book has situations all teachers can relate to.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: If you were to ask me what the hardest thing I have ever done in my life was, I would say it would be the day I started teaching. To become a teacher, you go to school, take your classes, student teach with a licensed teacher, and then you receive your degree, thinking you are fully ready and prepared to take on the world as an exemplary teacher. Nowhere in school, do they really prepare you for the honest truth of teaching. The emotions a teacher goes through is unbelievably overwhelming. Fear, sadness, stress, joy, excitement, anger, and doubt. A teacher can easily experience all of these emotions in one single day. The hardest part of teaching is to teach students that challenge you. What I have learned to overcome this obstacle is to really know your students. Each and every one of them. That is the key to being a good teacher. Know your students and love them all and guide them. If you do this, all the rest will fall into place. Where I am now: In the past year, two amazing events happened to me. I accepted a new opportunity as a math lab teacher at Disney II Magnet Elementary School (thanks to a colleague from the MSUrbanSTEM fellowship) and MSUrbanSTEM has opened my eyes to a new way of educating my students. This year I accepted a new position as a math lab instructor which gave me new opportunities to experiment with innovative ways of teaching. My instruction is now driven by a personalized learning approach where every student has their individual learning pathways that meet their own academic needs. My students have a positive growth mindset and take ownership of their learning. It’s been an incredible teaching experience. I have also learned a new style of teaching through MSUrbanSTEM. This program has shown me


to look at teaching in a new way. To make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. To bring the questions we have about the world and turn them into teaching opportunities in the classroom. Looking forward: After taking part in this program, I have a goal of becoming a STEM teacher in the next few years. I would love to create a STEM course that takes the vision of MSUrbanSTEM and brings it into the classroom every day. I would like to create a Makerspace Lab that supports the innovative ideas of the students. The STEM class would support the content of science, mathematics, art, technology, and engineering and bring all of the subjects to life. I also hope to create an after-school enrichment that would dive even deeper into new technologies. This program would teach students about new technologies that are becoming norms in the world like programming, creating apps, and coding. Within the next few years, I hope to meet these goals.

This I believe ... to love your students and to open their eyes in a way that they have never opened them before.


Nancy Ibarra

@Ibarradela26 \ 78

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. - Aristotle

Nancy Ibarra Nancy Ibarra is a Chicago native and proud product of Chicago Public Schools. She earned her bachelor’s in Sociology from the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign and her master’s in Urban Education from Columbia College Chicago. She has endorsements in science, math, social science and ESL from The University of Chicago. She also holds an Algebra Initiative and Spanish Approval certificates. She has taught 7th and 8th grade science in CPS for 17 years. Aside from teaching, she participates in various organizations that help beautify and bring resources to the Back of the Yards neighborhood where she works. She strongly believes that social justice issues should not be left out of the classroom. She wants her students to know that they have the power and responsibility to make positive changes in their community and in the world around them.

Book recommendation The book I recommend is Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing by Jane Margolis. I love the metaphor that runs throughout the book comparing students of color lack of equal opportunities in computer science to the restrictions they experienced in public swimming pools in our not-so-distant history. The book forces us to look at the “computer science pipeline” from a historical lens while analyzing how segregation contributed to the disparity in education that exists today. 79

The past, the present, the future Looking back: While in high school, I took four years of math and science to prepare myself for college. It was a very exciting time, I was about to embark on a journey and become the first in my family to go to college. I was accepted into the College of Aviation at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign on a full scholarship. Going away to college, like life, was messy, very difficult and lonely at times but I needed to get away from my close-knit community and experiences. I soon realized that this journey would be much more difficult than I had anticipated. Although I loved science and math, being one of the few women and person of color in the program was a complete culture shock. I began to fail my classes and prayed every single day for a rainy day because that meant I wouldn’t have to fly. Where I am now: Besides the MSUrbanSTEM program giving me the confidence to takes risks, it has reiterated the importance of high expectations. We were presented with difficult but doable tasks and there was no doubting our ability to complete them. This was an important lesson in how we should treat our own students. If we set high, attainable, expectations, they will strive to achieve them. In the article, “Culturally Responsive Differentiated Instructional Strategies”, the traits of a quality teacher are presented as such, the teacher believes all students can learn, has the desire and capacity to differentiate curriculum and instruction, understands diversity and thinks about students developmentally, is a risk taker, is open to change and well-versed in best practices, is comfortable challenging the status quo, knows what doesn’t work, is able to withstand staff dissension that may arise. This is the type of educator I want to be for my students.


Looking forward: After going through this program, I feel more confident and better equipped. I have a strong sense that what I have been doing is well-founded, despite the demands coming from all directions. I have made changes and enhanced some of what I was lacking. Pedagogical approaches in teaching have been validated. Going to the garden and teaching science through a hands-on approach is important. Giving students choice in what they learn is empowering. Connecting student learning to social injustices happening around the world is necessary. One goal that I will strive for over the next 5 years is to continue to teach important content to my students. They deserve this. Missional thinking allows me to look at the standards and bring any necessary technology to aid in facilitating this learning. Making our students effective communicators in a global society is key in our Seward Communication Arts Academy.

This I believe ‌ I have a responsibility to guide my students in becoming people who have acquired the scientific knowledge, compassion and desire to make our world a decent place to live in.


Earl Johnson

@JohnsonEarl \ 82

What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul. - Joseph Addison

Earl Johnson Earl has been a math teacher for the last 11 years and is having a great time pretending to be a World Studies teacher this year. His teacher education is mostly through MSU (Go Green!), and has served him well navigating the stormy seas of CPS. He is proud of earning National Board Certification, helping write the CPS Algebra framework 2.0, and being a teacher presenter in the Leading with Algebra PDs amongst others.

Book recommendation The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It’s not STEM related, but it’s a clever book that everyone should read and would be great to share with students as well. I can always go back and read it and pick up something new that I didn’t connect the previous times I read it.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I have known I wanted to be a teacher since my 8th grade American History class in which I “Lived Through History”. Once I conquered calculus (the 2nd go around after a meager effort senior year), I knew I could achieve a math minor at MSU and open to the door to being a math teacher. I spent my student teaching year as a geography teacher, but I knew I’d be hired as a math teacher due to demand. Stepping into one of the most challenging subjects (geometry, yuck) at one of the most challenging schools at 22 years old was a huge accomplishment when I look back at it. I made games, spent too long planning, and learned how to handle discipline issues on my own a little better each year. Where I am now: This past year has been interesting! I was told one week before standing in front of students that I would be a World Studies teacher and not a math teacher. I still signed up for being a math teacher leader for CPS, presenting at Algebra PDs for almost one hundred other CPS teachers, and going to California to present with the Silicon Valley Math Initiative. I was the history teacher doing Saturday Math SAT Prep at my school and the principal stills asks me what % something is at staff meetings. So, in all senses I am still a math teacher, but Monday-Friday and during weekend planning I am coming up with ways to make world history interesting. Looking forward: Despite teaching history and not math, I can still see my teaching style having completely changed. The ability to back off and let students take control of the class and what they want to learn will be a valuable tool in future years of teaching math. The use of technology to engage students and help them collaborate will be something I use as well. My goal for the future is to let go of the reigns of the class and this idea of “covering” math when the 84

most learning is done when students are given the chance to create and engage with each other around learning. I am always amazed at the MSUrbanSTEM PDs and how smoothly they run, how engaging they are, and how energized I feel when I leave. My goal is to make my class like this next year.

This I believe ‌ through the combination of this amazing

PD opportunity and being put in a challenging situation, I have become a better math teacher.


Irena Kania

@irenakania1 \ 86

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. - Frederick Douglass

Irena Kania Irena Kania was born and raised in Poland. She came to United States in 1991 and completed undergraduate study on National Louis University. Her graduate education includes Master of Arts degrees in Teaching and Mathematical Education from Chicago State University and DePaul University respectively. She has been teaching mathematics at Chicago Public School for 17 years. Her teaching assignments have included Advanced Algebra, Probability and Statistics and IB DP Mathematical Studies. She enjoys teaching and learning that involves common planning, collaboration, and discussion. She supports STEM subjects and cross- curricula activities in everyday instruction.

Book recommendation Better by Mistakes: The Unexpected Benefit of Being Wrong by Alina Tugend explores the human phenomena of making mistakes and learning from them. The author shows how making errors opens the door for new opportunities; “…failing to fail can restrict individuals from exploring alternatives, inhibit risk-taking and perhaps lead to complacency”. This book can be helpful in business, school and everyday life.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I grew up in a family of teachers. So, students, school, and teaching were always part of my life. Then, I discovered that I really enjoy learning which led to me being passionate about teaching and tutoring while in college. My mathematics college professor asked me one time if I had ever considered becoming a teacher. Later on, he exposed me to various alternative certification programs and encouraged me to pursue a teaching career. I have always been teaching culturally disadvantaged and underprivileged students who come from low-income families. From many of my students’ perspectives, knowledge and education are not priorities in their lives. A lack of resources, violence, and unhealthy lifestyles are the main challenges of my students. Teaching in an engaging way and motivating my students to learn is an ongoing challenge for me. Where I am now: I have felt privileged being a part of the MSUrbanSTEM Program. Participating in face-to-face summer sessions was a mind-blowing experience. I was challenged technologically as well as pedagogically. Full engagement in everyday activities was enforced and encouraged. I was fascinated with multimodal approaches to teaching and learning. I had to step out of my comfort zone. Following my new experiences and ImagineIT project my approaches to teaching expanded; for example, I have been using confidently more technology for instruction and activities. In addition, I have incorporated many more hands on and real world application activities. However, there are two things that I cherish the most: reflection on readings, a type of learning that was encouraged during this program and the second one involves working, collaborating, and sharing experiences with great teachers and mentors. I have learned a lot. Thank you all.


Looking forward: By participating in the MSUrbanSTEM Program, I was exposed to many strategies and activities which I would like to use in my classroom. Therefore, in the short term I would like to develop a bank of hands on activities aligned with math and science curricula which include real world applications. These activities will incorporate the use of technology and embrace students’ creative thinking. My long-term goal is related to changing my students’ perception of mathematics and themselves while studying mathematics and science. On top of teaching my students mathematics as a subject, I would like to give them confidence in doing, talking, and dreaming mathematics. In addition, I would like to expose my students to professions and industries that are based in math and science. Then, I would like one of my students come back and teach mathematics when I retire.

This I believe … lifelong learning. … equal opportunities of quality education for all. … standards of humanity. … holistic approach in education.


Suzan Kheireddin

@stem4students \ 90

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something-your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. - Steve Jobs

Suzan Kheireddin Suzan Kheireddin graduated from University of Illinois at Chicago with a major in Elementary Education and a minor in Biology. SHe aslso has a Master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction with a focus on ELL. She has alwys been fond of science and wishes to support her students in any way possible to enjoy Science and see it in its everyday light. She has been in the education field for eight years and has held been an ELL Bilingual Arabic Teacher, First Grade Teacher and Third Grade Teacher. Being involved in extracurricular activities is important to her and has hosted International Fest Dance Club, Girls’ Soccer, Girls’ Track, Math Club, and STEM Club. For fun Suzan loves to rock climb, run and lift weights.

Book recommendation One book that has truly inspired me before I began teaching was called, Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit. This book touches upon the struggle with imbalances of power amongst teachers and the communities they serve. Delpit reveals how simple interactions are left with assumptions made by teachers and society about the capabilities, motivations, and children from varied cultural backgrounds. 91

The past, the present, the future Looking back: My inspiration to become a teacher was truly based on my own educational background. My parents immigrated here with very little English, however school was their number one priority for my siblings and myself. My hardships made me appreciate my focus on school and allowed me to become independent. I was the first to navigate my way through college in my family. Being the first to graduate in my family gave me a sense of pride and inspired me to push others to do the same. I knew I wanted others to feel the same way I did in terms of feeling a sense of accomplishment and navigating my way through learning aspects that were very challenging and mastering them. These hardships bring value to my career now because I see my students and some are in the same shoes I was in. I want to support them in any way that I can. Where I am now: This experience has changed what I think about teaching in terms of HOW to teach. In grad and undergrad, we are taught certain methods that “ideally work,� however the idea of risk-taking and providing students with challenges using technology and under certain time frames could be seen as a risky way to teach. It is essential to teach students to become their own advocates and learn to vouch for themselves when it comes to their education. I would like to take many teaching opportunities and become a strong resource in which students are able to grow their minds. There have been several transformational experiences with respect to quickfires, World of Wonders and having students explore a question on their own. I am very pleased to say that working through these experiences has also allowed my students to work on teamwork in which is absolutely essential to the intermediate grades.


Looking forward: Looking forward, I will be taking multimodal communication across all content areas. Currently I have confined multimodal communication to math and science, however I truly see the benefits of having students express themselves within any content area. I would like to offer many outlets to my students in order for them to become strong communicators. My students will be responsible for becoming curious about the world and uncovering new ideas/ methods. I would like my students to present their newfound ideas by choosing a form of communication they feel most comfortable using. Reflecting back on this experience, I would also like to implement videos, sound recordings, and skits. I found that skits and role-playing allows students to become the “teacher� because they must master the content prior to putting on a show.

This I believe ... struggling is not easy, however it is a genuine way to learn. Building on past experiences and struggles and growing towards newer ones will allow learners to expand their own understandings in this world.


Michael Kolody

@mdkolody \ 94

Frustration is the first step towards improvement. I have no incentive to improve if I’m content with what I can do and if I’m completely satisfied with my pace, distance and form as a runner. It’s only when I face frustration and use it to fuel my dedication that I feel myself moving forwards. - John “The Penguin” Bingham, on taking up running in middle age

Michael Kolody Michael Kolody is a math and computer science teacher with ten years in Chicago Public Schools, and over fifteen years overall in K-University education. He teaches at Alcott College Preparatory High School in Chicago. He lives in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago with his wife and two daughters. Before entering the education field, Mr. Kolody worked as a programmer analyst in database application development. Mr. Kolody is excited about the creative possibilities and interdisciplinary opportunities now in the forefront in the STEM, STEAM, and maker movements. He is eager to develop innovative project-based courses and experiences that engage all learners.

Book recommendation Sparks of Genius: The 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Ceative People by Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein. Before Carol Dweck talked about fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets in student attitudes toward learning, these two go-to authorities on creativity worked against the fixed mindset that creativity is either something you have or something you don’t. In their account, creativity is a habit that can be developed, encouraged, and improved.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I was able to parlay my math background into a programming job right out of college, a suit and tie sort of job that had the potential to lead to conventional notions of power and success. But almost right away, I knew what I had probably known deep down in the first place, that I wanted my life’s work to give me more of a sense of purpose and intrinsic value than the creation of a new insurance billing system or large group enrollment system ever would. And while I would be untruthful if I said that I never struggle with some aspects of my job as a teacher in a large urban school system, or that I never get tired, or have bad days, I am not sure that there is job outside of public education that would give me so many opportunities for creativity, for learning and growing myself, and for sharing the excitement of learning with others who really need it. Where I am now: You may not realize it, but the day the coach bus departed to Michigan State for the weekend, the bus full of green and white clad teachers, sharing beer, snacks, and enjoying an onthe-road documentary about how to make education better, was, in fact, the same day that the Illinois governor vetoed the funding necessary to keep Chicago Public Schools open for the remainder of the year. In many ways, there could be no better response to the governor’s action than for teachers to keep doing their best, to tell the stories of their schools and classrooms, both to act and to document the great things we are doing for kids. Would I have thought before this MSUrbanSTEM to apply for a grant, get Makey Makeys, and encourage students to create a dance dance revolution game out of cardboard and tinfoil? Would I have imagined expanding that successful experience into an all-school STEM game where parents and students play analog and digital games and hybrids of both?


I am sure I would not have; and, maybe more importantly, the program gave me a larger context, as a part of the STEM/STEAM/ Maker Movement, to see and articulate the value of my work. Looking forward: For my own classroom, my goal is to continue to encourage creativity as an explicit part of my practice. To foster creativity, I want to make sure that students see through the lenses of a variety of disciplines and experiences in the same classroom. I want to read and learn more about design thinking and the design process, as I think that may be a way to both broaden and thematically unify my computer science class. I want to continue to find ways for my students to tell the story of our classroom, and of their creations, to the world. More broadly, there is a chance at our school at this moment to hit the reset button, to create a new vision with STEAM/ STEM as not exclusive of other disciplines, but, rather of bringing more disciplines together in ways that engage the whole child. There is a chance to work with science, PLTW, and other disciplines to create a new overall mission and raison de etre for the entire school.

This I believe ...that creativity now is not confined to separate a sphere in fine art or writing on a printed page, but now may take place with a website and a smartphone. While we must be mindful of these technologies, we must also make them work for us. We can find a way, through them, for low stakes creative expression that can lead to higher stakes creative expression, communication, and, ultimately, a better society. 97

Michael Kosko

@MrKosko \ 98

Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants - John W. Gardner

Michael Kosko Michael Kosko teaches Environmental Science and a STEM elective class to 12th grade students at Al Raby School for Community and Environment. This is his 10th year teaching in Chicago Public Schools. In addition to teaching he is the science chair, career and technical education coordinator, service learning coach, and director of the school’s hydroponics growlab. He received his BS in AnthropologyZoology and Spanish from the University of Michigan and his Master of Science in Education and teacher leadership certificate from Northwestern University. He is currently working on his doctorate in Urban Education Leadership at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Book recommendation I recommend Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Dr. Gary Stager. This book and accompanying website ( are great resources for educators that want to bring the maker movement into their classrooms. The book’s central thesis that that “children should engage in tinkering and making because they are powerful ways to learn” (p.3) and walks the reader through constructionist learning theory, design thinking, learning environment design, empowering students to be leaders, and additional resources to explore. 99

The past, the present, the future Looking back: One of the biggest challenges I experienced as a new teacher was finding my voice and teaching style. As a new teacher, I found myself emulating the way that I had been taught growing up. This involved a lot of worksheets and simple, procedural lab activities. This all changed when I began to step outside of my classroom and collaborate with teachers in my school and across the district. Teaching can be incredibly isolating but I’ve learned that seeking out professional development and actively sharing ideas with educators is the best way to improve student achievement, fight burnout, and continue to find joy in the profession. Where I am now: This year I took a big risk in allowing my students to take more control of their learning. My ImagineIT project focused on encouraging my students to identify with science. To meet this goal, I implemented 20% projects that allowed them to research and present science projects of their own choosing. I also worked to connect my students with other classrooms so that they can share their passions with the world. They taught second graders in Chicago how to make stop motion videos, discussed 3D printer jewelry with middle schoolers in South Carolina, and presented sustainable design projects to high school students in Australia. This year culminated with the #oneSTEMchicago project that connected classrooms all over the city to celebrate STEM education. Looking forward: I’ve been incredibly pleased with the work on my project. This is my last year in the classroom, and my ImagineIT project has allowed me to put into action all the things I wanted to do before transitioning into an administrative role. Next year I will be in a resident principal position in Chicago Public Schools.I have


two goals for my transition to administration. First, create a school environment that promotes interdisciplinary STEM collaboration. Second, I want to continue to build relationships between teachers in different buildings to improve instructional outcomes for students across the city.

This I believe ... teaching is an art that needs to be continuously developed and teachers need the opportunity to collaborate to perfect their practice and better reach every student.


Gerard Kovach

@GerardKovach1 \ 102

A person who never made a mistake never learned anything new - Albert Einstein

Gerard Kovach Gerard teaches middle school science at John T. McCutcheon Elementary School in Chicago’s culturally diverse Uptown neighborhood. He has passion for teaching STEM and instilling enthusiasm for learning in his students. Gerard is a National Board Certified Teacher and was nominated for and received the prestigious Golden Apple Fellowship Award.

Book recommendation Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Stanford University Psychologist, Carol S. Dweck. This book has helped me in my personal life and as a teacher who constantly seeks professional growth in terms of my ability to help motivate all students to reach new heights. Dweck sums it up by stating, “students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset).”


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I will never forget one of my undergrad history professors who could excite anyone, no matter what college major, to yearn to thrive in his classroom! He was the catalyst for me wanting to become a teacher at a time when I was not sure of my career direction. From him, I can trace back the forging of my own sense of identity as a teacher who strives to motivate all students on their own personal journey with learning, which I believe combines the pursuits of knowledge and personal self-actualization. Along with this passion for learning, my small-town upbringing in a very modest family of 13 children has instilled in me a sense of hard work that I bring to the profession and work to instill in the students of my classroom on a daily basis. Where I am now: This past year as an MSUrbanSTEM Fellow has been the most rewarding year yet of my career! This is attributed to MSU teachers who lead the program, as well as my other CPS fellows in our cohort! Their passion for learning and constantly seeking innovative methods of teaching STEM has been a renaissance for me as a teacher and lifelong learner! My experience has already begun to transform how I teach STEM for my students. Now more than ever, my students and I take risks together to try and find new ways of exploring science content. For me, this has been the leadership opportunity that I am most fond of; leading my students into unchartered territory in order to make learning more meaningful, student-centered and culturally relevant, and most of all, FUN and engaging with the help of technology integration. Looking forward: As I continue my work with impoverished students of all minority families in an age when minorities and females continue to be underrepresented in STEM, my main goal moving forward continues to be to work towards helping more of my students pursue 104

STEM as a serious endeavor and future career! I am seeing the fruits of my MSUrbanSTEM experience as more of my students have become more actively engaged in daily STEM investigations, and also through increased participation in extracurricular STEM partnerships that I have helped establish and will continue to strengthen in the coming years. I just received a grant to build a new STEAM Studio at our school and I am so eager to get started with piloting that with one of my grade levels next school year! My future work also includes bringing more of my students’ parents into the fold of their children’s journeys in STEM!

This I believe ... my purpose as an MSUrbanSTEM Fellow described in the previous point will continue to trickle out into reaching thousands of lives over the remaining course of my teaching career! For that, I am both honored and grateful for what this program has meant!


Kevin Lee

@K_M_Lee_ \ 106

The universe cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word - Galileo Galilei Struggling in math is not the enemy any more than sweating is the enemy is basketball. It is a part of the process and a clear sign of being in the game - Audrey Weeks

Kevin Lee Kevin is a math teacher in an open-enrollment public school in Chicago, Illinois. Mainly focusing on upper level honors classes (Algebra II, PreCalculus, and Calculus). He has been a public school teacher for 12 years. However, as a tutor and Teaching Assistant throughout college, he has been teaching math, science, and computer science in one form or another for the better part of two decades.

Book recommendation The book that had the greatest impact on me regarding the use of technology in the modern world is The Circle, a work of fiction by Dave Eggers. It chronicles a young woman named Mae, recently hired to work for The Circle, a massive Internet company reminiscent of a Facebook/Google/Apple hybrid. It is a cautionary tale of the role of technology, and to me, reads like a 1984 for the millennial generation. 107

The past, the present, the future Looking back: I became a math teacher for a simple reason. I love math. For better or worse, I am a mathematician first and an educator second. I see mathematics not only as the very powerful tool it is, but also as a delicate, intricate, and beautiful art form. Look at proofs for the infinitude of primes, the irrationality of root two, that there are more real numbers than integers, or any of the 100s of proofs the Pythagorean Theorem and tell me an artist’s hand isn’t at work. Michelangelo said “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Gödel notwithstanding, I believe every problem has a solution that it’s the mathematician’s job to uncover. I bring this passion for the material to each of my classes. It rubs off on some students, others find it humorous that someone could love math so much, but I believe all students are, at some level, affected by my sincerity. Where I am now: I am sad to say that, despite being almost 75% of the way through the WIPRO program, I am much the same person and teacher I was when I started. My daily procedures have not changed significantly, nor have my goals or my methods. Major projects I undertook (like project-based learning/assessment) were things I have been trying to incorporate for years, and this program did little to aid in that progress. I have used more technology this year, but not any more than my individual growth over the based few years would have suggested. Succinctly put, I am not sorry for participating in this program, but I am sorry I did not get more out of it.


Looking forward: My goals are the same as they always have been: be the best teacher for my students I can be. I will continue to look for techniques and tools (technology-based or not) that help engage my students and improve their comprehension and appreciation of mathematics. I will continue to find projects that help connect students to mathematics in new and intriguing ways, so that they too can appreciate the power that math possesses. I will continue to get excited about the fact and the reason why that cos(18) and cos(342) have the same value, for if I ‘m not excited about math, why should they be? More concretely, I plan to work towards computer science certification to supplement my mathematics certification, allowing me to bring my love of programming to students as well.

This I believe ‌ I can be better, I just need to figure out how.


Michael Maita

@maitascience \


Don’t just teach your children to read... teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything. - George Carlin

Michael Maita Although Mr. Maita’s formal education focused on physics, he has taught a wide array of subjects including biology, chemistry, genetics, geoscience, integrated science, calculus, and engineering. Finishing his fifth year in education, Mr. Maita currently teaches freshman Physics and senior Environmental Science at Disney II Magnet School. Last summer Mr. Maita began working with the Illinois State Board of Education on a project to engage teachers to work with the practices and disciplinary ideas in NRC’s Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards. This year Mr. Maita is piloting his work with the MSUrbanSTEM program to develop project-based learning experiences for authentic audiences to create a transformative educational experience, and managing a partnership with Dyson to build a STEM ‘makerspace’ fab lab.

Book recommendation I would recommend a fellow STEM educator read (or re-read) Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, the vivid account of the evolution of the universe and humanity’s place in it, as it highlights wonder as a driving force for education. This immediately grabbed my interest at a personal and professional level. If I were to describe fundamental changes required in teaching aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, phenomena-driven (wonder-driven) inquiry-based teaching would be the first. 111

The past, the present, the future Looking back: Some people work for a business and build wealth, some people work as crafters and build things, teachers work with youth and build minds. After considering more lucrative STEM careers, I knew I needed to find work that felt more meaningful. Growing up serving in restaurants, I knew I enjoyed working in dynamic and high energy environments, and combined with my love for science as a human endeavor, teaching physics sounded like a perfect fit. I have always believed that students who study physics will gain much more than knowledge of the physical world. Critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving skills are just as valuable, if not more valuable, than the knowledge base as we prepare students for increasingly evolving and unknown fields. The school experience must also spark student interest and imagination to push students to take ownership of their education and become lifelong learners. Where I am now: The past year in the MSU-Wipro STEM & Leadership Fellowship has proven to not only be educational, but inspiring. My learning in the program has been quite broad in scale, from little tips on useful technology that can be repurposed for the classroom, to reinforcing my notions of pedagogical strategies with research, to pushing me to see how a little wonder can change one’s daily perception of the world. The social side of participation in this cohort transformed my understanding of the power of learning made public. Knowing that our work would be published, whether through our websites, books, or Twitter, gave a concrete motivation for completing high-quality work, not only because the work is a reflection of us, but because we were beholden to the learning community we formed. This sense of collaboration and community is what I hope to instill in my classroom.


Looking forward: I will continue to synthesize my experiences in this program to create educational experiences for students that are relevant, challenging, and fun. Far too often education seems to be about getting the right answer, and not about experimenting, making mistakes, trying again, supporting a team, innovating, asking for help, and finally arriving somewhere deemed as accomplished. The educational experience seems to have lost its heart somewhere between now and when going to school was a privilege. This is not an easy task, especially in the face of external pressures like standardized testing and expectations of the breadth of content to be covered. But when reflecting on school mission statements, they are never as simple as a test score. They intend to nurture wellrounded and contributing humans, that value education as a route to bettering themselves and the world around them, and we must not forget this ultimate mission.

This I believe ... schools must increase student engagement by providing rich real-world educational tasks that connect to students’ life experiences and push learning outside the boundaries of the classroom.


Yvonne Nevarez

@MrsNevarez336 \


It is our choices that show what we truly are far more than our abilities. - Albus Dumbledore

Yvonne Nevarez Yvonne Nevarez is an 8th grade Life Science Chicago Public Schools Teacher. She worked at Peck Elementary for twenty years and this school year, 2017, has been selected to work at the newly opened Richardson Middle School. Mrs. Nevarez is a member of the Science and ILT Committee at Richardson Middle School. She has been on the Science Fair Committee and has grade level chairperson experience. Mrs. Nevarez was a participant in the - 2016 Lincoln Park Zoo Young Researchers Collaborative Program -and is currently in Cohort 3 of the MSU-WIPRO STEM & Leadership Teaching Fellowship program.

Book recommendation Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison is my book of recommendation for a fellow STEM educator. This book inspired me because it is a book that gives the teacher strategies on how to release responsibility to the student. It is important to me because to be an effective teacher it takes more than just knowledge of content, it takes the application of effective and strategic pedagogy.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: Looking back at my professional past, I can say some of my struggles that I’ve had to deal with were keeping all my students actively engaged and meeting objectives. I was inspired to become a teacher because I wanted to be that teacher to reach out to all students and make that difference that gave them the tools to succeed in life. I truly love being a teacher and I am so grateful for the Michigan State University Urban STEM fellowship for the incredibly invigorating, stimulating, and educational professional development in helping teachers meet the needs of their students. Where I am now: Presently, I am focusing on student engagement to enhance learning by using more simulations and engineering design in my life science curriculum to reinforce Next Generation Science Standards Science and Engineering Practice: Developing and Using Models. My students appeared to be engaged in their previous models via Stop Motion; therefore, I want to continue having students complete these types of activities. I would like the students to continue to create models to test and redesign after peer critiques of initial models, so that my students are to be able to reflect more on their designs to improve upon. Lastly, I have created an 8th grade after school Science Club that focuses on forensic analysis activities; furthermore, I’ve established a professional relationship with a Forensic Scientist that I’m able to confer with on a weekly basis about my after-school club activities for ideas and feedback. Looking forward: In the past three models, students did not get to improve their models. As a class, we discussed and critiqued students’ models, but that’s where it ended, due to time constraints. I would like for students to take feedback and improve their designs and models to share again to give their audience a visual on how they’ve modified and improved their models. Also, I would love to see my 116

newly appointed membership in my school’s ILT Committee as an opportunity to implement STEAM into our school with all teachers actively engaged in the STEAM process of enhancing learning via developing designs, models, written reflections, oral reflections and showcase celebrations. I would like to reach out to many successful MSU fellows that have reached this status quo for advice and guidance towards successfully bringing this plan to life.

This I believe ...that not only does a teacher mold and shape all professions, but that a teacher’s words can build one up or tear one this I believe that as a teacher, let’s choose our words wisely so that we can inspire, motivate, and educate our students with pride, love, and respect.


Michael Ng

@mrngscience \ 118

If you cannot explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. - Einstein

Michael Ng Mike teaches Physics to 9th graders at Ogden International High School. He attended a CPS elementary school from Kindergarten to 7th grade. Mike earned his Master of Arts in Teaching in 2013. Mike’s focus has been for students to create, use, and revise mathematical models to explain physical phenomena.

Book recommendation Making Thinking Visible by Ritchart and Church is important to be able to put student thinking into visible form for validation, confirmation, revision, and challenging of ideas. Making student thinking visible is a prerequisite for dealing with misconceptions and for teaching scientific arguments.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I became a teacher because I need to feel like I am making a positive difference in other people’s lives every day. I need the immediate feedback of “Ooooh, I get it now”. I learned I have limitations as a teacher, and I have decided on guiding principles which are constants in my life. I learned this lesson quickly when I began teaching. My natural instinct was to be a parent for every student and worry about every physical, social, emotional, and academic need of every student. I didn’t sleep very much my first year of teaching. Where I am now: Through the fellowship, I have become more creative and more confident in my pedagogical decisions. Through the classes over the summer, I experienced the joy of wondering and scientific explanations. The fellowship has reinforced that I can enjoy being creative and trying new techniques, tools, and strategies. I am now more cautious of being distracted by new tools over solid pedagogy. In the classroom, I take more academic risks with my students because I am inspired by innovative and creative ideas from the other fellows I follow on twitter, facebook, and the sharetracker. I have started to flip my classroom for basic and routine skills. I have also used standards-based grading more consistently to give students useful grades and feedback. Looking forward: I am more open to trying new ideas. This project has also validated the idea that my students should ultimately drive my instructional, pedagogical, and technological decisions. When students make decisions on what and how they learn, they are more invested and have more fun.


Moving forward I will increase my effectiveness as a teacher by incorporating more ideas that enhance student choice and student voice. For example, I am exploring project -based learning culminating in a genius hour project where students are almost entirely in charge of their own learning that is shared to the public at the end. I am excited to let students’ interests and passions guide their learning. I am looking forward to seeing how creative and caring my students can be. I’m excited to see how students incorporate scientific explanations to phenomena they naturally wonder about.

This I believe ... we have to give students the tools to live with passion, integrity, and make a positive difference in the lives of others.


Binh Nguyen

@MrBinhNguyen \


With plants, when they’re dying... what can we do in the environment to help the plant grow? We should approach this with students. How can we affect the environment to help students grow. Our last thing is to say the plant is defective, and that should be the last thing we say to our students - Beronda L. Montgomery,

Binh Nguyen Binh Nguyen has been teaching Chemistry and Biology at Northside College Preparatory High School in Chicago, IL for four years now. He is a Chicago native who spent his early years living in a Buddhist temple because his mother could not afford housing. A fun fact: for most of his life, he thought it was strange that most of his friends did not have at least three fathers. Binh was raised by three male monks and his mother. During his free time, he plays and tinkers with bicycles, computers, and cameras. He constantly seeks opportunities to learn new knowledge, particular in the sciences, and acquire new skills. Additionally, he looks for chances to collaborate with other professionals to further science pedagogy.

Book recommendation Sam Kean’s book, The Disappearing Spoon, blends scientific knowledge and fun facts with fantastic storytelling. He details the journey of every element on the Periodic Table throughout history. The book is a delight to read even for people not scientifically inclined. The storytelling in this book inspired me to be creative in my teaching and made me wish to teach through stories that makes you think. 123

The past, the present, the future Looking back: While pursuing my doctorate in Biophyiscal Chemistry, I studied proteins in bacteria and taught Chemistry to university students. As I dived more into my research, the more driven I became to discover, the more hours I stayed in my windowless lab than at home. I developed an unhealthy habit of working 80+ hours a week, which ended up with me burning out. During that time, my favorite part of the day was stepping outside to go teach. Every time I left the lab to interact with people, to feel the sun, and to teach Chemistry, it made me realized how happy my life can be. The icing on top was to see my students’ faces brighten up from learning and connecting the dots between their life and Chemistry. From then on, I focused my attention on science education and pedagogy, and have not looked back since. Where I am now: For the past few years, I thirsted for an environment filled with driven educators who wanted to push their teaching beyond the traditional method. I finally found such a place in MSUrbanSTEM. The professionals in this program have taught me to repurpose technology with pedagogy and content to create creative curriculum and lesson plans. They showed me what I can achieve, even with limited time and resources. Additionally, they educated me with pedagogical research to back my teaching, and pushed me to reflect on my own craft. Finally, they built a community in which I am encouraged take risk and think outside the box to better myself and my teaching. I have never been so grateful for such an experience. Because of MSU, I wholeheartedly embrace the vision that learning should be public. As such, I publicize my work online and at professional development workshops for the benefit of others.


Looking forward: For my students, initially, my Imagine IT started as a project where they will see and show the beauty of science through various mediums. Now, my project provides a chance for students to invest, engage, and show mastery in Chemistry using images, drawings, and videos. I want students to take ownership of their learning and show off their knowledge and understanding. With that in mind, I have several other ideas to try out in the coming years. I plan to develop with my students’ stories, visuals, problems, and videos to create a library for others to enjoy and use. Personally, I plan to further my knowledge and skills as an educator and learner by attending more workshops, classes, and collaborations. Additionally, I hope to aid others by presenting my work and science pedagogy at workshops and conferences in Illinois, and perhaps around the United States.

This I believe ...that inspiration and dreams are huge. There are people out there to support you. However, to achieve, you will struggle, make mistakes, and fail. But that’s normal, it’s just a detour. Never give up, and ignore the odds.


Jillian Onque

@jillfromthej \


Jillian Onque Jillian Onque teaches with the Chicago Public School system and has been an educator for 13 years. She teaches 7th and 8th grade math at Grimes School on the southwest side of Chicago. Within Grimes, Jillian is on the Instructional leadership team, the varsity volleyball coach, develops and facilitates math and PARCC professional development modules, and teaches a high school Algebra I course for 8th grade students. Within the district, Jillian has been a consulting teacher for CPS, is a part of the Teacher Leader Institute, and was selected to serve on the inaugural CPS Teacher Advisory Council. Her love of math has afforded her the opportunity to also teach pre-algebra as an adjunct professor for Elgin Community College. Jillian received her undergraduate degree from The University of Memphis in elementary education and her Master’s degree from DePaul University in middle school mathematics education.

Book recommendation My recommendation for other Urban Education teachers is to read Dr. Chris Emdin’s, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and the Rest of Y’all Too. Even though this book is not directly tied to STEM, it does highlight many subconscious misconceptions about urban teaching with black and brown students. Often, the urban classroom teacher does not share the same ethnicity or socioeconomic status as the students in which they teach and may not relate or have an appreciation for their cultural differences. Emdin asserts that not only should the differences be appreciated, but they should be incorporated into the daily routines of the classroom. He later proposes the idea of “reality pedagogy”. Reality pedagogy is an approach to teaching and learning that focuses on the reality of the youth experience in order to deliver content that is more rigorous, robust and relevant. 127

The past, the present, the future Looking back: I have always seen education as the great equalizer in overcoming the barriers in life. Because of this, I chose to teach in urban areas with underprivileged students. These are the children that need the greatest support and encouragement to overcome their circumstances. I come from a family of educators, my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and several cousins- all teachers. I guess it’s in my blood. My parents have always instilled in me the ideology that you should treat others as you want to be treated. This has kept me grounded and humble when speaking to parents and motivated me when designing lessons for my students. I have a t-shirt that says Super-Teacher. That pretty much sums up what I am striving to be; the best, most wonderful super-duper fantastically amazing teacher ever. Where I am now: The MSUrbanSTEM fellowship has made me more bold. Being an MSUrbanSTEM fellow has been a transformative experience for me. I have learned, first hand, how to use technology as a tool that supports the standards that I teach. We were taught to use technology to create a robust web presence, document our classroom activities, reflect on our leadership inside and outside of the classroom, and to add depth and rigor to the concepts that we teach. Every week my students anxiously ask about what STEM activity we’ll be doing next. I love this! Their enthusiasm motivates me to constantly strive the be the Super-Teacher that is within me. This past school year, I developed a technology professional development module that showcased the use of Kahoot, Plickers, and Quickfires as informal assessments in the classroom. That was a major hit with my colleagues! I owe the wonderful MSUrbanSTEM facilitators a gigantic thanks for showing me this whole new world. 128

Looking forward: There are three major changes for me. 1. I implement a STEM related activity weekly. It is important for my students to see the relevance of STEM in real-time lessons and activities. 2. My ImagineIT project focused on re-engaging my diverse learners. In reviewing their preliminary end of year scores, 85% of my diverse learners are on track to reach their year-end goals. 3. As I look forward to next year, I have begun to implement 20% time projects for one class. This fellowship has taught me to always look ahead and develop new uses of technology to engage my students. Within the next five years I hope to have completed my coursework for my administrative endorsement and have an administrative role in an elementary school.

This I believe ‌whether you were born in a penthouse or the projects, your education will open seemingly impenetrable doors that will lead to unimagined heights.


Laddie Perina

@laddie63 \ 130

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery-Horace Mann

Laddie Perina Mr. Perina has been a CPS teacher for over twenty years. He has taught Radio/ TV, Woodshop, traditional and modern Drafting, A variety of Science classes and today is currently teaching Computer Science. His philosophy is to make learning fun and interesting and to make the student a lifelong learner. To connect to the neighborhood, he teaches adult GED in the evenings. He has spent six years in the Air Force working on jets. There he learned the power of hard work and mindfulness. These traits he tries to instill in his students daily.

Book recommendation The book that I recommend is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. In the book, Ruiz gives four principles to live by that if followed will bring love and happiness into anyone’s life: 1. Be Impeccable with your Word 2. Don’t Take Anything Personally 3. Don’t Make Assumptions 4. Always Do Your Best Keeping the four agreements can be a life changing experience. I remember having one student come up to me after giving him the book to read saying, “It really changed my life Mr. Perina.” 131

The past, the present, the future Looking back: Outside of education I was an aircraft electrician for six years in the United States Air Force. After leaving the military I could not find work in the civilian sector so I started subbing. That is where I found out that I could teach and connect with students through humor and patience. So it was never my intention to become a teacher, teaching chose me. To the job I bring interest to whatever subject I am told to teach. I try to give each student the attention they need to understand the subject. I also work hard to make sure every student feels comfortable and safe, so learning has no barriers in my classroom and students look forward to my class every day. Where I am now: Being in the MSUrbanSTEM fellowship for a year has been challenging for me due to my Luddite ways, but also enlightening due to the incredible talent that I have been introduced to. To be a part of such a special group humility and gratitude is what I feel every time we all get together. They have helped me to get through a year of uncertainty and turmoil, where budget cuts are everywhere. This is the environment we are teaching in today and yet I try to create an atmosphere of hope and optimism for my students. There have always been teachers teaching during times of hardship, uncertainty and even war. Maybe that is the time we are needed the most. Giving students hope for their future or just a place they can come to, to feel safe and wanted. Looking forward: “I do not teach Computer Science; I teach my students how to learn Computer Science.� I believe that as teachers we need to instill critical thinking along with social emotional learning is why I say this way they will be able to learn anything throughout their life.


Also since my students and their families are living with severe economic disadvantages I purpose we create a school environment that gives the students of Kelly high school a competitive edge. Make the playing field the same compared to their more advantaged, middle and upper income peers. We begin by getting rid of outdated textbooks, outdated computers and inadequate science equipment, materials and labs. We also need to get broken and tagged furniture replaced. Dirty bathrooms and physical decay will be something of the past. Then we promote a nurturing, holistic educational philosophy school wide.

This I believe ... the key to reaching out to each child especially the ones who are desensitized to education is finding out what excites and interests them then exploit that. If done properly an awakening occurs and a new mind begins to want to learn and grow


Latasha Petty

@LatashaEducate1 \ 134

Be the change that you want to see in the world - Attributed to Gandhi

Latasha Petty Latasha is a middle school math teacher and math coach at Perkins Bass Elementary. She has taught in CPS for going on 8 years. For her first 4 years, she was a math teacher at an AUSL school, Bethune Elementary until it transitioned in 2013. Currently, Latasha is in the process of receiving a STEM certificate, as well as, an SEL certificate. She has a passion for teaching and a passion for math. Latasha believes in educating the ‘whole’ child, and that ALL children have the potential to do great things.

Book recommendation Rocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble by Debra E. Meyerson. It discusses how there are individuals that have a small, isolated effect on change. Also, there are individuals who are very open with their personal agenda/beliefs and have a very noticeable effect on change. Meyerson uses the term “tempered radicals” to describe these individuals that, no matter what measure they take to make change, they try not to cause any conflicts with their current position at their company.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: Growing up, I always wanted to be a lawyer. However, that changed my sophomore year in high school when I indirectly became the teacher of my Pre Algebra, Algebra, and Pre Calculus class. When we would go over work, my peers were only able to understand the way I explained my solution versus the teachers. From that point on, I became a lover of math. I was determined to find a way to make math have meaning, and more importantly, help those that struggle with math. As stated in my bio, I am a firm believe that ALL children can learn. That belief has caused me to intentionally target low performing schools as my school of choice so that I can prove to the unbelievers that those students have the potential, but it takes a special person to pull that potential out. Where I am now: Since being an MSUrbanSTEM Fellow, I have pushed myself as an educator to be more innovative with my lessons, and to try and make students become critical thinkers. I have implemented different inquiry assignments into my lessons which forces students to think outside of the box. My students have more collaborative assignments to assist them with their skills in teamwork. Twice this year my students have participated in some impromptu STEM activities, which they loved! As a leader, I have introduced my ImagineIT project to fellow teachers and have suggested for them to try infusing math in their lessons, as an assessment tool to try and get a better understanding of what their students know and don’t know. As I do check-ins, many teachers have been implementing it in their classrooms. Looking forward: The traditional way of teaching will not do the job. Within classrooms, students must take control of their learning so that the classroom becomes student-driven inquiry. This can happen by bringing more inquiry-based learning into the math 136

classroom. In addition, my goal is to use writing in math as a tool to assist teachers in assessing student knowledge through different, creative ways to demonstrate a specific concept/skill. “NCTM placed an emphasis on the importance of communication for learning and doing mathematics “ (Steele 102). It has been said that students’ problem solving skills could improve with writing. It can also be a helpful tool in allowing teachers to see what a student know about a particular concept/skill. The implementation of writing will be done by asking students to explain, justify, or defend their answer.

This I believe . . . in today’s society, educators are equipped with all that they need to effectively teach students in a way that will allow them to be college and career ready. It’s not always about what you have--it’s more important what you do with what you have.


Dionne L. Reynolds

@dionnereynold16 \ 138

It takes a village to educate a child - My twist on an African Proverb

Dionne L. Reynolds Dionne Reynolds is a Chicago Public School teacher and currently teaches 5th grade mathematics at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School. As a teacher of math, she loves the way number work and how you can apply math to every aspect of live. Ms. Reynolds has been teaching for 16 years and has had assignments in Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th grades. Dionne’s goal is to help her students to develop a love of mathematics through amazing lessons and rich discovery in and out of the classroom. Becoming a member of the MSUrbanSTEM Fellowship program has opened new doors for Dionne to introduce and build lesson that both challenge and interest students.

Book recommendation The most inspiring book shared during this program was The Dreamkeepers by Gloria Ladson-Billings. This book shares the way 8 special teachers of African American Children went above and beyond to get to know and reach their students. These teachers realized the importance of reaching the student inside and outside of the classroom. They also made their students feel as if they belonged to something special.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I became a teacher after working with preschool children. While working with these children, I saw so many light go off. They were happy to be learning. It was this experience that made me want to teach. Last school year, I found it very difficult to interest my students in what I needed to teach them. I love teaching math and it sadden me that I couldn’t interest students in the subject that I am so passionate about. So, a year ago, I was introduced to a program that could potentially change the way I taught. One of my co-workers told me that I should apply for the MSUrbanSTEM Program because the program had made a difference in her approach to teaching. So, after much thought, I applied and was offered membership in a program. I accepted and I have changed the way I teach math in my classroom. Where I am now: This year has been great program. This MSUrbanSTEM program has helped me to become a much better teacher. As a result, I have spent a lot of time planning projects that allow my students to apply what they have learned. This has been time consuming but very much worth it. Through these projects, my students are finding their inner mathematician. They are working harder and applying the skills to the projects. They are eager to complete the projects so they can begin the next. Their motivation may be the culminating activity which is to do whatever the project was about. The students were Party Planners and we had a Halloween Party which they planned. Now they are travel planners and planning field trips for the 5th grade class.


Looking forward: I would like to begin by align my math curriculum to science. I would like to sit down with the science teacher and go over the science standards and see just where math can be applied to the science they are learning and then turn this marriage into a project. Looking beyond my classroom, I can see myself in a position where I can help others to make the connections and realizations that I have made around student learning through discovery. I would like to have a program that provides support to teachers as they begin to see the importance of incorporating STEM in the classroom no matter what subject. As a teacher, aligning my math content across other content areas has been very difficult and I want to master this task and share the skill and knowledge with other teacher as the continue to educate students.

This I believe ‌ the work of educating children is challenging. Educators must change the way they teach in order to motivate and interest the students that sit before them. Parents will need to be active participants in their children’s education and instill the importance of education in them.


Nelida Roa

@NelidaR5 \ 142

Nelida Roa Nelida Roa is a middle school bilingual math and language arts teacher at Luther Burbank Elementary. Prior to becoming a teacher, she was a Business Analyst. She has been teaching since 2009 and has earned her Master’s in teaching from National Louis University. She is endorsed in Math, Science and Social Science. Nelida is passionate about teaching and strives to provide students with engaging and enriching learning opportunities. She is a Rochelle Lee awardee. She has received grants from Donor’s Choose that have allowed her students to become more active users of technology in the classroom. She believes that teaching is a way to give to future generations.

Book recommendation STEM to Story: Enthralling and Effective Lesson Plans for Grade 5-8 by 826 National. I found this book after speaking to another educator and she recommended it. It is a great resource to have in the classroom. The engaging lessons are fun and well structured. It incorporates STEM learning and writing into each lesson.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I have always wanted to be an educator but decided that the monetary reward would not fit into my lifestyle so, instead, I pursued a career in business. After over twenty years in the successful business field, I wanted a career change. I wanted to do something more rewarding in life. I went into education and realized that teaching is more than going through lessons; it is like being a judge, a mother, a social worker, and a teacher all wrapped into one. It is to be compassionate about where students are and giving them hope letting them know where they can go. I want my students to have dream big and believe that they can accomplish their goals; that nothing is out of reach with effort and perseverance. My goal is to have students believe they can fully experience the world and all its wonder and that they will be able to play it forward and leave a positive a lasting impression for the next generation. Where I am now: This past year has been challenging! Learning how to implement the technology part into my lessons was more complicated than I thought. I started out with two computers and a computer station that dwindled down to none. I wrote a grant to Donors Choose skeptical about the results, but to my surprise, we were awarded 12 Chromebooks. I then was able to write another grant and now we have 1-1 Chromebooks. The look on my students faces was priceless. They were beside themselves. We are using our Chromebooks in reading and math to watch video and create videos slideshows, PowerPoint and memes to help with vocabulary in reading and math. My students love to use the technology. This year, I was selected to participate in the TLC Teacher Leadership Institute to strengthening our math curriculum at Burbank Elementary.


Looking forward: As I look forward to the coming month my students have grown in their reading and math ability, I feel that they are starting to see the continuity in math. My teaching has changed in that students work more collaboratively investigating and helping each other. We have taken several field trips where students have had the opportunity to engage in problem solving, create new inventions, and think outside of the box. They are working in collaborative groups and feel more comfortable presenting their ideas. My goal for next year is to work with my technology coordinator and help create a STEM program that deals with building computers, coding, and learning different ways to use the technology as an effective learning tool.

This I believe ‌ the MSUrbanSTEM program has opened my eyes and given me tools to take my students and future students to another level of learning that will impact their education for a lifetime.


Jennifer M. Roden @PLTWvon \ 146

Get it started, don’t get it perfect - Data Teams trainer

Jennifer M. Roden Jennifer has worked at Von Steuben Metro Science Center for the past seven years, four of those years teaching three courses in the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) pre-engineering sequence for all high school grades: Introduction to Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering, and Digital Electronics. This year she was also made the PLTW Department Chair. She is passionate about STEM outreach and project-based learning. She wants to make STEM accessible by linking student lives, classroom content, and the community together. Personally, she and her wife have been foster parents for seven years. They are working on adopting their third and final addition to the family. This lifestyle continues to change/ challenge her views on education, society, humanity and herself. She highly recommends it for anyone willing to enjoy the ups and downs of life’s journey.

Book recommendation The Dreamkeepers by Gloria Ladson-Billings. The truth is that this book made me question my role as a teacher. It reminded me that each teacher can succeed no matter what philosophy they subscribe to as long as they maintain a focus on the student’s best interest. This means that a teacher needs to be confident in their actions.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I started my adult life after graduating with my Bachelor’s in Chemistry by running right back into the classroom to obtain a graduate degree in Chemistry. It was my wife (an early childhood special education teacher) and my experience working as a teaching assistant that got me into the teaching state of mind. I then applied for and was accepted to the Chicago Teaching Fellows at which point I Mastered out of graduate school and began teaching. During my fellows interview, I was asked what percentage of a student’s grade was my responsibility. I optimistically said 100% because it is our job to make them care enough to want to do the learning we give to them. This is still a big part of my inspiration to teach: give meaningful learning to the students in such a way that they want to learn. Where I am now: My MSUrbanSTEM experience and classroom should be separate from my personal life. Yet, life is too messy and teaching is too personal for compartmentalization. Personal baggage is not just a weight on your shoulders but a veil in which you see the world. As such, you need to know-- my year was tough. I realized that trauma is not just a scar but a wound that can never be healed, only cared for daily. It is a struggle that alters your view, distorting your sense of safety/ comfort. It made my conversations more realistic and inclusive. It made my view of teamwork more meaningful. As a high school teacher, my students are old enough to know right from wrong no matter their backgrounds. Yet, when they make the bad choice not accepting less still requires one account for individual differences. Acknowledge different starting points but make standards high for all.


Looking forward: Change is good. I used to think that I would become a good teacher and then be able to just hit replay every year. But where I am going in the future is change. Changing this project for that project. Trying to figure out how to include theater in engineering, again. My goals sound wonderful: use project-based teaching, improve the access to STEM, etc. Yet, deep down my only hope is to be constantly changing. Change is the knowledge that we are not perfect and the belief that we can and should try to be better. Change hurts. It is the realization that our decisions were wrong and need to be re-thought. This uncomfortable state of never settling for good enough, that is my future. All I need is the continued support of those around me.

This I believe ... keep trying new things. Good leads to good but you need to take the first step.


Ashley Diane Rose

@RoseLaneTech \ 150

The challenge in teaching is not covering the material for the students, it’s uncovering the material with the students - DW and RT Johnson

Ashley Diane Rose Ashley Rose has been teaching chemistry and neuroscience at Lane Tech College Prep for the last eight years. She has a B.S. from Vanderbilt University in Psychology and a Master’s in Science Education from Northwestern University. She enjoys doing art projects with her daughter, music, yoga, the beach, and hiking.

Book recommendation The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons or The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. The author has a knack for bringing science to life.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: My admiration and love of teaching is one of my earliest and dearest memories. As a kid, I wanted the same chalk holder as my teacher as well as the teacher’s edition of my reading workbook so I could teach my sister in my free time. At the end of my first grade year, I remember writing a letter to my teacher requesting to attend summer school because I could not bare the thought of not being at school over the summer. My passion for learning and respect for excellent teachers grew continuously throughout my childhood. Later, in college, I tried to appease my family by setting out to pursue a career in something other than education but my heart never truly invested in any other field. My personal journey has offered me the clarity that teaching is my calling and it is the one field that inspires, challenges, and fulfills me on a holistic level. The opportunity to make every lesson, every day, and every year more engaging for my students is a life’s work and an art form that I deeply love. Where I am now: My experience as an MSUrbanSTEM fellow challenged me on both a personal and professional level. I had never before experienced such a proliferation of new and creative ideas. As a result of my newfound perspective I started to find opportunities to integrate art, literature, authentic discussion, history, movies, experiments, computer science, engineering, video production, music, modeling, and physics into my neuroscience curriculum. My students started saying things like, “Your class excites me and makes me want to come to school each day,” or “We have done more cool things in this class than I have done in my entire time at high school.” The excitement and innovation in my neuroscience classes is palpable. I have had the most memorable year of teaching in my career and I am certain that the experiences I have given my students will stay with them for the rest of their lives. 152

Looking forward: MSUrbanSTEM awakened my confidence and my voice. I engage in conversations that I used to avoid and I am seeking out experienced teachers outside of my discipline to learn from their practice. I feel that at this point in my career I am also ready to start educating and inspiring other STEM teachers. The new ideas I have taken away as a result of being in this fellowship is something I am eager to share with others so they too can experience what it’s like to create a dynamic, artistic, interdisciplinary, challenging and creative environment for their students. It’s as if this program was the last missing piece of myself that I needed in order to recognize my own talents and design new approaches to teaching my content area.

This I believe … outstanding teachers are gifted storytellers. They inspire students to wonder about the world around them and give them opportunity to explore, invent, tinker, play and learn about their own talents and strengths.


Les Seitman @LSeitman \


Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential - Winston Churchill

Les Seitman Les Seitman is currently the 8th grade Physical Science teacher at Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago. He began teaching in 2005. Les earned his BA from Elmhurst College, his teaching certificate from North Park University, and his M.Ed. from Loyola University - Chicago. He is a native Chicagoan and attended CPS from kindergarten through high school graduation. He is a proud father of two sons, one of which is a CPS student himself. He feels blessed to wake up every day to his wife and boys and be able to put his best foot forward.

Book recommendation Stuck in The Shallow End by Jane Margolis. This book spoke to me because the vast majority of my scholars are Mexican-American and the technology we have on the surface looks really nice and up to date. When it comes to availability of this technology and the staff training to use it and download software, there lies the problem. This is a great book for any inner-city educator struggling with implementing technology in a cash-strapped school system. It lets you know that you are not alone.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: After having graduated high school, I wanted to join the Marine Corps and serve my country as so many others in my family had. My mother wouldn’t have it stating that I would be the first male in my family to complete college. I earned my BA and had two office type jobs and then 9/11 happened. I was laid off due to economic hardships and really had no idea what direction to go in. My aunt came along, who was a CPS teacher for 35+ years, and said that I should consider becoming a teacher. She cited how much I enjoyed teaching swimming lessons while I was in high school and college. I ran with it and attended school at night while holding down a delivery job during the day. I’ve had a job ever since I was 14, the first of which was scrubbing toilets. From a monetary point, I was given a roof over my head - everything else, I earned. From a social emotional point, I was given everything. My family kept me going. I realize most of the kids in front of me don’t have that. Where I am now: The fellowship has been awesome. I entered the summer looking forward to learning some new tricks and ideas basically to re-energize myself. I found it, there is no doubt about it. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the opportunity I have been given. To a certain degree, it has given me something positive to focus on because as we all know, there is constant, negative press associated with the school district. I think it has the potential to be something great, but it is going to need some help along the way. Hopefully, in my own way, I can be a part of helping it become fixed. Looking forward: No doubt that having been a part of this fellowship, I see that there is still some good out there. There are people invested in us as educators. I put my faith in the hope that all is not lost for 156

Chicago Public Schools as the media and politicians would have you believe. I have a lot invested in CPS - it is where I work and it is also where my child goes to school. I’m sure 10 years from now, these “financial troubles” will have worked themselves out and we will talk about it like it is history.

This I believe … while things seem very bleak for public education at the present moment, both nationally and locally, I remain optimistic. Trends are usually cyclical and for as bad as things seem, there has to be an upswing at some point. I am a product of public education and I know it’s not bad. If we can hold on, just a little longer, we may all be singing a different toon. Who knows - that is what makes life so beautiful!


Rashid Smith

@Smith1Rasheed \ 158

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires - William Arthur Ward

Rashid Smith Rashid Smith is a middle school mathematics teacher with 10 years of experience. Over the past 4 years, he has served his school as lead mathematics teacher. A position where he is called upon to assist in choosing curriculum, modeling lessons, and vertical planning. He enjoys teaching middle grades due to the fearlessness of the age group, who often demonstrate a propensity to take risk. He also believes the students appreciate the content and what it means for their future. His school is one of the most diverse in the country. In one classroom of 28 students, parents migrated from 20 countries; none of which includes the United States of America!

Book recommendation In Eric Jensen’s, Teaching With the Brain in Mind, the author covers an array of topics that not only shed light upon how the brain works (neuroscience), but also highlights evidence based, practical approaches to be used while teaching the whole child. This book should be read in its entirety and revisited throughout one’s professional career. It’s important because the author gives researchbased information, techniques and examples that may help mitigate much of teacher’s day-to-day challenges. For example, the book addresses multiple-modalities; the order of which types of concepts to teach; and that people remember best what they hear first, next comes best what is presented last and the middle is often lost to cognitive fatigue. 159

The past, the present, the future Looking back: My journey to teaching has been work in progress and will continue to be. I was drawn to the field by an interest in helping others. I was impressed by those who did not have to teach using best practices, but did. In college many professors, presented information through lecture, but some put into practice what they presented. This opened my eyes to the extent of how grounded research, pedagogy and best practice can improve performance. Though it may sound clichÊd, I love improving and helping others get better. Maybe it is self-efficacy, maybe it is altruism, but I take great comfort in seeing results and enjoy going through the process. I feel there is an unlimited supply of success. If I can learn something or attain it, then I feel good knowing I can help others attain it. I also am content with knowing everyone does not want the same results education has to offer. Where I am now: This past year as an MSUrbanSTEM fellow has allowed me to reflect on impact on student achievement and my role as a leader. I realized that I am not satisfied with some aspects of education. As educators, we cannot address every injustice, but we can make a difference daily. My experience at MSU has caused me to open dialogue with difference makers, and adopt a mentor. By opening dialogue, I was able to listen and understand local decision making processes from a decision maker’s perspective. I now able to communicate these ideas to my coworkers. This is helpful because, I can alert them of potential pitfalls before they take up issues. My mentor is constantly pushing me to advance my career so I can be a decision maker. This keeps me motivated professionally. I am constantly aware of helping my students stretch and learn. My main objective this year was to move students past procedural tasks into conceptual understandings. I think I have made strides with my students by utilizing multimodal learning and delving into a 160

constructivist framework of learning that emphasizes making use of mathematical models without letting go of routine and practice. Looking forward: I strive to meet my students where they are. I would like to have conferred and met more small groups with my students in a way that was sustainable. The trick is not only to meet with 150 students, but also have the meeting time be intentional, efficient, and monitored. To get at student needs, I use formative assessments, observations, learning style surveys and language proficiency when considering grouping arrangements. The content I teach is targeted. However, because I see my students for 55 minutes, it is daunting to meet with them consistently and string small group objectives like whole class concepts. My goal is to streamline this process, but it takes some well thought, preplanned lessons. In short, I would need to produce 6-8 guided math lessons daily.

This I believe ... I will better prepare my students for obstacles ahead of them and keep my direction on improving the circumstances of those who need it most...always.


Luewilla Smith-Barnett @Lue02 \ 162

He who gives the diameter of your knowledge prescribes the circumference of your activity. If you gain a limited knowledge, then you restrict the possibilities of what you can and will achieve. The capacity of man’s brain is infinite. Therefore, the greater one’s knowledge grows, the greater becomes one’s sphere of activity until it encompasses and reflects mastery of self and mastery of the universe. -The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan

Luewilla Smith-Barnett During Luewilla’s 23 years with CPS, she has been a classroom teacher, math coach, trainer and now STEM Specialist. As a STEM Specialist, she teaches in the SMART Lab where students work in pairs as engineers on various projects. Students develop 21st century skills that include collaboration, communications, critical thinking, creativity and technology. In addition, Luewilla coaches teachers in STEM by leading professional development and supporting teacher implementation of STEM best practices. As a fellow in the MSUrbanSTEM program Luewilla is excited to take learning to a new level with the skills she learns from the program to also implement with her STEMDance Program!

Book recommendation STEM Lesson Essentials, Grades 3-8: Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics by Jo Anne Vasquez, Michael Comer and Cary Sneider is a great resource and serves useful to new and seasoned teachers. It highlights guiding principles of a STEM program and provides engaging STEM activities and targets key approaches to an integrated program. These approaches are parallel to STEM best practices, which are important for teachers to know and implement. 163

The past, the present, the future Looking back: After receiving my bachelor’s degree in RA/TV production, I decided that I wanted to teach. I wanted to make a difference by making learning culturally relevant and accessible to black students. So I went to school to get my master’s degree in elementary education. Struggles I faced initially included differentiation, integrating technology, and utilizing multiple assessments. As I grew as an educator, I became more comfortable with my teaching style through exposure with multiple professional development opportunities and learned how to implement best practices. Values that I bring to this profession include selfreflectiveness and collaboration. These two things are necessary to help teachers grow and to further the mission of the school. Where I am now: This past year as a MSUrbanSTEM fellow has been an awesome experience! The format of the sessions has definitely encouraged collaboration, technology integration, research, and creativity. I have applied the learning from the sessions in my STEM Lab as well as with my coaching work. The transformative experience that occurred in my teaching is when I taught my students how to create websites and use our STEMLab Twitter account to share learning. What has changed for me is my approach to student and teacher learning. I now incorporate more technology into instruction and coaching and work to help engage learners collaboratively. Overall, the MSUrbanSTEM program has provided a balance to learning innovative STEM teaching and has equipped me with information, tools and a paradigm shift that will forever positively affect my teaching and coaching roles. It has been a lot of work, but very fulfilling, meaningful and fun.


Looking forward: What has changed for me is the utilization of technology, current research and collaboration to facilitate student and teacher learning. I plan to help teachers become more reflective learners and facilitators of student 21st Century STEM learning. I also plan to incorporate more artistic experiences with STEM, so that our school may be a STEAM school. In addition, I look forward to incorporating various ways to assess student learning. I want to give students access and agency to content knowledge and utilize culturally responsive assessment strategies that will help students exhibit knowledge and levels of understanding. Ultimately, I look forward to learning and growing as a STEM educational professional. I am eager to apply the knowledge that I’ve gained and effectively plan innovative instruction and professional development.

This I believe ... learning is dynamic, challenging and fun. I believe that if we really want student to learn, then we should stretch ourselves to learn and implement new and innovative 21st Century skills and best practices that will better equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the real world.


Cody Spencer @mrSpencermath \ 166

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires - William Arthur Ward

Cody Spencer Cody Spencer is a 5th year middle school math teacher at Carter G. Woodson South Elementary. He was born on the southside of Chicago. A native of Englewood, Cody is an accomplished composer and poet. He received his teaching degree at Northeastern Illinois University and is currently pursuing a master’s in gifted education at Purdue and a master’s in accounting at Roosevelt University. He is a member of the Illinois Violence Prevention Association, Grow your Own scholarship foundation and founder of Teens 2 Men mentoring program.

Book recommendation Stuck in the Shallow End by Jane Margolis revealed much for me. I enjoy history and I deeply believe that it must be closely studied to prevent past mistakes. The unforgivable lessons of the past we learn must never be repeated. Stuck in the shallow end was exactly that. A comparison of minorities being prohibited to swim and how it affects us today. The lesson learned from that event is passively being repeated today. The book is a literal x-ray into how lack of information and opportunity subjugates those who are not in power. The book changed my life, it changed the way I view enlightenment.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I know I am blessed to be where I am. A boy from my ghetto isn’t supposed to go to college, to see the world, and to affect change. I wish I started this journey early in my life. Teaching is my second profession, I regret that I didn’t know my calling at an earlier age. But I believe that one must always look forward. I dedicate the rest of my life to this calling. I dedicate the rest of my time on this earth sharing my blessing. Where I am now: My kids, like me, are in love with learning. This is the first time I’ve actually don’t want my school year to end. The progress we’ve made is astounding. While I am not a fan of limited academic opportunities for my kids, I am very proud that they have been open minded and hungry for knowledge. Most days I can’t wait to get to work, I owe my awakened passion to the MSUrbanSTEM experience. Looking forward: I am looking forward to spending my summer flipping my classroom. Thanks to a grant my kids now all have access to computers for the summer to work on areas of improvement. Everything we did this year will be stepped up to be more challenging. I think my kids can flourish when given opportunity and responsibility. I don’t know if I would have said that two years ago, but our shared trust has improved every aspect of our class. My ultimate goal is to, not only hand responsibility to the kids, but also include their families in their learning. Since building culture and establishing the importance of education is important, that will be my ultimate goal.


This I believe ‌ We are all lucky to have been students of life.

It’s up to us to make sure no one gets stuck in the shallow end.


Robert Strong

@Riobard17 \ 170

A mind is a terrible thing to waste - Arthur Fletcher

Robert Strong Robert Strong teaches Integrated Math I (Algebra) to incoming freshman at Corliss Early College STEM High School. He has been in education for six years after transitioning from a successful and long career in the banking industry. His duties at Corliss are multi-faceted. While his primary responsibility is to introduce freshman students to the wonders of mathematics, he also serves as a Program Director for seniors in his OneGoal class. His primary duty as a PD for OneGoal is to ensure the students under his charge have a smooth transition and integration into college. Mr. Strong is also the credit recovery coordinator and mentor for evening school at Corliss. He is also a member of the LSC and ILT team at Corliss. Finally, he is also an avid speed chess player in his free time and can be seen at many of the chess hangouts on Chicago’s north side.

Book recommendation Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing by Jane Margolis. I feel this book tells what has been happening in urban public schools across America. It is important to me because this book brings to light that as a country, we still have a long way to go when it comes to equality.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I was inspired to become an educator when my job allowed me to visit inner city schools teaching seventh and eighth graders financial literacy for a program named Junior Achievement. I felt there was need to show the students that they could accomplish so much more than they had experienced or thought of in their young lives. I next became an Avid tutor helping students with their math assignments and homework. Where I am now: Since becoming a part of the MSUrbanSTEM team three cohort, I have grown in many ways as an educator and as a person. As an educator, I have learned to be more intentional in my lesson planning. Now I try to merge mathematics with technology in order to meet my students where they are at and hopefully to expand their knowledge of how they can actually utilize technology in many real-world settings. Personally, I have grown because I have experienced social media for the first time. I never thought I would be on Twitter. I never thought I would be on Facebook. I never thought I would have a website or upload anything to YouTube. I have done all of the above and feel like I am not an “outsider� any more. For me, this cohort has been a wonderful thing. Looking forward: Now that I have started down this road of being both, a student and educator, I see myself continuing my goal of leading students to the realization that mathematics are everywhere in this world. They may never learn to love mathematics but they have to appreciate mathematics. Hopefully with their acceptance and appreciation of mathematics, they could then, either intentionally or unintentionally, lead the change in the perception of mathematics of their families and communities. I plan to do more research on PBL’s in order to help me in my mission.


This I believe ... today I am a better STEM educator than I was before I became a member of the third cohort. I can relate to my students where they are at technology wise, and utilize technology to expand their thinking. I believe at some point in order to teach at the highest level, one must be able to be a student at the highest level.


Annmarie Thomas @annamarushka1 \ 174

I’m not a teacher: only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead - ahead of myself as well as you - George Bernard Shaw

Annmarie Thomas Annmarie has taught high school math in multiple cities throughout the U.S. for over a decade. She is currently an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme Coordinator at Ogden International School of Chicago and serves as a facilitator for Chicago Public Schools and DePaul University’s Math Teacher Leadership Institute.

Book recommendation Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer and A. J. Juliani. LAUNCH is a practical introduction for integrating creativity and problem solving into any classroom through the use of the design cycle. Spencer and Juliani argue that a “Creative Chasm” is growing between those who consume versus produce and schools must create opportunities for students to do the latter to adequately prepare them for a changing world. The book offers actionable steps for implementation while inspiring teachers towards a more creative instructional approach.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: My experience with math has not always been positive. I floundered in and eventually left the honors track in high school having struggled with a very harsh, traditional teacher after matriculating from a weak middle school math program. I believed math wasn’t for me. Thankfully, my teacher senior year helped me reconsider. He believed we were all capable of mastering math and, as a team, we would ensure that everyone understood. Throughout my life, I have always been focused on issues of poverty and injustice and have had various ideas about how to tackle these issues. In the end, I believe a fundamental hurdle for so many is equal access to quality education. My experience made me acutely aware of the influence a teacher has on student self-efficacy. Given the importance of numeracy in so many aspects of life, I decided to dedicate myself to teaching math in urban settings. Where I am now: My year in the MSUrbanSTEM and Leadership Program has in many ways reinforced my beliefs about good instruction while expanding my perspective of what high quality instruction must include. Prior to the program, I knew I needed to embed more tech, but I rarely went beyond only occasionally teaching a new tool (excel, graphing calculators, etc). Many of the teachers in our school used tech, but I worried that many of us were not integrating it in meaningful ways, using it mostly for online research or problem sets through a program rather than a worksheet. The program convinced me that tech should always be considered along with content and pedagogy (TPACK) when planning instruction and that it needed to be used to help the students explore concepts, reveal misconceptions, and create or synthesize their own understanding. TPACK and considering the Four Cs of 21st century education (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, 176

and creativity) have helped me reframe and improve my concept of purposeful learning experiences. Looking forward: Trying to help educators think deeply about the purpose of instruction and how to create learning experiences that equip students with more than just content knowledge is central to my goals moving forward. This focus will include finding ways to fund technology and training for teachers to integrate tech in meaningful ways that allow students to be creative and solve problems. It will also include remaining in a leadership position where I can regularly discuss instruction with teachers and support them in exploring and implementing new ideas; where I can help hire and work to retain innovative teachers; and where I can access members of the community to partner with teachers and students to create even more opportunities for learning and advancement.

This I believe ‌ educators should be preparing students to access and make sense of a world of limitless information not by focusing exclusively content in a vacuum, but by teaching them how to utilize various tools to think critically, communicate, collaborate and meaningfully act in complex and changing environments.


Karen Trine

@mrs_trine \ 178

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. - Martin Luther King Jr.

Karen Trine After learning to love teaching while living in West Africa and China with the Peace Corps, I settled in Chicago and have been teaching chemistry at Lane Tech for ten years. In addition to teaching 196 sophomores honors chemistry this year, I lead the honors chemistry team and look forward to teaching AP chemistry next year in the fall. I’m also a union delegate for our school and am continually trying to come to grips with how to do more with less because of our budgeting woes. I see science as a universal language for expressing wonder and joy, with the bonus potential for bridging cultural gaps.

Book recommendation Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil. This book strikes a chord because as any educator knows, it is immensely hard to measure and quantify one’s success. Students, their lives and our impacts upon them are not summed up as neatly as the topics we study in chemistry class: temperature, pressure, volume, mass, etc. This book examines the false promise of using secret algorithms written with sometimes good and sometimes bad intentions to analyze complex systems that have traditionally been evaluated qualitatively.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I loved learning the names of trees from my grandfather. I’d get mad, but then smile when my dad would answer a question of mine with, “I don’t know. What do YOU think?” Seeing calculus for the first time, my soul jumped for joy that there was math out there complex enough to describe the universe around us. Picturing atoms and molecules bumping into each other in a never-ending game of chance excites me. I put my chemistry/geology degree to good use in the environmental engineering field, but after a few years remediating countless dry cleaning operations polluting the local groundwater with chlorinated solvents, I was ready for adventure. Peace Corps agreed to take me if I taught math, physics and chemistry. I’m still loving the best job on the planet. We get to do good by helping young people learn about their world and themselves. Where I am now: I’ve never been with such a large group of people whose passion for understanding matched mine. I’ve always felt I had to tamp down my outward displays of excitement in the classroom, and be careful not to ask too many questions. This experience was different. By taking classes with truly excellent instructors and a whole bunch of amazing fellow teachers, our questions and enthusiasm worked like a chain reaction. I found myself thinking wonderful new thoughts about science, about teaching and about teaching science. Being forced to join Twitter broadened my sense of what collaboration means. Being able to check in with other fellows was valuable enough, but gaining quick access to so many amazing science education feeds has helped me make class significantly more interesting. Without this program, there is just no way that I’d be 180

co-designing chemistry web apps - MSU has provided the motivation and skills to up my game as an educator. Looking forward: I have a new appreciation for how privileged I am to have been exposed early on to the joys of math and science, particularly as a female. I leave this experience looking to widen my impact in helping those who don’t traditionally find science appealing When people turn away from rational thought out of a misplaced fear that it’s too hard for them, it hurts us all. Considering our world’s many current problems and any possible solutions that science is able to bring to the table, none of them will be implemented unless there is buy-in from the public at large. This support will not exist unless we do a better job of teaching science and making ourselves as scientists more likable, approachable and plain old less snooty. Science teachers need to reflect the diversity of our population and we’re still a long way from making this a reality.

This I believe ...learning science is a fundamental human right. Everyone can, everyone should and if everyone could get a glimpse of the beauty and power that seeing the world as it really is affords, I have no doubt that our world would be a safer and more equal place.


Sarah Tschaen

@SarahTschaen \


The person who does the work is the only one who learns. - Harry Wong

Sarah Tschaen Sarah Tschaen is a 6th grade science and math teacher at West Ridge Elementary School. She is passionate about making science and math fun and accessible for all students. Sarah spent nine years doing just that at the Museum of Science and Industry before returning to Chicago Public Schools. She holds a BA in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame, and a Masters in Teaching from the University of Portland.

Book recommendation The First Days of School by Harry Wong is my go-to book for classroom management. I read it each August to get inspired for the coming school year and to get practical reminders about how to teach classroom expectations and routines to my students. I always recommend this book to new teachers, but believe it is a great resource for seasoned teachers as well.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: As an educator, I have spent half of my career in informal science education and half of my career in the formal classroom setting. They each have their advantages. In informal science education, I felt there was more time to develop creative, engaging programs for students, which is what I did at the Museum of Science and Industry. In the formal classroom environment, especially in an urban setting, there is so much demanded of the classroom teacher that often it feels like there is little time for thoughtful reflection or creativity. One aspect of the formal classroom I enjoy is building relationships with students. This was not part of my experience in the informal setting where we facilitated our science programs for hundreds of different students each day. As an educator, I feel I bring an excitement to the subjects of science and math and hope to light that spark for my students. Where I am now: My biggest takeaway from the MSUrbanSTEM coursework is building my own confidence in using new technologies for teaching and learning. I came into the summer institute rating myself a 2 out of 5 in terms of my tech savvy, considering myself purely a “consumer” of technologies. After eight months in the cohort, I would rate myself a 4 out of 5. I have become someone who creates products using different technologies. At the beginning of the program, I was very intimidated at the thought of building my own web site. Through the support of my team and the course instructors, I was able to successfully create a content-rich and aesthetically pleasing web site. I feel more confident “going public” with my learning and stepping into my role as a leader in STEM education.


Looking forward: I am very interested in centering my instruction around project-based learning, in a way that incorporates content across multiple disciplinary areas, particularly math, science and engineering. In my 6th grade classroom, I see the level of student engagement rise dramatically when students work in small groups on real problems. Recently, we began a project where small groups of 2-3 students are designing and building anemometers or wind vanes. The students are highly engaged in researching, sketching, discussing and building prototypes of their designs. My challenge as a teacher is to choose or create projects that hit on key learning standards in math and science while allowing student thinking and creativity to flourish. This will take time and thoughtful planning on my part. I will start this process by reading the book Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning: A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom Instruction.

This I believe ... every school year, I am given the opportunity to become a better teacher than I was the year before.


Katrina Vafakos

@katrina_vafakos \ 186

Students can Google an answer, but we must teach them to problem solve. - Deborah Wilson, Highland Park High School

Katrina Vafakos At William Howard Taft High School, Katrina Vafakos has many responsibilities. She is an Algebra District Leader, Cooperative Education Coordinator, Service Provider for Diverse Learners, Service Learning Coach, and classroom teacher for Diverse Learners in Geometry and Occupational Preparation. She has conducted Professional Development sessions with Network 1 on the incorporation of Tru Math Framework practices into the classroom. During her thirteen-year tenure at Chicago Public Schools, it has been a very fulfilling experience. After changing her career from the corporate world, Ms. Vafakos has used her experience to her advantage in incorporating real world experiences into the classroom. Her passion for giving back to the community is exhibited through the various service learning activities performed by her students. Ms. Vafakos was also featured at We Day Los Angeles and Chicago the past two years.

Book recommendation As we have been investigating the integration of STEM in our schools, it has sparked an interest in researching additional resources and concepts in this area. Awakening Your STEM School by Dr. Aaron L. Smith provided insight into transforming our school into a STEM school. In addition, it aligned with my passion to prepare our students for the world of work.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: While working on my MBA, my professor stated the following: “You should consider being a teacher.� This was my last semester in the program and I did not know how to respond. This information was tucked away and my education continued. The next degree was a Masters in Information Systems. After years of working in the corporate world, I realized the gap in preparation of high school students for the world of work. This caused me to reflect on the statement made by the professor and obtain a degree in education. Needless to say, my professor was correct. It provides an opportunity to share real world experiences and assist with the preparation of the students for the world of work. Where I am now: MSUrbanSTEM has assisted in the changing of the way I teach. As a fellow in this program and as an educator, it has opened my eyes to a new way to transfer knowledge to the students. The opportunity to collaborate with like-minded individuals has provided a safe place to transform both my thinking and methodology in teaching. Many resources and support systems has been developed to push me into maximizing all the student’s potential. Furthermore, it provided a forum to showcase what I have learned. This has assisted with me becoming a Algebra Learning Leader for the district. Through the fellowship, it has provided the platform and support for the shift to a more innovative way of teaching the students. Looking forward: The way information is presented to the students has shifted in its design. Lessons are more student-centered and creative in nature. The lessons used this past school year will be modified based knowledge gained to assist with a smooth delivery and the maintaining of rigor. Over the next year, I want to incorporate additional real world experiences for the students. Furthermore, 188

provide concrete examples of their application in the world of work. Over the next five years, I want to be able to develop a program that resembles more of a work-related mathematics rather than the traditional form that is currently being utilized. The shift will be made to prepare the students for mathematics in the world of work rather than just memorizing formulas and concepts that they cannot relate to the real world.

This I believe ‌ my goal is to create an environment for learning that encompasses real world experiences, knowledge and applications of mathematics. Students will apply knowledge learned in this method while still maintaining rigor.


Cindy Vargas-Gomez

@Cindy_VGomez \ 190

Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference - John Wooden

Cindy Vargas-Gomez Cindy Vargas-Gomez has been a CPS math teacher for 10 years and currently teaches Advanced Algebra and AP Statistics at Von Steuben High School. Prior to that, she was a software developer at a major Chicago healthcare organization. She plans to integrate STEM with Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) as a new way of teaching/learning mathematics.

Book recommendation The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children by Gloria Ladson-Billings is a result of the author following several successful teachers of African American children. The book elaborates on ideas of implementing a vision to insure all students, especially African American students, can access a top-quality education to achieve the American Dream. The book touches on social injustices, inequities, racism, and personal responsibility to change. The teachers in the book offer unique ways of successfully making a difference in their students’ lives within a major urban community. They also share personal stories, and qualities that enhance teaching with empowerment. They insist on excellence, and immersing their students in rigorous culturally relevant coursework. This book helped me realize that it is imperative for me to embrace, understand, and support cultural differences in as many ways as possible in to build better relationships with my students, their families, and community. 191

The past, the present, the future Looking back: My grandparents came to America for a better life. My grandfather taught me how hard work and education are essential to achieving the American dream. My grandmother taught me how kindness, love, and nurturing make life worth living. They inspired me to get an education so I became a software developer. After they died, I became a math teacher so I could truly make a difference! I taught at a tough high school in Chicago. Even though I grew up here, it was more difficult than I had imagined. How could I possibly get kids to a point where I could affect their attitudes toward education and life? I thought about quitting after two years. I could always go back to my old career, but I didn’t give up. I have worked hard to learn as much as I could to manage classes, to create engaging ways to reach kids, and to constantly re-invent myself. Where I am now: I was always good at trying hands on activities in mathematics, and I have often challenged my colleagues to do different activities in class instead of relying on worksheets. Coming from the business world and having a technology and financial background, I used 401ks in class as examples, we read the Wall Street Journal to analyze charts and tables, and we studied logical computer data types such as stacks to learn inverse functions. But, MSUrbanSTEM helped me take applying mathematics further. I feel like I have been empowered with legitimate authority to try things in my classes for several reasons. Not only has my department chair and another colleague gone through this program, but my administrator is very supportive of the STEM activities we try. Also, I have adopted the philosophy in my classroom that we have to learn by doing. The MSUrbanSTEM program has been a critical part of my growth and development toward becoming a master teacher, something I believe I might be able to achieve one day.


Looking forward: I have always embraced a hands-on approach to teaching and learning mathematics. Since I have been in this program, the level of creativity I have developed can be shared and continuously enhanced. I used to worry that being too creative would be considered by some as tedious or not serious enough to meet mathematical goals and standards. This program has empowered me to try new things (especially with technology), share them with others, and then tweet about them. My students and I are accomplishing a multitude of new learning goals. My classroom is an improved place that welcomes new ideas and approaches for thinking and learning. I owe it to my students to continue to provide opportunities for applying creative ideas to fully develop their thinking processes and enhance their mathematical experiences. I plan to continue engaging students with quickfires, videos, electronic portfolios and multi-modal learning to strengthen differentiated instruction.

This I believe ‌ many students learn best by trying stuff, and it does not have to be confined to mathematics only. There is significant value in teaching students anything that helps their brains grow with fascination.


Katharine Whittaker

@katietwittaker \ 194

At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel. - Maya Angelou

Katharine Whittaker Katie Whittaker is a biology teacher at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago, IL. She enjoys teaching science in an urban environment because it allows students to investigate the world around them with a new perspective. Her teaching philosophy centers around making each students’ experience personal and applicable to real-world experiences.

Book recommendation I had never used Google Classroom before, but had heard a lot from other educators who had used it. The book 50 Things to Go Further with Google Classroom: A Student-Centered Approach by Alice Keeler and Libbi Miller helped me immensely as I began incorporating peer-review and student-to-student collaboration via Google Classroom into my day-to-day teaching.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a teacher. When I was little, my mom, who is also a teacher, would take me to school with her and I would sit in the back of the room awestruck. I enjoyed everything about teaching so much that I would play school and “teach” my stuffed animals and Barbie dolls how to write in cursive – encouraging them at each step! The passion and love of learning my mom had (and still has) for teaching has inspired me to continually improve my own practices and is a huge part of why I love what I do. Where I am now: This past year has been such a gift! Prior to applying to the MSUrbanSTEM program, I was feeling exhausted and uninspired. I had taught the same curriculum for multiple years and although my students were doing well, my day-to-day teaching felt routine. MSUrbanSTEM changed all of that. During our twoweek immersion in July, I felt like I had been thrown into a pool of ice water; I felt inspired, excited, and motivated to take risks in my classroom again – something I hadn’t felt for quite a while. I remember going home (in July) and working on lesson plans (in July!), because I didn’t want to forget what I was learning. It was such an amazing two weeks and the feelings and excitement I felt was reignited each and every Saturday that we met to share stories and explore new ideas and techniques. Looking forward: My views on teaching and learning have changed so much over the course of the last year. I used to believe there were very specific modes of teaching: lecture, simulation, labs, etc.; however, MSUrbanSTEM opened my eyes to so many amazing techniques and ideas for engaging students that I had never considered before, like tech-talk hacks for incorporating technology, plickers, Dr. Know It All and Expert Panel improv games, and more 196

importantly, the idea that “technology� can be anything from Playdoh to pipe cleaners! Over the next five years, I want to conduct my classes in a way that maximizes learning, but strays slightly from the conventional. I want to transform all my lessons into studentcentered and project-based learning – truly giving students the reins to their own educational experiences.

This I believe ... teaching is more than bestowing knowledge on young minds; it is about loving, mentoring, and shaping children into the people we want them to be.


Philip Whittles

@newkin1 / 198

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and threefourths theater. - Gail Goldwin

Philip Whittles Philip Whittles has been teaching 7th grade math in Chicago Public Schools for 14 years, most recently at Portage Park Elementary School. Previously he worked at Northwest Middle School, Hawthorne Scholastic Academy, and Paderewski Elementary School. Phil is a lifelong learner with a passion for sports. He recently earned his LBS I and ESL endorsements. Prior to that, Phil became Algebra certified and originally became a teacher through an alternative certification program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he earned his M.Ed. (2005). Phil is a retired professional musician, an avid competitive golfer, a lifelong Cubs fan, and a lover of all things sports. Phil coaches chess and also enjoys watching cartoons with his wife and two young daughters.

Book recommendation I highly recommend the book Math Curse by John Scieszka. This entertainingly silly book of math poems will make any math teacher laugh, and it will provide an abundance of opportunities to bring humor into your math classroom. The poems are short and goofy, and work well as ice breakers, and help introduce new math topics. The visuals in the book are great, and both students and teachers will laugh while reading and thinking about math in a different way. Scieszka has also written a science version of the book called Science Verse, which is also a combination of content and poetry.


The past, the present, the future Looking back: I started in teaching as part of an alternative certification cohort. I had just made a career change, and had no ideas or preconceptions about what teaching would be like, save only for my own experiences as a student interacting with teachers. I never had a mentor teacher or a semester student teaching. My cohort was formed in January, and by September we were in our own classrooms in CPS. We had a coordinator who looked after all 14 of us. I remember the first day she brought us little presents, like a coffee mug and assorted classroom supplies. But by 8:45, she was gone, and it was just 32 8th graders from a low-income neighborhood on the south side and me. I didn’t become a teacher with any ideas to change the world or even to mold a few minds. My mother was a teacher, and in my past I have been a ski instructor, a golf instructor, and a guitar instructor. Through these pursuits, I found that I had a gift for explaining things to people. I would love to say I brought all sorts of values and ideals to teaching, but at the end of the day, it was just another gig to start, but one that would change my life in ways that I would never have guessed. I realized that I loved to teach kids, and was really good at it. Where I am now: This past year has invigorated me. Years of changing educational policy and an ever-changing world which was demonstratively anti-public education and anti-teacher, had left me feeling complacent, numb, and uninspired. I was going through the motions, preparing students to take tests rather than teaching them math concepts. This past year started with anxiety. I was not accepted into the MSUrbanSTEM cohort, originally, but a spot opened up later, and I got in. Right away I could tell I was surrounded by highly intelligent, creative, independent thinkers,


and I was intimidated because I felt like I didn’t belong. There was some reading to do, but it was tempered with a lot of activities, most of which incorporated technology, which was interesting to me. I gradually got my confidence, found my voice. Missy was a big help with this. I’m not sure I would have succeeded without her endless optimism. As the year has progressed, I’ve developed ideas for expanding my ImagineIT idea on my own, something I wouldn’t have even thought possible a year ago. MSUrbanSTEM has reignited my passion for teaching. Now, I’m a teacher again, curious, passionate, looking for new ways to reach my students. Looking forward: Now that I am a MSUrbanSTEMer, I feel and think optimistically about my present and future in teaching. Long term, I’d like to incorporate cutting-edge technology into my everyday teaching in math education, and create an environment where math is a subject that students look forward to more than any other! I’d like to share these ideas with other educators looking to make the same kind of impact, not just on students, but on education in general. What that technology looks like, I’m not quite sure. It starts with a paperless classroom, an interactive text that can be adapted to student interests, and the imaginations of 12-13 year-olds and myself.

This I believe … Both students and teachers can be inspired by meaningful, challenging learning experiences that combine technology, critical thinking, and problem solving.




In this photo (left to right)–Standing: Akesha Horton, Rohit Mehta, Punya Mishra, Candace Marcotte, Inese Berzina-Pitcher, Jessica Pham, Smita Swai, Gillian Seals, Chris Seals. Seated: Scott Wolf, Swati Mehta, Leigh Graves Wolf, Missy Cosby, Sonya Gunnings-Moton, Kyle Shack. Not in photo: Chessi Oetjens, Heather Johnson.


The MSUrbanSTEM Team Project directors

Dr. Sonya Gunnings-Moton, Dr. Punya Mishra, Dr. Leigh Graves Wolf

Instructional team

Dr. Punya Mishra, Missy Cosby, Dr. Akesha Horton, Candace Marcotte, Rohit Mehta, Kyle Shack

Chicago Public Schools liason Litrea Hunter

Assessment and evaluation

Chris Seals, Inese Berzina-Pitcher, Swati Mehta

Instructional and program support Swati Mehta & Inese Berzina-Pitcher

Project management and administrative support Kelly Loveless, Jessica Pham, Heather Johnson

In-house journalist Chessi Oetjens

Graphic designer Smita Sawai

Preliminary curriculum development

Dr. Michele Schira Hagerman, Andrea Zellner, Day Greenberg


Dr. Sonya Gunnings-Moton

I am Co-director of the MSUrbanSTEM project, and Assistant Dean in the College of Education at MSU. I also serve as the program director for major multi-year urban education partnership grants; and provide leadership for many urban education initiatives. I see the MSUrbanSTEM initiative as an effort that “walks the talk� of creating opportunities and access for urban learners to the growing STEM future of our world.

Dr. Leigh Graves Wolf

I am a teacher-scholar and my work centers around online education, emerging technologies, and relationships mediated by and with technology. I believe passionately in collaboration and community. I am the Co-director of the MSUrbanSTEM program and tremendously honored to be a part of it. It is a privilege to learn from the incredibly dedicated and talented teachers at CPS.

Inese Berzina-Pitcher

I am a doctoral candidate in the HALE program at Michigan State University. My work with MSUrbanSTEM project team provides me with an opportunity to support and advance the work of passionate and motivated educators both at MSU and CPS.


Litrea Hunter

I have had a long career with CPS in various capacities having to do with teacher certification, professional development and mentoring. I currently serve as the MSUrbanSTEM recruitment and sustainability coordinator.

Kelly Loveless

I am the the administrative assistant for Student Support Services and Recruitment in the College of Education. My work with the MSUrbanSTEM fellowship has entailed scheduling classrooms and accommodations, organizing the December trip to campus, and the final banquet celebration.

Chessi Oetjens

As a 21st century educator, I crave new learning seek to instill this value in my students. In MSUrbanSTEM I have the honor of curating and blogging all about the wonderful work being done by our fellows. This has renewed my energy within my own practice and strengthened my appreciation for devoted educators everywhere.


Swati Mehta

I am a Ph.D. student in the EPET program at MSU, with an interest in problem based learning and how it can help women persist in STEM fields. In this project I provide support for instruction and research. MSUrbanSTEM for me is a fresh and innovative way of thinking of PD: helping teachers explore their creativity, bringing them closer to thinking of themselves as leaders, and transforming the way they conceptualize student learning.

Smita Sawai

I am a graphic designer at the College of Education as well creative director of (a graphic and web design studio specializing in print, web and branding). In the MSUrbanSTEM project I have designed books, brochures, posters, banners, and invitations; to showcase the amazing work being done by our fellows.

Christopher Seals

I am a Ph.D. student in MSU’s EPET program and hope to have a career in applied research that impacts the success of underrepresented students. In the MSUrbanSTEM project I conduct research and take lead in preparing for conferences and publications. The MSUrbanSTEM program, to me, represents the complexities and artistry of being a teacher! We don’t tell our fellows what to do, but we encourage a mindset to approach the classroom, in new ways.


The Instructional Team

In this photo: Kyle Shack, Missy Cosby, Candace Marcotte, Akesha Horton, Rohit Mehta & Punya Mishra.


Missy Cosby @missycosby / Missy Cosby is a doctoral student at Michigan State University in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology. She also teaches high school mathematics and has 17 years of teaching experience in Okemos, Michigan. In her free time, she enjoys reading, running, watching reality television, and spending time with her family.


This has been a year of transformation, growth, and inspiration. At the heart of this transformation lies teachers willing to push themselves into unchartered waters, taking risks for the sake of their students. Whether it be flipping their classrooms, increasing student engagement, implementing a 20% Time project, having students create instructional videos, engaging in multimodal creation for learning and assessment, or focusing on grand science concepts around processes and where the water goes, these teachers have given their all because they believe in their students and care to provide the best STEM education possible. Teaching can be tremendously difficult work, especially in an atmosphere that values standardized testing over learning and curiostiy. The fellows that I’ve worked with are dedicated to their craft and investing in having their students learn, explore, create, and share. They have made me proud.

This I believe ... teachers are courageous creatures lead by curiosity, wonder, imagination, and exploration. Pushing forward without fear, they do much as expressions of love for their students.


Akesha Horton @akesha / Akesha has been an active agent in creating solutions for complex problems in various educational arenas for over 20 years. Her background in teaching, urban education, educational technology, creative pedagogies and instructional design has allowed her to support students, teachers and faculty in classrooms and outof-school urban settings across the globe.


My participation in the MSUrbanSTEM program has been one of the most rewarding educational experiences of my career. I have had the privilege of working with some of the most dedicated teachers I have ever met. All of the fellows have vividly shared how they believe in the infinite potential of their students. They have demonstrated how they see MSUrbanSTEM as an avenue to enhance their pedagogical practices in order to better serve their students. They are also anxious to share what they learn with their colleagues and initiate transformative change in their educative contexts. I am inspired by their drive, curiosity, passion for teaching and learning, dedication and resilience. I constantly learn from them and am in awe of the ideas they share through the assignments they complete as well as the conversations we have throughout the year. Thank you MSUrbanSTEM fellows and everyone who has made this fellowship program possible! I am truly appreciative of the experiences it has afforded me and am absolutely amazed at how these fellows have directly and tangentially impacted teachers and students in Chicago Public Schools. Their influence will resonate for years to come.

This I believe ... no child can fail in a classroom where their teacher sees the child as successful.


Candace Marcotte @canmarcotte / Candace is a curious learner, looking to the world to inspire her inquisitive nature. In addition to her role with MSUrbanSTEM, she is an MAET Program Coordinator at MSU. Her work in K-12 education includes teaching 6th grade science and ELA and serving as a 1:1 Technology Facilitator.


I have grown as an educator, innovator, and leader because of my involvement with MSUrbanSTEM. Being surrounded by and working so closely with the outstanding educators who make up Cohort 3, my practice is constantly evolving. I want to be better for all of the MSUrbanSTEM fellows because their work inspires me so deeply and profoundly. This has made me a more reflective practitioner who takes risks and challenges what we have come to know as adult learning. I cannot help but to think daily of the incredible teaching and learning happening in their classrooms because it is that powerful. This has ignited a spark to help educators embrace their amazing teaching moments because we often don’t celebrate our work enough. To the fellows, thank you for letting me be a part of your life over the past year, please know that we’re here for you in the years to come.

This I believe ... when we take a moment to see the world through a child’s eyes, it unlocks a world of imagination, creativity, curiosity, and awe that helps us engage our students in learning and reminds us to continue to ask, “Why?”


Rohit Mehta @rohitmeta / Rohit is a doctoral candidate in educational psychology and educational technology at Michigan State University. His research focuses on using multiple ways of meaning-making and representation that are inclusive of different cultures and backgrounds. He loves jumping across disciplines and playing with science as much as art.


During my brief stint as a teacher in India, for the first time, I realized the sense of responsibility that comes with teaching. While working with our fellows in Chicago, I experienced--through their stories--the weight the word responsibility carries with it. Having peeked into their lives, I understand the value of empathizing with students who come from diverse backgrounds and cultures. I understand now the value of practicing pedagogies that center on students’ lives inside and outside of school, their experiences with their world, their journeys, and their adventures. I understand what we think as researchers and educators as the right thing to do is contingent upon what our students experience. It is futile to create a rigid world of “school� if it does not make sense to our students.

This I believe ... children have a natural sense of curiosity that needs to be nurtured in schools through critical thinking and scientific inquiry. Loving science for the sake of science is a wonderful perspective to have.


Punya Mishra @punyamishra / Punya Mishra is Associate Dean of Scholarship & Innovation at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. His research has focused on the role of technology in teaching, teacher knowledge, creativity and design. He is also an accomplished visual artist and poet whose work has been featured in international design magazines and websites.


The MSUrbanSTEM project has truly been the most amazing and powerful educational experience I have been part of in over 25 years of working in the field of education. In some ways I see this project as being the culmination of years of exploration and work that I have been involved. In large part, this is because of the wonderful team I am privileged to work with: in leadership (Sonya and Leigh); instruction (all the people in this section); research (Chris and Inese); and support (Swati, Jessica, Heather & Kelly). But most importantly the reason this project means so much to me is because of our fellows. Their stories, their enthusiasm, their energy, and their passion to do right by their students is both humbling and inspiring. They have given meaning to my life, way beyond I could have anticipated.

This I believe ... attempt the absurd to achieve the impossible. (with apologies to M.C. Escher)


Kyle Shack @ShackKyle / Kyle Shack is a social studies teacher at Allegan Alternative High School in Allegan, MI. Prior to his time in Allegan, Kyle taught high school social studies in Chicago, IL and completed his Master of Arts in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. Kyle’s focus is the development of authentic and engaging educational experiences for high-risk student populations.


The opportunity to serve as an instructor with the MSUrbanSTEM project has had a profound impact on me as a teacher and on my classroom. The dedication, energy and passion exhibited by the fellows serves as a constant force of motivation for me to provide an unrivaled educational experience to my students. Throughout this year I have been immersed in a constant dialogue with teachers who exhibit the traits all parents wish for in their child’s educator. Whether it be the pursuit of a new curriculum initiative, or the courage to fail forward with their class, each fellow has demonstrated the best qualities in a lead learner. This has allowed me to absorb and spread these ideas through my own instruction, and further transform who I am and the way I teach.

This I believe ... All students have the opportunity to change the world, and it is the responsibility of teachers to provide them the necessary tools.




There is no real ending. It is just the place where you stop the story - Frank Herbert