From MSU to the “Olympics of Teaching”

January 31, 2013

DSC_8290Last year, MSU teaching intern Alexandra Beels spent a lot of time visiting BOB — the Basic Observation Buoy. Floating in Lake Erie or Lake St. Clair, BOB took water quality measurements every hour and, once or twice a week, Beels and seventh graders from Harper Woods Middle School near Detroit waded out to recalibrate his sensors.

BOB, BIF — a Basic Information Flotation device that monitors water pollutants — and a host of related hands-on activities became part of a yearlong project focused on environmental stewardship that was led by Beels and her mentor, former Michigan Teacher of the Year June Teisan. Together, they showcased their innovative efforts to teach science to urban youth during the Microsoft Partners in Learning forum attended by 100 educators in Seattle last summer. Then, as one of just 11 teams selected to win awards at the U.S. event, Beels and Teisan were invited to attend the program’s Global Forum in Prague in November. The forums highlight the world’s most creative uses of technology to transform learning.

“It honestly felt like a dream to be surrounded by so many talented educators that supported one another and were genuinely interested in our project,” said Beels, a secondary education (biology) graduate from St. Clair Shores, Mich. “Being able to collaborate with people from around the globe … for seventh-graders, I think that’s absolutely amazing. We really helped them understand how anybody at any age can be a scientist.”

A full-time intern with Teisan now, Beels actually had to delay her MSU teaching internship for one year because she didn’t pass the required Michigan Test for Teacher Certification (MTTC) on time — by two questions. Teisan, who was looking for strong intern candidates, had already met Beels and begun talking about the year ahead. The two women clicked.

Beels3“My heart was broken for her but I saw the potential for a beneficial partnership,” Teisan said. So she asked Beels to help with the new grant-funded water project getting underway the following fall in Future Think, a class for high-achieving students at Harper Woods. “When our students hit a wall, we have to help them climb over the wall, and I think that’s what Alex and I ended up doing together when it was her wall to climb.”

Beels worked closely with Teisan and the Future Think group throughout the year, thinking through lesson plans, arranging BOB visits and even helping students win three national competitions — and a $10,000 prize! Meanwhile, Beels passed the MTTC and secured a long-term substitute teaching position in Fraser Public Schools.

Now Beels is in the classroom with Teisan every day, working on her final semester in the MSU teacher preparation program and dreaming up unusual, community-based learning experiences for her own future students.

“I don’t know why she picked me … She is a blessing in my life,” she said. “I have heard, ‘You are only a student teacher and you already set the bar this high. What are you going to do next’? I’ll be able to take what I’ve learned and apply it to bigger, better things down the road.”

Teisan is now working with Future Think students on a project focused on infusing art into science, technology, engineering and math which she calls STEAM through the Detroit Institute of Arts and the murals of Diego Rivera. MSU teaching intern, Kelly Herberholz, is assisting.