Questioning, exploring and challenging with technology

July 13, 2016

Jen Lewin headshotBy Jen Lewin 

Jen Lewin is a middle school science teacher at Coonley Elementary in the Chicago Public Schools. She has spent the last nine years in education striving to be a better scientist, educator and all around nerd. When she’s not in the classroom, she can be observed “in the wild” splitting her time in the city and out in nature.

Since the summer of 2014, I have been working as a Spartan.

I choose this word in particular because I remember the day I met Professor Punya Mishra, Assistant Dean Sonya Gunnings-Moton and the Michigan State University team. I was accepted into the first cohort of teachers for the MSU-Wipro Urban STEM & Leadership Fellowship and immediately knew that the program would be a renaissance for my pedagogy. The enthusiasm the MSU team shared with our cohort was inspirational. It was clear that the program was, from inception, dedicated to revolutionizing teacher professional development in a district that so desperately needed it. Even just the idea of working with a group of colleagues that could inspire me and take my own learning to a new level was exciting. Little did I know the wild ride I was in for.

As a professional development leader myself, I was in awe of the planning and effort that went into ensuring the success of each individual teacher involved. Each teacher was selected based on their desire to improve themselves professionally and personally. I was among friends and felt like I finally found what I had been searching for. We questioned, we explored, we challenged each other and were challenged by dedicated professionals who wanted to share their passion for education. We were pushed to new limits and were treated with respect and candor that embraced how difficult our job is while simultaneously showing us that we were capable of more than we’re normally given credit for.

Part of my decision to become an educator lies with the ability to commit to lifelong learning. When the program ended, my connection to MSU didn’t have to end, nor did the connection to the wonderful educators I appreciated learning from. We reclaimed social media for its original purpose of collaboration and communication and I was able to see my new friends continue their success after our formal fellowship ended.

Transformative technology in teaching 

Lewin working with other members of the first cohort of the MSU-Wipro Fellowship.

Lewin working with other members of the first cohort of the MSU-Wipro Fellowship.

In addition to my joy in listening to the witty banter between Sonya and Punya, I worked closely with Candace Marcotte, Kyle Shack, Akesha Horton and Leigh Graves Wolf—many of whom are products of the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program at MSU. The success they found within and after their individual experiences led me to pursue my second master’s degree with the MAET. I have always found myself to be a tried and true scientist with a hobby in technology. It wasn’t until the MSU-Wipro Fellowship that I truly saw how transformative technology could be within my own teaching. I truly feel like I can call myself a teacher of technology because I have built on the principles and fundamentals of what it actually takes to bring technology to the classroom.

Throughout my nine years in education, I have explored almost every professional development in science almost to the point of exhaustion. Focusing on the T-E-M in STEM allowed me to access new avenues within science education. I learned how to use technology to enhance my teaching, not replace it. I was exposed to technology tools and have since incorporated innovations like Makey-Makey, littleBits and the maker movement into my curriculum. My co-worker, who was accepted for the second MSU-Wipro Fellowship cohort, continued to bring ideas to school like using Ozobot Bits to program math challenges in the classroom. I’ll proudly admit that I have been known to surf the Facebook page, Twitter feeds and MSU website dedicated to the second cohort of the MSU-Wipro Fellowship. I continue to learn and am thoroughly enjoying the process.

I continue in my second year of the MAET program reinforcing the parallels I experienced with the MSU-Wipro Fellowship. I have become more proficient with web-based, Mac and PC tools I avoided before, but also making sure I allow my students to unplug (and not just because the Internet is down!). I am faster and more confident in my abilities and still continue to keep up with the technology learning curve. Most of all, I know I always have resources at my fingertips and colleagues to collaborate with regardless of where I reside or where they reside. The MSU family is far reaching due to their successful blended learning opportunities and I am grateful to be a part of it.

On the web

Learn more about the MSU-Wipro Urban STEM & Leadership Fellowship.

Follow Lewin on Twitter: @carcharhinid

Catch more of Lewin’s work and musings on her website.