This week’s Illinois Virtual School Teacher Spotlight is Jennifer Smith. Ms. Smith earned her bachelor and master’s degrees in Education from Eastern Illinois University. She then went on to Illinois State University and earned a Master of Science in English. Ms. Smith has also earned a Master of Science in Teacher Leadership at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Jennifer teaches several courses from the IVS Middle School Catalog, including: 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Language Arts, Middle School Ancient History, Middle School US History, and Middle School Civics.
Ms. Smith also teaches at a face-to-face school where she is in charge of the makerspace and 8th grade science club. A couple years ago, Jennifer approached her school about the possibility of opening a makerspace, and they agreed. Ms. Smith’s school provided the funding to purchase a variety of high tech and low tech equipment to begin the space. The space includes 3D printers, a 3D scanner, Lego Mindstorms, Snap Circuits, hand tools, a sewing machine, a Cricut, and other various materials. The makerspace serves students in grades 6-8 at her local school. The workshop is open daily during school and after school one afternoon a week. Ms. Smith also tries to open the space periodically over the summer. As the coordinator for the makerspace, Jennifer is in charge of maintaining equipment, writing grants for new equipment, supervising the space during open lab times, and developing projects and activities for students to complete.
When Jennifer is not teaching courses, taking courses, or writing curriculum, she also enjoys reading. She has a seven year old and a nine year old who keep her very busy playing board games, reading, and making crafts.
Ms. Smith recently sat down and answered a few questions for IVS:
IVS: Why did you decide to begin teaching online?
JS: In my face to face school I was transferred from teaching language arts to teaching science. I really missed teaching language arts, so I applied to teach it online.
IVS: What aspects about the online teaching and learning environment do you appreciate the most and why?
JS: I appreciate the opportunity to teach students from around the state because it gives me an opportunity to learn more about students and the best ways to help them learn.
IVS: In what ways do you interact and get to know your students?
JS: I am able to interact with my students through discussion boards and learn more about them from the stories they write in class.
IVS: What benefits exist for students when taking an online course?
JS: Online courses are helpful for students because students may access information at a time and in a location that works best for them.
IVS: What strategies do you use to keep your students motivated and engaged?
JS: I try to send positive email to students who are doing well, to keep them motivated. I also email students who may be struggling, to see how I can best help them.
IVS: What advice may you offer to students who are not sure if the online environment is a proper fit for them?
JS: I recommend that students honestly evaluate their independence as a learner and their ability to focus and stay on task while working online.
IVS: How have you grown professionally through your online teaching experience?
JS: My online teaching experience has helped me to learn how to give more specific written feedback and how to better anticipate student concerns/difficulties on assignments.
IVS: Why is IVS a special place to be a part of?
JS: IVS is special because it brings teachers and students together from around the state.
IVS: What is your favorite assignment or unit of study to teach students?
JS: My favorite assignments are the ones that ask students to authentically apply their learning to a current experience in their lives.