All posts by Ed Cook

IVS Teacher Spotlight: Bonita Walker-Jones

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This week’s IVS Teacher Spotlight is Bonita Walker-Jones.

Ms. Walker Jones holds a BS in Computer Science from Roosevelt University, an MS in Secondary Education from DePaul University, and has taken Post-Grad courses at Walden University in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. Ms. Walker-Jones is a movie buff who “binge watches streaming series”. She is also a Jazz Aficionado.


Ms. Walker-Jones recently answered a few questions from IVS, and shared her thoughts on online education.

IVS: Tell us about yourself.

BWJ: I am a mother of 4, grandmother of 8, and great-grandmother of 11, who refuses to retire from teaching, and I’m a lifelong learner. Staying in contact with the younger generation gives me energy and inspiration. I enjoy traveling and spending time with family learning the latest dances and listening to their perspectives on the current issues in the news. As a jazz-lover, when I am not watching movies or streaming series, I listen to music. Sometimes both at the same time and I attend live jazz events as often as possible. My future goal is to go on a jazz cruise.


IVS: Why did you decide to begin teaching online?

BWJ: As a computer science major, using technology to teach was the only strategy I ever wanted to use in the classroom. Working as a computer operator and programmer for 20 years before going into education, to meld technology and education together was inevitable. The computer lab was my first classroom, so I taught:  Keyboarding and Microsoft Office skills, Animation, Computer Technician certification, and Cisco Networking certification.

In 2001, Dr. Sandy Atols walked into my computer lab and asked if I wanted to pilot online classes for Chicago Public Schools.  I jumped at the chance. I started with five students taking credit recovery classes during their lunch period and grew it to four sessions during lunch periods and two sections after school that increased the graduation rate at my school.  In 2005, I took the next step and applied to teach English classes. In 2007, Dr. Atols and I created the first Chicago Public School offering one-to-one laptops to facilitate blended learning. It was called Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment (V.O.I.S.E.). We used online learning in the classroom to allow students to work at their own pace and for new teachers to learn how to incorporate technology in teaching and learning.

At V.O.I.S.E, I used online resources to develop curriculum, instruction, and assessments for all our courses that vendors were not offering at the time. I created and taught Broadcast Journalism, College/Career Prep, Senior Seminar, Reading and Writing Workshop, African American History and English classes using multimedia. In 2016, when CPS closed V.OI.S.E., I retired from the classroom, yet I wanted to continue teaching using technology as the medium of choice.


IVS: What aspects about the online teaching and learning environment do you appreciate the most and why?

BWJ: Allowing students to learn at their own pace, anytime,  any place, using multiple digital devices, I believe is the essential aspect of online learning. There are four elements of online education I appreciate. The ability to deliver content, lessons, and activities using teaching strategies that meet the needs of the students with multiple learning styles. The option to offer assessments to diverse learners to evaluate competency skills. A source to provide educational opportunities to students who cannot attend schools for multiple reasons and for schools to augment course offerings.


IVS: In what ways do you interact and get to know your students? How does this compare to your experience teaching a brick-and-mortar course?

BWJ: The first assignments in the course provide several opportunities to develop teacher-student relationships. When students post their responses in the student lounge, I try to connect to their interests, activities, or hobbies by sharing personal experiences. I quell the concerns of students new to online learning by letting them know I am available via text, FaceTime, or phone call while they are working in the class up to 10:00 p.m. When students send the introduction text, I text back immediately to prove I am here for them. When necessary, I reach out and partner with parents to motivate and encourage struggling students. When communicating with students, I relate to what they are going through by using positive statements that build self-esteem, self-discipline, and self-motivation to offer ownership of their learning.  

When comparing online course interaction opportunities to brick-and-mortar course interactions, is the time teachers have to work with students. One-to-one communications in f2f classes are hard to schedule due to student and teacher schedules. Working one-to-one with students in the classroom while they are working on assignments is minimal due to the number of students and the amount of time during the class session.  

In Chicago Public Schools, teachers and students are not allowed to exchange cell phone numbers, and communications outside of school are only allowed through the parents. Giving too much attention to a particular student’s interests, activities, and hobbies would be considered questionable by other students, colleagues, and administration.


IVS: What benefits exist for students when taking an online course?

BWJ: The critical benefit I hear lately from my online students is the opportunity to pursue their talents and interests while continuing their education.  Over the years, some of my online learners were: training for the Olympics or other sports meets, training and performing ballerinas, working missionary-teacher in Africa, traveling with parents around the world, visiting students from other countries, competing equestrians, and working-on-site movie stars. Finishing several classes within a semester to graduate high school early, are becoming very common for gifted students to attend college or schools to advance their talents.

For struggling students, online courses provide the opportunity to make up credits to graduate on time, receive more one-to-one help, or improve grade point averages for college entrance. Learning at your own pace benefits students with medical issues to continue their education until they can return to the classroom. Homeschoolers benefit from online courses because the curriculum aligns with Common Core Learning Standards and high school course requirements. Over the years, several of my online learners were non-verbal autistic students and young adults struggling with extreme psychological challenges. I believe online education will continue to benefit these specific diverse learners.






IVS Teacher Spotlight – Jennifer Smith

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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.



IVS Teacher Spotlight – Brenda Elvers


This week’s Illinois Virtual School Teacher Spotlight is Brenda Elvers. Brenda teaches Civics and Intro to Sociology at IVS. She attended Ball State University and The University of Illinois at Springfield. Brenda’s hobbies include: exercising, spending time with her family, hiking, and watching her sons play baseball. Brenda is a wife, mom, teacher, and counselor. She takes all of her roles to heart, and is honored to fulfill them to the best of her ability.

Brenda recently sat down and answered a few questions for IVS.

IVS: Why did you decide to start teaching online?

BE: I have been in education for over 25 years and truly enjoy and value my time in this career and field of service. Being in education for this length of time, I have also watched education evolve and I wanted to be sure to move with the times.


IVS: What aspects about the online teaching and learning environment do you appreciate the most, and why?

BE: I truly enjoy getting to know my students virtually. Through the work that my students turn in, the conversations that we have via emails, responses back-and-forth on assignments, and conversations on the phone, I get to know my students rather well. It is nice NOT to have the barriers of everyday guidelines that must be followed for the brick-and-mortar school to function properly.


IVS: In what ways do you interact and get to know your students? How does this compare to your experience teaching a brick-and-mortar course?

BE: I get to know my students well by reading their responses to assignments, reading their discussion board dialogue, and corresponding via emails. Students also text and call me when they have questions for which they may need an immediate response.


IVS: What benefits exist for students when taking an online course?

BE: Online courses offer many benefits! 1) FREEDOM – freedom to complete daily assignments on your time at your convenience. 2) Work at a faster pace completing early or work at a slower pace completing a little at a time. 3) opportunity to meet students form other parts of ours state. 4) Opportunity to be YOU, freely.


IVS: What advice may you offer to students who are not sure if the online environment is a proper fit for them?

BE: Self-discipline is very important, OR the willingness to grow and mature in the area of self-discipline. If you are a self-starter and great manager of your own time, you will move along the course nicely. Self-discipline is important in life, so if you are open and willing to grow in this area, then taking an online course would be valuable. You will be learning and academic course along with exercising and developing self-discipline with the assistance of your online teacher.


IVS: How have you grown professionally through your online teaching experience?

BE: Stepping into online education has been a wonderful experience! I have grown professionally as I have learned to simply use my talents in a new platform. I am still the same teacher; I have simply tweaked and altered my presentation so that it reaches my students.


IVS: Why is IVS a special place to be a part of?

BE: IVS is a community that is so incredibly welcoming! IVS wants their teachers and students to be successful. If there is an issue at hand that is hindering the education process, all hands are ‘on deck’ to help the teacher and/or the student so that success can be reached. IVS is a community that always strives to BE BETTER!