Educators That Rock!: Shannon McClintock Miller
Shannon McClintock Miller is the district teacher librarian and technology coordinator at the Van Meter Community School in Van Meter, Iowa. In addition to teaching students and teachers about social media and emerging technologies, she is a sponsor for the National Honor Society (NHS) program, and a wife, mother and artist.
Miller spoke to us about how student voices are transforming education, how her students are taking advantage of their 1:1 laptop ratio and the many ways students and faculty are meeting Van Meter’s mission to “think, lead and serve” in their school and their community.
“I feel that Web 2.0 and these new ways to communicate using technology are two of the main ingredients that are transforming education,” Miller said. “We have laptops, but they’re just tools. What’s changed is the way that we’re thinking and the way that we’re teaching.”
fE: What made you choose to become a teacher librarian?
SMM: I always had a love for the library. My mom was a teacher until I was born, so we had a great collection. And my sister Heather and I would play library for HOURS. I share a lot of my old books with my students, and I show them my little cards in the front that Heather and I made up.
I went to college (Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa) and I majored in elementary education and art and design. After I graduated from college, I stayed home to raise our three children (ages 15, 13 and 4) for 13 years.
I just started teaching in the last three years. When this job opened, because of my art background and my elementary education background, it was the perfect fit. I teach at my kids’ school because that’s my number one job: being a mom and wife.
I also started back to school right away—because in Iowa you have to have a master’s in library science—and I won a couple different scholarships and awards. I graduate in May.
fE: At your school, every student has his or her own laptop and access to their laptops 24/7. What impact has this had on students?
SMM: The7th- through 12th-graders were given MacBooks at the beginning of the school year in August. Next year we’re hoping to bring them to lower grades.
For about a week or maybe less than that, there was hype. Now to them it’s just like a pencil or a piece of paper. We have laptops, but they’re just tools. What’s changed is the way that we’re thinking and the way that we’re teaching.
Last night, my daughter was saying to me, “It doesn’t seem like as many kids have gotten in trouble this year.” And I see that, too. Maybe it’s because teachers aren’t always standing in front of the room, telling students what to do. We’re asking them to be creative, and we’re asking them to be the teachers… and I think it makes a huge difference in how they’ll grow up and find their passion.
We not only have 1:1 laptops, we also have a virtual reality room through a partnership with Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The system was donated by a college in Maine. There are only two schools on the whole planet that have both a 1:1 laptop ratio and a virtual reality system.
fE: On Jan. 28, some of your students spoke before the Iowa legislature about education. What can you tell me about that experience?
SMM: We brought a group of kids and they spoke about educational reform. We have a fifth-grader who has a blog, and she got up and spoke. I was back in Van Meter providing a backchannel, a real-time online conversation and resources to the hundreds of people around the world following #vanmeter that day on Twitter. Sandra Dop, who works for the Iowa Department of Education, wrote about it on her blog, Next Generation Schools. After the kids spoke, the legislature said, “So what can we do to get out of your way and let you go?”
That was a huge turning point not only for Van Meter and Iowa, but also for education. If we just talk about our ideas for reforming education, I think people are willing to listen.
fE: Tell me about Van Meter’s Great Strides Project.
It only takes $260 dollars for a set of casts to be made to cure a child with clubfoot. We raised over $8,000 through a program at the University of Iowa called the Ponseti Project, and so we helped dozens of kids walk.
fE: Are your students doing any other projects that involve them with the community?
SMM: I found out about this program called the King Dreamers where students adopt kids when they’re in first grade at King Elementary—a low-income school in the inner city of Des Moines—and they work with them until they’re seniors. My NHS students visited at Christmas, and they’re going at the end of this week to make books to send to kids in Africa for Books of Hope. (Story update: watch a YouTube video of this visit.)
fE: Describe the experience you had with the YouTellYou project.
SMM: YouTellYou is kind of like an online scrapbook. And these scrapbooks are housed on a site with the pages of everybody else that has contributed to it. A couple weeks ago, I tweeted about it and the founder, Ruggero Domenichini, emailed me. I asked him if he would teach my technology and information literacy class. And last Thursday, we Skyped him in from New Zealand and he taught my seventh-graders about YouTellYou. [Skype is an application that lets users make voice calls on the Internet, and also allows video conferencing.]
First he talked about his background and how he developed the tool. Then he told the kids how to sign up for an account and how to add their pictures and text. My kids wrote about the blizzard the week before or maybe what sport they were in. When they were finished, we sent him our pages and he sent comments back.
Our principal, Deron Durflinger, superintendent John Carver and myself also got in touch with the people at FreshBrain [a site for teens to explore technology]. They are going to develop a curriculum for the Virtual Reality program with students from East Marshall School in Marshalltown, Iowa. The curriculum is very self-directed. Dale Ferrario, the CEO, is coming for a visit this spring.
fE: You mentioned earlier that sometimes you let the students teach. How does that work?
SMM: Yesterday I had a junior who is very good at Prezi (a Web 2.0 presentation tool) teach my seventh-graders how to create them. They’re so receptive to kids teaching them. So I try to do that a lot.
About a month ago, we started a group called C.E.W.L. (Computer Efficiency Workers League). It’s kind of like our Geek Squad. One student, Michael, is only in seventh grade but he can fix almost anything on a teacher’s computer. If I’m busy, I just iChat Michael or one of the other C.E.W.L. kids and say, “If you’re not busy, can you come to the library or the teacher’s classroom?”
It’s so empowering. At Van Meter, we’re teaching them to think, lead and serve. That’s our mission.
fE: Do you ever have problems with different patrons disagreeing with your selection of books?
SMM: I haven’t had any disagreements in the high school library. I’ve had a couple parents of elementary school students bring books to my attention. The other day, a fifth-grader wanted to read “A Child Called It.” So I just e-mailed the parent and asked and she said, “Yes, we’ve been talking about that book. Can you please check it out for my child?” It’s all about communication.
If someone says, “I’m looking for this book and you don’t have it,” I’ll go to Barnes & Noble and buy the book right away. I even let the student who requested the book read it before I process it. I’m also good friends with this little gal there named Penny. I’ll e-mail her, and she’ll even bring books out to Van Meter. We’re a small school and there’s just a different kind of trust and feel.
fE: You have profiles on a lot of networks: Ning, Diigo, Twitter, Facebook and more. How do you keep up with it all?
SMM: I kind of like to network. Each morning I get a list of links that are from my groups. I belong to at least 12. I send out tweets and bookmark them in my Diigo folders. Sometimes it only takes 15 minutes. Throughout the day, I try to keep up with my Twitter, Skype and e-mail. After work, I try to get my family things done first. So when people see me online late at night, it’s my time for me, my way to relax and learn new things.
It’s funny because you think back to when you were little—I just remember a librarian as a lady sitting behind a desk. And I’m never sitting behind a desk.
Shannon McClintock Miller’s Favorite Sites:
Google Reader: Shannon’s shared items
Free Technology for Teachers
Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day
Van Meter Think Lead and Serve
#Vanmeter Schools Transforming the Educational System
School Library Journal
Diigo: Shannon McClintock Miller’s Public Library