This blog was written by:
USDLA Chair Emerita
Madison Kingsford always envisioned going into science, but not necessarily teaching. Both of her parents have medical careers – Madison at first thought she would be a pharmacist, but quickly changed to microbiology in college. While in college, she started tutoring other students and realized she really loved helping other students appreciate science. She decided then that she would teach and has now been teaching for five years, all of it online. You see, Madison has never taught in a “bricks and mortar” setting, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
When Madison graduated and started looking for a job, she didn’t have to look far. Mountain Heights Academy is a tuition-free, online public charter school. It is also “the most highly rated accredited online charter school in Utah for its high standardized test scores, unparalleled teacher interaction, graduation rate, and personalized instruction.” Further, Mountain Heights is an Open Educational Resources (OER) school, meaning the teachers do a lot of the course writing, but they are encouraged to look at OERs wherever possible. Madison teaches 8th grade science and 11th grade forensics, and spends a lot of time looking at OER materials. It was through her searching that she discovered other technologies to incorporate into her courses.
Madison’s courses are lively, engaging, and highly interactive. She uses Google apps and her students do a lot of chatting in Google Hangout. As she pointed out to me, some students really don’t like video-based chat applications because they are uncomfortable with the face-to-face aspect. Those students prefer to communicate by typing and emailing instead. Madison says one of the strong points of being online is to feel less intimidated, and she definitely sees this with her students. She also holds office hours, gives assignments in Google Docs so she can provide direct feedback, gives group projects, and encourages the use of study groups. Students can set up their own groups with Bb Collaborate, or they can go to a Google Hangout. A lot of the kids attend the study groups just so they can see each other and expand their social interaction. Madison firmly believes that the online environment can be just as engaging as face-to-face if one understands how to take advantage of available technologies.
Mountain Heights is south of Salt Lake City, and although any student in Utah can enroll there, most students live within an hour or two of the school. The school provides school clubs, both in person and online. The optional face-to-face activities are generally well-received, and many students complete their entire K-12 education at Mountain Heights. This gives teachers like Madison the opportunity to watch their students advance just like they would in a traditional school setting. Graduation is a grand event and most students attend with their families.
Madison has specific goals for using technology in her classrooms and with her students. She hopes her students become comfortable with technology, so by the time they finish her class they are used to it. She tries to take the “fear” out of technology, and pushes her students to try everything she puts in front of them. From a science perspective, she wants her students to be science literate. She is very concerned how people in society find things on the Internet and think they are automatically true. Her teaching of science extends from the platform. Students (people) need to know how to look at the claims people make and debunk them if necessary using evidence and data. She wants her students to know the difference between truth and falsehood, and be prepared to confirm whether or not something is accurate.
Finally, service learning is a big part of Mountain Heights Academy. In Madison’s courses, she uses Zooniverse (www.zooniverse.org). Zooniverse is a public site that provides options for people-powered, crowd-sourcing research. Her students can see images of penguins where they live, tag them, and enter data about them. It’s exciting for the students and for her, the students feel like real contributors, and best of all, it’s free! Recycling is another project for her students. Did you know you can recycle online? Madison works with TerraCycle (www.terracycle.com), a company that takes waste normally not recyclable and makes it into projects. Her students collect cereal bags, toothpaste tubes, deodorant, etc., and they send them to TerraCycle at the end of the year. Another exciting, hands-on way to demonstrate science while learning about service.
It’s easy to see why Madison received a 2017 USDLA Excellence in Teaching/Training Award this past spring in Indianapolis. She’s passionate about science, passionate about online and technology-enabled learning, and most of all, passionate about her students. Congratulations again to Madison for this well-deserved recognition!
Be sure to attend the 2018 USDLA Annual Conference to see who wins next year! Better yet, submit your own nomination!