Jennifer Miller has touched a lot of lives…..Jennifer Miller is a ball of fire…Jennifer Miller is me on steroids! Oh, how my English teachers would hate that objective me being used where a nominative I should be!
This past week, I sat down with Dublin’s Jennifer Horner Miller, who is one of the most unbelievable people I know, and I asked her to tell me her story so that I can share it with you. Before I even begin, I will tell you that my bottom line on Jennifer is that Dublin, Texas is darned fortunate to have her!
So how does one go from being a young girl named Jennifer to working hand in hand on projects with NASA?
“I actually began working with children at a very early age because my first job was teaching swimming lessons. From that first experience with teaching, I knew I wanted to be an educator, and I knew that I wanted to be the kind of educator who changed the world!” the feisty little Dublin ISD teacher/technology coordinator told me.
Then Jennifer went to college at Tarleton State University.
“The internet began my freshman year of college. I was very interested in history, technology, music, and science. I also had a strong passion for Native American history because of my family background and genealogy. AND…I knew that I wanted to be a teacher on the high school level
“I also came into college with very strong research skills. I had competed in debate at Stephenville High School, and I had a teacher and coach who demanded those skills. I knew that the odds of my getting a job teaching social studies in this part of the state were slim, and there was a brand new field called computer science and business that was just opening up. A young teacher with a degree in that field could actually earn a stipend for teaching computer science so, of course, I decided to earn that degree! I was the only student in my class who graduated with a degree in computer science…and the field was wide open.”
While doing her student teaching, Jennifer received the Robert H. Elliott Memorial Award, an award Tarleton gives to its student teacher of the year. She immediately was snapped up by Weatherford High School where she taught computer courses: database design and marketing.
“I set up a Microsoft testing center there in 2000-2001. This was a totally new field, and we had kids who competed on the state level in leadership contests and computer contests, and they won! Three actually competed on the national level.”
“All of the other students were from other countries. There was one other female, and she was from India. It was at that point that I really began to understand that this was a field in high demand, and that students in Texas were not prepared for worldwide technology and globalization. I also came to realize that there is a huge population in the world who want to take courses that we in Texas take for granted.
“I wanted to help Texans be a bit more grateful for what we have, to encourage them to raise the bar and realize that the world is changing. I also wanted to figure out a way to tie this into public service in our communities and in our museums, thus teaching entire communities about globalization so that we in this country do not lose our competitive edge.”
While working on her MA at Tarleton, Jennifer developed a research thesis that discussed ways to enhance grades K-12, to increase globalization. In other words, how can we use technology as a means of becoming more global?
“And that is where I found my calling.”
Jennifer Miller received her MA Degree in 2008 after having been with Dublin ISD since 2004. In 2010, and with a lot of help from then assistant superintendent Dr. Rodney Schneider, the school received the Texas Education Agency Connections Grant.
“My job changed with that grant. It was really hard to do, but I had to leave my own classroom for the privilege of going into classrooms at all levels so that I could train teachers on how they could integrate technology into their classrooms.
“Then we moved that knowledge to the community and especially to the museum.”
I won’t go into it all here, but I have seen the results of Dublin ISD students’ work at the museum, and am completely impressed with it!
Jennifer Miller’s story does not end here, however.
“I happened to be on social media one night in an online chat about global education and I received an opportunity to apply for a chance to write curriculum globally for NASA. These would be for lessons for middle school students that integrated technology into the lessons.
“I was accepted! My team consisted of three people, and we wrote curriculum. It was difficult because we couldn’t follow state standards because these were global lessons. I took the museum idea because I thought that I could pilot it along with all we were doing in Dublin.
“Believe it or not, this was the product chosen by NASA to publish and utilize with that particular mission.”
Then Dublin ISD received a $90,000 grant to pilot a program called STEAM: Science Technology Engineering the Arts in Mathematics.
“STEAM works especially well for visual learners and especially for those for whom the language is a hindrance. The STEAM camp was very successful and led to our starting an after school robotics program the next year. Then, in another camp we were able to use fabrication printers so that students could learn about alternative energy…working with NASA all the way.
“NOW we are challenging students around the world…they are introduced to a topic like solar energy and after they are familiar with the topic, they create a learning object (a reflection) and then they share with a wider audience. They might post photos of their reflection online, or blog about it, or share the artifact with a museum.
“The last thing we did was a museum exhibit like a science fair where students serve as a research scientist in one of four ways.
1. Artist (in any art)
2. Engineer (build things)
3. Scientist (experiment)
4. Journalist (write or blog)
“This introduces students to a career pathway. Students learn how to create, and that is what has always made for a strong economy in this country. This is also the answer for why art is so important. If you can use technology to capture what kids are doing, this gives a reason for technology. Being able to communicate with your local and global community is a tremendous skill.
“Like it or not, the days of using nothing but a Big Chief tablet is over. Using a computer is a fact of life…even if I decide to work at Walmart…I have to be able to use a computer.”
And then Jennifer Miller told me something that I did not know, something that scares me quite lot actually, something that should jolt you as well. The acronym is MOOC, and it is brand new to the world: Massive Open Online Courses, a program designed to help third world countries become more educated.
So how does MOOC work?
For the first time in the history of the world, every university in this country, including the majors like Harvard and MIT offer (for $6,000) a certificate for completing their MOOC. This means that what “we” know will now be what “they” know. The only difference is that they want it a lot more than we do…my words, not Jennifer’s.
And before I close, I want to go back to where we began…computer science. Did you know that today only 2% of Texas high school students will take a computer science course? Did you know that computer science is not a required course in Texas schools?
And yet, the top jobs in the country are in computer science, which means that we are having to recruit those people to come to this country to fill those jobs, something that should make all of our blood run cold.
“This is a huge issue…right on down the line to national security. Something has to be done, and I would like to be a part of that. The rest of the world is learning, and for the first time, they have access to the same content that we have and ignore.
“I want to change the world by challenging students to create and participate, not be passive users of online content. I want them to become producers of that content, not just consumers or soon we will have a population that cannot compete globally.
“I plan on being a leader who helps education make the shift to meet the skills necessary to turn out children who have what it takes to take their place in the world and keep this country strong. I would like to be a part of national efforts to change how schools across the country implement their own STEAM programs…whatever those may look like.”
And if only more Jennifer Millers chose to make their marks in education…