“My biggest hope through these shifts in education is that students feel respected and empowered to pursue their passions and learn how to be lifelong learners.” – Wendy Loewenstein, USA
For Dr. Wendy Loewenstein, innovative education is all about giving students the freedom to learn in the way that suits them best. And as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Trainer who facilitated the MIE program for her entire district, she has a great many tools to do that.
Lowenstein is the new director of Omaha’s first K-8 virtual school, responsible for the curriculum, instruction and assessment of both staff and students. It’s an environment that should prove to be a perfect fit for her student-first educational approach.
“Once I gave students voice and choice on their assessments, they were more engaged and learned more,” she tells us. “To me, this was the starting point of student-centered learning in my career and I haven’t looked back since.”
Helping to lead a virtual school means taking advantage of technology to bring lessons to life. That’s something Loewenstein knows all about. As an MIE Trainer, Loewenstein trained teachers throughout her district on Skype Virtual Field Trips, and was thrilled to witness the results when they took this new tool back to their classrooms.
“Students were so engaged and excited to ask questions on what they were currently learning in the classroom to the experts from across the country,” she says. “I was so proud to see these teachers take their new learnings about Skype and apply it instantly in order to expand the walls of their classroom. These teachers’ positive experiences with Skype have ignited an enthusiasm around Skype in the Classroom that I only hope continues.”
Loewenstein, whose extensive experience includes serving as the University of Nebraska College of Education IDEAS Room Coordinator (a high-tech, collaborative space for students and faculty), school librarian and high school English teacher, hopes to see student-centered learning take off.
“Those who are currently using this model and experiencing success need to be ambassadors for this effort and shout from the rooftops about their success,” she says. “I think stakeholders need to truly see this type of a model successfully implemented in order to wrap their minds around the possibilities.”
Here’s today’s Daily Edventure with Wendy Loewenstein.
What inspired you to become an educator?
There are many wonderful educators that I encountered in my life who inspired me to be a better person and who molded me into who I am today. I always wanted to be a teacher. I don’t have that one moment where I made the decision. It was deeply rooted in who I am and I have no explanation why.
I did not come from a family of educators and honestly, I was an average student growing up. However, one educator I encountered in my undergraduate education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha changed my path in education, and that was Dr. Charles Johanningsmeier.
Up until his Critical Approaches to Literature course, I was on track to become a high school social studies teacher. Through his semester-long course, I read more books than I did in high school! More important, he pushed me to think critically and make inferences and connections with literature.
I was newly engaged in reading and writing essays. There were no multiple choice tests, scantrons, etc., in his class. Honestly, there wasn’t much technology either. Just him, the students and literature. After that course, I changed my major to English/Language Arts and each day in the high school English class that I taught, I attempted to engage my students like he did me.
What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?
At one of our Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) trainings this year, we trained teachers on Skype Virtual Field Trips. In the months following, we had a variety of MIE’s schedule virtual field trips and I was lucky enough to experience some of them. From visiting a museum in Wyoming to an aquarium in North Carolina, students were able to dig deeper in their learning by seeing actual alligators and buffalo bones right from their own classroom.
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
I challenged my students to use technology to share the book they were reading with their classmates in order to motivate others to read the book. NO book reports were allowed. Those were the only parameters that I gave.
In return, students created a variety of multimedia projects that included book trailers, comic strips, podcasts, and more. Not only were students engaged in the content of their books while creating their projects, but the other students were excited to get their hands on the books after watching the projects. This was a valuable lesson for me.
What’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?
I think the biggest obstacle is overcoming the concept of traditional learning where the pacing and curriculum drive student progress through concepts and skills, not the individual student’s mastery of concepts and skills. This concept makes no sense when one considers how each person learns.
Regardless of age, we all learn in different ways and at a different pace. If we can – as parents, educators, lawmakers, publishers, etc. – be comfortable putting learning in the hands of students by acknowledging and celebrating their differences instead of trying to fit them all in a box to push along a conveyer belt-type of education, THEN we can make true strides in academic growth, graduation rates and engaged learners.
In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?
I am most excited about the level of student engagement that can be reached with innovation in the classroom. When teachers shift their thinking from the traditional classroom environment (desks in rows, sage on the stage, teacher-centered learning) to a personalized classroom environment (flexible learning spaces, guide on the side, student-centered learning) the sky is the limit!
My biggest hope through these shifts in education is that students feel respected and empowered to pursue their passions and learn how to be lifelong learners.
About Wendy Loewenstein
Instructional Technology Trainer
Omaha Public Schools Virtual School
Omaha, Nebraska, USA
- Birthplace: Omaha, Nebraska
- Educational background: Bachelor of Science – Secondary Education, Language Arts, University of Nebraska at Omaha; Masters of Science – Educational Administration, University of Nebraska at Omaha; Doctor of Education- Educational Administration, University of Nebraska at Omaha (Dissertation Title: The Impact of The Gradual Release of Responsibility on Graduate Teacher Education Candidates’ Self-Efficacy With iPads)
- Website I check every day: Twitter
- Favorite book: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: OneNote Notebooks
- What is the best advice you have ever received? “Happiness is a choice.”