The official blog of the Ole Miss School of Education
OXFORD — More than 800 children across Lafayette County received handwritten messages from other local children this week as part of the first-ever LOU Pen Pal Project, which kicked off March 2 as part of Read Across America Day and ended on March 6, when the final letters were delivered.
The event was co-sponsored by multiple local organizations—including the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading at the University of Mississippi, the Lafayette County Literacy Council and the local United Way’s LOU Reads Coalition—and connected K-4 classrooms from the Lafayette County School District, Oxford School District and Magnolia Montessori School.
“The Pen Pal Project was a way to engage children in a literacy based activity that helped to expand their world,” said Edy Dingus, AmeriCorps VISTA for the LOU Reads Coalition and coordinator of the event. “What I think is so important for all children to realize is that their school is not an island to itself. Each student is part of a greater community.”
In each participating class, teachers received a packet with a form letter and instructions starting on Read Across America Day, a day which is also the birthday of American writer and cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Many classes celebrated by reading a book out loud before writing a group letter to another classroom in the community.
In Rhonda Hickman’s second-grade class at Lafayette Lower Elementary School, children kicked off the event by reading “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” and then wrote a group letter. As part of their message, the children created their own classroom mascot—an orange cat named “Mr. Whiskers” who always wears a jersey. The group sent their letter, along with their own drawings of Whiskers, to children at Magnolia Montessori School on the other side of town, who received the surprise package the following Monday and wrote back to the children.
“Thousands of classrooms across the nation celebrate Read Across America Day, but Edy Dingus with United Way had this wonderful idea to take it all a step forward,” explained Ashley Parker Sheils, director of the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a new initiative in the state, which promotes facilitation of community based literacy programs. “These children live in the same county but may or may not collaborate with each other. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading wants to highlight programs like this.”
Led by Sheils, the Mississippi Campaign is part of a national network and is designed to support community engagement in literacy efforts by helping local organizations align their strategic goals. The program offers a framework centered on school readiness, summer learning and school attendance and has the initial goal of attracting at least 10 Mississippi communities to join the campaign and adopt its framework.
“Our goal is to recognize and celebrate groups that are promoting literacy in schools and in community settings,” Sheils said. “I hope children who participated in this event capitalized on the fun of reading and writing, but also that it planted a seed in them to learn that you may have friends in unlikely places, even in a small community.
The deadline to nominate University of Mississippi alumni for the School of Education Hall of Fame is March 17.
Each year, the SOE Hall of Fame honors alumni who have made significant contributions to the field of education throughout their careers.
All UM alumni are eligible for the honor and nominators must submit an online form to compete their submissions. All nominations will be considered for three years. Past honorees can also be seen online.
In 2016, the SOE inducted five outstanding individuals who have made an impact in education including:
Suzie Adcock (B.A.Ed. 77)
Dr. Jahnae Barnett (M.B.Ed. 67, Ph.D. 72)
Robert Depro (M.Ed. 70)
Dr. Cathy Stewart (B.A.Ed. 78, M.Ed. 81, Ed.D. 95)
Cecil Brown (B.A. 66)
Middle and high school students from across the state will compete in Mississippi’s fifth-annual FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition on March 4 in the Tad Smith Coliseum at the University of Mississippi.
Hosted by UM’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE), 24 teams of students (from seventh to 12th grade) will pilot their self-designed and self-built robots with the hopes of qualifying for FIRST’s South Super Regional competition in Athens, Georgia in March. This year’s game is dubbed Velocity Vortex, a challenge where robots are programmed to push or lift different sized balls on a specially designed arena.
“Our goal is to inspire students into learning because we are losing our engineering workforce,” said Mannie Lowe, FIRST program manager at the CMSE. “Our engineers are aging out and no one is coming up to fill the void in this country.”
FIRST, an acronym meaning For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a non-profit organization that was created 25 years ago by inventor Dean Kaman in an effort to build up STEM fields.
Up to 15 people are on each team and any organization can form a team—not just schools. Students are guided by teachers, coaches, mentors and community members. Teams are required to build a robot, keep an engineer’s notebook, and do some kind of outreach to promote STEM.
“I guarantee you, part of my group would not have otherwise thought about a STEM career beforehand,” said Holly Reynolds, team mentor for Bigweld’s Bots and associate dean for the UM College of Liberal Arts.
Bigweld’s Bots is an all-female team which formed out of Girl Scout Troop 33016. There is one other Girl Scout team in the state that does robotics, too. The two troops will soon be featured on Mississippi Roads a PBS show.
During the competition, alliances of two teams will face off against each other. This allows teams to learn how to work with other teams and enjoy a healthy competition at the same time.
Each match plays for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The first 30 seconds, the robots will be operating autonomously and during the final 2 minutes, the robots will be operated by the students through handheld driver controllers.
The robots can be built out of virtually any material as long as the teams follow regulation rules. In the past, some teams have built their robots out of PVC pipe, wood and aluminum. However, the competition is about more than just robots.
“The fun in my job is watching and working with the kids,” Lowe said. “When you see their ‘A-Ha!’ light come on, it is amazing. It’s the realization that they can do this. They can build, they can program, they can design. Once they realize that, the world is theirs. They can do whatever they want.”
In the past, Mississippi teams have done well at FIRST Super Regional competitions. Last year, one team from Mississippi won the Inspire Award, the highest given in the competition.
With 5,000 teams worldwide, Mississippi had only four teams taking part in the challenge five years ago. Now there are 50 competing teams around the state.
Students begin designing and building their robot in September when the theme is announced. Last minute changes are normal, as well. Teams keep working to improve their robots until the morning of the competition.
Judging starts at 7 a.m. and the public should arrive at 10 a.m. The event will last until 5 p.m.
“FIRST events are part rock concert, part NASCAR race, because of the sponsor logos and team numbers on the side of each robot,” Lowe said. “They are also part chess tournament, due to each team’s different strategy, and just general fun. It’s a big party.”
By Alexandria Paton
The UM School of Education will host the Mississippi Association for Play Therapy Annual Spring Conference Feb.17-18 at the Robert C. Khayat Law Center.
Play Therapy is a specialized form of children’s counseling provided by licensed social workers and therapists who are trained in using play to help children process life experiences in a constructive way.
The therapy is used to help individuals process life experiences through their senses and emotions.
Conference attendees will come from all over the state and regional area.
“It is such a fun subject and it draws a lot of creative and interesting people,” said Mandy Perryman, assistant professor of counselor education.
75 people are registered to attend the event each day.
“I am really excited about the turn out,” said Perryman. “I was initially hoping that if we could just get 50 people here we would be doing good.”
The main speaker for the conference will be Sueann-Kenney Noziska, a licensed clinical social worker and registered play therapist supervisor who specializes in using play therapy with abused and traumatized children, adolescents and their families.
Faculty and graduate students in counseling will make presentations during the final session on Saturday.
“I always say that not everyone gets to sit around and play with toys all day, but we kind of do,” Perryman said.
There will be two different tracks for attendees to choose from—one for students and another for experienced teachers and professionals.
“I hope that for students this opens up doors of different ways that they can practice this type of counseling,” Perryman said. “And, for professionals, I hope that this conference will invigorate them to get back into their practice or their school and maybe try new things that they have learned and keep the passion going.”
Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Friday and the conference will continue until Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
By Alexandria Paton
The University of Mississippi School of Education will host its third annual Teacher Induction Ceremony, March 28 at 5:30 p.m. at the Jackson Avenue Center.
The ceremony marks the beginning of students entering “Phase II” of their education program and acknowledges undergraduates in elementary education, special education and secondary education who have met select criteria.
“I believe we are united in the educational profession and our purpose to inspire and teach others to lead the profession,” said Virginia Moore, elementary education program coordinator and associate professor. “Many of these teacher candidates will devote their entire life to teaching and their journey begins this semester with the Induction Ceremony.”
To participate in the ceremony, students must complete all core requirements within their curriculum, have a minimum core GPA of at least 2.75 and a minimum ACT score of 21 (or passing the Praxis Core exam). The SOE currently has an average ACT score of 25 and a GPA of 3.28 for incoming teacher education students.
“I’m really excited about the ceremony,” said Gabrielle Vogt, UM junior and upcoming inductee. “I think that they are trying to build up the School of Education and the teaching profession in general.”
During the ceremony, students will receive a pin and lanyard to be worn as they work with students and licensed teachers during student teaching.
The main speaker at the induction ceremony will be past recipient of the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, Ethel Young Scurlock, associate professor of English and African American Studies at UM.
“This is really a way that we, as teachers, can give back to our students, said Diane Lowry, clinical assistant professor of special education.
Parents, spouses, children and guests are invited to attend the event each year and students say they are excited to be able to share such a memorable moment with their families.
“It is always exciting to empower these bright teacher candidates and to know they will improve our ever-changing democratic society and our future,” Moore said. “As professional educators, we believe that education is a noble profession with the power to transform the lives of others.”
By Alexandria Paton