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SIUE Alumni Get Social with Science Education
Illinois Ag Connection - 05/20/2020

Among the major challenges educators across the country are facing are the inability to connect with students face-to-face and transitioning hands-on learning assignments to fit the virtual classroom.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville alumni Marie Gipson and Benjamin Scamihorn are among the numerous educators creatively adjusting their communication and teaching to maintain relationships with their students and ensure positive learning experiences.

"I spend so much time with my students and genuinely care about every one of them. Having all of that ripped away so suddenly is a feeling that is hard to describe," said Benjamin Scamihorn, a biology and environmental science teacher at Sedona Red Rock High School in Sedona, Ariz. "I naturally refer to them as my kids, and now that I'm not with my kids, I worry about and miss them every day."

Scamihorn earned a bachelor's in biology in 2018, with secondary education licensure, and a master's in biology in 2019, both from SIUE. He is aiming for balance and equity as he facilitates learning online.

"The majority of learning in my class is through hands-on work, analyzing and discussing data, and problem-solving in groups," he explained. "It has been challenging trying to find the balance of what my students are able to accomplish without my and each other's help. As teachers, we must also be aware of the challenges that our students could be experiencing at home and make sure we have equity at the forefront of our minds when planning our lessons. I try to plan work that challenges my students, but is also manageable and doesn't greatly increase their stress during this already stressful time."

Reaching students through various digital platforms is increasingly common among educators. Scamihorn and fellow alum Marie Gipson, a high school teacher in Guthrie Center, Iowa, have amplified their presence on Instagram as a way to maintain connections with their students.

Mug of coffee in front of a computer "Before the shift to online learning, I used my 'teachergram' to document what students were doing in my classroom and to share ideas with colleagues," said Gipson, who earned a bachelor's in chemistry, with secondary education licensure, from SIUE in 2018. "Now, I am using it as a way to stay connected with students by posting simple questions and sharing STEM challenges to keep them thinking about science. Overall, students have been interacting with it and love being able to connect in a way that is relevant to them."

"Instagram is a great opportunity, if handled appropriately," Scamihorn added. "I use it to respond to questions my students may have, and to let them know that I am here and still thinking of them. I also provide some optional educational challenges for my students. At the beginning of every class, I do a "Good Things" session where students can share something positive that is happening in their life. I've been doing this virtually every day and sharing my students "Good Things" on my Instagram story."

Both Scamihorn and Gipson participated in the Noyce Scholar Community at SIUE, an opportunity they say built their confidence and inspired their career path. The Noyce Scholarship program at SIUE provides up to two years of funding for qualified math and science majors to seek secondary education licensure in their junior and senior years. Details are available at

"The Noyce program helped build my confidence in teaching by putting me in the classroom early and allowing opportunities for me to interact with teachers in the community on a regular basis," Gipson recalled. "We had monthly seminars with teachers who taught in high needs schools, and there was something each month I could take away to use in my own classroom."

"When I say the Noyce program changed my life, I am not being dramatic," Scamihorn added. "The Noyce summer internship was one of the best experiences of my life and made me realize that I wanted to pursue teaching as a career. The teaching program at SIUE provided a broad set of tools to be successful in different educational settings, while also providing the specific experiences to prepare me for teaching science at the high school level."

Despite difficulties in the educational environment stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Gipson calls this time an opportunity to remember what is important.

"For me, that has been keeping student relationships and continuing to make learning a positive experience, even if that means totally changing the way I teach," she said. "What a great time to channel your creativity and network with other educators. I have learned so much from other educators during this time."

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