Educator Spotlight: Meet Jennifer Mahin
STEM teacher in Kansas advocates for technology, growth
This story is part of a series that celebrates Teacher Appreciation Month. Each day in May, we will introduce to you an outstanding educator within the Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
In small town Kansas, the sun rises peacefully onto another nice day.
You can hear the neighbors bidding one another good morning across their lawns, the bell on the door of the local grocery chimes gently as the owner opens up for the day, the cars idle safely down the street, and the big wide open prairie hugging town glistens in the morning dew.
It’s quiet, slow and calm, but don’t be fooled.
When the school doors open, a crowd of happy children trample loudly into their rooms, the teacher’s lounge is bustling with ideas and family updates, laughter fills up the lunch room, and you can be sure STEM teacher Jennifer Mahin is racing excitedly up and down the halls of East Elementary with a bright green Flipgrid voice pod under her arm to ensure all the kids get their videos in for the day.
This is a wild-spirited school in the making, and Jennifer is the vibrant energy simply delighted in her endeavor to invigorate it.
“I think because we’re from a small area, people are not expecting as much from us,” says Jennifer, who also works as a tech integration specialist in the school and just completed her master’s in instructional technology integration this month. “But don’t underestimate the smaller districts! We are becoming so innovative, moving forward in a really positive direction, and it’s because our teachers understand the technology and our principal supports me 100 percent.
“I don’t care how hard I have to work, I want our kids here to experience everything and to have all the job skills and world skills they need. I want to give it all to them.”
Amid the slow pace of the day and the calming peace come night, with her ambition alone, she is.
Learning a New Task Leads to the Beginning of Anything
Jennifer moved to Kansas about five years ago after beginning her teaching career in Nebraska teaching junior high. She’s since taught special ed and fifth grade and just completed her first year as a K-5 STEM teacher and tech integration specialist for East Elementary in Belleville.
“I like to introduce things I believe in,” Jennifer says. “I’m not integrating technologies just to do it. I don’t want to just put kids on computers. I want the kids and even the teachers to make meaningful connections. I want there to be purpose and a measurable goal.”
Jennifer is not only invested, she’s empathetic in her desire to grow the school.
At the beginning of the school year, she sent out a survey asking all the teachers what they were comfortable with and anything they wanted to learn. From there, she spent time sending out weekly tips or tutorials, considering specifically what each classroom needed the most, and she would use her planning periods to pop in and teach the teacher or participate in small groups.
“I was shocked because, the kindergarten teachers who I thought would never want my help or were afraid of technology are now the ones who using new technology like Flipgrid the most, and they are doing so great!” Jennifer says. “And, once other people saw me in the kindergarten classroom, they were coming to me, ‘So, can you help me next?’ ”
She can relate to the unexpected delight in something new. When Jennifer first started teaching fifth grade, she immediately returned to that fifth-grade student herself, who was bored in class. Determined to keep her students out of that rut, she started implementing project-based learning into her social studies curriculum, turned to fewer worksheets and more online work, and now has really invested in STEM work.
“I never wanted to be a STEM teacher, but with tech integration, I’ve learned you can’t do one without the other,” Jennifer says. “So I spent time last summer coding in my basement with my robots, and now I couldn’t imagine not being a STEM teacher, too.”