Cathi Miller Named PBS Digital Innovator for 2017

Teacher sitting at a desk with a computer

Cathi Miller, a teacher at Central Academy, has been named a 2017 PBS Digital Innovator, the second DMPS teacher in a row to be the Iowa recipient of this recognition.

Technology is practically everywhere people are, but its headquarters may be the intersection of Teaching & Learning.

That’s where Central Academy’s Cathi Miller works, and she was recently named a 2017 PBS Digital Innovator, the only one from Iowa and one of only 52 nationwide. She follows in the techie footsteps of Joe McCright from Stowe Elementary who was the Iowa winner a year ago. Like McCright, Miller is a DMPS Trailblazer, one of a corps of teachers coached by the district’s Instructional Technology Coordinators to blend classroom instruction and learning with online resources, thereby expanding learning opportunities for their students.

“I am pretty excited,” Miller said upon learning of her award. “The Trailblazer program is a hidden jewel in our district because it inspires us to take risks. Joe challenged the rest of us to look at the PBS program and I decided to go for it. Our tech coordinators are amazing at their job–and I am lucky to work with them.”

In partnership with PBS member stations nationwide, PBS Digital Innovators serve as education partners – deepening the connection between educator communities and their local PBS stations, while leveraging PBS’ curriculum-aligned, classroom-ready resources to support learning goals. PBS Digital Innovators also participate in ongoing professional development; share their ideas on PBS platforms; have access to exclusive resources from PBS LearningMedia; receive a free PBS Teacherline professional development course; and are invited to special events, including the 2017 PBS Digital Summit. This year’s summit, in San Antonio, Texas, takes place directly before the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference.

“We were struck by the creativity and passion of this year’s applicants,” said Sara Schapiro, Vice President of Education, PBS. “The 2017 PBS Digital Innovators are a passionate group of educators who are committed to changing the way students learn through technology and digital media. Education is at the core of PBS’ mission and as a key partner with parents and educators across America, we’re excited for the opportunity to learn from and work with these classroom change makers as they partner with PBS member stations to share content that truly engages and empowers students in every community.”

PBS Digital Innovators receive an all-expense paid trip to San Antonio, Texas to participate in the 2017 PBS Digital Innovators Summit in June, a PBS online professional development course, a digital gift, and their schools benefit from one year of online access to PBS LearningMedia.

Miller’s DMPS teaching career began in 1990.

“I can remember when the district first became 1:1 with computers for teachers,” she said. “Now we’re on the verge of 1:1 for all of our students.”

She considers blended courses that mix online instruction with in-class activities an effective way of meeting students where they live.

“They’re digital natives,” she said, a term for a generation that has grown up in the digital age. “As a Trailblazer I’m just trying to keep up with them and tailor my teaching to their lifestyles.”

When Miller posts her lessons and lectures online her freshman students in World Literature & Speech and the juniors taking AP Language & Composition can view them as homework and come to class the next day ready to engage in lively discussions. The feedback loop between her and her students is two-way.

“Being a Trailblazer doesn’t mean I’m a digital ninja,” said Miller. “We troubleshoot problems together in class and I welcome student suggestions.”

In some ways, she is exploiting technology’s potential to extend the school day, but only insofar as it allows increased emphasis on the human element. Online instruction has no inherent value. Its payoff is the increased time it permits for free flowing interaction in class – and regular collaboration with fellow Trailblazers.

“Whenever we get together I come away reenergized. Our tech coordinators (most of whom have classroom teaching experience) are so helpful to us.”

As the pace of education quickens right along with the rest of 21st century life the lines separating roles blur. Teachers can sometimes be most effective facilitating learning between students, freeing them to move at their own paces. One way Miller demonstrates this is by having her 11th graders critique essays written by the 9th graders.

“They work harder to impress one another than they would just to impress me,” she said. “Plus, it fosters connections between students from different home schools.”

Not unlike the dynamic with Trailblazer teachers from all over a school district that is THE Digital Innovator in the state of Iowa.

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