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Improving the community and leaving the world better than they found it is what Teacher Fellows, Justin Sanders, and Burgess Jeffries exemplify in their classrooms daily. Both Burgess and Justin are teachers in the Birmingham City School (BCS) district. The district that is thriving in many ways than none. This year Birmingham City Schools are 1:1 with iPads and Chromebooks while providing 8500 hotspots for students to access wifi, and Alabama was voted Top Seven Most Exceptional states with making digital content and instructional materials available outside of the classroom. Although the school year will look different from the norm, Ed Farm is excited about the many possibilities of the school year and amazed by Justin’s commitment, assuredness, and excitement to teach students that math, too, can be fun. We reached out to Justin to learn more about being preeminent in their class.
Raised in Enterprise, AL, Justin is a product of Alabama public city schools. Justin has a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, Tuskegee University (2004), and M.S.E. Electrical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (2006). Growing up is a small town, Justin mentioned, “There were not many other types of schools in my hometown, so public school was pretty much my only option.” And, to a public school, he went. Fast forward many years later, Justin has been teaching for eleven years, and six of those years at BCS. He currently teaches math, engineering, and science to 9th-12th graders at Carver High School. This fall, Justin will teach the Project Lead the Way Engineering Program at Carver’s Engineering Academy and join Ed Farm as a Teacher Fellow focused specifically on starting an Everyone Can Code/Swift coding club.
“It is important that all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, receive the type of academic support that will help develop their talents into a viable path towards an overall quality of life, to impact the greater Birmingham community.”
Justin sees this work as a calling and a privilege to teach his exceptional students. He states that “It is important that all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, receive the type of academic support that will help develop their talents into a viable path towards an overall quality of life, to impact the greater Birmingham community.” As a teacher, his goal is to widen his student’s perspectives, expose them to new and exciting learning opportunities, and empower them to see themselves as the best and brightest in the world.
While majoring in engineering, math was always a love for Justin. He mentioned, his passion for math is the reason why he chose the major engineering. “Math is really like a language. Math conveys information and solves problems. Like a language, math is structured, and that’s what originally attracted me to the subject.” As Justin is very much a visual learner, he enjoys using visual aids to help organize ideas/concepts and “bring math to life.”
Visually representing information is what led Justin to use technology in the classroom. “I generally use tech to help manage my classroom, communicate with students, and engage students in the content.” He uses several ed-tech tools available for teachers and students. “I use a Learning Management System, Google Classroom, and now Schoology as the central virtual space where all of the assignments, resources, and materials are shared. I also use formative assessment tools like Kahoot! and Quizlet to check where students are with the learning in real-time and provide immediate feedback on students’ understanding of the content.” Alongside these tools, he uses online simulations and demos to create digital media such as; “tutorial videos, lectures, labs, audio recordings, and other instructional media.” He feels that technology “helps students build understanding, confidence, and efficacy.” His favorite saying to students is, “You can’t mess up.” In other words, don’t be afraid of failure because you will learn from your mistakes.”
“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.” – B.B. King
Looking to advance his skill set in the storyboarding process, Justin registered for the Ed Farm Teachers Can Create Virtual Learning Series in mid-July of this year. Eager to learn more, teachers used a template to create a mini tutorial video. Justin mentioned that he “created a math tutorial video where I explained the process of factoring algebraic polynomial expressions.” According to Justin, “the virtual professional learning session with Ed Farm was great, and I immediately applied what I learned and design an activity for students to use virtual storyboarding and video creation in math.” He continues to learn from current Teacher Fellows like Burgess and is eager about the many possibilities of being a Teacher Fellow and starting his coding club.
As a teacher and connected educator, Justin believes “teachers have to toot their own horn.” And what better way to showcase their work to teachers, students, parents, and the world than through social media. He calls social media the “professional learning community that helps teachers constantly improve and perfect their practice.” Justin states that “many teachers are missing the opportunity to connect with other educators via social media, and he encourages others to jump in and realize global the impact it would have on their students.“ Moreover, “social media allows you to build a network of teachers and other support groups.” He mentioned that ultimately social media is a bullhorn of our time, and teachers must leverage it.” For all interested teachers on where to start, Justin recommends video platforms like YouTube to share innovative products with students. “The YouTube channel that I’ve used in the past is currently a hodgepodge of tutorial videos, teacher workshops, school events from Huffman High, student creations, and other things.” He said, “this year, he’s coming with even more content, thanks to Ed Farm.”
Justin’s last words of advice are for his friends in education. “Who knows what this period of virtual learning will lead? Maybe school as we knew it would forever change? Perhaps a different approach to teaching and learning will engage some students in new and exciting ways? Ed-tech has the potential to do just that.”
We look forward to Justin’s continued service in his community, through technology and in math. And with this, we are in the presence of a Math King! Continue to shed light on those around you.