Walden University student and Ohio teacher Joan Miller reveals how a trip to the ocean encouraged her students to learn.

Joan MillerBy Camille LeFevre
January 2012

Program: Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

WHERE I WORK: Mad River Middle School in Riverside, Ohio, where I was named 2010–2011 Teacher of the Year. I’m an eighth-grade visual arts teacher.

WHAT INSPIRES ME: The ocean. It is unending and contains every color and shape you can think of. I wanted to bring the sea into the classroom for my students to inspire their creativity, so I started a new unit in my classroom called Sea School.

WHAT I’VE ACCOMPLISHED SO FAR: Through the Sea School unit, I contacted entrepreneur and ocean enthusiast Lucy Buffett (sister of singer Jimmy Buffett) about donating her “One Love One Ocean” T-shirts to my class so we could sell them to raise money for a class trip to Newport Aquarium in Kentucky. She was so moved by my request that she financed a trip for 24 of my students to visit Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama. I just about fainted when I heard the news! We held an essay contest to determine which students would attend.

HOW THE TRIP IMPACTED THE STUDENTS: The all-expenses-paid trip included accommodations, admission to Sea Lab, and a boat trip, where eight wild dolphins followed us. Our trip was after the Gulf oil spill, so we also did beach cleanup, and the students saw the infamous tar balls in person. I talk a lot about taking care of wildlife to my students. They were all waiting in line with their gloves on, eager to do their part. Afterward, they dipped their toes into the ocean, some for the first time. It was such a rewarding, heartwarming experience.

HOW WALDEN HAS HELPED ME: The Walden curriculum has changed how I teach. Art teachers need to teach students in many different ways. Walden has introduced me to learning how the brain works and how I can help during the creative process, not just in reaction to the art itself. If a student has deficiencies, I figure out what I can do to help them become more engaged and creative.

MY DOCTORAL STUDY TOPIC: Integrating reading technologies into the language arts. I’ve found that if a student cannot read or write well, the learning process—even in art classes—is much more difficult. I want to see how much of an impact new learning technologies can have on reading scores when compared to traditional classroom reading.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR ME: My school and the high school started a branch of Roots & Shoots, a service-learning program started by Dr. Jane Goodall. We hope to mentor at-risk kids while offering them opportunities to help people in their communities. A course I took at Walden inspired me to get it started. I love that all of my coursework at Walden inspires me to bring new ideas, concepts, and innovative programs to my school.

Refer a friend to Walden by visiting www.WaldenU.edu/refer.