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Virginia Journal of Education
Ten Minutes With...
Position: 6th Grade U.S History (Advanced Academics) at White Oaks ES
Local Assn.: Fairfax Education Association
Years worked in education: 13
What do you like about your job?
First and foremost, I love the art of teaching! I enjoy using history to foster creativity and critical thinking in my students and pushing them to take chances, create experiences, and invent products to illustrate their learning. I love turning the classroom into a living history “museum” full of dozens of student-created exhibits. Each year my students create their own “interactive history museums” full of history artifacts, maps, written responses, homemade “books” and illustrations. I love to see how my students come to treasure these creations and the amount of work, pride and quality they put into them. I also love to learn about their passions and feel fortunate to witness the development of the future artists, veterinarians, architects, video game designers, and hockey players in my classroom.
What is hard about your job?
The hardest thing about my job is keeping pace with my students and finding or creating activities that interest and challenge them. Because I teach in an advanced academic environment, many of my students have unusual interests and passions which require me, at times, to do a whole lot of learning before I can best reach them and relate to them. That being said, I sometimes become the student in my own classroom, learning in depth about topics my students are passionate about, such as the history of mythical dragons and the mechanics and programming of robots, among others.
Like most teachers, I find it’s hard to carve out the time required to grade work, plan lessons, research new materials, attend trainings, complete paperwork, communicate with parents, and teach effectively within the confines of the school day. We are fortunate in Fairfax County to have Monday afternoons for planning, but often I still don’t have enough hours in the day!
How have you broadened your teaching beyond the classroom?
About eight years ago, I became interested in using the Internet to communicate with the parents of my students. I bought myself a copy of HTML for Dummies and put together my first website — MrNussbaum.com. The site was originally meant as a vehicle to post homework, pictures, lesson plans and school activities, but the more I thought about it, the more potential I realized it had in a larger sense. Over the years as the site evolved, I learned new skills and began turning the crazy ideas and games I played in the classroom into digital reality. Today, MrNussbaum.com reaches over one million elementary and middle school students every month and delivers over seven million page views. The site features unique educational games in every subject, interactive activities, research applications, clickable maps, generators, mobile apps and much more. It is 100 percent free for all students and teachers.
One of the most rewarding experiences I have had beyond the classroom, however, began when I was contacted by the Massachusetts Institution of Technology Department of Linguistics to help produce educational software for elementary school students in a remote village in coastal Haiti. The leader of the project, Dr. Michel DeGraff, had procured a generous grant that enabled the construction of a computer lab at a village school. Together, we painstakingly translated nine of my games into Haitian Creole, marking the first time educational software became available to Haitian students in their native language.
How has being an Association member been helpful to you?
As a member of FEA and VEA, I always feel on the pulse of what’s going on in the field of education within the state and behind the scenes in the county I teach for. I love the publications I receive and the peace of mind that comes with affiliation.