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Innovator of the Month: Janet Vande Berg

By Sarah Loyola

Join me in congratulating Middle School STEM+ teacher Janet Vande Berg, who has been named Ravenscroft’s March 2019 Innovator of the Month.

Vande Berg was selected this month for her out-of-the-box approach to, well,  just about everything! She is a master educator who is known for being incredibly innovative in her approach to teaching and learning, which spans multiple subject areas. In addition, her work in the area of STEM+ has been at the center of making Ravenscroft’s Middle School the hub of innovation it is today. When a senior who runs our Genius Lab was asked about her, she quickly proclaimed, “I love Mrs. Vande Berg! She is so spunky and fun!”

Vande Berg was asked to describe her educational approach through a series of questions. Here are her responses:

Briefly describe what made you want to become a teacher, and what your teaching philosophy/motto is.

I have always known since I was a little girl that I wanted to be a teacher. I used to play school with my twin sister, and I was always the teacher and she was the student. From an early age, I sought out positions where I was able to teach others. I was a diving coach at our local middle school while in high school. I was also a camp counselor and riding instructor. My love for science was cemented when I had an outstanding Earth Science teacher in high school. Mr. Webster taught me how awesome science can be and instilled in me a love of learning. When I got to college, I wasn't sure what subject I wanted to teach, but knew I wanted to be in the middle grades, as those were my favorite-aged campers. I settled into the Geology Department at Albion College because it allowed me to explore the outdoors and to camp, hike and look at our Earth from a different perspective. I was asked to be a teaching assistant and loved interacting with the college-aged students, but I still preferred to work with ages 11-14. So that is how I became a science teacher. In 2014 I took my love for learning and enrolled at NC State to get my Master of Education in their STEM program. I graduated in 2016.

My teaching motto is: “The test of a good teacher is not how many questions she can ask her pupils, which they will answer readily, but how many questions she inspires them to ask her, which she finds hard to answer.”  (adapted from Alice Wellington Rollins)

When did you come to Ravenscroft? From where?

I came to Ravenscroft in 1995 after teaching in Michigan for two years and in North Carolina for three years. I taught at Ligon Middle School in downtown Raleigh. I started out teaching 7th-grade science. I taught in that position until 2001, when I took time off. I returned to Ravenscroft in 2006 and, again, was teaching 6th and 7th grade. In 2009, I moved to the 6th grade and taught science and was the department chair until 2015, when the schedule change allowed us to start teaching STEM electives. I stepped aside as chair that year so that I could teach more elective courses. I have been coaching the Science Olympiad since 2015 and have been coaching LEGO Robotics since 2016. In the summer of 2015, I was trained by the Henry Ford Institute in Design Thinking and created the TDM class that I still teach today. I am also teaching Art Journaling for the first time. I hope to continue to teach Art Journaling in the future.

How has your teaching approach been impacted by technology?

When I first started at Ravenscroft we had the old fashioned chalkboards and hand-wrote report cards on triplicate form. I was always an early adopter of technology to enhance my teaching and to make life easier. I was on the Vanguard team that helped create our first computer-created report card templates.

I see technology as a great tool to help students achieve and succeed at higher levels. I love that our students have a wide variety of ways that they can interact with technology and that they can also work on fine and gross motor skills in the TDM classes.

In your opinion, why is it important for us to create a “maker” culture at Ravenscroft?

Maker cultures are exceedingly important because they teach skills that students used to learn at home. Fewer and fewer students have time in their busy schedules to design, create and build at home. The skills needed to accomplish this are becoming a lost art. Getting students into the MakerSpace allows them to learn and practice skills that are necessary to keep their creativity alive. Additionally,  we no longer train as many people to go into professional trades as we used to. We need people to tinker and create so that these essential jobs can be filled. Also, students who are struggling to decide if college is the right path for them might find that creating in a MakerSpace can lead them to a vocation they truly enjoy and love.

What do you most love about being a Raven?

I love the support of my colleagues and administration. I love the family atmosphere and the relationships that my children and I have built with other members of the community. There is nowhere else I’d rather teach!