Online Teacher of the Year finalists share passion for technology-driven instruction: Michelle Licata


This is the third in our three part series about the National Online Teacher of the Year Award finalists. Click here for Parts One and Two.

Michelle Licata, 2013 National Online Teacher of the Year Finalist

For the fourth year, SAS is a sponsor of the award, which recognizes an outstanding online teacher for exceptional quality in online K-12 education. Through education initiatives and innovative resources such as SAS Curriculum Pathwaysand SAS Mobile Education apps, SAS is a strong supporter of online and digital learning.

The NOTY Award is organized by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). This year’s judging committee evaluated 49 nominations of online educators in public schools and state virtual schools from 19 states to make the selections. Three finalists were announced, and the 2013 National Online Teacher of the Year will be named March 7.

I asked the finalists about their experience teaching with technology and what it means to be a finalist.  I would like to share their responses, though I had to pare them down. Did I mention they’re passionate?

Today’s finalist is Michelle Licata of Tamarac, Florida. Michelle has taught history and psychology at Florida Virtual School since 2006. Michelle and FLVS are long time users of SAS Curriculum Pathways.

How does technology impact your ability to teach?

My role in online, public education is to be an innovator and an educator to those who enter my classroom. As a Florida Virtual School teacher, I am able to marry my belief that students should be able to learn and meet required benchmarks with just-in-time assessments. I am able to provide specific, personalized feedback for each child when I grade their assignments, within 24 hours, and this creates the momentum for the student to keep going. I am invited into the homes of my students via Web conferencing. I talk with them one-on-one and learn about their interests and hobbies.

Virtual schools enhance students’ 21st century skills such as digital literacy, inventive thinking, effective communication, and high productivity; and this technology impacts my ability to teach. Virtual schools have the possibility of shrinking the digital divide. The digital divide creates the space between the two worlds of those who can and those who cannot. My online students are able to take virtual field trips and experience life in three and four dimensions, something generations before never even dreamed of experiencing. All students deserve this opportunity.

With the advent of learning labs, in the past four years, FLVS has been able to reach more impoverished areas, creating the opportunity for more children to have a 21st century learning experience, while inside the walls of their brick-and-mortar schools. Equal access, and at least the opportunity to learn in this environment, is a must for our children in today’s society.

Education is the key to a healthy economy, to breaking the poverty cycle, and the key to each child’s success. We are sitting on a gold mine here in online learning and we just have not invented the shovels to dig nor the pans to fill. As one Florida Virtual School student wrote, “Mine is not your typical classroom, it’s a door to the world!” I believe online learning can be the door to the world for all children, regardless of social class, living conditions, or physical location; we are the key to opening the doors to the world.

What does it mean to you to be nominated for the NOTY award?

Becoming one of the three finalists for the National Online Teacher of the Year award has created the space for me to develop amazing possibilities for students, to learn from other remarkable online educators, and to spread my passion to everyone I meet.

As a child, I sought refuge in school and wished that one of my teachers would see me, all alone, in a world where my dad abandoned my two brothers, my mom, and me.  I wanted someone to reach out to me. I lived for the morning, to wake up and go to school. I found happiness at school and fantasized about how awesome it would be to be able to go to school every day of my life!  I became a teacher to give students opportunities of which I would have loved for myself when I was a student. I also became a teacher with the hopes of providing a child with an extra five minutes when nobody else could.

The traditional school classroom was one in which I felt trapped by the four walls as students were forced to learn at the pace of the teacher. At Florida Virtual School, I feel enabled to create authentic learning experiences for my students as well as individual prescriptive learning paths based on each student’s individual learning needs.

Being named one a finalist means everything to me. I feel honored to represent Florida Virtual School and the amazing educators I call my colleagues. I feel blessed to have an opportunity to convey my passion for online learning, and I feel hopeful that the country will recognize the award as an indicator of the impact online learning has on each 21st century learner.

What are your thoughts on SAS Curriculum Pathways?

Florida Virtual School utilizes SAS Curriculum Pathways in a number of high school courses as well as AP courses to assist students in their learning.

For example, in the American Government course, FLVS uses the Document Analyzer and videos to teach the Tinker vs. Des Moines Supreme Court case. The primary issue in this court case is whether or not school discipline is disturbed by the expression of freedom of speech. The Tinker Standard allows for the right of free speech unless it disrupts class work or the rights of others. Students analyze six documents related to the First Amendment. Then, students use videos and documents in SAS to create a stance on the focus question, “What is the Tinker Standard and how does it affect schools today?” After examining each document in the Analyzer, students are asked to provide a personal example from a research source, on how the Tinker Standard is applied in schools today. As a follow-up activity and a collaboration opportunity, teachers discuss with students, in live online debates, examples of how freedom of speech in a school might be limited on the grounds of disruption of the learning environment. A discussion topic, for example, may focus on the Confederate flag and how it might be sustained or removed from a school environment based on the Tinker Standard.

The most exciting part about integrating SAS Curriculum Pathways is that the tools are interactive. Students are provided with a case-study approach for critical thinking about complex issues, while at the same time, being engaged, having fun, and learning. 


About Author

Lee Ellen Harmer

Outreach and Collaborations Manager

Lee Ellen Harmer is a member of the Social Innovation Division at SAS, a team committed to finding innovative ways to apply SAS® technology to the world's most pressing needs. While focused heavily on global sustainability issues, the Social Innovation team also works to support the next generation of innovators, introducing young learners to data, how it can be used to better understand global issues, and how to turn those insights into action in their own communities. Lee Ellen's role encompasses marketing, communications, and partnerships to help promote the adoption of data literacy, coding, and AI for K12. SAS believes in promoting learning for all, with the goal of building a global community of innovators. Lee Ellen has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business with a marketing concentration from Wake Forest University (Winston Salem, NC).

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