MELANIE WISCOUNT EdD ’15 EARNS PRESIDENTIAL TEACHING AWARD
By Kelly Clisham MFA ’16
One glance at Melanie Wiscount EdD ’15’s résumé and you understand why she won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics and Science. She’s snagged major honors ever since she switched careers to teach computer science at the middle- and high-school levels. During her 13-year teaching career, Microsoft selected her as a Partners in Learning US and Global Educator. Siemens honored Wiscount as a STEM Institute fellow. Now there’s the presidential honor, a national prize that comes with $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.
Still, when Wiscount talks about her work with the District of Columbia Public Schools, she doesn’t highlight her expertise or honors. She brags about her students, who team up to develop award-winning mobile apps and land prestigious internships with the likes of Microsoft, Lockheed-Martin, Accenture, World Bank and NASA.
Working with a generation of kids who seem to be born with mobile devices in hand, does Wiscount worry about these young computer whizzes outpacing her? Not a chance. She relishes it. “I want them to question me. I want them to beat me out,” she says. “They’re going to find something they’re experts about, and that’s where the confidence comes in. Throw in a little bit of innovation and we’ve got tomorrow’s change-makers.”
Change has been a constant in Wiscount’s career, and she proudly embraces it. She majored in accounting at Bloomsburg University, taking math and computer science courses for fun and graduated summa cum laude. She worked as an accountant for years but found she kept asking herself, “How can I serve people in a better capacity?” Her answer: “Teaching is perfect for that.”
She earned a master’s in business education and started teaching at her alma mater, Pine Grove Area High School in Pine Grove, Pa. She enrolled in the doctor of education program at Wilkes in 2007. Wiscount quickly developed an interest in educational reform, and while Pennsylvania was cutting school budgets, Washington, D.C., was putting money into education. Wiscount took a year off from the doctoral program and made the move to the District of Columbia schools. “It was completely different than anything I’ve ever done.”
She completed her Wilkes doctor of education in educational leadership with a concentration in educational technology in 2015. Her dissertation examined the effects of kinesthetic learning, or learning through movement. Wiscount wanted to learn if students who learned about math kinesthetically would perform better on standardized tests. As part of her research, students kinesthetically manipulated the coefficients of the quadratic function using body movements and gestures using the Microsoft Xbox Kinect camera.
Wiscount loves the challenges, and the rewards, of teaching in an urban setting. For some of her students, the nation’s capital is not about museums or cherry blossoms. “A lot of my students live in neighborhoods surrounded by violence. They think they’re destined for that kind of future,” Wiscount says. “They’re not used to people believing in them and their potential.”
Wiscount does, but more importantly, she teaches them how to believe in themselves. “I teach hope,” she says. “I teach hope every single day.” Wiscount tells the story of a former student who always showed up late for school. When she told him that he wouldn’t secure an internship if he couldn’t make it on time, he explained that his mother was seriously ill and he was responsible for getting his 2-year-old sister to daycare using public transportation. On her recommendation and the strength of his work, the student persevered and landed a top internship. “That’s what I mean about hope.”
Wiscount’s colleagues can’t help but notice her commitment to her students—and fellow teachers. Emmanuel Schanzer of Bootstrap World nominated Wiscount for the Presidential Award. The two first crossed paths years ago at a conference, then again at a workshop. Bootstrap is an evidence-based curriculum for integrating computer science and algebra.
According to Schanzer, “Bootstrap teaches students to program their own videogames in a way that has been shown to reinforce, rather than undermine, key concepts in mathematics.” Wiscount has used Bootstrap content with her own students, and has shared the work with other teachers and administrators. “She’s a veteran Bootstrap teacher and has had wonderful success with her students. She’s been an incredible advocate,” says Schanzer.
Anthony Priest, District of Columbia schools’ career and technical education program manager, worked with Wiscount when she taught at McKinley Technology High School. Priest is not at all surprised that she’s been recognized for excellence. “The name of the award says it all. She’s an excellent teacher in the STEM arena,” says Priest. “She works incredibly hard. She’s dedicated to the students. She cares about them as people.”
Since June 2016, Wiscount has put her dedication to student success to use as the educational technology instructional coach at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School. The all-male high school focuses on young men in the District of Columbia, especially young men of color. It opened in August with a class of 104 ninth-grade students, with plans to add another grade each year and graduate its first class in 2020.
The high school is a one-to-one school, providing one device—a laptop computer—to each student. The school refers to this policy as one-to-world, meaning they teach students to use technology responsibly to connect with a global community. Wiscount’s teaching philosophy is encourages students to be creators rather than consumers. Why download an app when you can develop one? Why buy a video game when you can design your own? Her dedication gives her students confidence to try new things, make mistakes and figure out how to fix them. “They become the experts. That empowers them. It’s really magical.”
Melanie Wiscount Ed.D. ’15, Alexandria, Va.
Doctor of Education, Wilkes
Master of Science, Business Education, Bloomsburg University
Bachelor of Science, Accounting, Bloomsburg University
Career: Accountant turned computer science teacher and educational technology coach at middle and high schools in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. Now teaching at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Washington, D.C.
Notable: Winner of a 2016 Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics and Science. The award was established to recognize and encourage outstanding teaching in the STEM fields.
Favorite Wilkes memory: Dr. Gina Morrison’s “Leadership, Diversity, and Societal Change” class in her first week in the doctor of education program. “She asked us to write down our full name on a piece of paper and then to add ‘Dr.’ in front of our name. She asked us to look at our name with the title and know it’s our vision. It is up to us to create our path to it. I thought of that moment many times during the doctoral program…”