Amanda Christensen may teach in a small town, but she brings big opportunities to her students. A fourth-grade teacher at Longfellow Elementary School in Mitchell, South Dakota, Christensen helped her students enter a writing contest held by Mantis Digital Arts, an educational video game developer in Brookings, South Dakota. When the class produced the first-place winner and several runners-up, the company’s founder visited to hand out the awards.
Christensen finds creative ways to get students involved in their learning by incorporating technology and different apps to help students acclimate to a digital world. Realizing that the class needed to hit a number of content standards in science, she presented the list to the class, grouped students by interest, and had each group research, plan, and execute an experiment related to one standard. At the end, each group presented its experiment and findings to the class, using programs like Prezi or PowerPoint as visual aids. Christensen also works hard to use best practices in teaching reading. Her diligence pays off: Christensen’s students routinely exceed expectations on district STAR assessments, gaining at least 100 points over the year.
Walk by Christensen’s classroom and you might hear a chorus of animal noises during a lesson on figurative language and onomatopoeia. When several students shared with her their passion for fantasy novels, Christensen dove into a popular series herself so they could compare their progress and discuss the characters. Christensen sets out daily objectives so students know the expectations of their lessons, emphasizing accountability and independence. Known for her ability to engage even the most reluctant learners, Christensen shows interest in her students’ lives, makes sure they feel valued, and reminds them that each student has a purpose in life.
To connect students with the community, Christensen partners with LifeQuest, a nearby facility for adults with developmental disabilities. Several times a year LifeQuest residents visit Christensen’s class, where students read to them. The children make birthday cards for their LifeQuest friends, many of whom donate supplies to the classroom. At year-end, the class and LifeQuest residents replant the facility’s flower beds together. The relationship with LifeQuest introduces the students to potential career paths and gives Christensen a rich foundation for conversations about tolerance and respecting people’s differences.
Christensen serves on Longfellow’s technology committee, co-advises the student council, and sits on Mitchell’s district English Language Arts curriculum review team. She tutors students after school and over the summer and teaches in Longfellow’s Lions Academy, a summer skill-building program. Christensen forges relationships with parents, inviting them into the classroom to volunteer and keeping in touch via phone, email and the ClassDojo app, which gives them immediate feedback and updates. A willing mentor whose positive attitude lifts up those around her, Christensen shares lessons, offers technology tips and helps others get new projects off the ground.
Christensen earned a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education in 2011, and a Master of Arts in reading in 2015 from Augustana University.
"I hope that [my Milken Award] inspires my kids to go on, dream big dreams, and accomplish great things in their lifetime."..." (read more)