Stephanie Wagner’s objective listed on her resume offers a nice, professional summary of her teaching philosophy: “…empower students to create authentic artifacts and engage with computer science as a medium for creativity, communication, problem solving, and collaborative learning. My objective is always focused on the success of the students and how they will develop as real-world problem solvers with an edge in an academic environment and beyond.” Yet in spending a few moments with her, you soon find that those written words do not quite capture her effervescent enthusiasm and the passion with which she believes in active, engaging learning.
Ms. Wagner obtained her B.S. in Computer Science from the College of Charleston in 2001. Just over a decade later, she earned a K-6 Teaching Endorsement from the Career Switchers Program through Old Dominion University. She spent three years teaching fifth grade at a local public school, then moved up to sixth grade as a science teacher. While working on a “Gifted Education Endorsement” at Shenandoah University in 2017, the Computer Science/Innovation Lab position at R-MA Middle School caught her eye.
R-MA’s administration quickly hired Ms. Wagner, and she arrived early enough to have a key role in developing the new Innovation Lab at the Middle School, helping to make it a place where the R-MA students are truly creative and innovative. A great deal of that comes from the way Ms. Wagner runs her classes, which include Robotics, Coding, and Makers.
“At Google, you get 20% of your work time to pursue your passion, whatever that passion is,” she says. “So I incorporated that into our classroom environment. It’s sacred time to explore. The only condition is that the students have to present what they learned to the class.”
Ms. Wagner is sometime surprised by what the students opt to focus on. Topics have been as complex as exploring the similarities and differences in the money standards and laws of the U.S. and North Korea. Other students have chosen to focus on D-Day or researching stocks and bonds. “You never know if one of these topics will turn into a lifelong dream or a job,” she says. “This gives students the opportunity to find out what they like before getting to college and choosing a major.”
“I think students should be given more opportunities to learn by doing,” Ms. Wagner declares. “I am a firm believer in classrooms without desks in rows. I like to do education with them, not to them. I’m learning too. I want them to be comfortable enough to try, even if they think they will fail. Failing happens. It’s part of life.”
In 2018, Ms. Wagner continued to surge forward, as she help design the Hadeed Innovation Lab at the Upper School, and this fall she brings her creative drive and innovation attitude to the upperclassmen.
Ms. Wagner is married to Edward Wagner; they have two daughters, Sophia and Grace, who both attend R-MA.
- B.S., College of Charleston
- Classes: Coding, Computer Science, Robotics
- R-MA Mentor, Assistant Middle School Soccer Coach, FIRST LEGO League Coach