10th grader educates leaders on power of data

Jennifer Fernandez, sophomore at Renton Prep, copresented about power of data at STEM Summit 4.0.

Jennifer Fernandez is a shy and quiet 10th grader, but her resume suggests that she’s anything but shy.

Fernandez, a student at Renton Prep Christian School, has presented at various conferences, including SXSWedu, International Society for Technology in Education, Northwest Council for Computer Education, Emerald City Comicon, Learning Counsel at the T-Mobile Headquarters, and the Ninth Workshop of the Impact of Pen and Touch Technology on Education.

Most recently, she attended STEM Summit 4.0, a conference in New York that focused on the power of data.

Fernandez and Michelle Zimmerman, director of innovative teaching and learning sciences at Renton Prep, copresented their findings on integrating data from analytics to advance education and better prepare students.

“[The summit’s] goal was to get some of the heavy-hitters of education to come together to speak on some of the innovative topics and start conversations,” said Zimmerman. “Their focus was on data and power of data. So they wanted to look at not only research and data that comes from research, but also what it looks like in the classroom if this is for STEM education, and how it translates into actual classroom instead of staying just as theory.”

Renton Prep’s STEM-based program has earned them national recognition when they were selected by the 2016 Future of Education Technology Conference advisory board to be one of the three best middle schools with STEM programs in the country.

As part of their curriculum, students heavily use various online tools to for their research-driven education. They then study the available analytics to better shape their future projects.

“We publish a lot of our projects online,” said Zimmerman. “What’s great about the internet is that it gives you analytics. We use those analytics to figure out what works best and how to make things more appealing to people and more interesting… [Students] started building them as digital portfolios so they can use them when they go to internships, college or careers.”

The summit invited Zimmerman to share about how the school was helping students harness the power of data online to shape engaged learners, then asked if she could add a student perspective to the presentation as well.

“Because of some that background and the experience [Fernandez] has, they looked at her background and some of the project she has done, and said that was the perfect voice they wanted,” she said.

While Fernandez describes herself as shy, she said she didn’t feel nervous presenting since she’s done it before.

“It didn’t hit me that I was speaking to some of the top names in education,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting so many people to come up to me afterwards and talk about the presentation because I thought it was normal compared to everyone else on the stage. I guess they really liked having a student voice there.”

“They said it was the highlight of the event because it came from such a different angle than what they were expecting,” said Zimmerman. “At an event focused on data, you don’t typically think about students using technology to harness data to influence projects.”

Fernandez then explained the various projects she completed and how she used online analytics to improve on other projects. And yet, for a digital native who finds herself online constantly, Fernandez doesn’t see the internet as a quick escape or a time-wasting portal.

“There are some teenagers who post things or make videos to just to get views or be funny or get viral,” she said. “But if we use the internet in a way that has a good purpose — ours was an educational purpose — we are using the full potential of the internet to make the world a better place.”

While she doesn’t know what she wants to study in college, Fernandez admitted she was interested in 3D animation or physics engineering. Something relating to technology for sure, she added. But for right now, she’s focused on starting the running start program next year.

Reach Leah Abraham at 253-678-3148.