Meet The Innovative Teachers In STEM

To celebrate Manufacturing Month, the Caterpillar Foundation is proud to support our partner Discovery Education in recognizing educators in STEM in the United States who are committed to advancing the next generation of doers in STEM fields.  

Held annually on the first Friday in October, Manufacturing Day encourages companies and educational institutions to open its doors to students, parents, teachers and community leaders to show the reality of modern manufacturing careers.  

As manufacturers seek to fill 4.6 million high-skill, high-tech and high-paying jobs over the next decade, Manufacturing Day empowers manufacturers around the country to come together to address their collective challenges so they can better help their communities and future generations thrive. 

Meet Amber Thomas, a 6th grade Science teacher in Mableton, Georgia.  
Amber Thomas, 6th grade teacher in Mableton, GA.

At the start of the pandemic, Ms. Thomas saw a change in her teaching style, with only 50% of her students present and active in March. But now that her classroom has shifted to a virtual format, she has seen that number increase to 95% daily participation.  

What accounts for this success? Her positive attitude. Ms. Thomas says an on-camera smile and a wave can go a long way.  

Once virtual became our reality, Ms. Thomas decided early on that she would need to make her science classroom as engaging as possible. By putting herself in her students’ shoes and ways of thinking, Ms. Thomas was able to pivot her classroom by allowing students to become more independent and to have the freedom to prove their mastery of the subject however they choose.  

As educators look to become more innovative with their teaching style, Ms. Thomas believes educators should build a trusting relationship with students; make learning fun; teach outside of the box; challenge students in fun ways; and try to align standards to real-world problems that students can solve. Educators should allow students to become creative in their thinking and explore the topic they are learning. 

Ms. Thomas finds inspiration in her students. They remind her to never stop learning and to continuously seek knowledge. Ms. Thomas finds herself constantly looking for ways to become better at what she loves to do: teaching. Her students bring her joy with their positive attitude and eagerness to learn.  

Meet Crystal Draper, an 8th grade Science teacher in Macon, Georgia.
Crystal Draper, 8th grade teacher in Macon, GA.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms. Draper has pivoted her classroom by live streaming her lessons through platforms like Microsoft Teams and Canvas, incorporating breakout rooms through Microsoft Teams and utilizing the live chat function to communicate with her students.  Ms. Draper also uses platforms such as Stemscopes, Smart Lab, and USA TEST Prep, to practice questions and answers, measure performance tasks, and implement formative assessments, and she demonstrates live demos of science experiments to allow her students to participate with her virtually. 

With classrooms now being in a virtual format, Ms. Draper advises teachers to have patience, especially during live streaming; speak clearly and slowly; and always check for students’ understanding through questioning, discussions, and virtual quick quizzes. 

As a veteran educator, Ms. Draper finds inspiration from her students. They have inspired her to stay motivated during each lesson, and they see greater outcomes despite our stressful circumstances. Her advice to them is “to try their best, achieve, and they will succeed.” 

Meet David Stickle, a 6th grade Mathematics teacher in Mableton, Georgia.
David Stickle, 6th grade teacher in Mableton, GA.

One of the biggest challenges Mr. Stickle has faced since the start of the pandemic was transitioning from paper and pencil to a virtual format. Prior to the pandemic, Mr. Stickle’s students worked on whiteboards, located in his classroom, to share their work.  Now, students share their screen and/or use the chat box on the platform Zoom. Mr. Stickle has found that his students’ flexibility and willingness to use these tools have really helped make the transition to a virtual format go smoothly.   

Another challenge faced by Mr. Stickle was being on camera. With over 20 years of teaching experience, this year was the first year of him having to teach on camera. At first, he lacked confidence, however, with persistence and a positive attitude, his confidence for being on camera has grown tremendously. 

When it comes to advice for teachers looking to become more innovative in the classroom, Mr. Stickle says to be patient. Teaching virtually is new for teachers, students and parents. Mr. Stickle finds that some days technology works, students are engaged, and the lesson is a success.  However, there are some days when technology does not work well, and students are struggling with a new website or program. When this happens, he advises teachers to strive for patience and remain calm.  

Mr. Stickle finds inspiration through the compassion his students have shown throughout virtual learning to him and their peers. With the virtual format being new for him and his classroom, students have offered strategies and suggestions to help their peers navigate the platform and websites used in his classroom and have shared ideas that help make their class more efficient and engaging.   

Meet LaTonia Simmons, a 6th grade Earth Science teacher in Austell, Georgia.  
LaTonia Simmons, 6th grade teacher in Austell, GA.

Since the start of the pandemic, Ms. Simmons has experienced immense challenges in working as an educator. It was daunting at first to think about her students’ physical and emotional well-being as they adapted to an online platform. However, with her peers’ support she is able to keep her students engaged.  

As many teachers continue to look to be innovative in their teaching, Ms. Simmons advises them to try everything. She believes “the adaptation that is necessary for virtual teaching to be successful leaves no room for fear of failure.” She advises that if a strategy or platform doesn’t work to try something else and make sure to include the students’ opinion in the process.   Ms. Simmons’ inspiration every day is her students. They continue to show up in person and online every day to learn and grow, and they have been patient and flexible. They have taught Ms. Simmons a lot about how empathy and understanding are the keys to navigating this pandemic with as much grace as possible

Meet Eli Rollman, a 7th grade Social Studies teacher in Canton, Georgia.
Eli Rollman, 7th grade teacher in Canton, GA.

Since the start of the pandemic, Mr. Rollman has been finding innovative ways for students to collaborate and communicate with one another all while social distancing. Using existing tech resources like Canvas, a learning management system, and web 2.0 tools, Mr. Rollman’s students have successfully collaborated and helped one another improve.

As teachers continue to rise to the challenges of socially distanced learning, Mr. Rollman continues to try new and innovative tactics in the classroom in an effort to engage students. He continues to be inspired by the creative ways they want to express their knowledge and solve problems. His advice to educators also experiencing challenges in their current environment is to not be afraid of failure, and to use it as an opportunity to grow and improve

Meet Meredith Powell, a 7th grade Life Science teacher in Woodstock, Georgia.
Meredith Powell, 7th grade teacher, Woodstock, GA.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Powell collaborated with her colleagues to develop meaningful and thorough virtual lessons to ensure her students remained engaged in a virtual environment. Having felt disconnected from her students, Ms. Powell leaned heavily on Canvas, a learning management system where students access many interactive resources, games, assessment tools, videos, and studio boards to show their creativity.

With many educators seeking advice on how to navigate this new norm, Ms. Powell believes that fostering a flexible and positive learning environment by showing enthusiasm will have a ripple effect on students. By feeding off this energy, students will become more innovative and will integrate the components of creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking in developing necessary skills. Inspired by her students every day, Ms. Powell believes that guiding students in making interdisciplinary connections and applying their learning to the real world will activate their problem-solving skills

Meet Kara Reeder, a 6th – 8th grade STEM Exploratory teacher in Woodstock, Georgia.
Kara Reeder, 6th -8th grade teacher, Woodstock, GA.

Since the pandemic, Ms. Reeder faced the challenge of understanding how much would be expected from her students given the “new normal” of virtual learning. However, her student’s eagerness to learn has provided an opportunity for Ms. Reeder to create a fun and engaging learning environment, as she often challenges them to create, design, and build something new using some of the simplest household items, such as cardboard from a toilet paper roll.

As teachers continue to find meaningful ways to keep their students engaged, Ms. Reeder has continuously challenged herself to try something new. Ms. Reeder understands one of the greatest resources are her students. They continue to provide her with great insight on how to adapt or change former classroom activities to ones that are relevant to today’s changing learning environment.

What is Ms. Reeder’s inspiration and motivation in the classroom? Her students’ resilience, strength, and ability to rise to the challenge and overcome obstacles faced this year.

Meet Nina Eidson, a K-5th grade STEM Lab teacher in Canton, Georgia.
Nina Eidson, K-5th grade teacher, Canton GA.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ms. Eidson felt isolated and knew that her students felt the same way as well. In response, she took an active role in ensuring that students would attend class meetings by using technology. To keep her students engaged, Ms. Eidson used gamification as a form of collaboration, held lunch meetings to share successes and struggles, and began leaving video feedback to further connect to students. Now as students return to school, Ms. Eidson manages both face-to-face learners and virtual learners. As a result, she has pivoted to create virtual modules in Canvas for students so that they are able to have a similar experience as being in the Lab.

During these challenging times, Ms. Eidson believes that integrating passions into lessons can lead to some of the best STEM learning experiences. By fostering a positive and solutions-oriented classroom, Ms. Eidson encourages her students to use their skills while allowing them to be more engaged.

It’s no surprise that Ms. Eidson draws her inspiration from her students’ ability to imagine solutions to a problem. It is this imagination that allows students to create innovative solutions, design prototypes of their dreams, and become resilient even during a pandemic – something which encourages her and other teachers every day.

Meet Ché Abdullah, a K-5 teacher in Charlotte, NC.  
Ché Abdullah, K-5 teacher in Charlotte, NC.  

Since the start of the pandemic, Mr. Abdullah has pivoted both his classroom and his teachings, finding solutions that usher in new ways to engage his students virtually.  

To create a space where his students feel more connected to technology, while learning at a distance, and to boost their motivation to participate daily, Mr. Abdullah has increased his availability to students and their parents through the use of a designated communications platform. 

Additionally, vital tools such as audiobooks, podcasts, and video content have been great drivers for Mr. Abdullah’s success, and his incorporation of learning targets into single subjects have promoted cooperation and communication and have encouraged students to seek answers and solutions needed to achieve. 

Mr. Abdullah’s ability to empower his students and give them a sense of control of what and how they learn has produced substantial results. His students’ courageous response to challenges presented to them in a way that motivates them to achieve success is what inspires him most.

Meet Debbie Martin, an Instructional Technology Coach from Winchester, VA.
Debbie Martin, Instructional Technology Coach from Winchester, VA.

As an Instructional Technology Coach, Ms. Martin works primarily with teachers, supporting their professional development.  

Since the beginning of the pandemic, she has creatively used digital communication channels to meet teachers’ needs, administering virtual meetings and video tutorials to equip teachers with necessary tools to inspire young minds. 

Through her virtual sessions, she also advises teachers to use outside resources such as blogs and YouTube channels when trying testing out innovative models for their classrooms and to seek input from their students on what works well for them and what can be improved. 

As teachers continue to rise to the challenges of virtual and hybrid learning, Ms. Martin is inspired by individuals’ willingness to learn and try new things, while also developing patience as everyone collectively works through the process of maximizing their potential through these challenging times. 

Meet Kristi Dragan, a K-12th grade Science Coordinator in Lebanon, TN.  
Kristi Dragan,  K-12th grade Science Coordinator in Lebanon, TN.

As a Science Coordinator, Ms. Dragan works to create comprehensive science curriculum and programs for teachers to help students engage with concepts and materials.   

Since the pandemic, Ms. Dragan has pivoted her daily work to integrate science programs into a hybrid teaching platform for students and teachers, aiming to teach science standards effectively. Despite the challenge of pivoting to a virtual format, Ms. Dragan has shown tremendous resolve and dedication in creating in-depth programs for teachers and students alike.  

As the science program continues to transition into a virtual format, Ms. Dragan created her first virtual office to increase the channels of communication between herself, teachers, administrators, students, and parents.  

With many educators seeking advice for this new norm, Ms. Dragan’s virtual office allows her to step out of her comfort zone to inspire educators who are also tackling challenges during this pandemic.  

Meet Linda Hixson, a 7th -12th grade technology teacher in Shenandoah, PA.
Linda Hixson, 7th-12th grade technology teacher in Shenandoah, PA.

As a result of the pandemic many educators have had to adjust to a virtual world, including Ms. Hixson who had to pivot her classroom and lessons to an online format.  

One of the biggest challenges Ms. Hixson faced was incorporating a collaboration 

component into distant learning. She began using creative ideas such as online demonstrations and shared Google projects, allowing her to keep students engaged and promote collaboration and teamwork among them.  

In addition to these lessons, Ms. Hixson stays inspired by her students. In fact, her high school students have been a driving force in creating and implementing programming classes, where often both Ms. Hixson and her students learn together, reaffirming her lifelong commitment to learning.  

Ms. Hixson’s ability to keep her students engaged and give them a unique learning experience has motivated and inspired her students to keep learning despite these challenging times.  

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