My name is Jennifer Priest and I have been a teacher at Susan Moore Elementary School for 12 years. I taught science for 10 years before having the honor of becoming our district’s first STEM teacher. I get to teach almost 600 students how science, technology, engineering, and math relate to their lives. It has been the most rewarding experience of my career!
A couple of years ago, our school was approached with the idea of starting a STEM lab. We all loved the idea, but we were not sure how we could fund it. After doing a lot of research, I found an abundance of data that reiterated the importance of getting our students college and career ready beginning as early as kindergarten. Studies show that if we don’t get students interested in science and engineering before they leave elementary school, they do not pursue jobs in those fields. According to the U.S. Department of Education, all STEM jobs in the U.S. will increase 14 percent from 2010-2020. Yet, data shows that 3 million of those jobs will go unfilled by 2018. That is a staggering number! While reading and math are definitely at the forefront of education, we cannot forget to teach science. If we don’t expose our students to science and engineering, we are doing them a disservice in regards to their future. Richard Riley, the former Secretary of Education stated, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist … using technologies that haven’t been invented … in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” Equipped with this knowledge, my principal and I approached the county with our idea. They were extremely supportive and the first STEM lab in Blount County began.
We decided that every student in our school (kindergarten through 6th grade) should be given the opportunity to participate in STEM. Because we are a Title I school, our funds are very limited. We have relied on donations from parents and the community. I have written several grants to help fund our STEM lab. With my grant money, I have purchased LEGO robotics kits and programmable robots. However, we mostly build with K’nex, LEGOs, and various materials. My students love building things from scratch. I present each class with a real-world challenge at the beginning of the class. I don’t tell the students how to “get” there. I let them figure that out. They all have the same goal, just different ways of getting there. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we fail. But, we always learn!
Thus far, our classroom teachers have been very supportive of STEM lab. They see the benefits that it presents to our students. Our students have more confidence in themselves. Students that are usually not successful in reading and math, have flourished in STEM lab. It has been amazing to see them become leaders for their peers. Without a doubt, that has been the most rewarding part of my job! I try to encourage those students to think about the different occupations they can have that best highlights their abilities. I want them to realize that even though they may not always be successful in reading and math, they can be successful in other areas of school. I also work with the classroom teachers to make sure that we are supporting them with their science, math, technology, and ELA standards. Every lesson is based on a science concept, that integrates writing, literature, math, technology, and, of course, engineering. My students are learning to create things, with constraints and criteria, all while using a budget for their creations. I have seen some amazing things from these students. I just hope we can continue making progress and helping our students achieve their dreams.
Susan Moore Elementary School
Blount County Schools