“I’m a big geek. I don’t believe science should be taught in a vacuum,” said a joyful Franklin Elementary School Technology teacher Stephanie Stern as she sat in the school’s impressive computer lab, decorated with high-end Macbook computers and an impressive multi-functional white board.
Stern recently was awarded a fellowship from NASA, becoming one of only 50 winners out of a roughly 2,500 applicants.
“I love technology,” she added. “It’s what makes me love teaching.”
The fellowship earns Stern – one of two applicants accepted from New Jersey – a free enrollment in graduate courses. Hoping to earn an education doctorate, Stern has been taking courses in engineering, scientific method, reading and writing for the science classroom, and more.
“You’re bringing in never-ending global information. This is very important.” – Principal Peter Clark
“She’s working with professors who are the top academic people in the United States,” said Principal Peter Clark. “This is a big plus for the students here.”
Stern’s philosophy – in accordance with NASA – is to conceptualize her teaching based on open resourcing, an approach to acquiring lesson plans from quality websites. In one lesson, Stern had her students track hypothetical weather patterns on their computers to spot possible tornados.
“It’s something I am pushing for, something I believe in,” said Stern, adding that many of the open resourcing programs she gives her students are provided or sponsored by NASA. “[The students] know that something fun is going to happen when computers are involved.”
“[With open resourcing],” you’re bringing in never-ending global information,” said Clark. “This is very important.”
From the encouragement of Stern, Clark has agreed to begin holding science fairs next spring.
“They’ll love it,” said Stern. “They want to compete, [which helps them] learn.”
Into the 21st century
A teacher for five years, Stern is in charge of helping to bring the school into the 21st century. Her task is to integrate top-of-the-line technology into lesson plans for fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classrooms.
“I was hired with the goal of ramping up technology,” said Stern. “I want kids to have the advantages that other kids have.”
“Every time a teacher needs something interactive, it’s my job to get it,” added Stern.
With the help of NASA, Stern coordinates interactive lesson plans based on knowledge she acquires in her graduate teaching courses. According to Stern and Clark, these interactive lessons help keep the students learning more efficiently.
“I take materials from NASA and open a window to learning,” said Stern, “and that’s exciting.”
Clark acknowledged that despite the school district’s limited funds, the district’s contributions and support have been encouraging.
“You’d be amazed at what students and children can learn when they’re engaged,” said Clark.
Teachers such as Linda Horncich swear by the advantages that Stern brings to the classroom. Horncich’s students used Stern’s technological resources to their advantage to build parachute contraptions that could protect objects from sustaining damage from free falling.
“They were so engaged with [her] project,” said Horncich. “With Ms. Stern leading them, it was a wonderful experience.”
“It’s not just for me; it’s for the kids,” said Stern. “At the end of the day, they learn, and they’re happier.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.