Teacher Spotlight: Elana Heinonen

July 2, 2018 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ STEM in Education,Teacher Spotlight Series

Elana Heinonen

First Grade Teacher, Oakland Elementary School (District 87)

What does STEM look like in your classroom?

I try to provide a variety of STEM opportunities for my first graders. Most importantly, I aim to bring a problem-solving, inquiry mindset to everything that we do. This mindset provides a backbone for our STEM experiences. Our makerspace is “open” daily for students to explore. We do STEM challenges regularly, often incorporating read alouds or holiday themes, and fully embrace the opportunities within our NGSS standards to explore problems and design solutions for them. I also try to ensure that students have an opportunity to engage in age-appropriate coding experiences (for example, with a Code-a-pillar).

What is your favorite STEM activity to do with students?

One of my favorite STEM activities to do with my students involves designing and creating a solution for a human problem by mimicking plant & animal adaptations. Students are in charge from the beginning of this activity, brainstorming human problems we could solve, and using books and websites to research how animals or plants have adapted to solve that problem. Students then design a solution for humans based on their research and build a model of their solution. We then share our ideas and often create a video of the sharing session to share with families.

What motivates you to provide STEM-based opportunities for students? 
I want my first graders to develop into independent, thoughtful problem solvers, and STEM is a great way to do this! It’s also highly engaging and motivating for students.
What advice do you have for teachers who are unsure of how to integrate STEM into their curriculum? 
Getting started with STEM is like anything else…you just have to go for it! Think about a lesson you already teach well, and then consider ways you can enhance that lesson by adding in science, technology, engineering and/or math. Remember that you don’t have to everything at first. Start small…and build on your successes!