Teacher Spotlight: Kassie Yates

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

Kassie Yates

4th grade teacher, LeRoy Elementary School

What does STEM look like in your classroom?

STEM is mostly in the form of challenges that are facilitated by students. I am very hands off when it comes to STEM-related teaching because I believe this is a time for exploration and inquiry for my students. I’m still expanding my STEM knowledge, but I like to put how it looks in my classroom in the hands of my students.

What is your favorite STEM activity to do with students?

This is hard to answer because I love them all. Pencil catapults are very fun, but a simple challenge like “silencing a jingle bell,” was a huge hit. Most of these challenges, I don’t know how to achieve without exploring myself, so it’s SO neat to see all of the different ways your students think. Another challenge students enjoyed was lighting an LED light with magnets (which I got from Amazon) where they learned about the transfer of energy. Students enjoyed some foam roller coaster and marble challenges too. Anything can be a STEM activity like making the longest paper chain out of one piece of paper.

What motivates you to provide STEM-based opportunities for students? 
I thoroughly enjoy seeing the perplexed looks on my students faces as they are presented with a STEM-based opportunity. I smile as I watch their confusion or assessment of the problem/challenge move to determination and exploration. I would be lying if I didn’t enjoy the fact that I can reply, “Hmm, I’m not sure, what have you tried to figure that out?” when they ask me a question. Seeing the excitement and accomplishment is a great plus as well.
What advice do you have for teachers who are unsure of how to integrate STEM into their curriculum? 
Don’t overthink it. It’s not another lesson to be planned. You need materials (that can be found very easily, most of the time) and excitement. Students may need a lesson for cooperation, self-regulation, and problem-solving within a team, but that is something that can be hit at the beginning of the year. Sometimes you want to hop into direct teaching and help those kiddos out, but if you let them learn through exploration, it will conceptualize for them in a way that’s different than an “I do, you do” lesson. Lastly, see it as a brain break or free time. Students are excited to do STEM challenges, so use them as a reward. Have students earn them with whole-class behavior. Replace “Friday Free Times” with STEM challenges. You’ll still get to be productive, and your students will engineer and grow into scientists and problem solvers. Anything can be turned into a STEM challenge if you can switch your science lesson to be more explorative and hands-on for your students. Provide the supplies, tweak the lesson to include a challenge to achieve, and see what your students make of it.