The OSLN STEM Excellence Awards are accepting nominations until June 1. Today, we’re checking in with one of the first winners of the award. Amanda Gillespie is a lead teacher and technology facilitator for STEAM Academy @ Hartford Middle School.
She won the OSLN Excellence in STEM Teaching Award in 2018, an accomplishment which earned her a feature on a local billboard!
She’s stayed busy since winning the award, creating new programs for students like the CS Code Girls program and STEAMMcon2020. Amanda also talks about what motivates her as a STEM educator.
If you know a phenomenal teacher, school or district administrator, or an outstanding advocate for STEM education like Amanda, be sure to nominate them here. Read our blog post for all the details, including application requirements.
Q: When you won the first OSLN Excellence in STEM Teaching Award in 2008, the team that nominated you mentioned your success in connecting with students and community partners as well as winning grants for your school. Since then, any new achievements you’re proud of?
A: I am proud to announce that my CS Code Girls event has a permanent home on the Walsh University campus, thanks to Dr. Michael Dunphy and Dr. Melisa Barden. This past December 2020 event saw 400 girls from several middle schools in Stark and Summit counties.
Arconic Foundation continues to support our STEAM programming as well. For 2019-2020, the foundation awarded us grant funding to support a new program called Travelling STEAMM. Once implemented, this will be a trailer outfitted with equipment that we will use to bring STEM lessons to our sister schools, feeder schools, and community gatherings.
Additionally, PhRMA has shown support for our biomedical engineering program at STEAMM with a generous donation. It was a video we had produced to showcase our Biomed program that made it to PhRMA headquarters and sparked our connection.
Prior to the quarantine, I was busy working on yet another idea I’ve decided to call STEAMMcon. STEAMMcon is part comic-con, part gamer-con, part student showcase. At STEAMMcon, we come together to celebrate the end of the school year, buy cool stuff from vendors, learn new games like Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and LARP, and enjoy the day with friends! If all goes well, STEAMMcon should prove to be a great funding source for our programs. Before I had to cancel STEAMMcon2020, we had several vendors signed up and had attended a few community conventions to spread the word. I’m anticipating a great turnout for our first ever STEAMMcon2021.
I was also nominated and received the Canton Charge Teacher of the Month for December by my friend and colleague Dr. Bernetta Harrell-Snell.
Q: From your perspective, what defines a “STEM innovator?”
A: A STEM innovator is a problem solver, a daredevil, and a risk-taker. As a STEM innovator, I view the world from an engineering, problem-solving, how-can-we-make-it-better lens. STEM innovators are not afraid of failure. They dare to wonder. They dare to ask why. They dare to ponder on how to make things better. These people have the practiced gift of not just seeing what is, but what could be. My colleague and mentor once said, “I don’t need people who admire the problem. I need people who solve the problem.”
Q: Why are you passionate about STEM education?
A: I’m passionate about STEM education because I love the problem-solving aspect of this style of teaching and learning. I love the interconnectedness of it all, not only between contents but between the classroom and the real world. I want my students to grow up to be happy, productive members of society.
Q: It’s a challenging time for educators. Are there any parts of the STEM education method you’ve found particularly helpful during the crisis? Or that you think are particularly important?
A: During the COVID19 quarantine, distance learning has quickly moved to the forefront of education across the nation. My colleagues and I have been working on lesson integration and PBLs that can be completed from home. Also, we recognize that right now, our focus needs to be on student mental health and physical well being first, followed by lessons that are relevant, meaningful, engaging, and integrated.
The STEM ideology of real-world problem solving has come in handy given that we’ve all had to quickly adapt. I think our STEAMM students and staff have had a much easier time of adapting to the new normal because of this. Out of the gate, my first assignment was the Smile Challenge from Future Engineers that I spotted on the OSLN blog. This challenge helped students to engage behaviorally, cognitively, and emotionally.