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Inspiration to Innovation: Creating The Next Generation of STEM Students

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Joseph Kun

 

As an educator, a successful day in the classroom means getting students engaged in lessons and eager to learn. No one knows this better than Ruth Fuchs; a librarian at the J. Ralph McIlvaine Early Childhood Center in Magnolia, Delaware. Ruth was a recipient of the Delaware STEM Education Award in 2014 for her innovative methods of bringing STEM concepts into the classroom all while creating a fun and exciting environment for students to learn in. While Ruth makes inspiring students look easy, getting to where she is today didn’t happen overnight. Ruth graduated from Rowan University and started her classroom career as a science teacher. When it was time to have her kids, Fuchs gave up the title of teacher, but she wasn’t ready to give up education just yet. When the library at her children's elementary school needed a librarian, Ruth jumped on the opportunity and the rest is history.

Picture: A group in a classroom working together to build a contraption to save Humpty Dumpty school wide challenge.

Fuchs has always tried to teach her students by utilizing creative teaching methods, particularly involving hands-on-learning with manipulation. Fuchs’ mission is to change the way that the public views the library and librarians.

“One of the biggest facets facing librarians is trying to change that image from the bun headed lady whose hushing everybody to an innovative and learning library”.

She is a firm believer that students learn best through involved learning experiences and from each other in collaborative groups.

“ My students inspire me! I love seeing their ‘aha’ moments or when they continue to probe through questions or asking simply for a book about the topic”.

Picture: Students are predicting and gathering their data for testing which would work best for ice skates – newspaper, construction paper, or wax paper?  

 

According to Fuchs, by introducing STEM concepts early on in education, educators are accentuating the natural intellectual curiosity of young students. “My kindergarten students are inherently inquisitive”. STEM concepts helps her students develop skills such as reasoning, hypothesising, and developing and analyzing ideas. Fuchs’ lessons that are the most popular with her students are the lessons that promote self discovery. Students enjoy activities where they predicting and then testing their own ideas. Additionally, Fuchs states that her students love technology related lessons. One lesson most enjoyed by students involved learning about the cartoon monkey character, Curious George, and helping design then build a water slide for him on Chromebooks.

Although some might say that Ruth’s teaching environment is unique, she does feel that education overall is transforming in the same innovative ways as her classroom. Fuchs states that there are many programs which are investing in initiatives that promote awareness for students to acquire STEM skills. One being the Delaware STEM Council, which is comprised of students, educators, business leaders, doctors and government officials who are devoted in stimulating STEM education in Delaware's schools. Ruth feels that:
 
“STEM education matters and is a key component for the future economic growth for America and Delaware” and she feels ”very fortunate to be recognized by such a prestigious council for my STEM teaching methods”.

Picture: A team of 3 students had to design, build, and test to see if their boat would float.  Challenge-how many pennies could your boat hold?

However, despite the general change in direction that education is making, it is not without the occasional setback.  One of the biggest challenges Fuchs faces each year is creating lessons or units that involve minimal resources,
 
“My classroom consists of 530+ kindergartners, so having ample supplies for them can be tough.

When asked about life after winning the Delaware STEM Education Award, Ruth stated “I continue to challenge myself each year to be a better teacher by reaching more students, creating new lessons or units of study, and always learning or researching something new”. Since winning the award, one of Fuchs’ most successful initiatives occurred when her administration asked her to spearhead a school wide STEM unit. Tackling this challenge head on, Fuchs devised a Nursery Rhyme STEM challenge for the entire school to participate in. After introducing STEM concepts in the school’s special classes, each classroom created a contraption that would keep Humpty Dumpty safe when he fell from a four foot wall.  As a culminating activity, she ran a mini-STEM assembly for the entire school to test the students’ creations throughout an entire school day.  She also suggested that the school get students’ families involved with the project. Fuchs sent home an informational letter and invited each family to watch and participate in an evening of STEM activities.  

Picture: Students testing wax paper and ice skating in the library!

 

One of Ruth’s goals is to “inspire students to love reading and make more students aware of how awesome STEM learning is by creating a learning environment where the student is an active engaged learner, and not just a passive consumer”. When asked about advice she would give to other educators who want to transform their classrooms into a ground breaking learning environment the way she has, Fuchs’ said that educators should reflect on their teachings.

“I always ask myself, ‘Am I bored with this lesson?’  If the answer is yes, then I need to revamp that lesson”.

 

Ruth believes that all educators are creative, and to take small steps to craft innovative STEM lessons is the best way to start. She suggests utilizing a weekend or the summer when you have quality time to take a closer look to see how you can construct a lesson infusing STEM into your classroom.  

 


 

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Joseph Kun is a marketing student in his senior year at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. In the future, Joseph wants to work in international marketing and eventually start his own marketing consulting agency. Some of his interests and hobbies include traveling, hiking, swimming, and cooking.

  

 
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Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 11:00