6th-grade science teacher, Michelle Howe, was recently awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and )Science Teaching (PAEMST). She has returned from the ceremonies in Washington DC, and shared her experiences and insights.
Howe, a native of Dane, grew up attending school in Lodi, and after gaining her Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Education from UW-Platteville, taught at Janesville Craig for a year. When a position opened for Middle & High school agriculture teacher, she applied, and got the job.
An Unexpected Course
A short while later, budget cuts eliminated the agricultural program from the Lodi Middle School. Howe recounts:
I was low man on the totem pole, so they switched me to teach 6th-grade science. Complete blessing in disguise. I was heart-broken at the time because ag was my primary passion, and the FFA program. But I love teaching the 6th-grade science now. Their energy and enthusiasm is just.. there. It’s a perfect fit for me.
The elimination of the agriculture program from the Middle School curriculum didn’t stop Howe, however. Knowing the importance of agriculture to the community, she developed a “blended agriculture program” for grades 6-8, with the approval of the school board. This class of about 20 students involves students doing reading and homework on their own, then attending classes before or after the school day to do the hands-on work with Ms. Howe.
The class has a 3-year rotating curriculum, which allows the students to take it for each of their three years at the Middle School without repeating lessons. The class also allows them to be official members of the FFA.
The Road to DC
Howe was nominated for the PAEMST honor (who did so is unknown to her), and sent an application to apply. This application required not only her academic credentials, but extensive writing on her methods and vision for science education at the middle school level, and a video of her working with students in class.
That application was submitted to the State of Wisconsin. Each state–plus DC, the US Territories, and the military bases (including those overseas)–selects two instructors to represent them; one in math, one in science.
More Than An Award
PAEMST is more than just a recognition of Ms. Howe’s teaching ability. Recipients of the award are invited to review and comment on the President’s strategic plan for STEM1STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. education.
Reading this, I was like… Huh! Lodi’s got that [area] covered, Lodi’s got that [area] covered. We’re pretty amazing. We are truly at the forefront of STEM education–not only here in Wisconsin, but I would say nation-wide. Talking to other teachers out there, it was amazing how great Lodi was; how far we have come in our STEM education to prepare our students for future STEM careers.
On a more personal level, the connections made during the 3-day event puts Ms. Howe–and the Lodi Schools–in a network of the top teachers in the nation. That network allows for extensive communication, consultation, and collaboration on the creation of new classes and curricula.
The recognition that comes with this level of award reflects not only on the school district, but the community as a whole. A significant factor involved in choosing where to live, Ms. Howe points out, is “shopping for schools”. National recognition puts Lodi on the radar of people looking for a strong community in which to raise their families. This attracts more engaged and affluent residents to the area.
STEM education is frequently cited as the most important aspect of our increasingly high-tech economy.
Overall, 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned by men and 29 percent earned by women are now in STEM fields. At the doctoral level, more than half of the degrees earned by men (58 percent) and one-third earned by women (33 percent) are in STEM fields.
Howe stresses that STEM education is not just about information, facts, and formulas. It also requires parental involvement and understanding.
It’s not only about technology. It’s the hands-on learning and letting kids fail, and learning from that. I think that as parents and grown-ups, it’s hard to see our kids fail. But you also have to realize it’s okay. You learn from failure, too. And when they do fail, [encourage] them to keep on going.
Howe finished the interview by reiterating that “it takes a village to raise and educate our children.”
I wouldn’t want to teach, or raise my family, anywhere else.
A Lodi native, Blaze attended the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay where he graduated with a degree in theatre technology & design. He has traveled extensively throughout the United States and the world–including a 6-year stint in China. He has been a teacher, a writer, a designer, and is the founder of the Redleaf Consulting Group.
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