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Minnesota AEM Kate Watson gives students tools to solve real-world problems

Posted on January 15, 2021 at 9:13 AM by Virginia Smith

Kate Watson takes TOP Flight
Kate Watson, a Minnesota AEM, has been an educator for 17 years. She has taken part in CAP's ACE, STEM Kit and TOP Flight programs.

January 15, 2021

Meet Kate Watson, a teacher on special assignment at a Title I elementary magnet school in Minnesota. She has been an educator for 17 years and chose this career in order to innovate in the classroom. She enjoys helping her young learners navigate the world around them. “I know that having opportunities that provide the use of inquiry, asking questions, seeking answers, fostering creativity, teamwork and STEM is what is best for all our students,” she says. “Giving students lifelong tools to solve problems, especially real-world problems at any age, builds pride and confidence. ” Her current role is Curriculum Integration Coordinator for the school, and she is also the school coordinator for implementing Civil Air Patrol’s Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE) Program. We asked her some questions about her career and her involvement in CAP, and her answers follow.

Tell us about your school and your role at the school.

University Avenue Aerospace, Children’s Engineering, and Science (ACES) Elementary in Blaine, Minnesota, is such a special place. We work to connect staff, families, and the community to our school in a number of ways recognizing that we all do better when we share in the community and experiences. As a Leader in Me School, Students and staff leadership is a major part of our dynamic culture and there are opportunities for everyone to find their voice, share their unique talents, while growing as learners and building strong relationships.

My role is a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) who is part of the University Avenue ACES Staff to support all aspects of our magnet school programming as the Curriculum Integration Coordinator. This is my seventh year in this position.  (For more information on University ACES, check out the site she built for the school’s Virtual Magnet Open Houses HERE.)

Tell us about your career as an educator.

I have been a teacher for 17 years. I spent the first eight years of my teaching career teaching in a Catholic school outside St. Paul, Minnesota, and then moved north of the Twin Cities and was hired as a first-grade teacher at University Avenue Elementary. Two years later I left the traditional classroom and transitioned into the role of the Curriculum Integration Coordinator in the building.

I became an educator because it seemed like a system that could always be improved with innovation and the intentional building of relationships. Not only does one get to work directly with people and the community, but as an educator you get to help our youngest generations navigate the world around them. I love applying new innovations to current systems and working with teams to keep refining and expanding upon practices to better support the whole.

Please list achievements and recognition you have received as an educator that you would like to include.

In past years I have been recognized by CAP as the Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE) Coordinator of the Year, and most recently in 2019 I was the Minnesota Air Force Association Teacher of the Year. These are great honors, and I appreciate how they shine a spotlight on the need for accessible STEM and high-quality inquiry for all students no matter their age, experience or ability.

I am proud of the opportunities I have had to help our whole school and staff be highlighted and recognized through awards at both a local and national level. University Avenue ACES Elementary has repeatedly gained recognition by Magnet Schools of America as a Magnet school of Distinction and Excellence. In 2018 University Avenue Elementary was one of three schools being considered for a top national honor by the Magnet Schools of America organization. Our students, families and staff are absolutely amazing!

How did you hear about CAP’s AEM program?

Our school was first introduced to CAP at the Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC) at Space Center Houston in Texas. CAP and its ACE program make a cornerstone of our K-5 program and a partnership that we value greatly. I have personally had the privilege to present at SEEC with senior CAP members to share this great program and resources with other educators from around the country.

Please describe the Civil Air Patrol programs you participate in and their benefits to your students.

We participate in the ACE Program and have also used the CAP STEM kits. The STEM kits have been an appreciated addition to the program for our teachers to find an area of interest they want to explore and bring into the classroom in a hands-on way. This allows us as a school to try some new STEM materials in a piloting capacity. I, as well as many teachers within our school, have participated in the Teacher Orientation Program (TOP) flights that CAP also provides. These have been a great way for teachers to bring that first-hand experience back into the classroom. We also do our best to partner with the local squadron and showcase that opportunity to our older students. In the past we have had CAP representatives at our family events. As a staff we have also gone to the local airport and squadron hangar to learn about the program from the cadets and share in a picnic.

Please describe how stay-at-home restrictions changed how you do your job. How did you make the best of the situation for your students?

Although this time has been challenging, our added-value programming has been going strong. Our teachers have found ways to adapt their STEM education components to all the different learning models (Hybrid, Distance) and have even found new ways to utilize our existing content to better engage and support our students. Knowing how interested our students are in this topic helps us use it to support other academic areas. As a staff we have been committed to getting materials in the hands of our students. This often means working together to find the best systems and strategies to gather and assemble materials to support these lessons, as well as pick-up procedures that were accessible to our families. Even when our students were learning virtually, we made a point of getting hands-on materials and experiences in their hands. We have also been able to leverage technology to elevate the way students could share and collaborate on their work.

Why do you teach in the Aerospace Education/STEM area?

Knowing what is best for our students and doing what is best for our students can be two different things. I know that having opportunities that provide the use of inquiry, asking questions, seeking answers, creativity, teamwork and STEM is what is best for all our students. Giving students lifelong tools to solve problems, especially real-world problems at any age, builds pride and confidence. Kids are brilliant and allowing them to have more open-ended and hands-on experiences and opportunities lets that brilliance shine. At University Avenue ACES Elementary we truly believe in Student Voice. When our students create or have new ideas and they are listened to and celebrated, they absolutely shine.

At University Avenue ACES Elementary we have been putting equity and inclusion work at our forefront. When we look through the lens of our magnet, specifically our theme of aerospace, engineering and science, this means providing both windows and mirrors for our students. Our teachers take the time to ensure students are seeing themselves in these jobs and finding individuals within the aerospace community --  both present and past -- that look like them and share similar life experiences as they do.

What is the best advice you have for a new AEM working with CAP programs and materials?

My advice is to just get started. Pick a few materials that you are interested in or allow students to choose some that spark their interest. If you have been using the materials for a number of years, like our teachers have, it’s important to go back and take a second look at the lessons you might not have been teaching. I know this year my teacher teams have added some new lessons they have not taught before, and the students are really enjoying them!

Students watch planes on a runway Student looks through binoculars
Kate Watson is the ACE coordinator for her school. University ACES  strives to empower its students with confidence and skills to help them succeed lifelong.  



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