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Georgia AEM Jennifer Powers loves how CAP programs help her integrate STEM in the classroom

Posted on 03/10/2021 at 07:12 PM by Virginia Smith

Jennifer Powers poses in a portrait photo
Jennifer Powers, a Georgia AEM in Cobb County, has taught several grade levels of elementary school in her 20-year career. 

March 10, 2021

Meet Jennifer Powers. She has been an elementary teacher in Georgia for 20 years and still loves her work. She was a struggling reader growing up and was inspired by the help that her mother and teachers gave her to be that kind of support for others. "I want to honor the work they did for me," she says. "I want to be that person for someone else." Although she's only been a Civil Air Patrol Aerospace Education Member (AEM) for two years, she is the developer of one of the STEM Kit lesson plans for the Bee Bot/Code & Go Mouse kit in the Learning Management System in eServices. She created the lesson (found here) while teaching kindergarten, and she now teaches 5th grade. In the lesson, students create a map of their school and use bee or mice robots to program fire drill exit routes. We asked her some questions about teaching and working with Civil Air Patrol, and her answers follow:

Tell us about your school and your role as an educator there.

I am an elementary classroom teacher at Addison Elementary School in Marietta, Georgia. We were Georgia’s first charter school, but we have since become a public school in the Cobb County School District. In my 20 years at Addison, I have taught every grade except 2nd. I am teaching 5th grade now but have been working in kindergarten for the past 10 years. I have enjoyed being the inclusion class co-teacher whenever possible as my passion is working with children who struggle in school. This year I am trying on a new hat as the English Language Arts accelerated class teacher for 5th grade, and that has been especially fun, also. After 20 years, I still love being a classroom teacher and intend to stay with it forever. Seriously, the only other thing I have ever wanted to do is work for Turner Classic Movies and talk movies all day with its host Ben Mankiewicz. My favorite movie is "Harvey" the 1950 film starring James Stewart, about a wonderful man who has a 6-foot invisible rabbit as his best friend. This quote from the lead character is a big reason why: "I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whoever I'm with. Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, 'In this world, Elwood, you must be,' — she always called me Elwood — 'In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant."

Tell us about your career as an educator. How did you get started?

I did not learn how to read until 4th grade. I was the last of six kids with a working mom, so I fell through some cracks, and, as it turns out, I had dyslexia, though nobody knew this at the time. I was an expert at faking my reading. I would use picture clues, ask friends to read aloud with me then memorize the part I knew I was “in line” to read for when we took turns. I once even stapled my finger on purpose to get out of the classroom before my turn came up. Once my inability to read was discovered, my mom and teachers worked really hard to make sure I didn’t fall through any more cracks. They worked me pretty hard to be sure I caught up. I want to honor the work they did for me. I want to be that person for someone else. 

How many years have you been a member of Civil Air Patrol, and how did you hear about CAP's AEM program?

This is only my second year involved in the CAP program, but I am hooked for life. I learned about this program through my county’s STEM academy, which offers professional development throughout the year on STEM/STEAM related activities. It was a former science professor, now elementary lab teacher, and always an inspiration, Tom Brown, who mentioned it. There is such a big push to include STEM/STEAM in our classrooms, but not always enough resources to implement it successfully. Other times, there are too many ideas that don’t truly reinforce our teaching standards or that we cannot implement due to a lack of technology or resources.

The CAP program has helped me see how others are tying STEM concepts into their standards and provided me the actual materials I needed to implement the lessons in my class. The CAP program and resources were so fun and engaging that it fueled my desire to jump into STEM more. Now it is not something “extra” to do on top of teaching my lessons. It is a useful, productive part of students applying them. 

What benefits do your students get from the CAP programs you use?

I have participated in the STEM kits program with my kindergartners. The kits have enabled me to expand the range of STEM activities in which my kids can participate. At first, all my projects were very similar; the “craft” related ones where they use crafts to build something. These projects were fun, but knowing I had to connect STEM to my standards, I was constantly searching for ways to meaningfully incorporate technology into my lessons. The kits really helped me to do that. The set of “Bee Bots” allowed my students to explore coding and put more math into these lessons. 

Tell us about your Bee-Bot STEM Kit lesson plan and how you created it?

Again, I was seeking ways to make my STEM lessons more valuable, not just extra things we do on top of our standards for fun. We have measurement standards in kindergarten, a map standard, and we also had been tasked by our principal to teach our students how to get out of the school building different ways in case one route was blocked. The three things came together beautifully in this lesson. They created maps of the hallway patterns of the school and exits, estimated the distance of “landmarks” around the school, explored how to code the mice to get out of building different ways and reflected on which routes were the best. The STEM kit was what enabled the students to extend a simple map lesson into a critical thinking lesson with higher level thinking tasks. 

How do you make the best of COVID-19 instruction requirements for your students?

My school system is a hybrid of face-to-face and virtual. I teach virtual and face-to-face students at the same time. It is not ideal, but we are indeed making the best of the situation. I have always been a “hands-on,” “centers,” and “small groups” type of teacher; so having to stay distant and sit behind my computer all day so both groups can see me is quite a challenge. I am relying on humor and fast pacing to keep the students engaged until we get through this. Looking at the bright side, this style of learning means the students need to be more responsible and develop better independent work skills, which are two things every teacher wants for their students. 

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

There are so many answers to this question. One, I love project-based learning. Two, I am a huge fan of STEM and tying concepts together. It can be difficult with so many standards, to implement STEM lessons as often as we like or not see them as something extra at times. My goal has always been to find or create lessons that don’t just “connect” to the standards we teach but actually help students master the standards in an authentic engaging way. I want school to be fun, but rigorous and important fun. Lastly, my best and favorite brother was a pilot and builder of experimental aircraft before he died flying one. I do not think I had one conversation with him where his love of flying did not enter somehow. I always think of him when I am teaching STEM. Maybe I can help someone else find their passion for science, technology, engineering or math, too.

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

I have found that you often just need a “play” time for students to explore the material before you include them in your lesson or project. I also recommend doing a few lessons in a row with the same materials as they get easier to use each time.

Please tell an anecdote of a rewarding experience you have had working with students or colleagues using CAP programs.

For each STEM lesson, I always assign “roles” to each student within the group to help foster a better group dynamic. For my last lesson, I added a “task master” as one of the choices for the roles and assigned that job to one of my special needs students who struggles with focus. Before this we often found him staring off away from his learning for long periods of time and rarely engaged with his classmates. Once we gave him this role, he was fully engaged. He carried a clip board around with him, writing the names of students doing well on it and patting them on the back. He stopped his teammates from arguing as it was stopping their work. He checked that everybody’s data collection sheets were complete and graded them. Then, he went home and took on the role of “task master” there. I am not sure if his family members appreciate it as much as we did 😊 but we were amazed at this new side of him, his sweet personality and engagement.

Is there anything else we didn't ask you that you'd like to add?

I am thankful to CAP's program for pushing for the integration of STEM education in the classroom and providing the means to make it happen. Your program is helping turn this good idea into a reality!

Students doing Code and Go lesson plan Students working on Code and Go mouse activity
Georgia AEM Jennifer Powers used the Bee Bot/Code & Go Mouse STEM kit to teach her students to plot fire drill escape routes from their school. That lesson plan is available here.

 

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