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Alabama AEM Kala Jo Grice-Dobbins enjoys using STEM topics to inspire students

Posted on 04/07/2021 at 02:50 PM by Virginia Smith

Kala Jo Grice-Dobbins poses with students at Sparkman Middle School
Kala Jo Grice-Dobbins has taught at Sparkman Middle School in Alabama for the past nine years. 

April 7, 2021

Meet Kala Jo Grice-Dobbins. She teaches 8th grade STEM to all students at Sparkman Middle School in Toney, Alabama. Sparkman is a Title I school in a rural area outside of Huntsville. She is in her 15th year of teaching. She was inspired to teach by stories of her grandparents' teaching experiences. As early as high school, she volunteered her time teaching at the local elementary school. Now, she has a passion for teaching in the Aerospace/STEM field. "I LOVE watching students learn and feel accomplished when they begin to understand hard concepts," she says. "Many of my previous students have contacted me to update me on their educational pathways. I love hearing how my class inspired them to pursue computer endeavors in high school and beyond." Grice-Dobbins is the first teacher to participate in CAP's new Adopt-a-Classroom program. In December, CAP announced this new program to connect squadrons with local 6th- to 8th-grade teachers to build relationships in the local educational community that stimulate interest in aerospace-related STEM subjects/careers and awareness of CAP and its youth programs. (Learn more about the program HERE). We asked her some questions about her teaching career and her involvement with Civil Air Patrol. Her answers follow.

Tell us about your current school and your teaching roles there.

I teach at a public school, Sparkman Middle School (Madison County Schools) in Toney, Alabama. SMS is a Title I school in a rural area just outside of Huntsville, Alabama. We have about 800 students enrolled in our 6th, 7th and 8th grades. I currently teach 8th grade STEM to all 8th grade students. The students take art one semester and STEM the other semester. This is my 15th year teaching. I have taught high school math in Mississippi for two years. I taught ICT II (computer applications) and math to 8th graders in Mississippi for four years. For the past nine years, I have taught at Sparkman Middle School. I taught 7th grade math for the first five years. Also at Sparkman, I have coached several academic teams. I coached scholar’s bowl at SMS for the first five years, and all five years we qualified for nationals. I coached Math Team for seven years at SMS. All seven years we were a Gold Level School for Mathcounts, and we won first in the National Perennial Mathematics competition the last two years I coached. The past three years I have coached CyberPatriots at SMS. Last year, we ranked 25th in the nation during the State Round. We won state that year as well. I am also the yearbook sponsor for the past four years. I was an advisor for the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) Tech fair students last year, where many of our students qualified for state competition, but, unfortunately, due to COVID protocols, they were not able to participate in the state rounds. We plan to participate again next year. I was asked to be a GenCyber (summer cybersecurity camp program) teacher mentor the summer of 2019.

Tell us about your career as an educator, why you became a teacher and what keeps you in the field.

This is my 15th year teaching.  When I was little, I would always hear stories about both of my mom’s parents who were teachers. I loved hearing these stories and decided at a very

Kala Jo Grice-Dobbins teaches a rocketry lesson to middle school students
Kala Jo Grice-Dobbins teaches a rocketry lesson to middle school students.

young age that I wanted to be a teacher. I was in the Future Teacher Association in high school and volunteered at the local elementary school in the Extended Day Program. I also taught French to 3rd graders my junior and senior years of high school. I LOVE watching students learn and feel accomplished when they begin to understand hard concepts. I also have thoroughly enjoyed coaching the academic teams and watching students who believe they are not smart begin to shine in their endeavors. Many of my previous students have contacted me to update me on their educational pathways. I love hearing how my class inspired them to pursue computer endeavors in high school and beyond.  

Please list any awards or recognition you have received as an educator that you would like to share.

At the beginning of this year, I was selected as the Air Force Association Teacher of the Year for my local chapter.

Other grants and awards I have received:

  • Grant for promethean boards for all math teachers at Murrah High School
  • REACH Teacher in Mississippi in 2006
  • Optimist STEM $500 award for my math team twice
  • $600 ITEA STEM award for my classroom
  • Chosen as a Space Camp for Educators attendee
  • Asked to be a GenCyber Teacher Mentor at UAH
  • Northrop Grumman $1,500 grant for Cyber Patriots twice
  • Northrop Grumman Foundation Teachers Academy Participant this year and last year
  • $2,500 TVA STEM grant
  • GM STEM grant for a 3D Printer
  • Missile Defense Agency STEM attendee
  • Civitan of the year for Alabama North District 2020
  • Nominated for Marquis Who's Who in America
  • $1,000 grant from the Optimist club for microbots

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

I have been a CAP member for three years. I was at a STEM conference in Mississippi when I heard about the STEM Kits program CAP offered. I even attended the CAP conference (National Aerospace Education Officer School, also open to AEMs) in Pensacola, Florida, the summer of 2019.

Please describe the Civil Air Patrol Aerospace Education programs in which you participate and what benefits your students get from these programs. 

I have scheduled to take the Teacher Orientation Program (TOP) Flight on April 30. We hope to have the entire school come out and hold signs up for us to take photos when my principal and I fly over. I am currently teaching the Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE) program, and I have utilized the STEM kits for the past three years. My students have thoroughly enjoyed the STEM kits we have received and love when we have kit days. They also are looking forward to the local CAP squadron and local Air Force Association coming and teaching STEM lessons to them over the next two months.

Please tell us about your involvement in Civil Air Patrol's new Adopt-a-Classroom program, in which squadrons "adopt" and work with local classrooms.

I was the first teacher to ask to be adopted this year. We have started the STEM lessons here in my classes. We are meeting and setting up dates for the squadron and Air Force Association to come and teach their three STEM lessons. We are super excited about the program and what it will bring to my students. They have enjoyed the lessons I have taught them. This program will show my students how STEM is used by other students their age in the local squadron. It will also allow them to see how things such as drones are not just used for play but can be utilized for things like search and rescue. I am all about teaching how things they learn now can be used in the future in the real world.

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

I have always LOVED the STEM curriculum.  In middle school and high school, I competed in ALL technology competitions I could find. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about Aerospace Education over the past couple of years in the conferences I have attended. I have changed my curriculum to incorporate more and more aerospace lessons. I now have an entire unit on Rocketry and Space exploration. Some of my lessons have come from attending Space Camp for Educators, and others came from Missile Defense Agency STEM camp, CAP National Aerospace Education Officer School, the Florida and Alabama GenCyber camps I attended for two summers and the Robotic STEM camp I attended in Mississippi.

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

REACH out!! I was shy about contacting my local CAP and AFA units for help, but they are the nicest, most helpful people I have met. I am SO excited to be working with them on this journey. I cannot wait to see how this goes when there are no COVID protocols blocking some of our ideas. I just wish I had contacted sooner.

Also, my colleagues and I work together to all order the same STEM kits so that we can have enough for a class set. We take turns choosing which kits we would like so that we all get kits we want.

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

If you get the chance, ALL AEMs should attend the CAP conference (National AEO School) in Florida each summer. You will meet amazing AEMs from all over the U.S. as well as AEOs who are willing to help and grow your class curriculum. It was one of the most enjoyable conferences I have ever attended. (Editor's note: National AEO School, usually held in Pensacola, is a virtual event this year due to COVID-19 protocols and is open to Aerospace Education Officers only).

Cadets meet with students at Sparkman Middle School.
Alabama Wing's Redstone Composite Squadron cadets meet with a few of the students Kala Jo Grice-Dobbins teaches at Sparkman Middle School.

 

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