Educators around the Triad know all too well just how hard it can be to make certain subjects fun for students — especially around STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) lessons. But there are ways, and sometimes it just involves thinking outside the box.

I’ll never forget the geometry teacher I had in high school. Our lesson plan was to design a “crop circle”; at the end of the semester we took a field trip to a local farm, where we actually made our crop circles come to life using rope and stakes to measure the proper angles. Unknowingly to me, my teacher helped connect real-life application to a textbook lesson; a rare feat of engineering taking place in a corn field.

Right here within the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School system, superheroes just like this walk the halls, inspiring students of all ages to embrace STEAM subjects with open arms.

How are they doing this? We caught up with three local educators who shared their passion and motivation for STEAM.

David Boyer

6th Grade Science

Kernersville Middle School

1. How, who, or what led you to decide to pursue a career teaching in the STEAM field?

“Trudging through swamps, climbing mountains, and canoeing backwaters in the Amazon rainforest, I found true happiness. Man’s interference with these incredible places brought purpose to my life. I decided that I needed to slow the destruction and began exploring ways to protect the environment. I ultimately decided that a ‘pay-it-forward’ approach would be the best way to impact my goals. If I could help teach future generations to understand the planet, value the planet, and want to protect it, then their efforts could multiply among people that they interact with.”

2. How do you inspire your students in the classroom?

“Honestly, capturing the attention of a generation so tightly tied to technology is one of the biggest challenges facing teachers today. Passion is contagious, though, and my students easily see the passion I have for science. I teach with energy and work to get students active in the process. I bring topics that we are studying to relevance where students can leave my room believing that they understand more about the world around them.

“In the past three years, I have built up my own YouTube channel where I make short videos about topics in sixth grade science filmed in the beautiful locations I travel to. I’ve made videos during the Great American Eclipse in 2017, from glaciers in Alaska, and next to giant sequoias in California. Students have commented that my YouTube channel is ‘lit,’ which I believe is a good thing.”

3. What’s some advice for students who are unsure if STEAM is the right career path for them?

“My father was a businessman and a community leader. One year, he was asked to talk to students about how reading would prepare them for a career. In his talk, he said that 80 percent of the job positions my students would be employed in during their lifetime don’t even exist today. Our world is changing fast and the most successful people are people that adapt to a technologically evolving economy. STEAM teaches adaptation.

“The more that students approach content with an integrated lens of technology, art, content, and process, the more prepared they will be in a dynamic workplace. Students that build basic skills, understand how the engineering process can be applied to various aspects of learning, and then use what they know to pursue a passion that interests them are the students that are going to be leaders in their generation.”

In depth:

• Time in the field? 13 years.

• Favorite lesson to teach? Planning a mission to Mars. This is a two week long project where students learn the history of exploration of Mars, examine the surface features of the ‘Red Planet,’ go through simulations of rocket launches, and then build rockets to launch their missions.

• What’s a fun fact about you? After a road trip this summer, I will have been to all 50 states and climbed the highest peak in 33 U.S. states.

Betty Jo Moore

6th Grade Science

Wiley Magnet Middle School

1. How do you inspire your students in the classroom?

“In my classroom, my students can find inspiration in the many hands-on and problem-based learning lessons that we do. I love making connections to the other disciplines; creativity and innovation are encouraged. Real-world problems that need real-world solutions are also used to keep students excited about learning. We video conference with professionals in the field from around the world and professionals also come into the classroom to help students understand that the STEM and STEAM fields need people.

“Another way is giving them opportunity to collaborate, share with other groups, and then reflect on the process. I have found that by giving them time to think and reflect, they are more eager to try something that may be new or different. It’s a great way to develop risk-takers.”

2. In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge in the STEAM field today?

“The biggest challenges that the careers connected to STEAM face are probably the underrepresented groups — women, minorities, people with disabilities; they are not being encouraged to enter these fields.

“Also, some students may have misconceptions that the STEM/STEAM fields are too difficult.”

3. What else can you tell us about yourself, your teaching style, and your passion for STEAM?

“I am a lifelong learner and look for opportunities that I can be a part of with the idea that what I’ve learned can be applied to the lessons and units that I teach. My classroom is very active, many times with music playing or with collaborative conversation and learning activities taking place. STEAM connects to everything. It makes sense and gives students opportunities to be creative while learning.”

In depth:

• Time in the field? 12 years.

• Favorite lesson to teach? My favorite lessons are connected to the ‘Earth in the Universe’ unit. I love teaching all units but find that it’s so easy to make connections to all of my concepts through the space part of the unit. Thermal energy, electromagnetic spectrum, waves, soil science, and so on. In addition, it really provides great opportunities to easily integrate other disciplines and STEM and STEAM components.

• What’s a fun fact about you? I’m an avid scrapbooker and am creative but I struggled in art classes all throughout school and cannot draw — yet. STEAM/STEM allows me to be creative without being an artist.

Brad Rhew

Kindergarten through 5th Grade Science

Petree Elementary School

1. How, who, or what led you to decide to pursue a career teaching in the STEAM field?

“I have always been curious of the world around me; to explore nature and understand how things worked. Interestingly enough, I struggled with science in school but was always fascinated by the concepts and wanted to learn more. I always knew I wanted to teach but it was my 8th grade science teacher that helped me decide I wanted to teach science. She made our class engaging and hands-on, which is how science should be taught. I decided to become a STEM educator because I wanted to spark that passion for exploring and learning with my students. I wanted them to see themselves as scientists and explorers.”

2. How do you inspire your students in the classroom?

“I inspire my students by letting them know that background doesn’t matter; they are scientists. It all starts with a question or an interest. The best days are when students have questions from the labs we have completed and want to know more about what we are learning. I make sure to share other resources, books, or even additional activities to get them excited about their learning and to continue exploring science.”

3. Tell us some ways that STEAM might be applied in out-of-the-box ways.

“Across the front of my classroom is a giant sign that says, ‘Science is Everywhere!’ This is the motto I instill in my students. Everywhere they go, STEAM is happening in the world. I try to always connect concepts that we are learning to everyday experiences. I want my students to feel they are part of the learning and find ways to take what we are learning in class and share it with their families outside of school. I try to use field trips, the outdoors, guest speakers, and STEM based programs to expose my students to all aspects of science and learning.”

In depth:

• Time in the field? 10 years.

• Favorite lesson to teach? Shad in the Classroom. Students get to raise shad [fish] eggs into the fry stage. We take a trip to the Eno River where students get to release their fish. We then spend the rest of the day exploring the river, learning about the ecology of the area, and making connections to our science content.

• What’s a fun fact about you? I enjoy hiking, traveling, kayaking, and karaoke.

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