Educators across the nation are doing some amazing things in their classrooms. STEM Teacher Whitney Roth is an avid sharer of ideas on social media. Not only does she share the amazing things that are happening in her classroom, but she also takes her cue from other educators around the country and is doing her part in disseminating great ideas from other teachers and educational leaders. Read on to see how she’s taking STEM beyond the walls of her lab!
Name: Whitney Roth
Role in Education: TK-5th Grade STEM Teacher
Location: McKinley Elementary/San Gabriel Unified School District
Social Media Handles: @justkeepsteming
How long have you been in education?
This is my 12th year teaching. I taught six years of 6th grade Math and Science, 4th grade, 5th grade Math & Science, and am currently in my 3rd year as the TK-5th grade STEM teacher at McKinley.
Please describe a “day in the life” of Ms. Roth?
An exciting part about being a STEM teacher is seeing all the students in the entire elementary school. Each day of the week presents a new grade level and content/project that students are working on. School runs from 8am-3:30pm. I normally get to school around 7:30 to start prepping the lab. I have amazing lab assistants who help to organize, set-up, and prep iPads/Chromebooks. They normally assist from 8-8:30. I see between 3-5 classes a day, depending on the grade level. The classroom teacher is also present during STEM Lab, so it truly helps to connect the subject matter they are learning in the classroom with the projects in STEM Lab, while simultaneously having more hands on deck to work with students and foster cross-curricular connections. The last class leaves at 3pm, allowing my lab clean-up/set-up/planning/grading to range between 3pm-5pm, depending on the day.
What is the best thing about your job?
The best part about my job is seeing the innovation and collaboration that students experience. Being in this position for three years has allowed me to work with the same group of students and see their growth over time. Witnessing the amount of time and detail they put into a plan, the increased level of sharing and communication with others, and their continued development of a growth mindset (to fail forward) truly makes my heart smile!
What are some of your favorite activities you do in your classroom and/or with students?
One of my favorite things to do is to build in mathematical thinking and number talks for about 10 minutes. I do it whenever I can, though it is definitely easier (timewise) with 4th and 5th. These activities range from ones I’ve created, to YouCubed activities, Which One Doesn’t Belong boxes and justifying answers after posing Would You Rather Math scenarios. I like having students discuss their thinking in small groups first because it helps them to build confidence, allows students to see how multiple methods are used to arrive at the same answer, and gives them time to think critically and practice responding orally, in a low-stakes situation.
Additionally, fifth graders have really enjoyed created Caine’s Cardboard Arcade. Each 5th grader works in teams of 3-4 to create a game out of cardboard and other reusable materials. It’s a great way to kick-off the engineering design process and build teamwork, especially at the beginning of the year.
Lastly, first through fifth graders have all experienced Breakout EDU games, and absolutely LOVE them. Breakout EDU is similar to an “escape room” concept but has students work in teams to find and put together clues which reveal the combinations to multiple locks. It’s a fantastic activity to foster the 4C’s while teaching and/or reviewing content in any subject matter.
What are some ways that teachers can readily/easily incorporate STEM/STEAM components into their classroom routines? (Any pointers?)
- Use the engineering design process and incorporate a skill/concept you’re already working on. For example, if you’re working on adding decimals, have a budget in your engineering challenge that includes decimal values. While planning and then building, students will need to change their materials and constantly recalculate their new budget. They don’t even realize how much they’re practicing adding decimals. Better yet, it gives the opportunity, as a teacher, to give real-time feedback, check their calculations and correct misconceptions.
- Reflection! I LOVE using Flipgrid and Seesaw as tools for students to individually reflect on their learning. Once students have built something, experimented with materials, or played a new game, give them the opportunity to build language and technology literacy skills by using one of these reflection tools! I then add a new text feature (adding a caption, labeling materials, etc), in Seesaw for them to focus on while orally recounting their work.
- Integrate and create. You just finished a read aloud or are learning about communities, give them random materials to build something that connects to the book or community. I have collected “happy trash” (recycled materials) in the back of the room which is an easy go-to location to allow them to construct and create. Place materials in small bins, along with tape, and other school supplies and have them create something from the book or lesson you just read about.
Are there any resources (e.g. resources, templates, activities, people to follow, etc.) that you can share that might inspire more STEM in the classroom?
Helpful resources have included: EiE (Engineering is Elementary), PLTW (Project Lead The Way), and the Buck Institute, to name a few. There are also fantastic activities already created in Seesaw and in the Flipgrid Libraries. I have also used Book Creator as a way for students to keep a STEM Notebook for the year.
I have learned so much from my PLN on Twitter. The following are amazing educators that constantly share their creative ideas: Ann Kozma, Jody Green, Joe Merrill, Ryan O’Donnell, Cori Orlando, Kristin Oropeza, April Buege, Matt Vaudrey, Jo Boaler, Marilyn Burns, Ryne Anthony, Ken Ehrmann, Dylan Peters, Matt Rogers and Mr. Guellich.
How has your online PLN helped what you teach in the classroom?
I am so grateful for all of the people mentioned above because they have created, tried, tested, reflected and shared on so much of what is happen in their classrooms/educational settings online. This has allowed me to learn and grow from their experiences and expertise, while encouraging me take more chances in my own classroom. To see how a shared idea, picture, or post on Twitter is transformed to your own classroom is truly incredible.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with others?
As an educator, we get to empower! We don’t need to be experts in everything. I love that I am able to expose students to topics, devices, or challenges and allow them to create. They produce work that is more than I could have ever imagined. Giving students an opportunity to be engineers and programmers, and apply mathematics and science to solve real-world problems, ultimately expands what they think of themselves and of others!
Whitney Roth was born and raised in Pennsylvania. She has always loved learning (and swimming) and earned her undergrad degree in Business Administration from Villanova University. Her teaching path began when she was accepted into the Teach For America (TFA) program. Through TFA, she was placed at a middle school, in Los Angeles, and taught 6th grade Math & Science. During these two years, she fell in love with teaching young mathematicians and scientists, creating lessons and curriculum, and growing with and from other educators. Since then, she’s had experiences in public, charter, elementary and middle schools, as well as having spent time teaching in both CA and CT. After knowing that she wanted to pursue her Masters in Elementary Mathematics, Whitney completed her degree at CSULA. For the past three years, she has been teaching K-5th grade STEM in San Gabriel Unified.