Lessons Learned: Relationships with students and families shine positive light on classroom environment

Tell us about your plans for your NEA Foundation grant project.

"STEM Scientists" is a program that has created a hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classroom environment for kindergarten and ESL classes. Students have daily, ongoing opportunities to interact with animals, insects, plants, magnets, water, and construction toys that will build math, science, and engineering skills in a fun and engaging way.

How do you think your NEA Foundation grant project will help your students?

The project will allow us to design a classroom environment with a STEM focus that will encourage and enhance communication and problem solving for the earliest learners. My students will create their own learning with pretend-play scenarios that encourage risk-free thinking. Specifically, the sensory table with sand and water allows kids to experiment with water and objects that may sink or float. The use of these hands-on centers will be open for exploration and followed up with mini-lessons encouraging students to build upon required vocabulary.

Kindergarten has many "firsts" and I truly believe that having the opportunity to create a classroom with a heavy focus in STEM will encourage, benefit, and extend my students' thinking.

Photo by Flickr user U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Why did you start teaching?

I love kids and seeing things through their eyes is humorous. I think I learn as much or more from them as they do from me.

What is your passion - in or outside of the classroom?

My passion in teaching is building a community of learners who look forward to coming to school because they are genuinely cared for and valued.

Describe an “a-ha” moment, when you or your students (or both) have experienced a transformation in your thinking or learning.

After several years in the classroom, I had my "a-ha" moment when I finally realized the huge positive impact that developing real relationships with students and their families has on the classroom environment and student success. It took me a while, but I think I've got it!

Featured NEA Foundation grantee Karen Ciotta teaches science at Epes Elementary School in Newport News, VA. Find out what our newest grantees have planned for back-to-school on Facebook or learn about projects we’ve funded in our Grantee Archive. Find more information about how to apply for grant funding and how to support education grants for teachers. The next deadline for application is October, 15, 2014.



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