It was a shock for Sandra Kellermann when she went from teaching at a well-funded private school in New Orleans to a rural public school in Harrison County.
The fourth-grade teacher at Lyman Elementary School had to adapt to having far fewer resources — and get creative.
Her creativity has brought her to the attention of her professional association.
Kellermann is one of seven teachers across the country to be appointed to the National STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Steering Committee that will address needs in rural classrooms this summer. She was chosen from a list of National Science Teachers Association members.
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On Wednesday, she went to California for the association’s annual conference, which oversees the national committee. There she’ll help develop the agenda and speakers for the sixth annual STEM Forum & Expo in Kissimmee, Florida, in July, which she’ll also attend.
Her No. 1 priority is to educate fellow conference and committee members on the importance of STEM instruction in classrooms with limited resources and funding.
Necessity’s the mother of invention
When she taught at Isadore Newman School, a private pre-K through 12 school, Kellerman noticed students showed great interest in STEM-related projects.
“The kids absorbed it all,” she said. “Everything that was STEM was hands-on and (students) learned because they were doing it. The abstract became the concrete and the concrete became abstract.”
But when she arrived at Lyman, she immediately noted STEM-related resources were slim — as was funding for them.
Whereas the private school had money for software, computers and other materials, Kellermann recalls starting with little more than an outdated textbook at Lyman.
“I went from a very high level of funding to very little,” she said. “That forced me to be creative.”
She turned to the community for help.
“Myself, students and other teachers went to the churches, the parents, even the hardware stores in town to see if they could help.”
Popsicle sticks and marshmallows
Recently, Kellermann procured thousands of frozen-pop sticks from a neighborhood hardware store. Her students used them to build miniature rafts that could float. They had to be sturdy and hold weight.
The project has practical implications and is tied to the Coast’s history, she said.
“I think even the (elementary) students know about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, where people were flooded out of their homes, where many found shelter on their roofs.”
Kellermann had students use marshmallow Peeps to give them the sense that the rafts would support human or animal life.
“I tell the kids, ‘Imagine if 30 years from now, a Hurricane Katrina happens again.’ I tell them the the rafts they are building could help save a life, or a pet.”
She plans to help other schools benefit from her experiences on the association’s steering committee.
“I plan to bring what I learn back to the classroom and teachers at Lyman. Then, I hope to share with not just Lyman, but other schools in Harrison County and beyond,” she said.