Transformational. This is the word that Monica Nonaka uses to describe her experience as a participant in the Endeavor STEM Teaching Certificate Project. Ms. Nonaka is the 2018 recipient of the Glen Schuster Memorial Scholarship, providing her the opportunity to take three courses towards earning the Leadership Certificate in STEM Education.
Over the past year, Ms. Nonaka reports being immersed in a deep dive to learn about STEM education and it has changed the way she approaches teaching in her classroom. Ms. Nonaka states, "After taking the initial Methods of STEM Education course, I got such a good handle on how to develop rigorous and relevant learning experiences for my students, while maintaining the intent for what NGSS and STEM education is all about." Ms. Nonaka quickly connected with the integrated approach to learning and teaching that the Endeavor STEM program offers her and her students.
Rather than creating lessons that can seem disjointed, Ms. Nonaka now intentionally looks to find a hook or phenomenon that resonates with her 4th grade students to create memorable learning experiences. She recently implemented a unit she developed after taking her second course, Lessons from the Ocean: Science on the Water Planet. The unit focused on the impacts of Tsunamis. Living in Hawai'i, Ms. Nonaka connected with local history. She used NOAA data from the 1946 April Fool's Day Tsunami that originated in the Aleutian Islands and was responsible for much destruction to the town of Laupahoehoe on that fateful day. Through cultural proverbs, stories, and news clips she brought the story to life and allowed the students to "get messy" with real data from the NOAA resources. They reviewed model animations to track the path of the tsunami and made predictions using evidence. To culminate the unit, students built model coastal villages to test how different building materials may sustain the impact of tsunamis.
Ms. Nonaka leads the after school robotics program at her school and is now the West Hawai'i VEX IQ League Coordinator for schools in the district. She is thrilled to be taking her final course, Coding, Robotics and 1:1 Devices. She says her instructors are phenomenal and have been supporting her every step of the way. Ms. Nonaka states, "The individualized attention that they have given me throughout the course has really kept me focused and on track. Maintaining my family and school responsibilities as well as engaging is this additional professional development has of course been challenging. All the support makes a world of difference." Having regular feedback and check-ins from classmates and course instructors has been just what she needs to be successful. The interaction with other educators and instructors in the course discussions, live sessions, and collaborative feedback sessions have made the experience transformational and enriching. She feels that her teaching practice become more intentional and her students are thriving because of it.