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BCCS teacher Katie Dwyer earns Project Lead the Way Outstanding Teacher Award

Monday, Ocxtober 11, 2021

It’s common knowledge that kindergarteners and first and second graders can make a lot of noise. In Katie Dwyer’s classroom at Brooklyn Center Elementary STEAM (BCE) the noise is on purpose.

Dwyer’s STEAM classroom isn’t just any classroom. Besides a lot of chatter from the K-2 students, there are lots of things to touch, block coding pictures on the wall, models of the human body, stand up tables, exploratory bins, and more.

It’s all of those things - and more - that led to Dwyer being named one of only 74 teachers from across the country as a 2021-22 Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Outstanding Teacher. The award is given to teachers who are in the forefront of creating new ways to promote learning experiences that ensure students continue to thrive. 

“This was a huge challenge for me and my students, especially when we were distance learning. I ended up purchasing some materials and books to create simple experiments that students could complete at home over Zoom, which aligned with the concepts in the PLTW curriculum,” she said. “I made a YouTube channel so students could easily access the experiments and lessons at their convenience. During the hybrid model, I was able to organize materials for each class I taught, so students could still access the PLTW curriculum within their homeroom.”

This is also the reason you’ll find the noise level in her class a little higher than normal.

“Student voice and choice is crucial to the atmosphere of my classroom. I assume the role of a coach and not your typical teacher,” Dwyer said. “Instead of giving knowledge to students, my goal is to create a safe learning environment where students can take risks and uncover their own knowledge in a way that is unique to each student and their lived experiences. Students are empowered to engage in real world problems while developing crucial skills that will help them navigate their world.”

That BCE was a STEAM school was one of the things that attracted Dwyer in the first place. She began with teaching robotics to fourth graders. “As the unit unfolded in my classroom, I realized that the students were so engaged and the fact that I didn’t have all the answers and served more of a coaching role felt natural to me. After the robotics unit, I began to incorporate more STEAM activities into my practice.”

STEAM concepts may not match what people imagine happens in K-2 classrooms, but for Dwyer it is natural to begin teaching these subjects in the lower grades. “We have a responsibility to begin the STEAM journey at an early age,” she said. “Young children are natural risk takers and curious. STEAM allows children to feel safe taking those risks and use innovative ideas to discover knowledge. Our commitment to STEAM at BCE makes us ‘Stand Front and Center’ because the idea of integrating learning among many disciplines is where education is going.”