Fifth- and sixth-graders across the Puyallup School District are experiencing science and its various applications on a whole new level thanks in large part to Stephanie Haegele, a teacher at Pope Elementary School.
Haegele, who teaches students in the QUEST program at Pope, volunteers her time as the school district’s STEM coordinator. She partners with the Washington State University Research and Extension Center campus in Puyallup to develop scientific field investigations for fifth- and sixth-graders and trains teachers on the curriculum developed by Pacific Education Institute.
Field investigations for fifth-graders are done at the Research and Extension Center, where students investigate the health of the wetlands environment. Sixth-graders conduct do their investigations at DeCoursey Pond in DeCoursey Park, where they test the water, examine the waterfowl and learn about the pollution that impacts the health of the pond system.
At both WSU and DeCoursey Pond, students cycle through five workstations collecting different types of data and evidence so as to create solutions for problems they see.
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“That hands-on piece of being outside the four walls of the classroom is so important, because it helps them to connect with the real environment,” Haegele said. “They can experience it and feel it, versus someone telling them about it in the classroom.”
On Oct. 24 Haegele was recognized for her contributions to science education when she was named the Washington State Science Teacher of the Year for Elementary Education at the Washington Science Teachers Association banquet in Shoreline.
John Parker, the chief academic officer of Region 2 for the Puyallup School District, nominated Haegele for the award, as did Christine Moloney, the district’s executive director of instructional leadership.
“Stephanie is dynamic in the classroom in science related instruction,” Moloney said. “She helps kids achieve excellence. She has a passion for what she does. It’s contagious and it’s wonderful.”
Haegele has taught in the Puyallup School District for four years, with all of those four years at Pope. Prior to coming to Puyallup, Haegele taught at Seghalie Middle School in the Federal Way School District for 14 years where she was the lead teacher of the STEM Academy, a school within a school.
Haegele cites her successful track record in STEM that opened the doors to being the STEM coordinator for the Puyallup School District.
Two years ago, Haegele also took the reins of Puyallup schools’ annual science fair and transformed it into the STEM Showcase, adding three new exhibit categories that empower students to explore science, technology, engineering and math.
“Students can still participate with a traditional science project, but now they can also invent or engineer something, they can participate in technology, or do reverse engineering where they take things apart and figure out how parts and pieces work together,” Haegele said.
The STEM Showcase model, Haegele said, has opened doors to more activities.
“We have robotics from our high schools and other demonstrations and hands-on activities,” Haegele explained. “We have a straw tower competition and a cardboard box competition.”
The STEM Showcase is featured each year at the Washington State Spring Fair at the Washington State Fair and Events Center. Haegele said the Fair has been a great partner, providing free space, ribbons for students and prizes.
While Haegele grows the STEM Showcase, she is also busy at growing the WSU field investigations. In progress now is the development of curriculum for fourth-graders to do field investigations at the Puyallup Historical Fish Hatchery.
In the future, Haegele envisions the field investigations to be adapted to lower grade levels, as well as higher grade levels into junior high and high school. This will produce a continuity of learning for all students, she said.
Haegele will be honored and recognized for her contributions at the Dec. 14 Puyallup School Board meeting beginning at 6 p.m. at Aylen Junior High School.