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Bonnie Kirkley


STEM Teacher? That was never in my plan. The plan I had when I got my teaching degree and my very first job. It wasn’t even a thing in 2003. What I have come to realize… I actually was always a STEM Teacher. Now…presently, I consider myself a STEAM teacher. I am more refined with technique and have integrated the Arts with impact. So I started out teaching first graders, seriously, I was going to do it forever and NEVER change. I simply loved when it was time to teach a new set of science standards. Weather… oh that was my favorite time of the year! I would decorate with umbrellas and raindrop words.

During my morning meeting, we had a meteorologist report. I added a thermometer to the many things we counted during meeting time. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have had an iPhone from then with pictures to share… but no such thing yet! Do you see where I am going with all this? I was using science and incorporating grade level math standards, and ELA standards. What was missing for it to be STEM? Just a little purpose…. oh and engineering!
I want you to realize by the end of this post that you are a STEM/STEAM teacher, too. Every teacher in any subject can do this.


I spent 7 years teaching first grade. I never thought it would happen, but eventually, I was asked if I would move to teach 5th grade. At first, I was like… what? 1st to 5th? I had a great principal that recognized strengths and knew how to utilize them. During my 1st grade years, I added gifted instruction to my teaching certificate. I also completed my Master’s Degree in Reading Instruction. I loved curriculum.. was I a nut? Probably.


So I was asked to move to 5th grade to teach writing, science, and social studies. Seriously? How? Why? But something stirred inside me, and I went with it.Most of my day was spent teaching writing. I actually was so secretly…. ok… hold my beer. I wanted to get students fired up about writing! That first year the word STEM started popping up everywhere.
I decided to complete 4 weeks of heavy training in STEM over 2 summers. Gahh…. I learned so much, but during that training.. still no discussion of engineering so much. The focus was more on how to bring the wow to science integrated with mathematics. I will never forget the one thing I learned from a crazy about science man… science is cheap…. Just be a trash collector and hotel scavenger. I still didn’t realize I was a STEM teacher yet.

My first grant in 2011 for incorporating STEM into writing.
Can’t believe I found this photo! Love the internet! In 2011, I decided to apply for a local grant to bring “hands-on” experiences to my writing class. We cooked, built, exploding things, worked on fantastic art projects…. still I had no idea I was evolving from a STEM teacher to a STEAM teacher… none, no idea, at all! This is that principal that took a chance on me, and then sent me on the path to where I am today. His name was Marc Bell. A few years after this photo, he died suddenly from a heart attack. We were all so heart broken. Not to change the subject, but I couldn’t not say how much we admired him and miss him now.
So… now I have written my first grant and received it. The very next year, I became the full time science and social studies teacher in fifth grade. By now… I am starting to realize how different my instruction is from the norm. Microscopes, taking measurements, asking our math teacher for collaboration in my classroom, always a million different things going on in my room.
When we finally held our first STEM Day in Georgia…. things were changing. I was loving it. By the way… the grant, it was local. If you want to do something like this, start LOCAL! Local grants are there and much less difficult to write. The chances are much better for those, as well!


The year after Mr. Bell died, our assistant principal at the time became our principal. She was innovative and a risk taker. It was her that got our school involved in that first STEM Day. That summer we talked one day, and she asked me to move… to teach gifted students full time. That was always a dream of mine. I could completely implement my teaching strategies all day and really encourage STEM/STEAM.

By now, I know how design processes fit into all this, and our school also decided to work on our school certification which then led to me adding STEM as an endorsement to my teaching certificate and helping with the certification, but I totally still wished I had a playbook or STEM Guide like this one you can download for FREE! ( Currently, Georgia has a small program for this. NASA has a pretty cool program for this, too that includes a Master’s Degree if you choose.
I really believe we all are STEM/STEAM teachers in a way. You don’t have to have the title to be one. It’s a method of cross-curricular teaching that just makes practical sense to me. Students need this instruction. The best way to make this happen in your classroom is through project-based learning. That moment when students thrive with passion for a project that makes an impact that gives them a voice, it is literally one of the most satisfying things to watch. Yes, I have literally cried tears of joy when students take charge and I sit back and just facilitate.


When STEM/STEAM is implemented with intentional foundations laid, I really sit back and take orders from them when they need something. And yes, we get our content and skills in everyday.

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