Reading into it: A few words with a national STEM teaching award finalist

Reading into it: A few words with a national STEM teaching award finalist

Teaching math and science is tough enough. But making it interesting to a classroom of 6-year-olds can be mission impossible.

Lucky for Booker T. Washington STEM Academy, first-grade teacher KEVIN FREDERICK takes pride in his ability to captivate young minds.

"I try to engage my students' curiosity and empower them in everything they do," he says. "When they're faced with a problem, I teach them how to come up with a solution using a hands-on approach."

After a parent of one of his students noticed his unique teaching style, Frederick was nominated for the nation's highest honor — the National Science Foundation's Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Frederick learned recently he's among three Illinois finalists for the awards, which are given annually to one teacher from every state.

"I still am so surprised," says Frederick, who answered a few questions from our Therese Pokorney.

Nominees are asked to send a videotaped lesson to judges. What was the focus of yours?

"I taught a lesson on animal adaptation. After going over animals in different habitats with the students, I asked them to pretend I was dropped in the middle of the Antarctic. Then I asked the students to design things to help me survive, like boots, blubber or a coat. "

Was teaching always your passion?

"Not at first. I got my first bachelor's in psychology and had a job in social work for six years. Then, I got my second degree in elementary education and started teaching."

Is science your favorite subject to teach?

"I really enjoy teaching STEM-based content, but my favorite subject to teach is reading. When I was growing up, my mom always read to me aloud. I love being able to share the same with my kids."

What's the most interesting thing you've done this summer?

"I got to see my baby sister get married in Champaign. She's 10 years younger, so it was really special. Beside from that, I'm finishing up my master's degree in curriculum and instruction at the University of Illinois to help me improve my teaching and develop my curriculum skills."