Barrington 220 Staff Profile: Becky McDowell How the elementary stem educator is teaching students how to collaborate and innovate.

Growing up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Becky McDowell spent a lot of her time enjoying the outdoors and exploring nature. Her parents encouraged her to be curious and try new things, which McDowell feels contributed to her career path as a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) teacher.

“I’ve always loved science,” she said. “Whatever I was interested in as a child, I really wanted to share with others.”

McDowell shares excitement with a student over coding a Lego robot.

McDowell went to Augustana College in South Dakota for her undergraduate studies where she earned a degree in education. Her first job out of college was teaching 8th grade science in Sioux Falls.

“I loved it,” she described. “We did things like water quality tests where we went out and did a field experience. We were very hands on, it was a very good beginning.”

Teaching at the middle school level, McDowell noticed that quite a few students had already decided they were not interested in the STEM fields. She has always felt strongly that early introduction to these courses is a deciding factor for student success.

In the pilot year of the elementary STEM program, McDowell tested both Lego and Project Lead the Way programs with students.

Students test their lego robots in McDowell's STEM class.

McDowell problem-solves with students working to code the Lego robot to complete its mission.

Although McDowell primarily works with 3rd and 4th grade students this year, she makes an effort to see students from all grade levels at least once. Kindergarten students pictured here are working on coding a robot mouse.

McDowell gets immense joy from seeing students succeed in STEM.

“A lot of the research out there shows that kids check-out of science and math by 2nd or 3rd grade. Girls see it as a boys subject, or they were never exposed to it early enough to develop an interest,” she said.

That experience made McDowell realize she wanted to make an impact on elementary students and introduce them to STEM subjects early on. She was thrilled to find an opening for an elementary STEM teacher in Barrington 220, and quickly applied.

McDowell got the job and helped launch the first-ever elementary STEM curriculum in Barrington 220 School District in the 2015-16 school year. Supported by the Barrington 220 Educational Foundation, the program has now expanded to reach every third- and fourth-grade student in the district, allowing them to have structured instruction in STEM during the course of the school day.

“Kids are overwhelmingly excited. They want to get started right away. They love accomplishing the challenges without having exact steps to follow and where there isn’t a right or wrong answer,” she said.

The knowledge students are gaining is more than just math and science concepts. They are learning to collaborate more effectively, solve problems more efficiently and be creative with their ideas.

“They’ve made such gains in being able to collaborate with each other and on a team,” she said. The confidence they display when parents come in to see their work makes it all worth it.”

A frequent presenter at local and national conferences, McDowell is a lifelong learner and loves to share her passion for STEM with others. She is nearing completion of a STEM certificate from Tufts University and is considering a PhD or National Board Certification next.

"They've made such gains in being able to collaborate with each other and on a team," McDowell said of her STEM students.

When teaching her students in class, she has two main goals: How to be more precise, and how to break down problems to build up solutions.

“I had a college professor that said ‘We’re not here to teach you what to think, but rather HOW to think,’” she said. “If I can teach you how to learn, whatever problem you face later, you’ll have the tools to tackle that challenge.”

"If I can teach you how to learn, whatever problem you face later, you’ll have the tools to tackle that challenge," McDowell said.
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Morgan Delack
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