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Teacher Spotlights: Melissa Niemi of Arnold Magnet Academy

About this feature: The 100,000+ classroom teachers in Georgia’s public schools are on the front lines of education. They’re nurturing dreams and showing children what’s possible – and they’re making sure students have the tools they need to make those dreams of reality. Teacher Spotlights, a recurring feature from the Georgia Department of Education, introduces you to those educators.

In this edition of Teacher Spotlights, meet Melissa Niemi. She’s an eighth-grade physical science teacher at Arnold Magnet Academy in Muscogee County, and was one of seven U.S. teachers selected to participate in NASA’s Long-Term Engagement in Authentic Research program. We talked with her about training with NASA, project-based learning, and bringing STEM to life for students.


On training with NASA…

“What impressed me most was how little I knew about NASA. I already had a preconceived notion about the organization and what they do and I was totally wrong. There is so much more to NASA than space exploration. They are involved in everything from aircraft design and testing to atmospheric monitoring. And NASA has so many resources available to teachers that I was not aware of. Education is a big part of what NASA is about.”


...and bringing that knowledge back to students:

“I was also struck by collaboration among the scientists. Each department is very specific, but they all k now that they have to work together to achieve a common goal and have a successful mission. I am excited to bring back not only this idea of collaboration among scientists, but being able to show my students the relevance of scientific research.”


On project-based learning:

“Project-based learning is the single most effective way I have found to engage students…[it] allows students to arrive at the same answer, but promotes diversity in how to get there. The best project-based learning experiences are those that directly relate to a student’s everyday life. If we build a bridge just for the sake of building the bridge, there is no relevance or sense of importance for the students to connect to. If we design and build a bridge that has a greater chance of withstanding earthquakes, that is something students can connect to.”


On encouraging girls’ interest in STEM…

“I try to get them excited about the possibilities of jobs. I try to expose them to non-traditional topics. I present women in science who can serve as great role models and show girls that science and engineering are not just for boys.”


…and bringing STEM subjects to life for kids:

“It is vital for Georgia to promote STEM subjects and careers so our state can grow economically and compete in national and world markets. STEM is all about doing. There is a very famous quote, ‘Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.’ STEM is hands-on. By allowing students to do and to touch and to experience, you give them a kind of knowledge that lasts a lifetime.”

To nominate a teacher for DOE Teacher Spotlights, email Meghan Frick at