ITEEA The Elementary STEM Journal, Vol. 23, Issue 4
PublisherInternational Technology and Engineering Educators Association, Reston
ReleasedMay 1, 2019
The Elementary STEM Journal, Volume 23, Issue 4 - May, 2019

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Teacher Highlight: Meet Julie Sicks-Panus

Teacher Highlight

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by Julie Sicks-Panus

The Elementary STEM Journal strives to not only share great ideas, but to also highlight the great work happening in elementary STEM classrooms across the country and  around the world. Teacher Highlight will introduce readers to one extraordinary elementary STEM teacher in each issue. Each featured teacher is either an ITEEA Teacher Excellence Award winner or is part of an ITEEA Program Excellence Award-winning program at an elementary school. We congratulate them for the great work they do for their students and thank them for being willing to share their experiences in The Elementary STEM Journal.

Teaching STEM, in her own words:

Life and learning is (or should be) one big integrated system—STEM is a great way to achieve integrated learning. As a STEM teacher at Plymouth Elementary School, I work to develop engineering design challenges that utilize, enrich, and extend the concepts students are learning in math and science classes. Students come to my classroom as a "special" for one 40-minute class once during each 6-day rotation. I meet with classroom teachers regularly to ensure that the engineering challenges are utilizing and reinforcing the concepts classroom teachers are covering. Several grade levels have worked with me to develop fully integrated units. At PES, we have seen that, despite being taught asynchronously (schedules do not allow for team-teaching), the units are powerful learning for our students, helping them carry knowledge from one "silo" to the next and apply skills from one in the other.

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I work to challenge students with ideas and problems that stretch their abilities without overwhelming them so that even the kindergarteners and first graders can strive to meet criteria and stay within constraints of a design problem, "try and try again" with iterative design, then feel the joy of creating a successful design. I challenge my students to deconstruct and understand function to build an understanding of how to create function. Real-world problems and meeting human needs and wants is integral to engineering design, helping students see that they can help shape our future: their ideas, knowledge, and passion can solve real problems.

Any elementary STEM program should be rooted in the engineering design process, focusing on iterative design within the criteria and constraints of a real-world challenge. Successful programs will support, extend, and enrich the whole curriculum—ideally STEM is the core around which the subjects and topics are woven.


Julie Sicks-Panus is a STEM Teacher at Plymouth Elementary School in New Hampshire.