For Kelly Sutcliffe's fourth-graders at Jefferson Elementary, a highly-diverse pre-K through fifth-grade school in Honolulu, learning means solving problems in the real world. For a unit on rising temperatures, Sutcliffe asked students to design and build portable air-conditioning units using the Engineering Design Process (EDP) and low-cost materials like foam coolers, PVC piping and ice cubes. Working in small groups, the students created four different air conditioners, then measured air temperatures to see how well they worked. Sutcliffe also used a STEM materials grant from Veggie U, a Hawaii state educational program focused on agriculture and sustainable farming, to incorporate the school's vermicomposting center into science classes.
Known as a dynamic teacher who sparks a fire in her students, Sutcliffe uses a variety of modalities to meet students' individual learning needs, including visuals, hands-on tasks, manipulatives, discussion, collaboration, and kinesthetic movement. For word problems, Sutcliffe teaches students the CUBES strategy: Circle the numbers, Underline the question, Box the clue words, Evaluate, Solve and check. She serves as facilitator as students quiz each other on multiplication problems, write problems on the whiteboard, share geometric drawings and monitor each other's behavior. Students choose among learning centers and small groups, with Sutcliffe tying lessons to students' personal interests to keep them engaged.
Driven by data, Sutcliffe examines monthly benchmark assessments that identify each student's strengths and opportunities for growth. Together, she and her students set attainable monthly goals. Parents see Sutcliffe as a partner in their children's education; she is welcoming and genuine in her interactions, reinforcing her belief that they and their children are important to her.
Sutcliffe is deeply committed to the idea that all students deserve quality instruction. She has planned and delivered professional development for Jefferson's staff and school community; participates in STEM, leadership and grade-level committees; assists with annual pacing guide development, curriculum mapping and instructional modeling; and serves as the school's STEM lead. Sutcliffe mentors future educators from nearby universities and has helped many student teachers prepare for careers in the classroom. Jefferson's culture centers around "TEAM" (Together Everyone Achieves More), a concept Sutcliffe embraces fully. She goes above and beyond both in the classroom and outside it: When a student with special needs had trouble hiking up to a petroglyph site on an outdoor education trip on the Big Island, Sutcliffe carried the student on her back.
Sutcliffe earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary STEM education from the College of New Jersey in 2005 and a Master of Education in math curriculum studies, magna cum laude, from the University of Hawaii in 2014.
Press release: Fostering an Interactive Classroom Earns Kelly Sutcliffe, of Honolulu, the $25,000 Milken Educator Award
"I think we need to encourage others by reinforcing the fact that teaching is a labor of love. If you keep the kids at the front of..." (read more)