Michelle Kay may help her students build robots; however, her teaching style is anything but robotic. The science teacher at Kalakaua Middle School (KMS) knows how to excite her students about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through real-life examples.
Kay tailors her teaching to meet the needs of her students, lays out step-by-step instructions and checks for understanding along the way so that students feel more confident in their abilities. She adds plenty of creativity, too. For an Earth Science project about the different categories of rocks, Kay purchased graham crackers, marshmallows, ice cream and chocolate syrup, and then had her students smash the various ingredients between graham crackers to simulate metamorphic rocks.
A standout among her engaging projects is building the school’s VEX Bot program. Students design their own robots while learning the basics of engineering, robotics and design, as well as valuable team and problem-solving skills. Kay’s leadership in KMS’s VEX Bot program is so impactful that she transformed three students who knew nothing about robotics into serious middle school VEX Bot competitors. To make after-school learning fun, Kay regularly brought in snacks and pizza while the kids learned how to design, build and program their bots. As a result of this focused work, the KMS team was not only selected to attend the VEX Robotics World Championship, but finished 11th out of 160 students from around the globe.
Such is her enthusiasm that in the two years Kay has been at KMS, the majority of her students have participated in the science fair. Through her commitment to helping students with their projects, KMS students have received the opportunity to participate at the Honolulu District Science Fair. A recent project on pesticides received several prominent awards.
In addition to her responsibilities in science, Kay oversees the 7th- and 8th-grade Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) college-readiness program. Her high expectations and ability to mentor challenging or struggling students have helped create opportunities for all to learn and grow. In fact, Kay’s early intervention is credited for making it possible for struggling students to stay in school.
Holding a master’s in education, Kay continuously pursues professional development opportunities. She has participated in a developmental program that helps educators teach through aquatic sciences, is a leader on the school’s Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation team and a facilitator for the science department’s professional learning team. Next to teaching, ocean research is a passion; she served as a site research assistant for several years and relates that experience to her classroom through underwater robotics lessons.