SHERIDAN — Walk into Abby Mowry’s fifth-grade classroom after school this year and students will be hard at work: clicking away on iPads, constructing robots, looking up schematics. Mowry likely won’t need to micromanage groups, as the students stay engaged and motivated on their own.
Education has taken on a modern look with Mowry, the recipient of Wyoming’s 2015 STEM Elementary Educator of the Year award. While some teachers may pale at all the available tools — Chromebooks, iPads, SMART boards — Mowry has embraced them. An avid technology consumer, she educates herself, her students and other teachers on how to explore these modern resources.
Although a tech guru, Mowry didn’t always consider herself a fan. It wasn’t until Mowry realized science wasn’t all frog dissection and owl pellets that she found herself engaged. Now she shares this passion with her students and other educators. Not only a teacher at Sheridan County School District 2, Mowry also mentors and teaches a technology class for Chadron State College and another course for current teachers through Sheridan College.
Going into her fifth year at Sagebrush Elementary School, and her eighth in teaching, Mowry has a unique ability to challenge her students with rigorous standards, while still remaining beloved by them. Some educators and parents balk at her criteria at first, but Mowry said she knows what her kids can handle.
By letting her students know her expectations right off the bat they rise to meet and often exceed them.
“Kids will surprise you,” she said.
This summer, during Sagebrush’s first science, technology, engineering and math summer camp, kids participated in an aquatic challenge designing a pool with water features, programing a robot to clean the bottom of the pool and creating a to-scale layout. At first there was concern about whether the fifth- through eighth-graders could handle the project. But, before long the kids were delegating work, completing research and asking to come early the next morning to plan out their waterslides. Camp advisors stopped worrying about the students’ capabilities.
This scene isn’t out of the norm for Mowry. It hasn’t been unusual to walk into one of her classrooms and see groups of students quietly engaged on various assignments, staying on task without helicopter teaching. This is accomplished by giving students some freedom in their education, Mowry said.
“Choice is huge in a classroom,” she said. “When you give them those choices they respect you for respecting them.”
Whether she’s teaching in her normal classroom, during the afterschool STEM program or at summer camp, Mowry presents clear guidelines for projects without limiting creativity.
She also strives to break down biases about STEM.
Aware of the stigmas that girls are “bad” at math and science, Mowry engages all of her students — male or female — with the attitude that anyone can excel in STEM. One project she has been mulling over is creating a “Chicks & Science” club at Sagebrush.