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Alumna takes home 2022 Presidential Award

May 23, 2022

2022’s cohort of new honorees for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) numbers just 117, with only two coming from Indiana. IU South Bend alumna Sara Hoover, who teaches at Beiger Elementary in Mishawaka, is one of them.

A lifelong Mishawaka resident, Hoover works in the same school district she once attended as a child. At IU South Bend, she studied elementary education and teaching, earning her bachelor of science degree in 1999 and her master’s in 2002. She spent most of the next twenty years teaching second grade for the School City of Mishawaka district, first in brief stints at LaSalle Elementary and Liberty Elementary and then at Beiger since 2004.

Her teaching approach is focused on project-based learning, valuing hands-on experience over rote memorization. This made her a perfect fit for the Project Lead the Way initiative. The organization develops STEM teaching strategies and helps teachers implement them. As of August 2021, Hoover has transitioned from second-grade teacher to full-time PLTW facilitator for all the K-6 students at Beiger.

Hoover says that working with scientific concepts can instill broader life skills in her pupils. They learn, for instance, that failure can be a perfectly acceptable outcome in an experiment.

The process is what’s most important, Hoover said. If the students don’t get the outcome they wanted, sometimes they might think that their project didn’t work. I’ll ask them, What makes you think it didn’t work? You actually had complete success. You were able to work well with your partner, you were completely on task, and you met all the criteria.’

When Covid-19 put a stop to in-person classroom activities, Hoover and her colleague from Twin Branch Elementary, Shelly Sparrow, immediately started putting together lesson videos. (Impressively, Sparrow also won a PAEMST in 2018, making them quite a high-powered team.)

She and I recorded a bunch of videos in the classrooms before the schools were locked down, Hoover said. After that, it was a matter of how to set up green screens at home in our bathrooms and showers.

A delightful video series, Science Time with Hoover and Sparrow, was the result. By May of 2020, Hoover had set up a digital classroom, complete with a webcam the students could use to monitor the progress of their ongoing chicken-raising project.

At Beiger, there was an expectation that if you have Mrs. Hoover for second grade, you get to hatch chicks. It was important to me that the students got to hang on to those experiences, she said.

Although she will miss the daily second-grade life, Hoover is pleased that now she has created her own PLTW-compliant Imagination Lab, a room in the school dedicated to STEM work, all of our students get 60 minutes a week of STEM time.

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