Innovator of the Month, March
Join me in congratulating, Middle School teacher, Dr. Michelle Nunalee, who has been named Ravenscroft’s March Innovator of the Month.
Michelle was selected this month for her dedication to teaching two of the most innovative courses offered on our campus, both engineering and Lego robotics. In addition, Michelle does an excellent job of getting our school’s name out there by having our students participate in local and national competitions, such as the KidWind Challenge. According to her department chair, Paul McAllister, as a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering, she is a role model for females interested in STEM, and we could not agree more! Michelle sets high standards, is enthusiastic about her subject matter, and is always willing to try new approaches in the classroom, and we are excited to honor her this month.
Michelle was asked to describe her educational approach through a series of questions. Here are her responses:
1. Briefly describe what made you want to become a teacher and your teaching philosophy/motto.
While I was in grad school, I enjoyed the research I was doing, but my favorite times were when I was teaching others. In addition to serving as a teaching assistant for my advisor’s classes, I was also volunteering at two local middle schools running after-school science programs for the students. I found that I really enjoyed the time I was spending with them, so I decided to try it full time. I’m so glad I did!
One of my teaching mottos is “Look, listen, learn.” I encourage my students to look with the eye of a scientist, to listen to each other, and to learn from their mistakes, and I strive to live out all three each day as well.
2. When did you come to Ravenscroft? From where?
I started teaching at Ravenscroft in 2008 after two years of postdoctoral research at Duke in the biomedical engineering department. Before that, I was in grad school at Northwestern where I earned a PhD in materials science and engineering. My undergraduate studies were also in materials science and engineering, at MIT. I grew up in Texas and went to a math and science high school.
3. Historically, women have been underrepresented in STEM fields. How did you become interested in engineering, and how do you think we can inspire more young women to study STEM related topics?
I was always interested in science, and I was lucky to have parents that encouraged me to pursue my interests. I went to college thinking that I would major in chemistry, but I was drawn to materials science and engineering because it combined the chemistry and physics that I loved with engineering applications. Many young people are motivated by opportunities to make the world a better place, and that is what I love about engineering. My hope is that I can show my students the amazing potential to be found in engineering and that I can be a role model for the amazing young Raven women I teach, showing them that they, too, could be engineers one day.
4. How do you feel technology/innovative approaches can actively engage learners? Describe how you incorporate them into your teaching.
Students learn best by doing, and engineering offers the perfect platform for hands-on experiences. My engineering classes are each organized into three bigger projects, and each project is divided into several smaller challenges. I provide the students with some basic introduction, but then I act as a coach as they work through the challenges and solve problems that come up. This facilitative style allows the students to be fully engaged and provides opportunities for them to innovate and to learn skills like creativity, problem solving, and growth mindset that will be important for them no matter their future path.
I also use an innovative approach in my seventh grade science classes. Once every eight days, we have “Forest School” and conduct class outside. Being outside not only helps the students stay engaged and learn more, but it also allows them to develop an appreciation for the natural world.
5. What do you most love about being a Raven?
I love having the opportunity to collaborate with so many wonderful teachers. Some of my best ideas have come from brainstorming and planning with my colleagues, and some of my colleagues have become some of my best friends as well.
I also love that my whole family can be a part of the Ravenscroft community. My husband Nelson teaches in the Upper School, and my son Andrew is in first grade this year. I know that Andrew is cared for and supported in the Lower School, and I love that we can enjoy whole school events together as a family.
Are you or is someone you know doing something forward-thinking or innovative? Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know about it! All faculty, staff, and students are eligible for nomination.