Innovator of the Month, September 2018
Join me in congratulating, Upper School teacher, Dr. Nelson Nunalee, Ravenscroft’s September Innovator of the Month.
Nelson was selected this month for bringing two new courses to the Upper School this year, both Robotics and CAD. These classes will allow our students to do experiential, hand’s on work in ways that will undoubtedly prepare them for their future career paths.
In addition, Nelson has been key to helping the leadership at Ravenscroft understand the needs of the Keim Center for Innovation and Research. He has thoughtfully outlined, from a curricular standpoint, what we need to make the space one that is safe for our students and one that properly integrates with the curriculum being taught. Nelson is reflective, creative, and a deep thinker, and we are excited to honor him this month.
He was asked to describe his educational approach and background through a series of questions. Here are his responses:
- Briefly describe what made you want to become a teacher and your teaching philosophy/motto.
While at NC State doing my undergraduate work in Polymer Science, I had the chance to work in a professor’s lab for two summers. I decided I enjoyed scientific research enough that I wanted to pursue graduate school. I landed in Chicago at Northwestern University in their Materials Science and Engineering department. At Northwestern, I was given the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for several classes. I remember holding office hours (kind of like our tutorial model) and really enjoying working with students to help them understand difficult concepts. As time went by, I realized that I was much more passionate about teaching than laboratory research. So, after graduate school, I was fortunate enough to find a job as a Physics teacher at Ravenscroft, where I am now in my 12th year of teaching.
My teaching philosophy is founded on the idea that my classroom should be a space where all feel included, engaged, and challenged. As it turns out, I’ve found that STEM+ electives are very fertile ground for all three of these goals. Projects can be tailored to meet the needs of individual students so that everyone is working on something that interests them and helps them grow.
- How has your teaching been impacted by technology?
Before I even started teaching at Ravenscroft, I went to a workshop on how to use Vernier sensors in the Physics classroom. If you’ve taken a Physics class at Ravenscroft, you’ve seen these toys: motions detectors, force sensors, accelerometers, etc. And, not only can we collect all kinds of interesting data with these sensors, we also use technology to analyze the data and make scientific conclusions. In STEM+ electives like Honors Engineering, Robotics, and CAD (Computer-Aided Design), technology plays an even bigger role. Rather than being a tool on the side, the technology we use (like LabVIEW engineering software, 3D design software, and programmable robots) is at the very center of the work we do.
- What are some of your methods for actively engaging learners?
My students are most engaged when they have choices in their work. I like to give my STEM+ students project guidelines and constraints, but oftentimes, the processes they choose or even the final outcomes they arrive at are entirely their own. I know I’m doing my job right when I walk into class and the students get right to work without waiting for me to give them instructions.
- What is your advice for students who are intimidated by trying more technical courses such as Engineering, Robotics, and CAD?
At their core, STEM+ electives are all about creativity. Yes, math, science, and computer science are woven into these courses and provide us with a toolbox of skills that lead to successful outcomes. Just importantly, however, are the skills of collaboration, communication, visionary leadership, and most importantly of all: the willingness to productively fail. I need students who are dreamers and risk-takers just as much as I need students with top math and science skills. So… come out!
- What do you most love about being a Raven?
My son is a 2nd grader and has been here since pre-K. I love being able to walk across campus and put on my “dad” hat. As a Ravenscroft parent, I have such an appreciation for what our Lower School teachers do. Also, it’s fun having my wife on campus as a Middle School science teacher. Let’s be honest: we all know that Mrs. Dr. Nunalee is the REAL Dr. Nunalee!