The Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council is proud to announce Donna Schmitt, technology teacher at Carver Elementary School in Dubuque, Iowa, has been named as a recipient of the 2022 Iowa STEM Teacher Award, sponsored by Kemin Industries. The award is given to six educators each year who go above and beyond to inspire student interest in and awareness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Now in its eighth year, the award is given annually to one full-time, licensed preK-12 teacher from each of the six STEM regions in Iowa. Each recipient is honored for their efforts to foster enthusiasm and inspire a passion for STEM that goes beyond the classroom and helps prepare students for future high-demand careers.
Donna Schmitt was recognized for her work to bring computer science into elementary school classrooms, as well as her efforts to expand STEM learning opportunities for all students at the school.
In her work at Carver Elementary School, Schmitt makes computer science a priority for young learners. She engages students as young as first grade in coding lessons demonstrated through simple commands and how they might be interpreted by a computer. Schmitt pretends to be a robot, told to make a jelly sandwich.
“I ask for their first instruction and, inevitably, I am told the command, Put the jelly on the bread! I follow their direction literally, and place the entire jelly jar on top of the loaf of bread. Giggles fill the room,” said Schmitt in her application. “I immediately revert back to ‘Mrs. Schmitt’ and ask the students if ‘the robot’ did what she was told to do, and they all shout, No! This introduction to coding makes for a great discussion about algorithms and the way computers perform a list of steps exactly as they are written.”
Her students eventually program their own robots to move on a grid, with both the robots and grid decorated according to research into animals and their habitats.
In addition to her work in individual classrooms, Schmitt has also expanded computer science and STEM experiences for all students at Carver Elementary School. More recently, she started a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, mathematics) program for preschool through fifth grade students to explore STEAM concepts through hands-on learning. Students use creativity to create and compare solutions for problems, connect art and literature to STEM and learn about STEM career paths.
As a recipient of the 2022 Iowa STEM Teacher Award, Schmitt will receive $1,500 to use for her classroom and $1,500 for personal use. She recently received her award and a small celebration at her school and will later be honored, along with her fellow recipients, in a recognition ceremony during STEM Day at the Fair at the Iowa State Fair on Sunday, August 21, 2022.