Amanda L. Hough will be recognized as Massachusetts’s science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, teacher of the year, on Wednesday, January 29.
Ms. Hough has been teaching at Mashpee Middle-High School for five years, during which she has developed the middle-high school’s engineering, technology and robotics curriculum into a trademark program in the district, and she has sponsored an after-school competitive robotics club that has gone on to national competitions.
Mashpee Middle High School Principal Mark Balestracci said that since arriving, Ms. Hough has developed the school’s engineering and technology program from the ground up.
“We had a technology and engineering class,” Mr. Balestracci said, “but it was really an opportunity for her to build a program up from scratch.”
“She has been able to build a program that has grown exponentially over the last four or five years.”
Ms. Hough said that the core of her teaching philosophy is providing students with projects that are relevant to their lives and help them develop skills they will use every day.
“I want them to become problem-solvers,” she said.
To develop problem-solving skills in her students, Ms. Hough designs projects that ask students to think beyond the walls of the traditional classroom, from building robots for competitions to international collaborations in which students write programs for 3D printers to build soap holders and tic-tac-toe boards for Laotian students.
Ms. Hough said that these projects require thoughtful collaboration from her students who have the chance to take advantage of a sense of autonomy. Granting her students this independence requires flexibility and creativity from both Ms. Hough and her students. As pupils in Ms. Hough’s class see new paths to take their projects, they can modify their goals and methods. Both the students and Ms. Hough then have to be willing to adjust as each day brings new obstacles. Ms. Hough often oversees multiple projects at the same time, further empowering her students to change the direction of their learning.
“My classroom is run more like a college laboratory [than a traditional classroom],” Ms. Hough said, “[My students] are engaged at different levels and in different projects. I will let them take the lead and let them run with it.”
As she develops new ideas for student projects, Ms. Hough practices the same creativity and collaboration that she expects of her students with her fellow teachers in the district.
Over the years, she has helped develop new curriculum with teachers at other schools in the district, bringing her engineering and robotics students to the Quashnet school to mentor 5th graders in building underwater ROVs, or inviting kindergartners from the Kenneth C. Coombs School to a robotics demonstration in the middle-high school’s maker space after the students read Henry Winkler’s book, “Here’s Hank: Robot on the Loose.” The students even had the chance to Skype with Mr. Winkler.
Ms. Hough said that these collaborations across the district encourage her students to “take the things they learn and pass them on,” and allows the teachers to model the type of teamwork that they expect from students. It also spreads the influence of Ms. Hough’s creative curriculum design throughout the Mashpee School District.
“What she’s been able to do is really engage more and more kids into the idea of problem-solving,” Mr. Balestracci said. “She’s really led the way and you see that in the work of our kids.”
“One thing that Amanda has been able to do is bring together a lot of interdisciplinary learning experiences, and when you look at education as a whole right now, the more you can do to engage students, the more you can do to help them find their passions, the better. She has opened her doors and really empowered others.”
Mr. Balestracci said that Ms. Hough’s creativity and collaboration are “contagious” and that her energy inspires her students and colleagues to become more innovative and take risks.
Reflecting on receiving this award, Ms. Hough said that she feels “blessed” to be recognized for doing work that she loves.
“I tell my students all the time that you’re going to have to work a long time in your life, so you should enjoy what you do,” Ms. Hough said. “More than anything I feel truly blessed. I enjoy what I do on a daily basis. It’s really cool that the [Massachusetts] Department of Education and the school administrators see that and respect and support me.”
Although much of what Ms. Hough teaches is robotic, she said that, above all, her student-driven and collaborative style of teaching relies on building trust with her students.
“First and foremost I believe in building relationships with students and building trust,” Ms. Hough said. “They’re people first and then they’re students.”
When asked what advice she would offer new teachers, Ms. Hough said, “You don’t have to be the expert in the room. It’s okay for you to learn. Showing that you’re human, too, is really important. Don’t be afraid to try to something new.”
Ms. Hough is scheduled to receive her award from Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser at 10:30 AM Wednesday in the Mashpee Middle/High School auditorium.