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Southeast Valley teacher wins STEM award

Devan Walker

GOWRIE — Southeast Valley High School science teacher Devan Walker earned a STEM teacher award in February for her efforts in bringing science to life for students.

The 2021 Iowa STEM Teacher Award, sponsored by Kemin Industries of Des Moines through Gov. Kim Reynolds’ STEM Advisory Council, is given annually to teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It’s my first award, hopefully of many,” said Walker, saying that she was proud to receive it as a validation of her efforts with students over the last seven years. “I’ve been working my tail off to make that difference in kids’ lives and the community. I think it’s happened and I want it to continue to happen.”

Nominated by Tamara Hanson, an instructional coach at the school, Walker received the award after submitting several essay questions answering how she promotes STEM in the classroom, incorporates fundamentals into interactive lessons and promotes outreach in the sciences.

“I love that it’s the real world. They can see this stuff happening right in front of them,” she said, from labs and chemistry experiments to just looking outside. “We can actively see and manipulate these things. Science is fun, it’s always fun.”

Things as simple as emulsion in their lunch’s salad dressing, bread dough rising and the pH of water from different sinks causing different tastes are some of the practical building blocks that help students understand the fundamentals, she said. And at a formative age, the importance of a real world application helps instill critical thinking skills that go well beyond STEM sciences — a mentality for success.

“The thing for our high schoolers is the questioning, the why,” Walker said. “That mindset is already there. I don’t know if it’s the day and age or if they just want to be cool, but they (start to) lose that questioning (in high school.) You’re instilling in them that it’s OK to ask. There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”

When they graduate, being able to question something without taking it at face value will help them do their own research to find answers to questions they don’t immediately know the answer to.

The award, a plaque for which will be sent in August, also comes with a check of $3,000. Half is designated for Walker’s personal use, and half is designated for classroom purchases. Though there are no plans for that funding yet, Walker and her students already have a few ideas.

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