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Congratulations Coach DiChiara!

Coach DCongratulations to our very own Ben DiChiara on being awarded the 20-21 Tennessee STEM Innovation Network’s Excellence in STEM Teaching Award! Thank you for all you do for the students of PHS. You continue to change lives, one stemster at a time!

TSIN announced the winners of the “STEM Excellence Awards,” a series of competitive awards that recognize outstanding teachers, leaders, and advocates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Nominations were open to the public in the Spring of this year. 

“This year’s award winners are role models in advancing STEM for all through creative instruction, effective alignment, and resilient leadership. Their geographic diversity highlights the statewide reach of STEM education in Tennessee” said Brandi Stroecker, Director of TSIN. “Given the challenges the educational community has faced this past year, we are privileged to be able to recognize the efforts of these amazing individuals and the contributions they have made in their communities.”

This year’s awardees of the STEM Excellence Awards include: 

Excellence in STEM Teaching Award 

The Excellence in STEM Teaching Award recognizes a teacher who exemplifies integrated, STEM-infused teaching strategies, classroom innovation, and whose work has led to positive student learning outcomes. This awardee engages students in inquiry-based learning to develop creativity, teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills. 

Ben Di’Chiara – STEM Teacher, Peabody High School, Trenton Special School District

Ben Di’Chiara teaches Advanced STEM Applications at Peabody High School in Trenton, Tennessee, where he is passionate about providing students authentic opportunities to explore challenges, design solutions, and engage in scientific approaches to real-world problems that are relevant and practical.  In his nine years of classroom experience, Di’Chiara has taught and coached at Peabody High School for the last five years. He currently works as their Advanced STEM Applications instructor, but his reach goes far beyond the classroom. A true team player, Ben has built the STEM program at Peabody into a school wide endeavor that eventually led the school to become a STEM Designated School in 2020. When asked about if there was anything important to mention about his teaching, Di’Chiara humbly stated, “Our goal is to expand STEM education to every person in our community. There are a lot of good people involved in our program, and, without them, it would be impossible to get where we want to be.” It is certain that Ben has bigger plans in store for the upcoming year. Di’Chiara earned his degree in Biology from Lambuth University before it became a satellite of Memphis. “Ben teaches students to think, to solve problems, to be independent, and learn how to learn on their own,” said CTE Supervisor June McCourt. “He encourages students to do their best no matter what the task or project might be. He gives them opportunities to work as a team and to collaborate on projects, teaching tolerance and persistence. Ben builds relationships with students and respects their differences.”

Excellence in STEM Leadership Award 

The Excellence in STEM Leadership Award recognizes a school-level, district, or regional leader with a proven track-record of developing effective STEM programs. This awardee supports and encourages teachers and schools to continually infuse STEM teaching strategies and embrace classroom innovation. 

Dr. Hans Ballew – Principal, Northview Primary School, Sevier County Schools 

Dr. Hans Ballew serves as the Principal at Northview Primary School in Kodak, Tennessee. With 16 years in education, Dr. Ballew began his career in education as a history teacher at Boyds Creek Elementary School. After 9 years in the classroom, Hans transitioned into administration at Pigeon Forge Primary where his love of primary school bloomed. Next, he moved to PI Beta Phi in Gatlinburg where he gained tremendous experience. For the last 3 years, Dr. Ballew has devoted his creative and supportive skills to the Kodak community at Northview Primary School, a recently designated STEM school. When asked about his approach to education, administration, and STEM, he, giving much credit to his staff, stated, “We believe in taking abstract concepts and adding a meaningful concrete application of the concept to deliver an experiential learning environment in which anyone can be successful at grade level. We believe in exposing students to careers at an early age and creating opportunities to gain skills that will be relevant to these fields. Our teachers have worked hard and spent numerous hours creating lifelong educational experiences. It is an honor to work with such fine people.” Dr. Ballew’s own educational journey led him to Carson Newman for his BA, Lincoln Memorial University for his MS, and back to Carson Newman for both his EdS and Doctoral degrees. “Dr. Ballew looks at what STEM can do for our students in the future, whether they be a construction worker or a chemical engineer. STEM is more inclusive due to the any aspects it encompasses, and Dr. Ballew drives us to focus on incorporating STEM in our daily activities,” said Barbara Clabo, 2nd grade teacher at Northview Primary. Cassandra Cate, kindergarten teacher at Northview Primary says, “Dr. Ballew has made STEM instruction very important at our school. The STEM culture within his school supports STEM for All because all teachers are encouraged to participate in STEM education.”

STEM Advocate Award 

The Tennessee STEM Advocate Award recognizes a Tennessean who has demonstrated a passion for STEM education through his or her public advocacy and participation in leadership organizations that advance STEM for All. 

Dr. Lynn Hodge – Director East Tennessee STEM Hub and College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences: Theory and Practice in Teacher Education, The UT-Knoxville

Dr. Lynn Hodge is a professor of Math Education, the Director of the East Tennessee STEM Hub, Director of the Center for Enhancing Education in Mathematics and Sciences and Scientific, and Director of STEM education programs with the University of Tennessee Knoxville. As a STEM advocate, Dr. Hodge is passionate about supporting undergraduate students with a math, science, or engineering major who are interested in teaching by Co-Directing the VolsTeach program. The East Tennessee STEM Hub impacts countless students providing outreach to students through community events and at home STEM activities and support to educators with a lending library, direct connections with “real world” STEM applications or professionals, and innovative, high-quality professional development. Through her advocacy, she has expanded the reach of the Hub to rural areas and under-represented groups in STEM including Girl’s STEM Clubs. As a woman of color in the STEM fields, Dr. Hodge recognizes the importance of STEM for All and works tirelessly to increase access to quality STEM education for all students. Lynn holds many degrees including a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and a MS in Secondary Education and Doctorate in Education and Human Development/Mathematics Education from Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tennessee. “When I think about the advancement of STEM education, I cannot help but think of Dr. Hodge.,” said Katie McKee, an educator at Midway Middle School. “Dr. Hodge's goals in STEM education are two parts. First, her goal is to provide relevant STEM PD to teachers in all of East. Besides the wide scope of STEM education, she has been focusing on how teachers can implement the Computer Science Standards into their classroom disciplines. Second, her goal is to provide students in the University of Tennessee's education department with how to realistic implementation of STEM activities into their classroom and schools.” 

STEM Innovator Award 

The Tennessee STEM Innovator Award recognizes a Tennessean that has demonstrated an outstanding contribution to the support of STEM education and outreach within his or her region. This awardee is a leader that identifies, supports, and promotes innovative teaching practices regionally. The success of this awardee serves as a catalyst for STEM integration across the state. 

R. Keith Booker – STEM and CTE Lead, T-STEM Academy in East High School, Shelby County

R. Keith Booker is the STEM and CTE Lead at T-STEM Academy in East High School in Memphis Tennessee, where he expanded the reach of STEM with his passion and enthusiasm. With 15 years in education, Keith began his education journey leading the optional program in Engineering at East High School (2006-2014). After that, he served as assistant principal of Maxine Smith STEAM Academy until 2018 when he returned to East High School to join the T-STEM Academy as the STEM and CTE Lead. In this new position, Booker leads the implementation of 7 programs of study. When asked about his classroom philosophy, Keith gave insight into his institutional knowledge and reflective decision making, “I entered the STEM classroom with twenty years’ experience as a practitioner in the engineering field. I believe there are three critical skills that students must develop for success in a post-secondary and professional setting. The first skill is problem-solving. The individual who can view a challenge, break it into small, solvable parts, and then assemble a successful solution will be a valued asset in any organization. The second skill is collaboration. Students must develop the ability and willingness to work in small and large project teams of diverse make-up and skill set. The final critical skill is perseverance. In school and in the workplace, life is full of challenges. Few endeavors reach a conclusion without obstacles and setbacks along the way. Students must develop the ability to focus on the desired end result without being overwhelmed by these challenges.” As a second career educator, Booker’s resume is vast. He began his first career through an AS in Computer Engineering from State Technical Institute Memphis and a BS in Industrial Technology from Southern Illinois University. In returning to the classroom as a practitioner, Booker obtained a MAT in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Memphis, followed by an EdS in Administration and Supervision from Union University. “The innovative methods implemented at T-STEM at East High School are driven by the standards of STEM. As a 16-year educator after over 2 decades in civil engineering, Mr. Booker is a phenomenal spearhead of facilitating the foundational skills of STEM,” said Hannah Raymond, T-STEM Academy at East High School. “In a quest to provoke students to be innovative problem solvers, he has created and developed a project-based curriculum implemented in all levels of STEM classes, which are second to none. Additionally, his responsibilities include serving as the liaison between T-STEM Academy, various post-secondary institutions, industry partners, school administration and instructors.”


STEM at Peabody

STEM students are busy at work around Peabody High School. STEM 1 student Chase Minton sought to give back to the cafeteria staff who take care of the students daily. He wanted to create something that would be functional and useful for the staff. He chose to construct a hanging rack for multiple uses. The staff can now easily hang up jackets and other belongings as they come into work while easily grabbing aprons for their shifts. Chase even went a step further and personalized each space for the ladies who make up the cafeteria staff, adding their names to each space. He was able to utilize the STEM lab's 3-D Printer in The Cube, a maker's space designated for students to independently work on projects. Chase says he and other students have other plans to help even more faculty members around the school. 

Chase Minton Chase Minton

STEMPeabody has applied and is being evaluated for a state STEM designation from TSIN (Tennessee STEM Innovation Network). These are pictures from their visit to Peabody on February 19.

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