FLORENCE, Ky. — Erpenbeck Elementary School teacher Kyle Holloway is highly regarded in the education community and has received both a Golden Apple Award and A.D. Albright Outstanding Teacher Award for his work in the classroom, but a student’s bout of crying might be his greatest compliment yet.
The incident happened during the school year: a third-grade student’s parent called to inquire about Holloway and his new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) lab after her child broke into tears (and not the happy kind) when surprised with news of an upcoming trip to Disney World.
The student’s unhappiness stemmed from the timing of the trip, which coincided with the week his classroom was scheduled to be in the school’s lab with Holloway.
“STEAM lab trumped ‘the Mouse,’” Holloway said. “Once you’ve done that, what else can you do?”
That level of student engagement and excitement is what drives Holloway to do what he loves. He has the mind of a scientist, but he’s a teacher at heart. His role at Erpenbeck allows him to be both.
Holloway was a fifth-grade classroom teacher at Erpenbeck until last summer. That’s when Principal Jenny Watson took a leap of faith and recommended to the school’s Site-Based Decision Making Council that school funds be allocated for a STEAM lab and full-time STEAM teacher.
The school was at a “pivotal point” in transitioning to the new Next Generation Science Standards, according to Watson. The new state standards call for a more collaborative, hands-on approach to science. Watson said she decided the STEAM lab – with Holloway at the helm – was a perfect fit for those new standards and the school’s commitment to project-based learning.
“I saw the enthusiasm in his classroom around science, and I knew we needed to capitalize on that and bring it to the entire school,” she said of Holloway’s knack for science instruction. “He has absolutely spring-boarded the STEAM lab to success and made it a part of our school-wide culture.”
The STEAM lab at Erpenbeck allows students to explore all those disciplines with hands-on, student-centered lessons intended to get kids asking the right questions, solving real-world problems and making things, Holloway said.
Students and teachers created an elaborate model community called Tomorrowland. The bulk of the project was completed in the lab with Holloway, but it reached across all classrooms and disciplines.
“Every grade level engineered something for the community,” he said. “They collaborated, learned from each other and built on each other’s work."
Erpenbeck's STEAM lab during the school's recent summer camp. (Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative)
The kids shared their work in May with parents, community members and businesses. It included Lego models galore, but also green energy solutions, an efficient transport system and advanced telecommunications systems.
Holloway shares his work as well. He presented in Denver this summer at the International Society for Technology in Education conference. He also keeps the school connected with the community via social media and a website dedicated to the Tomorrowland project.
Businesses and organizations have taken notice, and that has helped Holloway secure funding and donations to keep the STEAM lab rolling. A donation of mini-robots called Ozobots was a big boost.
Another came when the Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative donated a 3-D printer to the lab and provided funding, through its Summer of STEM initiative, for an affordable summer camp that was open to kids across the region.
“People like what we’re doing, and we’re excited to share it,” he said.
Holloway comes by his passion for education naturally: his father, Tom Holloway, was a teacher for many years and was principal at Ludlow High School for 20 years before he retired.
Despite Holloway's shift out of the traditional classroom at Erpenbeck, he said his focus remains the same. His goal is to reach every student, and he admits having a lab filled with cool gadgets helps.
“Lessons need to be meaningful to students,” he said. “If you’re studying biology, you need to go outside. If you’re designing something, you need to be able to build it and test it. When kids have those opportunities, they see the big picture and how everything is connected.”