Teacher blends Dayton history with STEM course

The week that just ended is called Teacher Appreciation Week, but Stebbins High School science teacher Emily Yost couldn’t stop talking about her students when asked about her class Thursday.

“I see kids who have six (discipline) referrals in the system, and are able to complete this hard, difficult problem and work through it, and work with a team,” Yost said. “They’ve demonstrated resiliency and creative problem-solving. They’re so curious about their world and they ask such amazing questions. My kids are just the best.”

RELATED: School “signing day” urges kids to plan futures

Yost teaches physical science, environmental science and works with students in Mad River Schools’ online blended program. But she’s gotten special attention for the one-semester STEM elective class she created, which integrates some Dayton history into the science, technology, engineering and math coursework.

“The most local example, where my kids could actually pass (the site) on their drive around the city, was the Dayton Codebreakers unit,” Yost said, referring to the World War II effort out of NCR Building 26 to design a way to read encrypted enemy communications.

In addition to watching a movie about the codebreakers’ influence on the war, Yost said the class loved the hands-on work.

RELATED: Teacher pay varies widely among local schools

“We played around with a couple of codes — a Caesar cipher and a pigpen cipher and morse code,” Yost said. “We talked about the technology they had then, where codes come from and why we still use them. Then we did an escape room that was really fun for the kids. I had a locked box, and they could only get in if they broke my code.”

Yost, a 2015 graduate of Millersville University in Pennsylvania, is wrapping up her second year at Stebbins through the Teach for America program, which recruits new college graduates from a variety of fields to teach in low-income communities. Yost was a psychology major in college.

Stebbins Principal Brad Holt said Yost’s STEM class, which she conceived and built, fits perfectly with the mission of the school, which just received the state’s STEM designation. Holt said when he observed the class, Yost’s students were doing a hands-on, problem-solving lesson on aqueducts.

RELATED: Stebbins teacher was finalist for state honor

“I think it’s just part of who she is and how she instructs — she makes it fun and makes it relevant,” Holt said. “With students this day and age, you’re not going to have their attention span for too long unless you have something really cool going on that they can take ownership of.”

Yost said she has taught units on concussions, with nursing students showing the kids how to field-test an injured player; on aeronautics, tying into the area’s innovation history and current job possibilities; and on designing bridges, where they learned about infrastructure problems with small, local bridges. Next week is rocket-building with two-liter bottles to learn about pressure.

Yost isn’t sure of her long-term career plans, but she said she’ll definitely be back at Stebbins next year to work with more students.

“I see them grow and grow and grow,” she said. “I have been so impressed with how much they’re able to do. They come up with solutions and creative problem-solving techniques that I’m not sure half the adults I know would have thought of.”

RELATED: Stebbins, other schools, use team approach to classroom

About the Author