By: Paige Roberts

Kicking STEM Into High Gear

“That’s the motto for my class. Don’t ever, ever give up.”

Lai Cao is a physics teacher at Baton Rouge Magnet High School (BRMHS). In 2016, she was selected as an ExxonMobil Star Teacher grant recipient, which she invested in the purchase of a control starter robot kit. The robotics kit was implemented in the classroom where students designed their own experiments to test their understanding of physics concepts and their own ideas.

When learning about forces, torque, and energy, students were told to design a robot that could move an obstacle. During the experiment, students were forced to convert their “guess and check” approach to more sophisticated strategies based on mathematical and physics principles. Rosie Fam, a junior at BRMHS, appreciates how engaging and hands-on Cao makes each lesson. “We always have labs that connect with the notes. It really helps me learn the material better. Plus it makes it more interesting, because who wants to just sit in class and listen all the time?”

Cao is passionate about teaching and enjoys watching her students retain and deepen their understanding of physics concepts through project-based learning. “Number one, we would like them to see the practical application of concept physics in real life, in industry, and engineering. Number two, for them to have a fun experience learning physics.”  She encourages her students to take their creativity to the next level by connecting and exchanging ideas with STEM students around the world through Google Classroom.

Outside the classroom, Cao acts as a club sponsor for multiple student organizations including STEM Club, BETA, and National Honor Society. With the purchase of a control starter robot kit, students in the STEM Club were able to compete in Vex Robotics Tournaments across Louisiana including the state qualifier, a first for BRMHS. The STEM Club was able to use the robot during service-learning projects at surrounding elementary schools where they facilitated hands-on activities with younger students. They also had demonstrations for middle and elementary school students during their annual STEM Day.

Cao understands the need to invest students in STEM for the future of her students and the Baton Rouge community. “Even though it’s hard, we do it not because it’s easy.  We do it because it’s challenging.”

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