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Innovative Educator: West Ada teacher receives Idaho STEM Action Center award

Sarah Oosterhuis uses LEDs, a laser, field trips and scribble bots to inspire her students to be engineers and architects.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Editor's note: This content is sponsored by CapEd Credit Union.

Sarah Oosterhuis uses LEDs, a laser, field trips and scribble bots, among other things, to excite and inspire her students. She teaches engineering and architecture at Renaissance High School in Meridian in the West Ada School District.

"I have the opportunity to do a lot of really super fun things with my class," Oosterhuis said.

She recently received a 2021 INDEEDS Award from the Idaho STEM Action Center in the seventh through twelfth grade category. INDEEDS stands for "Industry's Excellent Educators Dedicated to STEM." It honors teachers who champion Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education and help their students possibly see themselves in a STEM career some day.

Oosterhuis exposes her classes to things like surveying, soil labs and field trips to show students what engineering and architecture actually are.

"That thinking hard and doing really difficult things can be really fun," Oosterhuis said.

The students in her civil engineering and architecture class can even earn three college credits through the University of Idaho.

"Kind of get to see how architecture is very much thinking deep thoughts and exploring how humans interact with buildings, while the civil engineering is calculating all the stuff the makes the building stay up," Oosterhuis said.

As part of the INDEEDS award, Renaissance High gets $2,000 for STEM Initiatives. Oosterhuis is thinking about buying an earthquake simulation shake table.

"So that when the kids build their structures, it's just a little bit more fun," Oosterhuis said. "They can put them on the shake table and see how they fall apart."

She also puts on engineering camps, including one in the summer of 2018 geared toward girls called "Bedazzle with LEDs."

"This one had a lot of activities that were using real engineering but with a slant that might be more attractive to girls," Oosterhuis said.

She also had the campers build scribble bots out of soda cans, wires, a motor, and markers.

"(The bots) run around and make a mess on a piece of paper," Oosterhuis said.

Then there's the Laser and Lights classroom project that involves computer-aided design, wiring, soldering and cutting wood with a laser to make creations like a small, model bi-plane.

"It also seems that there is so much more learning when there's a tangible outcome as opposed to just a correct project or worksheet that's been handed in on paper," Oosterhuis said.

Fun is definitely a theme in her projects, but it's all about serious learning. Oosterhuis uses fun to help hard subjects sink in. Ultimately, she wants her students to stay inspired.

"I like to assure them that staying curious and continuing to explore really cool, difficult things is what's going to help them in the end, is what's going to allow them to be successful," Oosterhuis said.

For being honored with the INDEEDS award Oosterhuis also received a check for $2,000 and up to $2,000 more to attend any STEM-related national conference. That's on top of the $2,000 Renaissance High School received.

If you would like to nominate an Innovative Educator who is going above and beyond, send us an email to innovativeeducator@ktvb.com.
Educators, for information on submitting an application for a classroom grant through the Idaho CapEd Foundation, visit www.capedfoundation.org.

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