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Fun and Failure: The Elements of Teaching Success

Teacher of the Month Shares Love of Science through Hands-on Classwork |

The words “physics” and “fun” may not typically coexist, but Teacher of the Month Tyler Baker proves that having a blast in your class can be the secret to students’ success in STEM.
“We have tennis ball cannons. We make bottle rockets. We have water rocket launchers and we can go do these things in real life, Tyler said. “I figure if I love physics, if I'm not having fun, my kids have to be miserable. Flat out. There's no way I can motivate a kid if I'm not enjoying myself.”
Tyler’s entering his fourth year as a Physics AP teacher at Judson High School, a military-impacted school that helps serve students connected to Joint Base San Antonio in Texas. He’s big on letting students feel their way through lessons.
“Anything hands-on is better learning because you're doing,” he said. “I can talk at somebody forever, and that's fine, but if they do it once, they've got it. My kids do the best, it seems […] when they get their hands on something and they can physically do it.”
A major motivator and contributor to his success with students is his own passion for the subject he teaches.
“I enjoy science – physics, especially. It's the science of common sense. It's the science of how life in the universe works based on certain rules, and if you study those, you can make predictions based on the rest of the universe.”

Teaching in a military-connected community presents a unique challenge of serving students who have moved around and have different educational foundations.
“Consistency is important because that's just what humans need,” Tyler said. “They’re coming into a new school setting. They don't have friends. They don't know who to sit with a lunchtime. It's the most stressful time for most of the kids.”
Tyler makes it a personal responsibility to level the educational playing field.
“I can't help a kid make friends necessarily, but I can make sure that they know what they're going to do in my class,” he said. “They know what the expectation is. That energy and that stress can then go into something else and make their overall life that much easier.”

Problem solving through professional development
Tyler has attended several NMSI teacher trainings and says the opportunity to exchange ideas with peers about best practices has influenced his teaching.
“I met with a woman at the Spring April training in Dallas and she had a way of arranging her tests that were easier and faster to grade, so you can get the kids faster feedback,” he said. “Just something that Mickey Mouse and that simple is a huge time saver and logistically solves problems.”
In addition, the resources he gets from NMSI trainings help him keep his class moving without leaving behind students who transfer in from other schools.
“I love that everything's organized online,” he said. “Being able to find something where it's beneficial to my kids, it's not a waste of their time. It's not a waste of my time. It's something I can do in the classroom safely and cheap, in that order. And I can actually enjoy my job.”

Strength through STEM
Tyler’s a big believer in a strong foundational STEM education serving as a launching pad for any career.
“You're looking at the world in a certain way that will work outside of your field,” he said.
Having fun is clearly an important part of his kids enjoying physics, but another key element of success, he says, is a willingness to fail.
“Too many kids, I think, have lost the ability to fail. We've taken away their opportunity to fail and there's no risk. The kids who are allowed to fail try harder because failure is an option. They're my hardest workers.”
At the end of the day, he hopes his kids embrace and enjoy the power of physics and the doors it can open.
Congratulations to Tyler and Judson High School for embodying a passion for STEM, hands-on experimentation and an encouragement for students and staff alike to support military-connected families in their educational endeavors.
Know a great teacher who deserves recognition? Email marketing@nms.org to tell us why you think they’d be a great NMSI Teacher of the Month.