Lane Matheson, a teacher at Memorial High School and
Engineering Academy in Tulsa Public Schools, recently received a special award
for her excellence in teaching at an international robotics competition in St.
Matheson earned the Woodie Flowers Award at the FIRST World
Championship, the crowning event for an organization that hosts thousands of
robotics and engineering competitions all over the globe. The honor is
presented annually to one mentor of a team in the competition who uses
excellent communications skills to “inspire and empower” about engineering and
“Lane brings a fresh, future-focused drive to her job, and I
know her students can’t help but be inspired,” State Superintendent Janet
Barresi said. “This award shows how lucky we are to have her in Oklahoma and
how positive it is to have robotics programs in our schools.”
For Matheson — who teaches Engineering Robotics, AP
Calculus, AP Physics and Electronic Robots in addition to mentoring the FIRST
team — the award had been a long-term goal. Still, she was surprised when she
“I thought it was going to take me quite a bit longer to do
more for FIRST,” she said.
When she stepped away from a decade-long career in the space
industry, Matheson thought she would just try teaching for five years. In
1995 she accepted a job at Memorial, started teaching engineering in 1997 and
by 2000 was introducing kids to robotics. She even met her husband, who was then
chairing the science department, at Memorial.
Robotics has provided a gateway to get students interested
in STEM fields, Matheson said. Although the most well-known aspects of the
FIRST program are its competitions, the students who participate gain an array
of unexpected skills.
“Robotics is a real-world application of everything they’re
learning,” she said. “They’re learning how to interact with each other. They’re
learning a lot of professional skills.”
Before any robots are built, Matheson’s students produce
videos and practice animation and 3D modeling. They learn to speak and write
professionally. Often she has them work on handwritten letters, a skill that’s
becoming less and less instinctual. Those skills came in handy when the kids
submitted essays nominating Matheson for the Woodie Flowers Award.
The award attests not only to the quality of the mentor, but
also to her advocacy of STEM education. Matheson said she does a lot of
outreach in TPS to get younger kids excited about STEM and Memorial’s engineering
program. In 2010, she helped host an inaugural FIRST Lego League Tournament at
her school, a contest aimed at drawing kids between 9- and 14-years-old; the
competition recently had its biggest attendance ever. Memorial also hosts two
summer camps every year — one just for girls entering sixth through eighth
grade, and another for all kids interested in engineering.
More than 12,000 students competed in the FIRST
Championship, where Matheson won the award. She was selected for the honor by
her own students, other teachers and FIRST mentors.
Keeping with her mission of spreading a love for
engineering, Matheson is especially enthusiastic about the future.
“What I am most excited about is that now I get
invited to the summer retreat,” she said. “We go off and talk about how we are
going to make more of an impact to the community in STEM education.”
Watch an interview with Lane Matheson as Tulsa's 2012 Teacher of the Year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SdoET5QiZY
Learn more about an OSDE grant for FIRST programs: http://www.ok.gov/sde/osde-first-robotics-grant
Seven chess matches for each student, limited to two
hours apiece, over a three-day period. That’s what stood between 25 kids from
Edmond’s Ida Freeman Elementary and a championship trophy that was taller than
some of the competitors at the U.S. Chess Federation National Elementary
Championship in Dallas last weekend.
In the end, the 25-member Edmond team was named the
national champion in its division. After 17 years of competing — and three
second-place finishes along the way — the Ida Freeman Elementary chess team had
finally claimed the top spot.
“I broke down completely when the numbers came in. It’s a
big deal,” said chess coach David Nichols.
It was an eventful trip in other ways too. Dallas emergency
management officials issued a tornado warning while the kids were checking into
their hotel. On another night, someone from another school pulled the hotel
fire alarm and guests had to evacuate. And the chess team’s bus broke down
after dinner Saturday, nearly forcing some of the kids to miss their matches.
It was in the seventh and final round when the Edmond
team, comprised of fourth- and fifth-grade students, earned their highest
cumulative score and clinched the title in what had been a close race. Ida
Freeman’s team won by 3.5 points, or a couple touchdowns in football terms,
“There were three schools, in particular, from the New
York City area that we could not shake all tournament long,” he said.
Nichols, who also teaches fifth grade, said this year
there are about 85 regular members of the Ida Freeman chess club who stay a few
hours late every Thursday. They play eight state tournaments throughout the
Chess teaches students to visualize, plan and focus.
Chess matches are sometimes the only time that children who have trouble
focusing in class will sit still for three and a half hours, never breaking
from the game. It also teaches civility and sportsmanship, Nichols pointed out.
“That’s the first lesson on the first day of chess camp,”
Chess camp meets on Saturdays in August. All third-,
fourth- and fifth-graders at the school are welcome, and some second-graders
also attend by invitation.
“After 17 years it’s become part of the culture of our
school. It’s kind of our football,” Nichols said.
There weren’t any elementary schools in the area with a
chess program when he decided to start one at Ida Freeman. But chess has
steadily grown in popularity and is now in several Oklahoma schools.
Now with a championship trophy in their case, the Ida
Freeman team shows no sign of slowing down. They’re already setting their
sights on next year’s national championship, and Nichols is confident they can
pull off another win.
The biggest lesson for the kids, according to Nichols, is
that hard work leads to rewards.
“They’ll never know how proud I am of them,” he said.
For more info on chess in school and a list of local teams: http://www.okschess.org/index.htm
See more photos on Ida Freeman Chess' Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ida-Freeman-Chess/215640928470554
Watch Nichols and teammates interviewed on KFOR-TV: http://kfor.com/2014/05/13/ida-freeman-elementary-students-win-national-chess-championship/