Last month, Meghan Tepfenhardt of the Mattituck-Kutching School District was named Suffolk County’s 2023 Elementary Teacher of the Year by the New York State Science Teachers Association, which promotes Excellence in science education. She said she sees the honor as an opportunity to “open the door” for more collaborations with others.
“It’s really important that we share what we’re doing as professionals in any way we can, in order to collaborate and engage with each other, to support our profession and support each other as teachers,” she said in a recent phone interview.
Ms. Tepfenhardt has been with the district for 21 years and currently serves as the coordinator of the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering Arts and Math) program at Cutchogue East Elementary School.
As a STEAM coordinator, she developed programs and curriculum to meet the needs of the district’s increasingly diverse student body, and in the process earned the respect of her fellow educators who nominated her for the award.
Some of the projects she has implemented include Kindergarten Regatta, which focuses on using wind and weather to learn how sailboats work; Apple Toss, a building-wide physics convention; Protect yourself from the harmful effects of UV rays.
She also manages projects with a number of community partners, including the Peconic Bayou Plan, the Long Island Regional Planning Commission, Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation, and Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Ms. Tepfenhardt is well versed in planning instruction for students in grades K-6, building a robust STEAM program and ensuring it meets state Next Generation Science standards, helping educators set expectations of what students should know and be able to do.
She attributes the program’s success to the strong teaching foundation established by former Superintendent Anne Smith.
“One of the things she did early in my career was invest and commit to writing the curriculum and using ‘backward design’ – the reason I think this is so important is that it creates lasting change, at least in my practice,” Ms Teffenhart said.
Reverse design is a method of creating a curriculum that prioritizes intended learning outcomes over topics to be covered.
“When you write a STEAM course, you do have an end goal in mind…you end up with an unbelievably strong consistency in your day-to-day practice, and your units of study end up being closely aligned with what you set out to do. do,” she said. “So I think that’s why it worked.”
Ms. Tepfenhardt doesn’t think the district’s STEAM programs will become static. Her goal is to continue to create meaningful learning experiences for students that keep them excited and engaged in their learning.
“I think it’s constantly evolving and changing,” she said. “I think the curriculum has to adapt to the needs of the students, so as time changes the curriculum should too. [the program]”.