Orchard Knob teacher wins state STEM teaching award
Posted on 05/06/2020
Photo: Nikki Russell - STEM teacher at Orchard Knob ElementaryNikki Russell, STEM Teacher, Orchard Knob Elementary, won the 2020 Excellence in STEM Teaching Award presented by the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN). The TSIN STEM Excellence Awards are designed to recognize a phenomenal teacher and an exceptional advocate for STEM education.

“I am so thrilled to be honored by TSIN for the Excellence in STEM Teaching Award,” said Russell. “TSIN is known for its efforts to increase quality STEM instruction in the state, and such a mission resonates with my passion for children in our community.”

Russell is passionate about providing students authentic opportunities to explore challenges, design solutions, and engage in scientific approaches to real-world problems that are relevant and practical. In her sixteen years of classroom experience, Russell has taught a variety of elementary grades and now serves as Orchard Knob Elementary’s STEM Lab Facilitator. In conjunction with the STEM Lab, students annually receive numerous field experiences both inside and outside of her school through Chattanooga-area partnerships.

Russell further serves as an Opportunity Zone Model Classroom teacher, where she provides job-embedded professional development by modeling best practices and coaching teachers during instruction each week. Additionally, she leads community-wide STEM collaboration for educators quarterly across Hamilton County Schools.

“Mrs. Russell amazes me with the projects that she implements in STEM Lab as they are always highly engaging and expose students to material that encourages out-of-the-box thinking,” said E’tienne Easley, the family partnership specialist at Orchard Knob Elementary.

“She is a tremendous advocate of STEM for all, with a deep passion for serving underserved communities in STEM. She continually improves her skill set and shares her learning with other educators throughout the district,” added Mary Avans, a science teacher at Lookout Mountain Elementary.

Russell began learning about STEM and how to integrate it into her classroom about seven years ago through district and state workshops. Those early experiences, training sessions, and opportunities to collaborate with other STEM educators ignited her passion for ensuring all students have access to STEM experiences in their classrooms.

“The time of being away from school children has been challenging for me as a teacher in so many ways,” added Russell. “Even with online learning, I still miss seeing them in person, doing projects and experiments, and just seeing their faces light up when they have big “Ah-ha moments. Thank you to TSIN and to all of the incredible HCS teachers, administrators, and district leaders that continue to encourage me and support STEM education in our district.”

The STEM Teaching Award is the second significant honor earned by Russell this year. In December, she was named the Outstanding Technology Teacher of the Year by the statewide Tennessee Educational Technology Association.