Johnnie uses agriculture and commodities as the basis for her lessons. She begins by introducing her third grade students to the problem of limited fertile soil and the definition of sustainability. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, she still found ways to take her students on “virtual field trips” where they engaged with a dairy farmer, adopted a calf and learned about the chemical reactions needed to make butter from cream.
In 4th and 5th grade, the students begin working in the school garden. They design the planting based on suggested spacing for plants, amount of sun and determine what can be planted close together and at what time of the year. Students must work together to create a layout of the garden, keep data on the growth and note any problems or other observations in science notebooks. Johnnie provides a lab coat for each student so that they truly take on the role of a scientist trying to solve real-world issues. For the past seven years, every student in her 5th grade class has scored “advanced” on their state mathematics assessment except for two, who missed the “advanced” score by less than 5 points each.
As the Gifted Resource Coordinator, Johnnie makes sure that all possible candidates are evaluated for the program. She looks at benchmarks, observes students’ work and behavior, and collaborates with teachers to ensure that all students are considered. Johnnie worked with the special educators in the building (librarian, music teacher and counselor) to provide school-wide enrichments for every student.
“Often, a gifted child may not be the one that turns in their work on time - in fact, they may be the one who never turns in completed work due to boredom or lack of motivation. I work closely with our faculty so they are aware of what indicators might look like for our students. It is not uncommon to have a student be "twice-exceptional", meaning they exhibit a higher level of thinking in math or science yet they need special modifications for reading. I know regular classroom teachers are pushed to the limit to get through their required curriculum and serve students. It is my responsibility and personal mission to see all our students in various school environments; allowing me to identify students that may be a candidate for gifted.” – Johnnie Keel, 3rd – 5th Grade Teacher: Gifted, STEM, and Advanced Math
She created a group to engage 5th grade girls in STEM called GLAMS (Girls Learning, Agriculture, Math and Science). Students admitted to the group are not only those girls that have a science aptitude, but also those that would benefit from the collaboration and challenge. She looks for girls who might not be able to attend an after school program due to lack of transportation and puts together a diverse group that brings different perspectives and ideas between girls that might not normally collaborate together.
Johnnie plans to use the Unconventional Thinking in Teaching grant to purchase Growing Towers to make inside learning labs so that students will be able to carry out experiments, collect data, and gather observations throughout the year, no matter the weather. This also allows autistic and special needs students to more easily take part in the learning process.