When COVID-19 pandemic school closures forced Jonté Lee to move his chemistry lab to his home kitchen, he had no idea the impact his online presence would soon have on students nationwide. Now known as the “kitchen chemist,” the Calvin Coolidge High School physics and chemistry teacher’s informative and fun weekly lessons have caught on with not only his students but others far outside his Washington, DC, home base. Lee was recently chosen to join the inaugural cohort of DoD STEM Teacher Ambassador program that seeks to develop new distance-learning STEM resources, specifically designed for military-connected students and those traditionally underrepresented in STEM learning.
A quick Google search turns up many video and print interviews showcasing Lee, a wildly engaging teacher who makes significant efforts to get his students fired up about STEM. In an interview with The Science Teacher, a publication of the National Science Teaching Association, Lee says, “My instructional inspiration comes from movies and television. I watch the television shows and movies my students watch. I play the video games they play and download the apps they use. I then find ways to incorporate the movies, shows, apps and video games into science lessons. I utilize this strategy to show my students that science is all around us. I once used the movie Avengers: Endgame to teach about carrying capacity. The students went wild.”
Lee is thrilled to be a part of the inaugural DoD STEM Teacher Ambassador Program cohort. “Teachers have been told for years to ‘incorporate tech into our lessons,’” Lee said during an interview with DoD STEM. “But ‘tech’ is this generic term we throw around. What does it really mean? The opportunity to collaborate with other STEM teachers around the country with support from DoD STEM is unique and has already been incredibly helpful. I love being a ‘thought partner’ with other educators. For example, I’ve realized that showing students the interconnectedness of the different parts of STEM is just as important as focusing on any one area, such as chemistry or biology. The history of video games is the history of technology and the history of engineering. If you pay attention to it in this way, you are developing skills in critical thought and evaluation.”
Lee says his students are full of passion and futuristic ideas. Lee participates in a program at his school* where students can graduate in four years with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. “It’s important to mentor all students, whether they see themselves continuing a STEM-focused education or not. I tell them (and their parents) that it’s important to follow their passions!” As a practical matter, Lee helps students with their resumes, how to spend their community service hours and how to present themselves during interviews. “I tell my students, it’s okay to brag a bit about yourself, don’t be shy!”
Lee is just one of 14 incredible DoD STEM Teacher Ambassadors, who will help cultivate the next generation of STEM professionals in our country. The DoD is proud to fully support this effort. The DoD STEM Teacher Ambassador award provides $20,000 to each teacher, who was chosen after a national search. The Teacher Ambassadors will work together to curate remote-learning and digital materials such as lesson plans, learning activities, and creative engagement approaches that will be made available to all educators nationwide. The teachers, and by design their students, parents, and networks will be exposed to the wealth of STEM-centric education, outreach, and workforce opportunities available throughout the DoD.