She began Friday’s lesson with a picture of an Ophiderma bimaculata and said to the fifth graders, “You’re about to get a feel as to how a scientist works to name this insect,” whose common name happens to be treehopper ant.
Students surrounded four tables, most sitting, a couple standing, two with their knees in chairs and feet sticking into the air, one seated but rolling back and forth on a large exercise ball and one with a hoodie pulled almost over his face. Yet every child in the classroom was completely engaged in the lesson and immersed in the activity introduced.
Mattie Lively Elementary School teacher Tamra Lamb moved around the room, asking provoking questions. “What’s your angle? What are you trying to accomplish?
“How can we split these into two groups? What trait do they have that’s different? Keep going until you have only one in a group.”
And then with great fanfare, “You did it! You just classified two new species of emoji’s!”
Well, scientists aren’t exploring the nomenclature of digital images used to express an idea or emotion, but the recently-announced 2017 Georgia Science Teacher of Promise likes to meet students where they are, to give them a shared experience in the classroom, something they can relate to before introducing a new concept.
“Giving them the ‘aha’ moment,” she said.
It’s no wonder Lamb, in her third year of teaching, but first year of teaching science and math to fifth graders, was honored by the Georgia Science Teachers Association at a special awards banquet last weekend at the Atlanta Evergreen Conference Resort as part of the Association’s annual Science Conference.
To earn the Science Teacher of Promise award, Lamb and other nominees completed an application process that included essay responses about how they would improve science education in their schools and school system, details about recent science lessons and description of unique or creative lessons they have developed based on Georgia’s science standards. Nominees also had to submit three letters of recommendation.
A graduate of Georgia Southern University with a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in early childhood education, Lamb was nominated for the award by one of her former professors, Dr. Katie Brkich.
“I have worked with many pre-service and in-service teachers in my six years at Georgia Southern University, but none whom I am as proud to have worked with as Tamra,” Brkich said in her letter of recommendation. “She has not only transformed the way her students see and feel about science, but also how the other fifth-grade teachers on the team teach science.”
‘A dichotomous key’
Back in the classroom on Friday and as the ‘aha’ of classifying Emoji’s rippled from table to table with the completion of the charts, Lamb asked, “Now are you ready for a challenge? You can use this key to identify emoji’s. Can you use this key to identify what we’ve been learning about? Vertebrates?”
Distributing additional supplies, Lamb sent the kids back to their small groups and had them brainstorm, leaving the kids to discuss among their peers the correct way to divide five groups of vertebrates into two groups and continue from there.
Murmurings among the kids included: “They’re both warm-blooded. Feathers and fins. Do amphibians have gills? They live on land and water.” Lamb assisted with leading questions whenever a table got stuck.
As each table approached another “aha moment” and just before lunch time, Lamb blurted out, “Juju,” to which each child responded, “On that beat.” With all eyes in her direction after the attention-getting device the students themselves implemented earlier in the school year, Lamb said, “Today, what you all just did was use a tool scientists call a ‘dichotomous key.’”
The next lesson: Using a dichotomous key to classify math shapes – squares and rectangles and other polygons.
Teaching, helping children learn, seems to come easily for the passionate and enthusiastic teacher.
“I love science, Lamb said. “I love that I can get kids to love science. I want to be an advocate for science education in the classroom. When I can get the kids to be passionate about science, it opens a whole new world for kids.”
Lamb said that once she achieves that enthusiasm for science from the students, “it’s easy to transfer that interest in learning to other subjects, like math and writing and even public speaking, empowering the kids to apply and speak up about what they’ve learned.”
Dr. Carolyn Vasilatos, Mattie Lively principal, saw the teaching spark in Lamb immediately.
“Tamra Lamb is a magnificent educator whom I feel blessed to work with,” Vasilatos said. “Her passion for science is unparalleled.”
Lamb joined the Mattie Lively faculty in July, after serving the district for two years at Langston Chapel Elementary School in second and then first grade classrooms.
Humbled by the award
An Effingham County native, Lamb said she was humbled by the award and credits several for her accomplishment. “My dad always said there are two things no one can ever take away from you: experience and education. He really encouraged me.”
The fairly-new science teacher also credited her 7th grade science teacher, Mrs. Carla Dean, at South Effingham School, and said Dean could make seemingly-boring science lessons, like the study of cells, come to life with her enthusiasm and small-group activities.
Lamb also credits Dr. Brkich, calling the professor “my mentor at GSU” with a passion for teaching.
And lastly, but with a special gleam in her eyes, Lamb credits her students. “The kids are naturally curious. I love my kiddoes; they’re really good kiddoes.”
Though Lamb didn’t always know she wanted to teach – she entertained the idea of a theater major and attended Governor’s Honors during high school in that capacity – she has no plans of ever leaving the classroom.
“This is what I want to do the rest of my life.”