STEMinist Profile: Michelle Tona Roberts, Elementary Engineering Teacher and Technology Specialist

Michelle Tona Roberts

Elementary Engineering Teacher and Technology Specialist – I’m also my school’s TSA (Technology Student Association) advisor

Braden River Elementary School in Manatee County Florida

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I’ve loved science as far back as I can remember. I wanted to be a doctor when I was younger, but changed majors a few times in college (hitting every one of the science majors for a semester or two), eventually to end up as an elementary education major deciding that I could influence students with my enthusiasm and passion for science.

After I graduated from college with my teaching degree, I did a 3 day workshop for teachers called “I3: Innovation, Inquiry, and Invention”. It was all on “Engineering By Design” and using inquiry-based problem-solving to drive instruction. It was an overview of curriculum from the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association ( designed to teach engineering problem solving to elementary and middle school students.

This was one of the best workshops I have ever been to. It was great, we were put into teams and got to make a miniature marshmallow flinging catapult, a windmill that turned when placed in front of a fan and had to bring up a cup full of washers, chocolate candy (for manufacturing—had to design the packaging and do a commercial to advertise our chocolates, as well), and straw rockets that launched from a straw rocket launcher from PITSCO. I was hooked! I HAD to have this program at my school and HAD to be the teacher.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I have worked on is my current teacher assignment as an elementary engineering teacher because I teach students how to problem solve, think critically, use the engineering design process, and inspire curiosity. The coolest part is watching the students grow and seeing their wonder unfold into new “discoveries.”

We now have nine elementary engineering teachers in my school district and are writing our own curriculum for teaching units on the Engineering Design Process, Simple Machines, Transportation, Construction and Structures, Innovation and Inventions, Force and Motion, Manufacturing, Robotics, Power and Energy, and Technical Systems and Toys. I have a very cool job—where else can you get paid to play with Legos, K’Nex, and robots, and teach children to use these in problem solving?!

Role models/heroes:
Albert Einstein, Sally Ride, Marie Curie, Elizabeth Blackwell, Maria Mitchell, Lillian Gilbreath, Dorothy Crowfoot-Hodgkin, Billy Nye, Robert Krampf, Kari Byron, my dad (the smartest man I have ever known), my husband, and my aunt Peggy (a doctor).

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working in the STEM field because it is such a fascinating area, and one I feel we need to concentrate on more. STEM is the application of the basic language arts and math subjects in school. If we can captivate a student’s sense of wonder (not hard) with science and technology, then the reading, writing, and math can be applied to these areas and will make sense to them. It also gives them a real sense of purpose for using language arts and math in their lives. Technology (high-tech, that is) is a part of our everyday lives, and as we go on, it’s only going to become more indoctrinated in our lives.

I live in a geeky household where each of us have our own computers and handheld devices, a wonderful mixture of Windows, Mac, and Linux (and now Android). Our favorite shows are “How It’s Made,” “How Do They Do It,” and “Myth Busters” (all from the Science Channel). As soon as my own children learned to read, they fell in love with the non-fiction section (500-600s) in the library (in my youngest’s case, it was his reason to learn how to read!). And, the question is, why do I love working in STEM? That’s easy, it’s because it’s so much a part of who I am as a person.

Advice for future STEMinists?
My father always told me that I could do anything I wanted to. It was through his influence and encouragement that I am the person I am today. It does not matter whether you are a girl or a boy, you can do anything you set your mind to do. Never give up on your passion and your dreams. Whatever interests you, whatever you find fascinating, let that guide you, and never stop pursuing it.

Favorite website/app:
Engineering – Go For It ; Robert Krampf’s the Happy Scientist ; Mythbusters ; and of course, NASA! (and NASA Science – or any of the NASA sites). Also, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has a very cool interactive game that teaches about Simple Machines.

Website: BRE Engineering, Tona’s Tidings Blog
Twitter: @sonicgeekette

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