- State College Area High School
- State College Area High School
Kristen Albright Named PAECT Teacher of the Year
Kristen Albright usually does the encouraging at work, so it was a memorable surprise when the tables were turned.
Albright teaches STEM classes at Corl Street and Radio Park Elementary Schools. One day, while being observed for an evaluation, she tried testing a small parachute for an experiment. To her dismay, it wouldn’t open, vexing her until a student piped up.
“He said, ‘That’s OK, Mrs. Albright. Engineers make mistakes all the time. Let’s try that again,’” Albright recalls.
A key message had sunk in.
Helping students embrace failure en route to success underpins STEM education for Albright, who recently was named the Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology (PAECT) teacher of the year. She stresses that perseverance drives the best engineers and scientists toward solutions.
“I always say science is not a ‘Scooby-Doo’ episode. We’re not going to solve the mystery in 15 minutes,” she says. “We try to bring everything back to real-world science examples. It’s not going to get solved quickly, and some problems may not get fixed in our lifetime, and that’s OK.”
Over 23 years in education, the Penn State graduate with a fondness for robotics has enjoyed a varied career, including being an English teacher and a librarian. But since the State College Area School District launched an elementary STEM curriculum three years ago, Albright has held her “dream job” of sparking imagination and ingenuity as much as teaching about robotics, circuitry and coding.
“Kids don’t have that ability to tinker anymore, to see what’s under the hood,” Albright says. “We’re becoming dependent on disposable things rather than fixing what we have, and that sense of wonder of how things work kind of goes away. The nice thing about STEM is children can see what’s under the hood.”
One favorite moment came when a kindergartener rallied his classmates to band together for two days and make “the best castle ever” from cardboard.
“What I like about STEM is everybody wins,” Albright says. “You can make a block tower that is five blocks high and feel proud of yourself, or one that reaches up to the ceiling. So students at every level have been able to find their own success.”
Her instruction isn’t limited to students. With the PAECT, she helps train STEM teachers to be more effective.
“Kristen is a leader in STEM education at the local, state, and national levels,” says Radio Park Principal Deirdre Bauer, also the elementary curriculum director. “Her zeal for continuous learning and being the best educator she can be is what makes her stand out. Her colleagues rely on her leadership and passion.”
Albright, in turn, praises her fellow STEM teachers for their creativity and dedication. As a team during the COVID-19 pandemic, they devised alternative experiments to ensure equity between in-person and remote students, such as cleaning pennies with ketchup to demonstrate chemical reactions or building virtual Mars rovers inspired by NASA’s Perseverance.
At the same time, they’ve been planning their program’s evolution to keep pace with their students — in line with the district's goal of continually providing innovative learning experiences.
“We just get so excited as STEM teachers to imagine the possibilities,” Albright says. “I see these kindergartners who are learning this growth mindset and some engineering basics. What are they going to be doing when they’re in the fifth grade? I can’t wait.”
By Chris Rosenblum
Photos by Nabil K. Mark