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Science teacher surprised beyond words to win ORAU’s Extreme Classroom Makeover

It’s going to be a big change going from pretend virtual reality headsets made out of toilet paper tubes and cardboard to the real thing, but that’s a change that Northview Primary STEM School teacher Stacey Whaley is happy to make. As the 2022 winner of ORAU’s Extreme Classroom Makeover, Whaley will soon get to buy $25,000 worth of technology to improve her classroom and help her students enjoy learning about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Science teacher surprised beyond words to win ORAU’s Extreme Classroom Makeover

Northview Primary STEM School teacher Stacey Whaley standing with Jim Vosburg, ORAU senior vice president and director of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education after winning the 2022 Extreme Classroom Makeover.

Whaley said she had never been so surprised in her life when she walked into the school gym for what she thought was a meeting, but instead was greeted with cheers from her fellow teachers.

“I do not have words for how awesome this is, I really don’t,” Whaley said. “Thank you so much.”

With the help of her students, Whaley submitted a video creatively illustrating what she would do with the $25,000 if she won. In Whaley’s video submission, she captains her students through a black hole which takes the class to the future. Using iPads, digital microscopes and an interactive table made out of ordinary school supplies, Whaley’s students demonstrate what their future could look like with ORAU’s help.

“This future is so amazing, I don’t think we should leave!” Whaley says in the video. Now that future is going to become a reality.

ORAU has presented the Extreme Classroom Makeover thirteen times since 2008. Since then, ORAU has awarded $460,500 to area STEM educators as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to strengthen STEM education throughout East Tennessee.

“Our goal is to get these kids engaged at a young age,” said Jim Vosburg, ORAU senior vice president and director of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. “There are statistics that show they kind of lose interest in STEM in middle school, so we want to charge them up early on, just like this school is doing.”

Whaley encourages her students to enjoy learning, and to engage with STEM in a hands-on way, she explained.

“STEM has changed my students’ pure enjoyment of learning,” said Whaley. “It’s kind of focused them in on why they’re doing what they’re doing. We focus on careers, we focus on how they’re going to use this when they get older. It’s made them more engaged, it’s made them really enjoy what they’re doing.”

The pretend technology that Whaley’s students used in her video submission are now going to become very real teaching aids. Whaley is excited to exchange paper and cardboard for digital microscopes, virtual reality headsets for virtual field trips and software to bring science to life. 

“There are just so many hands-on things we want to do with this money,” Whaley continued. “We are going to do awesome things!”

Watch the 2022 Extreme Classroom Makeover Winner Reveal