URBANDALE, Iowa – An Urbandale Community School teacher is being recognized by the Air Force Association for his unique STEM lessons.
Webster Elementary Fifth Grade Teacher Zach Maertens was awarded Teacher of the Year from the AFA General Charles Horner Chapter. A former student’s parents nominated him. Maertens did not serve in the U.S. Air Force.
Maertens said half the battle of teaching is building relationships with his students.
“The big thing about teaching is to just build a relationship with the kids. Once you have that relationship built, the academic stuff is easy,” Maertens said.
Maertens said he uses real-life scenarios that students can understand and connect with when teaching the material.
“Whenever they publish a writing product they get to type it and put a cover on it, which all of a sudden you are connecting art to writing and that is a big deal to some of those kids… So it is one of those things that when it becomes real all of a sudden writing becomes fun and you want to do it and realize hey I could do this in the real world. It just brings a joy to the kids,” Maertens said.
Maertens said fifth grade is the perfect time to introduce a variety of careers in projects because in another 10 years the students will either be in the workforce or finishing higher education.
Right now, students are learning about September 11, 2001.
Fifth Grade Student Thomas Coddington said, “Mr. Maertens told us to interview our mom or dad about their 9-11 story, and then we needed to write it out. Yesterday, we wrote our first paragraph about the background knowledge of 9-11.”
Coddington interviewed his uncle who was serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in Baltimore at the time.
The class shared what they learned from interviewing parents and family members about the historic day.
Fifth Grade Student Ashley Molis said she enjoys coming to class every day.
“Every morning he makes us say hello and ask a question or tell him something and I think that really helps because he makes it so we can ask questions at math or something. We can get better at math. He always tells us stories and shows us motivational videos,” Molis said.
Maertens finds different ways to motivate his students. Last year he had his students pick inspirational quotes and paint them on a canvas to look at whenever they needed motivation.
Maertens invited members of the U.S. Air Force to speak to his students about their careers.