By Maya Pottiger
Fort Smallwood Elementary School’s STEM and Society teacher Joshua Webster is in a unique position. He teaches students starting in pre-K and continues through fifth grade, so he gets to watch them grow.
“The best thing is when the kids remember projects that we’ve done previously, and they make the connections for a new project,” Webster said. “It’s nice because it means they’re retaining it, which is often hard in education: trying to get the kids to retain information for the duration. I get to see them take things and use it consecutively.”
In Webster’s classroom, learning is hands-on and project-based. His classroom is any child’s dream, full of Legos, sewing machines and other tools for students to carry out their wildest inventions. Webster always encourages his students to “try it.”
“That’s my biggest innovation. I think that’s the biggest thing with the kids is they know that they can try the things that are off the wall or typically they’d never be able to do, within reason,” Webster said. “Many of them do fail, but at least they know they can try and the worst that can happen is something doesn’t work.”
Webster has been nominated for The Henry Ford Innovation Nation Teacher Innovator Award. The national award recognizes teachers across America who demonstrate the habits of an innovator: inspire their students to challenge the rules and take risks, demonstrate how to be collaborative and empathetic, and teach the value of learning from staying curious and learning from failure.
“I feel important because I’m changing the minds of young kids, looking at things differently than beating something over and over with something that isn’t working,” Webster said. “I like to think that I’m more of the fun teacher, that kids like to come in and build and create and come up with interesting ideas that they typically don’t have a voice in the classroom with.”
Previously, Webster has been nominated for Teacher of the Year twice and by the Northern Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce twice.
“Mr. Webster is a dedicated, creative and innovative teacher,” said Fort Smallwood Elementary Principal David Sembly. “He always comes prepared to teach, providing students with hands-on exploratory learning opportunities. Students are challenged and enjoy sharing their original ideas for solving societal challenges.
“The families and students of Fort Smallwood are fortunate to have Mr. Webster,” Sembly said. “I eagerly anticipate hearing about the scientists, engineers, and creative world contributors whose curiosity and ingenuity was nurtured and developed in Mr. Webster's classroom.”
Outside of the classroom, Webster runs sewing and robotics clubs.
“I like watching the kids’ faces when they get something. It’s the excitement rather than kids just sitting there with the monotonous face on,” Webster said. “You can see they learned something new or something made a connection. When their face lights up, it’s cool.”
The winners of the Innovator Award will be announced around June 1.