Anyone that can describe a snowstorm as an adventure deserves a round of applause. As a master teacher with over 30 years of experience, Cynthia Felder takes on all the challenges life offers and turns them into an adventure.
Leonette in Her Classroom
Leonette is passionate about teaching her students to be confident, creative problem solvers. She does this by using her STEM classroom as space for creative thinking. Before the pandemic her classroom modeled as a Makerspace : a room with a large number of resources where students can come to explore new concepts, delve into their interests, and create their own projects. It was equipped with Green Screen, computers, blocks, craft supplies and numerous other tools that allowed her students to come up with their own goals or questions, and Leonette guided them on how to execute their plans.
She is determined to retain this level of engagement in the new era of online/hybrid teaching, because there is no force great enough to stop Leonette from teaching science. Creating her own CDC-approved classroom layouts with homemade social distancing materials and bringing in EduSmart Science to provide interactive lessons and labs, she has allowed students to engage in STEM with the same vigor as they did before. Through Leonette’s guidance all her students gained an animated interest in engineering, science, and problem solving. The impact of her work is more than just an increase in her students’ ability to retain critical information, but her students also walk away knowing that they are capable, intelligent individuals.
Her classroom philosophy can be boiled down to, “believing in your students 100%, and letting your students know that you do.” In her 43 years of teaching, Leonette has helped hundreds of students realize their true potential by giving them the space to explore and supporting them through their unique journeys.
Ms. Felder has held many roles in the teaching arena. She has done outstanding work in Alief ISD, Fort Bend ISD and Katy ISD. In addition to being a classroom teacher, she taught art, provided academic support to teachers and was a math and science coach.
After 16 years as an art teacher, her desire to “nurture and love” in a classroom setting brought her to a 2nd grade teaching job. She soon realized she appreciates the older children’s ability to express themselves and moved to a 5th grade position. For nine years she continued to move among 3rd through 5th grades and became a science specialist in the Houston area.
Along the way, Cynthia enjoyed her two-year role as a district science interventionist helping kids struggling to pass. This meaningful job ended when funding was no longer available. Four years after settling into Katy ISD as a teacher and math/science coach, her supervisor asked her to apply at another elementary school as coach and academic support. She held this role for three years before returning to a full-time classroom situation.
“I’ve come full circle. When you teach in the classroom for so many years you need to be challenged in other ways but your love is always the classroom. There are unlimited activities you can do when you have a set group of kids,” Ms. Felder shared.
This busy teacher, wife, mother of three and grandmother of two grandsons is also a published author. Her touching children’s book, “Going to Dear-Dear’s House,” is about a little boy who learns about dementia through his grandmother. Cynthia describes her book as a resource for families struggling with understanding the disease. She plans to write and release three more books to complete the series.
Ms. Felder also self-published a science crossword called STAAR Word Search in hopes to help the kids with the heavy science vocabulary in the STAAR test.
“I love teaching and love helping the kids get it,” she said.
Cynthia and EduSmart
Ms. Felder has spent her career helping and coaching other teachers to dig deeper into the curriculum and make sure everything is in alignment with TEKS. Cynthia worked to make sure everyone had the resources and manipulatives needed for success. Throughout her many different science adventures, Cynthia has been an advocate and user of EduSmart from the beginning.
“When (EduSmart) was started, we were on it and it has evolved into an amazing resource. To me, it is one of the best resources a classroom teacher can have.”
Cynthia recalls a specific year when she taught at McRoberts Elementary, “In 2015, we did get recognized through the state with six gold stars, including math and science.” Ms. Felder went on to say that she was especially proud of 5th grade science receiving a gold star that year. She attributes the success to the use of EduSmart, “5th grade science is tough and I know EduSmart is the reason why we got the gold star!”
Cynthia approaches her science teaching as a layered process and EduSmart helps connect the layers. When the children have a base understanding of a concept, Ms. Felder begins with a discussion. As a class they return to EduSmart and fill in the notes and complete science experiments and exploration. To reinforce their learning, they do quizzes as a class with each child participating by holding up their answer.
“EduSmart is one of the best resources a science classroom can use. Everything that you need is there,” adds Cynthia.
To make the most of EduSmart, Ms. Felder suggests going through the video then having a discussion to add a layer or two. After discussing what has been learned, go back and fill in the notes through the note taking guide.
“What I really like about Edusmart is how it is TEK based. It’s easy to maneuver. I love the printables and teacher resources. It’s very deep with a lot of information; it makes your job easier. I wish more people would get to know it and realize exactly what it has to offer.”
Cynthia’s Key to Success and Touching Moments
Ms. Felder believes the key to success is, “letting the children know that you care and meeting them where they are. Not where I am but where they are.”
She encourages her students to speak up by reminding them that she is the only one in the room that has been through the 4th grade already, “We are here together. Whatever you want to ask, just ask.”
Recently, her class has been working on learning the phases of the moon. They have been drawing, reading, creating charts and watching educational information. “But they finally get it when we do the Oreo cookie activity where you etch the phases in the filling,” she shared laughing. Cynthia enjoys seeing the kids understand what she has been teaching them.
“I see them growing and maturing and actually learning. That’s my favorite part of the classroom – when they get it, you can see it. The confidence, enthusiasm. You can see it all,” Ms. Felder beams.
Focus on the Students
Ms. Felder works hard to build a caring relationship with each student that includes praise, reward and structure. She wants each child to know that where ever they are she will support them and get them to where they need to be. She asks the students to give 100% when it is time to work.
The pandemic has brought new teaching challenges over the past year. Ms. Felder has continued to focus on the children. She encourages other teachers to be creative and excited in the classroom.
“The kids are still there wanting and needing us to inspire them. (We) just need to get more creative to keep the level of excitement for the kids. They are kids. We have to keep up a level of enthusiasm for them. The kids are resilient and they have adapted.”