Science comes alive in Courtney Dickerson’s classroom at James M. Brown Elementary School in Walhalla, S.C.
Turtle shells, fossils, bones, maps and other items make her classroom environment an engaging space for sparking students’ curiosity about all things science. Add to that a childlike sense of wonder Dickerson shows while performing fun but informative experiments.
When Dickerson was younger, she wanted to join the United States Navy, but she sought out God’s will for her life and felt led to become a teacher. When considering a college, Dickerson turned down an opportunity for a full scholarship at another college, sensing that God was leading her to enroll at Anderson University instead. She feels her AU professors “poured into her” not only academically, but spiritually as well. She also gained valuable leadership experience as a kitchen manager at Chick-fil-A in Seneca, S.C.
Dr. Margaret Walworth, assistant director for the Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence in the Anderson University College of Education and one of Dickerson’s professors, said that Dickerson is “extremely student-focused and creative” in her approach to engaging and supporting her students.
“Courtney knows her students, meets them right where they are, and helps them soar as learners,” Walworth said.
Dickerson’s principal saw she had a passion for science and decided she was a good fit to be the school’s K-5 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) teacher.
When Dickerson’s students could no longer physically be in the classroom this past spring because of pandemic restrictions, she created videos of experiments that could easily be replicated at home using readily available items, then posted them to her YouTube channel. Making grains of rice dance in a jar of water, she demonstrates a chemical reaction in motion. Crystals grow from cracked eggshells. Volcanoes erupt. Dickerson gives her videos a sense of fun as she performs her experiments.
“One of the coolest things I saw from making those videos is that the kids were doing the work,” Dickerson said. Many of her students’ parents were becoming actively engaged in the science activities themselves.
“Not only were they spending time together, they were actually doing something fun. It’s understandable that a lot of parents didn’t like distance learning, but I think for that moment they were able to see that learning can be fun,” Dickerson said.
“My kids absolutely loved tuning in everyday. We actually did 10-12 of Courtney’s science projects at home,” said Erin Bramlett, who has children in fifth-grade, fourth-grade and kindergarten in Dickerson’s classes. Bramlett says that science kits were on the top of her children’s Christmas wish list and one of her children dresses up her Barbie as a STEM teacher.
“It has been amazing to watch our kids get excited and engaged watching these videos,” said Erin Garland, an assistant principal at James Brown Elementary. “As a parent, I had to try some of these experiments at home.”
“The classroom environments she creates, like the lessons and the motivational characters and the YouTube videos, show her respect and her love for her students, as well as her gifts and talents,” Walworth said.
One day Dickerson was showing her fifth-graders a video about an F18 fighter pilot as part of her lesson about the history of airplanes and aerodynamics. The girls in the class started saying “wait a minute, that’s a woman! You mean that I can be a pilot, too?” Dickerson replied, “you can be anything you want to be. If you want to be an F18 pilot, do it. The lesson turned to girls seeing how they can do anything men can do and to see themselves as engineers, scientists and technicians.”
“I have seen her “go the extra mile” as a teacher to reach every one of her students every year that she has taught. It is who she is as a teacher,” Walworth said.
See below for one of of Anderson University graduate Courtney Dickerson’s popular videos in which she demonstrates to her students how to create film canister rockets.