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French Teacher's Love of STEM Inspires Continuing Education at St. Thomas

Caroline Little’s energy is infectious. Even in a short amount of time spent with the dynamic secondary education teacher, she’s a nonstop generator of ideas. In the classroom, Little, a French teacher at Saint Thomas Academy for 17 years, constantly pushes the boundaries of what it is to be a language teacher by merging her love of all things French with her passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

This summer, the Marine on St. Croix native started classes at St. Thomas in the Graduate Certificate in Engineering Education program.

“She thinks outside the box,” said Deb Besser, director of the Center of Engineering Education, which supports teachers' STEM integration with engineering education through multiple degrees and certificates.  “That’s pretty typical of the educators we’re working with – being a risk-taker.”

During French classes, Little integrates language learning with STEM activities, including robotics, allowing students to use their developing French skills in unexpected ways. Outside of school hours, she moderates Saint Thomas Academy’s Experimental Vehicle Team, which recently placed fifth in the world at the Shell Eco-marathon Drivers’ World Championship in London.

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Student and educator Caroline Little at her daughter's STEM-inspired birthday party.

Little doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of various learning opportunities, and was inspired to continue her formal education at St. Thomas after attending one of engineering professor AnnMarie Thomas’ Educator Playdates.

“It was the circus science one, which I didn’t actually realize meant I was going to climb up and do the trapeze,” Little laughed. “It was amazing. Every day I ask my students to take risks, so I showed my students the video of me doing the trapeze and said, ‘I ask you to take risks all the time, here’s me taking a risk.’

“AnnMarie had mentioned the certificate program while I was there, and I looked into it,” she continued. “As a teacher, it’s perfect timing-wise. It’s online or one-week sessions during the summer. I wanted something where I didn’t have to worry about taking time off of work to do it.”

Over the years, Little has received multiple accolades for her innovative classroom thinking including 2015 National French Teacher of the Year at the Secondary Level honors from the American Association of Teachers of French. She was also part of the inaugural group of educators participating in NASA's Microgravity University for Educators last year. Now she’s bringing her talents to the St. Thomas classroom as she earns her certificate and collaborating with engineering faculty on projects. She’s currently working with Thomas as one of the educators on the OK Go Sandbox team assisting in creating new projects, activities and educator guides to go along with the band's music videos and the OK Go Sandbox videos that are in the works.

“She is a lifelong learner and interested in everything,” Thomas said about Little. “This allows her to see opportunities and collaborations in unexpected places.”

Little smiles when she talks about having found a community of “like-minded people” during her time at St. Thomas.

“They love the fact I teach French and do engineering in the classroom and do an extracurricular,” she said. “I really love the energy here. I feel very accepted for being me, which is huge, and also encouraged to keep working hard.”