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West Jordan Journal

Award-winning teacher revs up students’ enthusiasm with Hot Wheels, rockets, and more

Mar 31, 2023 02:25PM ● By Jet Burnham

Lanette Searle integrated language arts, fine art, and technology by having students write a fairy tale, create the scenery and puppet characters, and then film their stories using stop motion cameras. (Lanette Searle/Westvale Elementary)

Hot Wheels cars and tracks are Westvale Elementary teacher Lanette Searle’s favorite tool for teaching students about energy, inertia and momentum.

“I love seeing their faces when they see how inertia works because they've taken a car and done a Hot Wheels track and they got the car to go using inertia,” Searle said. “All of a sudden, it makes sense how the planet is going around the sun. My favorite thing, by far, is watching the moment that they understand the science behind how something works, because then they can transfer that information into something else.”

As a STEAM teacher, Searle also uses rockets, stop motion cameras, and robotics to teach students science, technology, engineering, art and math.

STEAM is a priority at Westvale Elementary. Last year, the school community council approved a fundraiser to supply a STEAM program. Searle was hired and she used some of the $11,000 raised to purchase rocket launchers to teach about flight, a 3D printer for design projects and robotics equipment to start a Lego League Club.

But Searle will have to wait to use the teaching tool she believes all teachers and students need—an outdoor classroom. While teaching at Municipal Elementary School in Weber School District, Searle built an outdoor classroom equipped with a sound wall, a magnetic wall, and lasers for students to explore scientific concepts, using Searle’s detailed lesson plans.

“She's a master at science and knowing how things fit together,” Municipal Elementary Principal Kevin Chase said.

Nicole Heaton, a fourth-grade teacher at Municipal Elementary, said the outdoor classroom is a great resource.

 “The thing I like best about the outdoor classroom is taking my students outside to just have a minute to decompress,” Heaton said. “We read or draw outside. It teaches them that the outside is a great place to find peace in our crazy lives.”

The process of creating an outdoor classroom at Westvale Elementary is in the early stages. Currently, there are some tables and benches in an open space, but Searle has plans to add a fence, weather station, wind turbine, sound wall and magnetic wall.

“We have a lot of great ideas that have already been presented to the district, but we just don't have the funds or the safety right now,” Searle said.

Searle knows the process will take a few years and will require buy-in from the school staff and community members. Westvale Elementary Principal Odette Desmarais is already onboard.

“The idea is so phenomenal and it's so amazing,” Desmarais said. “We just have to make sure that it's done in a way that it has sustainability.”

Desmarais is impressed with Searle’s passion as well as her background, endorsements and creativity.

“She's just a natural educator,” Desmarais said. “She gets it, instinctively, what these kids need. And she is passionate—she loves it. I think every single school would benefit from having a Lanette.”

The U.S. Department of Education agrees. Last spring, Searle was selected as one of two Utah finalists for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Education. During her 28 years of teaching, much of it with Weber School District, Searle has also been The Standard Examiner Apple Teacher of the Year several times, and was the 2021 Hill Air Force Base Northern Utah Teacher of the Year.

Heaton, who previously worked with Searle, said Searle’s passion for both science and her students is the reason she is an award-winning teacher.

“Lanette is charismatic in her teaching,” Heaton said. “The students can't help but be interested in whatever she is teaching.”