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Alton native Sam Watt taught STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classes in Beijing during the past school year and will return again this fall.
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Students at the Beijing Academy work on hands-on projects for the STEM program.
ALTON — An interest in bringing the sciences to others combined with a desire to travel has carried Sam Watt from his school days in Alton to the other side of the world.
Watt spent this past year teaching STEM programs to students in Beijing and will return next year to expand that program.
Graduating from Alton High School in 2009, Watt went on to complete his degree in physics from Northern Illinois University. Certified in middle and high school education, he taught high school physics in Bloomington, Ill., following his graduation from college.
STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. STEM education prepares students for careers in those interdependent fields.
“The subjects are connected,” Watt said. “The focus of the program is to get and keep kids interested in avenues to success in these areas.”
Watt has had a keen interest in science since he was very young.
“There were thousands of Legos in our house when I was growing up,” he said, smiling.
When Northern Illinois University sought someone to teach the program in China, they knew Watt was the right person.
“A professor there I had worked with knew my love for adventure and wanderlust were a perfect fit,” he said.
Living in China from September of last year until this past month, Watt taught seventh- and eighth-grade students at Beijing Academy, a selective middle school.
The curriculum was developed by the university and is focused on bringing more critical thinking and analytical skills to students. He said he emphasized hands-on projects that gave students practical experience in how science works.
“One project we worked on was to see who could build a top that would spin the longest,” he said.
The curriculum taught students to develop a hypothesis, build a model, test it and rebuild it with improvements.
“The idea is to teach how you can apply the same scientific approach to other things,” he said.
The final project was a science fair in which students had to demonstrate their experiments.
“They had never done anything like that before,” he said.
He said it was great to see the kids do projects centered on questions they themselves had come up with.
“They weren’t told what to do on the project,” he said. “They had to figure it out for themselves.”
Watt said he learned a great deal about the world and people through the experience.
“All people are the same,” he said. “People are basically friendly and kids play the same way everywhere.”
He said he made many professional friends during his time there as well as a few close personal friends.
Watt will teach Illinois camps that are focused on STEM this summer but is looking forward to returning to China in the fall and expanding the program there.
“There will be three other teachers in addition to me going there this coming year,” he said.
Watt’s passion for his field and his interest in the program and its benefits are evident.
“The goal is to have students, as well as people of all ages, find an interest in how the world works around them,” he said.