About Town

Women in STEAM – Leigh Keener

Leigh Keener | Episcopal Collegiate School | Discovery Lab Specialist & Academic Technology Specialist | Wardrobe from Tulips

Beginning Interests… I have always known I wanted to work with young children and leaned towards a constructivist-style classroom. Having the opportunity to blend these two passions into a fully integrated science and design course for our youngest wildcats has been an absolute joy!

A Day at Work… I’ll describe today for you! I arrived at work about 7:30, hugged and kissed my 3 favorite Wildcats (my 3 children) and sent them on their way. I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed to carpool duty. It was a chilly 27F this morning but I was excited to head outside for one of my favorite parts of the day. I open car doors as little smiling faces bounce out ready to start their day. They tell me about their puppies, their dance class, and their haircuts and always head inside with the same question, “Do we have Discovery Lab today?” More often than not I get to answer, “YES! See you soon!” and they bound off with a smile.

From there I head to my daughter’s first grade Discovery Lab Class where we wrap up our 3D printing unit. I conference with the last few kids finalizing their designs before using our NWA3D printers (local Arkansas company) to turn their ideas into a real tangible object they can hold. Handing each kid their finished project is the BEST! Seeing that success is always sweeter knowing the design, troubleshooting, and challenges they worked through to get to that point.

From there I head to a PK4 Discovery Lab Class where we wrap up our Animal Experts unit. Today is extra special. I get to present them with the book they wrote and illustrated! Each page features a child as an animal expert. They worked so hard researching habitats, diets, and special adaptations. They are so proud of their pages!

After a quick fire drill, I join one of our parents and her week-old baby goat in the front courtyard. She happily agreed to be our goat expert as a fun culmination to our Animal Expert unit. For the next two hours I have the chance to watch as each PK and Kinder student become goat experts! We talk about their habitat, diet, and what makes them so special. We giggle as it jumps and kicks and swoon as it bleats and maas while drinking from its bottle. My youngest son is in the PK3 group. Animals make him a little nervous but I’m grateful for his sweet teachers. I watch as they help him navigate this new experience in the most loving and secure environment. I am so lucky to be privy to these sweet moments.

After a quick lunch at my desk checking emails I head down to Kindergarten. The kids and I play in stations with a focus on animals. They experience animal footprints in kinetic sand, make rubbings of pelts, and build homes for farm animals. Watching them learn through play always puts a smile on my face.

The last class of the day is another first grade class, this time my son’s. I hold a few more conferences, watch a few more kids enjoy seeing their visions come to life, then I head back to my room to get ready for our Academic Technology meeting.

As Academic Technology Specialist, I work with our Lower School teachers to enhance what they already do well in the classroom through the use of technology. We are in the process of adopting a new Learning Management System and today’s meeting is a big part of that adoption. I spend the last hour of my school day incredibly impressed with the thorough and thoughtful feedback from our teachers as they review one of the final products. I’m yet again struck by just how much each educator cares deeply about the needs of our students and families. We need this to work for our entire community and I know we’re on the right track.

I wrap up our meeting and pick up my kids who moan as I drag them out of Wildcat Club, our afterschool program, but I promise them I’ll have another late meeting soon so they can spend more time with their friends.

Career Evolution… I started as a first grade classroom teacher before becoming a math specialist. When the administration approached me about a possible design course for young children, I jumped at the chance!

LOVE the Work… The lightbulb moments… My job is not to lecture or teach but rather to set up experiences for our kids to explore on their own. Watching those eyes light up as they discover something amazing about our world makes me smile every time!

Surprising, but True… The secret is out – STEAM is REALLY FUN – and women as much as men can’t wait to jump right in!

Advice… In STEAM we know there will be stumbling blocks along our path. The Design Process is messy. But we also see the great benefits of supposed failure and how it informs our next move. My advice would be to extend this thinking into your personal life. The unexpected will happen. Acknowledge it. Give it value. Honor it. Then learn from it.

“I never lose. I either win or I learn.” -Nelson Mandela

These wonder women are redefining what “full STEAM ahead” means in Arkansas. With exciting careers in science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics – each reflects WIT (Women in Tech) and true grit for making the most of every opportunity. Here’s to the powHER of knowledge.

Photography by Sarah Oden

Inviting Arkansas

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay up-to-date on our latest news!