Jason Davis, Chaparral Elementary School
Fifth-grade teacher gets the most fun out of science

Teacher Talk
Jason Davis, fifth-grade teacher in Chino Hills, says he's been lucky to find his niche and to share his love of science with children.

Jason Davis, a fifth-grade teacher at Chaparral Elementary School in Chino Hills, enjoys teaching everything, but says he gets the most fun out of science. It’s evident as he talks about teaching students about robots or a project to build a prosthetic arm.

“Incorporating robotics is a way to teach science and math,” said Davis who got the idea to teach robotics after seeing an ad for a robot built out of Lego parts. “I thought how cool would it be for the kids in my class to build and program a robot, especially something made with Lego?”

He saw immediate results from students working with the robot kit. They figured out how to move the robot backward and forward through integers, although they hadn’t yet covered integers in class.

“It was a real-world application of mathematics and it was meaningful to the students,” Davis said.

He thinks of the project as building 21st century skills, and obtaining training that he and most teachers never got. “Today’s generation is coming with a whole set of skills we’re not using in a typical educational format.”

Moving beyond textbooks, Davis entices students to read interesting news articles about practical uses of science and math in the real world. A story about the use of 3-D printers to create prosthetic hands got his students excited.

Chaparral Elementary School teacher Jason Davis got a grant to help students design and create prosthetic hands using a 3-D printer.

“It was the seed of an idea,” Davis said, and he won a Voya grant to provide money for the project which helped his students learn math, engineering and measurement.

The prosthetic hand created by his class was donated to someone in their local community who is in need of one.

“I thought it would be so cool to teach science and math through a 3-D printer and a 3-D printing program and for the students to not just learn about these things, but to do something that benefits our direct community. It’s a real way to empower children.”

‘I like the variety’

Davis, who has been teaching since 1997, also enjoys social studies and history, and “getting the kids to view the world through different lenses than they’re used to looking through.”

“I like the variety that being an elementary school teacher gives me, and that I get to teach all the different subjects, and not be pigeonholed to one subject,” he added.

Davis also sees teaching as an opportunity to serve as a role model. “Growing up, my own father wasn’t around and I remember being young and craving to have some sort of father-figure mentor in my life.”

Teachers, of course, made a difference in his life, and Davis talked about a couple.

“My fifth-grade teacher was just a very caring person, and her program was innovative.  In some ways, I’ve modeled a lot of what I do on her class, and how she ran things.”

His American literature instructor in college taught him to look at his biases when making decisions.

“He really taught me how to open my mind and look at the world from other points of view.”

Davis has made a lasting impression on his own students.

“I just love making meaningful connections with my students and their families,” Davis said. He has maintained communications with some. “When you get a card from a former student in their 20s or they’re starting a family and they let you know you have an impact—that’s all I ever wanted to do. That definitely warms my heart.”

Keep innovating

The key for Davis is to keep innovating. He hopes to open the world for his students, and give them exposure to parts of science they wouldn’t get otherwise.

“If I can get them excited about science and robots, that child might become an engineer that designs a new sort of mechanical heart or some sort of medical technology that improves the world. That would be a measure of success for me.”

Davis started out teaching third grade, but has been teaching fifth grade for the last eight years.  “I feel having been here for a little while, it gives you a chance to be a sort of expert at your grade level. You get comfortable, and with the curriculum, it gives you a chance to stretch your wings.”

Retirement is still a long way off, and Davis hasn’t given it much thought. But when he does retire, he would like to go back to school of the sake of learning — to take robotics or programming. Or maybe he’d put in a few more hours at the karate studio.

“I’m a beginning martial artist,” Davis said when asked about one fun thing people might not know about him. He took karate lessons as a kid, but changes in his life prevented him from sticking with the program. When his 5-year-old son began karate lessons, it sparked Davis’ interest again. “I’m loving it and having a great time.”

Davis, who has been married for about 10 years, also has a 3-year-old daughter.

Identifying with parents

“Having my own children has helped me identify with the parents of my students for sure,” Davis noted. “That’s made me a better teacher, no doubt. I definitely have a better understanding of how families are pushed and stretched in every direction.”

Davis admitted he’s been lucky to find his niche and to share his love of science with children.

“Getting up on my soapbox, education and society and technology are changing so rapidly right now. Either we have to get ahead of the curve, or at least ride the edge ourselves as teachers, or students are going to get left behind. I think educators as a whole need to start embracing the technological revolutions that are happening around us. It’s coming whether we’re ready or not. It’s either adapt and change and embrace it, or get left behind.”

Teacher Talk is a series of profiles on California teachers and other educators. To be considered for a future profile, please email communications@calstrs.com, with Teacher Talk in the subject line.