Janet Lau: Inspired By Students

When most people think of teaching, they think of teachers inspiring young minds and instilling a love of learning.  But sometimes, the process can go both ways.  Students inspire teachers too.

This two-way process is exemplified in the science teaching of 2nd Grade Cleveland Elementary teacher Janet Lau, as students have helped shape Janet into the excellent teacher she is today.  When Janet began teaching, she admits that she didn’t have much interest in science.  After spending time with her students and seeing their natural curiosity, she was inspired to bring science to the students that craved it.

When Janet started teaching, she didn’t teach much science because she didn’t have a background in it.  She studied International Relations at UC Davis and had a passion for exploring the world.  She was born in China and moved to Oakland in the 3rd grade.  Her constant exploration for the world didn’t stop as Janet traveled to Fukuoka, Japan as a high school exchange student.  She says that her interest in language fueled her exploration of new places.

After student teaching in Davis, Janet began her first year of teaching in Oakland.  While she had a vast array of international experiences to bring to her students, Janet hadn’t done much science.  She started teaching Kindergarten at Longfellow Elementary and then transitioned to Carl Munk Elementary, where she stayed for eleven years.  Janet recently moved to Cleveland Elementary and transitioned to teaching 2nd grade.

As she began to work with her students, Janet learned to “never underestimate the kids.”  She was impressed by their natural curiosity and ability to ask questions about the world around them.  Students could ask important questions and make connections in their minds.  As a result, Janet’s students pushed her to bring in more activities that sparked student curiosity.  Doing science with hands-on activities became a natural fit for the needs of her curious classroom.  Some of Janet’s favorite STEM activities include engineering challenges with marshmallows and toothpicks, studying the anatomy of insects, and using her FOSS kits to look at pebbles, sand, and silt.

To further develop her science teaching Janet turned to the OUSD Science Department for assistance with FOSS (Full Option Science System) kits.  In particular, she is thankful for Caleb Chung and Claudio Vargas for their support.  She has also received support and science lessons from Community Resources for Science where she has been recognized with a Science Super Star award for excellence in elementary science in 2015 and 2016.  Currently, Janet is the co-Science Lead at Cleveland Elementary along with fellow Science Super Star teacher Mary Loeser.  In this role, Janet loves sharing science activities with other teachers.

Janet now teaches in the same Oakland community where she grew up.  She believes that this has given her an insider perspective with her students, sharing in their experiences. 

She also feels an obligation to take students to see areas outside their immediate community.  Janet takes her students on lots of field trips, giving them the opportunity to expand their learning beyond the classroom.

Some of Janet’s field trips include Point Reyes, Cal Academy of Sciences, Chabot Space and Science Center, Lakeview Library, Oakland Museum of California, and Marine Science Institute.  Janet gets funding for these field trips through grants, often times which she finds through the CRS resource guide.  She additionally loves to expose students to different experiences including organizing regular visits to the Sunrise Senior Center in the Oakland Hills.  She believes that these learning experiences are vital for developing her students’ sense of curiosity and ability to solve real world problems.

In her spare time, Janet enjoys hiking and taking pictures of nature, two passions of hers that have grown since she started bringing more science into her classroom.  In particular, she loves to hike in the Tennessee Valley, Sunol Regional Wilderness, and in Point Reyes.  We love Janet’s story of growing into the excellent elementary science teacher that she is today!