LCHS 7/8: Mr. Fulmer Cultivates Creativity in STEM

After embarking on the adventure of a lifetime and boldly risking life and limb to break free of Earth’s strong gravitational grip, you are finally seizing the opportunity to conduct your very own lunar investigation that will undoubtedly  launch you to the height of the brilliant scientific career you have imagined.

Upon reaching that silvery celestial surface that you have dreamed of nightly since childhood, you tragically crash and burn on the moon’s surface.

Miraculously, you and your fellow astronauts survive; however, you see that your once state-of-the-art spacecraft has shattered into more tiny, irreparable pieces than your mom’s antique china set, from that one time you regrettably held a soccer match in your house.  

Rattled, frightened, unsure of your precise location and unable to establish  communication with your colleagues on Earth, you are focused on only one mission: surviving this barren, dusty, no man’s land.

You hope your team is  correct in assuming that the nearest lunar base is approximately 200 kilometers away, and together, equipped with your last remaining supplies,  you must decide how to get there, what to take, and what to leave behind.

Welcome to STEM!

This is just one type of scenario you may face as student in Mr. Fulmer’s STEM class, currently being offered to 7th and 8th graders who are eager to explore applied science! 

STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Mr. Fulmer’s program serves as an exploration of all those fields and how they are connected with one another. The students work on various hands-on projects throughout the year. He doesn’t lecture or give homework or tests. Currently, he doesn’t even give grades. The catch? It’s a zero period class that starts at 6:30a.m and challenges  students to take control of their own learning, while having fun along the way.

Each day, Mr. Fulmer instructs a different group, consisting of about twenty students. Getting up extra early for a non-credit class is serious business for the average teenager, and Fulmer believes they are motivated by an innate desire to learn, “These are the one’s already attracted to science, with an inherent curiosity. This is fun for them.”

Conducting his classroom more like a workshop than a lecture hall, he has established a relaxed atmosphere where creativity is cultivated for application to take place, “Whatever they put into this class is what they get. At the end of the day, it’s up to them.” To him, creativity necessitates innovation. Often, when on a schedule to complete assignments, memorize formulas, and study for exams, students can lose sight of that, viewing science as a practice of long-established rules and facts, instead of a wide-open field of experimentation with endless space for new ideas. “You never hear, ‘I can’t do science; I’m not creative enough.’ You hear ‘I can’t do math.’ STEM is about a creative process, not an instructional process.”

"You never hear, 'I can't do science; I'm not creative enough.'
You hear, 'I can't do math.'"

He encourages his students to try fresh tactics rather than approaching science as a collection of textbook instructions.  “You’re not following a cookbook. Anyone can follow a recipe; not everyone can cook.” He wants his students to realize they can make discoveries and write their own original “recipes.”

Further substantiating his philosophy, next year, STEM will transform into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math), and it will be offered to 7th and 8th graders as an official elective course they can take during the traditional school day, an exciting prospect since so many careers apply art to engineering.

Mr. Fulmer is a busy guy. In addition to teaching 7/8 STEM, physics, and calculus at LCHS, he runs the JPL Academy for High School Students, a program designed to engage La Canada sophomores, juniors, and seniors with engineering.

Beyond that, he also works at JPL as a researcher for ROSETTA, the first orbiter and lander to actually land on a comet. He analyzes data received from ROSETTA and articulates that information for the public.

As a kid, he was eager to learn, “I wasn’t the athletic kid, but I could do math, and I really enjoy science. Ever since I was a little kid, I had a curiosity for how things work.”

He attended USC and earned his bachelor’s degree in physics. Now, he proudly displays the Trojan banner at the front of his classroom. Originally, he intended to become a mechanical engineer, but after working an internship that centered around machinery, he realized, “I’d get the most satisfaction in a career that invests in people rather than products. We need people to invest in products, but it’s just not me. I can talk about what I find inspiring and pass that on to other students.”

Relating to his current students remains a top priority. Often, he uses music in his lessons, playing the guitar to songs that solidify concepts. He also hopes to collect more physical materials and tools to use in class, resources that students can see and use to make projects come to life. One of his favorite projects this year involved working with the spheros (spherical robots). “They are fun because you can connect to them with your phone via bluetooth and drive them, program them, and execute pre-programmed instructions. Students can explore programming in a low-stress way.  Coding can feel abstract. If you don’t have something tangible to attach it to, it can turn students off. With spheros, they can watch it happen in a way that feels visceral.”

As a new addition to the LCUSD community, he is delighted to be here. “The school is wonderful. The students are marvelous-- very bright, very motivated, students. They know that this is worth their time here, that education is important is innate there. My colleagues have been ridiculously supportive of me.”

For future 7th and 8th grade students interested in STEM (soon to be STEAM), Mr. Fulmer wants you to know, “If you’re even at all curious, this is a place where that curiosity can thrive.”