For Kathy Nicodemus, a fourth-grade teacher at Joplin’s Irving Elementary School, her job is not just about sharing knowledge. It’s about students learning why that knowledge matters.

After her children entered school, Nicodemus worked as a substitute teacher in Joplin for eight years, teaching in hundreds of classrooms. She decided to obtain a teaching degree and graduated from MSSU in December 2012.

For the last three years, she has taught fourth grade at Irving. She says her focus is to make real-world connections to lessons and subjects.

“One of our math standards is to add and subtract to numbers into the millions. I wondered how I was supposed to communicate the importance of knowing how to do it,” she says. “I noticed the digital water bottle savings counter at school. One fountain had kept 10,000 water bottles out of landfills.”

Her students soon were creating questions, charts and graphs with data from each of the school’s water fountains.

Guest speakers also helped bring the real world into the classroom.

Her father and stepmother brought their rock and mineral collection in from Sedalia. Another teacher’s father, a race car driver, spoke about force and motion. A firefighting school student from MSSU talked about his training. A Wyandotte tribe princess taught Native American dances. Nicodemus’ husband spoke about food packaging and employee hiring.

A local pizza restaurant provided a discount on uncut pizzas to help students understand fractions.

“I also tell stories,” Nicodemus says. “All I have to say is, ‘OK, I have a story,’ and 21 sets of eyes are glued to my forehead like laser beams.”