ORAA Teacher Uses Creative Approach to Teach Math

Springs’ Otay Ranch Academy for the Arts (ORAA) teacher Jeannette Fetterhoff uses a creative and entertaining approach to teach math skills to her first-grade students. She explained: “Teddy Bear Airline is a TPS STEM project that I use to introduce students to adding and subtracting within 20, skip counting by 2’s and ordering objects by length.

The project is kicked off when the students are asked to bring in a small stuffed animal. Using a poster-size drawing of the seats on an airplane, we assign each animal a seat, noting how many seats are still available. Each animal is allowed to bring two pieces of luggage so students color, cut and build luggage. Students also fill in important data on the animal’s passport.

Each year, I choose destinations to send the animals to visit. This year they went to Mexico City to give out hugs to earthquake victims. They then flew to Ufa, Russia where a cousin of one of my students lives and is taking an afterschool English class. I have the students brainstorm questions they would like to know before sending their animals to each destination. We mark the destinations on a wall map and then compare the legs of the trip. Which is the longest? The day the airplane left the classroom the students have to put their animal in the proper seat in the plane and they then sit in rows just like their bears. And we count by 2’s.

While the Teddy Bears were on their trip, we took a field trip to Montgomery-Gibbs airport where we were allowed to walk on the runway and greet a helicopter and a plane. Each student sat in the cockpit of the plane with the pilot crouching on the wing to answer their questions and encourage them to move the yoke. Each student also had a turn sitting in the paramedic’s seat in a medical helicopter where they learned how to take a patient’s blood pressure using a fingertip cuff. Then they taught the next student how to take their partner’s blood pressure.


I use the idea of pilots and their tools to talk with the students about the first grade standards that they need to master to ‘fly’ into second grade. This year, the students used found objects to design and create a wearable piece of art that represented the pilot’s tool.

While the Teddy Bears were away, we correspond with their hosts in Ufa, Russia.

When the plane returned to our class, the animals deplaned one by one each carrying or wearing a flag from a country they visited. The Teddy Bear Airline STEM project is one I will continue to expand on and use each year.”

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