Reynoldsburg teacher Rob Niedermeyer keeps science sizzling for seventh-graders at STEM Middle at Baldwin Road Junior High School, building aquaponics systems, nurturing greenhouse plants, even incubating eggs and hatching chickens.
Niedermeyer, 38, said every project begins with a "real-life" challenge.
"My favorite part of this job is seeing what the kids create and how they solve problems," he said. "The students dive right in and come up with some amazing solutions that show their content knowledge and solve the problem.
"My goal is to challenge them with problems they might see in the real world," he said.
Seventh-grade language arts teacher Erin Gilbert nominated Niedermeyer for the Columbus Parent/ThisWeek Community News 2018 Teachers of the Year awards. He was selected as the middle school winner.
"Rob is not afraid to try something new and continues to keep up with popular trends and new science discoveries," Gilbert said. "He has such a calming spirit, so students really respect him and enjoy his classes.
"He lets students stay after school to work on missing assignments or projects they want to complete."
For this year's Teachers of the Year contest, readers nominated educators from school districts all over central Ohio. Nominations were taken online from Jan. 3 to Feb. 14. The editorial staffs from Columbus Parent and ThisWeek chose 15 finalists and put them up for a public vote March 5 through April 2.
Three winners were chosen: one each at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Niedermeyer was honored at an April 27 assembly at the school. The sixth-grade band performed, and students read comments about his impact on them. Gilbert told him, "You have helped me grow so much this year, whether it is helping me with curriculum, or helping me through my day by sending me a text and asking how I'm doing."
Middle school students are Niedermeyer's favorite age group to teach.
"These kids are just starting to develop who they are as people," he said. "I love their personalities. They are goofy, funny and still kids -- they really crack me up."
Niedermeyer, who is in his third year at Baldwin, teaches seventh-grade science and environmental science. He also leads the STEM Outdoor Innovation Lab (SOIL), an indoor-outdoor space aimed at helping students learn about sustainability and growth.
Before coming to Reynoldsburg, Niedermeyer taught in Pickerington, spending two years each at Tussing Elementary School and Diley Middle School.
He and his wife, Amanda, live in east Columbus near Bexley and have an infant son, Carter.
Niedermeyer earned a bachelor of science degree in human ecology in 2004 from Ohio State University. He graduated from Ashland University bachelors-plus master's teacher licensure program in 2009, and earned a master's degree in science in education from Ashland in 2017.
Education was not his first career choice, however.
"Both my parents were educators, and I spent a lot of time in their schools when I was a kid," he said. "However, I originally majored in architecture and engineering at Ohio State. Then I took a few education courses and eventually ended up changing my major to education."
Baldwin's interim principal, Amy Gengo, said Niedermeyer is an ideal candidate for Teachers of the Year honors.
"Rob builds positive relationships with his students, creating a safe and caring environment," she said. "He designs creative, thought-provoking lessons that engage students and challenge them to apply their knowledge, and he makes content relevant and exciting.
"This is a very deserving recognition for Rob," Gengo said. "I am very honored that I am able to work with teachers that possess such a great passion for teaching."
Niedermeyer said like any job, the education profession is not without its difficulties.
"The biggest challenge is developing curriculum that engages every student, while challenging them at their own level," he said. "If not planned well, projects can be fun, but very easy. Or they can be very challenging, and then the student becomes distant and not engaged.
"A lot of planning and collaboration goes into a project that meets both needs," he said.