As a child who enjoyed brain-teasers and puzzles, Štěpánka always knew that her profession would have something to do with mathematics. After studying teaching with a qualification in mathematics and computer science at Charles University in Prague, she then spent twelve years teaching at a college preparatory school in the small town of Sušice in the southern Czech Republic. Due to the town’s economy being mainly tourism-based, education was often not a priority for parents, so Štěpánka has found it very important to teach in a way that motivates children and lets them experience success.
At her first school, Štěpánka passed on her great passion for robotics through extracurricular classes, supporting students in various competitions and in the nationally organised high school science fair (SOČ). This eventually led a group of students – with the help of a local company, CompoTech – to win a main prize in the prestigious international Intel ISEF competition. Their design was a prototype of a vertical winding machine for carbon fiber tubes, and based on this prototype, Sušice now has a fully functional 12.5-metre-tall machine that manufactures pipes used in boat masts and wind turbines. Štěpánka believes that getting talented students involved with local companies and entrepreneurs is very important to show them their own value for their region – and to motivate them to return after completing university.
Three years ago, Štěpánka switched to teaching an elementary school class of thirty students, ten of whom required special attention. A change of approach was needed, so she began to explore new teaching methods. One such method was to shift most of the class activity to the students themselves and focus on helping those who need assistance. Štěpánka has done this successfully through gamification and peer-to-peer learning, becoming the school pioneer in this way of teaching.
However, the robotics field is still pervaded by gender-related stereotypes, which is one of the reasons that Štěpánka is trying to open up STEM subjects to girls. After attending the International Visitors Leadership Program on female interest in STEM subjects, she founded the weekly Robotics for Girls club in Pilsen to break down these gender stereotypes – a move that has also inspired similar activities in other cities.
When Štěpánka won the Global Teacher Prize Czech Republic in 2020, it helped her create an impact not only in her region, but also at a national level. Štěpánka believes the Czech education system still has a long way to go to abandon conservative ideas and stereotypes. If she wins the Global Teacher Prize, it will allow her to transform education even further.
She would first work to complete an online textbook on using Ozobot robots, which would be made accessible to students and teachers around the world. In the long term, she would also like to create a community robotics centre – a place where education in robotics and digital technologies would be accessible to all children, teachers and the public.