Engineering classroom learning – Episode 13

Caboose at Lakeville ES

With dreams of turning the railroad caboose that sits on their school’s side lawn into a reading room, these teachers help their school and community appreciate the historical aspects of their area, while also using modern technology to enhance student learning. Listen to the podcast (click the play button above) to hear Karen Bilak and Denise Bustamante discuss their school’s unique qualities.

Adjacent to railroad tracks, Lakeville Elementary’s mascot is a train engineer. Denise helped open Lakeville ES in 1998 and has a deep appreciation for the learning opportunities centered around railroads. In the school’s opening year, students wrote to request archives and memorabilia from collectors and aficionados throughout the country. Artifacts collected are in the school’s train museum. The museum contains items like lanterns, ticket boxes, conductor suit, a student-built model wooden train, an electronically powered railroad track, and working railroad crossing lights.

One unique celebration is Casey Jones day (sometime in the spring) to commemorate an infamous railroad engineer. Students dress as an engineer for the day and look for the Golden Spike in hopes of winning a prize.

To help build student leaders, Denise trains the museum docents to conduct tours, create scavenger hunts about railroad history and teach railroad safety. These students become history masters of their specific area in the museum, as well as valuable public speaking skills.

Like other elementary teachers throughout the district, their school became a one-to-one digital school this academic year. As Digital Curriculum Teacher Leaders, Denise and Karen train other teachers on digital learning best practices. Their key piece of advice is to implementing blended learning is to pick a lesson where a digital device enhances student learning and isn’t added because a teacher felt the need to use a device. One of Karen’s favorite digital tools is Nearpod, which is available on Launchpad through a district license. She loves the ability to create interactive Powerpoint lessons and virtual reality field trips. The VR glasses and digital devices provide opportunities to students they might not otherwise have access.

Here’s a taste of the railroad inspired decor (and some sweet patriotic melody):

A peek of our train memorabilia:

Inspiring whiteboard messages:

Young scientist at work:

P.S. If you know anyone who can help make the caboose reading room dream a reality, let us know. Send an email to


Karen Bilak is a UCF graduate and fifth-grade math and science teacher at Lakeville Elementary. This is her 10th year as an educator – all at Lakeville – and she has taught second, third, fourth and fifth grades. In 2016 she was the school’s Teacher of the Year and in 2018 she was one of Florida’s High Impact Teachers in 2018. She values building relationships and trust with her students, which allows her to build their capacity to push them to be the very best they can be. Lakeville holds a special place in her heart because it is where she did her junior internship.

Denise Bustamante works as Lakeville’s Media Specialist. She’s been teaching in Orange County for 30 years: 10 years at Lovell ES, three years at Piedmont Lakes MS and the other 17 at Lakeville. The Train Museum’s dedication was in 1999, which helped her and the fourth-grade team win a Disney Teacheriffic award in 2000. Denise is a proud native Floridian and student of OCPS schools: Ridgewood Park ES, Meadowbrook Junior High and Evans HS.

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