Describe what you do at SCH.
I teach Middle School girls science. More specifically, I first try to create an environment where girls get excited about the science world around them. Then I try to teach the skills and provide the tools for them to explore this world and answer the questions that their curiosity creates.
What brought you to teaching?
After college, I worked for a few years as an environmental consultant for two environmental engineering firms. I learned many things during these years, but something never felt right. I realized that the consulting work was not the best blend of both my passions and talents. Teaching science in middle school fits that blend for me perfectly. I love science, but I also enjoy working with students and thrive doing a job that demands energy, enthusiasm, and an ability to sense the needs of a person, and subsequently respond to those needs, on a moment-to-moment basis. Teaching provides countless moments such as those, and they are wonderful.
Discoveries in science are happening ever more quickly. How do you stay current with the latest scientific discoveries and understandings?
Would you believe Facebook? Seriously. Yes, my personal Facebook page has many pictures of my three little kids doing silly things, and yes, my Facebook feed has many similar pictures of my friends’ kids or pets doing silly things, but my feed also contains a lot of science news. By “liking” the Facebook pages of reputable news and science organizations, the introductions and links to many enlightening articles come streaming down my newsfeed. Honestly, the demands of teaching and being a parent sometimes make it hard to find time to be both social and news-conscious. Facebook helps.
Why are science competitions like the Christopher Columbus Awards valuable as a learning experience?
The competition provides students an opportunity to research a real-world problem and design a solution to address that problem. They then need to share their work through extensive written and visual forms. From there, their problems and proposed solutions are judged along with hundreds of other submissions nationwide. We require that the girls focus their research on a problem that relates to pathogens, as that topic is part of our core curriculum. The results have been fantastic! We’ve had three teams reach the semifinals in only our first two years in the competition.Based on my end-of-year class surveys, the girls really enjoyed doing the project. It provides a solid framework that demands extensive effort and work, yet also provides openness within that framework such that the girls have the freedom to direct their own learning. It is also good that the girls are working to present their findings and represent themselves and their school to a larger audience. This incentive motivates the girls to “step it up”—and they do! To me, it’s a great example of real-world learning.
In what ways is geology like education?
This is a great question! I have no idea if I have a plausible answer, but I’ll give it a go. All the processes of geology take time—a lot of time. Sometimes, like the drips of water falling off a stalactite, the process is repetitive and, on its own, not too exciting. But given the right conditions and the time needed, the greatest monuments of nature are made. I think the same holds true for education. It takes time and, frankly, some of the day-to-day events of education may not be too exciting. But given the right conditions and the time needed, every mind can become a monument of human potential.
What are the most powerful learning tools you use in your classroom?
I’ve always believed that a good science classroom should look like an art studio. It needs to be a hands-on place, with the tools of science readily available for use. I’m so thankful that SCH provides its science teachers with such tools, ranging from the complex, like the electrophoresis chambers the girls used in seventh grade this year, to the simple, such as the hundreds of rubber bands the girls use for the memorable “Bungee Barbie” activity.
What gets you excited about teaching in the classroom?
That’s easy—witnessing a student discover something for the first time. She’s thrilled and eager to share her discovery, as she should. What’s tricky is when her discovery leads to a misconception about a scientific idea or principle. That’s when I need to step in and guide her in such a way that she’ll make a new discovery, and in the process, break down her misconception. That can be hard to do, but I enjoy the challenge.
How has classroom access to technology changed the way you are able to teach?
When I started at Springside, I had an overhead projector and the girls had their binders. I now have a SMART Board, they have their laptops, and we both have the Internet. That’s a huge shift in many ways, but it’s also no shift at all. On one hand, we now have endless information instantly on hand. Sixth grade girls can now track real-time sunspots on a daily basis. Eighth grade girls can now use temperature and voltage probes to plot real-time data as they conduct a lab. At their fingertips, our students have programs that help them create, collaborate, and discover. On the other hand, it’s still just me and them and the tools in front of us (albeit much more powerful tools!). As it has been for ages, the teacher and student, standing on the strength of their relationship, must use the tools at their disposal to pursue knowledge and truth.
What is the most important thing that the study of science can teach a non-scientist?
On many occasions students have asked me if I want all my students to become scientists. My answer is always a resounding “goodness, no!” I explain to them that there are way too many talents on display in the Middle School for Girls and that focusing all those talents on just science would be a waste. Singers, writers, dancers, debaters—these are just a small sampling of their potential. However, I quickly follow up this perspective with a quote by Isaac Asimov: “No one can really feel at home in the modern world and judge the nature of its problems—and the possible solutions to those problems —unless one has some intelligent notion of what science is up to.”
I truly believe that if one is to become a responsible citizen and a positive contributor to this world, then one must have an “intelligent notion” of what science is doing and how science is being done. If I can help plant the seeds of such notions in all my Middle School students, then I’ve done my job.