You have a master's degree in Biology Education from NYU Steinhardt. What drew you to Steinhardt to study this field? How did you become interested in science?
Being from Long Island, I knew I wanted to live and work in New York City. When the time came to get my graduate degree, going to school in Manhattan seemed like the obvious choice. After looking at a few different schools, the quality of the education program and the work they did with underserved students is what eventually drew me to NYU. I have been interested in science for as long as I can remember. The first job I ever wanted was a meteorologist, but my parents couldn't see me as a weatherman so I decided I wanted to become an ornithologist but then I realized that I might have to sit for days at a time in a tent watching birds, then I finally settled on medicine. I didn't quite end up in the medical field but I still get to combine my love of science and people, and my "office" is big enough to hold 30 people, some business executives don't even have that.
Was education always a passion for you? What inspired you to become a teacher?
Teaching and working with children was always a passion, but formal pedagogy was not. As a teenager I had a lot of experience as a counselor at summer camps, a very non-formal teaching environment. I learned that as a counselor a lot of teaching and learning goes on each day, even though you are not in a classroom. I only discovered how much this non-formal teaching could have in common with classroom-based instruction after taking an elementary education class as a senior in college. The professors of that class cared about their students in a way that was different than many of my bio professors and showed that the outside world of summer camp could be combined with the classroom world of teaching.
You currently teach at a public school in Manhattan. What inspired you to teach in New York City schools? What are some of the unique challenges and rewards that come with teaching in such an urban area?
When I started at Steinhardt, I didn't really know where I wanted to teach. People always said I should go back to Long Island and teach because ‘it's where the money is' but I wasn't too eager to go back and teach in a school like the one I went to. As it happened during my time at Steinhardt I got placed at New Design High School on the lower east side and I loved it. It is a small school that focuses on the social and emotional education of the students as well as the pedagogical education and seemed like a place where I could thrive. I am now starting my third year at the school. One of the biggest challenges that comes with teaching in such an urban area is getting students engaged. The students may have had past experiences that leave them apathetic to science and school in general. One of the unique rewards is when you can teach students to look at the city in a way that they never have before, even something as simple as noticing and identifying street trees.
What are some ways that you think students best engage with science?
I believe students engage best with science when they have a choice in what they are doing and when they can actively participate in doing it. Having choice allows the students to do activities and long term projects that are relevant to their lives and gets them mentally engaged, while getting the students actively participating in the material gets them physically engaged. With all of the standardized testing that has become so prevalent these two goals can be very hard to achieve on a daily basis, but my involvement with the Sci-Ed Innovators group has given me strategies and advice on how these goals can be accomplished.
You recently became involved with an organization called the Sci-Ed Innovators, an organization which brings together science educators in underserved NYC schools to apply and further the development of the Democratic Science Teaching Framework, initially conceived by Prof. Sreyashi Jhumki Basu. Tell us about your role as a Fellow within that organization. What has the experience been like?
As a fellow I attended a week long workshop over the summer with was about introducing the democratic framework to us; students should have a choice in what they learn, students should be allowed to voice their opinions, and students should become agents of what they are learning and use their knowledge for change. Then helping us utilize this framework in things that we already did in the classroom. Being a fellow has also allowed me to join a network of other science teachers who all share the same goals for science education and can lend support, answer questions or show what they are doing in their classrooms so I can get ideas for mine. Overall being a fellow has been an amazing experience.
The Sci-Ed Innovators recently partnered with NYU Steinhardt and the Jhumki Basu Foundation on the 2011 Sci-Ed Innovators Expo & Symposium at NYU. This event featured science projects from over thirty public school classes, as well as a keynote address by renowned primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall. What was that experience like?
It was like a turbocharged version of the typical science fair. To have all of the students presenting the work that they had been working on in class, that they chose to do and had become invested in was really amazing. It was wonderful to see how many schools were there presenting projects and also how much the expo had grown from last year. Hopefully the Jhumki Basu Foundation and the Sci-Ed expo will continue to grow as the network of teachers that is familiar with the Democratic Science Teaching Framework increases.
What are some of your passions and hobbies outside of science?
When I am not at school I am usually playing volleyball and more recently, running. I am currently training for the Long Island Marathon, which will hopefully be the first of many marathons. When I'm not doing either of those things I'm usually cooking or sleeping.
Your passion for education and science is evident through your work and involvement with the Sci-Ed Innovators. What advice do you have for future teachers?
Beyond all of the books and the testing, teaching should be fun. If you are having fun, and the students are too, you'll be surprised at what they can achieve.
If you are interested in learning more about the Sci-Ed Innovators group, or would like to apply to become a Sci-Ed Innovator Fellow, please visit www.sci-ed.net.