Noyce Scholar Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: Physics
Subject area(s) and grade level teaching focus: Physics and Mathematics, High School
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
Middle Tennessee State University / Noyce Physics-Mathematics
Current academic or teaching status:
School and school district:
I was born in Canada and moved to the United States when I was 7, moving to what I would eventually call my hometown in Savannah, TN, when I was 9 years old. I’ve always been good in school, and the only class that ever really gave me any issues was my high school physics class. With a love of astronomy and an interest in making physics clearer in my mind, I chose to go to Middle Tennessee State University and major in the field.
Why do you want to teach:
Originally, I didn’t. I understood the topics in physics and helped to make them clearer in my fellow students’ minds, but I never really considered teaching anything professionally until I went to teach astronomy to second graders as a requirement for an English class my junior year of college.
I loved it.
After that I decided to get a physics teaching degree as a back-up job for my dream job of being a planetarium director, but when I applied I learned more and more about how much physics teachers are needed around the country.
When I heard about the Noyce Scholarship program, I immediately signed on – I’ve always been good at math, so why not help out there, too? 🙂
Describe a memorable teaching experience:
As of yet, I’ve really only taught astronomy through that English class previously mentioned and through outreach performed at elementary schools by MTSU’s Astronomy Club.
One outreach that really stands out in my mind is one that we performed last year, as it was an original idea of mine that went off perfectly. What happened was that the club basically started out from scratch last January as our president went away for a semester abroad, and I was thrown in the position of President. We had an outreach coming up, so four of the club members, myself included, learned how to use our portable planetarium and started thinking up ways to present the sky and constellations and the movement of the Earth, etc., only to find out that our planetarium went out to teach that very group the fall before! We were out of ideas, so we had to make up a whole new outreach program.
While half of the lesson remained in the planetarium focusing on more obscure Greek myths, another member and myself had decided to try to teach something about the sun, and I had an idea to bring the topic of fact-checking into the mix. This is what we did:
Using a cardboard cut-out of a space ship, I sat on a stood in front of the group of second and third graders and told them a few facts about the sun – its temperature, its makeup, and its size – and then went on to explain how we know those facts. We flew a shuttle to the sun, and our very talented astronauts took the measurements for us: they measured the size by holding up a meter stick and counting how many times it took to make it across the face of the sun; they measured the temperature with a huge and very expensive thermometer that NASA had been working on since the early 70’s; and they measured the composition using a huge, heat-resistant test tube by scooping up some of the sun and rocketing it back to Earth for scientists to take a look at with a spectrometer. I presented this information in a very matter-of-fact, truly excited way, as if eager to let them know the awesome truth behind the amazing things our space program has done to gather physical constants about the sun.
The best part was when I was nearing the end, talking about scooping up part of the sun for the chemists, when two little girls turned to each other and whispered, “She’s lying!” with huge, disbelieving eyes. Soon it caught on and I asked the girls to repeat what they said.
This launched us into a discussion about how you can’t trust everything you here – I was a source that they could have trusted, I was the President of the Astronomy Club of Middle Tennessee State University! I knew what I was talking about! And yet there I was, speaking nonsense in a believable way. They got the message – that they should always check the information they are given for accuracy (both with other sources and with their own logic and common sense!) – and then my partner from the Astronomy Club taught them how we really figured out those astronomical constants.
During the wrap up, one line stands out in my mind.
“So what did we learn today?” I asked.
“That you’re a liar!!”
What does the Noyce program mean to you:
The Noyce program, for me, was the little push to get things moving. Whereas before I considered teaching fit for a back-up job, the Noyce program has given me the opportunity to see what teaching is really like and how much it is needed in the world today. It’s really been like the diving board, providing a place and a motive to jump into the world of teaching physics.