Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.S. Plant and Soil Science; M.A. Landscape Design; B.S. Elementary Education; M.S. Math and Science Education
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Master Teaching Fellow
Name of Noyce institution:
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
Unity Point Elementary School, Carbondale, IL; Introduction to Physics & Chemistry (5th grade); Earth/Space Science & Environmental Problem Solving (6th grade)
What made you decide to become a teacher?
During the summers of my junior and senior years in high school, I was a nature instructor at a summer camp for middle school students. I fell in love with exploring the natural world and sharing that discovery with children. After earning degrees in Plant and Soil Science and Landscape Design, I went into the field because I felt I could have the greatest impact helping average homeowners find sustainable ways to work with their environment. However, I always found myself being pulled back towards helping middle school students engage with the natural world. When I was the environmental education director for a local not-for-profit, I realized that an even greater impact could be made by working full time with these students. I earned my teaching license in elementary education, and then after teaching for 15 years, I applied for the Master Teaching Fellowship at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC) to earn my M.S. in Math and Science Education. The age of citizen science had dawned; it was a perfect combination, allowing me to do science while helping students do it too, making contributions to real scientific investigations.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I teach at Unity Point Elementary, a rural community public school outside of Carbondale, Illinois. I have approximately 60 fifth-grade students and 60 sixth-grade students. Over 60% of the students receive free and reduced-price meals. My school district includes married student housing for SIUC so there is a great mix of international and local students at Unity Point.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
The Noyce program at SIUC helped deepen my scientific and pedagogical knowledge while also giving me opportunities to work with practicing research scientists, which provided real-world experiences. Dr. Baer included my 6th graders in observations for a Long-Term Ecological Research project. Dr. Battaglia included me on a carbon sequestration project in the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge. These collaborations showed me how to do research and include my students in the investigations in meaningful ways.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
Since Southern Illinois University has a large international population, I regularly work with a great diversity of people. Working with diverse students requires me to be open to many different approaches and examples and to find opportunities to draw on the history of many different cultures, not just the European traditions. Whenever possible, I have parents from other cultures share their experiences and expertise with my students. I also draw on students from places around the world as we investigate earth and environmental science to bring their experiences into the classroom. In science, it is natural to learn through experience which helps break down language barriers.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
I constantly find ways to bring problem-based learning and research methods into my classes. Whenever possible, students are investigating real phenomena and participating in scientific research. My students participate in citizen science projects such as GLOBE, and CoCoRaHS. We also have been conducting a biodiversity survey of the school grounds using iNaturalist and have adopted a local natural area to help eradicate invasive plant species. I encourage students to participate in their own citizen science projects such as GLOBE at Night or Nature’s Notebook.
In addition to teaching, are you exploring new areas in content, teaching strategies, leadership, etc. If so, what areas and did the Noyce experience play a role?
Through opportunities that started with the Noyce program, I have been deeply involved in writing questions for the Illinois State Science Assessment as well as sharing my experiences implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) around the southern Illinois region. I was on the committee that consulted the NGSS writers in Illinois and then became a service provider for the State Board or Education which means I was responsible for sharing NGSS with teachers throughout my region. For many of these teachers, it was their first time engaging with NGSS and that style of teaching.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
As part of the Noyce program, I worked with Dr. James Grove, the scientist who had done the initial ecological analysis of Blanchard Springs Caverns in Fifty-Six, AR. As a team, we did an ecological study to investigate the impact of tourism on the cave after 40 years and published the paper: “Ecology of Blanchard Springs Caverns, Ozark National Forest, Arkansas: 42 Years Later. Also, through connections made during the Noyce program, I was part of the Citizen CATE experiment with the National Solar Observatory for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse.