Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.S., Biology
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
University of Houston
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
Cypress Ridge High School, Cypress-Fairbanks I.S.D, Houston TX; Biology and Biology for ESL students
What made you decide to become a teacher?
My teaching journey began in my sophomore year in college. I had always thought about teaching. However, as a first-generation college student, I was unsure about where to start. One of my professors mentioned teachHOUSTON, a program designed to prepare students for teaching STEM in high-need high schools. This represented a great opportunity to combine my teaching dreams and my passion for science. After completing my first courses in the teachHOUSTON program, I knew that teaching was my calling. The first time I stepped into a classroom as a college student trying to be a teacher, it felt magical. It felt right. I immediately knew that I wanted to make a difference. Thereafter, I continued my path through the teachHOUSTON program, enjoying every course and meeting amazing professors who inspired me and guided me through the process of becoming a teacher.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I currently teach at Cypress Ridge High School, one of the high-need schools in the Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District. Cypress Ridge has a 73% economically disadvantaged population. I have three teaching assignments: regular biology, ESL biology, and ESL science. My regular biology class is made up of different learners. My ESL biology class is for students who have just arrived in the U.S. I enjoy teaching this class because I get to see tremendous growth in all my students. Every year, I watch some students who enter knowing two words in English grow to being able to hold full conversations in English. This class provides students with an opportunity to learn English and to engage with scientific practices in Biology. My main goal for my ESL students is to provide them with all the necessary support to succeed in a science class. Sometimes this class provides students with the opportunity to do science experiments for the first time. Throughout the year, any student who is newly arrived in the U.S. will be placed in this class. In the spring semester, I teach ESL science (an overview of chemistry and biology) to a similar group of students.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
The Noyce program and Dr. Paige Evans, its principal investigator, have been a huge part of my success as a teacher. I have attended conferences that always reinforce my teaching philosophy. I enjoy listening to keynote speakers who talk about solutions to many classroom issues. These conferences reignite my teaching spark, and it is stronger after each one. I can easily transfer what I learn to my classroom and can share with other teachers at my school. I am always confident that any strategy learned at a Noyce conference, for example, will be useful and will ensure equity in the classroom.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
The Noyce program at the University of Houston prepared me to use culturally responsive teaching through instructional strategies that are culturally responsive and that demonstrate how to reach all students through inquiry-based lessons. In all Noyce program courses at the University of Houston, professors modeled research-based instructional strategies that ensured engagement from all students, and the strategies always aimed to spark higher level thinking. Through the program I learned what equity is and what it is not. It made me aware that it is the teacher’s responsibility to provide students with equitable learning opportunities at all times. I can quickly discern whether a strategy or a decision will ensure equity in the classroom. Finally, I learned to create inquiry-based lessons through the 5E lesson format. With an inquiry approach, all students, regardless of their science background, have an opportunity to observe, wonder, inquire and experiment with the appropriate scaffolding.
Teaching in a cross-cultural setting requires a deep and clear understanding of equity, culture, how students learn, and how to foster relationships in the classroom. When teaching in a cross-cultural setting, it is imperative to learn about students: who are they, how do I pronounce their names correctly (apologizing when I mispronounce it the first time and practice to get their name right next time), what are their strengths, what experiences do they bring to my class, how am I going to help all students to learn this content, and other information that helps me to understand the social emotional aspect of my students. In order to ensure that all my students learn, the foundations of learning are established in the first week–for me the most important week of the school year. During this time, my focus is on learning about my students and building relationships. We complete icebreakers, team building activities and some STEM challenges. In this process, I establish routines and procedures that will create a safe space for all my students. Throughout the year, all my lessons are student centered, inquiry-based and structured on the 5E format. For my English language learners, I make a list of the biology vocabulary words that are important to the unit. We spend the first part of the unit pronouncing the words, then I have students translate the words and ask them if they have seen them before. Some students have, others have not. Another great strategy to help students learn is scaffolding lessons. I like to start with learning about students’ prior knowledge. Then we move on to the simple concepts of the lesson and slowly move to the higher level thinking material. Also, I constantly use a variety of formative assessments to guide me through the unit.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
The teachHOUSTON program prepared me to succeed in the classroom. I felt prepared in my first year of teaching. My teaching toolbox was full. I knew lots of instructional strategies and learned how to build positive relationships with students. I could write 5E lesson plans. I had an idea how students learn best and was able to implement an inquiry lesson in a biology classroom. And I was aware of equity issues in the classroom. Throughout my first year of teaching, I was able to adjust lessons to be more student-centered and more inquiry-based. Every year since then, I continue to reflect on my past lessons, and strive to make them better. If a lesson doesn’t include inquiry, I reflect on it and decide what can be changed to achieve a higher level of inquiry the next time. I base every classroom decision on the teachHOUSTON and Noyce program philosophies. I ask myself: Is the lesson student centered? What are some possible equity issues with the lesson and how can I fix them? What are the inquiry components in the lesson? Is the lesson culturally responsive?
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?
As of last year, I had to modify the new district biology curriculum to meet the needs of newly arrived students. Over the years, I acquired a variety of formative assessments and strategies to successfully implement in the classroom. This year, I begin my new role as leader of the Cypress Ridge biology team. In 2019, I worked as an instructor-leader for a STEM camp at the University of Houston through the teachHOUSTON program. This year, I served as a team leader for the virtual teachHOUSTON STEM Interactive camp. The Noyce program has prepared me for these leadership roles through access to high quality conferences and professional development workshops. Because of this program, I feel knowledgeable and am aware of the current issues in STEM education and how to address them. Finally, the Noyce program has had a huge ripple effect. All the experiences and zeal for teaching that I gained from the program, I am able to transfer all to my students, other teachers, and future STEM teachers.
I also continue to look for resources to inform my teaching. A good one is the lead4ward, super helpful for providing new ideas for instructional strategies and formative assessments. I recommend Edutopia The site includes awesome teaching tools and great insight. Finally, I constantly ask questions to other more experienced teachers.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
For the last few years, I have presented at different Noyce conferences. I had the honor to be part of the Voices from the Field Teacher Panel at the Western Region Noyce Alliance Conference in 2019 and participated in the teachHOUSTON alumni panel at the University of Houston—great opportunities to speak to future STEM teachers. I have presented twice at the state science educators conference. I continue to facilitate professional development for teachers at my school and have served as a mentor teacher for the last two years. I was assigned my first student teacher in spring 2020.