May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

California Science Teacher Wins “Genius Grant”

Posted: Monday, November 1st, 2010

Amir Abo-Shaeer, a high school physics and engineering teacher at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, has been named one of this year’s 23 MacArthur Fellows by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Fellows receive a “no strings attached” award of $500,000 over five years to use at their discretion.

This is apparently the first time that a public school science teacher has received the MacArthur award, often referred to as a “genius grant.”

In an interview with Education Week, Abo-Shaeer said he was “stunned” when he learned that he was a recipient of the honor. “I feel a sense of responsibility to really try to do the award justice,” he said.

Abo-Shaeer began his professional career as a mechanical engineer before moving into education in 2001. Recognizing the potential for programs at the secondary level to encourage students to pursue science and engineering degrees, Abo-Shaeer left industry to become a teacher. In 2002, he created the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy (DPEA), a school within a school with a rigorous applied science curriculum that integrates physics, engineering, and mathematics courses; hands-on building projects; and specialized competitions. The program culminates in the design and construction of a robot by the academy’s senior class and its entry into the FIRST Robotics Competition.

According to the MacArthur Foundation, “Abo-Shaeer’s ability to motivate students and his enthusiasm for science education have transformed the culture at his high school. DPEA participants are highly regarded by other students, and young women now comprise approximately half of the academy’s students—a proportion considerably above the national average in advanced high school science courses.”

Abo-Shaeer is currently developing plans to expand the curriculum to accommodate students at different academic levels, as well as to establish a training program for educators interested in undertaking similar efforts at other schools. “Abo-Shaeer’s novel and effective model of science education is instilling a passion for the physical sciences in young men and women and is contributing to the preparation of the next generation of scientists and engineers for the twenty-first century,” states the MacArthur Foundation.

“This group of fellows, along with the more than 800 who have come before, reflects the tremendous breadth of creativity among us,” MacArthur Foundation President Robert Gallucci said in a press release announcing the 2010 winners. “They are explorers and risk takers, contributing to their fields and to society in innovative, impactful ways.”

Abo-Shaeer tells Education Week he’s unsure exactly how he’ll spend his award, but he said the money is “intended to free me up to do creative things, allowing me … to act quickly on creative ideas that I have that we can try out in education.” And that’s what he intends to do.

“I’ve been doing a lot of things that are creative by any means necessary,” he said. “I’d really rather, if we have a good idea, implement it effectively.”

At the same time, he cautioned that he has no immediate plans to stop teaching. “I absolutely will stay a teacher for right now,” he said. “This award hasn’t changed my trajectory. … I absolutely feel very strongly about what we have in the community to creating this [engineering] program, and if something is not done, moving on before something is completed is not my style.”

Even if he eventually stops teaching, Abo-Shaeer told Education Week he expects to stay engaged in efforts to improve public education. “The core thing I’m trying to figure out how to do,” he said, “is offer students unique educational experiences that they cannot replicate in an online experience, so when they’re there, they see the intrinsic value.”

“I’m trying to change the way we deliver curriculum to students,” he said. “There is so much focus on information and not as much on the experience. … You can’t build a robot by reading about it online.”

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.