Science teacher Christina Lee has a passion: sparking young women’s interest in science. She’s working at it every day as she introduces 7th graders at Girls Prep Bronx Middle School to topics in Earth science, chemistry, physics, and astronomy.
A 2013 graduate of the Museum’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, Lee is one of about 50 MAT alumni teaching science in New York State. These Museum-trained teachers, who commit to four years working at a New York State high-need school, are part of a concerted effort to address a shortage of qualified teachers in grades 7 through 12 in these schools.
"One highly skilled teacher reaches 100 kids or more per year," says Lisa Gugenheim, senior vice president for institutional advancement, education, and strategic planning. "That’s why teacher education is such an important long-term investment in our schools."
“Our graduates are teaching in high-need schools and in many cases are offering Earth science for the first time.”
Preliminary results are promising. In the two years since the first MAT graduates entered classrooms, not only has the number of science teachers in target schools increased, but the number of students in those schools taking the Earth Science Regents exam has more than doubled—an indication that MAT teachers are having a positive effect on science literacy where it is most needed.
“Our MAT graduates are teaching in high-need schools and in many cases are offering Earth science for the first time,” says Dr. Rosamond Kinzler, co-director of the MAT program and senior director for science education. “They are teaching students who are disproportionately poor, under-represented in the sciences, and in limited English proficiency programs or special education programs.”
A geology major in college, Lee was drawn to the Museum’s MAT program for its unique offerings. The fully funded 15-month urban residency program, which offers a master’s of teaching degree with a specialization in Earth science, was co-designed by education specialists and scientists and includes classroom experience in partner schools as well as an intensive science course led by Museum researchers. In June 2015, New York State authorized the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School to confer the MAT degree, which had previously been granted by the New York State Board of Regents.
As an MAT student, Lee spent seven weeks working with Curator James Webster and Dr. Patricia Nadeau, geologists in the Museum’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and MAT faculty members, to study the behavior of crystallizing magma prior to a volcanic eruption.
“It’s incredibly important for MAT candidates to be able to take part in the behind-the-scenes process of science,” says Nadeau, a Kathryn W. Davis Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “Everything that’s in the textbooks they use to teach their students is the result of someone’s hard work in a lab or out in the field, so it’s great that they get a chance to be directly involved in that process before heading off to their classrooms.”
Lee, who taught 10th-grade Earth science in Sunset Park for two years, moved to Girls Prep Bronx Middle School in part because she was drawn to teach at an all-girls academy. Statistics show that gender differences emerge at the college and postgraduate levels, with far fewer women than men attaining degrees in engineering, computer science, math, and the physical sciences. Lee, who is now covering general science, chemistry, physics, and astronomy for middle school students, hopes to help bridge that gap.
“Christina is really aligned with our goals,” says Girls Prep Bronx Middle School Principal Martha Zornow. “We want girls to experience science, to be hands-on in science, to do science.”
As Lee and other MAT alumni work to support their students, the Museum continues to support them in the classroom. MAT graduates receive exceptional professional development for two years through a system called “induction,” in which they are mentored by staff from the Museum’s Gottesman Center for Science Teaching and Learning.
“The goal is to help them to be effective faster,” explains Cristina Trowbridge, one of the induction specialists. “When you have support—and the research shows this—you make bigger leaps.”
With deepest appreciation, the Museum acknowledges Kathryn W. Davis for her generous founding support of the Master of Arts in Science Teaching (MAT) Program.
Leadership support for the MAT program is provided by The Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund.
The MAT program is supported in part by the New York State Education Department and by the National Science Foundation under Grant numbers DRL-1119444 and DUE-1340006.