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Find Out What It Takes to Be a Science Teacher at the MAT Program’s Open House

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Six people stand on an expanse of flat rocks, with a city building on view in the background.
Nick Tailby, center, leads a group of MAT candidates in Riverside Park.
© AMNH/R. Mickens

This weekend, the Museum’s Master of Arts in Teaching program will be hosting an Open House from 2–4 pm on Sunday, December 3, for prospective students interested in learning how to teach Earth and space science. The Museum’s program, housed within the Richard Gilder Graduate School, is the first urban teacher residency program to be offered by a Museum. Among the many compelling aspects of the program is the chance to do field work with Museum scientists.

This past summer, MAT candidates Deborah Fishbeck, Donna Gangadeen, Aline Gjelaj, and Alejandro Mundo studied the rocks of Riverside Park. Specifically, they were looking for pieces to a geological puzzle: how a belt of rocks along the Hudson River, known as the Manhattan Prong, took shape hundreds of millions of years ago.


Close-up of a student's hands holding a geological compass placed on a rock, and a small chart.
Debbie Fishbeck uses a geological compass and scale card to measure metamorphic rock in Riverside Park.
© AMNH/R. Mickens

The MAT group exploring Riverside Park contributed to a multi-year effort to gather information about the ancient rocks of New York and their formation. Geologists know a lot about the structure of the Manhattan Prong—where the faults and folds are in relation to the local stress fields. But where the picture is less complete, if nonexistent, is the pressure and temperature path recorded in the rock belt, which would offer additional insights into the development of continental crust in New York. The samples collected in Riverside Park were prepared in the lab into polished slices—some as thin as 30 microns—for analysis under an electron microscope or CT scanner at the Museum. The results were added to research conducted by other MAT candidates in Central Park the previous summer. Another MAT group will explore an area of the Bronx in Summer 2018.

“The ultimate goal is to produce science we can publish on the geologic history of the Manhattan Prong,” says Dr. Tailby. In the meantime, each summer of fieldwork has had immediate results as well. Each group produces an in-depth field guide to use as a starting point for field trips with middle and high school students, and shares the guides with the New York State Park Service, which approves the research in the parks and grants the permission to take samples. “We want to demonstrate we are doing science and contributing to the broader community,” says Tailby.

(Download the Hernshead Field Guide created by graduates of the MAT program in 2016.) 

Capping the previous pedagogical experience, the summer’s hands-on research offered a powerful toolkit for teachers about to enter the classroom. “It’s a lot more meaningful to learn about rocks in the field rather than look at a single rock specimen, which is disconnected from the bigger picture,” says Fishbeck, who is now teaching at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics.

Adds fellow graduate Mundo, who is now teaching at Kingsbridge International High School in the Bronx, “Before, as a geologist, I’d see the outcrop. But now I ask myself, ‘How can I get my students to see it as I see it?’”


Learn more about the Museum’s Master of Arts in Teaching program at our upcoming Open Houses, from 2–4 pm on Sunday, December 3, and Saturday, January 6. RSVPs are encouraged, but walk-ins are welcome.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Rotunda, the Member magazine.