Museum-Trained Teacher Brings Science to Middle School main content.

Museum-Trained Teacher Brings Science to Middle School

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On a recent morning, Christina Lee’s general science class at Girls Prep Bronx Middle School was a riot of giggles as two-dozen seventh graders ran, jumped, and danced in place. The goal: to get their hearts pumping. Suddenly, there was total silence as they pressed a finger to their necks or hold a hand over their hearts to count their heartbeats for 30 seconds. They would repeat the pattern several times. Aside from some unexpected exercise, they were getting an object lesson in the scientific method: state a hypothesis—the longer you exercise, the faster your heart beats—gather data, evaluate it, and draw a conclusion as to whether the hypothesis is true or not.

Christina Lee
MAT graduate Christina Lee in her classroom at Girls Prep Bronx Middle School.
© AMNH/R. Mickens

Two years ago, Lee, 26, was a member of the first group to graduate with the Museum’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree in Earth and space science. This innovative program, launched to address a shortfall of science teachers for grades 7–12 in underserved schools, began as a pilot in 2012 under the New York State Board of Regents. The only program of its kind based at a museum, MAT offers participants a unique experience: a fully funded 15-month urban residency program co-designed by education specialists and scientists, which features an intensive science course led by Museum researchers and emphasizes experience in the classroom.

While it is still too soon to appraise the full impact of the program and its approach, there are promising early results. Not only has the number of science teachers increased in target schools, 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 needed most.

Christina Lee2
Lee is especially interested in helping introduce girls and young women to science.
© AMNH/R. Mickens

“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, the Museum’s 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. Given that Earth science can be a gateway to the more advanced courses students need for today’s careers in science and technology, it is essential that all students have the opportunity to take it.”

MAT graduates—there have been 50 so far—get exceptional professional development for two years with a system called “induction,” in which they are mentored by staff from the Museum’s Gottesman Center for Science Teaching and Learning. Staff visit the new teachers at their schools, advise them, and help them determine the best ways to achieve specific objectives.

“It makes it a lot easier than if you’re on your own,” says Lee.

Woman at desk with a laptop and cell phone
The MAT program continues to support graduates like Lee in their professional development.
© AMNH/R. Mickens

Lee is especially interested in motivating girls to pursue science. 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. The numbers are even more pronounced among black and Hispanic women.

“In most universities, science is driven by male students, but when you erase that it’s more comfortable,” says Lee, who made a conscious choice to teach in an all-girls’ school. “I definitely see that with these girls. They are normally so self-conscious but because there are no boys, they aren’t afraid to take chances.”

Interested in the Museum's MAT program? You can learn more by attending an informational webinar on Tuesday, January 26. And if you're considering applying for the program, remember that the application deadline of January 31, 2016, is fast approaching. 

A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer issue of the Member magazine Rotunda.