Teach For America Intern at IRIS

Abigail Paske, Teach For America

Summer has come to a close and I am heading back to San Jose, California. During the school year, I teach high school as part of Teach for America, an Ameri Corps sponsored program that addresses the current teacher shortage by placing recent college graduates in under resourced public schools across the country. Teach for America is a two year commitment to the students and community. As part of our commitment to life-long learning, Teach for America encourages math and science majors to participate in science-oriented internships during the summer between the first and second year. At the end of August I will begin my second year of teaching chemistry, physics, and perhaps most importantly, Introduction to Science, which is a mandatory year-long course to give high school freshman an overview of scientific processes. One of the major components of this course is a unit on Earth Science.

abby photoThis summer, as an IRIS intern, I have been working on a hands-on thematic unit for my freshmen. With the help of Greg van der Vink and Christel Hennet, I put together about 14 lesson plans in a unit designed to motivate and teach seismology to high school students. From my brief experience teaching, I have noticed that students are morbidly fascinated by anything that explodes or is dangerous to their personal well-being. To this end, the unit we designed is loosely based on Greg, Christel, and Danny Harvey's analysis for the US Senate, of the Japanese terrorist cult, Aum Shinrikyo. After the cult released Sarin nerve gas into the Tokyo subway system, there was some question of whether they performed an underground nuclear test on a sheep ranch in Western Australia a couple of years earlier. In the lesson, students use various scientific techniques to figure out if the terror-cult really did have nuclear capability or if the incident was simply an aberrant earthquake. It is my belief that students will be motivated to learn seismology when presented with such a relevant and engaging scenario - even if the initial interest is simply in hearing about big explosions.

Also this summer, Catherine Johnson advised me on research for an educational poster to highlight our changing view of the interior of the Earth. Investigating the history of seismology gave me valuable insight into the science and how best to teach it. The research lead me on a wild goose chase through the far nether-regions of the Internet and then lead me to the Still Picture Gallery of the National Archives where I donned white gloves and sorted through boxes of images to use on the poster. If you ever have a chance (or a good excuse) to visit the National Archives I highly recommend it. The poster is still in the construction stages but will be finished over the next few months.

Exciting upcoming events include implementing the Aum Shinrikyo lessons in my classroom and the classrooms of other Teach for America Corps members. Additionally, I will be writing numerous grant proposals to have a high quality seismometer installed at the school where I teach in San Jose. If you happen to have a spare seismometer kicking around your basement, let me know!

It has been a productive and fruitful summer of collaboration. I hope that future Teach for America Corps members will have a chance to participate in expanding the excellent Education and Outreach program at IRIS and to have a brush with seismology on the front lines.

Teach For America is the national teacher corps of outstanding recent college graduates of all academic majors and cultural backgrounds who commit two years to teach in under-resourced urban and rural public schools. Since 1989, Teach For America has inspired more than 20,000 individuals to apply and has placed about 4,000 of them in 13 geographic regions where each year about 1,000 corps members reach more than 100,000 students. Corps members were leaders on their college campuses, are leaders in their classrooms, schools and communities, and will be lifelong leaders in the pursuit of educational excellence for all children. For more information about Teach For America and how to apply, call 1-800-832-1230 or visit their web site - www.teachforamerica.org

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