Bronx Design and Construction Academy ninth-graders Elton Hollingsworth (left) and Noel Cruz, both 14, stand atop the green roof with Nathaniel Wight (far right), a teacher who leads the school's science club. Photograph by Nick Pandolfo
At the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, Elton Hollingsworth and Noel Cruz, both ninth-graders at the Bronx Design and Construction Academy, joined the science club. Little did they know that a short nine months later, they’d board a plane bound for Denver as two of the youngest people to present at a leading industrial conference.
Last week, the boys explained findings from an experiment they’ve been conducting on the school’s green roof — the first of its kind in a New York City public school — at the World Renewable Energy Forum. Neither had been on an airplane before.
“We were the only high-schoolers there,” Cruz said.
“It takes a professional level of work to get through our peer review process,” says Seth Masia, director of communications for the American Solar Energy Society (ASES), which held its National Solar Conference together with the World Renewable Energy Forum this year. “We’re most impressed that the science club was able to do it.”
The principal of the High School for Environmental Studies prepares to accept a check for her school's science program
On Wednesday, we highlighted seven math and science teachers who received awards for their teaching. They were formally honored on Wednesday night, and yesterday the Fund for the City of New York launched a tour of their schools. We joined the tour's first day to ask students what qualities make a math or science teacher great.
At Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, juniors and seniors gathered in the library were told that math teacher Kate Belin had won $5,000. Several students whooped with glee and one shouted, "You could go to Africa with that!" Principal Nancy Mann rejected the students' request to use the school's $2,500 reward to build a second gym.
Next, at a highly selective school that the Department of Education does not manage, Hunter College High School, members of the math team praised Eliza Kuberska, their Math Team Advisor. Noting that Kuberska exhorts them to "do it for the love of math" and challenges them to tackle problems more complex than most high schoolers typically face, the students brought their teacher to tears.
At the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan, it was science teacher Marissa Bellino who made her students cry. Senior Alejandro Vinueza, who has Bellino as his teacher for the third time and traveled with her to Japan to learn about lowering carbon emissions, read a prepared speech but paused shortly after beginning to rub his reddening eyes. “Damn, I’m getting emotional now,” he said. Later, he told me how Bellino inspired him to pursue a science major in college and how she has opened his eyes to environmental awareness. “You know when someone says that they had an experience that changed their life forever? I didn’t believe that could happen until I went to Japan,” Vinueza said.
I asked students from the three high schools what makes for a great math or science teacher. Here's what they said:
Fannie Lou Hamer receives a framed portrait of math teacher Kate Belin
Good teachers connect:
“A good teacher understands that every student has their own problems and it takes that one on one interaction, that personal connection, for the students to learn in his or her own way.”
Tulio Santos, senior, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
At a time when the Obama administration is rewarding efforts to improve math and science instruction, seven city math and science teachers are being lauded for the work they already do.
For the third straight year, the Fund for the City of New York and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation are giving city teachers awards for excellence in teaching science and mathematics. The teachers will receive their prizes — $5,000 each — at an award ceremony tonight and their schools will celebrate the awards, and the $2,500 that their math and science programs receive, at a series of assemblies tomorrow.
The teachers were nominated by students, parents, colleagues, and administrators and then selected by a committee made up of representatives from local science museums and universities, based on their students' achievement, their involvement in extracurricular activities, and their efforts to promote math and science inside and outside the classroom. The recipients’ high schools range from the city’s highest-performing to some of the weakest, including one that the city is trying to turn around using federal funding.
Here are this year’s recipients, along with a highlight about each that we pulled from longer biographies compiled by the Sloan Awards:
Teacher: Kate Belin
School: Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
Subject: Geometry, Functions
Why her school thinks she’s great: Belin makes math relevant and interesting for students at Fannie Lou Hamer, where 90 percent of entering freshman are below grade level in math or English, by connecting math to the world outside the classroom.
The Department of Education's Innovation Zone is poised to bring home millions of dollars in federal innovation funding for the second year in a row.
The Obama administration yesterday released a list of 23 Investing in Innovation grant applicants that it wants to fund. The groups, culled from nearly 600 applicants, will share a $150 million pool of funding. The groups have until next month to line up matching funds from other sources to secure their grants.
The DOE's InnovateNYC program landed high on the list of applicants aiming to bolster science and technology education, putting it in line to receive $3 million in federal funding. The department will use the funding to connect its Office of Innovation with private partners and other school districts as it designs technologies for schools, according to Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
"There is so much potential for technology as a tool that helps students get on track for college and careers — but right now, engineers and developers need a better understanding of the challenges facing New York City and other urban school districts," he said in a statement.
Last year, when the Obama administration made $650 million available, another city Innovation Zone program, School of One, won $5 million to develop its computerized math teaching program. (School of One is part of InnovateNYC.) But the city's request for innovation funding for other purposes, such as to open new small schools, was turned down.
City schools are scoring higher on state math and reading tests, but they remain near the bottom of all districts statewide on science and social studies tests, a situation that schools officials attribute to budget cuts.
Although social studies and science scores rose last year, they remain very low compared to scores in the rest of the state. Only five of the city's 32 school districts performed scored at better than the 10th percentile in science, meaning that 90 percent of districts statewide scored better than 27 city districts. In contrast, 18 districts scored at the 10th percentile or higher in math.
Even in high-performing districts, fourth and eighth graders perform poorly on science and social studies tests compared to other students in the state. For example, Manhattan's District 2 outperformed 86 percent of districts in the state in math. In reading, District 2 students beat out students in 78 percent of districts. But in science, the district scored in just the 27th percentile, meaning that 73 percent of districts had higher average science scores.
The discrepancy, highlighted in the test score comparison tool launched by the New York Times today, gives ammunition to critics who say the city schools have focused so much on math and reading that they have given short shrift to other subjects.
The early years of Mayor Bloomberg's Children First reforms did focus most heavily on math and reading, a department spokesman said today. Now, the city is trying to boost science and social studies performance by introducing some of the same strategies that worked for math and reading, such as offering a standardized curriculum in each subject, said the spokesman, Will Havemann.
Educators have been worrying about American students' math performance for decades. 1939 saw the introduction of innovative teaching techniques to some New York City math classrooms: Rather than learning "to compute for the sake of computation," students learned arithmetic by applying it to baseball statistics, electrical bills, and other real-life situations, "informal, human and vital."
At the time, some claimed students' failure in high school math classes could be attributed to Regents exams:
On the high school level, where algebra, geometry, and trigonometry are still rigid, formalized subjects, a 25 percent failure record still exists. Officials have blamed the Regents examinations, in part, for this condition.
The rest of the article is after the jump.