Annapolis Middle School teacher Beth Foster trumpets the importance of STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — programs for all students, convinced that science and math disciplines aren't, as she puts it, "just for brainiacs."
The school's science department chair said her convictions were bolstered by her work on a research project during a recent fellowship at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.
Foster was one of just 20 teachers nationwide selected to work with a team of scientists in a fellowship that offers practical applications for STEM instruction.
While at the laboratory, Foster was among a group that looked into work done at the U.S. Department of Education's Energy Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory.
She says the fellowship underscored her belief that schools need to do more to get students involved in science and engineering fields and that those flourishing in the fields weren't necessarily the top 1 percent of their classes.
"The scientists [at the laboratory] are very smart, but they weren't all Harvard and Yale graduates," says Foster. "They had a thirst for learning and wanting to keep current. They just had a natural curiosity."
Another local teacher, James Pendred of Hammond High School in Columbia, also took part in the fellowship, created by the Siemens Foundation and Discovery Education.
Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation, says she hopes that Foster and other fellows' experiences "will help inspire their students to become our country's next generation of scientists and engineers."
Foster agrees. As Annapolis Middle School's resource teacher for science, she offers students individualized instruction, mentors teachers and assists in classrooms.
With schools in Anne Arundel opening this past week, Foster is looking into ways to incorporate lessons learned from the fellowship in a school that she says has challenges but has made progress recently.
Annapolis Middle, she says, includes students from impoverished backgrounds, some with limited English proficiency and some who she says are "reluctant learners." Still, the 610-student school met state achievement requirements for all student groups last school year, school officials said.
"We're a struggling school, that's no secret," Foster says. "But with science education … every kid can think, every kid can learn and every kid has an imagination.
"Science, I think, in particular lends itself to a lot of hands-on, problem-based learning, problem solving, allowing kids to really discover answers on their own and not be spoon fed," she says. "Depending on how it's taught, of course."
Annapolis Middle Principal Dennis Kelly lauds Foster's work helping the campus earn Green School status as well as seeking out advocates from the local community. He says he hopes Foster's knowledge from her fellowship will "integrate itself into our science curriculum to show our students the meaning behind science, the real-world application to what it is they're learning."
When Foster applied for the internship, she made a video of herself discussing how she would use lessons learned at her school and later posted the video online.
"It really gave me an opportunity to intentionally sit down and reflect on what is it that I really want to do with this," she says. "Day to day, you get caught up in the flurry of what you're doing, and you want to do great things with kids and teachers, but it really made me sit back and be reflective about my practice."
She wants to instill a natural curiosity in the students at Annapolis Middle, and she is already looking ahead to when they will enter the workforce.
"The kids we're teaching right now at Annapolis Middle School, we're preparing them for jobs that don't even exist right now," says Foster. "We're not training them to be specifically a biotechnologist or a specific field. You're teaching them those kind of skills that would allow them to do that kind of work.
"We need to prepare them to be capable of making sound decisions, educated decisions, giving them a broad base of knowledge and teaching them how to read and write effectively, how to find the answers," Foster says. "Kids have more access to information now than ever, but it's them sifting and sorting through that information to see what's good information."
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