The Fund for the City of New York announced the recipients of the first annual Sloan Awards for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics. Recognizing exceptionally dedicated and creative teachers who have achieved outstanding results, the Awards also acknowledge the role each has played in inspiring students of all backgrounds and abilities to pursue careers in science and mathematics.
The seven winners were chosen from applications submitted by parents, students, teachers, and school administrators throughout the city’s five boroughs. They received their Awards on November 5, 2009 in a ceremony in the Great Hall at Cooper Union. Each award is $7,500 – $5,000 for the teacher and $2,500 to strengthen each school’s science or mathematics program.
Nominations for the 2010 Awards will be accepted from December 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010. All public high school science and mathematics teachers in New York City who have taught for at least five years, and who demonstrate excellence in teaching and in achieving results, are qualified to be nominated. Winners will be chosen by an independent panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians and educators. More information and a nomination form are available at the Fund for the City of New York’s Web site.
We recently asked the winners to tell us a little about themselves.
Michael P. Klimetz: Like his father, Klimetz went to City College, and then entered a doctoral program at SUNY Albany and Rutgers. After challenging conventional wisdom on Southeast Asian plate tectonics – research that derailed a university career but that was eventually validated – he responded to an ad and ended up at John Dewey, where he has been teaching for the last 14 years. Earth Science, Physics, AP Physics, Material Science, Geology
Michael Holmes, High School of American Studies at Lehman high school: Growing up on a farm in North Carolina, Holmes’ interest in science had an explosive start when he began experimenting with chemical reactions and explosive devices, among other things. Honors Chemistry, Honors Biology, Film
Richard Lee: A graduate of Bronx Science, Lee’s passion for science continued while attending City College and Columbia University. Although he had a brief stint as a rock station DJ, he eventually joined Bronx Science and has been teaching there for 20 years. Biology, AP Biology, Research
Nicola Vitale: Coming from a family of teachers and overcoming a childhood learning disability, Nicola Vitale gravitated toward hands-on learning and applied mathematics. After graduating from SUNY Albany, and working as a stage carpenter, he started teaching at Banana Kelly. While earning a masters degree, he began to rethink how science should be taught and implemented his new approach at Banana Kelly. Physics, Algebra, Environmental Science, Thinking Math & Science
Homer Pateloglou, High School of Economics and Finance: The son of Greek immigrants, Panteloglou was the first member of his family to go to college. At Hofstra, he developed a passion for both biology and teaching. Despite being discouraged from pursuing a teaching career because he is legally blind, Panteloglou has had incredible success in the classroom for the last 10 years. Honors Living Environment, Marine Biology, AP Biology, Introduction to Business
Fredrick Nelson, Wings Academy: Raised in Jamaica, Fredrick Nelson credits his mother with teaching the determination, hard work, and self-sacrifice that he put to use while earning degrees from the University of the West Indies and City College. Integrated Algebra, Geometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus
Katherine Cooper, Townsend Harris High School: The daughter of parents who came to the U.S. to escape communism, Katherine Cooper’s passion for science was ignited by her study of dance, which led to enduring interest in the human body. Biology, Science Research, Biomedical Ethics, Anatomy-Physiology, Advanced Topics
What led you to become a teacher?
MK: I have been an academician for most of my adult life. An academician is someone who devotes his or her life to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of a particular field of human advancement through observation, experimentation, and investigation. An academician is someone that spends most of their time reading, writing, calculating, synthesizing, drafting, speaking, and sharing information about their field of interest with like-minded colleagues. Hence, an academician can be thought of as a combination of both teacher and student, where objectives are self-created, methods are self-devised, experiments are self-conducted, and lessons are self-taught. Since the educational process has become thoroughly inculcated into and is utterly indistinguishable from my character, the choice of the profession of teaching was as natural as breathing.
MH: Teaching is a second career for me. I was working with a project in New York City called CASES. I worked with youth who had past legal problems who were trying to re-integrate back into society. I really enjoyed my time with the students, doing work that could create opportunities for students made a strong connection with me in regards to the idea of creating an equal society.
RL: A friend at Stanford thought I had what it takes to be a good teacher.
NV: I think teaching can be done better. As a child I found school restrictive and boring, yet I had many inspiring learning experiences outside of school. I’m fascinated with how people make sense of the world and I want to make school a more interesting, inspiring, and liberating place.
FN: There are several main reasons why I became a teacher. First, during my childhood I was always amazed by the level of respect and admiration my teachers would garnered from students and strangers alike. Teachers were naturally well-respected. I was always in awe at the wealth of knowledge; academic and otherwise, that my childhood teachers would displayed.
Growing up in an impoverished, rural part of Jamaica, West Indies, there were times when I was perceived as shy and unintelligent, because of my apparent introverted nature. Of course, I didn’t like this perception and labored feverishly to change it. The teaching profession gave me an opportunity to change that perception. This profession gave me the platform to interact and articulate my views and ideas with others. These interactions have helped me to hone my speaking and interpersonal skills to the point where I am confident and comfortable to have conversations with anyone.
KC: My family has a great many teachers (my mother, grandmother and grandfather) and I taught gymnastics since the age of 16. When deciding between medicine and teaching, I went for the teaching, because it allowed me to pass on my passion for science to others.
Can you say a few words about what you did before you were a teacher?
MK: I have had a wide variety of workplace experiences. My first work experience was with my father's civil engineering and land surveying firm in when I was fourteen. I and my brother would work after school, on weekends and during summer vacations on a variety of field and office projects. It was with my father that I learned advanced mathematics, mechanical drawing, map making, and principles of site design and construction. I then held positions with several construction firms as a laborer and field engineer, and eventually become an estimator. I was a curatorial assistant with the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, responsible for cataloguing the Charles Sternberg and Edward Drinker Cope fossil reptile collections.
As a field geologist with the United States Geological Survey, I was part of a team investigating the geologic history of the seismically active Ramapo Fault, located just west of New York City. I had taught courses in introductory geology, structural geology, petrography, and engineering geology at the State University of New York at Albany, The City College of New York, and at Rutgers University. I also spent ten years as a freelance editor for a firm which published official translations of Russian scientific and technical journals. By far my most challenging and rewarding occupation before becoming a teacher, and one that undoubtedly prepared me in ways for teaching that no other work experience could, was that of stay-at-home dad caring for my infant son.
MH: I was a research biologist and worked at Rockefeller University with the Population Council doing research in male reproductive endocrinology.
RL: An FM rock announcer at WYDD in Pittsburgh.
NV: Before I became a teacher I worked as a freelance carpenter and technical director for theater and film companies in NYC – from building scenery and props to setting up lighting.
FN: After completing my first degree at the University of the West Indies (UWI), I immediately took up a teaching position. There was a moment prior to college when I did track and field and worked as a tutor and an Adjunct at CCNY.
KC: I have been a teacher since I received my Master's Degree when I was 21.
What is the "secret ingredient" that helps you help your students succeed?
MK: The key to my students' success is really no secret. The successful teacher must be a master of their subject. The subject must be one that the teacher enjoys and finds personally satisfying. The successful teacher must always be patient, considerate, and compassionate, and must always be mindful that their students are children who are sensitive, impressionable, vulnerable, and oftentimes insecure. The successful teacher must smile often and speak in a reassuring, confident voice and display an approachable, friendly demeanor. As a retired colleague once told me, the successful teacher always treats his or her students in the same way they would expect other teachers to treat their own children. The successful teacher always travels the "high road", without exception.
MH: In my class students understand they have the option to explore any idea they can generate but they have to provide evidence to support their hypothesis. This climate fosters a sense that curiosity is the greatest asset in science and allows students to create ownership of their work because they create the questions to be answered.
RL: Insist that they do their job; then help them do it.
NV: I respect and value my students' thinking. Too often schools just care about students giving the "right answers" or scoring high on a test - and don't pay attention to the student's thinking behind those answers. Only by paying attention to students' ideas can we nurture and challenge those ideas and deepen their understanding of the world they live in. Most importantly, we can develop what I call their “Voices” as citizens, scientists, mathematicians, writers, and historians...
FN: Well, from year-to-year, the "secret ingredient" may change. However, there are some key ingredients which I am always using. I am a very reflective practitioner and as such I spend a great of time analyzing, fine tuning and preparing my lessons. I pride myself on content knowledge, my ability to deliver content at a level that is appropriate for my audience (students). I also pride myself on my ability to meet students where they are academically and add value to their academic development.
KC: Patience, passion, and the genuine desire to see them succeed, even if there success lies well outside your subject area. If you care about your students as people, rather than just a body in a seat, it is obvious to them and actually drives them to work harder.
Any thoughts on winning the Sloan Award?
MK: It is both exhilarating and humbling. I cannot imagine anything more gratifying than receiving an award from such a prestigious philanthropic organization for performing a job that provides me a source of joy and satisfaction each and every day.
MH: It has taken some time for the idea of winning an award for teaching to register with me. I am truly honored to be part of the inaugural group of teachers because the award really highlights the aspect of teaching that sometime is missed by the general public. As a teacher administering a test is a simple tool for gauging a student's understanding, but the Sloan Award really highlighted teachers who create a diversity of assessments to acknowledge what students understand.
RL: I was just doing my job.
NV: I'm incredibly honored to be recognized—and to be in the company of the other awardees. It is very uncommon for such a prestigious organization to recognize work at a small community school such as ours. Most often, it is elite programs that get recognition. When you think of science and mathematics awards, you don’t think of a school like ours in the South Bronx… I want to thank the Fund for the City of New York and The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for showing that ALL students deserve quality mathematics and science education.
FN: This is absolutely awesome. At Wings Academy, I was the first person to successfully introduced advance courses such as math B and AP calculus courses. This, in my modest view helped in changing the academic landscape at the school.
KC: I think it is fantastic, more so that the award exists than necessarily having won it. I believe it is important to recognize the role teachers play in our society and reward their dedication, despite the lack of respect the profession is associated with (based on the salary society has decided is appropriate). I know that any member of my department could have won the award, so I accept it on behalf of myself and them. We are a family, and one person's success is a reflection of the support we provide for each other.
What kind of student were you?
MK: I loved school. I always reveled in learning new things, exchanging ideas, performing mathematical computations, reading books, conducting scientific experiments, and observing the world around me. I respected and admired my teachers, both for their knowledge and the way they shared it with their students. I took great comfort and security in the fact that learning required discipline, order, and organization and as such informed, enabled, and ennobled me.
MH: I was a very serious student. I was notorious for asking too many questions. My intention was not to annoy my teachers I was just curious and interested in learning.
NV: Although I was always interested in learning new things, I often struggled in school. Some of my struggles were related to my way of thinking which was often unconventional, and some was attributable to dysgraphia, a learning disability that affects written tasks.
HP: In high school I was an average student. It was not until I reached college, specifically my anatomy and physiology class, where I true appreciated what it meant to learn.
FN: I was a very disciplined student. Because of the late start to my formal education, it took me a while to master certain basic ideas about learning. However, once I was able to develop a mastery of those ideas, I became very good student—I took physics, chemistry, mathematics and writing at the advance placement level before moving on UWI.
KC: A nerd. I loved school and still love learning. The good grades came with the interest.
What is your favorite teaching moment?
NV: It’s hard to describe one particular moment. But I love all those little moments when students are learning for its own sake - a student shows me a mathematical pattern that they discovered, or is working hard to figure out or understand a concept, or shares their wonderings about a topic. These moments are what keep me teaching, when I can see student developing curiosity and a confidence to think on their own.
HP: I have many “favorite teaching moments” but my proudest was when a young sophomore received a 66 on a regents. I shall explain. Carla was new to our school and country. She was just starting to understand the English language let alone biology. She would come to me every day after school and we would read the text together breaking down every section, page, paragraph, sentence, and word. No one worked harder than she did. I am proud to say she passed the regents and years later I hear she is doing quite well.
KC: Too many to pick one. I love seeing the learning in my students' eyes - the moment when you can see on their face that they get it.
What is your favorite book?
MK: This is a tough question, but since I have a great love of literature, I am compelled to provide a response. There is a tie between three titles: Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, The Face of the Earth by Eduard Suess, and Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton. All have collectively impacted my life in a deeply personal and profound fashion.
MH: My favorite book is the Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison. It was the first book that illustrated the idea of good guys and bad guys doesn't exist; both characteristics are found in every human.
NV: I am particularly fond of books by Oliver Sacks, specifically The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. His writing shows science as fascinating and very human.
HP: Hmm favorite book, The Origin of the Species
FN: I am one semester away from completing a program of study in Educational Leadership at City College and for one of the courses I am required to read this book call Results Now by Mike Schmoker. In such a clear and precise way, Mr. Schmoker lifted up several key pertinent topics that are imperative to school leaders and their instructional staffs—literacy, curriculum, standards, the role of school leaders in the process of teaching and learning.
KC: I love too many to pick a favorite - it depends on the mood. I love the classics, but also science fiction and fairy tales.
What is your favorite lesson?
MK: My favorite lesson concerns the derivation of the equations of straight-line motion through the use of graphs. This lesson appeals to both visuospatial and logical-mathematical learners as it seamlessly transits between the verbal statement of concepts, the uncompromising and disciplined realm of mathematics, and directly observable, real world phenomena in a simple yet elegant method. Students find this lesson particularly satisfying and illuminating as not only does it convey the relationships between physics variables, it also clearly models a basic tenet of calculus.
HP: They are all my favorite! If I had to narrow it down to topics genetics and evolution lessons.
FN: My favorite lessons are those that are perceived as "difficult" to teach. I am "amp-up" for lessons that pose a challenge for students. I feel I am challenged to be creative. My most favorite lesson to teach is the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. In my view, this is where integral calculus and differential calculus merge and I find this construct to be such a beauty to understand conceptually.
KC: Teaching the students to listen to each other.
Tell us a few words about your own favorite teacher.
MK: I owe all of my personal and professional successes to my high school teachers. If I were to cite one in particular who stood out above all the others it would be my chemistry teacher, Mr. Anthony Leo, who taught at Lincoln High School in Yonkers. A retired industrial chemist, he was a man of unparalleled skill and knowledge. He taught lessons with a calm and thoroughness of presentation, who always greeted every student every day with a grandfatherly smile and a beckoning demeanor and always offered support and inspired confidence. He has been my role model from the very first day I stepped into the classroom. I am eternally grateful for having been his student. I will never, ever, forget him.
NV: My second grade teacher, Miss Tina—she rode a moped, helped me with my shyness, and created a learning environment that allowed me and a classmate to use a how-it-works book to fix the classroom toilet.
HP: John Morrisey a Hofstra professor influenced me greatly. He made science fun, and welcoming.
FN: Mary Royal, Enrique May, Millicent Nelson (my mother), and Darron Fraser are my favorite teachers. They brought out the best in me and they played an imperative role in the person that I have become and will be.
KC: Fifth grade - Ms. Claiborne. She created an environment that made us feel comfortable and she read to us. She made us honorary southerners at the end of the year because we all imitated her y'all.