Lanise Stevenson is a science teacher at Shady Grove Middle School, Gaithersburg. She was interviewed at the school Nov. 19.
In an email suggesting I interview you, your principal intern said you have created a love for science in your sixth-grade students. How have you been able to do that?
I have a way of exciting kids about a class that you usually don’t see. It’s because I make every concept meaningful and relative to [them]. It’s the teacher’s charge to make the information effective. In every class I teach, I have students with special needs: emotionally disturbed, those with learning disabilities or new English-language learners, and I make it meaningful for each.
The difference is when you can apply every concept to their lives, then the classroom no longer has walls. There is a connection to everything in their lives and science becomes exciting.
I impress on students that everyone, to be a good citizen, needs to be scientifically literate. When our kids grow up they are going to have to elect officials that reflect their views on energy, pollution, superstorms, superbugs. Our kids are going to have to be proactive. Everything you think of that we will have to address involves STEM [science, technology, engineering and math].
It relates to everything. I tell them about math being the language of science, it allows them to learn math concepts better. When we approach writing in science, I talk about the importance of being articulate, write what you mean, be specific. That corresponds with the message in English class, you should be clear and concise.
Science connects everything and it makes everything else exciting.
What do you actually teach?
Investigations in Science 6 for sixth-graders. It involves physics, environmental science, a little chemistry and biological science.
How did you become such an enthusiastic science teacher?
I love learning! I am passionate about teaching and learning in everything I do. My first degree was in biology; I was a pre-med student. I volunteered at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center and though I touched people there I realized I wouldn’t be best utilized [in medicine]. I did research at Procter & Gamble and realized that people in research didn’t look like me. They were not women or women of color. As I reflected I wondered if I should be a teacher. I realized that if I could teach more students and get them excited about science it could change science. Researchers would look like them, there would be more women.
I started to teach biology in high school in Baltimore County and became a STEM master teacher at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, working with teachers working for their science-education degree. Then I applied to Montgomery County.
I wanted diversity. The diversity in my classes is amazing in terms of race, ethnic background, socio-economic status. My classes are equally diverse: about 30 percent African-American, 30 percent Hispanic and 30 percent Caucasian and Asian — I have colorful classes. Each student brings a different approach. Their prior knowledge is amazing.
What I do never gets old. This is my 11th year and I still get excited about it. I love science. I don’t look like a science geek, but I am.
We work very hard but I deeply care and I impress upon [the students] how meaningful what they learn is.
How do they do?
Very, very well. This year we are focusing on cooperative learning, working in groups and critical thinking. I have modified a lot of the curriculum to increase the difficulty and increase cooperative learning.
The whole purpose of learning is for kids to open their eyes and see the world differently. Every year I get to see kids see things differently and that is very exciting for me.
I want kids to think for themselves but not by themselves. There is something important that happens with discussion.
How about girls in science — do you find them less interested?
I find it much easier to reach the girls because I’m authentic. They think I’m so smart and I am but I tell them it’s because I have a zest for knowledge. They realize that they too can enjoy the STEM track. We need them, we need diversity in the STEM field. It’s vital to create a community of critical thinkers who will be able to solve problems that don’t exist yet.