“I put my hands in 1200 degree lead and pull them out not severely burned, and I drink liquid nitrogen which is 320 degrees below zero… I do lots of crazy things in physics and chemistry!”
These are the words of Gary Curts (science educator and Curriculum Implementation Specialist at IT’S ABOUT TIME®). As an integral part of the IAT Professional Learning team (comprised of science educators and authors who travel around the country training teachers on implementing project-based STEM curricula and the NGSS and Common Core standards), Gary is in the trenches of science education working with teachers in grades K-12. Helping to innovate science classrooms and to push science education into the future with new curriculum and standards has its challenges, but Gary would be quick to tell you that the rewards are far greater than the challenges and the end-goal is mission-critical.
Today’s STEM teachers need support and forward-thinking professional learning to help them implement new pedagogy, like project-based learning, that essentially turns traditional science learning on its head, and this critical, unwavering support is just what Gary delivers. He hears the concerns and challenges of STEM educators and knows the potential stumbling blocks of schools implementing new curricula and helps them to work through challenges. And, like all IAT PD specialists, Gary thinks outside of the box. This is what makes the support he offers science teachers so special. It’s also why he loves what he does — the very STEM curricula he helps to implement teaches students how to think outside of the box.
An “Explosive” Science Education Career from the US, to Egypt and Beyond!
Working with STEM educators and being a support to them comes quite natural for Gary thanks to his lifelong experience as a science teacher. A graduate of Ohio State University, Gary’s career began over 35 years ago and includes 26 years as a science teacher at Dublin Public Schools in Ohio. His success with helping school districts and educators to embrace and implement new pedagogy stems from his own experience with embracing change halfway through his career.
“For the first 22 years I was very traditional—the pontificator, great verification labs—I thought I was doing a good job, until I got involved with Active Physics® in the year 2000. From that point on I realized as I retrospectively looked back that, good heavens, I could have been so much of a better teacher and made so much more of an impact if I would have been involved in a project-based, inquiry-based program like Active Physics and Active Chemistry®. There’s been such a change over the last 14 years compared to what it was when I first started teaching. I can see [students] are actively engaged with our program and I love that!”
Shortly after becoming involved with Active Physics (14 years ago), Gary became an IAT Curriculum Implementation Specialist specializing in project-based, student-centered classrooms, and metacognition. Gary enjoys working with teachers to not only help them grasp and implement new ideas, but to help them break through stumbling blocks that occur whenever students, teachers and parents are pushed out of their comfort zones with new pedagogy.
A vital element of the IAT curricula philosophy that Gary has always encouraged and taught to students is the importance of embracing failure as a necessary step to learning and succeeding. Sometimes, to his surprise, Gary even unwittingly demonstrates this part of the learning process himself.
From project-based learning, to learning through failure, to student-centered classrooms, Gary believes the future of STEM education will undoubtedly look vastly different than what we see today. And he’s passionate about helping teachers to adapt to these changes. His enthusiasm is infectious, to say the least.
In addition to training teachers here in the US, Gary is participating in a special program where IAT (and other STEM education companies) assist the Egyptian government with implementing STEM programs in their schools (including Maadi STEM School for Girls and the 6th October STEM School for Boys in Cairo) — the first international STEM program of its kind. Gary trained Egyptian geology and physics teachers in implementing IAT’s curricula and project-based learning practices.
“If I was to say anything about the experience,” recalls Gary, “it would be something like the Egyptian facsimile of Arnie Duncan and his contingent coming to the United States several years ago to pick out a curricula for the new Egyptian STEM schools that met several criteria. It had to be a project-based curricula, it had to feature 21st century skills and it had to have students actively engaged in learning science concepts by doing science. . . .The group picked out Active Physics®, Active Chemistry®, and EarthComm®, out of all the curricula they scoured, to be their national curricula for their STEM schools.”
Gary looks forward to returning to Egypt in the Fall and to working with STEM educators across the US this Summer and in the new school year. To connect with Gary and to learn more about upcoming IAT workshops where he is co-presenting, follow him on LinkedIn HERE and check out the Summer IAT PD Workshop Schedule HERE.
We spoke briefly with Gary about his experience training STEM educators and his thoughts on future trends in professional development. Here’s what he had to say…
Interview with a Professional Learning Rock Star
Education Insider: What do you enjoy the most about being a Curriculum Implementation Specialist? How do you help STEM educators implement new curricula and pedagogy like project-based learning and the NGSS?
Gary: My favorites parts are introducing and reinforcing STEM practices with teachers. We have the ability to affect so many different students on so many different levels by creating a “buy in” from the teachers as they are learning to “Stemify” lessons.
At the forefront of helping other educators see the value in what we are espousing is the sharing and evaluating of the latest cognitive research that supports and champions STEM practices. When they themselves experience project or problem-based curricula and how that strategy promotes contextual learning, the “buy in” is immediate!!
Education Insider: What have you learned from the many science teachers you’ve trained this past year?
Gary: The most important thing I have learned from the teachers in my sessions is the value of collaborative and cooperative learning. The teachers have provided me with so much insight from many different perspectives that I can assimilate and almost instantly add to my repertoire of pedagogical strategies…. it’s the proverbial “sounding board” coming to fruition.
Education Insider: What trends do you think we will be seeing in professional development in the coming school year?
Gary: There are several trends that I think will manifest themselves as the next year or two beckons:
- There will be more opportunities to experience PD in STEM from varying perspectives;
- The integration of engineering and technology into your lessons will become more and more seamless;
- Modeling and employing more metacognitive strategies for students is a must;
- Training and using more authentic assessments techniques to truly get a holistic view of your students; and
- Focusing on implementing and using 21st Century Skills in the classroom.
Education Insider: What advice, suggestions or tools would you recommend for teachers who are looking to get the most out of their STEM professional development?
Gary: Come to PD training with an open mind. Give this approach a chance!!! Believe in it!!! Be passionate!!!! Think about becoming more student-centered in your classroom and you can’t go wrong! Think about what is best for your students and their future!
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