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Graduate student shares passion for science

By : By Rachel Coker

Sarah Angell stands in front of 17 eighth-graders who are preparing for a science lab.

“What are we trying to figure out?” she asks them. “Lots of hands. I want to see lots of hands. Why are we doing this, anyway?”

The students’ task is to figure out if there’s a relationship between cubic centimeters and milliliters. Using boxes, water and several different measuring tools, the children soon can theorize that the two measurements are the same.

This “lab” at Maine-Endwell Middle School is radically different from some others where Angell has worked.

The 22-year-old from Stanfordville came to Binghamton University to pursue a doctorate in chemistry. But after completing her master’s degree in chemistry during the summer, Angell switched over to study for a master’s in teaching.

Angell worked with Associate Professor Wayne Jones on a project that took her into a Binghamton elementary school classroom each of the last two years. “That was a very richly rewarding experience,” she said, “and I knew I wanted to go into teaching.” Angell won a prestigious fellowship from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation to support her new career choice. The five-year renewable fellowship covers tuition and offers a monthly stipend while Angell’s in school; it will provide a summer stipend during the first several years after she graduates.

The Knowles fellows also meet several times a year for weekend workshops. There are 13 in the 2005 cohort, including Angell. Just 36 fellowships have been awarded since the program began in 2002.

Angell, who has seven siblings, grew up on a farm in upstate New York and was home-schooled from the age of 10. She finished high school at Dutchess Community College and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from George Fox University in Oregon. She expects she’ll bring some of the principles of her own education with her into the classroom. That means engaging children in self-directed learning and encouraging critical thinking, she said.

In Angell’s classroom at Maine-Endwell, a girl wearing braces and an intense expression kneels down to be sure the water in her graduated cylinder is right at the 100 milliliter mark. A boy wearing a football jersey calls out: “Dude, are we supposed to be balancing out each time we add a graduated cylinder?”

Angell moves among the students, unfazed as they splash water on their lab partners. As she prods them gently, the students answer her questions about the experiment and seem genuinely pleased when they figure out the result of their work.

“They’re the same!” one boy says after Angell quizzes him about cubic centimeters and milliliters.

“We’ll have to look at the data from the rest of the class,” she replies. “But that’s a good place to start.”

As the students enter their data into the classroom computer, Angell leans over to check their numbers. “The metric system is beautiful,” she tells them.

That enthusiasm — backed by her deep understanding of science — is what’s going to make Angell an exceptional teacher, said Jones, director of the Center for Learning and Teaching. “It’s hard to get people into something that you don’t know intimately,” he said.

Angell loves to share her love of science with others, Jones said. And while some people have a hard time finding an audience with which they’re comfortable, he believes Angell is equally at home in front of elementary school students and professors.

“Science education in the United States has recently come under fire,” Jones said. “One of the things we could do to change that is to get more scientists into the public classroom.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08