A Second Helping of Einstein
As a second-year participant in the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program, Kristen Edwards has had unique opportunities to bring her perspective as a classroom teacher to public policy discussions, such as contributing to NASA's efforts to develop an updated education strategy. Her time in the program has given her the chance to do everything from travel to Malaysia to plan science camps for middle school students.
Describe your teaching experience before becoming an Einstein Fellow.
I joined Teach for America in 2000 and was assigned to the Mississippi Delta region. I spent nine years teaching science at Lee High School in Marianna, Ark., first as the science laboratory coordinator (designing and implementing hands-on laboratory activities for every science class in the school) and then as a biology, Pre-Advanced Placement biology, Advanced Placement biology, and human anatomy and physiology instructor. I also coached, co-coached or sponsored numerous activities, including National Honor Society, National Beta Club, Quiz Bowl and Trojans Against Destructive Decisions (our school's Safe and Drug-Free Schools club) and taught in our school's Extended-Day Recovery and Remediation and Summer School programs.
Why did the Einstein Fellow Program appeal to you?
I wanted to become an Einstein Fellow for a number of reasons. Two of the most important reasons were to increase my knowledge and bring further awareness of issues in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and to bring the perspective and concerns of my community and school district to the national level. My school is located in a rural, severely economically depressed region -- nearly 100 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunches -- and it has been my experience that such schools/districts are not well-represented at the national level.
What is your assignment while an Einstein Fellow at NASA?
I am currently in my second year as an Einstein Fellow in the Office of Education at NASA Headquarters. Over the past 18 months, I have participated in inter- and intra-agency meetings, contributed my "teacher's perspective" to educational materials and contests, written to students and teachers who are seeking information about NASA programs and opportunities, and worked on planning and/or staffing public events -- including the USA Science and Engineering Festival and AARP -- for both U.S. and international audiences. Throughout my fellowship, I also attended workshops, seminars and symposia related to formal and informal STEM education and had the opportunity to participate in education-related forums/panels through the Wilson Center. I also received Lunar/Meteorite Sample Education Certification, which will enable me to continue to share and support NASA's mission after my fellowship has ended.
What do you foresee to be your major accomplishment(s) during your fellowship?
Last November, I had the opportunity to be part of the NASA team that traveled to Malaysia as part of the NASA @ Planetarium Melaka 2010 Space Fair. I designed and presented a workshop for pre- and in-service educators focused on ways to incorporate NASA content into classroom instruction and helped to plan and implement numerous hands-on student activities. I was also asked to speak to the NASA Education Design Team -- which is working to develop a strategy to improve NASA's education offerings -- to provide a K-12 educator's perspective on both NASA and STEM education.
I am currently working with Wallops Flight Facility and Mid-Atlantic Institute for Space and Technology (MIST) to design and deliver the curriculum and teacher workshops for two of their middle school summer camps -- Reach for the Stars!, a two-week residential experience where students complete a NASA mission in miniature on a college campus, and Camp Agape, a one-week residential camp for children with incarcerated parents -- that focus on STEM education. I will also be working on the design and implementation of teacher workshops for two additional education efforts, Wallops Rocket Academy and Wallops Balloon Experience.
What are your plans for after the fellowship?
As my fellowship has progressed, I have become increasingly aware of the role that federal agencies play in fostering engagement and interest in STEM courses and careers, and have grown increasingly concerned that the voice of rural teachers and schools is not adequately represented at the national level. While I do not anticipate returning to full-time classroom teaching, I am actively applying for positions at federal, state, local and nonprofit education-related entities where I can continue to contribute to promoting STEM education at the K-12 level.
How has participating in the Einstein Fellowship Program impacted you as an educator?
I have gained a new perspective of the challenges -- and vital importance -- of providing quality STEM education to all students; it is an urgent nationwide issue that needs increased attention and collaboration at the national level. I have also become aware of and interested in the value of life-long learning and the important role that institutions of informal education -- such as museums, science centers, planetariums, after-school and summer school programs, and the NASA Visitor Centers -- serve in inspiring and engaging a wide range of ages in STEM topics.
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David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services