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Noyce Program Provides Good Foundation for Joshua Ellis

Josh-01.jpgJoshua Ellis is a member of the 2009-2010 Noyce cohort and is a current teacher in the Robbinsdale Area School District at Robbinsdale Cooper High School. Mr. Ellis regularly teaches 9th grade physical science classes of 18-24 students. Ellis was awarded the M.Ed. Student Services Scholarship from CEHD at the University of Minnesota.

The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, funded by the National Science Foundation, aims to encourage talented science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors and professionals to become K-12 mathematics and science teachers. The Noyce Scholarship provides funding to the University of Minnesota through an award to Principal Investigators Drs. Gillian Roehrig, Terry Wyberg and Cindy Cattell to use to support scholarships, stipends, and academic programs for undergraduate STEM majors and post-baccalaureate students holding STEM degrees who earn a teaching credential and commit to teaching in high-need K-12 school districts.

Mr. Ellis attended the University of Minnesota with a physics major and initially planned to conduct physics research. This changed during his sophomore year when he learned about the Noyce/project IMPACT program from John Anderson, who worked with Physics Force. Mr. Ellis also worked with the Society of Physics Students and became interested in working with high school students through some of their outreach activities in secondary schools. Ellis acknowledges that his physics major has provided him with the knowledge to be able to help him deliver and modify instruction to support the individual needs of his students.

Mr. Ellis credits his participation in the Noyce program with giving him the knowledge of "how to teach". He learned various assessment strategies such as the difference between formative and summative strategies. His top skill learned was using inquiry-based teaching, which involves teaching students how to think rather than focusing on memorization or providing rote answers. While inquiry-based teaching is a fairly new concept, many science teachers are moving to adopt it in their classrooms. It is a shift from having the teacher be the "giver" of knowledge to passive students whereas in the inquiry-based model, students are actively engaged in making hypotheses and figuring out why their hypothesis was supported or unsupported.

A great example of how Ellis is successfully using inquiry-based teaching in his classroom is the sludge test, which is the end of year project for his 9th grade physical science class. Students get a jar of "sludge" (a combination of random chemicals, elements and materials), and they use what they have learned throughout the entire course to construct a series of questions and answers in order to figure out what components comprise the sludge. Students are graded by the complexity of their ideas and their abstraction rather than the ability to recite encyclopedic-type definitions.

Ellis mentioned that the Principal Investigator, Dr. Gillian Roehrig, has especially supported his professional development through helping him find classes and grants as well as keeping informed about interesting conferences and networking events. Cohort members have a ready-made connection with other teachers and students to share materials and ideas. He believes that the Noyce program is special in that the teachers and students involved are all helpful, excited, and passionate about the work they are doing. Contact among the 2009-2010 cohort has continued with one-on-one email communication as well as attendance at some informal events like a baseball game.

Robbinsdale Cooper High School meets the criteria as a high needs school due to a combination of factors including at-risk students, socioeconomic status such as free and reduced lunch rate, and the number of students with learning disabilities. Many students come to school without breakfast and stay after school to have a place to work. Additionally, students qualifying for special education services are integrated into classrooms. However, Robbinsdale Cooper also has an International Baccalaureate program and is part of the Middle Years Program. This provides a diverse environment that could be intimidating to some new teachers. Participation in the Noyce program gave the students tools to use differentiation strategies to meet all students where they are to get them where they need to be. Ellis believes it is essential to teach to everyone, instead of "specializing" to teach to only the students at the top, bottom, or middle. Additionally, as all schools have some students needing lessons modified, these skills are critical to be successful in any school.

Mr. Ellis served as a long-term substitute prior to having his own classroom. He cites first year success as being influenced by how supportive a department and administration is; Ellis attributes a positive experience with his colleagues at Robbinsdale Cooper to positive job satisfaction. He has also learned that effective teachers take things in stride. He reflects that his job is not to make every student happy, but to help them learn.

In the continuation of his professional development, Mr. Ellis will participate in the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) summer program in 2011 where teachers are given an opportunity to bridge the gap between research and teaching. He eagerly anticipates being able to make connections to create new lessons and programs. Ellis is also a M.Ed. student in science education in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Minnesota.

Principal Investigator of the Noyce project, Dr. Gillian Roehrig, adds, "It is rare that a student is asked in the fall semester of the licensure program to be a lead teacher in their practicum classroom, yet Josh's cooperating teachers had confidence in his ability and he rose to the occasion leading instruction for an engineering class at Central Middle School in Columbia Heights. Similarly, following his student teaching assignment at Patrick Henry High School, Josh was asked to stay on as a long-term substitute physics teacher for the rest of the school year following a teacher's sudden leave...He works hard in his courses to implement inquiry-based strategies with his students and continues to demonstrate excellence. He is a great ambassador for the science education program and CEHD."

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