What are the letters after your name on your business cards and what do those letters mean?
B.S. is Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, M.S. is Master of Science in Administration and Supervision, P.D. is Professional Diploma in Curriculum and Teaching and L.D.S. is Language Development Specialist.
Did you always want to be a teacher?
In the beginning I wanted to be an electrical engineer but in my 5th year of study I found that teaching was more rewarding than solving a single problem in Engineering. I had a very inspiring science teacher, Leon Kurtz, and a likewise inspiring mathematics teacher, Esther Singer.
What subjects did you like best in school?
Middle School was my turn on to Science and Math. The most outstanding memory I have was from Science class when our science teacher Mr. Kurtz had us measure our pulse rate and then all off a sudden shouted to take cover. The man NEVER shouted before. After we took cover under the desks and rose again he had us take our pulse rates again to show us the affect of adrenalin on our rates. It was very memorable.
What were your most difficult or most boring subjects?
My most boring subject was history. It didn't seem practical and was just a lot of reading. I have since come to change my opinion but it took almost 20 years. The most difficult subject for me was Language Arts. Writing always caused a problem, as I never knew where to start.
I only recall one teacher in my life I did not like and I knew who didn't like me, and that wasn't until I was in the process of writing my doctoral dissertation. I just decided to finish the class and deal with her the best I could and not try to aggravate the situation, if possible.
How did you come up with your teaching style?
My style is just me. I don't know if you can develop a style. Whatever is in you just comes out. I love what I do and I try to get that point across to the students. Teaching is not a job; it is what I do for fun. When it becomes a tedious job and I don't enjoy it anymore it will be time to retire.
What are some of the unique methods you use in your classroom?
I use anything to get the students involved. Sometimes it is having the students work with other groups, explaining the projects to visitors to the classroom, maintaining a checking account in class so they can "pay" for pieces they need to build robots, writing grant proposals when they run out of money, taking digital pictures of their projects, scanning, writing reports, participating in NASA projects, integrating all disciplines into the robotics projects including Art, Music, PE as well as Mathematics, Science, Language Arts and Mathematics. I feel students need to discover that all the disciplines are related. They do not exist in a vacuum to be learned in one classroom and then forgotten when they reach a new classroom. Understanding center of gravity will help the students build stable robots. Understanding Newton's Laws of Motion will also help the students to accomplish their tasks more easily. I also look to include the interests of the students in the projects.
Our projects are fun projects, building a Mars rover to cross over a Mars Landscape; designing, building and playing on our own miniature golf course; creating obstacle courses and then trying to build a vehicle to get through them; designing a "Bug" to crawl up stairs; and playing robotic basketball and soccer are only some of the unique projects we do in our class.
What classes and ages have your taught?
I have taught "Mommy and me" computer classes (with children as young as 3) to post-graduate statistics at the City University of New York. I have also taught Consumer Law at the State University of New York, Robotics at UCLA and Mathematics and Science in New York City at the middle school level.
What do you like best about teaching a middle school robotics class?
Teaching middle school robotics has been very interesting. The best thing about it is seeing how the students invent ways to solve given problems. I am always amazed by the ingenious solutions that they come up with. It shows me what wondrous ideas are floating around in their heads. Sometimes I think that they are amazed also.
What do you like best about teaching in an inner city school?
Teaching in an inner city school is the same as any other school. The students have their own needs, which must be met. Keeping the class interesting and stimulating is a major goal.
What is the composition of your typical classes?
Most of my classes are similar in composition, half boys and half girls; anywhere from 10-15% are special education students who are mainstreamed with a similar percentage of gifted students; about 80 percent of my students are limited English-speaking. The ethnic breakdown varies with the majority being Hispanic but interspersed with African-American, Armenian, Asian, as well as other minorities.
How do you teach the children with learning disabilities or who speak limited English?
I rely on many demonstrations using sheltered English techniques. In addition, I post criteria charts as well as charts demonstrating how to do all of the required tasks in the classroom. Children are encouraged to speak with one another and ask questions so peer tutoring helps in solving communication problems. There is a heavy reliance on cooperative learning. All tasks are broken down into smaller steps for easier learning and I am available the entire period and circulate through the room trying to head off small problems before they become big problems. Between the frequent reviews, repetition of instructions and constant and immediate feedback, students' work improves all the time.
What are "sheltered English techniques"?
SDAIE (Specially-Designed Academic-Instruction in English) are concepts used to "shelter" English learners from the bombardment of unfamiliar concepts and language, giving them the opportunity to progress academically as they acquire English proficiency. The techniques require no special book or separate standards. It is methodology used to deliver the lesson and make the content of the lesson more comprehensible for students whose first language is not English. They are also very effective techniques for Special Education students.
Techniques include speaking at a slightly slower rate, using realia and visuals, limiting vocabulary, checking for comprehension frequently by asking questions requiring more than a one-word response, using TPR [total physical response], facial expressions and gesturing. See http://www.csupomona.edu/~tassi/sdaie.htm
If you could make one change in the education system, what would it be, and why?
I truly believe that smaller class size is the key to better learning. I have read research that agrees and disagrees. The problem is that the research is not conducted by teachers. We spend thousands of hours in the classroom and we understand that if the class is smaller then you get to interface with the children more often. You get to know them better. You get to answer more questions. You get to delve deeper into the subject. You can show the students how to use the same facts they are learning to solve problems in many different situations. You can show them how to interpret and interpolate the information. The idea is to teach the subject and how to use the subject to learn more, not just memorize facts. In an overcrowded classroom, teaching can turn into memorizing and this is not teaching or learning.
When did you become interested in teaching robotics? What sparked your interest and how long did it take to get it into your classroom?
I first became interested in robotics after attending a professional technology conference with the League of Middle Schools. I returned from the conference and discussed what I had discovered with my principal, Mr. Furey. He immediately gave me the go ahead to write a curriculum and put it into effect in the school. He provided me the funds to use to purchase equipment to start.
Once we got started the programmed mushroomed due to the excitement of the students, teacher and administration. We received visitors from all over the United States and even Germany and Japan. As the years went by I expanded my program to its present level in which my students now build over 70 projects simultaneously. We not only build robots using printed directions but we also design, build and program our own robots to accomplish various tasks.
Today the program continues to thrive due to the tremendous support of our current principal, Mr. Maltez and our magnet coordinators Victor Gonzalez and Mary Beth Sorenson.
How did the Red Rover Goes to Mars project come about and how did it evolve into the Mars Exploration Rover Robotics Education Project (MER REP)?
From the time I began working with robotics in my classroom I had the students work on practical and exciting projects. One of the projects we did all the time was to make a Mars landscape and then try to design and build a rover to cross it. We had to deal with sand, hills and rocks just as if it was the real Mars landscape.
As I was discussing this project one day with Joe Oliver he came up with the idea of adding an image processing aspect to the project and then it developed into the project presently in use in numerous Los Angeles Schools where the students build a landscape and rover in one school and then the rover is moved to another school. Through the use of image processing and telecommunications the students take images using the visiting rover and build a scale model of the other schools landscape using images sent from their rover by the students at the other school.
By this time I was working with NASA/JPL in a project involved with the MER [Mars Exploration Rover]. Using the Red Rover Project I had started with, and combining that with the program written with Joe Oliver, I began working with Cassie Bowman and Ken Berry from NASA/JPL and with changes developed what has now become the Mars Exploration Robotics Education Program (MER REP). A detailed explanation of the program can be found on the Imagiverse website.
The goals of this project include, among others: to introduce all students to possible careers in the fields of science, mathematics, engineering; to stimulate the students thinking; to foster an interest in staying in school; and to show the students how much fun learning can be.
What piece of advice do you have for students reading this interview?
There is a solution for every problem that comes up. Sometimes the solutions are easy and obvious. Other times they are difficult and hidden, but they are there and if you try hard enough and long enough you can find them. There is an old proverb that says "No man is an island". It really should be "No person is an island". Do not think you can solve all problems by yourself and there is no reason to. Every person has their own strengths and you should use everyone's strengths to solve all problems. Working together adds a higher dimension, which makes it easier to solve problems.
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
You were put on this earth with two ends: one to think with and one to sit on. Your success in life depends on which end you use more.
- 19 August 2003
21 October 2004
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