Featured Teacher: Michael Frank

Michael Frank. Credit: Shaun Roby.

Michael Frank is the Science Instructional Team Lead at Empire High School near Tucson, Arizona. His primary classes are biology and physics, though he has taught almost every other science class at one time or another. He is in his 16th year of teaching, sponsors the Science Olympiad team, and has won awards including Arizona’s Teacher of the Year and a Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. Empire is one of the top high schools in the state and is known for pioneering the use of laptops instead of textbooks.

Did you always want to teach?

I am a fifth-generation teacher, and perhaps because of that I initially avoided a career in education. Instead I started on a research track at the University of Illinois and earned a PhD in Biology at the University of Denver. During that graduate work I did a lot of teaching and discovered that while I liked research, I really loved teaching. After two post-doctoral research positions, and some teaching experience at several colleges, I decided to move to teaching high school since there was a real need for science teachers with research experience.

What you do to remain current and bring the latest science into the classroom?

I do a lot of reading, and through the Partners in Science Program, I formed a collaboration with Dr. Mark Beilstein at the University of Arizona. I get to spend my summers working on telomerase and lncRNAs, and during the school year Mark and his group work with my students and involve them in their research. The students gain a much better understanding of what the academic research environment is like.

What are you most proud of in your work?

I am very proud of the fact that many of my students say they are going into a STEM field because of the experiences I helped them have. I am also very proud of the science program I have helped build at Empire High School and having helped strengthen science education across our district.

What fuels your passion for science and teaching?

First, seeing the face of a student who has just understood a complex topic, or realizes that they actually like science. Second, hearing from students who let me know they are doing well in college because of the foundation I have been able to give them, or have even pursued a STEM career because of my classes or science club.

Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.

I’ve been a homebrewer for a long time. I first learned brewing as a special “lab” during a yeast molecular biology course. I also do some photography and build furniture.

 

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