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Featured Teacher: Amy Sheck

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Amy Sheck. Credit: V. Kirby

Amy Sheck teaches and is head of the Science Department at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM), which was founded in 1980 as the nation’s first public residential science and math high school. Her classes include Research in Biology and a seminar in Science Communication. She created outreach events to encourage girls in STEM (Lean In, Women in Science) and to promote interdisciplinary interaction with the community (TEDxNCSSM). Outside of NCSSM, she leads the NC Student Academy of Science, supporting and providing recognition for student research projects across the state. She holds a Ph.D. in Entomology from North Carolina State University.

What are you most proud of in your work?

The secret curriculum of my Research in Biology class is the emotional growth that comes from jumping into the unknown, enduring setbacks, and facing uncertainty.

What topic do you find hardest for students? How do you teach it?

It is hard for students to analyze data from their own experiments; they have to be disciplined about addressing their original hypotheses but also be open-minded to what the data are telling them. I lead them through an exploratory process of looking at their data descriptively followed by a more formal process that brings them back to their experimental design before analyzing their data statistically.  

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

Among other things, I attend the AAAS Annual Meeting! As director of the North Carolina Student Academy of Science, I travel each year with a group of high school researchers to the AAAS meeting where they present their posters, attend talks, and meet students from other states. I bring the latest science into the classroom by holding a weekly ‘journal club’ with my research students. We start by reading and discussing the Science Times section of the New York Times and work our way up to reading the primary scientific literature.

Share a resource that you’ve used in the classroom that really excited your students. What makes it most compelling?

I was very excited that a former student of mine published a research paper on genetic adaptations in a human population of sea nomads. It includes a video and graphical abstract that makes accessible what would otherwise be a complex and intimidating paper. This is compelling for several reasons: first, the connection to an adventurous alumna from our school; second, high school students love to learn about the human body; and third, the international travel, language learning, and diving that my former student accomplished as part of the project.

Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.

I enjoy long-distance hiking, which started with the Appalachian Trail many years ago. Currently, I am walking the 600-mile Southwest Coast Path in England — that will take me four years to complete. It’s a wonderful way to spend time outside, meet people, and get to know a landscape.