Elizabeth Barrett-Zahn is a science facilitator at Columbus Elementary School in New Rochelle, New York, where she works with all K-5 students and provides professional development for teachers on implementing the Next Generation Science Standards in the elementary classroom. Barrett-Zahn has traveled to Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan through international teaching programs with Columbia University and Mercy College. This summer she collaborated with a primary school in Hai Phong City, Vietnam, as a recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Short-Term Grant.
Question 1: What fuels your passion for science and teaching?
The kids! I love to take students on a path of wonder, inquiry, and discovery in science. Nothing is more rewarding than literally seeing the “light bulb” reaction of a young student and knowing that they have acquired a deeper understanding or made an important connection. I am also quite fond of challenging my own learning boundaries. This has lead to spending two summers working in a Tree Ring Lab at Columbia University, two more summers teaching STEM Academies in Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as speaking about the importance of elementary science at regional and national conferences.
Question 2: In three words, what would your students say they learned from you?
When a student wants an answer, I usually ask them "What do you think?" Sorry, it's four words.
Question 3: Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?
I come from a three-generation teaching family so I had some apprehension, at first, about entering the family business. Yet at one of those pivotal moments in life I realized that I love learning, sharing knowledge, and the joy and challenges that children offer. So once chosen as a career path, I have never looked back and have found the experience more rewarding and exciting than ever.
Question 4: What are you most proud of in your work?
I am most proud of carving out a place for science education in our district with an emphasis on critical thinking, wonder, and hands-on problem solving. All students can make observations, solve problems, and use evidence to support their thinking. I take great pride in recognizing and honoring our non-conformists; those “out-of-the-box” thinkers. Creating that strong educational base for our future scientists and engineers keeps me energized. Finding opportunities to support and challenge teachers to infuse science into their classrooms is also an ongoing goal.
Question 5: Read a book you are dying to tell your peers about?
I am re-reading Creating Cultures of Thinking by Ron Ritchhart for the third time! It’s truly transformative as it identifies and guides our own role in creating the learning culture within our classroom walls. A great book for book club discussion groups!
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