This month’s winner: Angie Berk, Arcadia High School
Nominated by: Cathy Massimi
What was your path to becoming a teacher?
I’m from right in the middle of Illinois and moved here in 1980. I went to Chandler High School and then to ASU, where I got my degree in Mechanical Engineering. I worked in that field for a while and then spent time raising my children.
Engineering was never really my passion though. Science was. So, I wasn’t always happy with my job. My parents were both in education, so I was familiar with that career, and I’d spent a lot of time helping out in science classrooms when my kids were in school and I remember really liking it. I did my student teaching at Desert Mountain and taught at Chaparral for six years before coming to Arcadia.
You teach both Biology and Physics. How do you balance teaching two different subjects?
Everybody thinks it’s a weird combination, but science is science. I bring a lot of biology knowledge into physics class, and vice versa. As an example, we were learning about terminal velocity in physics and using a falcon as an example. We got to learn about how they fly from a biology standpoint, so there are fun crossovers like that.
Are there methods of teaching that you have moved away from as you became more experienced?
When I first started teaching, I made power points for everything, especially in physics. It was a new technology and everyone thought “look, animation”, you know? I had grown up with chalkboards, so it seemed cool to me! But I noticed that I didn’t get a ton of excitement with it from the students.
I was taking some modeling classes at ASU and learning about that method completely changed the way I teach. The modeling curriculum is almost Socratic in the sense that a teacher stays out of it as much as possible. You ask leading questions, but let the kids discover things.
I think science should be hands on! If I could do labs every single day, I would do it. Now obviously that’s not always possible, but I’ll always try to look at my schedule and make sure that we do labs several days each week. So instead of saying, here’s the equations, we do a lab where the students collect data, make graphs, and come up with the equations on their own. I like everything to be as hands on as possible.
What do you enjoy about teaching at Arcadia High School?
I love that Arcadia has such a community feel about it. I talk to kids whose parents, and sometimes even grandparents, went to the school. That’s rare enough, but especially in Phoenix! The kids are proud of being here, you can feel that excited vibe when you go to assemblies and games. It’s a great place to teach!