SUSAN PRITCHARD, Ph.D.
• Students should own their knowledge, continually building a foundation of science literacy.
• Base everything on research. Always question a new approach and ask to see what research has shown.
• Group students by gender in math and science classes so that the girls don't acquiesce to the boys.
City of residence: Crestline
Family: Husband Mike, four dogs
School: Washington Middle School, La Habra
Subject: Eighth-grade science, Project Lead the Way
Years in the classroom: 26 at Washington Middle School; more than 30 years total
Quote: "I'm trying to be the Johnny Appleseed of STEM so that I can spread STEM across the country."
As the eighth-graders struggle to float corks in the center of glass jars of water, the hubbub of their deliberations is muted against a background of baroque music.
Why the music? Because teacher Susan Pritchard's research showed her students learn better when baroque melodies are played.
Pritchard takes research seriously – both the data that helps her plan her classes and the discoveries her students make during lab exercises.
Pritchard herself is a conspicuous sight in her tie-dyed, striped lab coat, atom-shaped earrings dangling from her earlobes. Her coat lapels sport buttons with sayings such as, “Science is about asking questions.”
She visits each group, urging students to be persistent because the buoyancy lab is tough – it takes on average 16 tries to balance the corks.
“She's way different than other, normal, teachers,” said eighth-grader Reginald Dequit, 13.
Pritchard adds her own melodies to the mix, writing songs and scheduling hands-on experiments to help students develop more than a theoretical grasp of scientific concepts.
“I really believe my students need to own it,” Pritchard said. “They have to have a constant continual foundation building of science literacy.”
FINDING HER PASSION
Pritchard teaches an engineering elective using curriculum developed by the nonprofit organization Lead the Way. She fought district budget restraints for three years to bring the class to Washington Middle School in La Habra.
“Research shows that if you introduce students in the middle school age to different opportunities, oftentimes they will find something that strikes their passion,” Pritchard said.