Faculty Spotlight – Taking STEM Education to a New Level at UC Online

Dr. Andrew Bernier joined the University of Cincinnati’s School of Education as a Visiting Assistant Professor for the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction. His activities at UC will be dedicated to empowering Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education across the Master’s program and the Graduate Certificate in STEM Teaching and Learning. We talked about his previous and current roles, the importance of STEM Education today, his students, and his hobbies outside the classroom.

Q: What were your previous roles before joining the University of Cincinnati?

Most recently, I served as an editorial manager for an afterschool youth non-profit. I managed two locations in the Greater Phoenix area in Arizona. For the last 12 years, I oversaw the direction and development of curriculum for helping with STEM development, particularly with media technologies, to teach media technology to at-risk youth and underserved neighborhoods. I also managed grants to help teams facilitate discussions regarding issues such as bullying and teen violence.

My Ph.D. is in Sustainability Education from Prescott College. I graduated in 2015. I held a post-doc with the Walton Sustainable Solutions Services at Arizona State University, where is also where I got my Master’s in Secondary Education.

My previous roles are all rooted in classroom teaching. I bring all my leadership, I served on boards, I’ve done consulting and almost all of my frame of reference when it comes to helping people with messaging, and with organizational design and with education design comes from my six years serving as a classroom teacher. That is always where I come back to, that is where my career is rooted.

Q: What is the importance of STEM education nowadays?

I don’t disagree with seeing STEM education at school as a means to an end, for students to be ready for STEM careers and fields. However, as we’re seeing from the pandemic, and how a lot of the pandemic has dragged on, is because there is essentially a STEM illiteracy within our general populace and within our citizenry.

So, it’s not even so much for the pursuit of being a scientist, an engineer, or someone from these fields that STEM is prevalent in, but basically all persons, all citizens, need to have a robust level of STEM literacy when something, in this case of biological nature like a pandemic comes over, a lot of people will have a much better time grappling with the information and then also hearing information coming from scientists and health directors. That’s a new, greater imperative.

And the other greater imperative within the educational context is what the pandemic has done to education. In terms of much more virtual learning, much more digital learning, and that is where the landscape is going anyway.

There needs to be a healthy combination of direct instruction from teachers, empowering teachers for them to become more scientifically literate. But also, allowing students to be more what we call “prosumer” is in the digital landscape. Not only are they consuming digital media but they themselves are producing it as well.

So that way there is a greater audience, there’s greater interactivity with the general public to help share what students are learning so that students understand that this is not just for a grade, this is for a complete expression as to what I am learning and how to help continue broadening scientific engagement.

Q: How do you see these changes playing out in your current role?

I was attracted to the position for the opportunity to redesign the University of Cincinnati’s STEM certificate program. How is it that we are empowering our in-service Master’s teachers to take STEM to a new level? That starts with our intent of design, when it comes to curriculum design and instruction.

If we are trying to empower teachers to perceive STEM as a career path, that’s what’s going to trickle down to students and that’s how science is going to be perceived as. Whereas if we can start positioning it as a tool for greater citizenry engagement and scientific literacy as far as the public goes, and how STEM is injected into all fields of study. This includes physical education teacher, a language and arts teacher, a music teacher, let alone math and science teachers. We get to broaden the picture and expand what the role of STEM is.

Our aim is to help expand the teacher’s capacity for their instructional methods to heighten creativity. They are so many digital tools out there – a lot of them for free. We can integrate into digital and in-person landscape. We need to have a more resilient and flexible educational landscape that where we can pivot and adjust our instructional offerings much more smoothly than what the pandemic has shown.

Q: How can teachers integrate digital technologies while teaching STEM subjects?

During my initial teaching years, I had the opportunity to work with an under-resourced school and I had to be incredibly resourceful when it came to what my students were using, to make sure my students got the knowledge they needed. And that was trying to do a lot more integration of the technology students already had, such as their phones.

I also integrated the school campus, trying to make field observations outside. So, for me, it’s important not to be dependent on stuff in the classroom. If it is available to you as a teacher, utilize it and integrate it into your curriculum, but that is not consistent. We need to be able to empower teachers to look at what they have in front of them, be it a lot or a little, and know that they can design something that empowers their students to get the learning objective across.

Q: What is the greatest challenge while teaching STEM subjects online?

The thing I love about interpersonal instruction, with teachers and adult learners, are the really robust conversations that we have. A lot of times that setting allows for an interesting discussion. That I miss within in-class settings. In zoom meetings, things can get a little bit clunky, although we’re getting more comfortable in those settings and some organic conversations are emerging. There are tradeoffs for both, but I think being able to bounce utilize and balance both settings is ideal.

Q: What do you hope students learn from you?

Obviously, I take teaching very seriously, but what gets me through that is humor and humility. I think humans, particularly humans that are learning, can be a very fun, goofy thing. I really try to not have teachers take the stuff too seriously.

Take younger learners. They a hundred percent sponges. If there is pressure to get everything right all the time, because there is an assumption that there is a right and a wrong in education, we could get a massive sense of failure and let down. The students feel that, and it can then reflect on their perceptions of education for the rest of their lives.

However, if we have a lighthearted approach and a love of learning that embraces failure, that embraces errors, we can create some of that flexibility and humility when it comes to how is it that we prepare our educators and how they then prepare their students.

This is incredibly serious work, but when you work with people with some lightheartedness and humor, they work as battery regenerators and they help to alleviate the burnout and the constant pressure. Having good and appropriate jokes is what allows people to come back the next day to fight the good fight for educational equity.

Q: What advice would you give to future School of Education students?

As I got more comfortable on my own skin as an educator, I started to share more “me”, to a responsible extent, with my students. I’m able to help them work through things, but I’m also able to have friendly conversations with them. So, don’t leave yourself at home when you go to work.

There’s a teacher-student professional relationship that has to be honored, but students are looking for mentors and leaders. They should be able to have personal relatability with teachers and mentors and not just have a stone face education transaction person. Let your personality shine, all while having fun and humility as well.

Q: What hobbies do you enjoy outside the classroom?

I love the outdoors; I love to be outside all day and to hike, to run, to bike, to sit by a river. And I also enjoy landscape photography, I love taking pictures of the outdoors.

I used to be really into improv comedy. I was in several improv groups. That is why I bring the humor and humility up. I think improvisation is a skill that is invaluable to teachers. I highly recommend any teacher to take several improv classes. If I had not taken those classes I probably would not be as effective as a teacher.

 

>> Learn more about the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction program.

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