Hayden teacher ‘launches’ algebraic physics class that engages students | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden teacher ‘launches’ algebraic physics class that engages students

You’re never too old to learn

Veteran Hayden science teacher Robin Bush went back to summer school herself to learn a new algebra-driven physics course that motivates her students and makes virtually all of them feel smarter than they did before taking the class.

HAYDEN — Hayden middle and high school teacher Robin Bush understands how to make the algebraic equations that describe the dynamic world fun for the teenagers in her school.

This week's lesson plan for the ninth graders involves water rockets, sometimes known as stomp rockets, to make kinematic equations come alive.

"We'll be shooting off water rockets," Bush said. "They'll take this equation and use what they know to calculate how fast their rocket was traveling (velocity) when it was launched, by measuring the time it takes to go up and back."

Not all of her students learn to love science and math, Bush acknowledged, but she's confident that all of them benefit from an increase in self esteem as a result of taking her classes.

"I always get a few who love physics, and the majority of kids who leave my class feel like they're smart. And that's my bigger goal," Bush said.

Bush, who grew up in Steamboat Springs and attended public school here before becoming a teacher in Steamboat herself, is now in her 19th year of teaching in the Hayden School District.

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"Really, my background is in biology," Bush said, "but when the district asked me to move up to the middle and high school, I inherited eighth- and ninth-grade physical science."

She quickly determined she didn't care for the existing textbooks.

"My first year, I was bored, but I muddled through it," Bush recalls.

Realizing that if she wasn't inspired by the curriculum, she couldn't expect her students to embrace  STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — classes, Bush began looking for alternatives.

"My greater struggle was finding materials I thought were relevant and interesting," she said.

Eventually, she discovered the nonprofit New Jersey Center for Teaching & Learning, which seeks to address the nation's shortage of STEM teachers through teacher training as well as open source, or free, curricula.

The program is devoted to making certain that every student, regardless of how quickly they catch on, can fulfill their potential. It also emphasizes students working in small groups to explore a topic with their peers. It takes advantage of the students’ natural inclination to be highly social, Bush said. 

"I loved it from the get-go," Bush said of the New Jersey Center approach. "It's developed by the best science and math teachers in the country. I just jumped in, and asked my principal Gina Zabel, 'Can I try this?'"

For Bush, it meant she would have to commit to going to online school.

"The first year, I had to get trained in physics myself,"  she said. "This is what  really inspired me to do this. That physics class was the hardest I've ever taken. I knew, two weeks in, I wouldn't have a summer. I had to work really hard."

However, the course also gave the devoted Hayden teacher a personal boost.

"When I got it, I felt smarter than I had in a long time," Bush said, "and this is my 29th year of teaching."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

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