Featured #MSUrbanSTEM Sustainability Fellow: Al Lang

Sustainability Fellow: Al Lang

Bio: Al Lang is a 7th grade science teacher at Armstrong school, a large elementary school on Chicago’s north side.  This is only the second school he has worked in, and Al enjoys every day there. His goal is to become more prescriptive in his teaching, while raising student engagement and interaction with the curriculum.


Why Do a T and an E Matter?

My goal this year is to be a STEM teacher.  You know, a teacher who integrates science with technology, engineering, and math.  A few years ago I was humming away at STEM education.  I was wrapped up in the MSUrban STEM program.  I was inspired to push the envelope in my classroom, because I found validation in my efforts from my instructors and the teachers in my cohort.  At school I had access to a cart full of Chromebooks, and a cart full of laptops.  No one was using technology, so I had free reign,  I really enjoyed the changes in my teaching practice, and so did my students.  My paper use went down to nearly nothing.  I was giving reams of paper away.  I had little use for it, as I pushed myself to find new ways to eliminate paper.  Of course a few teachers on my team started to take notice.  I was pleased to share Ideas, and help them integrate some technology into their practices.  Of course in time I found myself scrambling to get technology, as more teachers needed the Chromebooks, and the laptops continued on the slow decline into old age.  Pretty soon I started feeling like a SEM teacher, as I had less and less access to my beloved Chromebooks.  It was more difficult to find computers to use, than it was to figure out how to use them in a purposeful way,  Still the integration of science, engineering, and math is a pretty good place to be.

Last year was even more difficult.  I found myself working harder on integrating science and math.  I know it’s a natural fit, but I really wanted to make it meaningful.  I had many hits, and a few misses.  Often I spent a majority of lab time teaching or strengthening the skills the students needed to understand the math.  After a while, it was looking like I needed to step back on engineering, and concentrate on just the science and math.  More so around test time, as we all try to focus the students on success.  So there I was, an SM teacher.  Not a bad thing, but I was missing technology, and I like working with my hands, so no time for engineering was getting on my nerves as well.  Don’t worry, I won’t give up any more letters, from my STEM teaching.  In fact this year I am reclaiming the two I lost.  It took a little effort, and some solid research, but I was able to get myself back on track.  I created a shared calendar so I get chromebooks every other week.  I use my off week to do pre-lab teaching, work on math skills, and spend time with experimental design.  This helps make our on week more efficient.  Some materials pulled from old science kits and a little creativity is helping with the engineering, and we seem to have plenty of old materials to pull from.  I feel like I’ve got my groove back in the classroom.  With the first quarter nearly over, we’ve made much progress.  Slow and steady wins the prize, but I only have eight more months with these students, so I need to keep the pace up.