Teaching down to a science for Mountainview’s Rumbaugh

The Reporter recently caught up with Auburn Mountainview High School instructor Deborah Rumbaugh, who was awarded the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence (AASTE) earlier this year. She was one of four educators in the state recognized for her creative and effective contributions in the classroom.

The Reporter recently caught up with Auburn Mountainview High School instructor Deborah Rumbaugh, who was awarded the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence (AASTE) earlier this year. She was one of four educators in the state recognized for her creative and effective contributions in the classroom.

Rumbaugh received an unrestricted cash grant of $5,000, and the school earned a restricted grant of $5,000 to be used to develop its science program.

Q. Tell us something about you, aside from being a teacher?

A. First and foremost, I enjoy being a wife and mother. My husband, who is also a teacher at Mountainview, and I have nine children, seven of whom are teenagers. Our family is an athletic one. We enjoy basketball, track and martial arts. Three of my children and I are getting our black belts from Master Shon’s Academy next month. I am so proud of my children and all of their accomplishments. They will be great adults some day.

Q. What are the important factors behind your successful teaching methods?

A. Two things are most important to me when teaching. The first is inquiry-based science education. Students need to develop the skills to solve problems without being given the answers in advance. By combining background knowledge with new skills and understanding, kids can do amazing things in the classroom. I am so pleased to be with students from ages 14-18 who can transform bacteria with E.coli, separate DNA and proteins right in the classroom. And they do it all themselves.

Secondly, I try to give relevance to what is being taught. This includes dynamic classroom discussions, projects that ask students to question what they already know, laboratories that use technology that is used in this area of the country that is so rich in biotechnology.

Q. Explain what it is about science you want your students to fully understand and take with them for the rest of their lives?

A. I would hope that my students would know that science impacts every facet of their lives. From the medicines they take, to the cars they drive, the fuel they use, and even the foods they eat are ALL a result of science. I try to challenge students to find an area of science they feel personally invested in. Some students enjoy biotechnology, others botany, and still others gravitate toward the physical sciences. I want students to appreciate science and for some of them, to contribute to our future understanding scientific concepts.

Q. Is science drawing more interest from students today? And how do you make science an engaging subject for your students?

A. Yes, I see students

who fill their schedule with

science courses all four years of high school. Admittedly, not all students LOVE science. But a trend seems to be growing – students simply cannot fit in all the science classes they would like to take. I also have found that the female population has a particular interest in science. Girls were always labeled as “second” to boys in science and math. That is truly not the case today. In general, we find that many of our courses are so full that we are adding sections to accommodate the needs of interested students.

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges in delivering effective, creative lesson plans?

A. The biggest challenge that I face is personalizing curriculum to fit the needs of every learner. Students vary tremendously, from their home life to their academic abilities, personal motivations and classroom skills.

For me, generating creative and relevant lesson plans is not a hurdle, but getting each student to have a meaningful and academically challenging experience with that lesson is a challenge. Some students are homeless, are hungry, have problems at home, or may be at a fourth- or fifth-grade reading level. Still others may not speak English fluently, have behavioral challenges or issues with depression and loneliness.

These challenges need to be met by one teacher and in a group of 30 students, that is a tall order.

But on the bright side, these issues and challenges are a bit part of what drew me to teaching and wanting to interact with high school students in the first place. I think the key to success is a positive attitude and the willingness to endure to the end.

Q. What goals have you reached? What future goals have you made for yourself and your students?

A. My goals for myself with respect to education are to have an impact in some small way in the lives of the kids I work with. Along those lines, continuing education is a must. I have been fortunate enough to participate in the Science Education Program that allowed me to gain additional training in biotechnology and to work in the Lampe Lab at FHCRC. This lab was working to establish a diagnostic blood test for the detection of ovarian cancer. I feel incredibly privileged to have been a part of this program. Recently, I was fortunate enough to have been awarded the Science Teacher of Excellence Award for 2008. This award is sponsored by Amgen and is accompanied by a grant that is used to purchase science equipment for my department.

As far as the future is concerned, I am currently working on my National Board Professional Certificate, and will follow that experience up with a master’s degree in administration/principalship.

The goals I have for my students is for them to achieve their very best. I’d like my students to impress themselves with what they can accomplish as young adults and future leaders.

I hope that their life experiences afford them the opportunity to become good citizens and contributing members of the community.

Q. How has science changed in the high school classroom? And where do you see it going in tomorrow’s curriculum?

A. In my view, science has begun to move toward the molecular. That is, biotechnology has become available to the high school classroom that allows students to study the molecular and cellular aspects of biology in a new way. Since we live in a “hub” here in the Seattle area (SBRI, FHCRC, Amgen, etc.) students have the opportunity to see their newly learned skills in action.

I see the future of science moving in a direction to meet the needs of our global and local economy and health. I see biology answering the questions that relate to stem cell research and utilizing the human genome project to understand and treat disease.

I see chemistry and physics students solving problems that relate to global warming and alternative fuels, building cars and structures that are sensitive to the needs of our environment and attend to the issues of global pollution.

I see students in our elective courses finding areas of the environment (marine studies, environmental issues and geological understanding) that they are passionate about that will help us be better stewards of our natural resources and better global citizens.