Liz Cowan is a substitute teacher for the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB). Before becoming a teacher, Liz completed her B.Sc. at the University of Guelph and her M.Sc. at Carleton University studying biogeochemistry and carbon cycling in peatlands. She likes teaching science because it combines her love of science and lifelong learning. In her spare time, Liz likes to crochet, ride her bike and stare at clouds.”
As I completed a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in the field of environmental sciences, one of my driving goals as a teacher is to reduce the number of students—especially young girls—who think “I’m not a math person” or “I’m not a science person.” Unfortunately, teachers still hear these phrases all the time in the classroom from students who are more than capable of succeeding in STEM learning. There are renewed efforts in education to shift this mindset. For example, recent research by Jo Boaler and her youcubed team at Stanford University has shown that everyone can learn math to high levels. They emphasize that struggle and mistakes are important because they challenge your brain in a good way and that we should stop worrying about being fast in math and instead focus on developing a deeper understanding, finding patterns in space, and developing new ways of visualizing math concepts and connecting ideas.
Math can be a creative and captivating subject, as students at OCSB’s summer numeracy program have demonstrated over the past two summers. This math intervention program aims to reduce summer learning loss for K-5 students, leverage technology and home connections to develop positive attitudes in math, and increase students’ and educators’ math fluency. From a teacher’s perspective, it was incredible to see students’ increased confidence and sense of belonging as they worked at interactive math centres, participated in outdoor environmental inquiries, and collaborated on STEM-based activities such as building bridges, constructing boats that float and exploring with LEGO robotics. These types of learning experiences sparked my own passion to work in science education, so I can only hope that they will encourage more girls to choose a STEM career in the future!
Two students prepare to test how much weight their bridge can hold before collapsing.
A young student eagerly tests the capacity of her newly constructed boat.
Liz learns about LEGO robotics and how it can be incorporated in the classroom.
Liz conducting her Master's research at Mer Bleue Conservation Area.