Julianne Davis Kleinknecht '09

As a new 8th grade science teacher in New Jersey, I teach physical and life science, including topics on ecosystems and the interconnectedness of organisms and their environment.  I especially enjoy this content because it draws on the knowledge and experiences I gained in Princeton as an environmental engineering major.  One such experience was the summer after my freshman year.  MAE professor Wole Soboyejo sent me to Mpala Research Center in Kenya to conduct science experiments.  While there, he requested that I teach an afterschool science curriculum at two separate primary schools in the area, one in the research center itself, and one nearby in Lekiji.  What began as a requirement developed into a highlight of the trip.  I collaborated with scientific researchers and Kenyan educators to develop a curriculum that emphasized environmental conservation, was culturally relevant and sensitive, and transcended the language barrier.  This ignited my interest in teaching, and upon returning to Princeton in the fall, I enrolled in the teacher preparation program. 

 2013-14 is my first year teaching 8th grade science, so I have been developing units as the year progresses. I am fortunate to work with another 8th grade science teacher who is also new this year.  The two of us sit together during our lunch breaks and after school and pour over textbooks, science magazines, and online resources, trying to breathe life into our lessons.  I already incorporate as much of my international experiences as possible into my lessons, because it captures the students’ attention and curiosity.  My walls have posters from a farm fair I attended in Tanzania, displaying creatures from the national parks.  The first day of school my students saw the posters and began questioning me: “Where is that?  What animal is that? What does it eat?”  The lesson began before I even introduced myself!  

I helped to revise the Mpala Live Curriculum for U.S. teachers during the summer of 2014. In the fall of 2014, I returned to my 8th grade science in New Jersey.  Our first unit is "How to Think Like a Scientist," which includes using observations to make inferences, differentiating between quantitative and qualitative observations, and the scientific method.  I have been using the Mpala Live! website extensively and the students love it.  Yesterday I showed the Elephant Crossroads video and students had to pick out Sandy's quantitative and qualitative observations, as well as the question he was exploring and his plan to answer it.  We have been viewing the live cams regularly, except my last 2 classes are too late to catch the live feed and so they watch the animal clips that were previously recorded.  Today they are brainstorming testable questions based on what they have observed at Mpala, and tomorrow they will begin to make a plan to investigate their questions. 

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