2021 California Science Education Conference

Future Science Teacher Award: Norman Alvarez

Norman Alvarez

What inspired you to pursue science education as a career?
I feel like this question can be answered by many experiences. For starters, I remember being in my middle school math and science classes, always participating, always engaged. Whenever my friends needed help, I loved explaining the material. It felt good knowing that my small gestures were contributing to my friends’ academic success. They would call me “Professor Norman.” I really liked that nickname. As the years went on, the moniker faded away, but my interest in teaching continued to grow.

I think that the ability to help others in my community is what inspired me. I feel great joy being able to contribute to people’s well-being in any way possible; I just so happen to do my part through education.

Years later during my undergrad, I found familiarity in the UC Davis CalTeach Mathematics and Science Teaching Program, which would spearhead my journey to becoming a science educator. Combining my love for science and working with students, an internship through CalTeach/MAST allowed me to solidify my passion and investment in students’ academic success and pursue a career in science education.

Why are you passionate about science education?
Science is about curiosity, and as a little boy, I remember being curious about the world around me. “What is this water coming from the sky? Why did the ladybugs eat the plant house we made them? Can I blow a bubble that doesn’t pop?” And after asking my parents these kinds of questions, I learned new things, even if I didn’t want to believe their answers.

Science and math just always felt natural to me. They were my better subjects in school anyways, so I always looked forward to taking those classes. The Kindergarten lesson on primary colors where we mixed different colored waters together was magic to me. In middle school, we made volcanoes and I used a different method to make it blow up (instead of the usual Coca-Cola and mentos trick). I felt smart being the only student in my class to make it ‘erupt’ in a different way. Even in high school, we got to dissect frogs. I felt like the doctors from Grey’s Anatomy. As I reminisce on the fun times I had in science class, I remember the things they all have in common: they gave me joy, I was learning about the world around me and it sparked my curiosity.

I am passionate about science education because I had a lot of fun in my science classes and now I want to pass that along. I enjoy helping others, so why not help my community with a subject that I love? Through science education, I have the potential to contribute to students’ first impression of the science field. I can introduce students to a new world of learning and maybe a science career/path one day. I have the opportunity to pique their interest and curiosity in science, which is an amazing feeling.

What do you hope to accomplish in the next 5 years?
I hope to be a great science teacher. I want to be able to get my students excited about science and connect them to the field. But most importantly, I hope to be a great social justice educator. I hope that throughout the next few years, I can build community within my school, a place where students feel supported, acknowledged, and respected. I hope to create those strong student-teacher relationships and be known as a teacher who wishes his students the best in everything they do—a teacher who puts students first.

How did your experience as an intern in multiple classrooms with UC Davis CalTeach/MAST program, the UC Davis COSMOS program, and the UC Davis Young Scholars program help prepare you for the future?
All three programs solidified my passion for teaching and working with students. During my CalTeach/MAST internships, I got to observe amazing mentor teachers, lead short lessons, and contribute to student learning. I was also able to experience what a high school science classroom looks and feels like from a teacher's perspective. My internships in the classroom allowed me to prepare for my current student teaching position in UCLA’s Teacher Education Program, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

With COSMOS, I learned more about supporting students. Even though the year I participated as a teaching intern was all via Zoom, I was tasked to run virtual social events and act as the bridge between the students and professors since that can be intimidating at times. Nonetheless, this experience helped me think on my feet and find non-traditional support systems that could truly aid students in creating virtual friendships and feel comfortable speaking their mind.

With the Young Scholars Program (YSP), I learned about community. During the summer, we had the opportunity to be counselors for our designated student teams where we did weekly check-ins, “office hours”, SEL activities, etc. We were also involved in creating student social events, and acted as campus resources. In the span of 6 weeks, we got to build relational trust with our students which helped us as counselors hone our teaching skills.

What does this award mean to you?
The award means so much to me. It makes me feel noticed— that all of my contributions to the STEM field are being recognized— and I just can’t thank you enough for the opportunity to share my story.

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