Tuesday, November 29, 2016

JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year

            We recently had the pleasure of having Sonia Faletti, the first recipient of the James Madison University High School Physics Teacher of the Year Award, visit JMU. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation about her background, her journey to teaching high school physics, her interests, and the exciting ways in which she inspires the future generations of scientists.
            Mrs. Faletti currently works at Bishop Ireton High School, though when she was a student at Stanford she initially studied math and computer science. After switching to physics, Sonia Faletti worked as a TA in a lab and realized that she liked teaching. Mrs. Faletti started off teaching kindergarten, and enjoyed how hands-on it was. However, she decided that a classroom full of five year-old children was not where she wanted to be. Upon moving from California to Virginia, Mrs. Faletti decided she wanted to switch to high school. She got a job at Bishop Ireton High School and said it was "like coming home".
            Mrs. Faletti engages her students with different activities and demonstrations, from pulling out a tablecloth from underneath plates, etc., to playing with roller-skates in class. As she explained, "any day with a lab in it is a good day". Having her Master's in Physics Education from the University of Virginia,  she thinks that labs, simulations, peer reviews, and other activities are better for promoting learning than lecturing.
            Still, not all activities are created equal, and Mrs. Faletti has her own favorite labs. She explained that one of her favorite labs is finding the terminal velocity of coffee filters. Mrs. Faletti also likes having students do projectile motion with a tennis ball launcher, though. As far as the students go, Mrs. Falleti thinks they enjoy the trip to 6 Flags to do physics, either using analog accelerometers or an app on their phones called "graphical analysis" by Vernier. Mrs. Faletti has even used the app to graph the acceleration of the elevator in the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France!
            While talking about Bishop Ireton High School, Mrs. Faletti explained that all of the students are required to take physics classes, but she only teaches the honor classes. Some of her previous students have since majored in physics, some have gone pre-med., and some have studied engineering. Mrs. Faletti said that she actually hopes to teach an engineering class next year. Mrs. Faletti currently teaches two classes emphasizing climate change physics, which she explained is both an energy issue and a justice issue. Part of the class focuses on different ways to produce electricity, and the responsibility of first-world countries to act against climate change.
            Outside of the classroom, Mrs. Faletti is still extremely excited about different "science projects". Currently, she is building a 3D printer with her son using 3D printed parts. Mrs. Faletti is also looking forward to seeing the solar eclipse next August, and hopes it will interest more people in science.