Teacher Talks: Alba Polsley, Middle School Science Teacher

After teaching in Malawi, Colombia and the Czech Republic, Alba Polsley brought her love for science and working with children to Calhoun. Through her collaboration with colleagues and an evolving curriculum, Alba wants students in her Middle School science classes to build competency and have fun. Her best advice? “Don’t panic!”

As a teacher, you're working for the purpose of the whole community. I often develop curriculum in collaboration with other teachers and I strive to make cross-disciplinary connections.

When I first started, I collaborated with a social studies teacher and an English teacher to create curriculum around the film Race: The Power of an Illusion. We spent a month studying genetics and explored connections between genetics, social studies and language arts.

Our annual catapult project is also very interdisciplinary, and I collaborate with the woodshop teacher and the art teacher to make this a success.

If students are intimidated by the subject, the first thing that I say to them is 'don’t panic.' I have found that students have discovered a love for math and science just by taking that weight off.

I had a student who was very passionate about reading and writing, but I saw something in her and suggested she try out for Science Olympiad. She was hesitant, but I said, 'Just try it.' She participated and at the end wanted to continue the next year, and the following year. [When that happens] it feels good because it validates the hypothesis that maybe if I take a particular approach with a certain student, I can change the way they feel about a certain subject. Calhoun is a place that enables us as teachers to create a love for education.

Alba and students pose at the Science Olympiad

Everyone should have certain scientific skills by the end of Middle School, but it's all about the progress.The seventh grade science curriculum is very hands-on, and the lab work that we do allows for each individual to find what they're good at. Not everyone is good at drawing the perfect straight line for a graph or handling delicate equipment, but everyone in my class gets practice doing all of these things, allowing them to stretch themselves within and beyond their comfort zone and discover new ways to collaborate. 

Everyone should have certain scientific skills by the end of Middle School, but it's ultimately all about the progress. I want Middle Schoolers to come away from my class able to process information from a lab, organize data, use technology, and report their findings. The ability to formulate a question and look for the answer—by using either the scientific method or the engineering design process—is an invaluable skill set.

Calhoun students learn how to advocate for themselves because of the relationships that they build with their teachers. In Middle School, they also learn how to advocate for others—whether that is a group of people or a friend. They’re self-driven. They know what they want and they know what they're passionate about. I still keep in touch with my first eighth grade class and I see the impact that Calhoun has had on their lives and the great humans that they are becoming.

Teacher Talks is a series spotlighting the educators of Calhoun and their approach to progressive education.