Tino Vo on the right with two other people.
Feb. 6, 2024

A million dollars is a lot of money, and Adjoa Mensah and Mayra Marquez-Mendez are determined to make the most out of every penny.

The two experienced teachers-turned doctoral students stepped up, helping Assistant Professor Tina Vo and Associate Professor Erica Marti,on a new endeavor funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Scholarship Program.

Adjoa and Mayra’s value and dedication to improving the landscape of science education was proven on Dr. Vo’s previous projects. “Adjoa and Mayra brought a really great perspective. They could anticipate the needs of teachers in a way that somebody who hasn't been in the classroom for a long time or spent very little time in the classroom can’t.” 

Teaching with Tech

Adjoa is enthusiastic about the role she plays in investigating the intersection of technology and science education. Her journey into the world of education research began with a desire to help Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board teachers understand how to leverage technology in their classrooms. While teaching eighth grade, Adjoa found herself asking questions about the tech teachers were using. "Why this tool? Why not that one?" Her curiosity has since steered her toward a path of educational research that has become invaluable to the team.

After completing her master's and lengthy teaching career overseas, Adjoa realized that her calling extended beyond the classroom. Her desire to contribute to the development of effective teaching practices while using tech. "I knew I had more to contribute to teachers," she shared. Now, as a research assistant on the grant project, she focuses on understanding where teachers stand with technology integration. She aims to empower teachers to use technology effectively, making a meaningful impact on how they prepare to deliver science education curriculum.

Methods, Mentorship, and Motivation

Mayra’s expertise in mentorship and self-determination theory developed during her journey from a second-grade teacher to an educational psychology student.  Her commitment to understanding and enhancing positive motivation for educators’ continued improvement.  Her goal is to support teachers directly, helping them improve their teaching methods and approaches.

Only five years into her career, she recognized the gaps in teacher preparation programs. "I wanted to dive into how post-secondary school and teacher prep programs were teaching our teachers to teach," she explains.

Mayra also understands the challenges teachers face. Her work on mentorship and self-determination theory aims to unravel the intricacies of teacher support systems. She highlights tha "the types of support we provide teachers will impact their motivation." Her findings may pave the way for more effective support systems, ensuring teachers are excited and motivated to teach.

Practical Applications + Motivational Mojo = Excited Educators

Adjoa and Mayra's collaboration on the Investigating the Impact of a District-Wide Implementation of Science Curricula project is characterized by a commitment to providing teachers with a seamless professional development experience while supporting faculty research. The grant project seeks to understand how Clark County School District teachers, using Amplify Science curriculum, can engage with their customizable science curriculum software to meet student needs. The team also collaborates with teacher leaders and district representatives to support more than 100 teachers using high-leveraging science instructional routines.  

Adjoa's focus on technology integration expertise ensures that teachers' uses of technology are not overlooked. By understanding where teachers currently stand with technology, she hopes to empower all educators to use the tools they have available for the benefit of themselves and their students.

Mayra's work on mentorship and self-determination theory brings a nuanced perspective to the project. By examining the support systems that teachers seek and receive, she aims to uncover the elements that truly motivate and excite educators, including financial compensation. “If a teacher participates in a [professional development event] in the summer and they know they’ll be compensated fairly for their commitment to professional growth, they’ll be motivated to continually participate.” She wants teachers to look forward to growth opportunities, viewing them not as a checklist item, but as an exciting opportunity to learn how to better engage students.

Making a Big Bang in Science Education

As the project unfolds over its three-year timeline, Adjoa and Mayra's contributions are set to leave a lasting impact. Their work aligns with a broader mission—to retain highly effective science teachers within a high-needs district. By addressing the nuanced needs of educators, they aim to foster a community where science teaches a source of inspiration, as well as a career.

 

by Kia Cummings