First and foremost, Cristina Veresan describes herself as a teacher of students, not of science. Her belief -- that students must develop creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills -- could be applied to any subject matter. It just so happens that STEM is her field and it is in those disciplines that Cristina works to engage her students in experiential and project-based learning experiences.
After graduating from UVEI in 2006, it took only a few years for Cristina’s talents to be recognized. As a science teacher, department chair and science fair coordinator in Port St. Lucie, Florida, she was named St. Lucie County Teacher of the Year. As her career progressed and she moved to Hawaii, Cristina sought out new experiences to enhance her professional practice. In 2014, she was selected as one of 25 nationally-selected educators to become a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, which gave her the opportunity to travel to the Arctic, and she was also chosen as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher-at-Sea. In 2015, Cristina was named an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow and moved to Washington, DC, where she worked with Senator Al Franken to advance his K-12 postsecondary education priorities.
Today, Cristina is back in the classroom at Le Jardin Academy in Kailua, Hawaii, teaching sixth and seventh grade integrated science courses at the K-12 International Baccalaureate School “In my classroom, students are doing science; hands-on activities and experiments require students to employ scientific methods and use appropriate tools and technology to solve problems or test hypotheses,” Cristina says.
In an interview with Cristina, we asked a number of questions about her teaching practice. Here, in synopsis, are her responses:
What principles and practices guide your work?
Students are not empty vessels to be filled; great teaching is not so much espousing knowledge but exposing it. I encourage classroom interaction to unfold organically, and am always willing to clarify misconceptions or invite student discussion. Empowering students as scientific thinkers begins and ends with an inquiry-based classroom environment that requires students to ask salient questions, to provide evidence, and to take responsible risks. Most importantly, I encourage an open feedback loop with students, so I can continually refine my practice to meet student needs.
How do you motivate students?
I try to motivate students by presenting real-life case studies and connecting concepts to students’ daily lives. One of my greatest motivators has been to get students outside to explore their world. In Florida and then in Hawaii, I have facilitated sustained programs of fieldwork. I believe that experiential learning, rooted in local ecology, engages student senses, enriches science content and encourages environmental stewardship.
Do you see science education moving in a particular direction?
It's an exciting time for science education. There are many initiatives for expanding access to computer science and giving all students the opportunity to try coding. With the Next Generation Science Standards, there's also more emphasis on engineering and the process of design. I think these changes could have a tremendous impact on science education and help diversify STEM fields. In my teaching practice, I encourage all my students to see themselves as scientists and I provide experiences to build their confidence. And even if students do not pursue a career in STEM, there's no doubt that scientific literacy is essential for life and citizenship.
You can learn more about Cristina and her work at www.veresan.com
Photo: Cristina Veresan with her students at Star of the Sea School in Honolulu