By Colleen Bungard
Last June, Miss Candace Hisey, Bio-Med’s sophomore ELA teacher, earned the Excellence in STEM Teaching Award for her innovative integration of STEM in her classroom. The award is given yearly to a teacher in the state of Ohio who teaches STEM principles in unique and effective ways. It is funded by the Ohio STEM Learning Network (OSLN) and Battelle, a STEM solutions company that helps finance a lot of the current STEM education initiatives in Ohio. We had a chat with Miss Hisey to get the inside scoop on how she feels about receiving this award and how she comes up with her award winning teaching ideas.
Colleen Bungard: What has been the biggest perk or experience that has come out of receiving this award?
Candace Hisey: I think the coolest thing that happened was that my alma mater, Baldwin Wallace — I’m very proud of it being my alma mater, it’s just a great school — did a write-up on their alumni of note page, and I didn’t even know about it until a friend sent it to me and said, “Oh, Baldwin Wallace did an article about you!” It was kind of weird that they didn’t contact me to ask if it was ok; I don’t know how they even found out about it, but that was probably the coolest thing that came out of it, because I really love my college.
CB: How do you come up with your innovative ideas for classroom integration?
CH: There is no one particular way, but I read a lot of books. I set a 75 book-a-year goal every year. I’m a little behind right now, but I think that in that way I’m exposed to a lot of information and a solid half of the books I read have to be nonfiction. So I’ll read about different science topics, and I’ll see how they’re integrated with language concepts and so reading is a lot of it, listening to a lot of podcasts. [I] subscribe to several science and engineering newsletters that I get in my email but the biggest thing is definitely just within sophomore team; we have a constant group chat going at all times about whatever interesting things we encounter and we’ll just get into a really random conversation and almost always a project idea will come out of it … I think those conversations more than anything lead to these huge ideas that we then generally have to scale back because they become a little too big.
CB: That’s really cool, this idea that collaboration is such a great source of ideas for you guys.
CH: Absolutely! Yes, and I think that kids see our team doing it, and so they know that it’s a real skill that you actually have to use because we’re doing it visibly, every day, which helps with the buy-in.
CB: Yeah, think it’s so easy to think that stuff like this comes from a vacuum, that you have to come up with totally original ideas on your own, but that’s really not the case is it?
CH: No, it is not, and any creative people that tell you that it does are lying, because — think about it — if you were alone in a room all day and didn’t talk to anyone you would have only your thoughts, your own ideas to work from, but everybody’s ideas build off of everything else even if it’s not in your immediate surroundings. Maybe you’re an artist and you pull your ideas from one of the classical masters of a particular medium. It’s not coming out of nowhere, and I think it would help kids to be a little less stressed out when they’re not feeling very creative if they realized that it’s not this mystical thing that some people can tap into and other people can’t tap into, that it is something that anybody can access if you surround yourself with the right things and the right people.
CB: Who nominated you for the award?
CH: Miss Mino, Miss Lang, and a group of students all had to work together to fill out this very big application. They should win the award for filling out the application, I didn’t have to do anything. … I think Miss Lang kind of led the charge, and then Miss Mino went around and got some recommendations from the kids.
CB: We already kind of covered this in elaborating on one of my previous questions, but as a humanities teacher, how do you find ways to involve STEM in your classroom? Obviously, those are two pretty different subjects.
CH: I think that’s such a misconception. You look back at theses periods of really robust human exploration, not just in the humanities but in STEM fields too, look at the Renaissance. When you talk about receiving a classical education, what you mean is an integrated education. You are combining all of those subjects into one big, cohesive understanding of the world around you, and language is at the heart of all of that. You can’t do anything without language; you can’t communicate. There was a massive shift in scientific research once we developed a structure for how to published scientific research, right? Because all of a sudden we had this structure like: I’m going to write my abstract up here, and my methods under that, and my results down here. As soon as we started doing that — I don’t remember specifically when, it’s in the book we just read — but as soon as we started doing that information circulated and people could say, “Oh, in that lab over there, they did this cool thing; we’re going to do a follow-up experiment and share it with them. The sharing of information is what allows for growth, and you can’t do that without language. I honestly don’t feel like they’re that different, and I feel like the humanities, language specifically, are the foundations of STEM and that without it, those others things can’t exist.
CB: That makes a lot of sense. Did you ever consider going into a STEM field? It seems like you have quite the passion for science.
CH: Honestly, it’s one of those things where I enjoy reading about it and learning about it as an adult learner and continuing to dig into it so much I think in part because I don’t do it as my job, and it allows me a certain level of freedom to go at my own pace and read what I want to and research what I want to, so I don’t think I would make a particularly good research scientist. In part because I don’t want to be in a lab all day. In terms of my profession, I like to be around people, not that you can’t do that as a scientist, but if I were to be a researcher, you do spend a lot of time alone just doing your research. I love reading about it and I love interacting with it in those ways but I don’t think I would want to do it as a career.
CB: That’s really cool. I think a lot of kids my age are approaching that point of having to ask yourself “I like this thing; do I like it enough to make a career out of it or does it have to stay a hobby for me to continue enjoying it” in a similar way.
CH: Absolutely, and I definitely can see that. I was a very musical kid; I took lessons and all that, and for a while I definitely considered — and I think my parents were kind of pushing for, I know my voice teacher was pushing for me — to go to school for music, and I had that moment of like, “If I do this, will I still enjoy this in the same way, or is it going to become my source of stress instead of my source of joy because it will be my job.”
Wise words from someone who so clearly enjoys her job. Finding a way to integrate your interests with a career can seem near impossible, but Miss Hisey is accomplishing that quite successfully. She’s doing what she loves and doing it well, and I for one can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Interview has been edited for length