CHATHAM — For Monomoy Regional Middle School science teacher Nancy Gifford, learning isn’t just something she inspires. It’s a way of life.
“I apply for every program for science teachers that sounds interesting and fun, and jump in with both feet. I am hoping my students will learn from this and not be afraid to take risks and try new things,” she said. “I attend interesting programs every summer. Last summer, I learned about energy in Galveston and space science in Colorado. This summer, I will travel to Nebraska to learn about GMOs and soil science.”
That insatiable curiosity is one reason Gifford was named a 2019 WGBH Educator Ambassador. Together with 15 other select teachers, Gifford will work with the Boston public television station to develop and improve educational programming. She’s been collaborating with WGBH for almost a decade now.
“When I began teaching science full-time, I searched for high-quality, current, scientifically accurate videos to use in my class to help students understand difficult concepts or correct misconceptions,” she said. She stumbled upon the website which is now called PBSLearningMedia, which provides helpful video clips and materials for teachers, without charge. She recognized many of the video clips as coming from series produced in Boston.
“WGBH happens to be the STEM leader for PBS. They create lessons and resources for classroom use using clips from programs like NOVA, The American Experience and popular shows for kids like Peep in the Big, Wide World,” she said. “During the time I have been working with WGBH, I have had the opportunity to review and pilot lessons for them.” Gifford also regularly presents with station officials at state and national conferences.
The partnership has given Gifford a better understanding of how to use media in the classroom, she said.
“Students today need to be able to seek out reputable sources and analyze what they are seeing,” she said. Her work with WGBH also connected her with the Bringing the Universe to America's Classrooms project, a partnership with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that teaches earth science. “The way we teach science has changed over the years. Students are expected to conduct investigations, model phenomena, make connections, and communicate their findings,” Gifford said. “The media resources on PBSLearningMedia provide another way to teach those skills using real-world data from NASA and NOAA.”
WGBH started the Educator Ambassador program in 2018 to foster a dialogue with teachers in the state. The WGBH Education department and Ambassadors work together to develop and share educational resources for students from pre-kindergarten through high school.
Gifford, who teaches seventh grade science and middle school robotics, was named Massachusetts Science Educator of the Year for 2018; she holds a master’s degree in early childhood education and other certifications, and was the 2016 PBS Digital Innovator for Massachusetts.
“I never thought that I would be able to say that I wrote lesson plans for a NASA mission or trained with NASA scientists, but here I am,” Gifford said. “I have met an incredible network of teachers from around the world and learned so much from all of them.”
While it’s meaningful to be honored by her peers, “I am most pleased when a student yells out, ‘Oh! Now I get it!’ in class,” she said.