The Illinois Science Teachers Association chose Michael Fumagalli of Leyden High School District 212 as science teacher of the year. Donald Powers who chairs the Awards Committee for the association, noted Fumagalli’s efforts in implementing the next generation science standards in his classroom along with various outside activities. Those include developing science materials on a state level, working with the University of Illinois to improve student reading in the area of science and presenting at conferences around the state and country. Fumagalli started his career as a science teacher at District 212 in 2007. He’s taught biology, anatomy and physiology and is also head wrestling coach.
Q. Why did you decide to become a science teacher rather than pursue some other profession?
A. When I was in school, I had plans to be a doctor. My undergraduate degree was in sport medicine. I enjoyed being around kids and having an impact on kids. I taught science because at the time I decided to become a teacher, all my background was in science.
Q. You’re implementing the next generation science standards in the classroom?
A. Correct. The next generation science standards is about changing how to teach kids science so they learn it in a really meaningful way, so they have a basic level of science literacy to go into the world with. It’s very student centered learning. It’s allowing kids to understand and figure out scientific phenomena.
Q. What are the main challenges of teaching science?
A. Quite a few, especially with the next generation science standards. It requires a conceptual shift on behalf of the teacher. When you are writing these materials, you really have to think like a student. It’s very time consuming. A lot of my curriculum is written late at night, 10 or 11 p.m.
Q. Do students come into your classroom with enough of a science background to do high school level work?
A. Yes. Kids will amaze you with the way they can think and create and innovate. If we can encourage them to learn science by asking their own questions, it makes it really important for them to figure it out.
Q. Two years ago the district issues laptop computers to all 3,400 students. Has that impacted how or what you teach?
A. It has increased my student’s accessibility to our course materials exponentially. They can take the classroom anywhere they go. Also, science is changing every day. Having access to the most cutting edge research that’s out there is really powerful, especially for science.
Q. How busy are you nowadays?
A. I’ve been asked to do a lot of things. Speak at workshops, work with teachers in other districts. I was asked to teach a college-level course at Northwestern University for people learning to be science teachers. I had to turn that down because of the time commitment that wrestling requires. I’m also assistant dean this year.