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Fire and Math: North Dakota Teacher Combines Two Passions in Chemistry Classes


As a teenager, Shaina Eagleson’s algebra classmates formed a line at her desk and the teacher’s desk to ask homework questions.

“After that, I knew I wanted to teach,” says Eagleson, a chemistry teacher at Sheyenne High School in West Fargo, North Dakota, and NMSI’s Teacher of the Month for August, adding, “I love chemistry, but I love teaching more. I love watching students when they have that ‘a-ha’ moment and being able to create relationships and mentor, as well.”

The Sheyenne teacher says she enjoys chemistry because it’s a science she can approach in a mathematical way, which fulfills the love of algebra she discovered while growing up in North Dakota. Plus, in chemistry, there’s fire, which her students have used for various experiments, including figuring out how many calories are in a cheese ball snack. Many students were surprised their results weren’t accurate – a lesson in the scientific method.

“Science experiments can eliminate errors,” Eagleson says. “When reading about science experiments, you may not realize that there’s a lot that goes into figuring out the correct answer. I teach my students how to figure out what types of errors can occur and to think about what it means to know when it’s valid.”

Multicultural Environment
Along with Eagleson’s role teaching standard and Advanced Placement® chemistry, she also has taught science for English language learners. Eagleson used games, quizzes and hands-on activities she found online to help reinforce the concepts and increase students’ science vocabulary.

_h____.jpg“It was a fun experience because we had many different cultures in one class,” she says. “Sometimes, students from the same area and language would help each other out. It was fun to get to know people that had experienced different things than I had.”

Nontraditional Classroom
In Eagleson’s chemistry classes, she’s incorporated a flipped classroom concept, in which students experience personalized, self-paced learning. Through this method, Amanda Henry, Sheyenne assistant principal, says Eagleson’s students have “excelled in her class and are developing the skills necessary to become lifelong learners. Her instruction is rigorous, and students rise to her expectations.”

Students manage their time in the flipped classroom, figuring out what they want to work on and how fast or slow they will go through the materials. “With this idea, it helps them in college because in college, a professor gives you a syllabus, and you need to decide when and if you do the homework,” Eagleson says.

The biggest challenge to this self-paced format? Parents.

“They grew up with the teacher lecturing and don’t realize that when you put the learning more on students, it gives kids time to help answer all their questions, and I can spend more time with those that need help,” Eagleson says.

Continuing the scientific process, the teacher adds, “With parents, I give them data on how my method increases students’ understanding as well as their grades. With students, I consistently watch what they’re doing to see a mistake and go after it instead of waiting for them to ask. In advisory periods, I can request students come to me two times a week to give them extra help or have them work with other students.”

Professional Development
While helping students with independent learning, Eagleson also values her personal growth. One way she’s done that is by attending all the available NMSI trainings, including Laying the Foundation, and receiving support from NMSI mentor Lisa McGaw, a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, who Eagleson says has been a great resource.

“If I had any questions, I could contact her,” Eagleson says. “I also learned of others [at NMSI] that I could contact if I have a question about an activity – lots of people I can talk with,” Eagleson says. “I’ve used a lot of the NMSI hands-on labs and information on how to increase critical thinking. I mesh the labs I’ve used in the past with things NMSI offers to make it more successful.”

A NMSI lab Eagleson found helpful is on thermodynamics since she didn’t have any content on this subject. One part of the lab includes lighting steel wool with a battery, which her students loved.

Using the NMSI materials, Eagleson says she tries to “bring in questions students might see on the AP exam throughout the school year so they aren’t scared when they are taking the exam. For every unit, I have a ton of review questions before they see the test and tests modeled on the AP exam.”

Assistant Principal Henry says Eagleson is “continuous in her efforts to grow as a professional and is always searching for new ideas or things to try in her classroom. Moreover, she is a great collaborator with her colleagues and is willing to help out in any way.”

Eagleson works to encourage her fellow teachers to think closely about the students in their standard courses and if they could or are willing to try the college-level rigor of an AP® course. In her standard chemistry class, Eagleson helps students who are unsure about taking AP classes by telling them, “You know what you are capable of doing because you showed X-Y-Z in class. I make them realize they can do it – not based on their background. It’s what they show me in class.”

Thanks to Eagleson’s dedication, she’s seen an impressive amount of her students receiving AP qualifying scores, 3 or above on the exams’ 5-point scale, which allows them to earn college credit for a similar course. Students who earn a 2 or above on an AP exam are considered college-ready in that subject. 

From her 13 years teaching, Eagleson has learned to be a mentor to students.

“Discuss all the issues in their lives,” she says. “They seem small compared to what adult issues are, but you’re helping them know you care about them. It makes them want to learn about the subject. Students say, ‘Chemistry is hard, but I love your class.’ If I didn’t create this culture in class, many wouldn’t want to try to learn.”

Know a NMSI-connected teacher who deserves recognition? Email marketing@nms.org to tell us how they are making a difference in math, science and English education for their students.