Virtual instruction has shifted the education sphere quite a bit this school year. As educators grappled with how to reach students and keep them engaged, ATPE member Joe Zambrano decided to kick it up a notch
by turning his garage into a classroom. Zambrano is a chemistry teacher at the Weslaco High School T-STEM Early College. He has been a chemistry teacher in Weslaco ISD for 14 years and an ATPE member for about 18 years.
ATPE reached out to Zambrano to learn more about his garage-turned-classroom and why he thinks it’s so important to go to great lengths to connect with students.
Briefly explain how you came up with the idea to turn your garage into your classroom.
I contribute my son’s ACT scores being at the top 10% in the nation by the age of 12 and my daughter’s ACT scores being above 21 by the age 11 to my belief in a constructivist’s approach to teaching that allows students to build their own knowledge with deeper understanding while remaining engaged. This means I already had various science and math lab setups for my children. I just decided to redevelop it for my online class, which required rearrangement of my garage. I have had great results over the years by this approach, which is basically learning through hands-on activities. This includes my students having some of the higher scores in standardized testing in the state of Texas when there was 10th grade science standardized testing (as I teach 10th grade science). This [the classroom garage] is as close as I can get to hands-on activities for my students by demonstration.
Why do you think doing something like this—an action where you’ve clearly gone above and beyond to serve your students—is so important during a time such as this?
At any point in time during a student’s education they want to know, “Why am I learning this?” I want students to make real-world connections to the application of science. This is something I learned and applied as the instructional developer with the PT3 (Preparing Tomorrow’s Teacher to Use Technology) program under the direction of Dr. James Curts and Dr. Jeanne Yanes at the College of Education at the University of Texas–Pan American, which allowed joint research with Johns Hopkins University in which I was trained to be an online facilitator. I was given the opportunity to apply science by working with the Department of Defense in research and as a chemistry instructor for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley summer programs, so I hope to bring that insight into the classroom. I can’t always use my lab in the garage, but when I can I like to bring the lab to the students if the students can’t come to the lab. This is what I would want for my children as I have three in remote learning all day long.
What is your hope and/or goal with transforming your garage into your science lab?
I wish to promote science as an act of understanding the phenomenon, patterns, and predictions of the universe, not just a body of disconnected facts for the sole purpose of a test. Yes, passing a test is important, but what if we could get the students to pass a test by engaging them through application and engagement of science in the real world?
What do you want people to know as educators work to serve students and their districts during these challenging times?
I do not believe there is anything I can tell a teacher at this time as I know they are doing everything at their disposal. I am just simply applying training that I was given over the past two decades of online distance education. I am lucky to have come across experience as a distance education instructional developer with the University of Texas–Pan American and Johns Hopkins University, as a current chemistry instructor with the University of Texas–Rio Grande Valley summer programs, as a research scientist with the Department of Defense, and as a teacher of science and math to my own children.
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