This month’s Teacher Feature focuses on Ms. Mayada Christiansen of Propel Braddock Hills! Ms. Christiansen has followed her heart from an “informal” educator to an expert at implementing the Inventionland Institute curriculum as a science teacher. We are so lucky to have dedicated and excited educators like Ms. Christiansen!
Part of the Propel Braddock Mission statement is to educate students through authentic and compelling learning experiences. How has the Inventionland Innovation Course helped you achieve that goal?
At Propel Braddock Hills Middle School, I teach the Inventionland Innovation Course as a trimester-long elective that students choose. The course itself is 12 weeks long, so students have a limited amount of time to come up with an idea and develop it into a prototype and present it as their invention. Students work in groups of 3-4 to brainstorm and develop one of their ideas into an invention. It’s an authentic and compelling experience because the ideas come from the students as a way to solve a problem they feel is important. In the past, students have worked on automatic dog walkers, alarm clock pillows, portable phone chargers, shoe air-conditioners, trampoline shoes and other things they have felt would make their lives easier and and/or more fun!
You have taught the course for two years now. Are you still surprised by what the students come up with?
The students I teach are in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. We started the course last year with the criteria that their inventions had to be possible given existing technology. Each trimester, there is at least one group that comes up with an idea that’s fairly outrageous and seemingly impossible, but I haven’t had the heart to steer them towards something more practical because they’re just so excited about it.
In your own experiences, what benefits have you noticed from hands-on, project-based learning?
Hands-on, project based learning teaches students to manage their time, work in a group with other people and build off of the ideas and work of others to create a final product. Students in the class learn to compromise, learn to hear other’s opinions and see the value in others’ perspectives. Those team-oriented skills are priceless in the workforce and very important to develop.
Tell us a little about yourself! Where did you go to school? What was your major? Why did you want to become an educator?
I’m originally from New Castle, PA. I studied Biology at the University of Pittsburgh and spent time working in a lab and at Carnegie Science Center throughout college, and remained on staff as an Education Coordinator for Carnegie Science Center for a few years after I graduated. My career there included working as an informal museum educator and managing an after school program and summer camp. For the next seven years I worked as the Program Director working on education policy, advocacy and community organizing with A+ Schools. I felt as though the real impact on young people happened in the classroom, so I moved on to become a teacher. Last year I finished my Master’s Degree in Education from Chatham University through Propel’s Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps, and began my first year as a formal classroom science teacher. This year I’m in my second year at BHMS as the 6th grade science teacher and teacher for Inventionland. When I’m not at school, I spend the most time I can with my husband, Brian, and daughter, Mason.