This week, prepared to get schooled! Darren Massa, a Middle School Science Teacher from Chico Country Day School in California, is taking over RealScientists! Darren normally tweets @darrenmassa, is a Google Certified Teacher (here’s hoping we get the run down on what that involves), and like all good RS curators – has answered our introductory survey.
Why/How did you end up in science?
I have a deep family history in science. My grandfather studied chemistry at Cal and was a huge influence on me. He was a geology buff and often took me out to explore hillsides and deserts for minerals. My oldest brother is a cardiologist and my older brother is a botanist and organic rice farmer. Both of my sisters-in-law are scientists as well. I spent a lot of my childhood outside collecting bugs and tadpoles and always had an interest in discovering new things. My parents are rice farmers, so I spent a lot of time growing up in the rice fields observing a wealth of animal life, including migratory birds, raptors, mammals, and reptiles. Wildlife almost always distracted me from my work on the farm and it’s a good thing I ended up as a teacher…I would have been a terrible farmer!
Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?
After considering medical school and research, I ultimately settled on teaching because I really liked working with kids and I felt I could make a difference in their lives. That can sound like a canned teacher response, but it is completely true. My first experiences with kids came while coaching youth basketball in college. I expressed my desire to go into teaching to a few of my geology professors and they were less than thrilled about my decision. I think this event fueled my determination even more, and I wanted to prove to everyone that teaching was an important profession that universities should be pushing people towards…especially in the sciences. In the primary grades in the US, we have very few people who come from science backgrounds, and this hurts our efforts in the area of scientific literacy…something our society MUST improve. That’s my fight.
Tell us about your work?
When I tell someone I’ve just met for the first time that I am a middle school teacher, it is usually met with groans. Very few people I encounter look upon their middle school years fondly, and mine were no different. For some reason, though, I connect well with middle school kids. I’ve worked in high schools and elementary schools, but something about middle school makes me the most comfortable. Currently, I work at a K-8 charter school in Northern California. We are a project-based learning school that serves approximately 550 students. A typical day at my school involves crossing guard duty, teaching four classes split between life and physical sciences, an educational technology support period, and…meetings. I am a Google Certified Teacher, and not only do I work hard to integrate educational technology into my classroom, I also help other teachers do the same in theirs. In my classes, I use humor as regularly as possible to keep kids hooked and engaged. Then I present them with science that’s real, relevant, hands-on, and current. When my students are happy and excited in class, they’re primed to learn and appreciate science.
Motivation: why should the lay public care about your research/work?
My job is on the front lines of the battle for scientific literacy in the U.S. My objective as a science teacher is simple…create as much passion and interest in science as possible, and push as many brilliant minds into the sciences as I can. As a science teacher, nothing pleases me more than when I find out a former student is studying in a scientific field at the university level. Realizing that not everyone is going to be a scientist, however, I am equally satisfied to create responsible, voting citizens who have a basic, operational foundation in science. Also, selfishly, I’d love to thought of as a “real scientist.”
Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?
I help coach my son’s soccer, basketball, and baseball teams. Being a Google Certified Teacher means that I do regular speaking engagements at educational technology conferences and train educators on how to use a variety of tools to help enhance their teaching.
Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?
I love to watch and play sports, especially basketball. I also love to cook, eat, and travel. In the early 2000’s, I was in the Los Angeles-based sketch comedy troupe, Ten West. I was able to perform in many shows in theaters in the Hollywood area as well as a sketch comedy festival in Chicago. My love for sketch comedy inspired me to create Faculty Follies, a comedy-variety show put on by staff for students and their families. It is held at a local theater every spring and we perform for audiences totaling almost 1000 people. Most importantly, sketch comedy made me a better teacher and presenter, allowing me to connect with kids on a number of different levels.
How would you describe your ideal day off?
For a weekend: A quick trip to the north coast of California with my wife and two kids, a roaring fire, and good food. For a day: A trip to Sacramento with my son to catch a Sacramento Kings game.
Darren is doing exactly what a lot of us strive for – impassioning young minds towards science! Everyone please give Darren a warm, RealScientists welcome!