NSTA Member Interview

  Name: Barbara Pietrucha

Location: Neptune Middle School in Neptune, NJ

Subject: Environmental science

Organization: National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)

Barbara Pietrucha has taught for all of her twenty-one years as a middle-school environmental science teacher in urban neighborhoods. Neptune Middle School, in Neptune, New Jersey, near Asbury Park is no exception. "On one hand, it’s a battle every day," Barbara explains. "The kids arrive at school not very ready to learn. They have so much to deal with at home. On the other hand, they’re just so dynamic and diverse. It’s where I grew up, so it’s where I feel I can do the most good."

Barbara has done a considerable amount of good, and not only in Neptune. She is deeply involved on the state level as chair of the State Environmental Science Curriculum Committee and as an active member of the New Jersey Natural Resources Education Consortium helping to train teachers on interdisciplinary science curriculum.

Nationally, she served for three years as a teacher representative for the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Education Advisory Council. Moreover, she met President Clinton at the White House in 1992 after winning the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching.

She attributes many of her accomplishments to the benefits she has received as a member of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), which she joined about fifteen years ago. Barbara described her participation with the NSTA to Family Education Network.

TeacherVision (TV): Why did you join NSTA?

Barbara: I was doing this great project with some students on water quality and sewage treatment. I heard that the annual NSTA convention was going to be nearby in Atlantic City, so I decided to apply as a presenter on the subject and joined at that time.

TV: How did the presentation go?

Barbara: Wonderfully, mainly because of the response I received. I talked to so many new colleagues afterward, and for weeks I got calls and mail. It was so motivating.

TV: What has it been like to be a member since then?

Barbara: I’ve participated in some very exciting projects. In 1991, NSTA helped sponsor three hundred science teachers from the United States, including myself, to visit Moscow. It was the first conference of U.S.-Soviet science teachers. It was a life-changing experience. Communism literally collapsed while we were there! Yeltsin bombed the parliament building two weeks after we returned. Needless to say, it was a thrilling time.

NSTA also has this great partnership with NASA. Along with twenty-five other science teachers, we spent two weeks at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and Wollops Island in Virginia where we took workshops from the researchers. They were among the most stimulating two weeks of my life. After having taught for almost twenty years, it really brought me back to what science teaching is all about. NSTA set up an email system for the participants to keep in contact. It’s been three years now and we still write all the time.

TV: Do you use any of NSTA’s publications?

Barbara: Their journals are fantastic, and I save them as a resource. When I do workshops, I always ask NSTA for some samples because teachers really crave that information, like how to do an inquiry activity or how to use the national science standards.

Their newspaper, the NSTA Reports, does a great job keeping me informed about science-related current events, state and national legislative issues, and new websites, to name a few things. The material is very timely.

I also use their web page a lot. I check it regularly to keep up with meeting and conference dates and to get links for my classes. They have a great section called SciLinks that contains Internet links for some of the common textbooks we use. So if you’re on a certain chapter in the textbook, you can get a list of Internet resources that are relevant to the activities and subject material.

TV: NSTA sponsors many teacher and student awards. Have you been involved with any of them?

Barbara: Yes, mainly the ExploraVision Awards. This is a K-12 student competition where small groups envision what a current technology, such as a pen or a computer, could be like in twenty years. I’m always amazed by the research that the students do on these projects. I remember one from some fourth graders called the "Trash Tummy." They described in very precise scientific detail a waste-management system based on the human digestive system. It was really quite creative.

TV: What would you tell another teacher who was considering becoming a member of NSTA?

Barbara: A lot of teachers, whether urban or rural, don’t feel connected. So NSTA is an opportunity to get connected to other teachers in the science field, to resources and to information that will help them become better teachers. I am definitely a better teacher because of my membership in NSTA.

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