Biographies: Seattle Pacific University
Lezlie Dewater, 2006-2009
My husband and I have been living in the suburbs of Seattle for nearly 30 years. We have been in the process of remodeling our home for nearly that same length of time. We are among the dwindling numbers of folks in our area who were actually born in Western Washington. We love the close proximity to lots of water and mountains. We have three grown daughters and two grandsons.
I have spent much of my teaching career in elementary schools in the Seattle Public Schools in spite of the fact that I was a French major planning to teach high school. Instead I started as a 2nd grade teacher and then changed positions numerous times to take assignments as an elementary science specialist, an intermediate classroom teacher, a science specialist, a science resource teacher, and an assistant science supervisor. More recently I spent 7 years with the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington where I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to co-instruct the three quarter physics course for pre-service secondary math and science teachers, to be part of the instructional staff for their 6-week summer institute in physics and physical science, and to help with the weekly tutorials for the calculus-based introductory physics course.
I returned to Seattle Public Schools to teach 5th grade in 2004/2005. It was amazing to get back in touch with the mind of 10 year olds and the demands of an elementary classroom teacher. This job never seems to get any easier, but is extremely rewarding. I would have stayed put in the elementary classroom, but Stamatis Vokos at Seattle Pacific University made me an offer I just could not refuse. At SPU this year, I was able to work with prospective elementary teachers in both a content course and a methods course. It was great to be working with the School of Education while being part of the Physics Department This ever-changing, ever-evolving career in teaching has taken me on many journeys. This coming year as a TIR at SPU promises to hold a few more surprises and challenges as well.
Sherm Williamson, 2007-2008
After teaching in the Physics (science) classroom for 34 years, I retired from the classroom but not from teaching Physics. Once you have truly taught Physics, I feel that you can never stop. After graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in Chemistry and minors in Math and Physics and beginning to teach in 1972, I had a defining teaching experience with Arnold Aarons and Jim Minstrell at an NSF summer course. Based on this summer of study, I found that experiences need to be provided for students that create an understanding of Physics that they can explain to others. I also learned that teachers can learn so much from listening carefully to what students say and that their thinking should direct the steps in their learning. This student centered education has been my focus ever since.
My wife and I have both had the privilege of teaching in our local community of Bothell, Washington for our entire careers and have even worked in the schools that our two sons went through. Teaching students and families with which we had such close long-term relationships, only increased the intensity of the teaching experience for us. Being a teaching family totally defined our lives until we retired.
Teaching students within my classroom was only one of three parts that I saw to improve Physics education for students. Based on what was being taught as the standard Physics curriculum in the early 70's, what was being taught needed to be changed and those who taught it needed help. During my classroom career I worked to change what was taught and to whom it was taught. I was able to change the direction for my building and eventually my district in developing a conceptual Physics first concept for all students. Because of the need for qualified Physics teachers that such an extensive program demanded, I was then able to develop in-service and teacher development models to bring in more qualified Physics teachers to expand the program.
In my later years of teaching and now in retirement, I have had the opportunity to work at Facet Innovations with Jim Minstrell on the development of Diagnoser, a web based formative assessment program for teaching Physics. This has given me the opportunity to meet and work with many leaders in the field of research on Physics education and share with them the realities of Physics classrooms. The result of the combination of classroom and research exposure has made me want to work more and more with new teachers and future teachers to help prepare them better. Working now at Seattle Pacific University as a VMT (visiting master teacher) is providing that opportunity as well as still allowing me the pleasures of retirement travel and leisure.
Visiting Master Teacher, 2010-2011
Another surprise call to physics came to me as a PhysTEC Visiting Master Teacher. This presents me with the opportunity to share my passion for engaging students in a subject I've found fascinating. The first call came years(!) ago as an undergraduate research technician in a biochemistry lab -the area was enzymology & kinematics, I think. I was fascinated by the protein purification process using 'packed' columns that separated by size or charge and might be reverse flow to prevent pressure packing. Onward for a MAT degree at Duke where the content course had a focus of Physical Science. It was great, satisfying fun making sense of much that I had been exposed to in my previous physics courses.
As a 'Certified K-12' teacher, I moved to Seattle. My early career presented the opportunity to teach 2nd to 8th grades. A leave to live in Lancaster England presented the next calling to physics with a job teaching 12 to 18 year olds at the George Fox School (founded in 1690!). On returning to Seattle classrooms, I engaged with the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington. I feel privileged to have heard Arnold Aarons describe his transition from teaching the subject well to helping students understand the subject better and to watch him model that with area physics teachers.
With my physics teaching credentials in order, I was actively listening for my third calling. It came as an opening at Franklin High School in the heart of south Seattle. My belief has been that physics is understandable -students are the subject, physics is the content. As a mentor, Jim Minstrell helped me learn how to encourage and listen to student thinking. By gaining and building counselors' support I was able to grow senior physics enrollment from 16 students the first year to about a quarter of the senior class. Time did come to step away from the classroom.
Calling number 4 came as the physics content person in an education outreach group at the Institute for Systems Biology. Here I work with K-12 teachers helping them deliver quality science instruction using 'standards based, research informed' instructional materials. It is exciting and rewarding to work with the small group of dedicated former teachers within a growing biomedical research foundation to support high quality science instruction for all in the public schools.
Even more recently, an association with the Physics Department at Seattle Pacific University has extended my contact and support of budding science teachers through PhysTEC programs. I find the engagement rewarding and appreciate the opportunity to play this part developing physics educators for 'tomorrow'.