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Adam Riazi

Teacher uses summer experience to create excitement in his classroom

Adam Riazi

High school teacher Adam Riazi stands surrounded by American lotus flowers that are used to rehabilitate polluted ponds and wetlands as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Academies Creating Teacher-Scientists professional development program at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Three years ago, Adam Riazi had no idea there were so many opportunities for high school teachers to do authentic scientific research. That was before he took part in the Appalachian Regional Commission—Oak Ridge National Laboratory Summer Institute.

Through the contacts made in that program, he began looking into more opportunities administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education and found the U.S. Department of Energy’s Academies Creating Teacher-Scientists professional development program.

Each summer for three successive summers, ACTS teachers conduct research with Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists and gain insight into the practical alignment of national science standards with curriculum and teaching strategies. This helps renew the teachers’ enthusiasm for science.

For Riazi, a math teacher in Hamlin, W. Va., the impact of the program has been easy to see and quantify. “This experience has made me both a better teacher and scientist,” he said.

Unlike the daily routines of the school year, each ACTS teacher is involved in a different, hands-on research project. Riazi’s summer schedule included various activities, all aimed at culturing and growing American Lotus. This plant can be used for pond and wetland rehabilitation, because it reduces pollutants and improves conditions for wildlife.

Playing the role of aquatic ecologist was sometimes a stretch for Riazi. “As a mathematician, my tasks were certainly out of my realm of experience,” he said. “However, I continually saw connections between the scientific research, mathematics and the classroom.”

The ACTS program helps teachers understand how to take what they have learned from their research experiences back to their students. For Riazi, this means helping students figure out how math is applied to everyday problems, including science.

While many students struggle to find the value in learning math and science, Riazi’s students do not. “Since I started presenting math in the context of real-world application, that question has disappeared from my classroom,” he said.

This year, as Riazi returns to Lincoln County High School, he will not only be teaching algebra and calculus courses. He also plans to spearhead a project to build an outdoor classroom, which is possible due to the recent reclamation of a pond behind the school.

He knows that his first-hand knowledge of aquatic ecology through the ACTS program will assist him in this venture and, in turn, benefit the whole school.