National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
Teaching Tomorrow's Scientists Today
Woonjoo Yang, Biology Educator at West Adams Preparatory High School
in South Los Angeles, spent much of her 2011 summer vacation – and nearly every weekend since – immersed in the most powerful professional development experience of her life. Her goal: to become a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT).
Yang is one of nearly 500 educators in Amgen communities from California, Colorado, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island and Washington who will receive fee support from the Amgen Foundation to pursue certification offered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).
For the past 25 years, this voluntary certification has advanced the quality of teaching and learning by creating and evolving the profession's highest standards and overseeing the process through which teachers demonstrate they have met those standards.
The Foundation has supported NBPTS through a three-year initiative to advance science in K-12 schools. The initiative provides fee support for science teachers like Yang, who are pursuing National Board Certification and other related NBPTS programs.
"The Amgen Foundation is committed to deepening scientific literacy and providing meaningful professional development opportunities for teachers," said Jean Lim Terra, President, Amgen Foundation. "We want to encourage teachers who strive to be the best in their fields to attain National Board Certification, and to deliver high quality education to their students."
While nationwide, only 3 percent of science teachers are National Board-certified, in Amgen communities the percentage is between 10 and 15. NBPTS hopes to continually increase that number with the Amgen Foundation's support.
"Preparing for board certification has been far more difficult than earning my master's degree," Yang says. "As part of the process, we are required to submit videos and collect evidence to show that students have learned what we've taught and have met objectives. We also need to demonstrate how we accommodate students with unique challenges. And there's a lot of self-reflection, too."
Yang has plenty to reflect on as she prepares for the certification test. She has taught at West Adams Preparatory High School since it opened in 2007 as South Los Angeles' first LA's Promise school, an innovative nonprofit organization with major funding from the Amgen Foundation to radically shift the education, health and social outcomes for thousands of disadvantaged youth.
"I chose this school, where there's a high poverty level and at-risk youth, because I knew I could make a difference," Yang says. "It feels wonderful to give students access to opportunities that they might not otherwise have. I don't think of it as a job where I come in at 8 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m."
Along with her regular teaching duties, Yang leads the Amgen-Bruce Wallace Biotechnology Lab Program for all of LA's Promise schools, including John Muir Middle School and Manual Arts High School. Funded by the Amgen Foundation, the lab utilizes some of the same biotechnology techniques and equipment used by scientists in the biotechnology industry.
"The students are super engaged – you can see the huge 'aha' moments when they experiment with biotech applications, like working with DNA gels," Yang says. "The kids love using the equipment they see on TV shows – it really becomes relevant to them."
Are there any future scientists in Yang's classroom? "Plenty," she says. "Two of my students loved the Amgen-Bruce Wallace labs so much that they're now interns at a University of Southern California lab. And several are in college now studying science, including a neuroscience major at UCLA."
Online Professional Development Courses in Science Teaching
The Amgen Foundation grant also supports the creation of three new online, science-related professional development courses for K-12 teachers, aligned with National Board standards. In addition, NBPTS has hired certified teachers to design, develop and provide model video exemplars for the courses.
The courses are intended to increase teachers' science skills and knowledge, from pre-service through full certification. In a separate project, NBPTS is developing a database of videos from NBCTs in math and science and is currently exploring ways in which this database could be incorporated into the Amgen courses.
National Board President and CEO Ron Thorpe is confident that the database will have a powerful transformative impact on science education. "Imagine you're a middle-school science teacher teaching about plate tectonics," he says. "This resource could provide multiple examples of how great teachers help students engage with the topic.
"This online professional development opportunity comes at a critical moment for the education profession," Thorpe adds. "The National Board is at the center of what it means to be an accomplished teacher. We want to do whatever we can to help teachers advance their teaching skills. These courses provide very helpful resources to those teachers so that they're better prepared and more confident in their knowledge."
Since 1987, more than 97,000 teachers have achieved National Board Certification. These teachers prepare America's diverse student population with the skills needed to compete in the 21st-century workplace.
"Stories from across the United States tell of how NBCTs are changing the practice of teaching and achieving important results in student achievement and the basic culture of schools," Thorpe says. "NBCTs are stepping up to define the teaching profession on their own terms."