In Focus: Rachel Brillon
How did you decide to pursue a degree in STEM Education at Hofstra?
I have always had a strong interest in math and science. I was a natural explorer at a young age and had my own kid-friendly microscope, rocks and minerals kit, and even my own bug collection. In high school and college, I thrived in math and loved taking chemistry courses. Upon graduating from Vassar College, I was a certified elementary school teacher and knew that I wanted to eventually pursue a master’s degree in Elementary Education in a specialty area that really interested me. I researched the various graduate programs offered at schools on Long Island and in Manhattan, and the one program that stuck out from the others was Hofstra’s Math, Science, and Technology (now Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program. Pursuing a degree in STEM education was a perfect fit for me and, best of all, I can use my degree to share my own enthusiasm for STEM subjects with my future students.
Tell us about your thesis project.
My master’s thesis combines my own passions for teaching and dancing. I researched the effectiveness of engineering design and kinesthetic learning on the development of geometry concepts in elementary school children. To accomplish this goal, I taught geometry through dance movement and design to students from third, fourth and fifth grade at an after-school program. My students learned elements from four main geometry concepts: lines, angles, coordinate planes, and transformations. During the unit, my students needed to design a geometry dance that reflected their understanding of the material. Overall, I found that the use of movement and peer collaboration helped my students acquire and internalize the geometry concepts while the designing aspect gave them a chance to reflect on their understanding of the material and demonstrate their knowledge. All of my students enjoyed the program, and it was a rewarding experience for me to monitor their progress during the study.
How has the STEM program helped prepare you for the job search?
Being in the STEM program has helped prepare me for the job search by making me more confident in my abilities to teach math and science content. There is a need for better science and math curricula in schools, and the STEM program has provided me with a hands-on teaching philosophy that will help me inspire scientific inquiry in young elementary school students. Having a STEM background also sets me apart from other elementary school teachers who may not be certified in a specific content area. The program is very unique and relevant to 21st century learners because it encourages the use of technology and design.
What has your favorite class been so far at Hofstra?
My favorite class at Hofstra was Children’s Engineering, taught by Dr. David Burghardt. This was my first class as a Hofstra STEM student, and it was a perfect introductory course to the entire realm of STEM education. The course incorporated all aspects of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – but it mostly focused on engineering and design-based instruction. Class time was always exploration time, as my classmates and I would work in groups to design and construct projects using STEM skills. Every assignment that I completed was worthwhile and meaningful for me as a STEM student and future STEM educator. By the end of the semester, I had a valuable collection of design portfolios and projects that are perfect for elementary school students. My designs included a bed design for a stuffed animal, a math game board design, and a colonial shop design. My experience with Children’s Engineering stayed with me throughout my time here at Hofstra and inspired my master’s thesis.
Describe your long-term goals.
My immediate goal is to establish myself as an elementary school teacher, preferably in a public school district. I would like to continue incorporating elements of the STEM program into the lessons and activities that I create for my students. My hope is to inspire my students to pursue careers in science, math, and engineering since those careers are important for our country’s future. Eventually, I would love to become a school administrator of some sort and help lead workshops for fellow educators. Another long-term goal of mine is to open my own dance studio that offers not only dance classes, but also educational dance classes. Twenty years from now, if I am teaching in an elementary school, teaching dance classes, and running a dance business, I would be living my dream life.
What kinds of advice do you have for future teachers?
My advice for future teachers is to become as versatile as possible. Continue learning about the education field by taking courses and attending workshops and conferences. Apply for additional classroom teaching certificates in areas of special education, early childhood, or literacy. In order to grow as an educator, you should explore additional areas of your certificate. Also, make sure you understand what needs to be done in order to keep your teaching certificate up-to-date. Finally, and most importantly, never give up on the job search. There is a teaching position for everyone, and it may take a little extra time for you to stumble upon it… but you will!