High School Elective Teachers: A Contagious Passion for Learning

The Slice – May 2014: In Our High Schools | In Our Middle Schools | In Our Elementary Schools

Our high school students straddle two worlds. They are still kids who need guidance and encouragement, yet they are also on the cusp of adulthood, making choices that offer a glimpse of what they will come in the future. The elective teachers at Gunn and Paly are uniquely positioned to connect with the community’s high school students on both levels, and their passion and expertise is instrumental in igniting interests that can grow into lifelong pursuits.

Thanks to support from PiE’s generous donors, PAUSD is fortunate to offer a wide range of high school electives that are staffed by adults who are not only highly qualified teachers but also expert in their fields.

We sat down to learn a bit more about two of these amazing educators:

  • Kristina Granlund-Moyer, Engineering and Robotics teacher at Gunn
  • Theresa McDermott, a Career Teach educator at Paly

Kristina Granlund-Moyer, Engineering and Robotics teacher at Gunn

Gunn RoboticsSQWhat’s your philosophy of learning?
You learn best what interests you most. That’s my core philosophy of learning. So the key to good teaching is to create that interest — by asking a question, or demonstrating a skill, or discussing how a new concept explains some aspect of daily life, or pointing out a connection to another area of interest to the student. Teachers who are enthusiastic about their subjects spread the desire to learn. Once interested, everyone wants to learn.

What is your background and how to do bring that into the classroom at Gunn?
My father was an electrical engineer who worked on his own car, including making replacement parts in our basement that featured a band saw and lathe. My mother was a professor in the applied mathematics department at the University of Virginia School of Engineering. So teaching, engineering and hands-on shop projects are part of a normal day for me! I earned a BA in Chemistry from Cornell University and then got my teacher’s credential at Notre Dame de Namur. I spent more than 25 years working in Silicon Valley before becoming a high school teacher, working as a scientist, software engineer and project manager. I have worked for a wide range of well known tech companies including Hewlett-Packard, Agilent, Applied Biosystems and Molecular Devices.

My work experience provides many real-life examples to share with both my engineering design and robotics students. In my engineering class we discuss how things are designed and manufactured, and what goes into design decisions. In robotics I work with the whole team on professional behavior and communication, and with the captain and leads to teach best practices for managing project teams.

How do you see students change as a result of working with you in the Robotics program?
GRT (the Gunn Robotics Team) is really a life-changing activity. There’s no set curriculum that everyone has to learn, and we work on problems that have no “right” answers – all of which sounds like a recipe for chaos, frustration and disaster. But instead, students discover that they can apply their own experience, and knowledge from other classes to come up with individual, totally unique ideas that they make, assemble and test. In a single year on the team, students undergo a huge development in confidence and communication skills, and in understanding how relationships impact life. Students who are lucky enough to spend two or three years on the team are working like professional engineers – it’s totally awesome.

Now that summer’s approaching, what iPad app or book do you hope Gunn students might use/read over the break?
All of the girls in my engineering classes should read “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. It’s not perfect, but it is the most up-to-date discussion of what women need to know to take their deserved place in the working world. And everyone interested in STEM should read about the history of those disciplines – the ups, the downs and surprising twists that are the real path of technological progress.

Theresa McDermott, a Career Teach who teaches the PiE-funded Sports Nutrition program at Paly

Sports Nutrition Teacher:  Theresa McDermottWhat’s your philosophy of learning?
Learning is a dynamic, ever-present and changing process that is not limited to a classroom or a particular stage in life. Learning opens doors, supports our efforts, and informs our lives. As a teacher, my students’ amazing growth and learning inspires me. It is an honor and pleasure to see them grow over the course of four years into confident young adults ready to embrace what lies ahead.

How do you see students change as a result of working with you in the Sports Nutrition program?
I see my students stop and think about the food choices they are making to improve their energy and overall health. When I walk through the campus at lunchtime, students frequently say hi and show me what they are having for lunch. That tells me that they are thinking about health and well-being. What could be better than that?

What is your background and how to do bring that into the classroom at Paly?
Prior to teaching I worked in the foods industry, as an au pair, as a case manager for a nonprofit, for a mutual fund company, for a start-up, and most importantly as a mother. All of these experiences, along with my education at Notre Dame de Namur University, have informed my work in the classroom.

This is my fourteenth year working for PAUSD, including seven years in middle school and seven years at Paly. I love teaching, working with students and sharing in their growth and learning. It really is my dream come true.

Do you have a favorite iPad app or book that you hope PALY students might use/read over the summer months?
I would encourage everyone to read The New York Times Health & Wellness section. It is always full of great articles with a focus on the most recent research, health and nutrition, along with the latest apps and technology to help reach health goals. It is easily accessible online and is a great resource.