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Rogers Educator to Help Teachers Enliven Science

published: January 29, 2001
posted to site: 02/09/2001

Rogers Educator to Help Teachers Enliven Science

The following appeared in THE BLADE, Toledo's newspaper, January 29, 2001.

"I like the fact that I can make a difference,' says Richard Shea, a highly regarded science teacher at Rogers, in the school planetarium. 'I just wanted to teach science and to pass along my love of learning science to kids."


Richard Shea has been casting the images of constellations and far-away galaxies on the domed ceiling of the Rogers High School planetarium since 1984 to spark a love of science in his students.

Now the highly regarded science teacher will be helping other Toledo science teachers learn how to bring their science instruction alive.

Mr. Shea, 59, is one of 14 Toledo Public Schools teachers participating in Tapestries, a five-year, $13 million project to convert science instruction to "hands-on" teaching.

Mr. Shea teaches first and second-year astronomy and honors physics at Rogers.

Though Mr. Shea modestly prefers to keep the spotlight off himself, he's not shy about saying how important the craft of teaching is, or how difficult it is.

"We have a lot of good teachers at this building," Mr. Shea said. "They're here because they want to teach, not because they want to make a lot of money."

A native of Toledo who left the area after college and moved back in 1983, he landed a science teaching job at Rogers after obtaining his teaching certificate in 1983.

It was a lucky job assignment for the astronomy lover. Rogers has its own planetarium - a rarity for a high school.

The planetarium was installed in 1966 when Rogers was part of the now-defunct Adams Local school district. Later that year Adams Local schools were absorbed into the Toledo school district, and the planetarium went with it.

Mr. Shea has become a missionary for science education. In 1990, he launched a program called ARIES, which encourages Rogers students to go into the Rogers-area elementary schools to teach students.

He also judges in the Ohio Junior Science and Humanities Symposium each year, in which high school students do a research project and then defend it before a group of science educators.

"It's very impressive to me when kids can stand up there and take questions," Mr. Shea said. "They're amazing."

He has been urged on by the faculty of the University of Toledo, where he has found support from Dr. Kenneth DeWitt, a professor of chemical engineering and the director of the Ohio Space Grant Consortium.

Dr. DeWitt has helped Mr. Shea gain grants that promote the teaching of physics, astronomy, and science in general.

"He's outstanding. I can tell his real concern for getting students not to hate science and math and just to be open to it," Dr. DeWitt said. "I have no problem championing him to the other universities in Ohio."

One of Mr. Shea's current campaigns is to buy 12 computerized telescopes - one for each of the elementary schools in the Bowsher and Rogers high school service areas.

Mr. Shea's idea is that the telescopes will serve two purposes: Not only will they feed and encourage an interest in exploring the skies, but they'll be an opportunity for parents to get involved in education, since live astronomy can be practiced only at night.

Mr. DeWitt said Mr. Shea asked for $1,000 from the consortium, but the consortium decided to give him $2,000. However, Mr. Shea is still trying to come up with the remaining $10,000 that the project will cost.

Mr. Shea was appointed to a two-year stint with Tapestries in September. The program is paid for by a $5.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Toledo Public Schools, Springfield Local Schools, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University are contributing about $8.6 million in local funds over five years.

Last year 413 elementary teachers received training, averaging 102 hours of professional development.

"It's a hard job to do hands-on, because there's a lot of preparation, and elementary teachers are very busy people," Mr. Shea said.

Mr. Shea's job is to work with the teachers in his assigned buildings.

He continues to be paid his regular teacher salary, and his courses will be covered by a long-term substitute.

He said his goal with Tapestries is to make hands-on teaching an essential ingredient of science instruction in Toledo Public Schools so that it doesn't dry up when the grant runs out in three years. The problem is that teachers change assignments so frequently that the training could be wasted or lost.

"We'd like to have the school system organized so the elementary teachers can continue," Mr. Shea said. "This is a first step toward getting the program implemented on a permanent basis."

The Tapestries program will make a presentation to 60 principals and assistant principals this afternoon at the Clarion Hotel Westgate.

Mr. Shea is experienced at hands-on instruction. For his astronomy class, Mr. Shea doesn't even use a standard textbook.

"I like the fact that I can make a difference. I just wanted to teach science and to pass along my love of learning science to kids," Mr. Shea said.