Laura Henriques of Cal State Long Beach helps teachers from kindergarten through high school nurture a love for science in their students and, along the way, has earned recognition for her success from the prestigious California Science Teacher Association (CSTA).
An assistant professor in the Department of Science Education, Henriques has been awarded the association's Distinguished Science Teacher Award at the four-year-college level. The Long Beach resident, who joined the CSULB faculty in 1995, is a former master teacher for the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. She has been an association member since 1995.
The CSTA Distinguished Science Teacher Award recognizes outstanding science teachers at all levels who have demonstrated ability in developing creative student-centered activities and who are involved in professional and extracurricular science education endeavors.
"Laura Henriques could best be described as a teacher's teacher, and she is certainly deserving of this award," said CSULB President Robert C. Maxson. "It is important for higher education to help K through 12 teachers find the best ways to instruct today's young people, and science is an extremely important subject area. Laura plays a vital role in that process, and as this award indicates, she is very good at what she does."
Henriques believes one reason for her recognition is her commitment to making in-service presentations on science education at middle schools across the country. Another might be the student-centered, inquiry-based activities she teaches that don't always yield a clear-cut answer.
"Traditional science labs, especially the ones K-12 teachers are used to, follow a kind of cookbook," she said. "The inquiry-based activities I use are more ambiguous. I give students a general question but how the students go about finding the answer is up to them."
Henriques began her career with seven years teaching in Pennsylvania and New Jersey middle and high schools. She later enrolled at the University of Iowa where she earned her Ph.D. in 1997. She also has a bachelor's degree from Williams College in Massachusettes.
She recommends that parents who want to encourage their children in science check out such video fare as "Bill Nye, the Science Guy," "Beekman's World" and the Saturday morning cartoon "Science Court." She said that support from shows like these helps offset the subtle discouragement to pursuing careers in science often offered to the nation's young women.
"There are studies that suggest boys are offered more probing questions to help them figure out answers," she said. "But textbooks are getting better in the way they don't always picture the boy doing an experiment while the girl stands and watches. I persisted in science because I love it. It didn't bother me to be the only girl in the class. I remember a chemistry class where there were 30 guys and four girls. I was the only woman in my physics class. It helped to grow up with three brothers. You have to be willing to buck the system a little."
She sees continued attention coming to Science Education. "It's a cyclical field, and right now the pendulum is swinging toward a back-to-basics approach," Henriques said. "In California, the emphasis is on literacy over science. The prevailing wisdom is to teach reading and if there is time, math, and whatever else is left goes to teaching science."
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