Teacher at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, 2010 Sloan Award winner for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics
Ann Fraioli is an educator at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School (the public high school on Governor’s Island made famous not only by its location but by its curriculum’s emphasis on a hands-on approach to studying the marine world). It was a little over a year ago that Fraioli and her fellow teacher, Roy Arezzo, were two of the eight educators in New York City to receive the Sloan Award for science and math teaching.
We caught up with Fraioli, a Barnard graduate, a year after the awards ceremony to learn how she still engages her students in the world around them.
Your background seems uniquely suited for working at the Harbor School. You majored in environmental history and minored in education at Barnard College at Columbia University. You have crewed tall ships throughout the North Atlantic and you spent two months aboard the RV Ewing, working with a science team in the Southern Ocean. When you started at the Harbor School, did you have a sense that the school especially catered to your expertise?
When I found out about the school and the job, I did feel like it was a perfect match because of those different experiences I had in and after college. When I went to Barnard, I was fortunate enough to create my own major and I was interested in environmental history. It is like geography in the sense that you are studying human relations and impacts on the surrounding environment. I put together a course load that focused on the intersection of humans and science. I got my teaching certificate because I wanted the flexibility of being able to teach.
At Barnard, we all do a thesis, even as undergrads, and I wrote one on the history of the 79th Street boat basin, the local ecology and the New York City waterways.
How did you first learn about the Harbor School? Were you part of the process of creating the curriculum?
I actually found out about the Harbor School through an email. After college, I spent time with an oceanographic research team and I met some great people. One of them was a grad student who was connected to Columbia University. She had received this email but was in university, so she forwarded it to me. As soon as I read the description, it seemed really perfect for me.
All of the teachers—there were about eight of us at that point—were instrumental in developing the curriculum and the school as a whole.
Right now, you teach the Introduction to the New York Harbor Class, which every freshman student is required to take. The class seems exciting because there is an emphasis on learning about the harbor in a very hands-on way. Can you tell us a little bit more about the class and some of the ways in which you teach your students about the harbor?
The class is literally an introduction to the harbor. We cover a lot of things, including the science and ecology of the harbor, the history and human impact on the harbor and the current industry and local uses of the harbor. We work with a variety of partners, including not-for-profits, people in the commercial industry and governmental agencies in the field. We go out and around the harbor every other week.
We take about 17 trips per year and every trip is to a different place. With each trip, though, there are some similarities. We do water quality testing so the students can compare the water quality. We often meet partners at different sites, whether it be a volunteer with a nonprofit or a dockworker. The students get to have a lot of interaction with different people in the field.
Then we do a lot of fun, hands-on activities like rowing, sailing tall ships, pulling mud up from the bottom of the river, seeing what lives there. We go to museums or aquariums…We put all of this information together and look at ecological systems.
What do you find is the key to getting students interested and engaged in science?
That is the golden question. One thing that is important, and what we do at the Harbor School, is that we do some fun, hands-on experiences but we also have classroom experiences. It isn’t all really alternative or always getting our hands dirty. We are working on the content knowledge and coming back to the classroom. Following that duplicity is the whole package and is really important for a student’s education, especially in high school. We are used to one mode for school, and we shouldn’t throw that out the window. We are supplementing that with meaningful experiences that are related to what the students are learning in a variety of classes.
Especially in my class, there is a lot of interdisciplinary work and connection to different subjects. When students see that these subjects are all connected to a variety of jobs and careers, they also learn that they need to pull from multiple parts of their learning to be successful.
Photo Courtesy of Ann Fraioli
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