Stephanie Ritter is in her 13th year at MacArthur Middle School in Prospect Heights, where she teaches sixth-graders science, language arts and social studies.
Teaching is a second career for Ritter, who spent seven years in advertising after earning an undergraduate degree in advertising and business. She went back to school to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from National Louis University before going to work at MacArthur.
A native of downstate Mount Vernon, Ritter now lives in Buffalo Grove, where she likes to spend free time with her family, reading, perennial gardening, cooking and playing with her dog.
Q: What drew you to teaching?
A: I decided to go into education as a second career since I enjoyed volunteering as a literacy tutor for adults and as a guest volunteer at a local middle school through my employer. The most unusual experience I have had was as a birthday party performer through Mad Science of Northern Illinois. Since I was a child, I have always enjoyed being outdoors and working with plants and animals.
Q: Teaching science would seem to have more opportunities for interactive learning than most school subjects. What are some of the ways you get your students involved hands-on in your classroom?
A: My sixth-grade science colleague and I always incorporate at least one hands-on lab into each chapter we teach, in addition to several other hands-on activities to build curiosity prior to the lab. We are fortunate to have a science laboratory just for sixth grade use, and have chosen a curriculum called Stemscopes that emphasizes inquiry-based learning as it follows the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards).
Q: Experimentation is a key part of scientific learning. What has been one of your students' favorite experiments, and what lessons did they learn from it?
A: Sixth-graders like any lab or activity where they can take something home, such as a fossil model or a grow-bug. We recently completed a lab where we burned various snack food in order to calculate which had more calories. They all were very excited to see food burn. All I can say is to keep Cheetos away from an open flame in your kitchen! I also encourage students to take advantage of any science opportunities in the community, such as telescope viewing at the library or Harper College Astronomy Day.
Q: Given the ever-evolving nature of science, how do you keep up with the latest developments in the subjects you teach and then incorporate new discoveries into your lessons?
A: I keep up with what is going on in science education as a member of the National Science Teachers Association. They publish a monthly magazine and bimonthly newspaper with ideas and news.
I also subscribe to National Geographic magazine, read the weekly New York Times science section, and subscribe to several YouTube channels that pertain to science. I am fortunate to have a school/district that allows and entrusts its teachers to incorporate ideas and make curricular decisions that we think are best.