As a science teacher at the Bronx’s Metropolitan Soundview High School, Aja Brown is always looking for opportunities to help her students learn in new ways. She uses data from her own classes to customize lesson plans, encourages students to think big, and continually seeks out resources and strategies to bring into the classroom. And as a result of her dedication to growing and contributing as a science educator, Brown recently received the Milken Educator Award, a national award recognizing excellence in teaching.

Hands-on approach

“I’ve learned best from hands-on approaches and because it’s the best way for me to learn, that’s usually how my teaching philosophy develops,” Brown explains. “You can tell someone something a million times, but actually seeing that or being able to do it makes it so much more valuable.”

To any current or aspiring science teachers out there, Brown encourages professional growth and development. “Since I started teaching science, I’ve always tried to go to some type of training, some type of workshop, some type of session to better my class and to gain resources and materials,” she adds.

“At the end of the day, you can’t win if you don’t put yourself in the game.”

Building confidence

Confidence and encouragement are challenges Brown sees affecting many students looking to explore the sciences –  especially for girls who can be discouraged by the lack of visible role models in STEM fields.

“I talk a lot more to my girls about entering certain fields, and letting them know that the harder you work, the more you can start to achieve the things you want,” Brown says. “Instilling the fact that they have the ability and confidence to do whatever they want is something that needs to be incorporated into the curriculum.”

She also brings this philosophy into the classroom through asking her students to imagine “What if…” when it comes to setting goals for themselves. She recently had students interested in a competition that had them submit a video.

“What if you do this video and you happen to win? You inform people around the world about this issue, you now have gained some confidence in yourself and you’ve put yourself out there,” Brown says. “At the end of the day, you can’t win if you don’t put yourself in the game.”