Boston College Lynch School of Education Associate Professor of Science Education and Technology G. Michael Barnett has been named the 2012 Massachusetts Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) in recognition of his teaching excellence and positive influence on the lives and careers of students. It is the only national program that recognizes excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
Barnett's focus is on urban science education, specifically exciting undergraduates and the youngsters they student teach about STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields through projects that utilize technology and link to real-world issues.
In his teaching, Barnett uses innovative tools such as indoor hydroponic vertical farms where BC undergraduates work with their K-12 students to grow vegetables and then sell the produce at their own farmer's markets. Through the project, which takes the participants from seed to market, his students learn about topics such as environmental science, engineering, botany, nutrition, sustainability and economics. Barnett has set up vertical farms in Boston elementary schools, high schools and a community center.
This month, he launched a National Science Foundation-funded indoor hydroponic gardening youth initiative in partnership with the Salvation Army's Kroc Center in Dorchester and the non-profit STEM Garden Institute. The out-of-school project will serve hundreds of middle and high school students in Boston.
"I try to get everybody excited about science, from K-12 students to college students to the general public," said Barnett.
A self-described "recovering astrophysicist" from Kentucky, Barnett caught the teaching bug when he was tapped to teach a lesson about the moon to "immensely inquisitive fifth-graders" while he was working on his PhD in astrophysics.
Barnett says he is always looking for ways to engage students. "You have to reach students where they are," he said. This philosophy has led him and his research team to develop a mobile app called "Touch Tree" that allows users to identify trees and their ecological value.
"Rock star" and "the most genuinely inspiring role model of effective instruction" are just some of the words students used to describe Barnett in his nomination papers.
"[Professor Barnett] loves educating people on how to teach science. A self-proclaimed technical geek, he consistently encourages his students to find way to put new technologies in the hands of their students, including some that I have incorporated in my high school classroom," wrote former student Andrew Trossello who now teaches chemistry and biology at a Boston high school.
His teaching is about more than teaching future science teachers. He wants to get non-science majors interested in learning about science. "If I can get non-science majors interested in how science works and want to read the New York Times Science section, then I consider that a success," Barnett added.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is an independent policy and research center that supports needed transformations in American education through tighter connections between teaching practice, evidence of student learning, the communication and use of this evidence, and structured opportunities to build knowledge.
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., with offices in London, Singapore and Mexico City, CASE is a professional association serving educational institutions and the advancement professionals at all levels who work in alumni relations, communications, fundraising, marketing and other areas.