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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — "This isn't adding up to me," a student tells Kirstin Milks, science teacher at Bloomington High School South.
"Want to look over my shoulder?" Milks asks the student, and together they work out the math on an Advanced Placement biology test.
Milks has been teaching a total of five years, with four of those years at South, and this school year, she joined an elite group of teachers who are board certified. There are a total of 168 teachers in Indiana who are board certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and one of those is Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.
Nationwide, there are 110,428 teachers who have earned the certification.
From Milks' point of view, earning the designation was a learning experience.
"The process was really transformative," she told The Herald-Times (http://bit.ly/1HL1sOY ).
To become board certified, Milks had to pass an assessment testing her science content knowledge. She also assembled a portfolio including her reflections on student work samples, analysis of her teaching practice, and documentation showing her impact and accomplishments as a professional teacher. She was required to record video of herself during instruction and analyze and reflect on it.
The experience allowed her to think deeply about what was happening in her classroom as well as think of ways she could revise and refine her instruction, she said.
In her lab at South, you'll find egg cartons, plants, plastic water bottles with the tops cut off, a tub of soil and glass beakers in all shapes and sizes.
They are evidence of the hands-on instruction Milks does with her students each day. Around the room are outlines of heads, each representing a student. Drawn inside are pictures of pizza, money symbols or crosses and words like death metal, family, tae kwon do, and graduation. They remind the students of what motivates them to succeed.
During class, Milks' students become quality control specialists, managers, strategy analysts and spokespeople.
"Are hotter stars brighter?" Milks asks a student who's struggling to get the right answer to a question.
Milks sits beside her at the lab table, and they talk it over. She starts by reminding the student of what she already knows about stars and helping her come to a conclusion based on what she's already been taught. The student discovers she knew the correct answer, but was trying to get at it the wrong way.
While setting up labs to get her students investigating is one of Milks' strengths, she discovered she needed to get better at asking the right questions to encourage her students' thinking as she went through the process of getting board certified.
That's where capturing her teaching on video really came in handy. It forced her to reflect, and now she's applying what she's learned in all of her classes.
"It wasn't on my agenda to do this so early in my teaching career," she said. "I feel like I learned a ton."
To earn her certification, Milks got help with funding through the Indiana State Teachers Association and the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, where she is a Senior Fellow. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Stanford University in 2009.
Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com
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