College of Education > News and Publications > 2018: 04-06 news > Graduate student's endeavor is to tackle the science of teaching science

Graduate student's endeavor is to tackle the science of teaching science

Dan Henderson is a student with a lifelong passion for science and he's engineered his future plans to relay that passion through the profession of teaching.

Dan Henderson is a student with a lifelong passion for science and he's engineered his future plans to relay that passion through the profession of teaching.

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Dan Henderson has his sights set on using his science skills by helping students in a classroom.
A December 2017 graduate in engineering science from Schreyer Honors College, Henderson immediately transitioned into the College of Education's Curriculum and Instruction graduate program for science education after sequentially adding education courses to his transcript.

Like many budding engineers, Henderson was infatuated with his Legos collection as a child, and he said the building construction engineering side of science appealed to him. "At some point I realized science is where I saw myself making an impact in the future … what field do I want to get in where I can make a difference," Henderson said. "At that point I was saying science in the engineering realm … the technical side."

As attractive and engaging as that sounded, Henderson also realized there was a side of him that liked science education – a field that helps other people build their own passions for science. "I saw the way science was being taught at a collegiate level and I think there are different ways and better ways and it inspired me to want to get into education," he said.

Henderson knew from early on that the urge to teach might conquer his appetite and impulse to enter what surely would be a more lucrative field career-wise. "I remember my Algebra 2 class in high school where the teacher would introduce new material and both the teacher and I would be walking around the class answering questions," Henderson said. "I didn't fully realize until I got into college that education is something that I have always cared about; it maybe just was kind of hidden."

The thought process to enter education wasn't difficult for Henderson, he said, despite enjoying engineering science and his classes and the people within the department. "I think with engineering I liked the major but I really didn't see myself working there in the engineering field," Henderson said.

"Engineering science, about half of the graduates go to grad school and maybe get a Ph.D., the other half go into industry getting jobs. You can really cater that degree to kind of where you want to focus in engineering. If I focused in one area I would maybe call it systems engineering with the electives that I took. By the end I realized I wanted to get my master's in education and that's what I'm going to be doing, so it was kind of taking things in engineering that also helped me lead into this master's program."

Henderson is student teaching at Park Forest Middle School in the State College Area School District, and he said it "feels right" to be there.

"I know for sure I will want to keep working in the education field," he said. "Whether that will be that I'm always in a physics classroom for my entire career, I don't know yet. I could see myself getting into the public policy side of education or I've even considered law school a little bit. Wherever I want to go I want to have teaching experience and I definitely enjoy being in the classroom and working with students."

Whichever path he chooses, the connection to teaching is already there.

"It's one of those things you don't quite know what it's like until you're actually a teacher," Henderson said. "Everyone interacts with teachers on some degree, whether you're a student interacting with a teacher or parents of kids who are in school, but it's a job that you don't know what all there is to it until you actually step into the classroom and teach."

Henderson said part of the draw toward the public policy side of the education field is the sometimes-caustic criticism teachers are confronted with for any number of reasons and how "undercompensated they can be" for the number of hours they put in.

"Knowing those things, people say, 'you know you can get more money using your engineering degree, Dan,' and I'm like, 'yeah, I know, but it won't motivate me enough,'" Henderson said. "I definitely need some type of intrinsic motivation to really dig into whatever project or career choice for me. I never quite felt that same draw toward engineering jobs and as I progressed through that degree, more and more I was really seeing myself in an education context."

"Everyone interacts with teachers on some degree, whether you're a student interacting with a teacher or parents of kids who are in school, but it's a job that you don't know what all there is to it until you actually step into the classroom and teach."--Dan Henderson

Henderson capped off his engineering science degree with a capstone project titled "Measuring and Comparing the Effects of Design Interventions on Ideation Flexibility," and is still working with a research group called the Ideation Flexibility Project. "What ideation flexibility tends to do is we want to come up with ways that allow innovative thinkers to generate ideas in adaptive ways and adaptive thinkers to generate ideas in innovative ways," he said. "We want to bring people out of their comfort zone of generating ideas."

That, he said, has definite applications into education and potentially for his upcoming master's research paper. "I'd like to at least in part write a sample curriculum using what we've done in that ideation flexibility program and applying it to a high school physics classroom, almost like an engineering physics curriculum," Henderson said.

"Engineering still really matters to me but how can we take that stuff that we researched in engineering and put it into a high school classroom? That's where my role is shifting now from an engineering researcher to this student teacher who is in the classroom every day of the week and seeing for this master's paper to see how they can tie those together."

Henderson, who plans on graduating in August after taking nine credits of summer classes, is happy with the student teaching program and hopes to be in a classroom by the end of August.

"It's been a good program," he said. "When you're organizing so many different student teachers at so many schools and every student teacher has a different mentor, I can't imagine how difficult it is for them to have to juggle all of that. Despite all of that complexity, I think it's a remarkably smooth and well-run situation.

"I feel I lucked out getting into the State College Area School District. It's really interesting to see a high school that is so closely tied to a major research university. They have very good teachers there; the administration is top-notch.

"I have somewhat of a calling to go more toward an urban setting where there are a different set of needs for students," Henderson said. "I've always been thinking to myself, 'where can I make an impact?' Being a good teacher in any district is going to have an impact, but I almost feel driven of heading toward a city school system.

"It's something I'm in the process of figuring out. Where do I think I'll have an impact and how big of an impact will that be?"

Jim Carlson (April 2018)