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Spotlight On: Kristin Koegel

Bulkeley Middle School Science teacher Kristin Koegel was raised in Saugerties and graduated from Saugerties High School in 2003. After graduation, she moved to the Bronx to attend Manhattan College on a softball scholarship, beginning her education as a pre-med Biology major with a minor in Chemistry. Her plans changed after tutoring at a local high school.

At the end of her sophomore year, she added a secondary education major and graduated with a BS in Education and Biology in 2007. She interviewed at Bulkeley less than a week after graduation and has been at Bulkeley ever since.

Kristin Koegel

When did you first get interested in science, what sparked your interest, and what kinds of things did you do in pursuit of your interest?
Science was something I was immersed in from a very young age. My parents always encouraged us to figure things out on our own. My dad owns a car electronics business, so I have been fiddling with all kinds of cool stuff for as long as I can remember. One of our favorite things to do as a family was make tennis ball cannons out of soup cans. (A little isopropyl alcohol can create a lot of pressure!) I spent many Saturdays at work with him learning the basics of electricity. By 11 he was letting me wire stereo systems on my own. Once I got a little older, softball took center stage and we focused a lot on how the velocity and spin on the ball made my pitches move as I wanted them to. What really sticks with me is that I was always encouraged to figure things out on my own. I remember the frustration of knowing my parents knew the answer, and how it would have been much simpler if they just told me. But, without knowing it, the scientific process was ingrained in me throughout my childhood. This is something that has become a cornerstone of my own parenting.

Are you pursuing any interesting science-related projects right now?
I am currently working with Larra Agate, an eighth grade Science teacher in Red Hook to put on the first annual Red Hook/Rhinebeck Science Fair. A Science Fair has always been something I have wanted to implement, but it is difficult to sustain in such a small school. Larra and I are both members of the NYS Master Teacher program and after September’s meeting we decided to take on the challenge. Fortunately, Bard faculty jumped on board and the fair is taking shape. Our students have been working hard after school and will be showing their projects on February 20th from 9:30-11:30 am at the Center for Science and Computation at Bard.

Have you found any good ways to use technology as a means to teach science?
I am a firm believer that true learning happens through problem solving. I like to incorporate projects that give students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the issue and really learn how to solve it. In this context, technology is a wonderful way to streamline and enhance these opportunities, but I don’t rely on technology as a means to teach science per se. For example, once students have a handle on graphing and data analysis (by hand!), they are welcome to produce digital graphs using a program such as excel. This is a skill that will make their work more manageable in the future, but letting the computer do the work will not solidify their understanding of the data. I have found that learning systems such as Google Classroom has made group work more manageable because every member of the group has access to edit and manipulate the data from wherever they are, which is really helpful during long term projects.

What hopes or goals do you have for science education in the future?
I hope that science education becomes truly accessible to all students. Too many times science seems unapproachable and daunting because the concepts can be difficult to understand. However, the skills needed to be a successful scientist are skills that will benefit all students, no matter the field they end up going into. As educators, I feel our focus needs to shift towards process skills and critical thinking and away from regurgitation of material for the sake of tests. I believe that true learning begins when students become comfortable with failure. This hasn’t been an easy shift in mindset for me and many times it’s hard to stop myself from swooping in to save them, but it’s rewarding to see the confidence build once they figure out the solution for themselves.

Tell us about the Bard Day of Science, what it is, how it came to be, how you got involved, and what you think it does for the students?
The Bard College Citizen Science program runs a full-day field trip for our 8th graders, exploring areas of science and math. Six years ago I was approached by members of RSF who then introduced me to Erin Canaan, who runs the program through Bard’s Center for Civic Engagement. In the past, students have extracted DNA from strawberries, made bacteria driven batteries, calculated the amount of sodium in Gatorade, programed robots on a scavenger hunt through campus and much, much more. It is a wonderful opportunity for our students to get a glimpse of the college labs and start to picture the possibilities that lie after graduation from RHS.

Is there anything people in the community can do to support this great event?
The Rhinebeck Science Foundation and Rhinebeck PTSO have been integral in our participation in this program. Supporting these community organizations will support us!

What do you do when you aren’t teaching?
My boys, Easton who is (almost) 4 and Brady who is (almost) 2, keep me very busy when I am not at school! We love to play sports, build with Legos, paint and explore. My husband and I are loving the inquisitive stage they are in right now and look forward to all of the adventure parenting will bring our way!