Myra Halpin still looks forward to going to school everyday. This probably would not be the case if she had spent the last thirty-nine years teaching cookie cutter science labs. But fortunately for her, for her students, and for science educators across the country, Dr. Halpin has spent her career as an educator actively seeking out ways to provide students with unique opportunities to learn through real life applications of science.
Imagine a chemistry class where you present a skit in which you are the doctor on the medical review board for the National Baseball League. You have to determine whether players should be suspended from the league based on the results of a recent random steroid test. Your assessment is based on how well you explain the scientific evidence that led to your decision.
This scenario represents Halpin’s inspiring vision for how science should be taught, and demonstrates the kind of innovative work that makes Halpin well-known and widely respected as a leader in science education.
Instead of dissecting frogs or memorizing the periodic table, high school students are now learning basic concepts in biology and chemistry through an exciting program called the Pharmacology Education Partnership (PEP). In partnership with Duke University, Halpin designed and co-directs this program, which is taught to high school science educators nationwide using distance learning technology. She recently published a paper in the prestigious journal Science documenting the effectiveness of this approach to teaching science.
“The point of science, math, and engineering education is to teach the students how to think, how to find and use information, not to just memorize and regurgitate facts. Science is changing so fast you just can’t know it all, but you have to know how to go find the answers,” says Halpin.
At the North Carolina School of Math and Science, where she has taught for the past 19 years and served as Dean of Science for the last 3 years, she started the Research in Chemistry program, and guided physics faculty in creating their own research program. With her support, students present their research at local and national events, including many NASA competitions, and year after year, the school receives a major award or prize.
“Myra really understands how to get kids to ask the right questions, and do good science,” says Steve Gotwals, one of her colleagues in the Chemistry department.
Beyond prize-winning student research, Halpin has an impressive resume of successes in obtaining grants, conducting teacher workshops, developing curriculum materials for the classroom and online courses, designing state science curricula, and building statewide, national, and international collaborations.
“She is the best science educator I have met in my 25 years as a science teacher. She sets a very high bar for her own faculty, but is very skilled at helping other educators get better,” adds Gotwals.
“Myra is an extraordinary individual on both a professional and personal level. She is highly resourceful, unbelievably hard-working, and exceptionally innovative,” says her supervisor, Steve Warshaw. “ I cannot imagine a more appropriate way to inaugurate this Outstanding Educator Award than by giving it to Myra Halpin,” adds Warshaw.