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Alumna Q&A: Ummuhan Geyik

Ummuhan Geyik earned her Doctorate in Science Education in 2017 and teaches AP Chemistry at Frontier STEM High School in Kansas City, Missouri, where she was named campus teacher of the year for 2019-20. Her principal Serkan Kilic said Geyik “has done extraordinary work by constantly thinking of ways to get students engaged in learning. Dr. Geyik is a teacher that thinks outside of the box and creates opportunities for students to love science—such as her exploding pumpkin experiment.” Kilic said Geyik pushes her students to realize their full potential and made more than 80 home visits last school year to build strong relationships with her students and their families. She also received a $500 grant from Western Governors University to purchase a 3D printer for her class.

How did you feel learning about your award (while quarantined at home)?

I heard about the award on April 22 when we’d already started virtual learning. I’m so passionate about finding projects for my kids and our competitions. It’s great to see how their hard work has been paid by this award. I’m thankful and happy for this award but it’s for my kids too.

“I don’t want to lose the chance for students to say I had a teacher in high school who had passion for science and learning. I try to make a memory for them and have an impact on their life.”

Exploding pumpkins?!

Yes, that is very popular with students. A student needs to do hands-on learning and touch lab equipment and learn from their mistakes—understand the process by trying. I apply a lot of labs and I try to do the pumpkin explosion during Halloween time. You carve a pumpkin, put some acetylene (hydrocarbon gas) and it lights up and it’s a Halloween celebration. I try to use some things to try to connect chemistry topics to the theme of the month. I don’t discourage students and what they’re interested in, but I try to show them a safe application for chemistry and relate it to the curriculum.

Can you talk about how you push them to excel in your classroom and beyond high school?

The challenge for the students is that they work as well; many have after school jobs. I’ve run advanced research club for three years and from the beginning the first year we got silver and bronze medals, this year it was virtual competition and we still got a gold medal. Students are interested in their academic life, but they also need to support their family income.

We do a great job on seniors going to college. A lot of students got KC Scholars awards, which grant up to $10,000 per year up to five years to attend a four-year college. Our teachers write recommendation letters and we take it seriously and make sure students complete their applications. We broke the record for scholarships last year and families are more aware of the importance of scholarships.

How did you start visiting students at home?

That’s the school tradition—they already did home visits to connect with parents. At our school the student profile is low-income households and parents generally work more than two jobs and don’t have opportunities to connect, even during parent-teacher time. We talk about the academic side and behavioral side and inform parents about scholarship opportunities so they know how to guide their kids, about after school programs, events and what’s expected for the coming months so that they know status of their children.

How has COVID-19 changed your teaching, and how will it change your teaching in the fall?

It’s a very weird time. In the spring I used Zoom to connect twice a week with students. I recorded my teaching videos and asked them questions to make sure they watched the video. Whoever answered first would get extra points. Some moments were very special even if it was virtual—We played games like Kahoot! and the winner got virtual applause and celebrated birthdays virtually. We dropped off packets at home and try to keep in contact with students and families.

For the fall we’re not sure yet—one option is hybrid learning. Even if there’s not an opportunity to make real labs, my dissertation and thesis were on simulations and animations and they work really great. There are more dynamic versions and I’m planning to do those and ask students to do some very basic and safe labs they can do at home. Hopefully we’ll get to go back on site safely.

Read more

Frontier STEM Teacher Receives Grant from WGU Missouri