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At-Home Special: Creating Junior Scientists with Dr. Afsaneh Miller | A Teacher Spotlight

While we have a unique opportunity to spend time at home together, we’re excited to introduce some special content, inspiring stories, and spotlights on our incredible students and teachers. We’d be thrilled to hear from you if there are any meaningful moments or recent projects that you’d like to share with us. 

Dr. Afsaneh Miller, Fairmont Schools science teacher and scientist, who helped build a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM-based curriculum at Fairmont, is committed to continually provide more creative and effective ways to educate her students.

As a trained STEM educator, Dr. Miller took on an assignment of her own at Fairmont North Tustin this past year, where she implemented a new learning approach for our sixth- through eighth-grade students.

Rather than using a traditional format, Dr. Miller overlays the initial Fairmont curriculum with project-based learning, teaching students, “the way a scientist would do it.” This equips our students to develop consistently over time, making discoveries for themselves through their projects and building their capabilities. 

Dr. Miller says a key factor in her approach is to “meet the child where the child is at,” adjusting at a student-to-student level. “Every child is learning right where they are… at their own pace.” The environment also engenders collaboration and growth within a group. “I enjoy watching what happens in the classroom,” she says. “Different groups of students are working on different things, but they’re all learning… I watch the students help each other and teach each other.”

The results speak for themselves: last year the students achieved a substantial increase in standardized test scores at the end of the year. Perhaps more importantly, the students fell in love with the curriculum, calling it “real science,” and gained higher confidence in taking on challenges. “What was even more interesting to me as a teacher and researcher,” says Dr. Miller, “was the growth I saw; the skills they learned — problem-solving, critical thinking, learning to communicate, learning to connect with others — skills to help them become college and career ready.” 

“I watched [the students] do things they didn’t think they could do — I watched them go ‘all-out’ by the end of the year to do amazing projects.”

The experiment proved that a scientific approach, when applied to science education, creates greater real-world applications, more enthusiastic students, and more tangible long-term implications. “In project-based learning, the outcome isn’t as important as the process,” says Dr. Miller. And yet, it’s obvious that this solid process has led to great outcomes for our students.

We are thrilled to have Dr. Miller continue at Fairmont next year at Fairmont Prep, leading the way for project-based learning and new approaches to science education for our students.

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