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UMaine Today Magazine


Student Focus

Katie McCann
Katie McCann not only wants to teach science, she is committed to teaching it in a rural Maine high school like the one she attended. She’ll do that with the help of a prestigious five-year fellowship she was awarded this past spring from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation. "I feel rural districts don’t get as much attention as urban ones," she says. "There’s still a pretty big need for good teachers and educational development." Above all, McCann wants to share her love of science — physics, in particular — when she’s in the classroom. She’ll do that by making sure to connect the concepts and the students.

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Love of physics

Katie McCann was 5 when she fell in love with science. Inspired by each edition of Your Big Backyard, then Ranger Rick, she headed outdoors and "checked stuff out."

That thrill of discovery stayed with her through middle school, when astrophysics became her passion. But in high school, McCann hit a self-described rough patch. Classes in chemistry and physics were uninteresting, mostly because they didn't seem to have real-world applications.

The experience left her uncertain about her course of study at Northeastern University. Ultimately, she found biomedical physics and collaborated on research at Brigham and Women's Hospital focused on neurodevelopment of the preterm infant brain. In particular, she studied cerebral fluid flow as a possible indicator of brain injury or defect.

McCann's rediscovery of her love of science occurred because her coursework was driven more by concepts and theory than by formulas and prescribed experimental outcomes.

"I began thinking more deeply about the huge underlying concepts that are so amazing and beautiful," she says. "And I like that there may be more than one way to solve a problem. You may not remember the equations, but if you know the basics, you can solve the problem. That's where the beauty comes in."

McCann's undergraduate experience could have led her to pursue graduate work and a job in industry or research. But that was not an option, she says.

"I wanted a career, so I'm going into teaching," McCann says. "For me, it's the difference between a job and fulfillment."

Last year, McCann enrolled in the University of Maine's Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research, which supports scientists and mathematicians committed to teaching. As a master's student, she's studying how students learn physics in an inquiry-based curriculum.

"An inquiry-based curriculum is so much more effective than lecturing to students," she says. "When the lab precedes what the teacher talks about, the discussion is more dynamic and students have more input."

McCann not only wants to teach science, she is committed to teaching it in a rural Maine high school like the one she attended. She'll do that after she finishes her graduate work with the help of a prestigious five-year fellowship she was awarded this past spring from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation. 

UMaine Today Magazine
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