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High School Science Teacher Wins 'Genius Grant'

Science and engineering teacher Amir Abo-Shaeer, one of 23 winners of this year's MacArthur Foundation
Science and engineering teacher Amir Abo-Shaeer, one of 23 winners of this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius grants," stands in his lab at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, Calif.
—Amanda Edwards/MacArthur Foundation/AP

Amir Abo-Shaeer Helps Students Learn By Engaging Them in Hands-On Projects

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A high school science and engineering teacher who develops project-based-learning courses to inspire his students has been named one of this year's 23 MacArthur Fellows by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

He is believed to be the first public school science teacher to receive one of the foundation's annual "genius grants," worth $500,000 each.

Amir Abo-Shaeer, who teaches physics and engineering at Dos Pueblos High School, in Goleta, Calif., began his professional career as a mechanical engineer before moving into education in 2001. In 2002, he started the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, a specialized program at the high school with a rigorous applied science curriculum that integrates physics, engineering, and math courses, and he continues to direct the academy. He recently helped secure a $3 million matching grant from California to expand the engineering program at Dos Pueblos High with a new, 12,000-square-foot facility.

The MacArthur Foundation lauded Mr. Abo-Shaeer's "novel and effective model of science instruction." The Chicago-based philanthropy said his approach was "instilling a passion for the physical sciences in young men and women and is contributing to the preparation of the next generation of scientists and engineers."

Mr. Abo-Shaeer, who plans to continue teaching, noted that the grant was meant to allow him "to act quickly on creative ideas that I have that we can try out in education," and that is what he intends to do.

"I've been doing a lot of things that are creative by any means necessary," he said. "I'd really rather, if we have a good idea, implement it effectively."

"I'm trying to change the way we deliver curriculum to students," he added. "There is so much focus on information and not as much on the experience. ... You can't build a robot by reading about it online."

Among the other winners of this years grants are Sebastian Ruth, a violist, violinist, and music educator for urban youths who founded Community MusicWorks, a nonprofit group based in Providence, R.I., that offers frequent performances and free musical instruction; and Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who co-wrote a study that sought to calculate the economic value of outstanding kindergarten teachers. The winners were chosen for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future, the foundation said

Vol. 30, Issue 06, Page 4

Published in Print: October 6, 2010, as High School Science Teacher Wins 'Genius Grant'
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