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Learning Beyond the Classroom at O'Dowd



When teachers pursue further education, their students benefit too. Take O’Dowd physics teacher Chris Gallick’s experience working at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company last summer. Consider social studies teacher Bonnie Sussman who developed educator resources for the New Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Add in the talents of Thien Pham and Gene Yang who both published graphic novels, and you have a sampling of the professional pursuits of educators at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland.

Students enrolled in Gallick’s physics, honors physics and engineering physics classes are getting keen insights on how this scientific discipline has very real world applications.

That’s because Gallick completed a 10-week full-time research position at Lockheed Martin where he participated in investigation and analysis on an aero-optical defense mechanism for attack jets such as the F-16. Gallick secured the Summer Fellowship opportunity through Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education (IISME). Along with project work, he spent time focusing on how to transfer his Summer Fellowship experience back to his students and colleagues.

“The director at Lockheed said he would help me in any way—provide materials or resources—so that I can implement new ideas in the classroom,” he said. And Gallick expects students will be all ears when he details his research experience that revolved around developing the technology for a high energy laser that would be located on the belly of fighter attack jets for the purpose of aerial defense. “It will be great to get a dialogue going in the classroom about how physics is being used in the industry,” he said. For instance, Gallick’s students perform experiments with lasers and mirrors during an optics unit. “That’s what gives a class life—showing students how learning, research and experimentation all fit together.” 

Sussman went to Europe for her professional development opportunity as one of 20 U.S. teachers of Holocaust education selected to work with Polish teachers in Warsaw to develop educator resources for the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews. She participated in the Polin Academy Summer Seminar (PASS), designed for North American teachers and educators from Jewish educational institutions.

Specifically, Sussman created educational opportunities for North American tour groups, learned about incorporating the Museum’s materials into school curricula, and interacted with Polish educators to share experiences.

Sussman believes her summer experience enhances her Holocaust class curriculum and helps students gain a broader understanding of basic moral issues. It also will add to the research opportunity shared with her students when she accompanies them on the annual Holocaust Study Tour.“Students learn that history doesn’t just ‘happen,’ but it occurs because of choices made by individuals, organizations, institutions and governments. We discuss the responsibilities of citizenship and the dangers of apathy and indifference. For example, Hitler came to power legally, in a parliamentary democracy,” she said. “Teenagers are trying to figure out who they are; they are developing their own sense of right and wrong, and the Holocaust provides an effective mechanism for discussing all of this,” Sussman said.

O’Dowd computer arts teacher Thien Pham recently published his first solo graphic novel, Sumo, the story of a washed-up football player who takes up sumo wrestling. Previously, Pham collaborated with Director of Information Services Gene Yang, illustrating Yang’s Level Up. Pham shares his design and publishing knowledge with students to bring real world experience to their artistic expression.

Yang’s latest effort, Boxers & Saints, released in September 2013, was named a National Book Award Finalist.  This two-volume project explores the stories of two peasants during the Boxer Rebellion in China who struggle with issues of identity during a time in Chinese history when many were asked to choose between their country and their faith.

Yang, a frequent guest speaker in classes at O’Dowd, has published several graphic novels. His American Born Chinese (2006) was the first graphic novel named a finalist for the National Book Award and earned the Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association.

O’Dowd students benefit from an amazing array of learning experiences, including science field research trips to places like Costa Rica and the Galápagos Islands.  But when it comes down to it, they learn the most from their teachers. Faculty like Chris Gallick and Bonnie Sussman take their “Beyond the Classroom” learning and translate it into applied science and discussion topics. Thien Pham and Gene Yang share their artistic experience with their students to show them opportunities ahead.

Bishop O'Dowd High School
9500 Stearns Avenue
Oakland, CA  94605
(510) 577-9100

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Added: 2017-03-07

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