Finding her place
Even over the phone from the other side of the globe, Tia Luker throws off more energy than a 100-watt light bulb. Born in Canada and trained as a French teacher, Tia taught in Canada and South Korea before moving to China where she discovered a passion for science and engineering and earned a Lesley degree online to help her train other teachers.
We caught up with her on her daily cab ride to Wellington International College, the private international school in Shanghai where she has taught for several years. “I always wanted to travel, wanted to teach overseas.” Tia started out teaching English and French and had little science knowledge but she had a contagious enthusiasm for learning and a flair for putting together school events.
“I’m a bit of a project person! When I started teaching in Shanghai, I said ‘I want to do a science fair.’ I ended up becoming the head of the Department of Science and then I realized that I didn’t know anything about science! So I started looking for a program. In my second year teaching in Shanghai, I started my masters at Lesley. The online program was just perfect for me and everything just took off from there.”
She formed strong bonds with her instructors, even from 7,000 miles away. A class in teaching engineering and STEM solutions ignited Tia’s passion for teaching a subject that she was only just learning herself.
“I was coming from zero background. Every class I took I’d email my teacher and say “I have no idea what I’m doing!” But I learned. My teachers at Lesley were amazing. They were always very open to my million questions and we developed such good relationships.”
A new perspective
Learning how to teach science and engineering changed Tia’s perspective. “It opened my eyes to so many things, to what was going on in the world. Even watching ‘The Big Bang Theory’— suddenly I understood what they were talking about!” she explains. And her excitement was contagious. “We did two teacher training sessions over two weeks—real hands-on professional development. We did a project during the training where we designed a carrier for someone in a wheelchair or on crutches, using nothing but string, cardboard, and tape. Everyone was so excited.”
The results? “We did a survey—before the training, almost all of the teachers said, “there is no way I could teach engineering.” After just two days of professional development, every single teacher told me that they felt more confident in their ability to teach engineering to their students!”
Her new forays into engineering also splice with Tia’s long-term involvement with SolarBuddy, an Australian charity program that delivers small solar-powered lights to communities affected by energy poverty in the South Pacific, Africa, and Southeast Asia. 1.4 billion people worldwide live without access to modern electricity, limiting their ability to read or study outside of daylight hours.
The SolarBuddy lights are safe and easy for children to assemble and early evaluations have shown that access to a solar light helps children spend 38 percent more time studying. “Having my students assemble the lights means that not only they do a good deed for a fellow student far away,” says Tia “they also learn about the importance of environmental stewardship and being global citizens.”
The lights originally came with no educational materials, so Tia spent a summer putting together a curriculum for grades 1-12 on solar power, environmental stewardship, and sustainability, and the impact that the lights would have on energy-poor communities. “The curriculum just got implemented in Australia by the Australian Board of Education—it’s all over the country now.”
Pursuing a purpose
When Lesley graduation rolled around, Tia wanted to be there and she flew to Boston with her then-partner now wife, Amber Putra. “Going to graduation was so meaningful. I finally got to meet my professors in person. We flew into Boston, went to graduation, and flew out the next day.
Now that she has her masters under her belt, Tia shows no signs of slowing down. There are more science fairs underway; she helped launch a girls’ lunchtime programming club, and started a series of popular robotics classes for boys and girls.
She spoke at the Festival of Education this year, sharing her work on applying engineering in the classroom. And she shares her passion for science on Twitter @TIAscience and Instagram @ThisIsAwesomescience. On the day we spoke, she was getting ready to welcome an American astronaut, Barbara Morgan, to the school to talk to the kids.
“Lesley changed my life—it gave me a whole new purpose. There have been so many good things that came out of my time there. I was really a person who was not interested in science and now I love it. And I help teachers feel good in their classrooms. It’s not rocket science—if you as a teacher are not excited about the subject you’re teaching, then the kids won’t be excited either. And the kids in my classroom love science.”
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