Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that prepares kids for the ever-changing world of the future. Our team of educators have a diverse background of experience on the cutting edge of teaching and learning, whether they’ve worked in brick and mortar schools or dynamic online environments. In our Meet the Team blog series, you’ll get to read more about the amazing educators behind Prisma.
Anne McHugh is the Science Curriculum Designer & Learning Coach at Prisma High School, who joined Prisma High School’s founding team in Summer 2022.
“Despite Levi’s frustrations with science in the past, he had the most ambitious projects for Anne’s class. I love that she was able to inspire him!” -Joy J., Prisma parent
Where are you based?
I am based in Portland, OR.
Tell us a little bit about your background in education prior to joining Prisma.
I have worked in science research and education since 2007, when I was an undergraduate research fellow at Lewis & Clark College studying the behavioral ecology of Speyeria zerene hippolyta (the Oregon Silverspot Butterfly) and assistant teaching an ecology and environmental science course. I enjoyed the way Lewis & Clark faculty taught labs as a process of doing science, showing students that through careful data collection, they can explore questions not previously investigated. I pursued a Masters in Evolutionary Biology at University of Vermont, exploring the island biogeography of two groups of spiders, and discovered my passion for teaching high schoolers through work with UVM’s Upward Bound program. I realized high school represents a unique moment in life where students have not yet decided who they are, and that with the right support, I could open up opportunities they otherwise would not consider.
As I earned my MAT, I did a research fellowship at NASA Ames through the STAR program, and spent two summers in the Bebout Lab studying extremophiles and exobiology. This work transformed the opportunities that I had as a first and second year teacher. My students were able to collaborate with NASA scientists on research projects! This collaboration continued throughout my first 5 years of teaching, and gave me the confidence to expand my comfort zone to teach things outside of my research experience.
What is your favorite part about your role at Prisma?
Being able to invest in relationships with kids at Prisma that will continue to grow over multiple years has been transformative. It has been amazing to collaborate with the other coaches to challenge learners to take risks, and to find creative solutions for learners who might have struggled in a mainstream public education setting. I also enjoy being a part of the founding High School team and being able to envision aspects of the program, like grading and assessment, that classroom teachers often do not directly have influence over. Being able to facilitate the curriculum that I design is also amazing; it is an excellent hybrid of the nerdy academic and the educator in me.
You’ve spearheaded the science curriculum at the high school level. What sets Prisma High School’s approach to science apart from traditional schools?
Science is both a body of knowledge and a way of learning about the world and the universe. At Prisma High School, science is explored through themes in the 9th and 10th grade years: anchoring labs, content knowledge, and projects in real world challenges that lack concrete answers. This piece is key; it helps learners envision the role that their contributions to science can play in policy decisions, health care, and new discoveries.
In the 2022-23 school year, learners were asked to explore the biodiversity of their local communities in the Secrets of the Biosphere theme. With only 15 learners in the Fall Cohort, they managed to document over 700 observations and close to 500 species on iNaturalist. In the Spring session Future of Health theme, learners explored genomics and bioethics and considered ways in which design can be applied to improve health for particular patient populations. I am extremely proud of the nuanced ways that our learners consider the broader impacts and stakeholders involved in decision making using data, and the ways in which they have collaborated on labs and projects to communicate their findings to broader audiences.
If you could pick one skill that all kids should master to prepare for the world of the future, what would it be and why?
Collaboration. Regardless of the role or field a kid is interested in, being able to work through challenges in community with other people will open up opportunities to solve problems that we cannot address alone. Successful collaboration is also closely coupled with communication and curiosity; knowing how to share ideas, and how to be curious about the experiences of others is key to innovating and addressing the world’s issues.
What do you like to learn about, or what is something new you learned recently?
I recently started a ceramics practice (entirely handbuilding) and appreciate the experience of being a true ‘beginner’ again: the process of repeatedly failing and having many more questions than answers. The ways in which the form is influenced by chemistry and geology and even the weather appeals to my scientist brain, and the process of making helps me find mindful moments to engage with audiobooks and a community of makers in Portland.
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