Merrill Ranken, MEd Curriculum Studies Alumna

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Merrill Ranken
“There is simply no other program that brings together the academic rigor and the soul of responsive education in the way that the STEMS² program does.”
Hometown:

Manhasset, New York

Department:

Curriculum Studies

Degree:

MEd in Curriculum Studies: STEMS²

Where are you working?
I am the STEAM Teacher at Pōmaika‘i Elementary, Kahului, Maui

Why did you choose the College of Education?
There is simply no other program that brings together the academic rigor and the soul of responsive education in the way that the STEMS² program does. It was just lucky for me that this happens to be happening in my own state!

How did you become interested in STEMS² *
I was on the lookout for a graduate program that spoke to me about where I wanted to go in education. I needed to be immersed in a program that valued project-based learning and elevated the power of the elementary level STEM experience as the formative powerhouse that it is. After attending a talk story session on COE programs offered at UH Maui College, I thought that STEMS might be just what I was looking for.

What was the best part of the program for you?
Without a doubt, building relationships and the way those relationships have validated some strongly held beliefs that connection to place (geographic and otherwise) is what motivates us to understand and explore our world.

How have the people and the program in the COE helped you along with your career (or in your own classroom)?
During our program, we had numerous opportunities to “check-in” with each other over projects and our professional research. There is nothing groundbreaking about that, though I think the program did a really nice job of including cohort members from neighbor islands and out of state and facilitating conversations across the cohort. Since graduation, a few of us have kept in close touch over technology and have supported each other with instructional practices and with words of encouragement to “stay the course” and keep the STEMS² fire burning.

In what ways do you hope to make a difference using the knowledge you have gained?
I have been able to introduce opportunities for student voice and family traditions into my STEM teaching practice. It is a gift to step back, even after teaching for nearly 20 years, and re-evaluate to make sure what I am doing in the classroom is reflective of what serves the kiddos best. Making a difference for me has not been about instructional content as much as creating space for the students to be more of a driving force in their own learning.

What are your future plans?
I recently attended the California STEAM Symposium with the goal of looking for mentors and colleagues that are using these STEMS² concepts in their own teaching space. I am on the lookout for a way to serve classroom teachers and/or underserved students who do not have access to place and project-based science. This may be possible within the DOE system, though I am increasingly aware that I may have to take an entrepreneurial jump. That is a bit intimidating and frightening, but as my COE instructor would remind me, if I am uncomfortable, I am probably doing it right!

*STEMS² education is real-world problem solving via project-based and place-based learning within a social context that integrate science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the social sciences while focusing on youths’ development in relation to their sense of self as local and global citizens.