Matt, HS, Environmental Science

Developing Achievement Skills and Supporting Key Science Concepts

Matt D'Amato, a science teacher at Vanguard High School
Interview with Matt D'Amato

In this interview Matt describes how he develops his students' achievement skills and supports key science concepts by using engaging curriculum resources.

School: Vanguard High School, New York, New York

Grades: 11-12     Classroom Size: 20

Subject: Environmental Science

Classroom Challenges:

  • Achievement Gap
  • At-risk Youth
  • Classroom Management
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Small Classroom or Small Group Activities
  • Special Needs/Inclusion

Click on a topic below to read more about Matt's work:


Please describe your experience with Facing the Future materials and how you use them in your classroom:

"I discovered Facing the Future materials last year as I began planning to teach courses in both physics and climate science. The physics course is themed around local, urban sustainability and the climate course includes elements of global/environmental sustainability. Some of the lessons and activities that Facing the Future had already put together would become a perfect fit to support units in both of those courses."

Matt uses the following Facing the Future resources:

How did these resources fit into your curriculum?

"Within sections of two courses, one about physics and one about climate science and the psychology of climate change communication. I followed much of the Climate Change: Connections and Solutions lessons, largely as written, to address topics in the climate science course. It fit as a support (in roughly the same order as written) to the overall course plan. Other lessons from Facing the Future were used in my physics class when we needed to learn more about why we were studying transportation or energy problems (to support the application of learning basic concepts)."


A lot of teachers struggle to find room in their curriculum for supplemental materials, like Facing the Future materials. How did you do this?

"At our school, faculty teams design the curriculum. Although we maintain curriculum oriented to major learning standards (local, state, and national), we have considerable freedom to explore topics in-depth. It was not hard to fit Facing the Future materials into our work – where they supported the key concepts and essential questions of the class, we used them!"


What are your classroom challenges and how did Facing the Future resources help you address them?

"Our student population varies widely in achievement, with approximately 30% having an Individualized Education Plan. Finding engaging material that supports key concepts in the sciences I teach is critical to develop achievement skills and help students apply their knowledge to the world around them. The activities engaged most students and promoted cooperative group work."

Matt's classroom challenges include:
  • Achievement Gap
  • At-risk Youth
  • Classroom Management
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Small Classroom or Small Group Activities
  • Special Needs/Inclusion

Did you make adjustments to adapt Facing the Future lessons to your classroom type?

"Yes, mostly for time or logistics in grouping. It was easy to adapt the Facing the Future resources for the concepts and activities that I thought would work best with our students."


What parts of the unit engaged your students the most?

"The activities/games are the most fun for students, however the short readings, as in the role-playing cards for 'Climate Witnesses', are engaging too [see Unit 6 in Climate Change: Connections and Solutions, Grades 6-8]. I used those climate witness stories along with a Google Earth map projection to view particular cases as students played the role."


How do you assess this course?

"Students at our school present a portfolio of work from each of their core subject classes (science, math, literature, and history). This kind of performance assessment allows students to express the ideas they learned in class in very unique ways and helps them define what they know and still need to learn. A series of presentations was given by my students in the physics and climate courses to demonstrate their knowledge. They present their work to a committee of subject and non-subject teachers, student peers, and community members who act as evaluators of their understanding."


What resources do you use to complement Facing the Future materials?

"I use standard textbooks for only a small part of the physics or Earth science concepts and sample problems for our students. I developed many of my own readings from primary sources (urban sustainability plans, federal and state energy reports, etc.) and problems and case studies come from local sustainable development projects (public works projects or real estate development projects with Environmental Impact Statement data)."


Did you incorporate an action project or service learning component in the unit/lesson?

"Not yet. Our school’s Student Leadership Team is implementing a school-wide recycling program this year, and other sustainable initiatives may be raised in the near future (for example, a green roof or school/community garden). With time in building the curriculum for my science courses, Facing the Future materials could provide many more ideas for students to get involved in broader sustainability projects."


Do Facing the Future materials and teaching global sustainability help you be a better teacher?

"These materials are well-organized and generally follow the teaching model that I use in most lessons (the '5E' learning cycle, described by R. Bybee at Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Colorado Springs). Having examples for what students can do at each stage is an excellent way to help me become more creative about other lessons where I may not be using material from Facing the Future.


What advice, if any, would you give to teachers using Facing the Future resources for the first time?

"Review all of the additional material/links that Facing the Future lessons suggest. I found many useful resources in those sections alone. They can really add to the rest of the lesson and extend the learning opportunities for students."



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We equip and motivate students to develop critical thinking skills, build global awareness, and engage in positive solutions for a sustainable future through hands-on curricula and professional learning.

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