Ursuline High School '04
University of California, Los Angeles '08 - Bachelor of Arts, Communications, Minors in Theater and Biological Anthropology
University of California, Los Angeles '11 - Master of Education, Teacher Education Program
IMPACT Urban Residency Program
A couple of years after she graduated from college, Haley Boylan realized that her job with a big LA ad agency wasn’t doing it for her. “There was drama going on around some advertising issue, and I thought there was no justification for the hubbub. I didn’t mind working hard, but it didn’t feel like I was working for anything,” she remembers. “I went home that night and thought about what I would feel better about doing.”
Teaching was the answer. The field had been on her short list before being captivated by communications and public relations, so it didn’t take long for Haley to find a way to change her career. She applied for an eighteen-month UCLA Teaching Fellowship program to teach in an urban, impacted environment. Today, as her school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) teacher, Haley exemplifies an educational approach that is grounded in the latest research about how students learn and be successful in school.
“I teach sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students in a middle school in an LA neighborhood named Korea Town. The majority of my students are English language learners (for whom English is their third or fourth language), the community is largely Latino, and as a Title 1 school, 100% of the students are eligible for the free lunch program.” While the statistics sound challenging, they represent something completely different for Haley…her joy. “I left advertising because I wanted something more, and I got it!”
Haley’s focus, hands-on learning, is also known as project-based learning. Her STEM class is an elective, and the classroom is a lab equipped with sixteen computer workstations. Students rotate through the stations in teams and spend two to three weeks learning the lesson objective and concepts, and designing and completing projects. Opportunities range from robotics video and photo editing, and computer programming to construction challenges such as solar power and simple machines and creating and performing music using songwriting software.
“Kids learn by doing with a focus on inquiry and critical thinking,” Haley explains. “They need to be engaged, display initiative, and be imaginative and collaborative. They provide daily written reports to me, but it’s their initiative and abilities to think critically, manage their time, and complete assignments that make them successful.” Many of her students come into the class without these skills, so Haley considers developing them an important focus.
Haley found the principles of STEM learning a natural fit when she was in her teaching program’s first year, and was delighted when she was offered the full-time job of STEM teacher before the second year of her fellowship program. “The things that interested me about education fit the objectives of this classroom. I had ideas of what I wanted to do as a teacher, and as the STEM teacher I’m able to be creative and apply my passions to education.”
Although her lab vastly differs from her SCDS classrooms, she credits her rapport with the STEM philosophy to a critical thinking skill she developed at SCDS.
“I began learning to be a critical thinker in kindergarten and it was reinforced in the older grades. We were encouraged to look at our processes for acquiring information as much as collecting information. We were told to ask questions, consider how you got to your conclusions, and how your learning connected to your life.”
Haley’s SCDS experience instilled a personal joy of learning that she gladly shares with her students. “I tell them learning should be fun. It’s more than an education; it’s life!” Furthermore, while aware that the transition to project-based learning can be difficult for students who haven’t been taught to think that way, she doesn’t feel that age influences critical thinking ability. “After all, I was engaged in the process as a kindergartner!”