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2019 A+ Educator: Sonia Chin

Friends' Central School

Her Nominators Say:


“Sonia is hands down one of the most extraordinary and inspiring teachers that I have come across since my two boys started school in 1999. My younger son is currently in her Honors Biology class. While her advanced biology degrees could lead her to be bored teaching at a high school level, she clearly has a profound passion for teaching not just biology but the important processes of scientific thought and inquiry. She is not by any means an easy teacher nor does she teach to the test. But she gets her students to think and to stretch and to grow as learners. And still, Sonia cares deeply for her students as individuals. She is compassionate and caring and empathetic. She expects her students to maintain high standards and works with students who struggle. She finds a balance that is extraordinary. FCS and her students are profoundly lucky to have her as a teacher.” – Friends’ Central School Family



Get To Know Sonia

What made you want to be a teacher/educator? When did you decide that was your path?

Prior to teaching, I was a graduate student in the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. My third year of graduate training, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with a nonprofit called the Biotechnical Institute of Maryland teaching math and lab techniques to Baltimore City high school students interested in pursuing careers biomedical sciences. I loved it. When I completed my doctorate in October 2016, I thought hard about my next step and felt that many newly-trained PhDs would become scientists. However, despite its paramount relevance for the intellectual development of future generations, relatively few PhDs consider teaching high school biology as a joyful, first choice career path so I applied for high school teaching positions rather than postdocs. I think my formal scientific training brings a different dimension to teaching in my willingness to explore the edges of the unknown with students.

What is your teaching philosophy?

I aim to introduce my students to how wonderfully weird biology can be and challenge them to view the world around them with the curious and analytical eye of a scientist. By incorporating practices rooted in my training as a researcher, such as using the scientific method and frequently posing open-ended questions, I hope to help students understand that the field biology is dynamic and constantly evolving in interesting ways that are relevant and prescient at personal, professional, and societal levels. Most importantly, whether or not they become professional scientists, I hope my students can transfer skills they work so hard to hone in my class to logically evaluate information encountered outside of school into their adult lives.

How do you make your classroom/teaching environment feel welcoming and dynamic?

I start Orientation Day by having students in my Biology I Advanced survey course debate the statement, “Science is objective.” This lets students pull in their existing knowledge and experiences about what science is and sets the tone of the class very early on to impress upon the class that everyone’s thoughts, opinions, and analyses have value in my classroom to their classmates.

What would you love for the parents of your kids to know?

Scientific thinking is a skill, and like any other skill, it can be developed through practice and use. There is no such thing as a “science person” vs. a “not a science person.” High school students, particularly those in upper levels, are remarkably capable of some very sophisticated abstract problem-solving. Giving them the space to sometimes fail while exploring different ways of thinking is really valuable for the development of those skills.

How do you resolve problems in the classroom, if a student is disruptive, for example, or if two students aren’t getting along?

Juniors and seniors I teach at FCS are very mature, and having students meet with me outside of class and encouraging everyone to clearly communicate their expectations has been a very effective practice for resolving problems in the classroom.

How can you tell when your material is connecting with your students? How do you measure progress?
I find the best and most meaningful way for students to connect with biology is through their own curiosity and the realization that what we are studying is pervasive around and inside them. My favorite moments in teaching are when students ask really great profound questions that connect to either an aspect of biology they have directly experienced or observations they have made about the natural world outside of the classroom. It is in those moments that biology, which can feel very abstract, becomes amazing and relevant to them.
Progress looks different for different students. For a student that struggles with mastering the material in my advanced biology classes, I see progress as discovering the study strategies that really work for them. Other students will experience different struggles, and their progress can only be measured according to metrics related to what they are struggling with.
Has teaching changed since you started?

Since I just started my third year as a teacher, I don’t think I am qualified to evaluate whether teaching has changed. However, I am constantly learning about how to better teach complex subject matter and connect with students.

How do you prepare for the first day of school/class?

I try to start memorizing names and faces using our photo rosters before the first day.

What has been the most rewarding thing about teaching?

Sharing my love of biology and helping young people surprise themselves with what they are capable of thinking about and accomplishing.


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Contributing Writer