Betsy Madden, upper school physics teacher, is in her second year at Nueva. In this conversation we learn about Betsy’s time working for the Red Cross and how teaching has provided a place for her interests and experiences to be put into practice. We also get a peek into some of our students’ work in physics and a joke from Betsy’s 6-year-old son.
Jim Morrison: You spent several years studying and working abroad. Where were you living and working prior to joining Nueva?
Betsy Madden: In 2015, when my first son was 10 months old, we moved from San Francisco to Munich, Germany, where I was doing research on earthquake dynamics at Ludwig Maximilian University. My second son was born in Munich and when he was a year old, we moved to Brasília, Brazil, where my husband is from. We lived there for almost two years and worked at the University of Brasília.
JM: What are some of the ways you work to make your content authentic and experiential for your students?
BM: I try to bring in applications from my field of research (geology, earthquake physics, and hazard) as much as possible. I am passionate about these things and I hope that my genuine interest draws the students in. I also ask students about their interests and try to work those into the course where possible, for example discussing the use of equations of motion in video games.
JM: In what ways was your work with the Red Cross at the intersection of your interests and expertise? What perspectives and insights did your time at the Red Cross bring to your current practice?
BM: My work with the Red Cross reflected my desire to do community work with a clear and visible impact (to shelter and feed people after disasters) and the best part of my job was working with a dedicated cadre of volunteers. Though the mission of the Red Cross is simple, meeting that mission requires tireless and glamorless day-to-day networking to build local relationships to recruit and retain volunteers and be able to provide hot meals and security for people as soon as the need arises.
Teaching is similar; the goal is simple, but achieving that goal is the collection of daily efforts to engage students and innovate curriculum.
My time with the Red Cross also made me sensitive to the way our relationship with our local communities shifts and changes as we grow. The Red Cross has volunteers of all ages, from high school to retirement, and each group brings a different commitment and energy. In contrast, all of my other jobs have brought me into contact with a particular age group or set of people.
JM: Is there a moment in your life you can point to that led to the realization that you wanted to become an educator?
BM: There was no moment in my life that I realized that I wanted to be an educator, but teaching is one of the few threads that connects all of the various jobs that I have had and interests that I have pursued since high school. I find this both surprising, since I had stage fright as a young adult, and wonderful, since my respect for educators runs deep and I am proud to now officially call myself an educator, too.
JM: Can you describe what you are currently working on in your classes?
BM: We just set off air rockets! Students collected data and are using them to explore the effects of air friction on rocket acceleration. This requires an application of Newton’s Second Law of Motion (F = ma). They will write up reports in pairs on this experiment and share what they have learned.
JM: Have you heard any good physics jokes?
BM: I’m horrible with jokes, but my 6-year-old son tells me lots of jokes and always wants me to pass them on to my students. Here’s one:
What did the ocean say to the coast when it was leaving?
Nothing, it just waved goodbye.
I love this joke because I am fascinated by waves (ocean waves, seismic waves, microwaves), which transfer energy and typically leave no trace behind. I also love it because my son found it so funny that he cracked himself up and the laughter was contagious!
Do you, or your 6-year-old, have any great jokes about physics, waves, or anything else that might crack up our community? If so, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.