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Dublin High School Teacher Kim Baumann Inspires a Love of Science

October 23, 2010

Dublin High School Science Teacher Kim Baumann inspires her students to learn by asking questions – by becoming active participants in their education. Kim didn’t follow a traditional path to teaching and started her career in industry as a chemical engineer.

Kim grew up and went school in Canton, Ohio before attending Grove City College (Grove City, PA) where she earned a BS in Chemical Engineering in 1985. Kim was hired out of college by Norton (Worchester, MA) as a Product Engineer, moved several times and later accepted a job in Des Moines, Iowa where she met her husband (a member of the U.S. Army). The military moved the Baumann family to Ansbach, Germany (in the heart of Bavaria) where Kim landed a civilian job with the Army as the chief of the management engineering and systems branch within the Directorate of Engineering and Housing Division .

Kim Baumann: “It was a great experience – the people I worked with spoke German, so I had to learn some German really quickly, and I was there during a unique time in history because that’s when the wall came down, the reunification of Germany. I was able to visit Berlin as the wall was coming down and it one of the greatest memories of my life. You could see on the other side of the wall, across the river, in East Berlin how dismal, grey and dreary it was. There was a checkpoint where they were coming through – these people looked so downtrodden – but as soon as they crossed into West Berlin I have never seen a person change so dramatically, like a weight was lifted off their shoulders. It was amazing – I will never forget that experience.” Why did you make the transition from working in industry to teaching? What was the trigger?

KB: “When I was going through college, of course we all want to make money and it took me a while to realize I wasn’t getting any satisfaction out of that. Money doesn’t drive me. Obviously, you need money to be comfortable, but it wasn’t a driving force in my life. I felt like there was something missing – I wasn’t doing what I was called to do in life. It took a period of almost 20 years to figure it out. Holly Cunningham [Dublin High English Teacher], who is one of my most dearest friends, kept saying to me you should look at teaching. So when my husband was called up for Iraqi Freedom and was put on full-time duty it gave me an opportunity to leave industry, go back to school and earn my teaching credential at Cal State East Bay. My first year of teaching was at Logan High School in Union City and I’ve been here at Dublin High ever since. And I love it.”

OD: At the Dublin High Back to School Night you shared with parents that the most important thing students can do is “ask questions”. Tell me more about that philosophy.

KB: “What I see when I come into a classroom is that kids sit back – they want you to teach them – and they’re very passive; that’s not how we learn. In industry when you want to learn anything, you are very active in the process. So for me, if students aren’t asking questions, I don’t know where their minds are. When students are asking questions they are being active participants in the class, and I can tell whether they’ve done their homework or not, done their reading, what is their background knowledge, it gives more information with which to teach my classes.

“I also want students to understand that learning is their responsibility. Yes, I’m here to help them but ultimately learning is their responsibility. No one else is going to pay their bills. And they don’t always make that connection. I think sometimes in an effort to get so much information across we don’t encourage questioning. I’m trying to change that. It’s also incumbent on me to do the same thing – remind myself that I’ve told students to ask questions, and to let them ask questions. Some of the best questions have led into great discussions. One of the best comments a student has ever made was ‘Mrs. Baumann, I loved the conversation we had today, it wasn’t like we were learning!’ And they were learning – I was responding to their questions, and their questions were so right on that we covered all the material we needed to cover, in a different fashion than I normally would have, but because it was so interactive the students retained the information much better.”

OD: What has been the most difficult aspect of transitioning from industry to teaching?

KB: “You get it in business too, but there is what seems to be an insurmountable amount of daily paperwork that you want to get through so you can provide timely feedback to students. When you go into teaching you don’t necessarily think about that aspect. That’s been one of the harder things – finding an organization method that works for me. But it’s a part of the job.”

OD: There has been a lot of press about our country’s poor standing in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. How do you think Dublin is doing and how can we improve?

KB: “One of the ways to answer that is my children’s experience, both my son and daughter graduated from Dublin High and are attending college [Kim’s son is attending Mount Union College on an ROTC scholarship and her daughter is at Penn State – Erie]. I ask them ‘How was your education?’ and without fail they say ‘I know how to write better than my classmates. I got the second highest grade on the math test.’ They are both products of Dublin High School and products of the entire Dublin public school system.

“We need to give our kids opportunities to explore things that really interest them, and get them asking questions. Parents need to play a role in encouraging students in their school work, take an active role, and if their child needs help to guide them on how to get help. Students often don’t want help from their parents and don’t like telling their parents they need help. So if you sense your child needs help encourage them to form a study group with other students.

“That’s probably the biggest thing parents can do – encourage your child to find a group of friends to study with because that’s one of the skills they’ll need in college and in the business world. They only thing we’re ever doing is working together, you’re not working in your own little box. Engineers work with other people – they have to know how to communicate, how to take the best from each other’s brains. So when we can get students to work together I really think we’re doing them a huge favor down the road.”

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