“All kids can take AP physics,” says Robert Goodman ‘75. “There should be no assumptions about who will excel and who won’t.” A physics teacher and head of the science department at Bergen County Technical High School in Teterboro, NJ, Goodman was named New Jersey’s 2005-2006 Teacher of the Year.
Goodman, who lives with his family in Ridgewood, NJ, knows a thing or two about assumptions. “I took minimal math and science in high school–algebra II/trigonometry was my highest math course, and biology was my only science course,” he says. A required course in physics during his first year at New York University altered his direction. “I fell in love with physics,” he says. As a sophomore, he took five math courses and five physics courses, and then transferred to MIT for his junior year.
Goodman made a similar life change 20 years later, when he left a successful business career in audio consulting and speaker engineering to pursue teaching. “Business just didn’t feel all that meaningful any longer,” he says.
His students are ninth graders, often pursuing a vocational or technical major–until they meet Goodman, who revamped the school’s science department using an MIT model. “We have had students switch from their majors into pre-engineering,” he says.
Like MIT, Bergen Tech has a required core of science and math classes that work together to form a coherent whole. Many students are turned off by science because it seems like a lot of disconnected facts, memorization, and dissections, Goodman says. By taking courses that emphasize coöperative learning and problem solving, students come to see math and science as interesting and challenging domains that they can enjoy with their friends.
As part of the Teacher of the Year program, Goodman took a six-month sabbatical to tour New Jersey schools, lecture, and complete his doctoral dissertation, which documents and assesses his school’s math and science program. Several other schools in New Jersey now model their science curricula on Bergen Tech’s.
This year, two of Goodman’s students were admitted to MIT. “Seeing students rise well above the level they thought possible for themselves is the most rewarding part of my work,” he says.