Theorems and Theater: How Avon STEM Teachers Break Stereotypes

Krishna Lathish | Web Co Editor-in-Chief

Paul Haiducu holds many titles at Avon High School: AP teacher, educator, and at times, Dracula. Armed with fantastical experiments and fake blood, Haiducu goes on the road with his Power of Physics (POP) shows to spread the magic of Boyle and Pascal. He’s in good company; Haiducu is one of many science and math teachers who have broken into their creative side at Avon, both in and out of the classroom.

For Haiducu, a love of physics that would later inspire POP began early.

“Both my parents were teachers; my dad taught Physics and was my teacher at some point. His physics “toys” always attracted me,” said Haiducu. “We had long discussions about many physics topics that applied to our reality.”

Presently, the POP shows have been enjoyed by up to 3,000 students annually across schools, libraries, homeschool initiatives, and more across its 14-year tenure. To stage one show requires extensive research, storyboarding, and funding, along with student manpower; the 50-hour production process marries many of Haiducu’s personal interests, such as traveling and photography, and have attracted many from the auditorium to the classroom

“I often take a survey which shows that about half of the students who end up in my physics classes saw a POP show at some point in time,” said Haiducu. “I think this is a powerful outreach initiative to get students interested in physics and STEM and it needs support. The fun plotlines woven throughout the shows are designed to attract and entertain as many people as possible, especially children.  As the story unfolds, we include demonstrations that stimulate the imagination, generate laughter, and open minds to the amazing power of physics in its many forms and applications.” 

While Haiducu takes the stage with Einstein, you’re more likely to find Anthony Record memorizing Ibsen.

“Through most of my life, I have always tapped into my artistic side,” said the calculus teacher. “My favorite passions are participating in live theatre and music.”

As his students can vouch for, any given semester finds Record writing recommendation letters, partaking in College Board training, and working with calculus teachers across the nation, all while unscrambling differentiation and fluid force integration to multiple class periods. Why add acting to the mix?

“I find that engaging in these activities provides great balance to my life.  Whenever the analytical, teaching calculus side occupies the majority of my thoughts, I know I need to decompress and grab my guitar and play or record in my home studio,” said Record.  “Whenever I have gone through a long stretch of work, whether it be at school or working with calculus teachers through my College Board trainings, I know I need to seek a larger creative outlet.  That’s where I look to audition for a play, usually a comedy, that really interests me.  After the tough 18 months, we’ve experienced, I find myself currently in production of a hilarious two-act comedy entitled ‘I Hate Hamlet’.  The show opens during our fall break.”

Many may be surprised to find their math and science teachers backstage or tuning a guitar. Computer science teacher Rashad Welch thinks that this austere view of math and science, and by association, its teachers, comes from a misunderstanding of its real-world value. Welch himself enjoys basketball as well as weaving computer science into other areas of his life.

“I love the arts, especially scripted-video and music,” said Welch. “I also love sports.  What I really appreciate about computer science is that it plays a vital role in all fields.  On a personal level, I use my knowledge of computer science to help me create artistic works and with my interactions with sports.” 

Welch attributes student distaste for STEM to a misunderstanding of it’s utility in the real world.

“In my experience, most math and sciences classes I have taken just aren’t very practical,” said Welch.  “I spent years learnings mathematical concepts without knowing the usefulness of the concepts.  I believe that math and science classes should be practical, and teachers should relate their material to the lives of their students.”

Record believes this perception can be accredited to TV.

“I think this stereotype has been created by the media,” said Record. “If you look at shows on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, the math and science teachers are typically portrayed as bumbling nerds completely caught up in their STEM worlds and out of touch with reality.   Nearly all of the math and science teachers at AHS are incredibly interesting people with a wide range of interests!”

Despite what their peers might say, Haiducu urges those with an interest in STEM to take the plunge and demystify math and science for themselves.

”Students should not avoid any topic based on what they hear about them from other students. They should try each topic for themselves and decide what they like,” said Haiducu. “For instance, if they will come to physics, they’ll have a pleasant surprise: it is fun and fascinating to learn about our world through mathematical modeling. Of course, it will be fun only if they are willing to work at it. Just like the case of a new language, learning and understanding the basic units or bricks of the language, such as the alphabet and grammar rules, will take some work, but it will allow you to speak it and have fun with it.”

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