Middle schoolers at the Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am take a deep dive into science thanks to Eric Hartung. Studying physics means creating websites that describe different kinds of energy, then designing and building roller coasters, using the engineering design process to test and improve their creations. In life science, students learn about genetics via Mr. Potato Head, using Punnett squares to predict genetic outcomes by matching six "Tater Tots" with their parents based on physical traits. In earth science, students develop public service announcements on geological events, weather and climate change, including models and proposed solutions.
Teaching is Mr. Hartung's third career, after starting in health care management and then selling, installing and servicing aquariums. A life-threatening medical emergency caused him to rethink his career choices. When he helped a friend by teaching science to second graders once a week and realized he loved the classroom, Mr. Hartung began teaching full time. As Pressman's former science department chair, Mr. Hartung believes learning must be personal to be meaningful. For one project, students measure each room in their house, then create blueprints and a scale model, including building circuits to provide lighting to each room. Next year, the same project will be based on blueprints for Pressman's proposed new building.
Mr. Hartung manages Pressman's science fair and serves on the executive board of the Los Angeles County Science and Engineering Fair (LACSEF). Students apply the scientific method as they develop reading comprehension, writing, research, data analysis and presentation skills. Over the past 12 years, 48 of Mr. Hartung's students have received awards at LACSEF and eight at the state level, with one project winning best in state. "My goal is to instill in students the desire to do better today than yesterday," he says. "I want them to understand that if they break down a challenge into small pieces, it becomes more manageable."
Note: This biography was current at the time this educator received the Award