Enquirer Herald

Clover Teacher of Year has students tackle real science

Erika Long teaches eighth grade science at Clover Middle School.
Erika Long teaches eighth grade science at Clover Middle School.

Earthquakes, erosion and the Ebola outbreak. Erika Long aims to bring real-world science to her eighth-graders at Clover Middle School.

Long knows that middle school students tire of reading concepts from a dusty textbook if they can’t understand how it affects them. That’s why she aims to offer as much real-world, hands-on science as she can.

“We talk about things in the context of solving real-world problems,” said Long, 35. “Sometimes I pull in things that aren’t necessarily part of the curriculum, but they are part of inquiry. We talk about the Ebola breakout and the plague that they have been experiencing with campers at Yellowstone.”

Long was recently named the Clover school district’s 2015 Teacher of the Year. She was chosen for the honor from among 10 Clover school-level teachers of the year, who were named in April.

Long just competed her first year of teaching in Clover schools. She worked for eight years in chemical management for the auto industry before she became a teacher.

She grew up in West Virginia and graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in anthropology and a background in other sciences, including chemistry, physics and biology.

She and her husband, Nathan Long, worked mainly in large automotive plants, where he was involved in purchasing and management and she was involved in chemical testing.

“I ended up in a field I knew nothing about and I really enjoyed it,” she said. “But always, in the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted to teach.”

The couple lived and worked in Mexico in the auto industry. When they moved back to the United States, Long said she decided it was time to start her teaching career. She went back to school and received her degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

She taught in Charlotte for several years before moving to the Clover school district, where the couple live. They have two children, ages 5 and 8.

Long said she was drawn to teaching because of the influence of some great teachers, especially during her middle school years. “I’ve always been drawn to middle school and to science,” she said.

Her teaching philosophy is to bring a hands-on, practical approach to the classroom. She aims to show her students “here’s how it’s affecting your life today, and here’s how it’s affecting the world.”

For example she said eighth grade science includes a unit on earth structure and processes. Her students look at processes like earthquakes and erosion. They do research and gather and present data, she said, and they use their iPads in the classroom every day.

“We live near an active fault line, and there is the potential for us to experience an earthquake, so let’s talk about it,” she said. “You can make it real, and bring in real-world things, and they instantly care more.”

Long also coaches a Logo robotics team and leads an international club that plans a student trip to Italy and Greece in 2017.

She said she aims to give her students a strong foundation in science inquiry and expected skills like data analysis and lab reports, which they will need in high school science classes and beyond.

“Science always seems so difficult for people in general, and I feel like I can make a difference,” she said. “I can get kids thinking critically and I can get kids to really love to solve problems and do science.

“And while they’re learning science, they are also learning math in my classroom, and while they are learning science, they are also learning to read,” she said. “I can do a good job in making kids like this.”

The other school-level teachers of the year, who were named in April are:

▪  Bethany Elementary, Jessica Farrington, first grade

▪  Bethel Elementary, Jennifer Thomas, kindergarten

▪  Crowders Creek Elementary, Ashley Brown, fourth grade

▪  Griggs Road Elementary, Tammy Adams, kindergarten

▪  Kinard Elementary, Emily Boyd, fourth grade

▪  Larne Elementary, Sarah Hamilton, math interventionist

▪  Blue Eagle Academy, Otis Neely, math

▪  Oakridge Middle, Miriam Edwards, Spanish

▪  Clover High, Sean Sullivan, AP history

Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077