Shoshana Leffler

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Shoshana Leffler, an accomplished academic and educator, blends a profound expertise in chemistry and developmental genetics with a vibrant passion for teaching and community service. Born and raised in Bronx, NY, Shoshana exhibited early academic promise, earning recognition as a semifinalist in the prestigious 2005 Intel Science Talent Search during her high school years, and having her artwork published in notable publications.

Shoshana pursued an A.B. in Chemistry at Princeton University, followed by a Ph.D. in Developmental Genetics at New York University. Her doctoral research led to significant contributions in the field, including the development of a mathematical model that predicts childhood brain cancer occurrences, published in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology.

In her professional career, Shoshana has demonstrated a deep commitment to education, working as a Chemistry Teacher at New Visions Charter School and the NYC Department of Education. She has redefined chemistry education by integrating real-world applications and inquiry-based learning, significantly improving student engagement and understanding. Her innovative approaches include using Elon Musk’s quest for better batteries as a teaching tool and managing a popular cooking/chemistry club that uses culinary concepts to explain chemical reactions.

A highlight of Shoshana’s teaching includes creating inquiry-based lesson plans in chemistry for Title 1 schools (schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment). The inquiry-based lessons allow students to access the chemistry curriculum that is normally abstract and inaccessible.

Beyond academia, Shoshana’s artistic talents and love for hiking and writing reflect her holistic approach to personal wellness and creativity. Her artwork has been showcased in various exhibitions, and her hiking exploits are a testament to her love for nature and mental rejuvenation.

Shoshana’s dedication extends to philanthropy as well. She has been recognized with several awards and fellowships, including the MƒA Master Teacher Fellowship and the Wellness Council Champion Grant from the NYC Department of Education, underscoring her commitment to fostering educational and wellness initiatives.

Shoshana Leffler is a distinguished scientist, an innovative educator, and a community leader, whose diverse talents and relentless dedication have profoundly impacted her students and the broader educational landscape.

What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?

My typical day begins with a morning review of my lesson plans and educational materials, ensuring alignment with the day’s objectives. I dedicate my mornings to teaching complex scientific concepts through hands-on, interactive activities that engage my students actively. After my afternoon classes, afternoons are often reserved for collaborative planning with colleagues or student mentoring, where I focus on tailored support and enrichment. To keep my day productive, I utilize technology for efficient communication and organization, employing tools like Google Classroom and Phet Simulations to enhance learning and keep track of student progress. Reflection on the day’s outcomes in the evening helps me adjust strategies for better effectiveness. Staying organized and reflective ensures each day is productive and fulfilling in advancing my students’ education.

How do you bring ideas to life?

To bring ideas to life, especially in an educational setting, I start by grounding them in real-world applications that resonate with my students. For instance, linking chemistry lessons to current events or practical examples like battery technology or environmental issues helps materialize abstract concepts. I often prototype lesson plans with a small group of students to gather feedback and make iterative improvements. Collaborating with fellow teachers and subject matter experts also enriches the development process, infusing different perspectives and expertise. Technology plays a crucial role, allowing me to create interactive and immersive simulations that bring theoretical ideas into a tangible format. By testing, refining, and scaling these ideas, I ensure they are impactful and engaging for all learners.

What’s one trend that excites you?

One trend that excites me is the movement towards simplifying the administrative aspects of teaching through technology. This approach utilizes software tools that automate lesson planning, grading, and classroom management, freeing up educators to focus more on direct student interaction and personalized teaching. By reducing the time spent on routine tasks, teachers can dedicate more energy to engaging with students, understanding their needs, and crafting more effective, individualized educational experiences. This shift helps cultivate a more interactive and responsive learning environment where teachers can be more present and proactive in addressing their students’ educational and emotional needs. Moreover, such technological integration supports educators in managing diverse classrooms more efficiently, ensuring that all students receive the attention and resources they need to succeed. Overall, this trend promises to enhance the quality of education by allowing teachers to concentrate on what they do best: teaching and inspiring their students.

What is one habit that helps you be productive?

One key habit that boosts my productivity is daily planning and prioritization. Each morning, I allocate time to outline my tasks and objectives for the day, identifying critical activities that need focus and setting realistic goals for both teaching and administrative duties. This practice helps me manage my time efficiently and ensures that I address the most impactful tasks first. Regularly updating and referring to this plan throughout the day keeps me on track and focused, minimizing distractions and maximizing output. This structured approach to task management is instrumental in navigating the busy environment of teaching and allows me to maintain high productivity levels.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would advise my younger self to embrace challenges and uncertainties as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles. Learning to adapt and finding creative solutions to problems are invaluable skills in both personal and professional realms. I would also stress the importance of building strong relationships with mentors and peers, as these connections provide support, inspiration, and opportunities to learn and grow. Additionally, maintaining a balance between work and personal life is crucial; investing time in hobbies and well-being significantly enhances resilience and overall happiness. Patience and persistence are key, as the most rewarding accomplishments often require sustained effort and dedication. Finally, never underestimate the impact of a passionate teacher on their students’ lives and always strive to inspire and motivate through your own actions and commitments. 

Tell us something you believe that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I believe that traditional exams and standardized testing are not the most effective means of assessing true understanding and the holistic abilities of students. Instead, I advocate for more formative assessments and project-based learning where students apply their knowledge in practical, real-world contexts. This approach not only measures knowledge but also skills such as problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration, which are crucial in today’s world. Despite the prevailing reliance on standardized tests in many educational systems, I am convinced that a shift towards more dynamic assessment methods would lead to more meaningful learning and better prepare students for future challenges. Combined with traditional Regents practice, I have found project-based learning will actually improve Regents chemistry test scores. 

What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?

Regularly setting aside time for professional development and continuous learning is something I do repeatedly and recommend to everyone, especially educators. Engaging in workshops, online courses, and educational conferences not only enriches my teaching repertoire but also keeps me abreast of the latest educational trends and technologies. For example, I have attended a number of workshops at MƒA, such as the inspirational workshop “Polymers: More than Common Consumer Plastics”.  This practice not only enhances my effectiveness in the classroom but also fuels my passion for education, keeping me motivated and inspired to innovate and improve. I encourage everyone, regardless of profession, to commit to lifelong learning as a means to stay relevant, adaptable, and vibrant in their careers.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

When I feel overwhelmed or unfocused, I take a step back and engage in a brief period of mindfulness or a short walk, preferably in nature. This break helps reset my mental state and provides clarity and calm. I also prioritize tasks by writing them down and assessing their urgency and importance, which helps manage the workload effectively and reduces anxiety. Discussing challenges with colleagues or a mentor can also provide new perspectives and solutions. Additionally, returning to my core mission of educating and inspiring students often reinvigorates my focus and motivation. These strategies collectively help me regain my focus and tackle tasks more efficiently. I have helped students address strategies through the Wellness program at my school. I was the 2021 Wellness Council Champion Grant Recipient from the NYC Department of Education (NYC DOE) to create a school wellness plan and purchase wellness items for the school. 

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career? Please explain how.

Embracing interdisciplinary collaboration has been a pivotal strategy in advancing my career. By working with professionals from diverse fields such as mathematics, biology, and engineering, I have been able to enrich my research and teaching methods, bringing innovative perspectives into the classroom. For example, I derived and programmed a cerebellum math model to predict how childhood brain cancer occurs. This approach not only bolstered my research credentials but also enhanced my teaching repertoire, making complex subjects more accessible and engaging for students. Collaborations have led to the development of integrated curriculum projects that prepare students for real-world challenges by linking scientific concepts with practical applications. These experiences have improved my visibility in the academic community and increased my influence in educational reform. Ultimately, fostering interdisciplinary partnerships has been instrumental in creating a dynamic teaching environment that promotes student success and lifelong learning. 

What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?

Early in my teaching career, I designed a highly technical curriculum that, despite its innovative approach, failed to engage students effectively due to its complexity and lack of contextual grounding. This experience was initially disheartening but prompted me to reevaluate and adapt my teaching methods. I learned the importance of incorporating student feedback into curriculum development and the value of aligning lesson plans with students’ interests and real-world applications. By revising the curriculum to include more interactive and practical components, I was able to improve student engagement and comprehension significantly. This failure taught me that flexibility and responsiveness to student needs are crucial in educational settings. It also underscored the importance of balancing academic rigor with accessibility to ensure that learning is both challenging and attainable.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

An exciting business idea in the educational sector is the development of a virtual reality (VR) platform for science education that simulates real laboratory experiences. This platform would offer students the opportunity to conduct virtual experiments and explore scientific concepts in a controlled, immersive environment. Such a tool could revolutionize science education, particularly in schools that lack the resources for fully equipped labs, by providing a cost-effective way to engage and teach complex subjects like chemistry and biology. It could also be expanded to include collaborative projects with students from around the world, fostering global educational partnerships and cultural exchange. This idea not only has the potential to enhance learning outcomes but also to make science education more accessible and exciting for students everywhere.

What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Google Classroom has been an indispensable tool that enhances my productivity as an educator. It allows me to organize courses, distribute assignments, communicate with students, and provide timely feedback all in one platform. The ability to streamline these administrative tasks saves considerable time and energy, which can be redirected towards more interactive and personalized teaching. Additionally, Google Classroom’s integration with other Google services like Docs and Sheets facilitates a seamless workflow and enhances collaboration with students and colleagues. This software also helps in maintaining a transparent and continuous line of communication with the school community, ensuring that everyone is aligned and engaged in the educational process.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why? (personal or professional)?

The best $100 I recently spent was on a professional development workshop on innovative STEM education techniques. This investment provided me with new strategies and tools to enhance STEM learning in my classroom, emphasizing hands-on, inquiry-based learning approaches. The workshop also offered networking opportunities with other educators, allowing for the exchange of ideas and experiences that I could bring back to my own students. This experience not only invigorated my teaching approach but also reinforced my commitment to providing high-quality, engaging STEM education. The knowledge gained from this workshop has been instrumental in shaping my teaching methods and curriculum design, making it a valuable investment in my professional growth.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast (or both) from which you’ve gotten much value, and why?

A favorite book that has significantly influenced my pedagogical approach is “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck. This book delves into the concept of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, emphasizing the importance of embracing challenges and persisting in the face of setbacks. Dweck’s insights have shaped how I encourage resilience and continuous learning among my students, helping them to see effort and difficulty as opportunities for growth rather than signs of failure. By integrating these principles into my teaching, I have fostered a more supportive and motivating learning environment. This book has not only been transformative for my professional practices but also in personal development, reinforcing the value of perseverance and adaptability in achieving success.

Key Takeaways

  • Shoshana Leffler’s career is characterized by her innovative integration of real-world applications in chemistry teaching, significantly enhancing student engagement and understanding.
  • Her commitment to continuous professional development and adoption of new pedagogical techniques keeps her teaching methods fresh and effective.
  • Shoshana values the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, which has broadened her academic and professional perspectives, enriching both her research and educational practices.

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