Teacher Spotlight: Mara Armenta

As a science teacher at Quest Forward High School (QFHS) Santa Rosa, Mara Armenta uses active learning strategies to engage students in the work they do as scientists. Check out our conversation below and discover a few of the ways Mara uses active learning to foster student agency and engagement.

Jolene: What does it mean to support active learning? What does that look like in your classroom? 

Mara: To support active learning is to be able to connect concepts learned to tangible and related projects that don’t necessarily involve traditional worksheets. In my class, we do lots of art, coloring, and DIY projects to bring to life our learned concepts. Recently my Integrated Science 2 class has been learning how to convert moles to grams and use stoichiometry to predict amounts of products and reactants in chemical reactions. Students made bath bombs to put their stoichiometry skills to the test. They determined the mass of the reactants, converted grams to moles, and used stoichiometry to predict the amount of CO2 that would be emitted when their bath bomb reacted. Students learned how to weigh different materials and follow a lab procedure. Then, they applied their knowledge to make a prediction and compare their results to their predictions.

Jolene: How do you enable student agency in your classes? 

Mara: Here at QFHS we have dedicated space for students to seek teacher support.  I enable my students to learn how to advocate for themselves by encouraging them to reflect, to recognize when they are struggling, and to use their voice to ask for help during our WIN (what I need) period. 

Jolene: Describe an activity or project that captured students’ interest. What did they do? What made it an effective and engaging activity?  

Mara: There is a butterfly adaptation activity students get really into.  Students learn about adaptation and how it is a mechanism of speciation. They are each given the same template of a butterfly and are tasked to use only color to camouflage their butterfly somewhere in the classroom in plain sight.  Students enjoy a little healthy competition, especially when I offer a prize at the end. I still have a butterfly within my clock that was camouflaged so well that students who have been in my class for years are still just now recognizing it.

Butterfly hidden in plain sight.

Jolene: What’s your favorite part about working at Quest Forward High School?

Mara: My favorite part is the community. The students have a great community within themselves and with the staff and the staff have a great community with each other and the students. I am happy to come to work every day knowing that I have a strong community. 

Jolene: Tell us about a couple of your favorite OE tools or resources and what you value about them. 

Mara: I like working with the Quest Forward Learning LMS, because it encourages all students to be active learners.  I think this is the best way to make information accessible and digestible. Students are not just sitting down and taking notes off of a screen every day for every period, but they are learning to work with others, get their hands dirty, ask questions, and relate to different disciplines across the curriculum. 

In terms of OE resources, I love to play 4 corners with my students!  Not only does it get my students up out of their seats, but I like to see the individuality come from my students and how they are not afraid to show off their knowledge in front of the whole class. 

Interested in the resources Mara uses in her classroom?

To learn more about the tools and resources available to support teachers as they work to engage students in learning, contact our team at teach@opportunityeducation.org.


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