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The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

‘The only one in Texas’

Astronomy’s journey to IB
Smruthi Garlapati
IB Astronomy teacher displays the APOD or Astronomy Picture of the Day. This picture from Oct. 18 features the Veil Nebula, which was created due to the explosion of a star.

Becoming a teacher was never in the plan. He had dreams of being an astronomer, watching, understanding and sharing the observations he made.

So, when IB Astronomy teacher Jimmy Newland contemplated leaving his teaching job, the Bellaire principal at the time asked what would keep him teaching.

“I said astronomy. I just blurted it out.”

To his surprise, his wish was granted.

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Newland created the curriculum for an astronomy class from scratch, basing it off of his own classes in college.

“All of a sudden I had to make up a class,” Newland said. “It’s changed over the years. I’ve filled it in with what people like, which is changing over time.”

However, Newland noticed that since astronomy was an on-level course, his classes didn’t tend to have students that were in higher level math courses, like AP Calculus and Math HL.

“Often Bellaire students that take AP and IB classes don’t take regular classes because it lowers their GPA,” Newland said. “So if those students took the class, they knew they were taking a hit to their GPA. It was a weird sort of dynamic.”

Working with about five other Texas IB Astronomy teachers at the time, Newland refigured his curriculum to accommodate for the test.

“I had to make up a lot of the curriculum, but I already had to do that,” Newland said. “The exam experience was [also] a little bit different than the other [IB exams], but it meant it was an IB course and appealed to a larger audience.”

During his first year of teaching the new IB Astronomy course, Newland noticed that he now had students of all math levels taking the class.

“I found that the AP and IB students that wouldn’t have taken the class because of the GPA hit were there,” Newland said. “But the kids who didn’t really care about their GPA were also still there. I was relieved that I got both groups.”

Approaching his 10th year of teaching the class, Newland still faces difficulties with IB Astronomy.

“I have very talented students, and I think they know a lot of the content already,” Newland said. “And I think it’s hard for them to stay engaged. I look up and they’re doing other things and it makes me wonder what else I could be doing to get them to engage.”

To add to the stress, the pandemic caused Newland’s fellow IB Astronomy teachers to drop the class.

“To maintain a school-based syllabus, the teacher really has to be into it,” Newland said. “You have to be really passionate and do the extra work because no one is going to hand you a curriculum. Over the pandemic the other teachers switched to other classes like physics, biology and IB Environmental Systems and Societies. [Bellaire is] the only one [left] in Texas.”

However, Newland’s love for the subject and desire to see his students succeed motivates him to continue teaching this unique class.

“I really enjoyed this class and made good friends,” senior and past IB Astronomy student Vivian Jenman said. “It wasn’t super stressful, and I still learned the information because the class was very interesting, and I did well [on the IB test].”

Now, Newland is working on his Ph.D to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an astronomer.

“Astronomy, as a way of knowing and interacting with the world, is one of the things humans have done since the beginning of time,” Newland said. “We should all be doing it.”

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    Luke WangNov 14, 2023 at 10:58 pm

    This is a great article!