Mary Shane has seen her share of back-to-school Mondays, and she says the ones after winter break are always the hardest, because after just a week with her rusty charges, semester finals begin. Fortunately, Shane teaches high school chemistry, geology and environmental science at Las Vegas’ Advanced Technologies Academy—and her students are some of the best and brightest the Valley has to offer. The 20-year pedagogue shares her thoughts on how education works when it’s working well.
What do your students enjoy the most?
Labs. They’re more hands-on. My chemistry class last semester had a flame-test lab. They enjoyed that, because they were burning things. They always ask if they’re going to blow stuff up. We have a lab coming up this semester where they’re generating a small explosion. They really like that.
What do they have the hardest time grasping?
The application of learned material from other classes. Let’s say they’re really good in math. When it comes to applying that in chemistry or physics, sometimes there’s a struggle. They sometimes like to compartmentalize subjects. I help them interconnect science with everything else.
How does Las Vegas compare with other places you’ve taught?
The other places I taught—Idaho and central Nevada—were small, almost rural. When I moved here, I liked being in a department of multiple teachers with lots of collaboration. I came from a place [Round Mountain, Nevada] where I was the only high school science teacher. I had nobody in my building to go to. Here, there’s always someone to ask, “What do you think about this?” and to learn from. For me, that was very powerful.