Nicole Anthony: Making science personally meaningful for inner-city students

Year: 2018 – Province: Ontario

Transcription – Nicole Anthony-2018 Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence in STEM

[Black screen fades up to close-up of woman in interview setting, against a mottled background. Music playing.]

[Caption: Nicole Anthony, John Polanyi Collegiate Institute]

[Nicole speaking in the interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by video of Nicole speaking into a microphone behind a podium, addressing fellow recipients, who are listening.]

Nicole Anthony: I think the number one factor that contributes to student learning is the ability to learn in a hands-on environment that supports failure. Students that can learn in an environment where they can safely fail get to have chances to construct their own knowledge and to create meaning from what they are learning.

[Nicole speaking in the interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by still photos, as follows: Nicole and a student at a lab bench, both wearing gloves and with safety goggles, while Nicole holds a pipette; and three students in and beside a creek with a bucket and small containers for collecting water samples. Cut back to Nicole speaking in the interview setting.]

Nicole Anthony: The perfect place for students to learn would be having the classroom in the school as a sort of debrief area and a collaborative area to consolidate what they’ve learned, but I feel that the best learning would happen with partnerships. I think that students work and learn best when they are applying what they’re learning in real-world contexts, so creating those partnerships … in my experience I’ve seen that that’s really been impactful on their learning. We have a really great partnership right now with Baycrest Health Sciences; they’re piloting a program called NeuroBright. There’s a handful of students we get paired and mentored with actual research scientists and grad students.

[Voice over continues with still photos, as follows: Nicole in the classroom wearing safety goggles and holding a pipette and test tube; and Nicole pointing to a sign that reads “Metamorphosis Girls STEM Conference” with the school logo below, and a man giving two thumbs up.]

Nicole Anthony: They are going to be giving our students mobile EEG equipment to measure brain activity, so they learn about neuroscience while conducting their own experiments and they’re going to culminate in a conference where they share their results. It’s authentic and they’re really, really excited about it.

[Cut to Nicole making presentation, standing at a podium in front of a screen.]

Nicole Anthony: And so it all started when I was teaching Grade 12 Biology for the first time and I decided to splurge with the science budget on a bacterial transformation activity. This kit basically puts the tools of genetic engineering in the hands of 17-years-olds, and, of course, they absolutely loved it.

[Cut back to Nicole speaking in the interview setting and alternating with voice over accompanied by video of Nicole seated at a table speaking to fellow recipients, with several in the background smiling.]

Nicole Anthony: I think technology positively impacts the education process, because it allows students to connect with one another locally, globally, and it allows students the opportunity to learn how to innovate and collaborate with that technology. Students also need the opportunity to learn how to use technology in a responsible and equitable way. My biggest advice for pre-service teachers is to find what you’re passionate about and follow that passion no matter what.

[Voice over continues with video of a long shot of Nicole standing behind a podium and speaking into a microphone to address her fellow recipients, with a number of them listening. Then, back to Nicole speaking in the interview setting to conclude.]

Nicole Anthony: Figure out what you’re good at early and work towards honing those skills. You might feel like you’re trailblazing and that’s hard to do, but it will pay off, and your students will benefit much more from you taking risks and thinking outside the box.

[Fade to black.]

[Cut to white screen, with the Government of Canada FIP followed by the Canada Wordmark.]

Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM

Nicole Anthony

John Polanyi Collegiate Institute
640 Lawrence Avenue West
Toronto, ON  M6A 1B1

School telephone: 416-395-3303
School website:
Twitter: @hiNicoleAnthony & @GENEius_Science & @MetamorphSTEM

Subjects and grades taught: Science, Biology and Interdisciplinary Studies in Biotechnology, grades 9–12

Described by a colleague as a force of nature, Nicole Anthony is a former-business-student-turned-science-teacher working at an inner-city school serving the largest community housing project in Toronto. Understanding that education is crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty, Nicole—with the help of her pet parakeet, Petri—engages students in science in a welcoming and stimulating classroom.

Teaching approach

Nicole brings science to life for her students by making it personally meaningful and relevant. She has them solve real-world problems, and connects science learning to other parts of the curriculum. With a passion for STEM subjects in their own right—and as areas in which girls can excel—she also sees them as a way to foster collaboration and inspire creativity.

STEM in the Classroom

  • Introduces university-level technology skills (and gives students experience on the required equipment): students amplify, visualize and analyze DNA, measure the oxygen plants use, and plan and execute their own experiments
  • Presents real-life problems to solve: following a media report about poor air quality in schools, students designed a living wall for the classroom, managing the grant budget and sourcing the necessary materials; a biotechnology course has students use various techniques and equipment such as to identify the DNA of a criminal suspect; "citizen science opportunities" give students a chance to contribute to ongoing research projects, such as one monitoring the health of a local watershed
  • Integrates science education with technology class: students pursue common projects—such as studying the design of maple keys and then improving it for better flight—and receive grades for both courses

Outstanding achievements

  • Founded the Metamorphosis Girls STEM conference, the largest such gathering in Canada, to encourage more girls to enrol in STEM courses and help close the gender gap in STEM fields
  • Won award and funding from the U.S. National Science Teachers Association to rebuild her rundown science lab
  • Launched Ministry-registered private school and non-profit science outreach organization, GENEius Science, which runs biotechnology programs on weekends and in the summer; Nicole applied for grants and did crowdfunding to get it off the ground
  • Introduced science fair in Grade 9 with 100-percent participation; school now takes part in city-wide science fair, with excellent individual results; Nicole mentors other science teachers wanting to similarly engage their students in these competitions and biotechnology

Rave reviews

"Ms. Anthony has been one of the most inspiring teachers for me because she has opened my eyes to how captivating science is, and she has also shown me the important role women play in STEM."