A teacher looking to make a difference, Brandon Botzer has made great strides in bringing the students of Trinity High School to a love of critical thinking activities in the world of STEM. Through his dedication and unrelenting positive attitude, he has been able to do just that.

In his first year at the high school, Brandon wanted his students to really take hold of their learning and put their knowledge into action. Through the FirstEnergy STEM grant, students designed and built custom model rockets. This was by far the largest scientific undertaking most of the students had attempted at this point in their lives, and the number of engineering challenges they faced made the project really feel like a NASA mission. Students created both small and large rockets, as well as single-stage, multi-stage, and cluster engine rockets. For this project, Brandon created a JAVA program for the students to use so that they could more accurately simulate their flights. This allowed for high level calculations, typically out of the reach of students, to be completed and analyzed.

In his second year, Brandon gave the students of Trinity a number of college research experiences. Washington and Jefferson College’s Society of Physics Students (SPS) visited on two occasions. The SPS brought their own sophisticated models to offer the students an in-depth look at a number of different phenomena, from random walk patterns to employing non-linear modeling of a star. These trips showed students that many of the electives at Trinity are extremely worthwhile and contribute greatly to success in college.

On top of this, with his background in astrophysics, Brandon took a group of students to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at the Green Bank Telescope (the largest moveable telescope in the world) in West Virginia. This weekend trip allowed students to look at cosmic signatures of radio emissions from a variety of radio loud sources. This unique experience had the students operating their own ten meter telescope on the Green Bank site late into the night. Through their observations of the 21cm Hydrogen emission line, students were able to see a doppler shift within their own Milky Way Galaxy, leading to the conclusion of the spiral arms commonly seen in artist depictions.

Brandon has also sponsored the Trinity Gaming Club and the National Games for Change Competition. Through these, he has shown a diverse group of students the challenges of game design and methods of creating meaningful games. In this role, he worked with Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) to bring a group of graduate students to Trinity, who were working on designing an educational video game. Students helped pilot a game describing the ideal gas laws and were able to see students just slightly older than themselves work in creative ways using the skills they began developing in high school. Subsequently, Brandon took a group of students interested in game design, teaching, animation, and engineering to the ETC to see more facilities offered at college campuses.

Currently, Brandon has been turning to different learning techniques, such as gamification and project-based learning. He has developed a ceiling based role-playing game, where students pilot their ships through the world of the Intergalactic trying desperately to relearn knowledge lost to the evil Lord Reztob. He also has students complete projects that have impacts on their community.

You can find him live most Wednesday nights at 6:30 on his Twitch stream, helping physics students from around the world.

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