2015 Future Science Teacher Award

Published October 12, 2015

When teacher and CSULB alumnus Justin Fournier gets up in front of one of his physics or science classes at Oxford Academy in Cypress, his students are in for an engaging and even raucous lesson.

There’s a reason his skill and enthusiasm earned him the 2015 Future Science Teacher Award from the California Science Teachers Association on Oct. 3 at its annual conference in Sacramento. Fournier is both an actor and physicist, with degrees in both.

“This is quite a long story that involves many years and soul searching, but the short version goes like this: I was pitching an idea of a play to a friend of mine at a diner,” he said. “I told him the play involves me, in front of a whiteboard, explaining the theory of relativity to an audience and no one gets to leave until they understand. My friend listened politely and replied, ‘I think you're going about this the wrong way....’”

With a 2006 B.A. in theatre arts in hand, Fournier returned to CSULB to earn a B.S. in physics in 2014, plus a physics and chemistry teaching credential this year. Fewer than one-third of high school physics teachers have a major or minor in physics, noted CSULB Science Education Professor Laura Henriques.

His zeal is evident. “I really enjoy the interaction with students; whether that is working with them through a problem one-on-one or being the first person who gets to show them that light is both a particle and a wave. Of course, I love it when a student has an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment, but at the same time I also enjoy it when a student gets frustrated and challenges me. It tells me I have struck a nerve and they are working with (or against) something about which they are passionate. And this passion, this connection to science, is a long-term goal of mine as a teacher.”

“His theater background enables him to make the content come alive for students. He is not afraid to be a ‘ham’ in class,” wrote Henriques in her CSTA nomination letter. While teaching physics Supplemental Instruction classes at CSULB, he created a video to help students understand a concept. “He was on rollerblades moving at one speed while a bear chased him at a different speed from a set distance,” she said. “The students were to figure out if the bear caught him before he got to the safety of his car. His students were amused, but they also paid attention to the physics explanations and were better able to understand the problem solving strategies Justin wanted them to employ.”

It’s no wonder that Oxford Academy, part of the Anaheim Union School District, hired him. U.S. News and World Report ranks the highly competitive grade 7-12 college preparatory public school No. 16 in the nation for its academic rigor.

“I truly believe that physics is a science that lends itself to creatively solving challenging problems, which is a skill I feel many students will need in the 21st century,” Fournier said. “Heck, they needed it in the 20th century, too!”

Written by Anne Ambrose