Eighth-grade teacher Andrew Franz is currently teaching in a special education 6:1:1 setting at Buffalo’s Hamlin Park Claude and Ouida Clapp Academy. He is also one of western New York’s biggest advocates for STEM education. As the lead educator on the Student Spaceflight Experiment Project for 7th and 8th graders, his students examined the effects of microgravity and space travel on potato farming that traveled to the International Space Station on the Falcon 9 Rocket in February 2017. Franz recruited biologists at the University of Buffalo and Cornell University to serve as outside advisers and raised funds to get the students to a STEM Conference in Washington, D.C., and to Cape Canaveral in Florida to observe the Falcon 9 launch. The experiment, which continued at the University of Buffalo even after the students moved on to high school, earned “the SpudLaunchers” widespread recognition and cemented Franz’s reputation as an innovative educator dedicated to increasing interest in STEM education in his high-needs, largely minority school.
Franz pushes his students to improve their performance and goes to great lengths to get them out of the classroom. He leads an annual fishing excursion on Lake Erie, as well as a visit to the Tift Nature Preserve, where students encounter water fowl, deer and insects while learning about the history of Buffalo’s waterfront. He has supervised field trips to Delaware Park and the Penn Dixie Fossil Dig, Sky High Adventures Ropes Course, Buffalo Zoo and Buffalo History Museum. Under Franz, students have learned about harvesting mushrooms and aquatic life in Cazenovia Park, attended the Western New York Science Fair and Tech Savvy, toured the University of Buffalo, and participated in the Minecraft Build Challenge at the Microsoft Store.
For Hamlin Park’s Extended Learning Time Program, Franz teaches computer science, the Stock Market Game and basic fly-fishing techniques. He continues to advocate for Hamlin Park Education on the Fly, a fly-fishing program designed to meet students’ social-emotional needs and teach life skills. The school’s Go Green Committee will build a greenhouse and community garden with his guidance.
Franz covers all core subject areas in his classroom: students dissect live hydra, observe animals, care for the class pets (a beta fish and an African walking frog), produce documentaries about animals, learn about imperialism and westward expansion through online gaming, read graphic novels to supplement classic texts, play Minecraft to understand scale factor, and illustrate math concepts with creative drawings. Franz serves on Hamlin Park’s school leadership team, Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) team, math team and extracurricular committee. He facilitated weekly meetings for the school’s seventh- and eighth-graders, led the expansion of the science lab, and works with parents and students during Saturday School. Franz, who regularly attends and presents at Western New York STEM Hub meetings, gave a presentation about the SpudLaunchers project to the 5,000 people who attended the Falcon 9 launch and spoke at the mayor’s private showing of the movie “Hidden Figures,” which focused on African American female mathematicians critical to NASA’s first manned launch for Buffalo Public Schools.
Franz earned a bachelor’s in English education in 2006 and a master’s in secondary special education in 2010 from Buffalo State College.