Dan Adler, who teaches sixth-grade science at UP Academy Leonard (UAL) in Lawrence, wants to be the next Bill Nye, a pop culture icon with a mission to inspire kids to love science. It’s not uncommon for Adler to channel his inner rock star in class, belting out contemporary melodies with his own original, science-themed lyrics. An advocate for science whose joy and intensity are infectious, Adler uses games like charades and Simon Says to keep students engaged. He is known for reaching out to UAL’s most at-risk scholars to move them forward. UAL is a high-poverty turnaround school. Ninety-six percent of the students are Hispanic, 82 percent do not have English as their first language and 35 percent are English language learners. Adler’s students are achieving a mastery average above 80 percent on rigorous summative assessments in science, which are linked to Massachusetts state standards.
Specifically, Adler incorporates Kagan Cooperative Learning structures and works on reading comprehension using articles about science. For his annual schoolwide Service Fair, students research a problem in their community and deliver a presentation to fellow students, teachers and prominent guests. Committed to helping all students learn, Adler sets classwide mastery targets; students who fall short on weekly quizzes aligned with end-unit exams work with him or student tutors until everyone meets the goal. After school, he can be found attending sporting events, cheering on scholar athletes, visiting with families, and helping students in the stands with homework as they wait for siblings or their turn to compete. Adler mentors all his former scholars, many of whom come back to meet with him after they move on to high school and beyond.
A sixth-grade cohort leader, Adler has had a powerful influence on UAL’s science curriculum, pushing the entire science department to adopt “argumentation” as a focus in writing and regularly collaborating with seventh- and eighth-grade science teachers. He was instrumental in helping UAL win a national grant to update its science lab facilities. Adler has served on the school’s teacher leadership team, presented at the UP Education Summit, mentored new teachers, led schoolwide professional development, and developed curriculum that is being used by most of the sixth-grade science teachers in the UP Education Network. He earned a Teach Plus Policy Fellowship and leads content learning teams for members of Teach for America, of which he is an alumnus. Adler was a key author of a policy paper that inspired Massachusetts State Representative Alice Peisch, chair of the Committee on Education, to file legislation supporting teacher preparation.
Adler earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in history and molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale in 2007. After working in the nonprofit and private sectors, he chose to enter teaching full-time to maximize his impact on bettering the lives of others. Adler received a Master of Education in curriculum and teaching from Boston University in 2014. He lives in Somerville.
Press release: Massachusetts' "next Bill Nye" wins $25,000 Milken Educator Award