We recently enjoyed a chat with one of our original TpT Teacher-Authors, Amy Brown from Amy Brown Science. She started with Teachers Pay Teachers in 2006 and has never looked back. According to Amy, her teaching continues to be fresh and innovative and that she’s become a better teacher with more time to spend with her family and students because of TpT.
1. Amy, on your blog you mention your mom was a biology teacher and inspired you to become a science teacher — that’s amazing! What’s a great biology story you can share with us about your mom, something a little out of the ordinary, that has stuck with you?
Oh, I am so glad you asked about my mom! My mother was a biology teacher extraordinaire, and was such an inspiration to me. She was brilliant, loved nature, and had the biggest sense of adventure. From as early as I can remember, we were peering into her microscope, keying out wildflowers with a field guide, going birding and enjoying nature together. A favorite memory involves a trip to the beach when I was about 10. A rather large stingray had died and the surf had pushed it up onto the beach. My mother immediately went into teaching mode and began to tell me all about rays and their characteristics. Then she said, “We are going to dissect it!” Having grown up with my mom, this seemed perfectly normal to me. It never felt “educational” because her teaching was like listening to a fabulously interesting story. About halfway through the dissection I looked up and realized that about 20 people had gathered around us and were listening to her every word. At that moment I realized that I had the coolest mom ever.
I have been blessed to have two daughters of my own. I have raised them in much the same way as my mom raised me. We go hiking, snorkeling, caving, etc. at every opportunity. They bring my husband and me joy every single day and I am immensely proud that they, too, are pursuing careers in science fields. My oldest will graduate in May in computer engineering, and my youngest is a freshman in college studying microbiology. They refer to our travels as “mom adventures” and they have been really good-natured about the length of the hike, the amount of mud involved, the freezing cold water, the smell of the bog, etc.
2. You like to travel and you share pictures of some of your adventures on your blog (the Humpback whales look amazing!). Do you have any future trips planned? Where will you go next, and what will you do while you’re there?
We do love to travel! Thankfully, my husband also loves to travel and he usually allows me to pick the destination, bless him. We have taken our girls to the normal places (Disney, Washington DC, New York City) but my favorites, of course, involve nature. I think I have to pick Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons as my all time favorite. It is absolutely gorgeous and the geothermal nature of that area is different than anywhere else.
Our next trip is only in the very early stages of planning. We like to travel with our daughters and that is becoming more difficult to schedule as they get older. My oldest daughter actually came up with this idea. It is a 14-day mountain trek through the Kathmandu Valley and Annapurna regions of Nepal! One of the stops is Chitwan National Park, home of elephants, rhinos, hyenas, sloth bears, and tigers. The Annapurna region consists of several Himalayan Villages. Each day you hike along mountain trails to reach the next village. Supposedly, these are gentle hikes. I hope so, at least, since I am not as young as I used to be! We have never done anything remotely like this before. As I said, it is still in the early planning stage, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it works out for us.
When do you get too old to get your scuba diving certification? That is on my bucket list, too!
3. You’re a high school teacher and a TpT Teacher-Author – was it hard to break into TpT’s secondary market? What was the moment that you knew you were on your way?
I started on TpT in 2006, just a few months after the site was launched. None of us had a clue about what we were doing. There was a lot of stumbling around in the dark. Just like teachers do, we helped each other. We shared ideas about types of products to post, and about how to best market our products. We taught each other about cover pages, blogging, zipped files, reducing the size of a pdf, and so much more. Being a TpT seller has always felt like a collaborative effort to me. I have made so many new friends through TpT. We challenge each other, support each other, and all of this has made me a much stronger teacher for the students in my classroom.
I knew from the beginning that TpT had huge potential, but it really started to take off for me about two years ago. Rachel Lynette was wowing us all with her task cards. As a high school teacher, I remember thinking the idea of task cards was too elementary for my students and didn’t have a place in the high school setting. At that time, I was teaching a particular class that needed a new approach, and I decided to give the task cards a try. I created my Scientific Method Task Cards and they were an immediate hit with my students. I then posted them to my store and they became my best seller and remain so today. I have had the same experience with my biology interactive notebook pages. These ideas came because of my involvement with TpT and this has made me a much better classroom teacher as a result.
4. What do you think upper grade teachers are looking for from TpT resources?
I think teachers of all subject areas are looking for high quality, rigorous materials that are interesting, challenging and fun for their students. The resources need to have accurate content, but they also need implementation directions for the teacher purchasing the product. Science teaching is particularly challenging because of the lab component of the course. My college classes prepared me for the content I had to teach, but nothing prepared me for setting up and implementing labs. Thankfully, I had some great mentors early in my teaching career. As a result, I always try to include step-by-step instructions for setting up the lab or implementing the classroom activity.
One of the things I love most about TpT products is that teachers write the lessons. I have purchased many a book or lab manual only to find that only a very few pages were usable. Rather than buying an entire workbook, on TpT you can purchase a single product that meets your needs. Materials and lessons written by teachers have been through the ultimate test … they have been in the hands of a classroom full of students!
Great teachers use a wide variety of teaching styles and techniques in their classrooms. The content we teach pretty much stays the same year after year, but a great teacher looks for new and innovative ways to teach this content to the students. I believe teachers come to TpT looking for something new and innovative. Also, there are just not enough hours in the day for a teacher to get done all that needs doing. TpT saves them time and this saved time can then be spent with students or family.
5. How do you decide on what resource to make next? How does a resource go from idea phase to “I’m going to make this?”
I have never been in the position of deciding what to make next for TpT. I create for my classroom. Strong teachers are never satisfied and are constantly looking to improve the materials and lessons they use in their class. When I start a new unit, I assess my materials and look for the weakest link. Each year I try to improve this weakest link as well as create something new for the unit to improve upon the activities I already have. In a classroom, the new idea or activity is not always the best. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. A new idea doesn’t get posted to TpT until it has been tested in my classroom.
Amy, thanks for sticking with us through this wild ride. TpT is very grateful for the wonderful Teacher-Authors, like yourself, who’re willing to share their knowledge and tips with teachers everywhere. We look forward to seeing more great classroom tested science resources and hope your trip to Nepal is amazing!