Written by Darby Ratliff
Title Image: Alejandro Arrigo, Solé Witt, Joy Elaine Everett, and Alex Everett (Photo Credit: Andrew Franz)
“To marry my many geekdoms”
When one approaches Andrew Franz’s classroom at International Prep High School, they first notice the Harry Potter-themed classroom before picking up little bits of other nerdy elements like Super Mario, Pokemon and others. Walking in and seeing the logos of the Hogwarts houses, I first wondered if Franz was an English teacher, but he teaches environmental and earth science where he tries, as he says, “to marry my many geekdoms, student interest, engaging activities, and the curriculum.”
Currently, Franz also advises The Sporeos, a Student Spaceflight Experiment Project team at IPrep that won a competition to have their experiment on the International Space Station. The students will travel to Cape Canaveral to see the shuttle with their experiment launched into space.
As a teacher, Franz knows how valuable education can be, and he’s continued to make it as fun as he can. The Sporeos are the second group of Buffalo students he’s led to get their experiment launched into space. This is also means that this will be the second group he takes to Cape Canaveral to see a space shuttle launch. He looks forward to seeing if the program can be sustainable. Ideally, the students would take a the trip regardless of whether they win the competition or not, just to have the experience of traveling. They may also be able to present research in Washington, D.C.
Additionally, Franz has recently launched IPrep’s esports team, and he runs a STEAM study hall. He thinks of it as a “makerspace,” telling me that “[t]here should not be a space for making, instead we should be encouraging making in all ways. When we think of our classrooms in this way, or better yet, get students to think of our classrooms in this way, the lesson will engage them before they walk in the door.”
He prioritizes incorporating fun into learning, helping students to prepare for a natural disaster by treating it like a zombie attack or teaching about genes through superheroes. Franz emphasized how it seems like students are taught to grow out of playing, but he wonders, “What if we played more? What if every classroom felt like a competition where you were the first loser The Price is Right and yet you can still turn to the host and say, ‘Well, it was great to be here, Bob’”?
Franz knows teachers play a critical role in this. As a science teacher, he uses what he knows, commenting, “Technology is a big equalizer, imagination another. If you combine those two things, we as educators can all be a Miss Frizzle driving a magical school bus.” Even at 37, Franz told me, “I still try and hold onto the ideals of youth.”
Buffalo born and raised, Franz has become one of the Buffalo Public Schools’ all-star teachers. In 2017, he won a Milken Educator Award, which honors early-to-mid career educators for achievements early in their career. Some might think he would want to work in a school with more resources, but, for Franz, that’s not the case.
He thinks it comes down to egalitarianism, “that education is a basic human right that every child deserves to have.” He added to this, “How irresponsible would it be to say ‘Someone else can worry about it.’”
To combat this careless mindset, , Franz holds himself accountable to the highest standard: what’s best for his students. “I ask myself every morning,” He says, “‘Would these students, my students, be better off with someone else teaching them today? Am I the best person for these kids at this moment?’ The day I don’t say ‘Hell yeah,’ that’s the day to do something else with my life.”