Episode #89: Spark Learning to Unlock and Harness the Power of Student Curiosity with Ramsey Musallam

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Ramsey Musallam is a secondary science instructor at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, California. He runs invention workshops for elementary and middle school students and delivers keynotes, webinars and facilitates workshops for teachers nationally and internationally with a focus on using technology as a strategic classroom partner in designing learning environments grounded in inquiry fueled by student curiosity. Ramsey is also the author of Spark Learning and a TedTalk speaker as part of the first TedTalks Education.

 Your background (where you grew up)
I grew up in Sacramento, California. I wasn’t much of a student. I was a competitive athlete. That’s how I got into college with a basketball scholarship at Cal Poly and then transferred to UC Davis. That’s where I fell in love with school and loved learning. My journey as a science teacher started there. I didn’t get into medical school and I was left with a lot of science knowledge to that point. I got a job substitute teaching high school science at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco. I fell in love with the vocation and went back to get my teaching credential, my masters, and my Ph.D. That’s really how my journey as a teacher began.
 What it was like when you were a student
I’m a typical child of the Baby Boomers where my parents sent me to kindergarten just when I turned four so I could walk with our neighbor to school or out of some archaic reason. I fell drastically behind emotionally and mentally academically. By the time I got to the 6th grade, I was just a hot mess. I ended up going to 6th grade twice and had a chance to transfer schools to sort of reinvent myself. Even with that, I was behind academically and only I knew that basketball was what was going to get me into college. Academically, I always struggled as a slow reader and not a great test taker. What I figured out was how to translate some of those skills that I learned in sports to academic learning. I was a very hard worker around that. 
Still to this day, I’m not a good test taker and have a lot of intellectual insecurity even with a Ph.D. teaching advanced placement courses and graduate school now. It’s easy to say “that helps me relate to kids or helps me explain concepts in a way people can understand” but those are clichés. This is part of my story and something I struggle with. It does help me connect to struggling students and, at times, inhibits me from connecting to students who don’t struggle. It’s just part of who I am and my journey to get there. That’s why I see teaching as more of a vocation than an intellectual endeavor. It is more of a craft. 

“When you see teaching as a craft, then you see it as
something that transcends intellectual capacity.”

[This is Barbara. Make sure you listen to what Ramsey mentions as the Impostor Complex and teachers coming across as mythical creatures. 8:33 – 9:45]
 Your family and what happened in 2008 that changed you
In 2008, they found an aneurysm in my aorta in my heart. It was a random find that was a very existential sort of life-changing thing where I had to face a complex open-heart surgery. Right at the exact same time, I was finishing up my graduate work at school. I was in the middle of reflecting on myself as a teacher and at the same time had o reflect on myself as a human. When we first found out about my condition, my wife was pregnant with our first daughter. When I had the surgery, she was pregnant with our second daughter.
I have four children and all of them mirror the same pathway I had as a kid and struggle in their own ways which is really interesting to see. I have a 10-year-old daughter in 5th grade and is very involved in theater. My 8-year-old daughter who is in second grade has a formal IEP and gets pulled out 50% of the time. It is pretty amazing to see the support she is getting…