2024 Golden Apple Finalists

Marianna Ruggerio

Marianna Ruggerio of Rockford has taught physics at Auburn High School the past 8 of her 15 years teaching. She says her “primary responsibility is to ensure students learn.” Therefore, her classroom “must be a place where students can take risks, ask questions and be heard. It must be a place where failure is part of the process, but never the end result.” She calls herself a “warm demander,” who requires students to think critically and communicate effectively to reach high standards and expectations. During the pandemic, Marianna developed a newsletter for students’ families. This year, the students took over. She says, “being smart is one thing, being able to effectively communicate that brilliance is another.” Her students now blog to reflect on classwork, talk science conversationally and communicate with each other and with families. They learn “who does physics and who is excluded from physics” through discussions about underrepresentation, sexism and racism within the science context. Maggie Mahmood, who works in the physics department at the U of I commended Mariana as being “unmatched in her research-backed pedagogy, openness to feedback and reflection, attentiveness to equity concerns and ability to lead.” She wants to “ensure all students have the opportunity to see themselves in STEM.” As director of Rockford University’s Master’s in Urban Education program, Dr. Annie Badoo met Marianna when she earned a scholarship to the program. She says Marianna “ignites confidence and passion in her students for physics.” Badoo has met students who have taken her courses. They credit Marianna for “building their knowledge, skills and confidence in science, but also for knowing them as learners and humans.” In a class summary, she wrote, “students learn science by doing science as scientists do science. Everything, from demos to homework becomes a type of experiment to test ideas.” A classroom observer wrote, “this teacher has figured out how to teach a complex topic in a fun, deep-thinking manner that reached various levels of learners.” Another commented that students were “highly engaged, creative and eager. This is not your grandmother’s physics class”!