We are proud to introduce our 46th Sunday Spotlight, featuring Alicia Johal who is a teacher in San Diego, California. Alicia likes using Edulastic to create her own questions as well as integrate NGSS aligned assessment questions into her standards and mastery based grading model. Her mission as a teacher is to ignite her students’ curiosity, interest and engagement in the field of science. She is the leader of an underwater robotics and strives to inspire young women to persist in STEM . We enjoyed getting to know Alicia and hope you enjoy the interview!

Alicia Johal

Mar Vista Academy

San Diego, California 
6 years working in education


“Before I research my content or research my curriculum, I research my students. Who is in my room? What are their hobbies? Where do they hangout after school? What’s on their mind? How do they feel about science? How do they feel about school? Questions like these help me plan the most effective lessons for my students because I plan around them, not me.”

– Alicia Johal

Get to know Alicia Johal


What do you love about working in education? What motivates you? 

I love exciting and engaging students in science who previously may not have been as interested in the subject. Gone are the days of science textbooks (thankfully!). Sharing phenomena, hands on labs and the latest science inventions and innovations allows me to reach students and spark their curiosity and wonder about the subject. In the last 5 years of teaching middle school, engaging females from diverse backgrounds in my engineering and robotics clubs has been one of my favorite parts of this job.

Why did you become a teacher? 

I became a teacher to inspire students using science. I didn’t realize my love for science until my fourth year of college. A dynamic, engaging and entertaining professor changed this entire subject for me. It was an upper division biology course and it was unlike any other college class that I took. With over 200 in the room, we performed skits, created music, argued from evidence, drew diagrams, verbally explained our thinking in small groups and wrote stories. It was in that moment I was both thrilled and disappointed at the same time. I was thrilled that a passion for science and teaching was sparked inside of me. I was disappointed that it took me until I was 21 years old to realize this was the subject for me. Before then, science was a subject taught out of a textbook in my classes – which is not how I learned. That’s when I decided to become a middle school science teacher. It has been my mission to teach science using research based best practices to ignite curiosity, interest and engagement in this constantly changing field.

What is your “Edulastic story”? 

I saw the Edulastic booth at an ISTE conference a couple of years ago. A demo was shown to me about the program and I was hooked. When I returned to my school that week, it was the first thing I shared with my colleagues and I began to build assessments for my 8th grade students.

Describe your Edulastic “aha” moment.

I realized Edulastic would be a great fit when I saw the plethora of question types available for students to engage with. I use a standards and mastery based grading model in my middle school science class and was so impressed by how easily I could not only search for NGSS aligned assessment questions, but also that I could author my own questions and link them to the standards I was teaching.

What are your teaching/learning goals this year?

This school year I am focusing on how I can better connect our science standards to the lives of my 8th graders. Last year I invested more time in restorative circles and cogens (if you haven’t read Chris Emdin’s book, it’s a must read!) which allowed me to get to know my students better than I ever had before. From Fortnite to beauty bloggers on YouTube, I gained insight into the teenagers who walked into my room every day. Getting to know them (and letting them to get to know me) allowed me to teach the content in a way that created connections. By showing them how Newton’s Laws worked on their soccer teams, or how Natural Selection applied to the school lunch lines, I was able to engage more students in science. This year I want to study my students before I study my content, so that I can create meaningful learning experiences.

Sum up your teaching philosophy in a few sentences! 

Before I research my content or research my curriculum, I research my students. Who is in my room? What are their hobbies? Where do they hangout after school? What’s on their mind? How do they feel about science? How do they feel about school? Questions like these help me plan the most effective lessons for my students because I plan around them, not me.

Favorite motivational quote:

“The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it and turn it inside out.”

Tips for new Edulastic users:

Create a short Edulastic assessment (5 questions or less) and give it to one of your classes only. This way, you can get comfortable with how to start and close an assessment session, how to have students enroll, how to track progress towards learning targets and how to make teaching adjustments where you see fit. At first I thought Edulastic was just another tech tool that did more of the same. Once I actually took some time to see how much critical thinking was involved for a student taking an Edulastic assessment – I was hooked, and I am pretty sure you will be too.

Quick Facts

Favorite Edulastic question type?

Drag and Drop

Favorite snack while using Edulastic

Jalapeno chips

Coffee or Tea?


Spring or Fall?




Favorite Book:

The Alchemist

Best tactic for getting the class quiet?

“Snap once if you can hear me.. snap twice..”

Must- have classroom Decor: 

Student work displayed in as many places as possible! More recently, these are science diversity posters that students created to highlight a STEM professional from a background similar to theirs.

Favorite time of the school year and why:

I love second semester. This is when my underwater robotics club gets started. It’s also a time where classroom relationships and rituals have been established, so we get to go deep with our science thinking and learning.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I spend my free time planting succulents, traveling, running, practicing mindfulness and spending time with loved ones.

Kindest compliment you have received from a student or teacher?

“I feel like I can be myself around Ms. Johal”

Funniest student moment?

We were talking about gravity in our classroom one afternoon when I asked my students to think about gravity on Earth and gravity on the Moon. We started this discussion with our imagination. I told my students to close their eyes and imagine a ladder in the middle of our classroom that went straight to the Moon. I asked them to imagine stepping onto the ladder from our classroom and climbing up towards the Moon. I then asked them to picture themselves climbing up said ladder further and to “feel” the differences in the gravitational pull. Then in groups of 4 they were asked to answer questions such as “Where will gravity pull you the strongest? Where will gravity pull you the weakest? What rung of the ladder will be the most difficult for you to reach and why? How will you feel when you are closer to Earth? How will you feel when you are closer to the Moon?” So by now my students imaginations were on fire. They were debating and arguing about gravity and I celebrated and thought “wow how did I get every single student engaged in this debate right now!?” Students were then asked to share their responses to the questions above with the entire class. One by one, volunteers shared their thinking and I thought “Alicia you have done it again! Look at this engagement!” And then one student raised his hand and in the most honest, innocent and genuine middle-schooler-way he said “Ms. Johal I am trying to find the ladder in the room but I don’t know where you put it”.

Greatest accomplishment in the classroom this past year:

My greatest accomplishment in the classroom this year was having more than half of my underwater robotics club consist of female students of color. As a female Punjabi science educator, I love being able to inspire young women in science and engineering – especially those who come from diverse backgrounds.

Where are you right now?

On a plane from Lisbon to Madrid, enjoying my summer holiday but still thinking about teaching!
Green Star

Join Alicia Johal and other educators: